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.
This week’s box office battle is not only interesting because it’s between two genre films, but also because they’re both movies that have something to prove, following two less than well-received predecessors that might have an effect on whether moviegoers decide to give their follow-ups a chance.
For their second film, Marvel Studios introduces a new take on The Incredible Hulk (Marvel Studios / Universal) starring Edward Norton as Bruce Banner, and its biggest hurdle is the 2003 Ang Lee movie, which was received with much disdain from comic book fans, dropping over 70% in its second weekend after a $60 million opening weekend. With an all-new cast and director, as well as the good will towards Marvel Studios thanks to Iron Man, comic book fans should be out in force on Friday and Saturday to see how well they did in reviving the character for the big screen. It should come very close to matching the opening of the previous movie even though it has a lot more direct competition than its predecessor. If it’s even half as good as Iron Man, it should have much better legs than the first movie though.
Following the box office disaster of Lady in the Water two years ago, filmmaker M. Night Shyamalan returns with global disaster thriller The Happening (20th Century Fox) starring Mark Wahlberg and John Leguizamo, and though he may be hoping to recover from his last two poorly-received films, the damage may already be done even if the global disaster premise of the movie is far stronger than his fairy tale. Besides moving Shyamalan further away from his Disney roots, it also brings the filmmaker into R-Rated horror territory, something that might interest the older audiences that enjoy his movies, although it’s still going to have a hard time making a dent against the anticipated “Hulk” movie, though it might be one of the first choices for older women who’ve already seen Sex and the City.
(UPDATE: Both movies are being released in less theaters than originally estimated, and while The Incredible Hulk generally has far better reviews than M. Night Shyamalan’s The Happening — you can read my reviews of both from the links below — the latter has generated a lot more curiosity over the past week due to the frightening commercial blitz. Still, Hulk should win the weekend with ease, but just not with as much money as originally expected, as a lot of older folks choose the original apocalyptic horror film rather than the strange non-sequel remake of the Marvel Comics character.)
This week’s Chosen One is Werner Herzog’s new documentary Encounters at the End of the World (THINKFilm), which takes the eccentric German filmmaker all the way to Antarctica, something you can read about below.
1. The Incredible Hulk (Marvel/Universal) – $55.6 million N/A (down $2.9 million)
2. Kung Fu Panda (DreamWorks Animation) – $36.2 million -40% (down .3 million)
3. The Happening (20th Century Fox) – $26.2 million N/A (up .8 million)
4. You Don’t Mess with the Zohan (Sony) – $19.0 million -51% (down .3 million)
5. Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (Paramount) – $11.6 million 49% (up .1 million)
6. Sex and the City (New Line) – $10.5 million -51% (up .5 million)
7. The Strangers (Rogue Pictures/Universal) – $4.3 million -52% (down .2 million)
8. Iron Man (Marvel Studios/Paramount) $4.1 million -46% (up .1 million)
9. The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian (Disney) – $3.0 million -47% (down .1 million)
10. What Happens in Vegas (20th Century Fox) $1.9 million 45% (same)
Last year this weekend, another comic book based movie, this one more of a direct sequel, Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer (20th Century Fox), which opened with $58 million, just slightly higher than its predecessor two years prior, in slightly less than 4,000 theaters. It reigned definitively over the rest of the movies in theatres with the only other new movie being Warner Bros.’ update of Nancy Drew starring Emma Roberts, a bomb that made less than $7 million its opening weekend. The Top 10 grossed less than $140 million, an amount that should be surpassed due to the combination of The Incredible Hulk, M. Night Shyamalan’s movie and the continued success of DreamWorks Animation’s Kung Fu Panda.
The Incredible Hulk (Marvel Studios / Universal)
Starring Edward Norton, Liv Tyler, Tim Roth, Tim Blake Nelson, Ty Burrell, William Hurt
Directed by Louis Letterier (Transporter 2, Unleashed); Written by Zak Penn (X-Men: The Last Stand, Elektra, Incident at Loch Ness, The Grand), Edward Norton
Genre: Action, Thriller, Superhero
Tagline: “This June, a hero shows his true colors”
Plot Summary: Dr. Bruce Banner (Edward Norton) has been on the run from the forces of General Thunderbolt Ross (William Hurt) and his monstrous green alter ego known as “The Hulk” has defeated his super soldier Emil Blonsky (Tim Roth) who undergoes treatment to turn himself into a similar rampaging monster known as “The Abomination.”
The superhero movie genre has crested and dipped in popularity many times in the past few years since the first X-Men movie in 2000 paved the way for other movies based on Marvel Comics characters of varying qualities, budgets and box office results. Clearly, the high point is still Sam Raimi’s trio of “Spider-Man” movies, which set many new records, but amidst the hits, there’ve been more than a few disappointments and movies of questionable quality. Fortunately, he popularity of the superhero genre has had a comeback thanks to the ongoing current success of Jon Favreau’s Iron Man and the makers of that film, Marvel Studios, are ready to take another chance on the Marvel Comics character who already appeared in another movie made just five years ago. Based on the character created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby over 40 years ago, Hulk was future Oscar winner Ang Lee’s attempt at taking on a mainstream big budget Hollywood movie, but it had problems as soon as the first visuals of the green monster appeared. It was still able to open with more than $60 million but it quickly lost its audience after that, grossing a little more than twice its opening, and it was considered a disaster based on the fact that it barely made back its $135 million production budget domestically.
With that in mind, one might wonder why do another movie? First of all, the Hulk is still one of Marvel’s Top 3 most popular and well-known characters after Spider-Man due to the ’70s television show starring Bill Bixby as David Banner and power builder Lou Ferrigno as his monster alter ego, as well as numerous cartoons. Everyone can relate to the character’s simple premise losing one’s temper and letting loose a monster. Instead of making a sequel to the first Hulk or doing a remake where they retell the character’s origin, The Incredible Hulk is another chance to try to get it right, something which very studios or producers ever get. Marvel decided to go with an unconventional choice for director (just like having Jon Favreau direct Iron Man) hiring Luc Besson protégé Louis Letterier who had moderate hits with Transporter 2 and Unleashed in 2005, and they’ve decided to base the second feature film more on the television show, with Ferrigno making a cameo just as he did in the first Hulk.
Much like with Iron Man, the success of the movie relies heavily on the casting and the key role to fill is the one vacated by Eric Bana, as twice Oscar-nominated Edward Norton steps into the role of Bruce Banner, something that automatically ups the ante and starpower for this relaunch. Norton has only starred in two movies that came close to grossing $100 million, the action remake The Italian Job and the horror prequel Red Dragon but his roles in Primal Fear, American History X and David Fincher’s Fight Club have made him a fan-favorite among moviegoers, something that helped his recent indie The Illusionist gross nearly $40 million.
Norton’s Betty Ross is played by Liv Tyler, coming off one of her biggest non-ensemble hit, Bryan Bertino’s horror movie The Strangers also for Universal, although she probably plays a smaller role in this movie than Jennifer Connelly did in the previous one. The Hulk’s primary adversaries are played by William Hurt as General Thunderbolt Ross and Tim Roth as Emil Blonsky, a super soldier who gets turned into the Hulk’s monstrous arch-foe Abomination, both respected actors who’ve appeared in a number of movies in the last few months, continuing the Marvel Studios tradition of hiring actors based on the quality of their work rather than box office potential. The last key to the film’s success might be the introduction of two characters from the comics, Tim Blake Nelson as Samuel Sterns, who later becomes another prime Hulk villain known as The Leader, and Ty Burrell as Dr. Samson (sic), the Gamma-powered shrink to Banner. (One expects that neither of them will play key roles in this movie or actually become their alter egos, but be more like Dr. Curt Connors in the “Spider-Man” movies.)
To the credit of Ang Lee’s Hulk, it didn’t get altogether awful reviews, scoring 61% Fresh from national critics, but IMDb Users weren’t as kind going by their 5.8 out of 10 rating. It’s only been five years since the movie, not nearly long enough for people to get the bad taste out of their minds, and in that sense,The Incredible Hulk is very much like Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins in that it’s the relaunching a character while trying to overcome a poor predecessor, in that case being Joel Schumacher’s Batman & Robin (which also barely grossed twice its opening weekend cause it was so frickin’ bad). Many thought that Hulk was ultimately hurt by the early backlash to the CG Hulk and the movie’s all-around bad CG, and there’ve been a few who’ve made similar derogatory comments about the look of the new Hulk and the Abomination.
Earlier this summer, Marvel Studios’ first production Iron Man became the most successful non-“Spider-Man” movie based on a Marvel Comics character, and it’s created a lot more good will towards the new Hulk movie. That said, it’s not all sunlight and roses for their relaunch, because on top of the negative buzz about the CG, there’s been a very public disagreement between Edward Norton and Marvel Studios about the edit of the movie after they cut out a lot of his character exposition in favor of the action, probably to avoid a similar backlash as the first movie. This “feud” has actually brought more attention to the movie than it may have gotten otherwise, and it’s hard to determine whether it might have any sort of negative effect on those who might be interested. (The fact that Norton isn’t even receiving a writing credit for his contribution to the screenplay is also rather worrisome, because it won’t help matters if the film is successful and they want to make a sequel with the actor.)
This may not be a problem for Universal who have been cranking out some amazing television commercials and have had the recognizable image of the Hulk plastered everywhere in big cities. Although they didn’t produce the movie, it’s an important movie as the film’s distributor because they have a lot to prove to Marvel, plus it’s the first of four big summer tentpole movies for the studio. The promotion for the movie began when Marvel Studios gave a relatively unimpressive presentation at San Diego Comic-Con last year, but then followed that up with a much bigger and more impressive presentation at the New York Comic-Con this year. At the latter con, they also confirmed Robert Downey Jr.’s appearance in the movie as Tony Stark, something that might bring a lot of the fans of Iron Manback to see Downey's cameo in the studio's second movie. (Back when it was obvious Iron Man was going to be a huge hit, I thought it would be smart to include the cameo in the marketing, and sure enough, Universal/Marvel have done just that, releasing a commercial that features Downey in it). The Incredible Hulk was featured on HBO’s First Look, something that should help raise awareness and interest in what is clearly a very different Hulk movie, and on Monday, Universal has used their NBC synergy to preview the movie during the popular “American Gladiators” show and on the SCI FI Channel this week.
Ironically, the movie is being released the same weekend that Fox released their sequel Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer last year, which opened slightly higher than its predecessor two years earlier, but failed to deliver much after that. The Incredible Hulk may be harder to sell to younger kids, especially with Kung Fu Panda still in theaters, and the movie has some strong competition for older males from M. Night Shyamalan’s apocalyptic thriller The Happening (see below). The original Hulk didn’t have very much competition at all for moviegoers’ dollars, and there may be enough skeptics remaining from the first movie even if the new movie is better. (There haven’t been many official reviews released since there haven’t been any official screenings yet.) As we’ve seen far too many times (and as recently as “Prince Caspian”), a better movie doesn’t always automatically equal more box office, but with that in mind, The Incredible Hulk will probably open slightly smaller than the previous movie but if the movie is as good as the early buzz, than it should have strong legs over the next few weeks, much like Batman Begins.
Why I Should See It: There’s little way that this can be worse than the Ang Lee “Hulk” movie and it has the opportunity to be much much better with the likes of Norton and Letterier on board.
The Happening (20th Century Fox)
Starring Mark Wahlberg, Zooey Deschanel, John Leguizamo, Betty Buckley, Spencer Breslin, Ashlyn Sanchez, M. Night Shyamalan
Written and directed by M. Night Shyamalan (The Sixth Sense, Signs, The Village, Lady in the Water, Unbreakable)
Tagline: “We’ve Sensed It. We’ve Seen The Signs. Now… It’s Happening.”
Plot Summary: Mankind is threatened by a wave of unexplainable deaths and suicides that have swept across the nation’s major cities, forcing science teacher Elliot Moore (Mark Wahlberg) and his family to go on the run along with a fellow teacher (John Leguizamo) and his son to the Pennsylvania farmlands in hopes of surviving.
Less than two years since M. Night Shyamalan’s Lady in the Water became his first major bomb since exploding into Hollywood with his mega-blockbuster The Sixth Sense, one has to wonder whether it’s a disappointment that can be overcome, especially after his previous The Village was received so poorly in the summer of 2004, opening with $50 million but creating such a negative backlash with its twist ending that it barely grossed twice its opening in total. After that disaster, Shyamalan split from Disney, who had released his previous four films and brought Lady in the Water to Warner Bros., but that didn’t even make in total what his previous movies made their opening weekends. It’s strange to think that the filmmaker once dubbed the “next Spielberg” after his first mainstream movie The Sixth Sense grossed almost $300 million then three years later, Signs grossed over $200 million.
In some ways, The Happening is a very different movie for Shyamalan, getting away from the supernatural and other-worldly elements of his previous films but also returning to the global disaster elements of his 2002 film Signs, this time creating a nature-based enemy. He’s also taken a slightly different tactic with the casting, not using any of the regulars from previous movies, which has generally carried over one or more actors whether it’s Bruce Willis from The Sixth Sense to Unbreakable, Joaquin Phoenix from Signs to The Village or Bryce Dallas Howard, who appeared in the last two. His new movies stars Mark Wahlberg, an actor who has earned a lot of respect in recent years with his ability to open movies including a good number of summer blockbusters, having starred with George Clooney in Wolfgang Peterson’s The Perfect Storm, a movie which won a similar box office battle facing Mel Gibson’s The Patriot. That was followed by Tim Burton’s remake of Planet of the Apes, a classic summer blockbuster which opened big despite general discontent, and ironically, Wahlberg also appeared in The Italian Job opposite his box office competition Edward Norton just a month before the first Hulk movie was released. Since then, Wahlberg’s career has been up and down but he’s been doing well since being nominated for an Oscar for Martin Scorsese’s The Departed a few years back. He’s generally been picking stronger movies that have done decently like John Singleton’s Four Brothers, Shooter and the football drama Invincible. Like Bruce Willis and Mel Gibson, Wahlberg does bring a certain level of starpower to Night’s new film that wasn’t seen in the last couple.
The film co-stars indie darling Zooey Deschanel, whose mainstream forays include Will Ferrell’s Elf and the romantic comedy Failure to Launch, and John Leguizamo, who is becoming the most prolific actor of the year, although neither of them would have much of an impact on box office.
The film’s premise is somewhat similar to Stephen King’s novel “The Stand,” but even Frank Darabont’s recent adaptation of King’s short story The Mist bombed when it was released, but that might have been more to do with its Thanksgiving release date. Unlike Shyamalan’s other movies, The Happening is his first R-rated movie, something that’s been used heavily in the marketing of the movie while allowing the filmmaker to show the devastation without holding back. Horror fans especially should appreciate the horrific images of suicide seen in the red band trailers that makes the movie look more like the harsh Armageddon from Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later than Shyamalan’s tamer alien invasion in Signs. By the nature of this sort of apocalyptic movie, it will generally appeal more to guys 17 and up, but there’s also a chance that it might bring in some of the older women that might not be very interested in Marvel’s big green goliath and won’t be seeing Sex and the City a second time. The movie also has a similar vibe as Fox’s well-timed 2006 remake of the ’70s horror classic The Omen, and it’s release date of Friday the 13th could similarly help the movie because that’s often a good day to release a horror movie.
Even so, one has to wonder how much of a backlash has been built up towards the filmmaker and whether The Happening is a reaction to that, hoping to get back to what people like about his movies. It certainly looks a lot more like his earlier movies with a couple shots in the trailer that could have been sampled directly from The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable or Signs. The other question is how many people who hated the first “Hulk” movie enough to skip the new one will have simultaneously forgiven Shyamalan for his previous movie and will make this their one viable option? With two strikes under his belt, many people will be looking at this as M. Night Shyamalan’s last chance to prove that his early successes weren’t a fluke and that he is the filmmaker everyone claimed him to be early in his career. Night has generally been elusive in terms of promoting the movie and Fox has not been able to tie the movie into many products due to its R-rating, though Shyamalan is launching his first personal website to coincide with the movie. So far, there have been very early reviews of the movie, mainly because few people have seen it yet, but chances are that it will be received as poorly as Shyamalan’s previous efforts even if those reviews don’t show up until Thursday or Friday. Either way, while Night’s fans and the curious might be out to see the movie this weekend, don’t expect it to have much in the way of legs, since the movie might not be what people expect.
Fortunately, Shyamalan’s next movie is an adaptation of the Nickelodeon fantasy cartoon The Last Airbender, which is already scheduled for 2010, which may be his first chance to tackle someone else’s property as well as a real family film.
Why I Should See It: Shyamalan returns to what has worked, large-scale threats to the globe with a thriller reminiscent of the work of Stephen King.
THE CHOSEN ONE:
Encounters at the End of the World (THINKFilm)
It’s not too unimaginable to think of German filmmaking legend Werner Herzog taking his cameras down to the continent of Antarctica, but can anyone imagine him making a movie that would get a G-rating? Well that’s what he’s done with his latest venture into nature as he travels down to the globe’s point furthest south to look at other aspects of the land besides the infamous penguins who’ve been embraced by kids and parents everywhere. That’s not to say that Encounters at the End of the World is even remotely a family movie, because Herzog explores a lot of subjects that would only be of interest to those with a college degree, creating a rich experience that looks at the scientific studies being conducted in Antarctica looking at the earliest origins of life one moment and staring down the mouth of a live volcano another. It’s perpetually entertaining, whether it’s showing the McMurdo Base mandatory training program or the many gorgeous shots of the landscapes of the area and just as enjoyable are Herzog’s many interviews with the Base’s inhabitants, characters who are often even wackier and more eccentric than the director himself. Still, the high point of the movie are the shots taken deep under the ice of the continent where it’s teaming with living organisms few people have ever witnesses and that footage is hypnotizing to watch. In fact, there’s more than a few things that you’ll never have seen or experienced before, all accompanied by Herzog’s inimitable narrative–think “Deep Thoughts with Werner Herzog”–offering wit and wisdom to everything he shows, as well as a gorgeous accompanying score, some particularly ethereal scenes made even moreso with luscious Russian chorale music. Wisely, Herzog knows when to interrupt one particularly verbose scientist when he realizes the audience is being put to sleep, a very funny moment, and despite his earlier protests, he still manages to fit in a couple penguins, including one scrambling around the ice with no particular direction or reason appropriately enough.
If there’s any doubt that Herzog is still at the top of his game, making some of the most amazing films of his career, then Encounters at the End of the World should put those doubts to rest, because Grizzly Man is only the tip of the iceberg of his ability as a documentarian to shock and amaze you. Herzog’s latest opens at the Film Forum in New York on Wednesday.
It was a very close call this week because I enjoyed Guy Maddin’s latest almost as much, but c’est la vie. There can only be one true “Chosen One.”
My Winnipeg (IFC Films)
Mini-Review: A suitable counterpart and follow-up to Maddin’s silent movie “Brand Upon the Brain!”–ironically his first movie shot outside his home city of Winnipeg–this pseudo-travelogue successfully transports the viewer into the central city of Canada, allowing us to share Maddin’s trials and joys with making it residence for his entire life. Framed by Maddin’s desire to escape, the film gets into many of the city’s urban myths and legends, as well as recreating presumably fictionalized incidents from his youth, going back to film in his childhood home with actors playing himself and his family. All of Maddin’s new footage is kept so consistent with the archival footage that you’ll have trouble separating the real from the dramatized, but it’s all shot in Maddin’s usual black and white fashion with a few shocking splashes of color and even some animation. The origins of Maddin’s deranged sense of humor can readily be traced back to the city’s mythic “forks” and back alleys that one would have to be the city planner or a resident to fully appreciate, and yet, it’s infinitely entertaining learning all these “facts” about the city in Maddin’s inimitable fashion. Some of the strongest moments are Maddin’s laments about how the city is changing, most notably the attempted destruction of the hockey arena where his father used to work as a coach, and there’s definitely a sadness to seeing his childhood stolen from him, even if he’s as unrepentantly merciless towards his nagging mother as he was in “Brain!” “My Winnipeg” may never play on the Travel Channel and it’s probably too bizarre for anyone who hasn’t already been inducted into Maddin’s whimsical worldview, but the refreshing use of his distinctive narrative style turns what normally might have been a dry and uninteresting city into somewhere as exciting as Paris, Rio or other tourist faves. Rating: 8/10
Also in Limited Release:
Beauty in Trouble (Menemsha Films) – Set amidst the deadly floods in Prague, Czechoslovakia, this drama dealing a mother who finds herself torn between two men opens in New York on Friday at the Angelika.
Chris & Don: A Love Story (Zeitgeist Films) – Guido Santi’s documentary looks at the 30 year relationship between British writer Christopher Isherwood (writer of the stories that inspired “Cabaret”) and painter Don Bachardy, thirty years his younger who narrates this profile of the writer. It opens at the Quad Cinemas in New York.
Quid Pro Quo (Magnolia) – Carlos Brooks’ psychological thriller stars Nick Stahl as a New York reporter confined to a wheelchair who discovers a gruesome cult of people with the desire to become disabled. After premiering at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year, the film which also stars Vera Farmiga opens in New York and L.A.
To the Limit (First Run Features) – Pepe (Home Match) Danquart’s documentary looks at the risks taken by mountain climbers Thomas and Alexander Huber who set out to climb the 3,000 foot vertical climb of El Capitan in Yosemite Valley, California. Opens at the Cinema Village in New York.
Next week, it’s the Comedy Clash of the Summer of ’08 as Steve Carell takes on Mike Myers with the big screen version of the Mel Brooks and Buck Henry’s ’60s television show Get Smart (Warner Bros.) facing Myers’ The Love Guru (Paramount).
Copyright 2008 Edward Douglas