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: Major changes afoot! I gotta say that earlier this week, I was playing with the idea of The Hangover actually beating Land of the Lost, but early week tracking made me change my mind. What a difference a week makes. Land of the Lost has screened and is getting almost unanimously bashed by the critics–I didn’t think it was completely awful–and while that normally wouldn’t have much of an effect on a Will Ferrell movie, the combination of that and a much stronger looking comedy in The Hangover will mean that Land of the Lost will be relying only on younger audiences. Not being a PG movie is going to hurt in bringing in that audience–advance ticket sales aren’t great so far–but we still think there’s enough of a Will Ferrell fanbase to keep it from completely bombing. With that in mind, we’re going with The Hangover for the #2 spot, stlll under $30 million, with Land of the Lost ending up closer to the mid-$20 millions.
1. Up (Disney/Pixar Animation) – $39.5 million -42% (same)
2. The Hangover (Warner Bros.) – $28.3 million N/A (up $2.7 million and one spot!!!)
3. Land of the Lost (Universal) – $25.4 million N/A (down $4.3 million and one spot!!!!)
4. Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian (20th Century Fox) – $14.0 million -43% (down .4 million)
5. Drag Me to Hell (Universal) ? $8.4 million -47% (same)
6. Terminator Salvation (Warner Bros.) – $8.0 million -51% (up .2 million)
7. Star Trek (Paramount) – $7.5 million -42% (same)
8. Angels & Demons (Sony) – $6.2 million -45% (same)
9. My Life in Ruins (Fox Searchlight) – $2.8 million N/A (up .1 million)
10. Dance Flick (Paramount/MTV Films) – $2.2 million -54% (down .3 million)
Last June saw a couple heated comedy battles, the one that got the most interest being the one between Steve Carell’s Get Smart and Mike Myers’ The Love Guru. This June, we have two such battles but the one this weekend is certainly going to be the more interesting one because it would seem so weighed towards one movie at least on paper, but it might be a far more even match than some expect.
Similar to last year, one of the combatants in the battle is a high-profile TV remake starring a popular comic star, as Will Ferrell takes on Sid and Marty Kroftt’s popular ’70s show Land of the Lost (Universal) along with Danny McBride. Its main competition, The Hangover (Warner Bros.), marks the return of director Todd Phillips (Old School) to R-rated comedy, but it has some of the funniest trailers and commercials of the year, and a lot of buzz going into the weekend. (It’s kinda ironic that Land of the Lost‘s competition is distributed by Warner Bros. who in the past has been responsible for the most TV remake movies of any studio.)
It’s going to be a tough battle that might come down to the fact that the buzz surrounding Phillips’ comedy is countered by a known quantity like Will Ferrell, the name-brand of the original Sid and Marty Krofft show and CG creatures that will appeal to older kids looking for something to see now that school is out. At one point, we may have gone out on a limb and said that The Hangover could beat Land of the Lost, but we know better than to bet against a movie that could be a draw for kids (even with its PG-13 rating), and the only thing holding Land of the Lost back will be the presence of Up and “Night at the Museum,” which will still be a draw for family audiences.
We think that the two new movies will essentially be battling for second place since it’s doubtful either will be able to dethrone Pixar’s Up in its second weekend, as it takes the top spot with somewhere between $35 and 40 million in its second weekend.
Last and definitely least is the long-awaited return of My Big Fat Greek Wedding‘s Nia Vardalos – I’m sure someone has been waiting for her return?in the Greek-set romantic comedy My Life in Ruins (Fox Searchlight), which is being given a moderate release into just over 1,100 theatres, and is the odd “man” out, being the third comedy of the weekend against two much stronger more high profile offerings. Sure, some older women might be swayed to see it, and possibly some of Vardalos’ Greek fans, but how much money is that worth? Barely enough to get into the Top 10 we think.
This weekend last year, there was somewhat of a lopsided battle between Jack Black and Adam Sandler, though it was so clearly obvious that Black’s title role in DreamWorks Animation’s Kung Fu Panda (DreamWorks SKG) would pretty much slaughter Sandler’s latest character in the comedy You Don’t Mess with the Zohan (Sony). Kung Fu Panda brought in $60.2 million, a new opening record for a non-“Shrek” movie from DreamWorks Animation, while Sandler’s latest brought in $38 million in 600 less theatres, about average for a Sandler comedy. The Top 10 grossed $170 million, but since it’s doubtful either of the two new movies will make more than $30 million this weekend–mainly since they’re taking business away from each other–we should expect this weekend to be down from last year.
Land of the Lost (Universal)
Interview with Brad Silberling (Later this week)
Mini-Review: If you’re not a fan of Will Ferrell and the thing he seems to do in every single one of his movies, this edgy take on the Saturday morning show from Sid and Marty Krofft will be far too easy a target. Yet, there’s still a lot to keep you entertained, especially in the sense that Ferrell and director Brad Silberling (“Casper,” “Lemony Snicket”) are working from flawed and dated source material, which was meant solely to entertain young kids on Saturday morning. Ferrell plays Dr. Rick Marshall as a failed physicist who suffered a meltdown in an interview with Matt Lauer that ended his career. Years later, he meets Anna Friel’s Holly, a Cambridge-trained scientist who believes that Marshall was right, so they go off on an adventure. The similarities between this movie and last year’s adaptation of Jules Verne’s “Journey to the Center of the Earth” are abundant, although this one generally looks better and has much stronger comedy elements.
Ferrell plays Marshall like a know-it-all who is constantly saying and doing the stupidest possible things to prove his intelligence, something that’s rarely proven. If you’ve enjoyed any of Ferrell’s previous characters, this one has just as many funny quirks and eccentricities, which are escalated when the two fall through a time/space vortex, accompanied by Danny McBride’s equally whacked-out survivalist, never veering too far from his usual good ol’ boy routine. For the most part, neither of them are breaking new ground, since we’ve seen both guys do this kind of thing so much it’s hard to not be immune to it by now, especially as they throw out so many lines that it sometimes gets tiring. The real revelation in terms of casting is Jorma Taccone as the primate Chaka, bringing so much more to the role than just being a simple boy encountering outsiders. Chaka end up being as funny as the other two guys, while Anna Friel proves herself to be a good sport as she gets caught in the middle of it.
There’s far more depth to these characters and their backstory than in the television show, as the four of them are thrown into a bizarre world at the center of time. The CG creatures look great, as do the environments created by Silberling’s production design team, covering so much terrain from deserts to forests, caves and even volcanoes. It’s more than a little impressive compared to the cheesy backgrounds and costumes of the original show with Grumpy the T-Rex looking better than 90% of the dinosaurs in movies, even up there with the creatures in the “Jurassic Park” movies. There’s a lot more direct interaction between the characters and Grumpy, making the dino as well-realized a character as the ones played by actors. Even when there seems to be real danger, Ferrell and company never lose sight of this being a comedy, although it does falter when it tries to bring Ferrell and Friel together romantically, something that isn’t particularly credible.
The results are incredibly strange and where the movie slips the most is when it brings in some of the cheesier elements from the original show, especially with the main plot involving Enik and The Zarn, two incredibly lame characters when brought into the more realistic context of the world created by Silberling. On the other hand, the Sleestaks are far more menacing, literally hundreds of the lizard creatures mobbing our heroes with rows of razor-sharp teeth.
One thing to bear in mind is that this movie is definitely not for younger kids, because there’s a lot of raunchy humor and innuendo, a bit of foul language, some drug references and even a bonafide F-bomb, not to mention the CG creatures might scare younger kids. Despite the amount of stupidity and deliberately gross humor, you have to give credit to the daring way Silberling and his cast have taken something that’s relatively bland and cheesy and turned it into an amusing and incredibly strange experience that might have you laughing at the ballsiness of pulling something as crazy as this off. Rating: 7/10
Who knows who first had the idea of remaking popular television shows as movies? Sure, it makes sense based on the amount of nostalgia prevalent in way too many people, but it’s led to all sorts of bad and forgettable movies and only a few really good ones that became hits like last year’s Get Smart. Even when these movies flop, this continues to be an annoying trend in Hollywood as lazy execs constantly look to TV Land as a source for future movies rather than seeing the potential in original material. Sid and Marty Krofft’s “Land of the Lost” debuted on NBC in 1974 and ran for just two seasons, but had a continued life in syndication, proving popular enough to create a new version in 1991. It’s been nearly 18 years, but the Kroffts are still involved in this big screen remake, which has been reinvented as a vehicle for comedy superstar Will Ferrell.
Ferrell has appeared in so many movies since we started this column eight years ago that it seems like a waste of time to go over his entire box office history. One movie that does bode comparisons is when Ferrell took on the role of Darren in the reinvention of the television show “Bewitched” opposite Nicole Kidman, which made roughly $63 million in the summer of ’05. Otherwise, Ferrell’s career has been rather erratic as every big hit is counterbalanced by a miss. Even so, he still has four $100 million movies under his belt, putting him just behind Ben Stiller and Adam Sandler as a comedy star in terms of box office. Ferrell has generally had more success when playing wacky characters like Ricky Bobby in “Talladega Nights” and Ron Burgundy in “Anchorman,” but his take on Rick Marshall seems to be him doing his usual yelling and reacting to things being thrown at him, mostly CG dinosaurs, so one wonders whether even his biggest fans will find it funny. The key thing is that Will Ferrell is a big enough star he can get on any talk show he wants, making his presence unavoidable this week, as he kicked off Conan’s run on “The Tonight Show” on Monday.
Ferrell is joined in this endeavor by Danny McBride, 2008’s breakout comedy star from his scene-stealing appearances in Pineapple Express and Tropic Thunder, and who also recently starred in the HBO fave “Eastbound & Down” as has-been baseball player Kenny Powers. Holly is played by British hottie Anna Friel, who might be best known in this country from the ABC show “Pushing Daisies.” Lastly, the primate Chaka is played by Jorma Taccone, member of “The Lonely Island” along with Andy Samberg, the two of them having made the 2007 bomb Hot Rod together. (McBride also appeared in that movie.) The choice of director Brad Silberling might seem like an odd one, but he already did one big budget FX adaptation starring a wild comic actor when he directed Jim Carrey in Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events, so this doesn’t seem like that much of a stretch.
Besides Bewitched there have been many other television shows that tried to make the transition to movies including Starsky & Hutch, starring Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson–directed by the man behind the movie’s biggest competition this weekend, Todd Philips–and The Dukes of Hazzard, both released by Warner Bros. to make over $80 million. Last summer, they relaunched the ’60s comedy spy show Get Smart, starring Steve Carrel and Anne Hathaway which did even better, grossing $130 million. Over the years, there have been big screen version of “The Brady Bunch,” “The Beverly Hillbillies” and all sorts of other movies, but they’ve become much bigger budget affairs. One would assume that there’s some sort of nostalgia factor in these movies bringing in any business, but that’s not always the case as was seen by Speed Racer last year. Considering how long it’s been since “Land of the Lost” was on TV, one wonders if it really has that many fans hoping for a relaunch.
Even so, a bigger selling point than Will Ferrell and the known brandname will be the actual dinosaurs and creatures, which will make this a big draw for young boys 8 to 15, as the presence of CG dinosaurs helped the “Jurassic Park” movies become a huge franchise. The original show was something that mainly appealed to kiddies, and usually it’s not a good idea to bet against kids’ movies. There’s definitely somewhat of a misnomer that this Land of the Lost is a kiddie film, but in fact, the movie is PG-13, and Universal is hoping that Ferrell’s popularity among teens and older audiences will make this a strong choice for the weekend. The general consensus seems to be that the movie looks really dumb, basically Will Ferrell running around and screaming a lot… again. Some have even compared it to last year’s Journey to the Center of the Earth, which means it’s hard to believe anyone over 16 or 17 will have much interest in seeing this, unless they’re huge fans of the original television show… but even they’d be skeptical. Universal have been using all of their synergy to try to get people excited about the movie including a marathon of the original show on the SCI FI… sorry, SyFy Network… and promos during NBC’s Thursday night comedy line-up, as well as an HBO special in hopes of changing public opinion about the movie.
Anyone older looking for comedy might be more attracted to this weekend’s other comedy choice The Hangover. That just leaves the younger teen and ‘tween audience, but there’s way too much competition for that market between Stiller’s “Night at the Museum” and last week’s hit Up. Those factors will probably keep Land of the Lost from opening big, although Ferrell’s presence will probably keep it from bombing as badly as last year’s The Love Guru or Speed Racer.
Why I Should See It: If you’re going to make a movie based on “Land of the Lost,” you may as well cast it with Will Ferrell and Danny McBride, who both have had fine moments of hilarity.
The Hangover (Warner Bros.)
The huge success of R-rated comedies over the past few years has been well documented in this column but way back before the existence of the Weekend Warrior, Todd Phillips was first getting attention with his raunchy sense of humor in the DreamWorks summer comedy Road Trip, followed a few years later with his second hit Old School, which first paired Vince Vaughn and Will Ferrell. Both of those R-rated movies made nearly $70 million years before Judd Apatow would make The 40-Year-Old Virgin and be given all the credit for the success of R-rated comedies. So now Phillips has returned to what he does so well with a high concept comedy about waking up after a night of drunken debauchery and not remembering any of it, and it could be another huge hit.
Similar to Old School, he’s assembled an eclectic cast of comic actors, the one with the most movie credits under his belt being Bradley Cooper, who’s been having a decent year, having already starred opposite Scarlett Johansson in the hit chick flick, He’s Just Not That Into You, which grossed over $90 million. Then again, Cooper already starred in the $200 million grossing Wedding Crashers and the romantic comedy hit Failure to Launch, as well as Jim Carrey’s Yes Man last year, both of which grossed over $85 million. There’s little question that Cooper is on his way to being a big star and a movie like The Hangover is just what he needs. He next teams with Sandra Bullock with the delayed comedy All About Steve.
One of the breakouts in the movie is Zach Galifianakis, a hot stand-up comedian who has appeared on various television sketch shows but hasn’t really made much of a mark in the movies, though he did star in the 2001 bomb Out Cold and other dogs from that era. Ed Helms is best known as Andy from “The Office” and he’s also making his first significant movie appearance. There’s also a smaller role for Justin Bartha as the groom; Bartha’s biggest role has been playing Nick Cage’s sidekick in the “National Treasure” movies, but he also appeared alongside Cooper in Failure to Launch. There’s a lot of other funny and familiar faces from the world of comedy, but the oddest appearance is by former boxer Mike Tyson, whose cameo has been a great capper to the trailers and commercials.
R-rated comedies with lesser-known stars like I Love You, Man, Role Models and last year’s Forgetting Sarah Marshall opened under $20 million despite a similar amount of advance buzz, but they also didn’t open during the summer. (Two R-rated movies starring Seth Rogen, Zack and Miri Make a Porno and Observe & Report didn’t fare as well, even though he’s been the poster boy for R-rated comedy over the last few years.)
Now barring the fact that none of the cast really have any big movies under their belt–Cooper has always been a supporting player–one has to look at what the movie has going for it. The fact that it looks hilarious will go a long way, because the jokes have generally gone over well anytime the trailer has been screened. On top of that, the movie has been screened throughout the country building buzz, and the three stars were even featured in the most recent issue of “Rolling Stone” as the summer’s “Hot Comedy.” Reviews are generally going to be very positive, which is very uncommon for summer comedies, and that also will get people interested in seeing the movie.
The movie also has a great simple title, which really just screams “comedy.” Everyone can understand and relate to the idea of having one of those drunken nights you can’t remember and a hangover the next day; that kind of resonance is always a good impetus to see a movie. (Granted, it does have similarities to Dude, Where’s My Car?, which starred Ashton Kutcher and Seann William Scott.) The Vegas setting is also a popular one as seen in classic indies like Swingers and Go and bigger Hollywood films like the star-studded Ocean’s 11. It was also the setting for Fox’s hit comedy What Happens in Vegas, which paired Cameron Diaz and Ashton Kutcher to the tune of $220 million worldwide last summer. The star power had a lot to do with it, but so did the thought that “anything can happen in Vegas.” (Oddly, Zack Galifianakis had a small role in that movie, too.)
The trailer for The Hangover went over really well at the ShoWest Convention in Vegas, which probably helped Warner Bros. greatly in getting the movie a much wider release than most R-rated comedies. The question is whether the movie could possibly open over $30 million like other breakout comedies, such as The Wedding Crashers, and the only reason it probably won’t is because it’s facing a lot more competition for screens and theatres, which wasn’t the case when Superbad and The 40-Year-Old Virgin opened in August. It also involves older actors, which means it’ll be a harder sell for the teen crowd, but even so, the R-rating may be more limiting than some think because anyone in their teens who does want to see it may have to buy tickets to something else and sneak in.
However well or poorly the movie does this weekend, there’s little question this movie will have huge legs as word gets around how funny it is, because it’s just that kind of movie. We wouldn’t be too surprised if it comes close to making $100 million, although we think it will fall just short of that, having so many other big comedies opening on its tail.
Why I Should See It: This is already looking to be the funniest movie of the summer without having a single one of the “big name” comedy stars who are usually necessary to drive one of these comedies.
My Life in Ruins (Fox Searchlight)
If you ever felt like a third wheel than you probably know what it’s like being this romantic comedy, which is opening against two fierce comedy competitors, and might have trouble getting noticed amongst them. It’s somewhat surprising that the movie is not getting more attention, being that it marks the return of Nia Vardalos. Some might remember seven years ago when Vardalos’ little romantic comedy that could My Big Fat Greek Wedding was everywhere, eventually becoming one of the highest grossing independent films with $241 million after hanging around in theaters for nearly a year. A year later, Vardalos appeared with Toni Collette in the bomb Connie & Carla and then she disappeared. That was five years ago.
With that in mind, you’d think that Vardalos returning to romantic comedy, especially one that takes place in Greece, would be a much bigger deal, but it certainly seems like her mysterious vanishing act and being out of the public eye for so long has allowed audiences who loved her previous movie to forget her. Certainly putting her in another Greek setting will quickly job their memories, but as much as this looks like some sort of thematical sequel to My Big Fat Greek Wedding, Vardalos didn’t write this one and is merely using it as a vehicle for an attempted comeback. Her supporting cast includes the likes of Richard Dreyfuss, a veteran of the rom-com genre going back to The Goodbye Girl, for which he won an Oscar in fact, as well as former SNL castmember Rachel Dratch, while Vardalos’ love interest is played by “Hot Greek Actor” Alexis Georgoulis – no, I’ve never heard of him either. The whole mess is directed by Donald Petrie, who helmed romantic comedy hits like Miss Congeniality with Sandra Bullock and How to Lose a Guy In 10 Days with Matthew McConaughey and Kate Hudson, as well as dogs like Welcome to Mooseport.
Obviously, this is a movie being marketed directly towards women looking for romance, who’ve been neglected by much of the summer offerings so far. The commercials pretty much tell you all you need to know about the movie in terms of the journey of Vardalos’ character Georgia and her relationship with the bus driver (played by Georgoulis), but it looks so corny and cheesy that one wonders whether any woman might be swayed by merely by the thoughts of a Greek romance, especially since the comedy aspects are wisely being downplayed. (Hint: The movie ain’t funny.)
The movie recently closed the Tribeca Film Festival, which actually isn’t as prestigious as it may seem, as other female-targeted comedies that played there include the Olsens’ New York Minute and the retro-romcom Down with Love, neither which did very well. The fact that My Life in Ruins is only opening in less than 1,500 theatres is very telling in how much interest there is in the movie and that theater chains are not wanting to waste many of their screens on it.
Who knows what’s going on with Fox Searchlight this year, because in the past, they’ve been the purveyors of fine quality movies like last year’s Oscar winners Slumdog Millionaire and The Wrestler, but this year, they’ve basically released this movie and Miss March, a sophomoric comedy. At least Searchlight has the excellent (500) Days of Summer coming out later this summer to take the bad taste left in everyone’s mouths from this one. After it bombs–and it will–Vardalos can probably crawl back into whatever cave she’s been hiding in… that is, if she didn’t have another movie coming out later this summer.
Why I Should See It: If you really really REALLY missed Nia Vardalos, this will be your first chance (of two) to see her back on the screen this summer.
THE CHOSEN ONE:
Away We Go (Focus Features)
Review (Coming Soon!)
I don’t want to say too much about this movie here because I’m still hoping to write a full review before week’s end, but as a bonafide fan of the work of Sam Mendes since American Beauty, I’m glad to see him returning to lighter fare than last year’s Revolutionary Road. The weird thing is that I seem to be one of the few people who really loved this movie, and I think it’s just the kind of material Mendes needed to rejuvenate his creativity after the stylish but dour period drama. It’s just a terrific movie about real people in strange situations in the same vein as movies like Lars and the Real Girl or Dan in Real Life, two of my personal favorites from recent years. Sporting glasses and an unkempt beard, Krasinski gives a better performance in this than we’ve seen him from him–actually, I thought he was amazing in his own Brief Interviews with Hideous Men which played at Sundance earlier this year–and a lot of that comes from him replacing his dopey everyman charm for a dorkiness that’s just as amusing and charming. Maya Rudolph gives a similarly solid performance that requires as much drama as humor, as the two of them travel across the country, encountering all sorts of crazy relatives and acquaintances while trying to find the best place to settle down. Amongst the eccentric and dysfunctional characters, the clear standouts are Alison Janney as a non-stop blabbermouth who’s very funny, and Maggie Gyllenhaal and Josh Hamilton as a pretentious New Age couple who have their own strange ideas how to raise their children. Paul Schneider shows up later as Krasinski’s brother whose wife just left him, a segment which takes the tone down and brings more poignance to the mix. It’s just a very enjoyable film in the way it never sits still and always has new things to offer the viewer with each stop on Burt and Verona’s trip. The score is also great, as Mendes has bypassed the traditional scoring to showcase the songs of Alexi Murdoch, which works similarly as the score for Zak Braff’s Garden State. Again, I hope to write a more thoughtful review later this week, but if you enjoy good indie comedies then this really is a winner. (Just ignore the bad reviews as they clearly have no idea what they’re talking about.)
It opens in New York and L.A. on Friday.
Also in Limited Release:
Downloading Nancy (Strand Releasing) – Johan Renck’s controversial Sundance thriller stars Maria Bello as Nancy Stockwell, a woman married for 15 years who meets a kindred soul online (played by Jason Patric) and runs off to be with him, asking him to end her miserable life. Her husband Albert (Rufus Sewell) discovers his wife missing and tries to find out what happened to her. It opens in select cities.
Tennessee (Vivendi Entertainment) – Aaron Woodley’s drama about people striving to realize their dreams stars Adam Rothenberg and Ethan Peck as brotehrs taking a road trip to their childhood home to find their father, and they’re joined by Maria Carey as a woman trying to escape a troubled life. The drama which premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival last year will open in select cities.
Seraphine (Music Box Films) -Comedienne/performance artist Yolande Moreau portrays Séraphine de Senlis, a simple housemaid whose hobby as a painter led to her being discovered by a German art critic and collector (Ulrich Ukur), but only after she had been driven insane and institutionalized. Martin Provost’s César-nominated flim opens in New York and L.A. on Friday.
Mini-Review (Coming Soon!)
Unmistaken Child (Oscilloscope Labs) – Nati Baratz’s documentary follows the search for the reincarnation of a Buddhist master by his long-time assistant Tenzin Zopa. His search takes him through a village where he talks to the parents of young children born around the time of his master’s death, leading him to the discovery of a young boy who fits the bill. This intriguing look at spirituality and reincarnation opens at the Film Forum in New York on Wednesday.
Mini-Review (Coming Soon!)
24 City (The Cinema Guild) – The latest from Jia Zhang Ke (Still Life) is a docudrama about the conversation of a Chinese munitions factory into luxury apartment buildings by three generations of factory worker (both real and actors portraying the roles). Having played at various festivals, it opens at the IFC Center in New York on Friday.
Next week, Denzel Washington takes on John Travolta in Tony Scott’s remake of Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 (Sony), while Eddie Murphy returns to family fare with the comedy-fantasy Imagine That (Paramount).
Copyright 2009 Edward Douglas