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.
After blowing away my prediction with an opening closer to $100 million (no comments from the peanut gallery, please!), Marvel Studios’ Iron Man is sitting pretty for a second weekend at #1 despite the opening of two high-profile new movies. The question on many minds is how frontloaded it might be compared to other superhero movies and summer openers. The movie’s been received well with great reviews and exceptionally strong word-of-mouth so we should see it deliver a strong second weekend, though those who’ve already seen it might pick one of the other two movies.
The second weekend in May has been somewhat jinxed in the past, an intermediary weekend where new movies have to face the big summer opener, something that’s led to a few big bombs, most famously Poseidon and Battlefield Earth, with only a few movies making over $25 million (Daddy Day Care and Troy come to mind), and this weekend sees two new movies facing the “2nd Weekend in May Curse.”
Nearly five years after completing “The Matrix” trilogy, Andy and Larry Wachowski return with a live-action version of the popular cartoon Speed Racer (Warner Bros.) starring Emile Hirsch and Matthew Fox, that will mainly be trying to appeal to young boys who’ve already seen Iron Man and the diehard yet somewhat limited fanbase for the cartoon. While Warner Bros. might be hoping to see success with families on par with Scooby-Doo or The Flintstones, the somewhat negative reaction to the visuals in the trailer will likely put it somewhere closer to last year’s TMNT, though the family audience should be enough for second place.
Cameron Diaz and Ashton Kutcher face-off in the high concept comedy What Happens in Vegas (20th Century Fox), which will be a bigger draw for teens girls and older women due to the combined starpower and setting, Las Vegas having become somewhat of a Mecca for American consumers and part-time gamblers. It might not have the draw of something like The Break-Up and there’s already many comedy choices but the combination of these two should allow a strong $20 million opening.
David Mamet’s martial arts drama Redbelt starring Chiwetel Ejiofor will expand nationwide into roughly 1,000 theaters on Friday after a weak platform release, and while it should be able to get into the bottom of the top 10, it’s doubtful it will make more than $2 million.
(UPDATE: Well, both Speed Racer and What Happens in Vegas are being released in less theaters than we projected, and that will probably have a bigger effect on the latter, while Mamet’s Redbelt is getting so many more theaters than our estimate that it should be able to squeak into 7th place over The Forbidden Kingdom and Nim’s Island both which lose theaters and the family audience with the release of Speed Racer. Also, the comedy Baby Mama should be the most impacted by the Mother’s Day holiday on Sunday since it’ll be one of the more obvious choices than the other chick flicks might get a slight bump because of the holiday.)
1. Iron Man (Marvel Studios/Paramount) $51.3 million -48% (same)
2. Speed Racer (Warner Bros.) $33.7 million N/A ( up .2 million)
3. What Happens in Vegas (20th Century Fox) $20.5 million N/A (down .7 million)
4. Made of Honor (Sony) $8.7 million -41% (same)
5. Baby Mama (Universal) – $6.2 million -38% (plus .2 million)
6. Forgetting Sarah Marshall (Universal) – $3.6 million -40% (same)
7. Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo (New Line) $3.1 million -49% (same)
8. Redbelt (Sony Classics) – $2.1 million 2700% (up .4 million and one place)
9. The Forbidden Kingdom (Lionsgate/The Weinstein Co.) – $1.8 million 57% (down .3 million and one place)
10. Nim’s Island (Fox Walden) – $1.4 million 45% (down .1 million)
Last year, the second weekend in May saw Sony’s Spider-Man 3 get hit with a 62% drop, but it remained on top with $58 million while three new movies barely made a mark with the horror sequel 28 Weeks Later (Fox Atomic) finding the most business but still ending up with less than $10 million its opening weekend, less than the original made three years prior. Lindsay Lohan and Jane Fonda were teamed up for the drama Georgia Rule (Universal) which fared as poorly as Lohan’s May 2006 offering Just My Luck, making just $6.8 million in its opening weekend. Larry the Cable Guy’s second movie Delta Farce (Lionsgate) fared even worse, making just $3.4 million in 1,900 theatres. The Top 10 grossed just $93 million, an amount that shouldn’t be too hard for this weekend’s offerings to surpass.
Speed Racer (Warner Bros.)
Starring Emile Hirsch, Christina Ricci, John Goodman, Susan Sarandon, Matthew Fox, Hiroyuki Sanada, Richard Roundtree, Ji Hoon Jung, Benno Furmann, Kick Gurry, Paulie Litt, Roger Allam
Written and directed by the Wachowski Brothers (The Matrix, The Matrix Reloaded, Bound)
Genre: Action, Adventure
Plot Summary: Ever since he was a boy, Speed Racer (Emile Hirsch), only dreamed of racing cars like his older brother Rex, and when he’s older, he’s indeed one of the fastest drivers on the circuit. When the owner of Royalton Industries (Roger Allam) tries to get Speed on his team, the boy declines causing the angry business man to put a bounty on Speed’s head for any racer that can take him out.
Just two weeks into May and we already have what could end up being one of the biggest disasters of the summer, and just like a couple years back with Wolfgang Peterson’s remake of Poseidon, it’s being released by Warner Bros., back in bed with the makers of the blockbuster franchise “The Matrix” trilogy, Andy and Larry Wachowski and producer Joel Silver, for a live action version of the cartoon Speed Racer. Some might wonder why they’d do a live action version of the Japanese cartoon that became a popular favorite in the ’60s and ’70s, but probably Warner Bros. is hoping to recreate the magic that made the first live-action Scooby-Doo movie a hit in the summer of 2002 or The Flintstones movie one a few summers earlier.
Surprisingly, the Wachowskis haven’t done much since The Matrix Revolutions ended their blockbuster trilogy with a whimper. They helped their protégé James McTeigue adapt Alan Moore and David Lloyd’s V For Vendetta and were brought in by Joel Silver to try and save the remake The Invasion. Doing a PG version of Speed Racer must seem like a strange choice for the filmmakers known for their sexy thrillers like Bound and their action-packed R-rated sci-fi movies, but obviously, they’re trying to find themselves a younger audience after losing most of their old one by f*cking up “The Matrix” so badly.
The “Speed Racer” cartoon was imported from Japan in the late ’60s and early ’70s finding fans with its odd mix of James Bond and “Wacky Races” as well as its unusual characters and pacing unlike anything else on Saturday morning. The show would be syndicated for many years even playing on MTV for a while before the Cartoon Network became its home, and the series has been very successful in its DVD releases in the past five years, creating a fairly fanatical fanbase for the cartoon and related merchandise, which may be why Mattel and Hot Wheels have a whole new line of cars and toys based around the movie, as well as a new video game, continuing the film’s main push to guys. There’ve been a few attempts to revive the cartoon with more modern versions in the last 15 or 20 years, most notably by Nickelodeon, as well as a number of related comic books, but there’s little doubt that Speed Racer is one of those iconic characters that’s immediately recognizable, especially when seated in his car, the Mach 5.
To play the role of Speed Racer, they hired Emile Hirsch, a young actor who’s been bubbling under in recent years and received the most attention of his career when he starred in Sean Penn’s Into the Wild last year; before that, he was mostly doing small indie movies that few people saw. Speed’s love interest Trixie is played by Christina Ricci, also appearing in her biggest movie since her early days as Wednesday Adams in The Addams Family and its sequel, as she’s also mainly been doing small and little-seen indie films. The mysterious Racer X is played by Matthew Fox, star of the hit ABC show “Lost” who had a hit earlier this year with Sony’s Vantage Point, which was as much an ensemble piece as the failed football drama We Are Marshall a few years back. Oddly, the actor with the most experience with this kind of movie is John Goodman who played Fred Flintstone in the hit family film The Flintstones based on the Hanna-Barbera cartoon, and that had a similar live action cartoon feel which went over bigger with kids than their parents. His wife is played by Susan Sarandon, and the rest of the cast is filled with lots of lesser-known foreign stars who’ll hopefully bring the movie more money internationally than it will domestically as we’ve seen happen a lot lately. Even so, none of these stars will do much to sell the movie to American audiences, which may be why none of them are mentioned by name in the commercials and trailer.
Looking at some of the previous cartoon adaptations, Warner Bros.’ Scooby-Doo is certainly a watershed, having exploded into theaters with $54 million when it opened in mid-June ’02, peaking with $153 million, and the afore-mentioned The Flintstones grossed $37 million over Memorial Day weekend in 1994 and ended up with $130 million. Recently, 20th Century Fox had a huge hit with their live action remake of Alvin and the Chipmunks, the biggest difference being that most of those movies had greater appeal to women (i.e. mothers) and girls, two groups who’ll have very little interest in a movie about racing cars, regardless of knowing the “Speed Racer” name brand.
Some might question whether the original “Speed Racer” cartoon was popular enough to necessitate a live-action remake, but this being the summer, the studios are trying everything to get moviegoers into theatres after the last four dismal months, Iron Man notwithstanding of course. The return of the Wachowskis certainly will make this of interest to the fans of their innovative filmmaking, though “Speed Racer” was made deliberately for kids and not the teen and older males that flocked to “The Matrix” and its sequels.
General reactions to the trailers and commercials for Speed Racer, especially among older males who’d be the most familiar with the characters, have not been positive. In trying to create an ultra-colorful live action cartoon using CG, the Wachowskis have made a very bizarre looking movie, not like any of the live action or animated family films we’ve seen so far. Negative advance buzz has been known to hurt movies though movies like The Hulk and Tim Burton’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory were able to overcome the negativity to gross over $50 million their opening weekends. Neither Burton’s film nor Scooby-Doo looked particularly good to adults before opening but parents were coerced by their kids to see it thanks to the peer pressure that happens at school.
Even though the reaction to the look of the film has been mixed, Warner Bros. haven’t been afraid about screening the movie in advance for critics, and even if reviews are spotty, it won’t really matter to kids even if it keeps older folks from seeing the movie out of nostalgia or curiosity. There’s certainly the danger of it pulling a Josie and the Pussycats or Rocky and Bullwinkle with that in mind, but the movie’s ultra-wide release including most IMAX theaters could greatly boost its box office take, even if Warner Bros.’ similar tactic with the computer animated The Ant Bully failed. To help cheat the film’s box office, Warner Bros. has included a free ticket to see the movie with the new related video game; those “free” tickets do add to the box office even if the studio is basically paying for the tickets out of their own pocket. Like Dr. Seuss’ The Cat in the Hat with Mike Myers, a similarly ugly-looking movie, the movie should still bring in a sizeable family audience and fanbase from the cartoons before it’s destroyed over the next two weekends by far stronger family fare.
Why I Should See It: “Speed Racer” is one of those great old Japanese cartoons that brings back a sense of nostalgia for anyone who remembers seeing it as a kid.
What Happens in Vegas (20th Century Fox)
Starring Cameron Diaz, Ashton Kutcher, Rob Corddry, Treat Williams, Dennis Farina
Directed by Tom Vaughan (Starter for 10); Written by Dana Fox (The Wedding Date)
Genre: Comedy, Romance
Tagline: “Get Lucky”
Plot Summary: When strangers Joy McNally (Cameron Diaz) and Jack Fuller (Ashton Kutcher) hook up and get married in a drunken night in Vegas, one of them wins a huge jackpot and the inadvertent newlyweds scheme to try get their hands on the money and get rid of their new spouse.
Seriously, it was only a matter of time before someone took the slogan for the real-world Sin City and turned it into the title of a high concept movie, but even more surprising is that they were able to get stars on par with Cameron Diaz and Ashton Kutcher to star in it. Then again, Kutcher and Diaz have probably known each other for a long time with the connection being Demi Moore, Kutcher’s wife who starred with Diaz in Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle, one of the biggest summer blockbuster disappointments in recent memory. It’s also surprising that they got such high-profile stars for the first studio picture from Tom Vaughan, who last directed the little-seen James McAvoy Brit-com Starter for Ten.
Still, it must be great to be Cameron Diaz, a huge superstar who usually makes $20 million per movie thanks to the success of the Farrelly Brothers’ There’s Something About Mary and three blockbuster “Shrek” movies for DreamWorks, though her career since then has been erratic at best. Her early solo gross-out comedy The Sweetest Thing bombed, and her recent romantic comedy The Holiday did decently after a weak opening, but in between, the drama In Her Shoes failed to bring the female audience expected, doing only slightly better than The Sweetest Thing. In the past seven or eight years, Diaz also had key roles in Martin Scorsese’s Oscar-nominated Gangs of New York and Cameron Crowe’s Vanilla Sky with Tom Cruise, both more dramatic roles than her normal comedies. Diaz has mostly found fans from her comedies and her ability to dress up well but doing physical comedy without missing a beat.
Pairing her with Ashton Kutcher for this sort of “face off” seems like a bit of genius casting, because he’s almost like the male equivalent of Diaz, having started out on “That ’70s Show” and high concept comedies like Dude, Where’s My Car? and the similar comedy Just Married. (He appeared uncredited in Steve Martin’s Cheaper by the Dozen and nearly stole the movie.) Even though Kutcher’s most recent movies have been dramas/thrillers like The Butterfly Effect and The Guardian with Kevin Costner, Kutcher remains one of the more popular comic actors among young people thanks to his often-spoofed MTV prank show “Punk’d” and he’s especially popular among young ladies, though most of his movies maxed-out at $56 million.
One would think that teaming him with Diaz should bring in more money at least opening weekend, and indeed, this should be one of those rare cases where the sum of the two stars really do add up. This sort of star-studded match-up is not too uncommon as seen most recently by Fool’s Gold which pit Matthew McConaughey against Kate Hudson for the second time since their hit romantic comedy How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days. Another popular face-off comedy was The Break-Up which pit Vince Vaughn against Jennifer Aniston, even though off-camera they both were dating, which helped drive more curious people to the movie Kutcher and Diaz have had similar face time in the tabloids but more for whom they datedKutcher with the older Moore and Diaz when she was with his pal Justin Timberlakesomething that’s made them stars of interest among the women who eat up tabloid gossip and rumors.
The film’s secret weapon may be former “Daily Show” correspondent Rob Corddry, who recently had a key role in Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay, although really, the best thing going for the movie is its title and the Vegas factor, something that probably helped Sony’s 21 make over $75 million over the slower spring season, and there’s certainly precursors for Vegas movies being memorable including Honeymoon in Vegas with Nick Cage and Sarah Jessica Parker and the drama Indecent Proposal starring Demi Moore (her again!).
Older guys will have very little interest in this movie, since it looks like another dumb chick flick ala Failure to Launch which pit Matthew McConaughey against Sarah Jessica Parker in a similar way as the other movies mentioned above. While the Kutcher-Diaz pairing will certainly appeal more to young women, guys might allow themselves to be dragged along for the Vegas aspect and to ogle Diaz wearing skimpy outfits, something she’s gotten really good at doing. Female audiences still have a lot of other choices in theaters with nearly three weeks of chick-targetted flicks starting with Universal’s Forgetting Sarah Marshall and Baby Mama, and then followed by Made of Honor.
Even though the Fox comedy has been tracking well, especially among younger women, Fox decided to hold sneak previews this past Saturday at 10pm in hopes of getting a bit of last minute word-of-mouth interest before opening weekend. It’s unclear if this worked or not, but it shows confidence in the studio for the movie, that they think they have a funny movie that can stand-up to the scrutiny of critics and early word-of-mouth. Even so, the starpower will play a large factor in the movie’s success even if to most educated people, the movie will look like another dumb high concept comedy, much like Baby Mama.
Why I Should See It: If you really like Cameron Diaz and/or Ashton Kutcher, then you should get more of both of them than you could possibly ever want.
THE CHOSEN ONE:
This was a tough week because there are a couple decent movies but none that really jump out so I decided to go with the strangest and most original movie, that being
The Fall (Roadside Attractions)
Whether or not you remember the 2000 Jennifer Lopez thriller The Cell favorably or not, you have to admit that it had some really wild visuals with things we’ve only seen in our dreams or our worst nightmares. It was the first feature film from commercial and video director Tarsem, who up until that point was best known for his stylish music video for R.E.M’s “Losing My Religion,” though neither of those really could prepare anyone for The Fall, an amazing fantasy adventure which puts Tarsem amongst the likes of Gilliam, Greenaway and Del Toro in terms of creating breathtaking and unforgettable visuals, while telling a simple fairy tale of a child discovering the world through the stories told by a paralyzed stuntman, played by Lee Pace. It took a lot to get this film made, as Tarsem decided to take a rather unconventional route to make it, taking him nearly 17 years to complete since the original idea for a movie. (You can read more about that journey by reading my interview above.) It’s certainly a strange movie that takes some adjusting to as it bounces between Pace telling his fantastic tales to the little girl (played by newcomer Catinca Untaru, who barely speaks English) and the actual story, which was shot across the globe in all sorts of amazing places that seem to come from out of a fairy tale. Because Tarsem refused to use CG, the locations and what happens there will leave you breathless, as there are many images that are like a painting brought to life, and it’s amazing how Tarsem put it all together. Again, if you’re into the work of Terry Gilliam, particularly Baron Munchausen and Brazil, then Tarsem’s movie might be for you. It opens in New York and Los Angeles on Friday.
(Sorry, but in order to get this week’s column up on Tuesday as promised, we had to hold most of this week’s mini-reviews until later in the week.)
Surfwise (Magnolia) – This documentary by Doug Pray take a look at the legendary Paskowitz surfing family, a family of nine kids who spent most of their formative years living in a camper and traveling across the world to different beaches, causing trouble for them in adulthood when they need to find their own way in the world. After premiering at the Toronto Film Festival, it opens in select cities on Friday.
Mini-Review If you thought the Adams Family were strange, then the Paskowitzes, a surfing Brady Bunch of 9 kids who spent most of their formative years cramped into a trailer, might make you give pause to the definition of family values. Doug Pray’s doc spends a good amount of time recapping the history of the surfing Paskowitzes and glorifying their triumphs on the waves, but it’s hard not to pass judgment on “Doc” Paskowitz’s warped philosophies and unconventional, some might say irresponsible, parenting. His kids never go to school and they live like animals, even if he does create a strong sense of discipline in them that creates many surfing legends, even if their lack of formal education may have done permanent and serious damage to his children later in life. Pray does a good job keeping things interesting with photos, footage and music, taking a similar approach as “Capturing the Friedmans” only without the controversy or the personal connection that made that film so powerful. Still, the doc gets more fascinating once we meet the Paskowitz kids, now all in their 40s and 50s, and we learn first-hand how they’ve tried to adjust to life outside the family commune. Few of the kids have many good things to say about the way they were brought up, despite many finding fame and success both on the surfing circuit and making music. The testimonials offer a number of bizarre moments and stories about how difficult their life has been, especially as the family fell apart, but it leads to the first big reunion of the family in many years that’s all captured on film. While on the surface, this dysfunctional family might only be of interest to the surfing fans familiar with the Paskowitz’s legacy, this is by no means “just another surfing doc,” as it offers a more in-depth look at alternative parenting that raises many questions, like how the Paskowitzes were able to ward off the truant officers for so many years Rating: 7.5/10
Battle for Haditha – Nick Broomfield (Kurt and Courtney, Biggie and Tupac) presents his third dramatic feature, a realistic look at the real-life incident in Iraq where a group of Marines attacked and killed 24 people, including women and children, after their convoy was bombed by insurgents. It opens at the Film Forum in New York on Wednesday.
Mini-Review If you went into this Iraq drama not knowing it was directed by noted documentarian Nick Broomfield, you may be surprised by the way he produces a starkly realistic multi-perspective recreation of the incidents at Haditha, where 24 men, women and children were killed by Marines after a deadly bombing. In fact, you may feel as if you’re watching the real events happen because so many of scenes involving the Iraqi natives feel very natural and unscripted. The film starts somewhat slow as it introduces the various characters and shows the events leading up to the bombing from various perspectives. The dialogue isn’t great, especially that of the Marines who ame it up for the camera until things get more serious, but the most interesting part is seeing how the insurgents prepare to plant the IED that kills the Marines and starts the chain of events. This aspect of the film is infinitely and things are always happening to make you feel as if you’re there on the frontlines. Some of the scenes seem forced like one when the insurgents have a casual conversation about why the insurgency happened, maybe for those who missed “No End In Sight.” Otherwise the film is horrifying in its realism, especially when the Marines casually start killing the natives, though at that point, the film seems to take far too much artistic license with reality. It’s unclear whether Broomfield tried very hard to show a balanced view of the events, even with the film’s multi-perspective format, but he does spend a good amount of time humanizing the Iraqis in the village, as well as those responsible for the bombing. The results are more effective than Brian de Palma’s “Redacted” since it uses natural filmmaking rather than gimmicky devices, although it raises some serious questions in the way it depicts the American military in a negative light, driving the point home by repeating the phrase “Now the world will see how the Americans behave” twice. The camerawork could be better, especially once the shooting begins, but there’s a size and scope to the film we haven’t seen in Broomfield’s prior work that shows him capable of creating a piece of cinema on par with Michael Winterbottom’s films. Rating: 7/10
Also in Limited Release:
OSS 117: Cairo Nest of Spies (Music Box Films) – This award-winning hit French spy spoof comedy by Michel Hazanavicius updates the popular series of novels by Jean Bruce, with Jean Dujardin playing OSS 117, a bumbling secret agent sent to Cairo, Egypt in 1955 to investigate the death of a fellow spy. The Cesar-nominated film will open in New York on Friday.
A Previous Engagement (Buccaneer Films) – Juliet Stevenson, Daniel Stern and Tcheky Karyo star in Joan Carr-Wiggins’ romantic comedy about a librarian who takes her husband on vacation to Malta with the ulterior motive of meeting up with her first love, though her husband isn’t ready to lose his wife to the dashing Frenchman who brings his own girlfriend on the trip. It opens in New York and Los Angeles.
The Babysitters (Peace Arch Entertainment) – John Leguizamo stars in this dark morality tale from David Ross about a family man who gets involved with this kids’ babysitter (Katherine Waterson, daughter of Sam), and she sees it as an opportunity to make some money, assembling her friends to become “babysitters” to middle-aged men looking to pay for underage sexual partners. After premiering at the Toronto Film Festival, it will open at the Village East Cinemas.
Mini-Review (Coming Soon!)
Frontier(s) (After Dark Films) – The debut horror flick from Hitman director Xavier Gens is given a limited U.S. release with its tale of a group of young people on the run from the police after being involved with riots in Paris, only to come across a peaceful inn that houses a deadly cult that partake in cannibalistic rituals. It’s “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” in French and it opens in select cities on Friday.
Noise (THINKFilm) – Henry Bean, the filmmaker behind the Sundance winner “The Believer” which introduced the world to Ryan Gosling, returns with this comedy starring Tim Robbins as New Yorker who becomes a wanted vigilante when he takes the city’s noise problems into his own hands as “The Rectifier.” It opens in New York on Friday and in Los Angeles on May 16.
Mini-Review (Coming Soon!)
The Tracey Fragments (THINKFilm) – Ellen Page stars in Bruce McDonald’s experimental film based on the novel by Maureen Medved, using split screens to tell the story of a 15-year-old teen looking for her missing brother. After playing at last year’s Toronto Film Festival, it opens in New York at the Village East Cinemas, as does
Turn the River (Mr. Nice) – Famke Jannsen stars in actor Chris Eigeman’s drama about a woman who’s been separated from her son, but hopes to get him back and hatches a plan to use her pool-playing skills to get enough money to go with him to Canada.
Unsettled (Resonance Pictures) – Adam Hootnick’s documentary about six twenty-something involved in the Israeli conflict in summer 2005 when the Israeli government is withdrawing from the Gaza Strip seen from the viewpoint of soldiers and protestors. It also opens in New York this Friday at the Two Boots Pioneer Theater and in Los Angeles on May 16.
Vice (41 Inc.) Michael Madsen stars as Max Walker, a detective who’s become a loose cannon after the death of his wife, in Raul Sanchez Inglis’ crime drama about a drug bust gone wrong that has police officers fighting amongst themselves as they’re being killed off one-by one. It opens in New York, Los Angeles and other select cities, and you can find out where it’s playing here.
Next week we get a much lighter weekend with just one new movie in wide release, that being Disney’s The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian.
Copyright 2008 Edward Douglas