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.
We’re midway through the last month of summer and unlike past weeks, instead of getting two movies in wide release, we’re getting an entire array of releases–some big, some small, some that probably won’t be seen at all–but seriously, if one of these movies doesn’t beat The Dark Knight, I’m quitting. Really, I mean it. Seriously, Nolan, give someone else a chance to be #1, okay?
Opening early on Wednesday to get away from the mass of movies opening Friday is Ben Stiller’s war comedy Tropic Thunder (DreamWorks/Paramount), co-starring Jack Black and Robert Downey Jr., which should be able to capitalize on Paramount’s unstoppable viral marketing campaign to get a lot of the fans of all three actors into theaters, even if it might taper off by Saturday or Sunday facing so much competition. Even so, the word-of-mouth should be good enough to keep it going and help it become Stiller’s latest movie to gross $100 million (and his first as a director to do so.)
(UPDATE: Well, Tropic Thunder has opened on Wednesday and made about half what we thought it would make. The question now is whether it’s frontloaded like Pineapple Express last week or word-of-mouth will get people to see it over the weekend as they drop off from watching the Olympics. We think that it will pick up some business and still beat The Clone Wars for the weekend although they should be fairly close on Friday.)
George Lucas returns to his most famous franchise with Star Wars: The Clone Wars (Warner Bros.), a preview of the long-anticipated animated television series which is scheduled to air in the fall. While many diehard fans and kids might go out to see it this weekend, the animation just doesn’t look as good as other summer CG animated offerings from DreamWorks and Pixar so there’s a good chance that even the biggest fans will be fine waiting until it airs on television. Even so, you won’t be able to keep the most diehard fans from seeing it which should allow it to take second place.
Also opening on Friday and trying to snag away some of the guys who might not be interested in the other movies (which isn’t many) is Mirrors (20th Century Fox), the new horror movie from Alexandre (The Hills Have Eyes) Aja, starring Kiefer Sutherland, and that will mainly be getting those guys looking for another movie after seeing Tropic Thunder and possibly some women who like scary movies.
Hoping to interest the many women who might not be so interested in the above choices, MGM and the Weinstein Company will release Woody Allen’s Spain- based love triangle comedy Vicky Cristina Barcelona, starring Scarlett Johansson, Penelope Cruz and Javier Bardem, into 700 theatres. After receiving critical acclaim at the Cannes Film Festival, it should bring in a similar amount of money as 2006’s Scoop, Allen’s last comedy with Johansson, though it might have a softer opening that keeps it outside the Top 10. (It’s also this week’s “Chosen One” even if we don’t have the normal write-up to go along with it.)
Summit Entertainment has the 3-D animated family film Fly Me to the Moon, which will try to bring in the youngest of children with its G rating but just doesn’t have the type of campaign that makes it a must-see movie in theaters even with the buzz of 3-D movies thanks to Journey to the Center of the Earth which also limits the number of theaters that can play it.
Who knows what Overture Films was thinking by releasing Luke Wilson’s indie drama Henry Poole is Here into 500 theatres this weekend, but chances are that business will be fairly spread out and this will be lucky to gross a million this weekend, so it and Fly Me to the Moon will also probably end up well outside the Top 10.
1. Tropic Thunder (DreamWorks) – $29.8 / $25.4 million N/A (down $4.4 million)
2. Star Wars: The Clone Wars (Warner Bros.) – $23.2 million N/A (up .6 million)
3. The Dark Knight (Warner Bros.) – $15.5 million -41% (up .5 million)
4. Pineapple Express (Sony) – $11.2 million -521% (down .3 million)
5. Mirrors (20th Century Fox) – $10.6 million N/A (up .3 million)
6. The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor (Universal) – $7.8 million -53% (up .2 million)
7. The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2 (Warner Bros.) – $6.5 million -40%
8. Mamma Mia! (Universal) – $5.3 million -36% (up .2 million)
9. Step Brothers (Sony) – $5.0 million -45% (up .1 million)
10. Journey to the Center of the Earth (New Line) – $3.2 million -35% (up .1 million)
— Vicky Cristina Barcelona (MGM/Weinstein Co.) – $2.5 million N/A (up .2 million)
— Fly Me to the Moon (Summit) – $1.5 million N/A (down .3 million)
— Henry Poole is Here (Overture) – $900 thousand (up $50k)
This weekend last year saw the release of Superbad, the first movie from Pineapple Express creators Seth Rogen and Judd Apatow. Also, Warner Bros. finally released the long-delayed sci-fi thriller remake The Invasion starring Nicole Kidman and Daniel Craig, and as expected, it bombed big-time, making less than $6 million in over 2,700 theatres, showing why so many studios release movies in late August. The Top 10 grossed $108.3 million, and with the release of three well-marketed movies that are very different, this weekend should beat it by a decent margin.
(Sorry, but we didn’t have time to finish the “Battle Cry” I wanted to do so we’ll save it for next week.)
Tropic Thunder (DreamWorks/Paramount)
Starring Ben Stiller, Jack Black, Robert Downey Jr., Nick Nolte, Brandon Jackson, Steve Coogan, Danny R. McBride, Bill Hader, Jay Baruchel, Matt Levin, Andrea De Oliveira, Reggie Lee, Matthew McConaughey, Tom Cruise
Written and directed by Ben Stiller (Zoolander, “The Ben Stiller Show”) with Etan Cohen (Idiocracy, “King of the Hill”) and Justin Theroux (writing debut for the actor, will be writing Iron Man 2)
Genre: Comedy, War
Tagline: “The movie they think they’re making isn’t a movie anymore.”
Plot Summary: Five actors including action hero Tugg Speedman (Ben Stiller), comic star Jeff Portnoy (Jack Black) and Oscar-winner Kirk Lazarus (Robert Downey Jr.) are stranded in the jungle by their struggling director (Steve Coogan) trying to save the Vietnam War movie they’re making, but they end up in real danger when they run afoul of Vietnamese drug smugglers who believe them to be real soldiers.
Ben Stiller is back for the first time since his failed reunion with the Farrelly Brothers in 2007’s remake of The Heartbreak Kid, an R-rated bomb that grossed just $37 million, which is less than some of Stiller’s recent comedies have opened with. It was seen as a huge disappointment compared to Stiller’s previous movie with the Farrellys ten years early, There’s Something About Mary, which became a huge summer sleeper hit, grossing $176 million over the summer of ’98. The big difference with Tropic Thunder is that it’s the first movie Stiller has co-written and directed since the popular cult comedy Zoolander in 2001, opening a year after Stiller’s second big comedy with Meet the Parents, and while it did okay, it opened to second place after a Michael Douglas thriller. Five years earlier, Stiller helmed the comedy The Cable Guy with Jim Carrey and Matthew Broderick which grossed $60 million but was seen as a disappointment compared to Carrey’s previous blockbuster comedies, and that was already Stiller’s second movie as director after making the 1994 relationship movie Reality Bites. Essentially, Tropic Thunder is Stiller’s fourth movie as a director in roughly 15 years, and while not everyone has been waiting with baited breath for him to get behind the camera, it’s the movie that will probably finally get him taken seriously (in a way).
Influenced by Stiller’s time working on “Empire of the Sun” 20 years ago, the comedy is surprisingly high concept, not necessarily a war movie spoof, as much as a comedy set within that world with lots of references to movies like Apocalypse Now and Rocky but also a biting satire of Hollywood and the mentality of different types of actors. Co-written with actor Justin Theroux and Etan Coen from the Mike Judge crew, it’s really getting back to what Ben Stiller used to do on “The Ben Stiller Show” back in the ’90s. In the time since then, he’s become a hugely popular box office star among many different demographics including women and kids, the latter thanks to movies like Madagascar and Night at the Museum. As an actor, his movies have grossed nearly $2 billion in the United States alone with two of them grossing more than $250 million and another three grossing over $100 million, which clearly makes him one of the top stars up there with the likes of Will Smith. Unfortunately, he might have lost some of his male audience from 15 to 30 with some of his recent decisions, so making a war- based comedy is the perfect way to get back into their good graces.
Stiller has assembled an amazing ensemble cast for Tropic Thunder as he reunites with Jack Black who has been building his own comedy empire in recent years, although the two comics have worked together and presumably have known each other for a long time. Their most extensive work together was for Barry Levinson’s Envy, a dark comedy that was delayed for years before finally being dumped into late April where it was destined to bomb. A couple years ago, Stiller made a cameo in Black’s Tenacious D in The Pick of Destiny but he also had an uncredited role in Black’s early hit Orange County. What’s odd is that both of these comic actors have found most of their audience among younger audiences, most notably teens, as they’ve hosted various MTV and Teens’ Choice awards, so this R-rated comedy is shooting over the heads of their audience. On the other hand, the teens who saw their earlier movies must be older now and they’ll be happy seeing their favorite comic actors doing more mature movies.
Stiller’s no-longer-secret weapon for the movie is Robert Downey Jr., who is coming off the biggest hit of his career after playing Tony Stark in Marvel Studios’ Iron Man, currently the second-biggest movie of the summer and year. Even with Stiller and Black’s sizable fanbase, it might be Downey who ends up pulling in audiences who want to see more of him after loving his performance in Iron Man. Unfortunately, he’s almost completely unrecognizable as an Australian actor who undergoes pigment transformation to play a black sergeant in the “Tropic Thunder” movie, although this performance has been the main focus of many early reviews as well as the commercials. Some might think that African-American audiences might be offended by the running gag, but in fact, it gives them another in with the movie since they get to laugh at the high-falootin’ white actor trying to be black, and a good amount of that audience probably enjoyed him in Iron Man as well.
The rest of the cast is filled out with a great bunch of character and comic actors including Nick Nolte, playing more of the straight man in the piece, but this is probably his most high profile movie since Hulk five years ago. Most of his scenes are with the pyro expert played by Danny McBride, who appeared in last week’s Pineapple Express and is becoming a comic star to watch after the industry-loved comedy The Foot Fist Way and with an upcoming HBO series on the way. Another familiar face is British comic Steve Coogan, who has his other R-rated comedy Hamlet 2 opening next week, and who last appeared with Stiller in Night at the Museum. It’s not that big of a surprise anymore that Tom Cruise and Matthew McConaughey have key roles in the movie as some of the studio types trying to salvage the movie in any way possible. The ads are playing down the Hollywood aspects maybe because dark comedies about moviemaking have rarely done very well with only a few exceptions. Last but not least, there’s Jay Baruchel from the Judd Apatow gang, best known for his starring role in “Undeclared” but who was also great in last year’s Knocked Up.
The ups and downs of the R-rated comedy have been well-documented in this column, and since the trend was on an upswing in 2007, DreamWorks wasn’t too nervous about having Stiller’s The Heartbreak Kid go out with an R-rating last October, even though it ended up bombing. Earlier this year, Will Ferrell had his own R-rated bomb with Semi-Pro but last month’s Step Brothers broke that presumed jinx to become one of Ferrell’s top opening movies, and DreamWorks hopes that Tropic Thunder will follow that trend, maybe because it is a war comedy and the audience of war movies tends to be older anyway. Although a few women might allow themselves to be dragged to see this because of their love for the three main stars, Tropic Thunder is very much a guys’ film, at least on the surface, not only because it’s a testosterone-heavy war-related film, but also because there isn’t a single woman in the movie, not even in a supporting role. That could somewhat limit the movie’s audience to guys, who do have other choices in theaters this weekend.
For whatever reason, there has been some confusion between this and Pineapple Express, maybe because they’re both R-rated action-comedies and they both co-star Danny McBride, but it should have a stronger opening because of the high-profile star power. With that in mind, it’s strange that DreamWorks is opening the movie so late in August as the summer is winding down, but it might just be about getting away from all the big blockbusters, like one Dark Knight which has destroyed many openings in the past few weeks. Judd Apatow’s The 40-Year-Old Virgin proved that opening in the second half of August isn’t death as it opened with $21 million, an amount bested last year by Superbad, which opened on August 17 with $33 million. Other late August openers include Paul W. S. Anderson’s Alien vs. Predator, which opened with $38.3 million on August 13 in ’04, and the R-rated Freddy vs. Jason, which opened in August the year earlier. Most of these prove that opening an R-rated movie in mid-August doesn’t mean it doesn’t stand a chance, although Stiller’s movie is opening in a busier weekend against two other movies that might appeal to its primarily male audience (see below). It’s also opening on Wednesday, which could help generate word-of-mouth and buzz for the weekend or it could just frontload its business so that the movie doesn’t stand a chance when facing so many other movies on Friday.
Paramount certainly hasn’t done as thorough a job advertising the Wednesday release as Sony did last week with Pineapple Express, but they’ve done a much better job letting people know how funny the movie is with great commercials featuring easily-quoted gags and an insane viral marketing campaign that started with an initial push at the exhibitors’ convention ShoWest back in March. Before that, the movie was barely on any radars at all. Over the past few months, they’ve created separate sites for all of the fake movies mentioned in Tropic Thunder, as well as numerous blogs and even a fake “making of” documentary, all that’s added up to a viral campaign second only to Warner Bros’ one for The Dark Knight. Unfortunately, that’s also led to a bizarre backlash against the movie by Disability Advocacy groups for a bit where Ben Stiller’s character appears as a mentally challenged individual in a movie called “Simple Jack” because he wants to try to get respect and win an Oscar. His performance is so bad that that doesn’t happen, but in the past few weeks, as DreamWorks marketed the movie with “official sites” for that other movie, the PC group has caught on and having not seen the movie, they asked to have all of the “Simple Jack” references pulled from the movie. (So far, no African-American or Obese Americans groups have complained about the other jokes.)
It’s doubtful that any of that will hurt the movie much, and it’s arguably a funnier movie that will appeal to a much wider audience than last week’s Pineapple Express so it won’t be as frontloaded, especially since its Wednesday opening has not been advertised as heavily, allowing its opening weekend business to be spread out more. Basically, the movie has a lot going for it and those who don’t rush out to see it will probably hear about it from friends and co-workers, giving it a good chance of having legs during the slower weekends that end the summer. It should finally take the top spot away from The Dark Knight and if it doesn’t, there’s always George Lucas’ latest (see below).
Why I Should See It: Ben Stiller makes one of his funniest movies, maybe ever, thanks to a terrific premise and great ensemble cast doing some of their best work. Seriously.
Star Wars: The Clone Wars (Warner Bros.)
Starring (the voices of) Matt Lanter, Ashley Eckstein, James Arnold Taylor, Dee Bradley Baker, Nika Futterman, Ian Abercrombie, Corey Burton, Catherine Taber, Anthony Daniels, Samuel L. Jackson, Christopher Lee
Directed by David Filoni (“Avatar: The Last Airbender”); Written by Henry Gilroy (various cartoons and video games), Steven Melching, Scott Murphy
Genre: Animated, Action, Adventure, Science Fiction
Plot Summary: The Clone Wars have been keeping the Jedi Knights busy as they fight the Empire, and Anakin Skywalker and his Padawan student Ahsoka Tano are on an important mission to save crime lord Jabba the Hutt’s son from the Separatists, but Count Dooku and his agent Asaji Ventress have to stop them from succeeding.
Mini-Review: The makers of this third helping of animated “Clone Wars” seem to be as much fans of “Thunderbirds” as they are the “Star Wars” movies, which may be the only excuse why all the human characters in this CG movie look like wooden marionettes without strings. It’s jarring at first, particularly Obi-Wan Kenobi’s unmovable hair and beard, but you quickly get used to it as you’re thrust into 99 minutes of almost non-stop action as the animated movie models itself after the look and feel of the prequels but takes its inspiration from the previous “Clone Wars” cartoons in terms of pacing, filling it with the type of space and land battles that fans of the franchise thrive upon. It’s during those moments where you can appreciate the stylish but sometimes clunky animation, but the amount of action more than makes up for some of the weaker moments of a story that focuses far too much on Jabba the Hutt, who was never a very interesting character in the original movies. The writing is decent compared to the prequels, but the storytelling is erratic as too many visual nods to things in the previous movies are shoehorne din, and there isn’t nearly as much Yoda or Mace Windu as some might want to see. At least the movie isn’t bogged down in the mushy romance between Anakin and Padme that killed the last two movies, instead focusing on Anakin’s burgeoning relationship with his new Padawan, Ahsoka Tano, who is obnoxious and bratty at first but amazing in action, and she does grow on you over the course of the movie. The same can’t be said about the baby “Huttlet” she winds up carrying around for much of the movie and you probably won’t find too many people who’ll be able to bear Jabba’s uncle who might as well been voiced by Truman Capote. Even with those passing problems, director David Filoni knows how to spread out the “money shots”, the light saber battles between the key characters, but that doesn’t keep him from also inheriting the problems of the past four or five “Star Wars” movies in that Lucas has often tried way too hard to be cutesy by trying to appeal to kids and girls, rather than just allow the core male audience to wallow in the action. The primitive nature of some of the CG is fairly inexcusable considering how much of the prequels were CG and that’s what may constantly take older audiences out of the movie. Maybe “Clone Wars” will end up being a better-than-average Saturday morning cartoon, but as a theatrical feature, it has limited appeal to young kids and the few diehard fans who’ll be able to overlook some of the silliness that’s inherent in the story to appreciate it as a follow-up to the far superior “Clone Wars” cartoons. Rating: 6.5/10
This week’s strangest offering is this new animated movie from George Lucas, partially because it’s the continuation of one of the biggest film franchises of all time returning to movie theaters for the first time in over three years, but it’s also an animated movie released late in the summer season, acting mainly as a preview of the upcoming animated show that’s to start airing on television in October. “The Clone Wars” which took place in between the events of “Episodes II and III,” was originally animated by Genndy Tartakovsky of “Powerpuff Girls” and “Samurai Jack” fame, and run as a popular serialized cartoon that ran on the Cartoon Network between 2003 and 2005. Apparently, it only told part of the story and Lucas wanted to explore the world of computer animation, so he’s been working on producing (and presumably co-writing) a hundred episodes to air on television which follows Analkin Skywalker now that he’s a Jedi with his own Padawan.
The animated feature cartoon is the latest development in one of the grandest multi-media campaigns for a movie franchise ever, one that started with the original Star Wars in 1977, a movie that’s grossed $461 million domestically, the second (but soon to be third) highest grossing movie of all time. Two of the three prequels have joined it in the top 10 by grossing over $380 million each and that signifies a fairly large and wide audience of fans that should be clamoring for more of the characters after three years. The animated series is scheduled to air on the Cartoon Network and TNT this fall, but Lucas decided to kick it off by packaging the first few episodes as a theatrical release in hopes of bringing in some of the tens of millions of “Star Wars” fans who might prefer to see it on the big screen into theaters in the last few weeks of summer. All of the previous “Star Wars” movies have been distributed by 20th Century Fox, but for the animated film, Lucasfilm worked out a deal with Warner Bros. to release it ultra-wide into over 3,000 theaters, preceding their Time Warner affiliates airing the shows. Warners has some experience with bringing TV cartoons to the big screen to some excess with Pokemon The Movie which grossed $85 million in 1999, but they didn’t have as much luck with Taratkovsk’s The Powerpuff Girls Movie a few years back, which shows that not every TV cartoon can be appreciated on the big screen.
The decision to replace many of the actors who played characters in the movies with sound-alike voice actors, particularly Frank Oz’s Yoda, might seem odd because it’s something that’s likely to irritate more than a few fans, but it as a practical decision done for the animated series. Even stranger than that is the fact that Lucasfilm isn’t advertising the voices that are returning in the movie like Anthony Daniels as C3PO, Christopher Lee as Count Dooshu and Samuel L. Jackson as Mace Windu.
With so many great recent spoofs of “Star Wars” on shows like “Robot Chicken” and “Family Guy”, you have to wonder how seriously the fans will take this movie, especially because the animation doesn’t look that great when compared to the most recent movies from Pixar and DreamWorks. The commercials for the movie have been good at not dwelling too long on any one scene so that no one can realize how weak the CG animation is, particularly on the human characters, but it’s certainly something that will be addressed in reviews, which will probably have a hard time dealing with the fact that this is more of an extended television cartoon than a movie.
On top of that, early word got out that there wouldn’t be the usual “Star Wars” prologue crawl that’s started all six movies, something that might make fans more skeptical of how relevant the movie is to the “Star Wars” mythos. Even more worrying are the early bad reviews from a “barometer of cool” like Ain’t It Cool News, who trashed the movie, something that will probably have already spread quickly amongst the main fanbase.”
Even with the basis in one of the most successful film franchises, it’s hard not to view this in a similar way as the infamous video game movie Final Fantasy released by Sony back in 2001. It was groundbreaking for its time, so much so that no one went to see it, and the same could be said for the PG-13 sci-fi animated movie Titan A.E. a year earlier, another movie which tried convincing genre fans that animation is cool. (Pixar Animation has had slightly better success with their genre-based movies like The Incredibles and the recent WALLE.)
It’s strange to think that a “Star Wars” movie might bomb especially since everything Lucas has touched has been successful, including the re-release of the original trilogy with drastically reworked scenes that angered many fans but didn’t keep them away from the prequels that followed. Even the hatred for parts of those hasn’t kept the fans from everything related to “Star Wars,” so one wonders if that will be the case with this movie. Then again, maybe the fans are getting sick of being played with, and there’s a lot of current negativity towards Lucas since many blame him for the recent Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull not meeting up to expectations.
Even with fewer strong movies for younger boys in theaters and not many being released in the next couple weeks, Star Wars: The Clone Wars is a one- week wonder at best, because the fans will rush out to see it but there won’t be enough praise to get others interested. Either way, don’t be too surprised if teens trying to get into this weekend’s R-rated movies buy tickets for “The Clone Wars” and then sneak into the other movies boosting its opening weekend box office even more.
Why I Should See It: George Lucas continues the most beloved sci-fi story possibly of all time.
Mirrors (20th Century Fox)
Starring Kiefer Sutherland, Paula Patton, Cameron Boyce, Erica Gluck, Amy Smart, Mary Beth Peil, John Shrapnel, Jason Flemyng, Tim Ahern, Julian Glover, Josh Cole, Ezra Buzzington, Ioana Abur, Aida Doina, Darren Kent
Written and directed by Alexandre Aja (High Tension, The Hills Have Eyes) with Gregory Levasseur
Tagline: “Reality is relative.”
Plot Summary: An ex-cop (Kiefer Sutherland) and his family are terrorized by an evil force that uses the mirrors as a gateway into their home.
Possibly the most obvious release of the weekend is the second American movie from French director Alexandre Aja, who wowed horror fans with his French thriller High Tension, even though it bombed when Lionsgate released it theatrically. Aja’s follow-up, a remake of Wes Craven’s The Hills Have Eyes, did far better–$41 million theatrically for a horror film that probably cost half that is nothing to scoff at–and it opened new doors for Aja as a filmmaker, and after nearly two years, he’s back with his follow-up, a high concept horror film involving ghosts in mirrors that’s actually based on the premise of a little-known Korean film called Into the Mirror. It continues the Hollywood tradition that began with The Ring and The Grudge to look to Asia for ideas. This one isn’t nearly as known (heck, I never heard of it before writing this), but this year alone, there have already been three Asian horror remakes, all which did decently, starting with One Missed Call in January, followed by Jessica Alba in The Eye, and then Shutter based on the more obscure Thai movie, which was also released by 20th Century Fox. Shutter opened the weakest with $10.4 million and grossed just $26 million but it probably didn’t cost that much to produce, which is why these horror remakes continue to be popular.
Mirrors is mostly being sold based on the respect that Aja has earned among serious horror fans with his previous two movies, but it also has a bonafide star in Kiefer Sutherland, who used to headline ’80s and ’90s movies like The Lost Boys, Young Guns and Flatliners. His career was reinvigorated in 2001 when he was hired to headline the hit FOX show “24,” for which he’s been nominated for six Emmys, winning once in 2006, and he’s appeared only in scattered movies since then, mostly thrillers like Phone Booth, Angelina Jolie’s Taking Lives and in the 2006 political thriller The Sentinel opposite Michael Douglas, all which did moderately well. Sutherland is joined by Paula Patton, who first got attention for her role in the OutKast’s musical Idlewild, played Denzel Washington’s love interest in Déjà vu and appeared last week opposite Kevin Costner in Swing Vote, as well as the always-hot Amy Smart, who has appeared in many comedies including Just Friends with Ryan Reynolds, Road Trip and Rat Race, both with Breckin Meyer. She also co-starred with Jason Statham in the action movie Crank and will return in its sequel next year.
In the past, horror movies, especially those involving ghosts, have found a berth with an August opening, most notably M. Night Shyamalan’s The Sixth Sense but also sleepers like Nicole Kidman’s The Others in 2001 and Kate Hudson’s The Skeleton Key four years later – the latter two opened in the same August weekend, making between $14 and 16 million, but they also had a more accessible PG-13 rating vs. Mirrors‘ R which promises more gore, more intense scares and maybe even a little bit of Amy Smart nudity, all which will help it do well on DVD down the road. It doesn’t necessarily help it in the last weekends of summer as teens look for movies to see before school starts, only to faced between this or the R-Rated Tropic Thunder, and that has a lot more buzz going into the weekend.
As seems to have become the norm, 20th Century Fox isn’t screening this in advance for critics, maybe because they can easily look back to how well Shutter did without having advance critics’ screenings and are trying to replicate that success. Unfortunately, that movie found success in a much slower period with fewer choices in theaters and Mirrors is trying to open against two stronger movies that will appeal to guys. That’s not to say that women might not be interested in the movie, because let’s face it, they live by the mirror and Sutherland has always had a strong female fanbase, but it might be tougher for Mirrors to make a mark with a far more limited marketing campaign than the other two movies.
Why I Should See It: Aja certainly knows how to deliver on the scares and the film’s premise plays off the universal fear of what’s inside mirrors that so many people can relate to.
In Semi-Wide Release
As we get into the Dog Days of the summer box office, a couple of smaller indie studios are trying to find some market share for their movies without investing in a wide release into over 1,000 theaters. For the most part, all three of these movies have sizable marketing campaigns with their stars doing the rounds and they might prove to be interesting alternatives to the big releases above, but not big enough for me to do a full analysis, comparisons, etc.
Since I’ve only seen one of this week’s limited releases at the time of this writing, we’ll go with Woody Allen’s latest as our “Chosen One.”
Vicky Cristina Barcelona (MGM/The Weinstein Co.)
Review (Coming Soon!)
Brief Analysis: Woody Allen is back with his second movie of the year, once again returning to the romantic comedy territory of his Oscar-winning Annie Hall with an intriguing romantic triangle concept that takes him for the first time to Barcelona after making his last three movies in England. The most recent of those, Cassandra’s Dream with Ewan McGregor and Colin Farrell bombed earlier this year, but he’s back working with Scarlett Johansson, star of Allen’s only two movies of the last eight years to gross more than $10 million. This time, she’s joined by a great cast including recent Oscar winner Javier Bardem, Oscar nominee Penelope Cruz — two of Spain’s finest — as well as up n’ comer Rebecca Hall who could be seen in Christopher Nolan’s The Prestige. Allen’s last comedy with Johansson was 2006’s Scoop which opened in 538 theaters with $3 million but that was coming off Allen and Johansson’s dramatic thriller Match Point, Allen’s first movie to break the $20 million gross mark since Hannah and Her Sisters in 1986. While Allen hasn’t fully recovered from his string of bad studio movies in the earlier part of the century, he still has fans who’ll go see everything he sees and older moviegoers and women might be more interested in this than some of the movies mentioned above. Without the big marketing push given to Scoop by Focus Features, this will probably fall just short of $3 million despite being his widest release since Anything Else, which barely made that amount in its entire theatrical run. Obviously, Allen needs to get a hit soon, and the generally positive reaction from Cannes should spur decent reviews and more interest in his work. (His next movie returns him to New York and has him working with Larry David from “Seinfeld” and “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” which should garner a lot of interest.)
Estimated Theater Count: 700
Fly Me to the Moon (Summit Films)
Starring (the voices of) Nicolette Sheridan, Tim Curry, Christopher Lloyd, Robert Patrick, Kelly Ripa, Adrienne Barbeau, Ed Begley Jr., Buzz Aldrin
Directed by Ben Stassen (various animated shorts); Written by Domonic Paris (“Reel Wild Cinema”, “Oh, No! The Mr. Bill Show!”)
Genre: Animated, Family, Adventure
Tagline: “The Ultimate 3D Adventure”
Plot Summary: It’s 1969 and three young houseflies find a way to stow away on the launch of the Apollo 11 rocket in order to become the first insects on the moon. (You’d think there may have been some flies on last month’s Space Chimps, so this is sort of a thematic sequel.)
Brief Analysis: It’s been a long time coming that computer animated movies start getting shown theatrically in 3-D, since that’s basically how they’re created, and this is the first of what will probably be many hoping to capitalize on the success of New Line’s Journey to the Center of the Earth last month (with which Fly Me to the Moon shares a producer) and Disney’s Miley Cyrus concert movie earlier this year. It’s a fairly low-budget independently made film being released by relatively new distributor Summit Entertainment making their first foray into family animated films, and even with so little kids’ fare in theaters, opening a family film in mid-to-late August is never a good idea (See the animated movie Valiant and Tim Allen’s Zoom) and opening an animated movie that would mostly interest young boys against Star Wars: The Clone Wars is suicide, since the only ones who might see this are parents with the youngest of kids (like 2 or 3 years old). Next year, DreamWorks will start rolling out all of their computer-animated movies in 3-D so they’ll be watching how this movie does very closely, although Summit was only able to get the movie into roughly 500 Real-D capable theatres that are willing to give up their 3D screens from playing “Journey,” nor is their movie being released in a 2-D version like that movie. The 3-D aspect is a big selling point but since this doesn’t have the quality of animation or storytelling of a DreamWorks or Pixar, parents and kids might not feel the need to go to theaters to see it and just wait for DVD on this one. Still, with so little kids’ fare in theaters, it should do a little bit of business even if it struggles to bring in $2 million even with there being so much interest in 3D.
Estimated Theater Count: 500
Henry Poole is Here (Overture Films)
Starring Luke Wilson, Radha Mitchell, Adriana Barraza, George Lopez, Cheryl Hines, Rachel Seiferth, Morgan Lily
Directed by Mark Pellington (The Mothman Prophecies, Arlington Road, U2 3D); Written by Albert Torres (debut, upcoming Queen of the South)
Genre: Comedy, Drama, Romance
Tagline: “Changing his attitude will take a miracle.”
Plot Summary: Henry Poole (Luke Wilson) wants to disappear from society, so he buys a house in his old neighborhood, where he’s continuously distracted by his nosy neighbors, including a woman (Adriana Barraza from Babel) who thinks she sees an image of Jesus on the wall of Henry’s house. Henry is skeptical but he’s intrigued by his pretty neighbor Dawn (Radha Mitchell) and her enigmatic 6-year-old daughter Millie.
Mini-Review: You certainly couldn’t find more perfect casting for the title character of this spiritually-driven indie drama than Luke Wilson, because he’s played this sort of bitter and dissolute loner before. Because of this, it’s his quirky portrayal of Henry Poole that keeps the movie interesting despite its generally slow pace and minimal story developments. We meet Henry as he’s moving into a new house, but we don’t learn much about the background or why he came to be there until later on. It’s not long before his nosy neighbor Esperanza (Adriana Barraza) introduces herself and discovers the stain on the stucco wall of Henry’s house that looks like a certain son of God, and soon, the entire neighborhood is hanging around clamoring for some “face time.” There are some enjoyable bits between Wilson and a philosophizing checkout girl named Patience (Rachel Seiferth) and some genuinely heartwarming moments, but for the most part, the characters around Henry aren’t particularly interesting or original for this kind of movie, as they’re played fairly blandly. Likewise, Wilson’s character would probably have been better served with more flashbacks to show how he got to the point where we meet him, although there are two nice bits with the long-absent Richard Benjamin as Henry’s doctor who has to break the bad news. We learn a little more about Henry’s childhood, coming from a broken home, but we never really understand why he’s so angry all the time; the reasons just don’t fly. Knowing that he doesn’t have very much to work with, director Mark Pellington directs this character-driven piece in a visually interesting way, filling the quiet moments between the minimal dialogue with gorgeous music by John Frizzell. This soothing music drives the movie as much as Pellington’s ability to create haunting visuals, but it’s not enough to keep the story on track once it peaks at the midway point. By the end, Wilson has to turn Henry into a far less likable character in order to fulfill what’s ultimately a fairly obvious character arc, and it’s hard not to feel as if we’ve seen something like this before since there are few real surprises. Eventually, the dry humor that made the movie’s opening so enjoyable slowly dissipates as the story’s spiritual aspects take over, leading to an excessive amount of preaching about finding faith. The ending is so predictable merely based on the title that it’s hard not to groan when it ends pretty much where expected. The movie is certainly flawed, which is a shame considering the solid performance from Wilson, but if you’re able to suspend disbelief for the spiritual premise and can appreciate quiet little character-driven films where not much happens, you can certainly do worse than this innocent and often lovely film. Rating: 7/10
Brief Analysis: This indie dramedy picked up by Overture Films at Sundance is a vehicle for the always-likable Luke Wilson who just can’t seem to catch a break when it comes to the box office. He was great in Wes Anderson’s first movie Bottle Rocket and in The Royal Tennenbaums, and he’s had some luck with comedies like Old School and bigger summer movies where he played a secondary role like the first Legally Blonde and the “Charlie’s Angels” movies, but he generally hasn’t been able to get people into theatres and his recent movies like My Super Ex-Girlfriend, Vacancy and You Kill Me have been big bombs. So it’s strange to see this new low-key movie from Mark Pellington, the video director behind thrillers like The Mothman Prophecies and Arlington Road, getting a semi-wide release by relatively new distributor Overture Films, who haven’t done that much of a job to get the critics behind the movie. (You’d be lucky to find any critics who didn’t attend Sundance that has seen the movie already.) Even so, Luke Wilson has been doing the talk show rounds promoting the movie, but that probably won’t be enough to get people to see a movie that would probably thrive on being embraced by critics/journalists.
Estimated Theater Count: 500
In Limited Release:
This is kind of embarrassing, but I’ve only seen one other limited release this weekend, so we’ll go with Woody Allen’s Vicky Cristina Barcelona (see above) as this week’s Chosen One. Here are the rest of the movies being released in select cities:
A Girl Cut in Two (IFC Films) Veteran French filmmaker Claude Chabrol (Betty, Merci Pour le Chocolat), France’s answer to Woody Allen and Alfred Hitchcock rolled into one, returns with a new drama starring Ludivigne Sagnier (Swimming Pool) as a young woman who is forced to decide between two very different men, a considerably older novelist and a rich but possessive playboy.
Interview with Ludivine Sagnier (Coming Soon!)
Anita O’Day: The Life of a Jazz Singer (Palm Pictures) – Robbie Cavolina and Ian McCrudden’s documentary about the seven-decade career of jazz vocalist Anita O’Day fighting through adversity including heroin and alcohol addiction leading up to her last album completed just before dying in 2006 at 87. It opens at New York’s Cinema Village.
Bachna Ae Haseeno (Yash Raj Films) – The latest romantic musical comedy from Bollywood follows the love affairs of the good-looking Raj (Ranbir Kapoor) with three woman in three different times of his life, each which teach him a little more about love. It opens in select cities in the normal Bollywood-centric theaters.
Jack Brooks: Monster Slayer (Anchor Bay) – After the murder of his family, plumber Jack Brooks (Trevor Matthews) has trouble dealing with his anger, but when he accidentally awakes an evil spirit that takes over a professor (Robert Englund), it forces Brooks to find his true calling and an outlet for that anger. Having premiered at the Slamdance Film Festival, it opens at New York’s Pioneer Theater and the Laemle in L.A.
Next week, the historically worst weekend of the summer is upon us again and a ridiculous amount of movies are being dumped into the weekend hoping to find the dozen or so people who aren’t away on summer vacation. Good luck with that. Jason Statham stars in Paul W.S. Anderson’s remake of the Roger Corman B action movie Death Race (Universal) and Ice Cube gets his niece into football in the sports drama The Longshots (MGM/Dimension Films). On the comedy front, Emma Stone and Anna Faris star in The House Bunny (Sony) and Stone also appears with Rainn Wilson in his new comedy The Rocker (Fox Atomic), which opens on Wednesday.
Copyright 2008 Edward Douglas