The box office has been booming this past year and especially this last weekend with the enormous success of Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax, and we’re well into a busy month with a number of potential blockbusters, starting with sci-fi action-adventure John Carter (Disney), directed by Oscar winner Andrew Stanton (Finding Nemo, WALLE). Based on Edgar Rice Burroughs’ series of novel, it stars Taylor Kitsch and Lynn Collins, both of whom appeared in X-Men Origins: Wolverine, but neither whom have proved themselves by headlining a movie of this size and the biggest names, Willem Dafoe and Thomas Haden Church (both who appeared in Sam Raimi “Spider-Man” movies) won’t be recognizable since they’re doing performance capture.
By now you’ve probably heard that the movie isn’t tracking very well. That has picked up in recent weeks, although interest is mainly among the older male audience who normally might check out a sci-fi movie, and Disney have done their best trying to sell the movie to them based on the film’s epic spectacle. Teens and college age males and women just don’t seem very interested, but at least the movie should be able to excite younger boys in the 10 to 13-year-old range, which should make it a good movie for father and sons to go see together this weekend, so expect a nice Saturday bump rather than being a movie people rush out to see at midnight Friday. Opening the weekend after Universal’s expectation-defying blockbuster Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax isn’t going to help matters because even with that movie having a relatively steep decline in its second weekend, John Carter would have to make over $35 million to have a chance at opening at #1. We don’t think that’s going to happen, which means John Carter may have to settle for second place with around $30 million or slightly less, although word-of-mouth from those who do see it should be good enough to help it make over $95 million even with strong competition over the coming weeks.
Mini-Review: Knowing how long it’s taken to get a movie off the ground based on Edgar Rice Burroughs’ once-popular Martian stories, some of the earliest science fiction mixed sword and sorcery, just the fact we have a chance to review a finished film featuring the John Carter character is quite astounding, and as you watch Andrew Stanton’s adaptation, you immediately will realize how much has been influenced by Burroughs’ work, whether it be in comics (Adam Strange, Martian Manhunter) or movies.
Admittedly, it does take a little time to get into the flow of things as we’re immediately thrust into a flashback as we follow cavalryman John Carter’s attempt to find a cave full of gold. Once there, he’s transported to Barsoom (i.e. Mars), and things get even more confusing as we’re introduced to a number of different alien races with odd names. The one who has the greatest impact is Dejah Thoris, played by Lynn Collins, the scantily-clad red-tattooed warrior princess from Helium, who holds her own against the invading Zodangan forces trying to destroy her home. Despite this alien world, it’s still very much about human emotions and familiar situations, which is why Taylor Kitsch and Lynn Collins are so terrific together as Carter and the Princess of Mars who helps him assimilate into this foreign world, and the romance between them is handled in an effectively convincing way.
More than anything else, the film looks fantastic, the production design in creating this world really thriving with the 3D conversion, which embellishes it enough to make it worthwhile to spend a little more for 3D. The way actors like Willem Dafoe, Thomas Haden Church and Samantha Morton lose themselves in their performances as nine-foot four-armed green Tharks really does a lot to enhance this experience, while Mark Strong plays Thern leader Matai Shang like a bald robe-wearing Mr. Smtih from “The Matrix” with impressive powers like shapeshifting, which allows other actors to portray him. The weakest link among the cast is probably Ciaran Hinds, who doesn’t bring much to the role of Dejah Thoris’ father and making their scenes the weakest ones.
While there was easily a danger of this being another “Prince of Persia” situation with far too many ideas and information, Stanton really knows how to get around telling a complicated story in a way that’s not too cumbersome. His previous movies made us care about talking fish and robots, which just shows how well he does when he finally has a chance to work with humans, or at least humanoid, characters. Similarly, a story like this could have taken itself too seriously or been too jokey to be taken seriously, but Stanton (along with co-writers Michael Chabon and Mark Andrews) find just the right balance of serious wartime situations, jaw-dropping action setpieces and lighter moments with the speedy and amorous “dog monster” Woola providing some of the biggest smiles. By the time you get to the arena where Carter takes on the White Apes, you’ll be fully immersed in the environment and probably won’t even mind how you’ve already seen this fight in the trailer and commercials.
No matter how you slice it, Andrew Stanton has created a fantastic and magical epic that makes “John Carter” the rightful heir to the Star Wars legacy. Rating: 8.5/10
There isn’t much competition this weekend as both the other movies are opening moderately in the 2,000 theater range with the haunted house movie Silent House (Open Road) from Open Water directors Chris Kentis and Laura Lau hoping to attract some of the women who enjoy horror movies but may not be interested in John Carter. This one stars the third Olsen, Elizabeth, who didn’t quite break out with last year’s Martha Marcy May Marlene as some had hoped, but the promise of scares should help intrigue horror fans who are used to seeing their movies without big name stars. Still, because this looks like so many other movies, we figure this one will end up under $10 million, probably around $8 million or slightly higher to take fourth place behind last week’s Project X.
Eddie Murphy’s long-delayed, high-concept comedy A Thousand Words (Paramount) is his third movie with Norbit and Meet Dave director Brian Robbins, two movies on opposite sides of the box office spectrum, the first grossing $96 million, the latter grossing just $11 million. Maybe it was ’cause they got burnt with 2009’s Imagine That–Murphy’s second movie in a row to open with just $5 million–Paramount decided to shelve the DreamWorks movie they acquired for almost three years, but they’re dumping it this weekend with a minimal release into less than 2,000 theaters with very little in the form of promotion, hoping they can get Murphy’s African-American fanbase despite the long delay. Murphy was just in Universal’s Tower Heist in November with Ben Stiller which did only moderately well with $24 million opening and that was Murphy’s first movie in two years, but that was helped by Stiller and I think without him, this one is going to be another bomb for Murphy with another $5 to 6 million opening and soon gone from theaters.
This weekend last year, Jonathan Liebesman’s alien invasion movie Battle: Los Angeles (Sony) opened at #1 with $35.6 million in 3,417 theaters, knocking Rango down to #2 with $22.6 million. Catherine Harwicke’s horror-fantasy Red Riding Hood (Warner Bros.), starring Amanda Seyfried, opened light with $14 million for third place. It’s probably not a good sign that Disney’s Mars Needs Moms opened this weekend last year, bombing with just $7 million opening weekend to take fifth place. The Top 10 grossed roughly $112 million, which is roughly what this weekend should do unless John Carter really breaks out.
This Week’s Updated Predictions –
1. Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax (Universal) – $40.5 million -42% (up 1.9 million)
2. John Carter (Disney) – $29.2 million N/A (up 1 million)
3. Project X (Warner Bros.) – $9.4 million -55%
4. Silent House (Open Road) – $8.6 million N/A (up .1 million)
5. Act of Valor (Relativity Media) – $7.5 million -45%
6. One Thousand Words (Paramount) – $5.5 N/A
7. Safe House (Universal) – $4.5 million -39%
8. Journey 2: The Mysterious Island (New Line/WB) – $4.0 million -38%
9. Tyler Perry’s Good Deeds (Lionsgate) – $3.6 million -49%
10. The Vow (Screen Gems/Sony) – $3.4 million -45%
There are a bunch of new movies in limited release this weekend but our favorite is Friends with Kids (Roadside Attractions), Jennifer Westfeldt’s follow-up to her 2001 hit indie movie Kissing Jessica Stein in which she co-stars with Adam Scott as two lifelong friends who decide to have a baby together out of wedlock after seeing their friends’ marriages falling apart when kids enter the picture. Co-starring Jon Hamm (Westfeldt’s real-life partner), Kristen Wiig, Maya Rudolph and Chris O’Dowd from last year’s hit Bridesmaids, Megan Fox and Edward Burns, it opens in select cities on Friday.
The Israeli Oscar nominee in the Foreign Language category, Joseph Cedar’s Footnote (Sony Pictures Classics) follows the rivalry between father and son Talmudic professors, whose long-time conflict reaches a head when the son learns the coveted honorarium his father had been awarded was actually meant for him.
Ewan McGregor and Emily Blunt star in Lasse Hallstrom’s Salmon Fishing in the Yemen (CBS Films), based on the popular novel by Paul Torday about scientist Dr. Alfred Jones (McGregor) and his attempts to make salmon fishing in the Yemen possible after being approached by the enthusiastic representative of Middle Eastern sheik (Emily Blunt), a plan that’s fully supported by the prime minister’s press secretary (Kristin Scott Thomas) who is hoping it might help the PMs standing on foreign affairs.
Jamie Kennedy and WWE wrestler Edge star in the action-comedy Bending the Rules (WWE Studios) as two courtroom rivals who end up having to work together to help retrieve a prized 1956 Studebaker when it’s stolen.
Alex Rotaru’s doc Shakespeare High (Cinema Guild) follows a number of different schools as they prepare and make their way to an annual Shakespeare Festival competition. Featuring appearances by Richard Dreyfuss, Val Kilmer, Mare Winningham and Exec. Producer Kevin Spacey–the latter three from Chatham High School–it opens in New York at Lincoln Center’s Elinor Bunin Monroe Film Center Friday.
Magnolia has three very different new movies opening this weekend, including David Gelb’s documentary Jiro Dreams of Sushi (Magnolia), a profile of 85-year-old Japanese sushi chef Jiro Ono whose 10-seat sushi restaurant has been deemed one of the best sushi restaurants in Japan. It opens in New York at the IFC Center and Lincoln Plaza.
The Swedish comedy Sound of Noise (Magnolia) by Ola Simonsson and Johannes Stjärne Nilsson is about a police officer from a musical family who hates music but is forced to come to terms with his musical past when a band of musicians threaten the city. It opens in New York, L.A. and Seattle on Friday.
Christian Slater stars in Michael Nickles’ Playback (Magnolia), about a group of high school students who unlock a dark secret that awakens an evil spirit. Not quite sure where Christian Slater fits in there (I haven’t seen it), but it’s been playing on Video On Demand, and if you live in Columbus, Ohio, this is your lucky week, ‘Cause it’s being released there!
From Greece comes Athina Rachel Tsangari’s Attenberg (Strand Releasing) about a 23-year-old female outcast in a seaside factory town where her father has returned to die, as she explores her sexuality with her best friend and an engineer. It opens at New York’s IFC Center.
Marie Losier’s doc The Ballad of Genesis and Lady Jaye (Adopt Films) looks at the decision by musician Genesis P-Orridge to go through a series of surgeries to change his appearance so he can look more like his love and artistic partner Lady Jaye.
Alice Eve, Kelly Macdonald, and David Tennant star in Sheree Folkson’s comedy The Decoy Bride (IFC Films), about a woman hired to act as a decoy bride to throw paparazzi off the scent of a Hollywood actress being married on a Scottish island.
Next week, we only get one new wide release but it’s the action-comedy reworking of the television show 21 Jump Street (Sony), starring Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum. Fingers crossed maybe we’ll be bringing back some of our dormant columns like Career Analysis with the extra free time we’ll have! Maybe.
Copyright 2011 Edward Douglas