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.
UPDATE: Our faith remains in Obsessed and The Soloist with very little to none in Dito Montiel’s new movie Fighting due to the amount of competition. We’re cheating a bit on Disney’s Earth, knowing that it made $4 million its opening day although we expect it to be somewhat frontloaded due to the national ecological holiday, but still stands a better chance of bringing in family audiences over the weekend.
1. Obsessed (Screen Gems) – $18.4 million N/A (Up .8 million)
2. 17 Again (Warner Bros.) – $11.4 million -52% (down .6 million)
3. The Soloist (DreamWorks) – $10.3 million N/A (up 1 million)
4. Earth (Disneynature) – $8.8 million N/A (up 2.3 million and 3 places!)
5. State of Play (Universal) – $8.5 million -37% (down .4 million and one place)
6. Monsters vs. Aliens (DreamWorks Animation/Paramount) – $8.1 million -37% (same)
7. Fighting (Rogue Pictures) – $7.7 million N/A (down .2 million and one place)
8. Hannah Montana The Movie (Disney) – $6.3 million -50% (same)
9. Fast & Furious (Universal) – $5.5 million -52% (same)
10. Crank: High Voltage (Lionsgate) – $2.7 million -62% (same)
In the past, the last weekend of April was a dumping ground for movies that studios wanted to get out of the way before the summer movie season, but that doesn’t mean none of this weekend’s movies can break out; it just gives them more of a challenge.
The movie with the best bet at taking down Zac Efron and the other returning movies is the Screen Gems thriller Obsessed, a Fatal Attraction like thriller that will appeal to women, who are likely to want to see it in groups, if only for the inevitable catfight between Beyonce Knowles and Ali Larter, now much hotter thanks to “Heroes” than she’s ever been before. It seems like another Lakeview Terrace for the Sony subsidiary, which should bring in enough younger women with its PG-13 rating to win the weekend.
Having been pushed back from last year’s Oscar season, the inspirational drama The Soloist (DreamWorks), starring Robert Downey Jr. and Jamie Foxx, might actually do decently among older women, possibly even the same black Christian women who’ve flocked to see some of Tyler Perry’s movies, although it will probably be hindered by its limited theater count and the entertainment factor of its primary competition. It might be fighting for business (ha ha) on Friday against Dito (A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints) Montiel’s second movie Fighting (Rogue Pictures), starring Channing Tatum and Terrence Howard. It looks a lot like last year’s Never Back Down with more star power, but it just doesn’t seem cool enough to bring in the young guys who might normally go for a street fighting movie, nor will it be something of interest to Tatum’s female fanbase. (It’s actually somewhat ironic that these two movies are opening the same weekend since Robert Downey Jr. played Dito in his first movie.)
The X-factor this weekend might be the debut of Disneynature’s first feature film Earth, opening in 1,800 theatres on Wednesday’s Earth Day, which will hope to bring in school groups during the week, as well as families with smaller children over the weekend. There are very few comparisons to make with this because even the hit Oscar-winning nature doc March of the Penguins opened in select cities and then expanded, but one can expect that this could at least bring in similar audiences as previous Disney nature films even if it might have fared better opening in the summer.
This weekend last year was further proof that this weekend isn’t just for bombs as the Tina Fey and Amy Poehler comedy Baby Mama (Universal) opened in first place with $17.4 million followed in a strong second with the R-rated comedy sequel Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay (New Line) with just under $15 million. On the other hand, the erotic thriller Deception (20th Century Fox) starring Ewan McGregor and Hugh Jackman ended up opening in tenth place with a dismal $2.3 million in 2,001 locations, a bonafide bomb. The top 10 grossed $74 million, an amount that should be bested by this week’s selection.
THE BATTLE CRY
Unfortunately, we have to kill the flow a bit this week and next as the Weekend Warrior spends all his free time covering the Tribeca Film Festival and working on his 2009 Summer Box Office Preview (Coming Soon!) We’ve also been respectfully asked by the powers that be to stop rambling so much in this column so the plan is to get more to the point with the write-ups. Wish us luck!
Obsessed (Screen Gems)
The psychological thriller continues to be a popular genre for moviegoers, especially in the slower spring and fall months before summer blockbusters and following awards fare. Here’s one such thriller that plays on every married woman’s worst fear, while also harking back to one of the films that defined the modern erotic thriller, Adrian Lyne’s Fatal Attraction. It helped set the stage for creating a genre that led to many high concept knock-offs, most of them starring Michael Douglas having sex with another hot starlet, whether it be Sharon Stone in Basic Instinct or Demi Moore in Disclosure two years later. All three of those did so much business that screenwriters are still coming to Hollywood with big ideas for real-life psychological thrillers, such as Perfect Stranger, which pit Bruce Willis against Halle Berry but didn’t do so well, making $11 million its opening weekend and barely doubling that. Last year, the movie Deception bombed on this weekend despite trying to revive the erotic thriller. Even so, this kind of stuff has pulled people into theaters since the days of Hitchcock and distributor Screen Gems have had decent success with the genre as recently as last Fall, when Lakeview Terrace opened at #1 with just $15 million.
Obsessed doesn’t look much better or worse, and at first glance, the cast might not look like much. Sure, it’s another starring role for pop singer Beyonce Knowles, but it’s a different type of role and movie from her previous musical dramas Dreamgirls and Cadillac Records; it should be real test for Beyonce both as an actress and a box office draw. Her husband is played by Idris Elba, who has recently been appearing on “The Office”, but he has ample experience in the horror genre, having starred in Screen Gems’ hit remake of Prom Night last year and David Goyer’s The Unborn earlier this year. One would think that the presence of Knowles and Elba might help the movie appeal more towards African-American audiences than previous thrillers, since it shows them as a wealthy black power couple and it reverses roles from other thrillers. Then there’s Ali Larter, an actress who appeared in the early “Final Destination” flicks and then made a lot of small indies and bad straight-to-video movies before being cast in NBC’s “Heroes.” Just a few years ago, she returned to genre films with Resident Evil: Extinction, and her role in Obsessed is even more of a high-profile role, the type of character that has made the careers of actors like Glen Close, Sharon Stone and Demi Moore.
Who knows whether any of these actors are that big a draw but the premise certainly is an intriguing one for women, who are likely to see this in groups, both married women as well as younger women who’ll be looking forward to the inevitable cat fight between Knowles and Larter. The movie is going for the safer PG-13 rating rather than making it a full-on erotic thriller with sex and nudity like some of the other movies. That could certainly help make it a potential teen date movie, since guys won’t be too put off by the premise.
Screen Gems knows they have a potential hit here regardless of whether they get good or bad reviews, so they’ll be following Lionsgate’s lead by not screening the movie for critics in hopes that enough women make plans to see it before reviews start taking it apart or spoiling any of the twists. Expect a strong opening but not much in terms of legs because a stronger movie would have been released earlier in the season ala Disturbia; this one won’t stand much of a chance against next week’s competition.
Why I Should See It: Wow, is Ali Larter good at channeling a young Sharon Stone or what? Man, she looks positively evil!
The Soloist (DreamWorks)
Mini-Review: Trying to set aside the fact that this type of story has been done better in Rod Lurie’s “Resurrecting the Champ,” this character piece seems to exist merely to shed light on the homeless problem in Los Angeles through the friendship between people on opposite sides of the issue. Robert Downey Jr.’s Steve Lopez is a reporter looking for his next big story when he comes across Nathaniel Ayers, an eccentric fast-talking vagrant performing classical music in a park. Intrigued, the reporter tries to open communication, learning that Nathaniel was once destined to be a great classical musician before a mental collapse. As proof, we’re offered a few random flashbacks to Nathaniel’s childhood ala Ray. Nathaniel quickly becomes the subject of a regular series of Lopez’s highly-read columns, as the movie suddenly turns into “Marley & Me” with Jamie Foxx’s character taking the place of the dog. Needless to say, it’s very difficult for a movie to recover when you start looking at it in those terms. Lopez then spends all of his time trying to help get his cash cow off the streets into a shelter and then renting him an apartment where he can take music lessons, and Lopez gets exceedingly frustrated as he realizes that he’s helping a man who doesn’t want his help and might be beyond curing. Since the movie is all about the relationship between these two men, it relies entirely on the performances of Downey and Foxx. Playing a cynical reporter comes naturally for Downey, but he tones it down for a surprisingly warm performance that does keep you invested in the character. On the other hand, Foxx plays Nathaniel so eccentrically and odd, between his exaggerated comb-over and all sorts of strange outfits, that it’s hard to empathize or sympathize with his constantly rambling character. The irony of course is that he’s playing opposite the actor who gave a speech just last year about going “full retard,” yet Foxx takes Nathaniel’s mental problems so far that it’s often as hard to watch Nathan on screen as it is to watch a homeless person ranting to themselves on the subway. Sure, that might sound cold, but it’s the filmmakers’ job to make the viewer want to reach out and embrace and help Nathaniel, but it never succeeds at that, partially due to Foxx’s erratic performance. Instead, Downey’s best scenes are opposite Catherine Keener as his ex-wife/boss, especially in an awards dinner scene where she drunkenly unleashes the type of obnoxious snark only Keener could pull off when faced with such a pro at snark as Downey. Joe Wright does a decent enough job capturing every side of L.A., whether it’s to make it look beautiful or to show its dirty, violent side, and yet, he seems somewhat out of his depth with the subject material. Tonally, the film is all over the place, most notably when it resorts to not one, but two, gags involving urine in order to try and get laughs. What Wright does get right is showing how music makes one feel, although it sometimes does this in a strange way, particularly when Nathaniel attends a symphony orchestra and we’re taken out of the film for a strange psychedelic light display of colors that might only make sense to any stoners watching the movie. The end credits dance sequence with all the actors in character dancing at the homeless shelter is another odd decision. While the film’s intent on bringing attention to the crisis faced by the homeless in L.A. is a sound one, it often feels as if it’s trying way too hard at times to manipulate the audience’s emotions and get them to feel something. It doesn’t work, because it comes across as preachy rather than emotional and moving. Rating: 6/10
Dramas and true stories aren’t usually the type of movies people flock to theaters to see except for during Oscar season, but what sets this one apart is the caliber of the actors involved, which might bring out curious fans looking for the quality of work they normally bring to their projects. The Soloist is a humanitarian drama about a homeless man and his love for music, as well as one reporter’s attempt to bring the man’s plight to light. Those who read this column might remember a similar movie a few years back, that being Rod Lurie’s Resurrecting the Champ, starring Samuel L. Jackson and Josh Hartnett, which was set in the world of boxing.
That being said, here’s another true-life story based on a newspaper article, this one helmed by Joe Wright, director of Pride & Prejudice & Atonement–a definite departure for the Britand it stars two actors who have each faced their own rags to riches stories in the last few years. While Robert Downey Jr. has become one of the biggest stars in the world thanks to last year’s Iron Man and Tropic Thunder, this might not be the type of movie his newfound fans might appreciate, although it’s right up Jamie Foxx’s alley, and it could appeal to some of the older women who enjoyed him in movies like Dreamgirls and the biopic Ray. Regardless, the union of these two actors is certainly the film’s biggest draw, as much as the rest of the cast, which includes Catherine Keener and Tom Hollander, should promise quality material.
The Soloist is the type of movie that would normally open during the Fall to try to get awards, but it was mysteriously moved to the spring last year right before awards reason started, showing that DreamWorks didn’t have much confidence in its chances. The problem with this kind of movie is that it’s hard for audiences to relate to the characters, much like it’s hard for people to accept the fact that issues faced by the homeless might make for an entertaining way to spend two hours in a movie theater. Then again, the movie seems a lot like Radio, a similar drama starring Ed Harris and Cuba Gooding Jr. which actually did decently, although it was released in October.
Because the movie is somewhat preachy in its message, reviews will probably be fairly mixedprobably one reason why the movie was moved from its original Oscar fodder release in Novemberit looks like the type of touching drama older women might appreciate and the type of Samaritan story that religious types might appreciate compared to the other things in theaters, which is basically action movies, thrillers, comedies, and kids’ fare. Still, DreamWorks is being cautious, opening it in roughly 1,800 theatres, one presumes focusing on urban areas where Christian types reside. Because of this, it will probably only do moderately well its opening weekend although it does stand a chance of finding a secondary audience after the fact due to its subject matter.
Why I Should See It: It’s Robert Downey Jr. and Jamie Foxx doing some emotional real life drama
Fighting (Rogue Pictures)
It’s the first studio movie from Dito Montiel, director of the acclaimed indie A Guide To Recognizing Your Saints, which won a number of festival awards, and it reunites Montiel with Channing Tatum, the breakout star from Disney’s dance drama Step Up who’s starring in the upcoming G.I. Joe movie. Tatum might be the big draw for the movie, although the subject matter wouldn’t necessarily appeal to the young women who have previous flocked to Tatum’s movie, nor will he be much interest to the younger guys into wrestling and extreme fighting who might want to see a movie about it.
Likewise, one can’t really see his co-star Terrence Howard being a big draw to the movie despite his increase in Q-rating after appearing in the 2008 blockbuster Iron Man, though he is a solid actor with a solid male fanbase for his choices. Howard has appeared in a string of movies he’s appeared in over the four years since his breakout role in Craig Brewer’s Sundance hit Hustle & Flow, for which he got an Oscar nomination a year later. That same year, Crash, in which Howard co-starred, won Best Picture. Even though Howard has established himself as a star, this is his first movie since Iron Man, as he’s cut back his workload since then. So far, the only film in which Howard was the main star since Hustle & Flow was the swimming drama Pride, which bombed, making it obvious that he generally needs to be paired with a stronger star to succeed. Fighting should be a good test whether Tatum is that star.
Much like Warner Bros. and their success with the New Line movies, Universal has generally had good luck with the Rogue line, opening The Strangers a lot bigger than expected after being delayed for years, and they’ve generally done a decent job marketing this one, even if it’s not the most obvious draw. When compared to the other two choices this weekend, younger guys will probably choose this one, and the fact that Universal is getting this into over 2,400 theaters, which should increase the movie’s invisibility enough to make it a casual moviegoing choice for young males rather than a destination movie. Regardless of how well it does, it’s just as likely to get slaughtered once the big summer movies start hitting next week.
Why I Should See It: Montiel’s a strong up ‘n’ coming filmmaker, and it should be interesting to see him taking on more accessible material in his first studio film.
Mini-Review: It’s not quite clear why this movie was made except possibly to try to glom onto the success of “March of the Penguins” while reviving Disney’s long-standing tradition for nature films. Although “Earth” has stimulating visuals and camerawork throughout, it’s never particularly focused on its own intentions, being more of a compilation of seemingly pre-existing footage from other sources, compiled with a new voice over from James Earl Jones. Granted, much of the movie looks absolutely glorious on the big screen, especially the way Fothergill and Linfield capture some of the most jaw-dropping vistas and landscapes in environments where few humans have ventured. The film’s defining moments are the astounding time-lapsed shots of the earth from space, but those are used merely as linking devices to the animals of one particular region. The general premise revolves around a number of journeys taken by the animal inhabitants of the earth, the key characters being a family of polar bears, mother and sibling elephant and blue whale, but it’s hard not to feel as if we’ve seen many of these stories before. For instance, the elephant footage is supposed to be new, but a lot of it seems to have been culled from Michael Caulfield’s “Africa’s Elephant Kingdom,” while other footage could have easily been taken from the filmmakers’ show “Planet Earth.” A number of sequences look and feel so familiar that one wonders how much of this movie could actually be deemed new. As a doc that’s trying to show viewers the diversity of the globe’s animal inhabitants, the presentation of this vast amount of information could have been handled better. James Earl Jones might be able to make even the phone book sound interesting, but his inability to bring even a modicum of levity to the narration does hurt it, especially when it delves into cutesy bits meant merely to entertain younger kids, something which often takes away from the impact of the material, much like last year’s Arctic Tale. Of course, the movie also has a similar eco-friendly message about global warming without being nearly as overt about it, but it certainly seems to have come to that game late, since it’s merely covering much of the same ground. There’s no question “Earth” could have been quite an amazing experience in IMAX or in 3D, but it’s such an unfocused mishmash of ideas that never feels like it offers anything new to the nature film genre except for a lot of beautiful visuals. It never quite lives up to the level of filmmaking set by the Disney nature films of yore either. Rating: 6/10
There isn’t a lot that can be said about this new movie from Disney’s new imprint Disneynature, which is trying to revive Disney’s long-standing history with nature docs going back to the old Buena Vista educational films that have been in schools and libraries for decades. With Earth Day on Wednesday, this probably seemed like a good time to revive the tradition, but it certainly didn’t hurt that the French nature film March of the Penguins grossed $77 million and won an Oscar four years ago. Its thematic follow-up Arctic Tale didn’t fare nearly as well, but Disney has a much bigger pull with family audiences, and they’ve had decent success in the ’90s with their nature films Homeward Bound and its sequel. Earth is more of a documentary, but the Disney name behind it has helped them get it into 1,800 theatres, which is a new opening record for any sort of doc. (March of the Penguins and Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11
The movie will open on Wednesday to coincide with Earth Day, and though most kids will be in school, it could be seen as something seen as a class on school trips. To help initiate awareness in global warming for Earth Day, Disney has committed to plant a tree for every advance tickets sold, which might account for the movie’s brisk ticket sales on Fandango over the last few weeks, even though it doesn’t necessarily seem like something kids will be begging their parents to see. Even so, the film’s G-rating will mean that parents will know its safe for their younger kids, and it could be a possible choice for audiences looking for something a little safer and more innocent than the other choices currently in theatres. Still, there’s an X-factor to the movie that makes it hard to really tell how well it might do, mainly because there really haven’t been a release like this before. Even so, it’s just as likely to bring in family business as anything else currently in theatres so it should do enough business to get into the Top 10.
Why I Should See It: Lots of beautiful landscapes and entertaining animals makes this a fine family film experience
THE CHOSEN ONE:
Okay, this is starting to get somewhat ridiculous, but this is the fourth movie from Sony Pictures Classics that has made it as “The Chosen One” this month. Some might start feeling that we’re biased, but what can we say? This little studio affiliate has been picking up and releasing some of the best films of the year, and that’s not going to end this week either!
Tyson (Sony Pictures Classics)
Interview with James Toback (Later this week)
Having seen this back at the Sundance Film Festival and written my review, I didn’t think I could get much more out of James Toback’s portrait of his friend, former boxer Mike Tyson, but it was an even more compelling piece of work the second time around. It’s still essentially 88 minutes of Tyson talking to himself, but it’s the way that Toback has gotten Tyson to open up about so much of his life, from his days as a young hoodlum, to his love for the ladies, to his temper problems and finally to loving family man. No holds are barred and no aspect of Tyson’s notorious career is left untouched, and though Tyson doesn’t exactly acquit himself of some of the wrongdoings, he does talk very frankly and on the record about some of the most controversial topics, as well as showing a lot of remorse for the low points in his career. Regardless of what you think of the former boxer, you can’t help be moved when he gets choked up talking about his original trainer Cos D’Amato and the film shows a humanity to the athlete who many have written off as being a monster. Whether or not that’s something you necessarily want to see might depend on your own views of Tyson, but you can’t help but be impressed with what Toback was able to get out of the boxer, creating an endlessly fascinating film that does deliver on many levels, especially on a second viewing.
Tyson opens in New York and L.A. on Friday.
Also in Limited Release:
Treeless Mountain (Oscilloscope Pictures) – The new film from So Yong Kim (In Between Days is about two young girls sent by their mother to live with their aunt, who doesn’t exactly want to deal with kids, but the young girls find ways of keeping themselves busy until their mother’s inevitable return. It opens on Wednesday in New York at the Film Forum.
Mini-Review: (Coming Soon!)
Il Divo (Music Box Films) – Paolo Sorrentino’s political crime drama stars Toni Servillo (Gomorrah) as Italian Prime Minister Guilio Andreotti, a life-long politico who had been accused of corruption, murder and ties to the Mafia despite serving for over 40 years in office. Even so, Andreotti was able to evade being sentenced as those around him died in a wave of suicides. It opens on Friday at the Lincoln Plaza Cinemas in New York.
Mini-Review: (Coming Soon!)
Empty Nest (Outsider Pictures) – The third film from Argentine filmmaker Daniel Burman (Lost Embrace) follows an older married couple whose happiness is questioned when their youngest daughter leaves to get married, leaving them alone to face their issues. It opens at the Quad on Friday.
Baby on Board (April Monkey Entertainment) – Heather Graham stars in Brian Herzlinger’s comedy about a professional woman who becomes unexpectedly pregnant. Also starring Jerry O’Connell, John Corbet and Lara Flynn Boyle, it opens in select theaters.
The Informers (Senator Distribution) Gregor Jordan (Buffalo Soldiers) directs this adaptation of Bret Easton Ellis’ novel starring Billy Bob Thornton, Kim Basinger, Wynona Ryder, Amanda Heard, Lou Taylor Pucci and Brad Renfro as people representing the various people living in L.A. of the early ’80s from the top to the bottom. Since this is Ellis, one can expect lots of sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll when it opens in 400 theatres in select cities.
Mini-Review: (Coming Soon!)
The Mutant Chronicles (Magnet) A giant device from outer space has been laying dormant for centuries but in the middle of a corporate war in the future, the Machine is reactivated turning the earth’s population into angry mutants. Meanwhile, survivors who have escaped to Mars form a team for a suicide mission down to earth to destroy The Machine. Starring Ron Perlman, John Malkovich and Thomas Jane, it opens in theaters in New York and L.A on Friday after playing on Video on Demand for a month.
Throw Down Your Heart (Argot Pictures) – Sascha Paladino’s documentary about banjo player Béla Fleck’s trip to Africa to record an album and explore the roots of the instrument he plays. It opens in New York on Friday at the IFC Center and in L.A. on June 5.
Next week, the summer kicks off with the prequel to one of the top 3 superhero franchise, as Hugh Jackman stars in X-Men Origins: Wolverine (20th Century Fox). Also, Matthew McConaughey and Jennifer Garner face off in the romantic comedy Ghosts of Girlfriends Past (New Line/WB) and the 3D animated adventure Battle for Terra (Lionsgate/Roadside Attractions) hits theaters.
Copyright 2009 Edward Douglas