It’s Super Bowl weekend and also the first weekend of a new month as the box office continues to show its strength with a lot of surprise hits. The Super Bowl on Sunday normally affects every movie because so many people make plans to watch even if they’re not football fans, and this year’s match-up between the New York Giants and New England Patriots should knock out a good portion of the Northeast on Sunday kind of like one of those big snowstorms.
Like the big game, it should be a fairly tight race between two movies this weekend, one with a major star of the most successful franchises of all time, the other one starring unknowns in a fairly cool concept using the ever-popular found footage format.
Despite the lack of star power, the found footage superpowers thriller Chronicle (20th Century Fox) should be able to intrigue younger male audiences by using a similar naturalistic approach to superheroes as hit horror movies like “Paranormal Activity” and the recent hit The Devil Inside. Superheroes continue to be popular and this one looks to have some impressive action setpieces although the found footage format may already be starting to get stale, as seen by the disappointing showing for last year’s Apollo 18 ($8.7 million opening). With Fox advertising the movie on their network and cable shows, it should have more appeal to teen and slightly older guys, partially due to Fox deliberately leaking that director Joshua Trank may be up for the “Fantastic Four” reboot in order to entice superhero fans into theaters to check out his work, although anyone who remembersJumper may give this one a wide berth. It will also have direct competition from last week’s The Grey… oh, and also that football game… which should keep it from topping $20 million.
Mini-Review: Certainly the idea of a superhero movie done using the same “found footage” format that’s become prevalent in horror is an interesting one, and “Chronicle” does its best to make the most out of the format even if the story is one we’ve read in hundreds of comics.
As the film opens, we meet mopey emo kid Andrew Detmer (Dane DeHaan), whose mother is dying and whose harassment from his abusive father drives him to carry around a bulky video camera with the intention to film everything. Persuaded to go out with his cousin Matt Garetty (Alex Russell), they meet up with Matt’s friend Steve (Michael B. Jordan) who finds a deep hole in the ground reverberating with a loud noise. They jump down into it to discover a glowing meteor, and soon, all three of them have telekinetic powers and are testing out different ways of using them, mainly to pull pranks.
While it’s a little aggravating watching what stupid things kids get up to both when they get their hands on a video camera and possess superpowers, there’s certainly a fun “How did they do that?” factor to trying to figure out how Trank uses visual FX to show off the guys’ telekinetic powers. Otherwise, much of the film feels fake, especially when it tries to get all touchy-feely with a few quieter moments between the friends, since none of them are strong enough actors to make us think we’re watching real people. It’s fairly predictable where things go from there, especially when we see how immature Andrew is and how his dysfunctional home life is affecting his mood.
The idea of “found footage” comes from the pretense that everything we see was shot from someone’s camera, and it sticks to that for a good portion of it. After a while it becomes obvious you can only do so much with a movie where you have to have one of the characters operating a camera, so they start cheating as Trank uses footage from multiple cameras including security cams and cuts them together to try to create something more cinematic. The thing is that if you’re going to cheat with the “found footage” genre than why do it in this format in the first place, since the film would have been perfectly fine without it?
The last act is where things really get cooking as the scale gets bigger and bigger and we get some absolutely stunning mid-air battles that utilize many Seattle landmarks, and this is certainly as impressive as any of the big budget superhero action-FX movies we’ve seen.
It’s pretty obvious everyone involved in this movie is going to get more work down the road, especially Trank, who does some amazing things with one presumes a limited budget. Either way, “Chronicle” only works as long as you’re willing to overlook some of the obvious discrepancies in the use of its format and feel it’s a story worth telling regardless.
It will also have competition at least for the ladies from James Watkins’ The Woman in Black (CBS Films), a period horror film starring Daniel Radcliffe, whose fanbase from the “Harry Potter” franchise should give this one a look, particularly younger women who have rushed out to see scarefests like last year’s The Roommate and When a Stranger Calls over past Super Bowl weekends. Being a period piece may be somewhat offputting to modern audiences, but Radcliffe has been doing the talk show circuits, hosting “Saturday Night Live” a few weeks back and doing the morning shows, which will help raise awareness of his most high profile non-“Potter” movie, and that should help it do decently at least on Friday and Saturday. We think this will be opening in the $13 to 15 million and should be able to bring in roughly $35 million total.
Normally the stars of cutesy rom-coms, Drew Barrymore and John Krasinski come together for the real-life whale drama Big Miracle (Universal)–previously called “Everybody Loves Whales,” a title changed to avoid an uprising by whale’s primary source of food, krill and plankton. Imaginary controversy surrounding the title aside, it will try to entice family audiences with its story about endangered whales similar to how Warner Bros.’ Dolphin Tale 3D did the same for dolphins last September, opening to an impressive $19 million. This movie is catering to the same touchy-feelie PG audience as that film and Soul Surfer, but we think the presence of Barrymore and Krasinksi, both of who have worn out their welcome with their limited acting range, might put parents off, which may be why they’re not featured too prominently in commercials. With few family films in theaters, this shouldn’t tank too badly and the Super Bowl will have the least effect on it over the other two movies, but we still think this will end up under $10 million just because this weekend has never proven to be as strong for family films as others. It could probably eek out $28 to 30 million total although next week’s two family choices shouldn’t help.
This weekend last year, the horror movie The Roommate (Screen Gems), starring Leighton Meester and Minka Kelly, topped the box office with $15 million, followed by the James Cameron-produced 3D cave-diving thriller Sanctum (Universal) with $9.5 million. The Top 10 grossed $68 million and if even two of the movies do as well as we think, this will be the fifth week in a row this year where the box office is up from the same weekend last year.
This Week’s Predictions –
UPDATE: THe Woman in Black is getting more screens and Chronicle is getting less and though it’s likely to be a close race, we still think Chronicle will likely come out on top, backed with stronger reviews and support among the geek crowd.
1. Chronicle (20th Century Fox) – $16.5 million N/A (down .8 million)
2. The Woman in Black (CBS Films) – $14.7 million N/A (up 1.3 million)
3. The Grey (Open Road) – $10.5 million -47% (same)
4. Big Miracle (Universal) – $8.6 million N/A (up .9 million)
5. One for the Money (Lionsgate) – $6.5 million -44%
6. Underworld Awakening (Sony/Screen Gems) – $5.7 million -57%
7. Red Tails (20th Century Fox) – $5.5 million -47%
8. Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close (Warner Bros.) $4.5 million -37%
9. Man on a Ledge (Summit) – $4.3 million -45%
10. The Descendants (Fox Searchlight) – $3.9 million -39%
The Chosen One(s)
This week we’re looking at two of the best horror movies we’re likely to get this year, one from the States and one from England, both which were on the festival circuit most of last year and have already debuted on Video On Demand, but ones that play so well on the big screen, we hope people try to see them in theaters with an audience.
Ti West’s The Innkeepers (Magnolia) is his follow-up to House of the Devil, a haunted hotel movie taking place in Connecticut’s Yankee Pedlar with Sara Paxton and Pat Healy as the young caretakers preparing to shut the place down. But first, they want to record proof the place is haunted, a venture that backfires when the truth becomes too much for one of them.
Ben Wheatley’s Kill List (IFC Films) may as well also be a follow-up to House of the Devil–for reasons we don’t want to spoil–as it follows Neil Maskell’s Jay, a family man who needs to take a job as a hired assassin to make ends meet. He and his partner soon get in over their head when they learn who is funding their assassinations, which includes priests, pedophiles and ministers.
Both of these films rely heavily on their casting with the adorable Paxton and snarky Healy creating the type of flirty camaraderie that immediately makes them fun to watch so the film never has to rely on wall-to-wall scares to be entertained. West surrounds the duo with a couple of satellite characters who appear from time to time with Kelly McGillis killing it as she continues her run of genre films following “Stakeland.” Neil Maskell and Harry Simpson have a similar chummy relationship as the best friends and assassins who we follow through a treacherous path that leads them into darker and darker territory.
Both films use title cards to separate their stories into distinct chapters, but the comparisons end there as Wheatley uses more of a fly-on-the-wall approach to filmmaking while West goes for more cinematic shots and scoring. Both filmmakers spend the necessary amount of time to introduce the characters and build a connection between them and the audience, while using sound design to create unbearable tension – again, something that’s best appreciated on a good theater sound system. In both cases, you don’t always know what’s going on, which helps to keep you on edge.
Almost all of The Innkeepers takes place within the brightly-lit corridors of the creepy hotel, which just makes the scares more effective without ever relying on cheap scares (except one done as a joke), but instead putting you off your guard with the lighter moments. In many ways, it’s almost a textbook study on how to do horror in a way that offers scares and surprises at every turn. Wheatley’s film tends to rely on extreme violence and gore to shock the viewer, made more disturbing by how that violence is placed within the stark realism of the character’s situation, while harking back to great British horror classics like The Wicker Man with a similar level of absolute terror in the last act.
Both movies have been playing on Video On Demand over the past month, but will open theatrically in select cities on Friday; if you get a chance to see them with an audience, you won’t be disappointed.
Madonna makes her second film as a director with W.E. (The Weinstein Company) starring Andrea Riseborough as Wallis Simpson, the American divorcee whose dalliance with King Edward VIII (James D’Arcy) forces him to give up the throne to be with the woman he loves. In 1998, New Yorker Wally Winthrop (Abby Cornish) has been inspired by their romance to the point of obsessing about it to help her get through her own abusive marriage.
Iconic Broadway and film star Carol Channing gets the spotlight in Dori Berestein’s Carol Channing: Larger than Life (Entertainment One), which opens in New York on Friday following its opening in Los Angeles last month, while Adam Pesce’s doc Splinters (SnagFilms) looks at the surfing by the native people of Papua New Guinea, introduced to tribes in the 1980s by an Australian pilot.
Next week, the month of February continues with four very different movies and we don’t even know where to begin! The action-thriller Safe House (Universal) teams Denzel Washington with Ryan Reynolds, while the romantic drama The Vow (Sony/Screen Gems) does the same for Rachel McAdams and Channing Tatum. For family audiences, there’s the 3D action-adventure Journey 2: The Mysterious Island (New Line/WB), teaming Josh Hutcherson and Dwayne Johnson, while George Lucas’ polarizing Star Wars: Episode I The Phantom Menace 3D (20th Century Fox) comes to 3D theaters That’s right. Jar Jar’s back and he’s coming right out of the screen to get you watch out!
Copyright 2011 Edward Douglas