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.
It’s hard to believe that the first month of summer is over, but this week’s column goes out to the ladies, who’ll probably be out en masse this weekend to see Sex and the City (New Line), one of the most anticipated TV-to-big-screen movies since last year’s The Simpsons Movie. Sarah Jessica Parker has reunited with Kim Cattrall, Cynthia Nixon, Kristin Davis, writer/director Michael Patrick King and the rest of the cast to continue some stories, end others and basically give the show’s fans more of the women they love. The creators of the film have done a good job keeping the main plot points a secret, creating even more of a buzz among the show’s diehard female fanbase and among women in general that hasn’t been seen in some time. Expect the movie to win Friday with ease, although last week’s Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull could pick up enough family audience over the weekend to make up the difference and wind up winning, unless Carrie and the girls surpass even our lofty expectations.
It’s not often that a horror movie is offered as counter-programming to a chick flick, but that is the case with Bryan Bertino’s long-delayed The Strangers (Rogue/Universal) starring Scott Speedman and Liv Tyler, a home invasion horror flick which will try to overcome the current backlash to R-Rated stalker and slasher films, as well as the fact it’s been sitting on the shelf for over a year before being released by a studio that doesn’t have as much invested in it, it having not produced it.
UPDATE: We’re not ones to stick by our guns while the world passes us by, and it’s impossible to ignore the amount of sell-out shows and ticket sales both in New York and across the country being reported by Fandango for Sex and the City‘s opening night including many sold-out midnight showings on Thursday. Some thought our prediction of $40 million was high earlier in the week, but there’s a good chance we’re seeing a phenomenon on the scale of Passion of the Christ or The Simpsons Movie, and with all those sell-outs, one can expect a huge opening day of $18 to 20 million or even more and then a quick tail-off over the weekend. Who knows? Maybe women will embrace the movie enough for it to stick around for a while and get repeat business, but this will be a big weekend, one that shouldn’t have a problem besting Indiana Jones to take the top spot. Likewise, Universal’s The Strangers probably won’t tank nearly as bad as we predicted earlier in the week, if only because it will offer a viable for most guys who wouldn’t be caught dead in the film. (And yes, that pun was intended.)
1. Sex and the City (New Line) – $46.4 million N/A (Up $6 Million!!! and one place)
2. Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (Paramount) – $42.8 million -57% (down 1.4 million and one spot)
3. The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian (Disney) – $11.6 million – 49% (Down .4 million)
4. Iron Man (Marvel Studios/Paramount) $11.2 million – 45% (up .2 million)
5. The Strangers (Rogue Pictures/Universal) – $8.4 million N/A (up 1 million)
6. What Happens in Vegas (20th Century Fox) $4.8 million – 47% (up .1 million)
7. Speed Racer (Warner Bros.) $1.9 million – 52% (down .2 million)
8. Baby Mama (Universal) – $1.7 million -50% (same)
9. Made of Honor (Sony) $1.6 million -52% (same)
10. Forgetting Sarah Marshall (Universal) – $900 thousand -49% (same)
Last year, the weekend after Memorial Day saw the release of Judd Apatow’s second movie, the romantic comedy Knocked Up (Universal) and though it opened with over $30 million, it had to settle for second place behind Disney’s 3-quel Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End which dropped 62% in its second weekend to add $44 million to its $217 million total after 10 days. The Kevin Costner thriller Mr. Brooks took a healthy fourth place with $10 million well behind DreamWorks’ Shrek the Third in its third weekend, while the soccer drama Gracie (Picturehouse) ended up with just $1.4 million in 1,100 theaters. Last year, the top 10 grossed $127 million and this weekend could come close to matching that if Sex and the City surpasses expectations or Indiana Jones holds its ground better than expected.
Sex and the City (New Line)
Last week, we had a movie that was intended to appeal to every single guy on the face of the planetmaybe it did and maybe it didn’t–so this week, we have a movie for the ladies and that’s the long-awaited return of Darren Star’s Sex and the City, promising all the same laughs and tears from the popular show that ran on HBO for six seasons, redefining the cable channel as a viable producer of original television, as well as paving the groundwork for how television catered to women.
Ten years ago, Darren Star created a comedy vehicle for Sarah Jessica Parker, the former child star who appeared in a number of acclaimed movies over her 30-year career, and much to the surprise of the male-dominated entertainment biz, it became an instant hit among women who were happy to finally see a show where women talked openly about men, relationships and sex, while creating an idealized version of New York City centered around the world of fashion and art. The show was a huge hit for the network, and over its six-year run, it was nominated for (you might want to sit down for this number) FIFTY-SEVEN Emmies, winning once for comedy series, once for the direction by Michael Patrick King, and acting awards for Sarah Jessica Parker and Cynthia Nixon. It also won 6 Golden Globes, 4 of those for Parker. Along with “The Sopranos,” the show helped launch a new era for HBO, and in the four years since the show went off the air, female-driven shows like “Desperate Housewives” and “Grey’s Anatomy” and other knock-offs have tried to appeal to the same demographic. (In fact, most of those popular women’s shows have absconded the Sunday nighttime slot vacated by “Sex and the City.”) Meanwhile, the show continued to run on basic cable and in syndication in a heavily toned-down version without the nudity, swearing or some of the racier sex references, which has only helped to build the show’s female audience.
The show turned Sarah Jessica Parker into a huge star, and since the end of the show, she’s starred in a number of high profile movies including the holiday comedy The Family Stone and the hit romantic comedy Failure to Launch with Matthew McConaughey, which grossed $89 million after an impressive $24 million opening. Most recently, she co-starred with Dennis Quaid in Smart People, but it hasn’t fared as well, grossing $9.4 million last month after favorable reviews from the Sundance Film Festival. Even before the start of the show, Parker already had built up a strong female audience from movies like The First Wives’ Club, which grossed over $100 million presumably most of that number coming from women.
Before playing the sex-crazed Samantha on “Sex and the City,” Kim Cattrall had a fairly extensive career as a character actress, but didn’t have a lot of leading roles; she did have a few memorable roles though like in the ’80s raunch comedy Porky’s but she didn’t do very much right before or after co-starring on the show. Like Parker, Cynthia Nixon started out as a teen actress in movies like Little Darlings with child actors Tatum O’Neal and Kristy McNichol, and appeared in a number of other prominent films, though like Cattrall, her career wasn’t exactly booming when she was cast as tough-minded Miranda on the HBO show, nor has she done very much since the end of the show, except for a couple indies. The role got Nixon nominated for four Golden Globes and four Emmies, finally winning the latter in 2004. Kristin Davis, who looks the youngest but is actually older than two of her co-stars, already had a lot of television experience from her time on “General Hospital” and “Melrose Place” and in recent years, she’s mainly been doing mainstream comedies like Disney’s The Shaggy Dog with Tim Allen and Deck the Halls with Parker’s hubby Matthew Broderick.
The big new addition to the cast is former “American Idol” Jennifer Hudson playing Carrie’s new personal assistant, becoming the first woman of color in the cast and continuing Hudson’s amazing success story since winning the Oscar for her show-stopping role in the movie musical Dreamgirls last year. Her presence could help bring in some of the African-American women who have been sorely neglected by the show’s Wonder bread cast. While most women won’t be seeing this movie for the guys, Chris Noth certainly earned a solid reputation for himself as the dreamy Mr. Big, a role that helped him create a name for himself after a run on “Law and Order.” (He recently returned to the show’s spin-off “Law and Order: Criminal Intent.”) There’s also Samantha’s flamboyantly gay friends Anthony and Stanford, played by Mario Cantone and Willie Garson, and the boyfriends/husband of the three ladies, all returning for the movie, although they play a much smaller role.
Reviews will probably mixed, though they probably won’t matter much to true fans of the show who’ll generally ignore the reviews to avoid spoilers and to make up their own minds when they see it for themselves. There’s such a craze over the show that one shouldn’t be too surprised if groups of female friends make plans to go see the movie as a group, something that should drive up business on Thursday at midnight and Friday night, making the weekend more frontloaded. While one could easily compare this to other romantic comedies, there’s probably more of a connection to last year’s The Simpsons Movie, a popular Sunday night comedy show with a diehard fanbase that finally had a movie in theaters. The audience for that cartoon probably leans more towards guys, which helped it bring in over $70 million its opening weekend.
The question is whether the demand for more “Sex” could create a similar box office phenomenon, especially when you consider that not a single women-targeted movie has opened over $40 million. A few have come close like Reese Witherspoon’s Sweet Home Alabama and The Break-Up with Jennifer Aniston and Vince Vaughn, which both opened over $35 million. Still, you have to think that there is far more of a fanbase for this proven commodity, so that the $30 million made in the same weekend last year by Judd Apatow’s female-friendly Knocked Up should be a simple mark to pass, and it will be vying for the numbers of those other movies as New Line distributor Warner Bros. gets the movie onto as many screens and theaters as possible.
Despite the censored version of the show that helped it find an even larger female audience, King et al decided to maintain the sex and nudity from the original show for the movie, getting an R-rating, which might make it harder for the teen girls who might have gotten into the show to go see the movie on their own. Still, one has to figure there’s enough women 18 and up who have been dying for the return of the gals and who’ll rush out to see the movie, if not at midnight on Thursday, then on Friday and Saturday, and advance sales have been very strong over the past few weeks, as has the tracking. There’s also a pretty surprising audience of gay men in bigger cities who’ll probably go to see it as well, although that’s an audience that isn’t particularly trackable.
Either way, expect many people, especially men, to be surprised by how many women want to go out and see this movie, much like they’ve rushed out to the movies of Tyler Perry, although opening in over 3,000 theaters and having appeal for a wider demographic of woman should allow the movie to fare even better than Perry’s biggest openers. The question is more how well the movie might do after opening weekend, and with very little strong female-driven fare in the coming weeks, one can expect a lot of repeat business and decent legs, especially since women don’t generally rush out to see movies, even if this movie might be the exception to that rule.
Why I Should See It: Darren Star’s popular show comes to the big screen with all of the bells and whistles that made the show so popular.
The Strangers (Rogue/Universal)
Mini-Review: This debut from Bryan Bertino, a filmmaker whose ability to instill every frame of his first movie with genuine fear and terror makes him one to watch for sure, even if his debut runs into troubles by the end. After the obligatory “inspired by a true story” preamble, the film introduces the young couple played by Tyler and Speedman, whose relationship is already on the rocks as he invites her to his old family home for a failed proposal. A knock on the door at 4 in the morning starts what’s going to be a terrifying night for the couple, and when she’s left alone in the house, the terror escalates as two or more people in masks will not let up, even when her boyfriend returns to try to talk some more. The rest of the movie has the two of them being chased or tormented by the three masked invaders, essentially turning into more of a typical slasher film, only focusing on the one couple as they try to outwit their tormentors, who always seems fully in control of the situation even if we never learn much about why they’re doing what they do. If you’re a fan of the horror genre, it’s fairly clear that Bertino does far better with the themes introduced in John Carpenter’s “Halloween” than Rob Zombie’s schlocky ’07 remake, creating a far more real and visceral experience than last year’s “Vacancy” as well. Like with the latter, he wisely spends enough time with the couple beforehand that you really care about them by the time they get put through their paces, and much of that credit goes to the two actors, more than to the script, which is fairly minimal after a certain point. The film only really dies (no pun intended) towards the end as things come to a climactic conclusion and we get more of the gore we’ve come to expect from these movies, but after what we’ve seen, it doesn’t feel nearly as satisfying to those hoping to find out why this trio is doing what they do. The very last scene of the movie seems very tacked on and completely unnecessary, because it only makes you want to see what happens next, and instead, it leaves you disappointed when you’re hit with the credits after less than 90 minutes. Up until that point, Bertino has created a seriously harrowing cautionary tale that’s sure to be remembered the next time you’re left in a house by yourself. Rating: 7/10
It’s not often that horror movies are released over the summer months against the big summer blockbusters, and certainly one must wonder what Universal is thinking by doing so with this long-delayed stalker/slasher film that’s been sitting on the shelf for over a year since being produced by Rogue Pictures. This is the first movie from newcomer Bryan Bertino, who won the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ Nicholl Fellowship for his early script for the movie, before selling it to Universal in 2004 and being asked to direct the movie two years later.
On the surface, The Strangers may look like another “torture porn” flick, a horror genre that became popular a few years back due to the “Saw” franchise but then died down as the market became inundated. In fact, it’s a serious thriller based around the true story about a random home invasion that terrorizes a young couple.
Bertino has gotten two fairly well-known B-level stars on board for his movie both with some genre cred, headlined by Liv Tyler, whose biggest role to date was playing Arwen the Elf in Peter Jackson’s acclaimed “Lord of the Rings” trilogy, having mainly done smaller films since starring in Michael Bay’s Armageddon opposite Ben Affleck (who she reteamed with for Kevin Smith’s Jersey Girl a few years back). Tyler hasn’t really popped as an actor otherwise, and is still best known for her father being Aerosmith frontman Stephen Tyler. Canada’s own Scott Speedman is best known for his role in Len Wiseman’s two “Underworld” movies and he had a role in the dog xXx: State of the Union, but otherwise, he hasn’t really made too much of a mark either.
In the last couple years, summer horror movies haven’t fared particularly well, and last summer, the sequel to Eli Roth’s Hostel bombed so badly that it was thought to signify the death of the horror renaissance that had bloomed in recent years, corroborated by the subsequent bombing of the independently-released Captivity and Slasher. Earlier that year, a similar horror-thriller about a couple being terrorized in a hotel by men in masks called Vacancy starring Speedman’s Underworld co-star Kate Beckinsale and Luke Wilson opened with less than $8 million and that was despite a decent-sized push from Screen Gems. Obviously, the horror genre is not as strong as it was back in 2003 and 2004 when remakes of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Dawn of the Dead both opened over $25 million, and one wonders if even the Saw franchise can sustain itself for one, let alone, two more movies.
Original studio Rogue Pictures plugged The Strangers to theater owners at ShoWest back in early 2007 and again at Comic-Con in San Diego later that year, but that free promotion by Rogue was squandered as the movie was delayed after originally planned for a Fall 2007 release, before finally ending up at Universal when they took over Rogue Pictures’ line-up. Universal hasn’t given the movie much of a push, although horror fans probably know about it from years of it being hyped on various horror sites, not to mention trailers that have appeared in front of other movies going back to August last year.
There’s definitely a ceiling to where R-rated horror movies have been able to open. Even though Screen Gems hit a home run last month with the slasher flick Prom Night, it was rated PG-13, so The Stranger‘s rating might keep it from doing a ton of business, if only because older audiences gotten burnt out on the number of horror movies. Even so, The Strangers has a strong premise, a great title and visceral and horrifying images that make the trailers and commercials memorable to diehard horror fans, who haven’t had a decent horror movie in months, so it shouldn’t bomb too badly, though one shouldn’t expect it to breakout either.
Why I Should See It: If you’re looking for a very scary movie, this one will scare the pants off you.
THE CHOSEN ONE:
Bigger, Stronger, Faster* (Magnolia)
Review (Coming Soon, hopefully)
I was hoping to rewatch this amazing documentary about steroids one more time before writing this week’s column but that wasn’t meant to be, so hopefully, I’ll have time later in the week to write a fuller review after rewatching it, because this is an excellent doc about a subject matter many readers should be interested in. Since I’m not really a sports fan myself, I came into this movie as someone who hadn’t really been paying much attention to the many news stories about baseball players on steroids and other performance-enhancement drugs, and yet, Christopher Bell, a former power-lifter, has found an amazing jumping-on point for his first doc that makes it interesting even to the likes of me. Essentially, Bell did much of the research for those who don’t know very much about steroids, but he also brings a personal take to the use of the drugs to the table because both of his brothers are taking steroids. Bell ends up revealing a lot of his own personal family history to help the viewer understand that he’s coming from a place where steroid use is something he needs to get his head around for his own personal reasons as well as to inform the viewer. In doing so, Bell does an extremely thorough job with his look at the drug, not only dealing with the use of performance-enhancing drugs in baseball, wrestling and in his own field of power-lifting, he also gets Olympic runners Carl Lewis and Ben Johnson to talk about the controversial 1988 Seoul Olympics decision where Johnson’s gold medal was taken away after drug-testing proved positive with his medal being given to Lewis, who was also presumably using drugs. This isn’t just a lot of talking heads and scientific data though, as Bell finds a way to make this a thoroughly entertaining film from beginning to end. Even those who might feel Bell is taking a pro-steroid stance by defending them as being as “American as apple pie,” should be able to appreciate the tactic he takes of proving how Americans’ desire to be the “biggest, strongest, fastest” has pushed so many to take steroids and other drugs to achieve that goal.
Like a cross between “Super Size Me” and “Capturing the Friedmans”–and those are two lofty documentaries to live up to–this is easily one of the best documentaries of the year, up there with some of Michael Moore’s best in terms of investigative filmmaking. Anyone interested in sports or the recent debate about steroids will want to check out this documentary, which follows successful runs at this year’s Sundance and Tribeca and other film festivals with a roll-out in select cities on Friday. Hopefully, this will do well enough to get a wide release eventually.
Also in Limited Release:
The Foot Fist Way (Paramount Vantage) – Jody Hill’s directorial debut stars Danny R. McBride As Tae Kwon Do instructor Fred Simmons whose life falls apart when he discovers his wife cheating on him, which spurs him to take on his hero, an 8-time undefeated fighting champ. Produced by Will Ferrell and Adam McKay, this 2007 Sundance Film Festival crowd-pleasing cult hit opens in New York and L.A. on Friday.
Savage Grace (IFC First Take) – Julianne Moore stars in Tom (“Swoon”) Kalin’s adaptation of Natalie Robins & Steven Aronsons award-winning novel based on the true story about the dysfunctional relationship between socialite Barbara Daly and her gay son Tony (Eddie Redmayne) after her divorce from a wealthy plastics magnate. After playing at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year, it opens in New York and L.A. on Friday.
Stuck (THINKFilm) – Stuart Gordon, creator of the “Reanimator” series tells a horrifying story based on a true incident about a young woman (Mena Suvari) who hits a man with her car (Stephen Rea) during a night of partying. With the man’s body stuck in her windshield, she keeps him trapped in her garage rather than potentially being arrested. It opens in New York and L.A. on Friday.
Mini-Review: On the surface, there’s some merit to Stuart Gordon’s attempt to create a socially-conscious thriller about how people would rather protect their own interests than help someone in need, but aside from the gory hit-and-run accident, this isn’t exactly his return to horror as much as a drama that eventually devolves into a revenge thriller. The problem isn’t the film’s high concept premise as much as it is the writing that isn’t very good, exacerbated by the gross miscasting of Mena Suvari as the partying nurse who decides to hide her wrongdoing, only to have it turn against her. Suvari and her character are both so awful in every respect that it’s hard to feel any sort of empathy for her situation. Because of this, the movie never works as the two-hander it was intended to be, and she’s far out-acted by Rea, as he spends much of the film clawing his way out of the car and garage, while screaming at the top of his vocal range, a generally grueling display of watching a really good actor working with bad material. The film’s dark humor only works at times, most memorably in a scene where Suvari must deal with her cheating boyfriend’s naked paramour, and as she and the same boyfriend try to figure out what to do with the dying man in their garage, but otherwise, this is a ridiculous effort that fails to raise the blood pressure, because everything is so predictable once you know the general premise. Sadly, the poor quality of the film makes it a late night Cinemax guilty pleasure at best. Rating: 4/10
The Unknown Woman (Outsider Pictures) – Giuseppe Tornatore’s thriller, the Italian submission for this year’s Oscar Foreign Language category, is the story of a Russian woman who gets a job as the maid to an Italian family and starts to intrude into every aspect of their lives.
Next week, June begins with two very different new movies, pitting DreamWorks against Sandler as the animated Kung Fu Panda, featuring the voice of Jack Black, takes on Sandler’s latest action-comedy, You Don’t Mess with the Zohan (Sony).