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.
The month of March ends with a few low-key films, a couple which could break out merely due to the lack of strong fare currently in theaters. The big competition of the weekend is the battle for young audiences between the blackjack crime caper 21 (Sony) and the latest spoof movie from the creators of Scary Movie, this one being Superhero Movie (Dimension Films), which makes fun of okay, I’m sure you all can figure it out. While both films can do substantially well among young audiences, 21 has the ability to bring in older audiences due to the popularity of blackjack and the source material (a bestselling non-fiction novel), so expect 21 to win the weekend with the spoof movie fighting it out with Fox’s family movie Horton for second place.
Boys Don’t Cry director Kimberly Peirce returns with the timely war drama Stop-Loss (Paramount/MTV Films) starring Ryan Phillippe, Abbie Cornish, Channing Tatum and Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and though it’s a strong drama with a great young cast, it’s not the kind of movie that generally does well among the younger audience that MTV Films is trying to market it towards. Its R-rating, moderate theater count and the seeming lack of interest in war-related films in recent months will probably keep it out of the Top 5.
Simon Pegg (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz) stars opposite Thandie Newton in the British rom-com Run Fatboy Run (Picturehouse), directed by David (“Friends”) Schwimmer, and while it might bring in some of their female fans, it’s a hard-to-market indie film opening too wide that has way too much competition for all audiences with 21 and Superhero Movie. Ergo, we’ll probably see it near the bottom of the Top 10 for the weekend.
1. 21 (Sony) – $21.8 million N/A (+.4 million)
2. Dr. Seuss’ Horton Hears a Who (20th Century Fox) – $16.5 million -34% (+.5 million)
3. Superhero Movie (Dimension) – $15.3 million N/A (-.3 million)
4. Tyler Perry’s Meet the Browns (Lionsgate) – $10.4 million -46% (-.4 million)
5. Drillbit Taylor (Paramount) – $5.7 million -45% (same)
6. 10,000 B.C. (Warner Bros.) – $4.6 million -47% (+.1 million)
7. Shutter (20th Century Fox) – $4.5 million -57% (same)
8. Stop-Loss (Paramount/MTV Films) – $4.3 million N/A (-.2 million and down one spot)
9. Run Fatboy Run (Picturehouse) – $3.6 million N/A (up .3 million)
10. The Bank Job (Lionsgate) – $3.0 million -29% (same)
Last year, two movies took over the box office as the Will Ferrell ice skating comedy Blades of Glory topped the box office with $33 million followed closely behind by Disney’s 3D animated flick Meet the Robinsons with $25 million in second place. Many of the previous week’s movies tanked this weekend but the Top 10 still grossed $113 million, which will probably be significantly higher than this week’s offerings once again.
In any other weekend, this blackjack caper might have trouble making much of a mark since few other movies based around gambling card games have done very well, the best example being the classic poker movie Rounders which found most of its audience on DVD and cable after it left theaters. Last year, Curtis Hanson tried tackling Vegas and poker with his long-delayed drama Lucky You with Drew Barrymore and Eric Bana and that bombed even worse when it tried to take on Spider-Man 3.
What’s working in 21‘s favor is that it’s based on Ben Mezrich’s 2002 bestselling non-fiction novel “Bringing Down the House,” about college students who figured out how to count cards and beat the blackjack system in Vegas–kind of like A Beautiful Mind meets Ocean’s 11. It was a book which gained got a lot of interest among the millions of people who’ve gone to Vegas and other casinos to play the popular (and often soul-crushing) game of blackjack. The novel is based on the real exploits of MIT student Jeff Ma (who has a small role in the movie) although the names have been changed for the book and again for the movie, which has been in production for many years under the guidance of Kevin Spacey’s Trigger Street Productions. It went through a number of previous directors including Brett Ratner, before ending in the hands of Robert Luketic of Legally Blonde fame. It’s somewhat of a departure for the director who has mainly done romantic comedies like Monster-in-Law and Win a Date with Tad Hamilton, but that’s likely to have little impact since the movie’s not being sold based on Luketic’s involvement. The novel was adapted by the odd couple of Peter Steinfeld, who’s penned weak sequels like Be Cool and Analyze That, and Allan Loeb, responsible for the underrated drama Things We Lost in the Fire last year. The book’s title was changed to “21” to avoid confusion with the 2003 Steve Martin-Queen Latifah comedy of the same name–yeah, I could see how someone could see the commercial and wonder why they made a Vegas-based sequel without the stars of that movie. Some might immediately think the name change might hurt the movie, the advertising has made it clear that it’s based on Mezrich’s book.
What’s interesting about this version of Jeff Ma’s story is that it’s the second starring vehicle for young British actor Jim Sturgess who found himself with many new female fans thanks to his role in Julie Taymor’s Across the Universe, followed by his supporting role in last month’s The Other Boleyn Girl. Even though the movie is about Sturgess’ character, the movie will probably be seen more as a return to glory for Oscar-winning actor Kevin Spacey, who has been laying somewhat low since Bryan Singer’s Superman Returns. Spacey did appear in Vince Vaughn’s holiday bomb Fred Claus last year, but was barely seen in the trailers and commercials, whereas this movie is relying heavily on his presence as the students’ mentor, a role he plays with the type of suave and in-control demeanor we’ve seen him take in movies like The Big Kahuna. Previous Spacey vehicles like K-Pax have done fairly well thanks to the fans he’s generated since winning the Oscar for American Beauty over ten years ago. This is also Spacey’s third movie with Kate Bosworth after she played Lois Lane to his Lex Luthor in Superman Returns and Sandra Dee to his Bobby Darin in the biopic Beyond the Sea, which Spacey directed. Although this is a smaller role for Bosworth, more of an ensemble part, it reunites her with Luketic for the first time since the DreamWorks bomb Tad Hamilton.
The final pieces of the film’s casting puzzle include Laurence Fishburne of “The Matrix Trilogy” playing a tough Vegas security guard, Aaron Yoo from Disturbia and Liza Lapira as two of Sturgess’ teammates and Sam Golzari from American Dreamz and up ‘n’ comer Josh Gad as his two nerdy best friends. The latter four offer the type of humor that will help generate positive word-of-mouth and buzz that this is a fun film, as well as creating a strong ensemble environment that will insure Sturgess doesn’t have to carry the movie on his own.
What works greatly in this favor is that it’s one of those rare four-quadrant movies. Younger teen guys and girls will dig the Vegas setting and the fun look of the film and its young cast, while older men and women who’ve been to Vegas, played blackjack or read Mezrich’s book will be interested in the movie to find out if there’s a way to beat the system, not to mention them being attracted by the presence of Spacey and Fishburne. This is also one of those movies that doesn’t play better among one gender or another, which makes it the perfect date movie compared to some of the other choices. And then of course, there’s the movie’s PG-13 rating, which will insure that mall teens will have something to see as a group on Friday after school as well as over the weekend without their parents. Chances are that this will probably be going more for the 17 and up crowd rather than the younger teen crowd that might go for the easy laughs of Superhero Movie, which is the only movie that offers competition for that audience.
The best thing going for the movie is Sony’s decision to hold the film’s premiere in Vegas the same week as the exhibitors’ convention ShoWest, which allowed many theater owners and managers to see how the movie plays with an audience in time to book enough screens. (It was a similar approach that DreamWorks took with the PG-13 thriller Disturbia last year, and that went on to top the box office for three weekends in a row.) The reaction at the post-premiere party (attended by many of the conventioneers) was generally positive and with Sony doing their normally strong job marketing the movie, one can expect that enough screens will be booked in theaters to meet the expected demanded. Expect a lot of sell-outs on Friday night and word-of-mouth to drive the movie over the weekend and in the weeks to come.
Why I Should See It: A strong cast and great premise makes this an intriguing choice, especially for those who’ve sat at a blackjack table in Vegas and wondered how their money disappeared so fast!
Superhero Movie (Dimension Films)
What can we say about this spoof movie that we didn’t already say about Meet the Spartans two months back? Like that movie, this makes fun of popular blockbusters, in this case all of the hugely successful superhero movies including Spider-Man, X-Men and others. What it does have in its favor is that it’s from a DIFFERENT one of the writers from the Scary Movie series, in this case Craig Mazin, who wrote the last two movies for director David Zucker, one of the pioneers of spoof comedies with Airplane!, Top Secret! and the “Naked Gun” movies. Those classic comedies might have had some influence on Keenan Ivory Wayans, who entered the spoof game with movies like I’m Gonna Git You Sucka and much later, the first Scary Movie, which became the biggest opening spoof movie when it showed up in the summer of ’00. Originally, Zucker was supposed to direct this, but instead, he decided to produce, allowing Mazin to step in and direct. Like Scary Movie 3 and Scary Movie 4, this is all about spoofing the blockbusters rather than trying to poke fun at every political or pop culture event of the last year as was the case with Date Movie, Epic Movie and Spartans, although it does fall back on some of the same jokes from Scary Movie 4 like Tom Cruise, which is a bit played. (You can see what I’m talking about by viewing an exclusive cliphere.)
The spoof movie stars a popular young actor, 21-year-old Drake Bell, who is best known for his run on Nickelodeon Channel shows “The Amanda Show” and then the equally successful “Drake & Josh” with Josh Peck, but hasn’t done much film work just yet. He’s teamed with hottie Sara Paxton, who’s also starred in a couple television shows and Amanda Bynes’ Sydney White. The two of them could have some appeal among the younger teens who watched both of them on Nickelodeon and Discovery Kids just years earlier, but the actor that will give Superhero Movie any credibility as a spoof movie has to be Leslie Nielsen, who has starred in most of David Zucker’s biggest spoof movies including the last two Scary Movies, and he’ll be the only thing that might draw older moviegoers to this, even if it’s geared solely for younger teens. (My only question is, “Where is Charlie Sheen!?”)
Unlike the most recent spoof movies from Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer, this is the spoof from Dimension Films, the studio behind the “Scary Movies” since 2006’s Scary Movie 4, which did well over Easter weekend before quickly dropping off. Even though it’s poking fun at a number of huge blockbusters, it’s not likely to do as well as the popular namebrand spoofs or even the recent films of Friedberg and Seltzer, because the latter already spoofed many of the movies, plus it’s competing for teens against the flashier 21. While older folks like myself might immediately assume that spoof movies are tired and old hate, we already thought that about last week’s PG-13 Asian horror remake (the third of the year) which exceeded our expectations. Apparently, younger audiences tend to love dumb comedies like this, even if they always regret it after wasting their money, something seen by the inability for any of these movies to sustain long-term legs even with many schools off for Spring Break.
Why I Should See It: There’s a lot of funny things about superhero movies that make them fair game for their own spoof movie.
Stop-Loss (Paramount/MTV Films)
Competing with Run, Fat Boy, Run (see below) for this weekend’s underdog is this new military drama from Kimberly Peirce, making her return to film for the first time in nearly eight years since making the award-winning indie Boys Don’t Cry, which introduced the world to two-time Oscar winner Hilary Swank. This time, she’s making a modern-day war drama with a great cast including Ryan Phillipe, Channing Tatum (Step Up), Joseph Gordon-Levitt (who played Tommy in 3rd Rock from the Sun) and Abbie Cornish, who last co-starred in Elizabeth: The Golden Age.
Phillippe has been making a lot of strong dramas in recent years including the Oscar-winning Crash, the critically praised Breach last year, as well as starring in Clint Eastwood’s war drama Flags of Our Fathers, in between, a movie which covered similar themes of returning soldiers trying to overcome the repercussions of their wartime actions. It’s way too early to tell if young actor Channing Tatum was the reason why the first Step Up did so well, although this might not be the best test since this is an ensemble piece. Likewise, Joseph Gordon Levitt has been receiving a lot of critical acclaim for his indie movies like Brick and last year’s The Lookout, which might have been a good indicator of how little draw he has at this point. That all might change after Tatum and Levitt appear in next year’s big budget G. I. Joe movie, even if that’s a very different kind of military film. Abbie Cornish has another chance to make a mark with her performance in Peirce’s latest movie, especially since she’s one of the few women in the film. In general, it’s hard to tell if any of these actors are any kind of draw, although the performances that Peirce gets out of them will help it get decent reviews, and it is the type of movie that needs them if it wants to succeed.
In some respects, this is a similar film to late ’70s movies set against the Vietnam War, most significantly Hal Ashby’s Coming Home and Michael Cimino’s The Deer Hunter, which competed against each other at the 1979 Oscars (Cimino’s film took home 5 compared to 3 for Coming Home). It’s being released in different times, when the country seems to not have little interest in movies that have any sort of political agenda when it comes to current affairs and the war in the Middle East. This has been seen with a number of terrific war-related documentaries which have failed to find an audience in theaters, as well as a number of recent dramas like Tom Cruise’s Lions for Lambs and the similarly-minded Home of the Brave, which made a tragic $40 thousand in theaters, but then made $4 million in DVD sales.
The biggest problem facing this movie is that it’s being released through MTV Films, and they’re trying to market it to the same teen audience of some of their other movies, because the situations in the film face are something that younger people will want to know about, especially if the current five-year war in Iraq. Unfortunately, this is the same audience that’s just as likely to want to see a fun blackjack movie or spoof movie as a dreary war drama, and due to the nature of this kind of movie’s violence and profanity, it was stamped with an R-rating, which means that any teens looking for smarter films won’t be able to get into this without a parent, which is a third strike against it.
Paramount is giving the film a moderate release into roughly 1,200 theaters, which doesn’t bode well for a big opening, but it seems like a movie that would do better if given a limited release during the fall awards season. It’s probably what Paramount should have done with DreamWorks’ Things We Lost in the Fire, a similarly moody drama with a stronger cast that just didn’t offer the type of excitement and entertainment moviegoers were looking for, but they released that fairly wide in hopes they could fix the problems of a hard to market film by giving it a wider release. This film is somewhat more appealing since it’s about timely and relevant issues, plus it has a strong younger cast that audiences can relate to, but it’s more likely to bring in college and older audiences interested in the current politics surrounding the war, and sadly, there isn’t much overlap with regular moviegoers going by previous films.
Why I Should See It: Kimberly Peirce makes a strong return with a powerful and timely drama with a cast of some of the finest young actors doing their best work.
Run Fatboy Run (Picturehouse)
Review (Coming Soon!)
This week’s underdog is this new British romantic comedy that teams four superstars from the world of comedy in three cities: David Schwimmer from the NBC hit sitcom “Friends,” comedian Michael Ian Black from “The State,” Simon Pegg from the British comedy classics Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz and last but not least, Hank Azaria, who provides many of the voices from the hugely successful cartoon “The Simpsons.”
It’s obvious that the strongest draw will be Pegg, who has built a substantial fanbase in the States for his two movies with director Edgar Wright, and it’s not completely unimaginable to think of Simon Pegg as a romantic lead, especially when you realize that at its core Shaun of the Dead was a romantic comedy, just with lots of zombies running around. It certainly has helped get Pegg a lot of female fans, and the fact that he’s spiced up the script for its setting to be moved from New York to London might help persuade some of them to check it out.
His love interest is played by Thandie Newton, who first broke out in the States when she starred in the Oprah-produced Beloved, followed by her pairing with Tom Cruise in Mission: Impossible II, an appearance in Jonathan Demme’s failed remake The Truth About Charlie opposite Mark Wahlberg, and in the sci-sequel The Chronicles of Riddick. Since then, she’s been doing fewer movies, but her prominent appearance in Paul Haggis’ Oscar-winning Crash led to a co-starring role in Will Smith’s The Pursuit of Happyness and opposite Eddie Murphy in his 2007 hit comedy Norbit. Hank Azaria hasn’t been in too many live action movies, having become famous for his television work on “Mad About You,” “The Simpsons” and “Huff,” although he did play a memorable nude role in Ben Stiller and Jennifer Aniston’s romantic comedy Along Came Polly.
Run Fatboy Run is very much in the vein of the movies of Richard Curtis, who started a whole wave of British romantic comedies when his Four Weddings and a Funeral became such a huge hit, making a star out of Hugh Grant, and he followed it with a number of similarly successful films like Notting Hill, About a Boy and his directorial debut Love Actually, all with Hugh Grant. (The movie even has Simon Pegg spending some time with a kid ala About A Boy.) In the past few years, British romantic comedies have mainly been given limited releases including Starter for Ten with James McAvoy (also from Picturehouse), Imagine Me and You and Death at a Funeral, and Picturehouse, the New Line “indie” division formed with HBO, has not had very much luck with anything they’ve released in the last few months, especially when they try to go wide right out of the gate, as seen by the concert film Vince Vaughn’s Wild West Comedy Show which grossed a pathetic $464 thousand its opening weekend despite a decent amount of promotion.
Schwimmer’s movie was originally slated to come out in September but at the last minute, it was delayed to late March and ended up being stuck in a much busier weekend, and yet, they’re still trying to release it wide into over a thousand cities even though it’s more likely to do well in the bigger cities where British comedy has a solid fanbase.
In an odd way, this romantic comedy probably owes more to Chris Rock’s directorial debut I Think I Love My Wife which featured a popular star doing something different and not being able to bring in his normal audience, and this just won’t interest the predominantly male audience Pegg has built with his last few movies unless they’re looking for something to bring their girlfriends or wives to see. Still, it’s a longshot to have a strong opening weekend, even if it’s likely to have decent word-of-mouth and will probably find most of its audience on DVD and cable down the line rather than in theaters.
Why I Should See It: Simon Pegg gives this fairly traditional romantic comedy something that makes it smarter and funnier than the average Hollywood rom-com.
Flawless (Magnolia Films)
It’s been a few weeks since I wrote the above review comparing Roger Donaldson’s The Bank Job starring Jason Statham to the new movie from filmmaker Michael Radford (Il Postino) and even though the former has been doing very well based on reviews and word-of-mouth, I still stand by my opinion that Radford’s film is a far classier and superior film, both technically and in terms of the performances from Demi Moore and Michael Caine. Sir Michael is always excellent and this returns him to the genre from the earlier days, specifically 1969’s The Italian Job, but it’s more notable for the performance by Moore, who hasn’t really done much in recent years and plays another strong woman much like she has in some of her best films. The setting of the British diamond exchange during the early ’60s is an intriguing one, because we see some of the same politics surrounding the diamond trade that was the focus of Edward Zwick’s The Blood Diamond but this is a film of a far more personal nature, more about the relationship between these two characters, a woman executive at a time when there weren’t many and a lowly cleaner, who work together to rob the establishment. The chemistry between these two actors–who first worked together over 20 years ago in Blame It On Rio–really drives this film and makes it so enticing, and as with Radford’s previous films, it’s a gorgeously shot film that looks and feels very different from his past films, maybe because he has never done a crime drama like this. Even so, it’s an equally brilliant piece of filmmaker, intelligent and riveting in the way the story unfolds in such a subtle and sublime way.
Priceless (Hors de Prix) (Samuel Goldwyn)
French comedies can be hit or miss because they tend to be either very high concept or just downright strange and silly, but one of the better ones in recent years was Pierre Salvadori’s Aprés Vous, which was wisely picked up for an English language remake vehicle for Billy Crystal. This romantic comedy follow-up certainly is very high concept and it is kind of silly at times, but it allows the perennial beauty Audrey Tautou to go from her normal cute pixie-like waif to being a truly sexy beast who really knocks your socks off with her more mature looks. It’s hard to believe that Ms. Tautou is already in her ’30s since Amelie was only seven years ago and we think of her as much younger but that maturity really gives her character depth. She’s well-matched with Gad Elmaleh of The Valet, once again playing a lowly working class man who finds himself in an unlikely situation, but he’s very funny and charming in his odd transformation from bartender to gigolo over the course of the film, and the two of them give the movie an old school romantic comedy feel more like something from the ’40s with their chemistry. Sure, it’s a bit silly and predictable at times, but if you’ve been a long time fan of Tautou, as I have, you’ll definitely want to see this for her and in terms of romantic fare, you can certainly do a lot worse than this clever and original comedy. It opens in New York and L.A. on Friday.
Also in Limited Release:
Shotgun Stories (IFC First Take) – Jeff Nichols’ directorial debut stars Michael Shannon (Bug, Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead) as one of two half-brothers involved in a bitter feud after the death of their father. Set in the cotton fields of Arkansas, this drama produced by David Gordon Green (All the Real Girls) will open in New York at the IFC Center on Wednesday.
Mini-Review (Coming Soon!)
Alexandra (The Cinema Guild) – Russian Ark director Alexsander Sokuro returns with a war-time drama that follows an elderly woman (Russian opera legend Galina Vishnevskaya) as she visits her grandson among the board troops at a military outpost. Sokurov’s anti-war film will open at the Film Forum in New York on Wednesday.
My Brother is an Only Child (THINKFilm) – Daniele Luchetti’s crime drama revolves around two brothers in a small Italian town during the ’60s and ’70s who take different approaches to how they want to change the world, each dealing with the troubling political times in their own way, which comes to a head when the younger brother falls in love with his brother’s girlfriend. It will open in New York at the Lincoln Plaza On Friday, and then opens in L.A. next Friday.
Chapter 27 (Studio) – Actor Jared Leto gained a lot of weight to star as Mark David Chapman in Jarrett Schaefer’s directorial debut about the three days Chapman spent in New York City leading up to his shooting of John Lennon. After nearly a year since it debuted at the Sundance Film Festival, this psychological thriller which also features Lindsay Lohan in a small role will open in New York at the Angelika on Friday and in Los Angeles at the NuArt next week.
My Thoughts from Sundance ’07
The Cool School (Arthouse Films) – Morgan Neville’s documentary explores the origins of the L.A. art scene that surrounded San Francisco’s Ferus Art Gallery and its curator Walter Hopps, and it opens at The Roxie in San Francisco, which makes sense, and at the Cinema Village which doesn’t make as much sense. Jeff “The Dude” Bridges narrates.
Hats Off (Canobie Films) – Jyll Johnston’s documentary takes a look at actress and model Mimi Weddell whose career began at the age of 65 after the death of her husband, showing a can-do attitude that has her attending grueling cattle call auditions and ultimately being named one of the “50 Most Beautiful People in New York” by New York Magazine at the age of 90. It opens exclusively Friday at the Quad Cinema in New York but L.A. will have to wait until May 2.
Backseat (Truly Indie) – Josh Alexander wrote and stars in this dramedy about two buddies who go on a foolhardy road trip to Montreal to meet actor Donald Sutherland, one of the guy’s idols. It opens at New York’s Quad Cinema on Friday.
Who’s Your Monkey? (Screen Media Ventures) – This strange comedy that premiered at CineVegas (formally titled “Throwing Stars”) from the “production manager of Oprah’s Big Give”–listen, I don’t make this up I read it on IMDb!–involves a group of friends who decide to stage an intervention for a former doctor who has started making crystal meth to pay his bills, so they decide to give him the throwing stars they played as a kid, but along the way, they encounter an animal porn ring and kill a drug dealer leading to no, this synopsis is already getting too silly. Either way, it will open in select cities. Not quite sure why, but there ya go.
Next week, the month of April kicks off with George Clooney’s third movie, the romantic period football comedy Leatherheads (Universal) that pits him against Jon “The Office” Krasinski for the love of Renee Zellweger, Fox Walden’s adaptation of the children’s book Nim’s Island, which is probably a nicer place to visit than The Ruins (Paramount), as a group of teens find out. (Really, you can’t send young people anywhere without them getting into trouble or getting killed by psychotic stalkers or foliage, as is the case with this horror flick.)