The Weekend Warrior: Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones

It’s the first weekend of the New Year and as has been the case many times over the past few years, we’re getting the very first horror movie of the year, although this one is somewhat of an anomaly, not being either a remake or an original horror film as much as being a spin-off of an already proven franchise that’s been both popular and profitable. In this case, Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones (Paramount) branches away from the first four movies, released between 2009 and 2013, to focus on new Latino characters that are dealing with their own supernatural incidents.

The phenomenon of the “Paranormal Activity” movies has been well documented so we don’t need a full retread, but the original movie by Oren Peli was a low budget Slamdance Film Festival selection that was going to be remade by DreamWorks until Paramount decided to release it as is… to the tune of nearly $200 million worldwide. They quickly greenlit a sequel which opened to over $40 million and a threequel which opened with over $50 million the following pre-Halloween weekend. And then came Paranormal Activity 4 on the same weekend of 2012 and for whatever reason, that failed to hit the heights of the previous two, opening to just $29 million. (Mind you, these movies cost $5 so they’re still profitable.)

As it turns out, Paramount discovered that their “Paranormal Activity” franchise had grown a huge Latino fanbase, so they decided to set aside the normal tradition of releasing a sequel every October and focus on a spin-off that involves mostly a Latino cast and an urban environment in hopes to cater directly to this audience. And hence, we have Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones kicking off 2014, using some of the same scary ideas that have driven the series so far, but with a new cast including Jorge Diaz, Crystal Santos, and other new faces. (Of course, Katie Featherston is back in some role – she really has nothing else going on besides these movies.) The movie was directed by Christopher Landon, a writer and producer on some of the previous installments. (We can start worrying when the editors and production designers start moving up to the director’s seat ala “Saw.”)

Either way, early January is a good spot for this release. Two years ago, Paramount opened the low budget The Devil Inside on the first weekend of January to $33 million and in 2005, Universal had a significant hit with the low-budget White Noise, which opened to $24.1 million. Ever since, it’s been fairly common to try to counter all of the prestigious Oscar fare in theaters with something for the younger genre-loving crowd, continued last year with Lionsgate’s release of Texas Chainsaw 3D (see below).

Considering that the previous “Paranormal Activity” opened softer than the previous two movies makes one wonder if this franchise has lost its luster much like the “Saw” horror franchise before it, although they are taking a different approach to this one, first with the January release, but then also focusing it on Latino audiences who may not have much of interest in theaters. It will also benefit from the fact that most schools and many offices are still closed through the weekend with everyone planning on heading back to work/school on Monday the 6th. As with previous “Paranormal Activity” movies, expect the diehard fans to be out on Thursday night to see it early, which will heavily slant the movie’s weekend box office to Friday. Heck, I can see it making $11 to 13 million in its opening day (including previews) and barely double that amount for the weekend.

Either way, Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones shouldn’t have much trouble knocking Frozen or The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug out of the top spot though I think it will open softer in the mid-20s rather than over $30 million.

This weekend last year, another studio tried to get a head start on the new year with a horror movie, this one a 3D reboot, Texas Chainsaw 3D (Lionsgate), and though it was able to dethrone The Hobbit and Django Unchained for the #1 spot, it only took in $21.7 million in 2,654 theaters before dying a quick death, only grossing $34.3 million total, about 1.58 times its opening weekend (which is AWFUL). The Top 10 grossed $116.5 million, which should be beatable by this week’s offerings.

This Week’s Predictions

1. Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones (Paramount) – $25.4 million N/A

2. Frozen (Walt Disney) – $20.4 million -29%

3. The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (New Line/WB) – $16.8 million -42%

4. Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues (Paramount) – $11.3 million -43%

5. American Hustle (Sony) – $11 million -44%

6. The Wolf of Wall Street (Paramount) – $10.5 million -43%

7. Saving Mr. Banks (Disney) – $9 million -35%

8. The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (20th Century Fox) – $7.8 million -40%

9. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (Lionsgate) – $6.4 million -37%

10. 47 Ronin (Universal) – $5.1 million -48%

Italian director Giuseppe Tornatore (Cinema Paradiso returns with The Best Offer (IFC Films), starring Geoffrey Rush as Virgil Oldman, a snobbish and not always honest art and antiques dealer who receives a phone call from a mysterious introverted woman (Sylvia Hoeks) wanting him to take care of the sale of her family’s estate. He eventually falls in love with her, making it more complicated for him to do his usual shady business. Also starring Jim Sturgess and Donald Sutherland, it opens at the IFC Center in New York City on Wednesday, January 1 following its premiere at last year’s Berlin Film Festival.

Mini-Review: It’s pretty depressing how quickly a movie can falter even when it has a master filmmaker with a great eye for a shot and access to a stellar composer like Ennio Morricone, a solid character and the perfect actor to play him.

“The Best Offer” starts out well enough, introducing Geoffrey Rush as the stodgy art auctioneer Virgil Oldman, who is always hustling his way to bigger deals, often with the help of his silent partner, played by Donald Sutherland. Oldman lives the life of a king and no one can adulate in that opulence quite like Geoffrey Rush, but on his 63rd birthday, he gets a call from a desperate young woman who wants him to sell her family’s estate but things happen that don’t allow them to meet up to negotiate the deal. Eventually he’s invited to the home of one Claire Ibertson, but he never sees her face because she hides in the walls, so it’s an awkward relationship from the get-go. Virgil finds some old clockwork parts in Claire’s house which he brings to his friend Robert (Jim Sturgess), a clockworks expert who believes they belong to a priceless automaton which he offers to rebuild.

It’s quickly apparent what Tornatore is trying to accomplish in his attempt to create an old-fashioned mystery-romance. Setting such a film within the world of art and antiques certainly adds some interest and intrigue, but at its core, much of the film feels like it’s been done before, at least in terms of having an agoraphobic woman hiding behind the walls of her house. The scenes between Rush and the elusive Mrs. Ibertson, played by the disjointed voice of Sylvia Hoeks, just don’t work very well, especially the romantic angle, because the age difference between Rush and his love interest is just ridiculous. There’s no denying Hoeks’ beauty, but she’s an absolutely atrocious actress who can’t hold a candle to Rush while just using her voice.

The shame is that this extravagantly shot film has the type of stunning production design you might expect from a filmmaker like Tornatore, while still trying to maintain the feel of an old ’60s British thriller, but it’s not a particularly good script or story beyond Geoffrey Rush’s portrayal of Virgil Oldman and even that gets less interesting as he starts falling for Claire. The whole thing just starts to get dull as it bounces between Rush’s scenes with the shut-in Claire and him negotiating with Sturgess’ Robert for the automaton.

At least Morricone’s gorgeous score pulls the different elements together, giving the film more of a Bernard Hermann edge, but there aren’t really that many big revelations and it leads to the most predictable twist possible and pretty much goes where one’s expecting. Tornatore’s beautiful film is marred by a weak script that tries to dive headlong down the Hitchcock rabbit hole without offering any of the tension or suspense that might have made it a worthwhile journey.

Rating: 5.5/10

Takeshi Kitano returns with Beyond Outrage (Magnet Pictures), his sequel to his violent Japanese Yakuza flick Outrage in which the Sanno crime family has grown into a huge organization dominated by young execs that causes resentment within the old guard, a weakness that the anti-gang detective Kataoka can take advantage of with the help of his trump card, Kitano’s Otomo, a former boss believed to be dead. It’s been playing On Demand but gets a theatrical release at New York’s Sunshine Cinema on Friday and then opens in San Diego on January 10.

Sharlto Copley stars in Apollo 18 director Gonzalo Lopez-Gallego’s new movie Open Grave (Tribeca Film) as a man who wakes up in an open grave with five other people all unaware of how they got there. I have a feeling Sharlto Copley wakes up in a lot of bad movies and wonders how he got there.

James Franco and Travis Matthews direct Interior. Leather Bar. (Strand Releasing), a film inspired by the controversial 1980 Al Pacino film Cruising as Franco tries to reimagine the 40 minutes of explicit material that was cut using a mix of gay and straight men including Val Lauren. It opens in Los Angeles on Thursday.

Next week, there’s only one really new movie and that’s The Legend of Hercules (Summit), starring “Twilight Saga” star Kellan Lutz, but Peter Berg’s military drama Lone Survivor (Universal), starring Mark Wahlberg, will open wide, as will John Wells’ adapation Tracy Letts’ award-winning play August: Osage County (The Weinstein Company), starring Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts and a cast of dozens, plus Joaquin Phoenix and the voice of Scarlet Johannson star in Spike Jonze’s technological romance Her (Warner Bros.).

You can read stuff like this and regular box office, awards and festival coverage on the Weekend Warrior Blog and to keep up with the latest articles and posts, you can follow us on Twitter.”

Copyright 2013 Edward Douglas


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