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. Apologies that this week’s column is later than usual (thanks to Comic-Con) but this week, we also have an extra-special guest writer helping the Weekend Warrior get back on track with deadlines, Mr. William Reynolds, who provided the analysis write-ups for Funny People and Aliens in the Attic this week.
(UPDATE: Granted, our original predictions only went up less than 24 hours ago, but now that we have official theater counts, we have a quick update, and as we were reminded in the comments, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince added may more IMAX screens on Wednesday, which should allow it to hold the line from last weekend. G-Force should still keep it out of second place and the other predictions are generally the same. Freestyle’s The Collector is getting fewer theaters than we expected, so it might be fighting for 11th place against Kathyrn Bigelow’s The Hurt Locker and Marc Webb’s (500) Days of Summer, both of which will expand into more theaters and end up in the $2.5 million range this weekend.)
1. Funny People (Universal) – $35.2 million N/A (same)
2. G-Force (Disney) – $20.2 million -36% (up 1.7 million)
3. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (Warner Bros.) – $16.0 million -46% (up 1.6 million and one place)
4. The Ugly Truth (Sony) – $15.2 million -45% (down one place)
5. Aliens in the Attic (20th Century Fox) – $11.3 million N/A (same)
6. Orphan (Warner Bros.) – $6.2 million -52% (up .2 million)
7. Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs (20th Century Fox) – $5.0 million -40% (same)
8. The Hangover (Warner Bros.) – $4.6 million -29% (same)
9. Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (DreamWorks/Paramount) – $4.5 million -45% (same)
10. The Proposal (Disney/Touchstone) – $4.2 million -35%
— The Collector (Freestyle Releasing) – $2.5 million N/A (down .2 million)
July comes to a close with three new movies, one slightly more high profile than the other two, as Judd Apatow returns with his third feature film Funny People (Universal), this one reuniting Apatow with his long-time pal Adam Sandler and his “protégé” Seth Rogen in a poignant story set in the world of stand-up comedy. While both Sandler and Apatow have created their own built-in audiences for their brands of comedy, this is a far more mature and adult film that deals with far more serious topics that either has dealt with previously, so it will be interesting to see if their fans accept a movie that’s more in the vein of James L. Brooks, who directed Sandler in Spanglish, one of Sandler’s box office disappointments. It should open well, probably in the same mid-30s range of Apatow and Sandler’s other recent movies, although long-term will be relying heavily on whether older adults warm to the darker material. Much like Sony’s The Ugly Truth last week, this is an important movie for Universal, following a number of major disappointments, and it’s probably the studio’s last chance at saving their summer.
Offered as counterprogramming is Fox’s family movie Aliens in the Attic (20th Century Fox), which replaces the CG guinea pigs of Disney’s hit G-Force with cute world-destroying aliens. Trying to attract younger kids and parents to a movie going up against a Disney 3D family hit still bringing in business might be a fool’s errand, though Aliens in the Attic is getting a wide enough release with lots of commercials that it could be a viable option for families looking for a follow-up to G-Force in areas where school will be starting up again in just a few short weeks. (Check out a full analysis of the above two movies written by Guest Warrior William Reynolds below.)
Lastly, the indie horror movie The Collector (Freestyle Releasing) by the creators of the “Operation Greenlight” film Feast will be getting a moderate release into 1,500 theaters, but there probably isn’t enough awareness or interest in the latest attempt to replicate the success Lionsgate has had with the “Saw” movies, so one should expect it to wind up outside the Top 10 with less than $3 million.
We’re skipping a week in terms of last year’s movies just to try to catch up, and we won’t have a “Battle Cry” this week or next, although in a few weeks, we’ll take a look back at the effects that Comic-Con might have had on some of the movies that had presentations there.
Funny People (Universal)
Starring Adam Sandler, Seth Rogen, Leslie Mann, Eric Bana, Jonah Hill, Jason Schwartzman, RZA, Aubrey Plaza, Maude Apatow, Iris Apatow
Written and directed by Judd Apatow (The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Knocked Up
Genre: Comedy, Drama
Plot Summary: Superstar comic actor George Simmons (Adam Sandler) has just learned that he’s dying from an acute form of leukemia, so he decides to return to stand-up, hiring a young comic named Ira (Seth Rogen) to help him write material as well as to help him make amends with the love of his life (Leslie Mann), now married to an Australian businessman (Eric Bana) with two kids.
Judd Apatow has seen immediate success as a film director, pulling off the difficult feat of becoming a name director after only two films, The 40-Year-Old Virgin and Knocked Up, both of which have topped $100 million. In addition to his directing success, he’s been involved in numerous other comedy box office hits, like Talladega Nights, Superbad and last summer’s Adam Sandler hit You Don’t Mess With the Zohan, either as writer or producer. This week sees his return to the directorial chair with Funny People, staring Adam Sandler and Seth Rogen as stand-up comics.
Over the last 10+ years Adam Sandler has been one of the more consistent box office performers around. He’s had fourteen starring roles in that time with nine of them opening over $34 million and ten of them eventually topping $100 million. From The Waterboy to You Don’t Mess With the Zohan, most of those successes have followed the same formula: PG-13 humor firmly targeted at the teen male set. Any movie that deviated from that formula failed until this past Christmas when his PG family adventure Bedtime Stories found success. While Funny People once again moves Sandler out of his comfort zone, this time, it’s in the opposite direction with an R-rated dramedy. In the past, Sandler’s box office troubles have often occured when he tackled more dramatic territory. Both Punch-Drunk Love and Spanglish were well-regarded, but neither was able to make an impression at the box office. The advertising for Funny People makes it appear to have much more in common with James L. Brooks style dramedies like Spanglish or As Good as it Gets than Sandler’s more successful style.
Sandler’s co-star Seth Rogen has a much shorter theatrical history, but he’s no stranger to box office success. He got his acting start in Judd Apatow produced TV shows “Freaks and Geeks” and “Undeclared” and has been a staple in Apatow’s work ever since. His theatrical break out was in a memorable supporting role in Apatow’s The 40-Year-Old Virgin. From there he moved up to the leading role in Apatow’s next movie Knocked Up, which grossed $148 million, and two months later, Superbad, a movie Rogen co-wrote and played a prominent role in, topped $120 million. Since then it’s been all downhill, bottoming out with the recent Observe and Report and its sub $25 million total gross this past April. Has it been a case of Rogen overload, as he’s also done quite a bit of voice work in animated features, or has he just made some poor choices of late? (Rounding out the cast are a number of Apatow regulars including his wife Leslie Mann, Jonah Hill, as well as a slew of real life stand-up comedians like Norm McDonald, Sarah Silverman and Dave Attell.)
The combination of Apatow, Sandler and Rogen seems like a slamdunk for box office success, but Funny People faces some challenges. First, movies about stand-up comedy tend to be box office failures, like Punchline and Mr. Saturday Night. It seems counter-intuitive on the surface, but stand-up comedy doesn’t seem to translate well out of context. What’s funny on stage is not always funny within the context of a story. Second, the movie has a more serious dramatic edge to it that doesn’t always translate well at the box office, especially Sandler’s earlier attempts in the genre. With the star power involved Funny People will get solid first week business, but it could struggle down the line if it does not deliver what the audience is expecting. Tracking is indicating an opening above my projection. Your regular weekend warrior is also pushing for a higher number, but instinct is still telling me to be cautious. I am squarely in the fan base of all involved and this just does not appear that appealing. To me that is a red flag, so I’m going to undercut expectations.
Why I Should See It: It’s Adam Sandler, Seth Rogen and Judd Apatow. How could it not be funny?
Aliens in the Attic (20th Century Fox)
Starring Carter Jenkins, Austin Robert Butler, Kevin Nealon, Robert Hoffman, Doris Roberts, Tim Meadows, Ashley Tisdale
Directed by John Schultz (The Honeymooners, Like Mike); Written by Mark Burton (Chicken Run, Madagascar, Wallace & Gromit: Curse of the Were-Rabbit), Adam F. Goldberg (“Still Standing,” “Aliens in America”)
Genre: Comedy, Adventure, Family
Tagline: “The Aliens vs. the Pearsons”
Plot Summary: Kids on vacation must fight a group of tiny alien invaders who hope to take over the world, while their parents (and the rest of humanity) remain oblivious.
Aliens in the Attic is the latest in a seemingly neverending line of movies looking to get families into theaters. This time a group of aliens are looking to take over and, you guessed it, the kids are the only ones who can stop them. Some elements of the premise and both the visual design of the aliens themselves and their mischievous antics appear to be reminiscent of the mid 80’s hit Gremlins.
After the CGI aliens, the kids are the focus of the movie, though most are not well known. Henri Young, Regan Young and Ashley Boettcher are making their theatrical debuts. Carter Jenkins has done some TV and theatrical work, but nothing that would make him familiar to general audiences. Austin Robert Butler may be familiar to some as he’s had guess appearances on a number of popular Nickelodeon and Disney Channel shows like “Hannah Montana,” “iCarly” and “Zoey 101.” Ashley Tisdale is by far the best known of the cast as she’s been a regular on the Disney channel program “The Suite Life of Zach and Cody” for several years, and well as doing voice work on another Disney show, “Phineas and Ferb.” Of course she’s best known for her award-winning (Breakthrough Performance Female MTV movie awards) work in the “High School Musical” series. What strikes me as interesting though is that whatever star power the kids, and I use that term loosely as Tisdale is 24, bring to the table is aimed squarely at tween/teen girls, while the premise is not something that would be a draw to that group at all.
The adult cast brings more familiar names to the table like Kevin Nealon and Tim Meadows from SNL fame, Andy Richter from the Conan O’Brien show as well as numerous TV shows and bit parts in several Will Ferrell movies, and Doris Roberts, who’s been in show business since the 1950’s, but is probably best known to younger generations for her work as Ray Romano’s mother in the hit TV show “Everyone Loves Raymond.” While they all may have some name recognition, none have ever been considered a box office draw. The same goes for director John Schultz, whose credits include the 2005 The Honeymooners re-imagining and Like Mike, which did manage a respectable $50 million at the box office.
The premise is one that should have appeal to the 6-12 year old boy set, but with Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs and G-Force still doing well with either all or part of that demographic, Aliens in the Attic may have trouble gaining traction this weekend. If it doesn’t make a quick impact it could be in trouble as the older half of that demographic is likely going to be far more interested in next week’s G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra.
Why I Should See It: Gremlins proved quite entertaining for all ages. With the similarities this could as well. At the very least it should be entertaining to younger males.
The Collector (Freestyle Releasing)
Starring Josh Stewart, Karley Scott Collins, Juan Fernandez, Jabari Thomas, Colvin Roberson, Michael Reilly Burke
Directed by Marcus Dunstan (debut); Written by Marcus Dunstan and Patrick Melton (Feast, Saw IV, Saw V, Saw VI)
Genre: Horror, Thriller
Tagline: “He Always Takes One”
Plot Summary: Handyman and ex-con Arkin (Josh Stewart) needs to find a way to repay a debt, so he plans to rob his employer’s country home, but when arrives there late at night, he discovers that the place has been rigged with boobytraps by a masked menace known as “The Collector” who will not allow anyone to escape his clutches and his masterplan of taking just one person from the house alive.
Trying to bring in some of the horror fans who have generally been underserved this summer, this indie horror film from the creators of Feast, Marcus Dunstan and Patrick Melton, who first came to prominence when their script went into production as part of “Operation Greenlight 3,” tries to capitalize on the gory high concept death trap premise that has made the “Saw” series such a success. It might not be too surprising that the duo have also been responsible for the last two movies in that franchise, as well as the upcoming Saw VI. This is in fact Marcus Dunstan’s directorial debut, and it seems to be an attempt to start another franchise based on a hooded menace that terrorizes households using jury-rigged traps that kill them in gory ways. While the “Saw” franchise seems to be motoring along fairly non-stop, other horror movies that have tried to use what has been dubbed the “torture porn” formula have not done nearly as well. In this case, it’s essentially being self-distributed and promoted via the indie collective Freestyle Releasing, whose luck with the horror offerings from After Dark Films have not seen much fruition. The marketing has been fairly solid (not veering too far away from the similar approach to “Saw”) and this has a similar DIY approach to the first “Saw” movie but there probably isn’t enough awareness to warrant the 1,500 theaters showing the movie this weekend, so one can expect business to be fairly spread out. The movie doesn’t really have the type of fun or excitement that audiences are looking for in the summer, so it probably won’t stick around long going up against anticipated genre films like G.I. Joe and District 9.
Why I Should See It: If you enjoy the gore and carnage of the “Saw” movies, here’s another potential franchise to satisfy that desire.
This Week’s Limited Releases:
In fairness to the fact that I haven’t had a chance to watch a couple of the movies being released this weekend and others I’ve seen too long ago to write coherently about, we’re going to bypass this week’s “Chosen One.”
The Cove (Roadside Attractions) – Louie Psihoyos’s documentary (with narration written by Mark Monroe of Amazing Journey and Once in a Lifetime) looks at the work of Richard O’Barry, the famed dolphin trainer responsible for the tricks performed by “Flipper,” and his mission to lead a team of activists, filmmakers and freedivers on a covert mission to infiltrate a cove in Japan where dolphins are wantonly being slaughtered after culling the herd for animals to send to marine parks.
Thirst (Focus Features) – Old Boy director Park Chan-wook returns with his first attempt at a vampire flick, this one starring Song Kang-Ho (The Host) as a priest who becomes afflicted with a blood disease when he volunteers for a vaccine program for a deadly virus, and finds himself existing as a vampire, complicated further when a pretty woman named Tae-ju (Kim Ok-vin) tests his resistance against carnal desires when she asks him to help her escape the life of abuse in which she’s trapped. Director Park’s latest opens in New York, L.A. and San Francisco on Friday.
Not Quite Hollywood (Magnet Labs) – Mark Hartley’s documentary takes a look at the cult and genre cinema that permeated Australian cinemas during the ’70s and ’80s with low-budget horror, action and raunchy comedies. It opens in New York and L.A. on Friday.
Adam (Fox Searchlight) – In Max Mayer’s directorial debut, Hugh Dancy plays Adam Raki, a young man with Asperger Syndrome struggling through life after the death of his father until he meets Beth (Rose Byrne), the building’s new tenant, and a bond forms between them that tests whether someone with Asperger has ability at having a deep romantic relationship. It opens on Wednesday in New York and L.A.
You, The Living (Palisades Tartan) – Swedish absurdist Roy Andersson (Songs from the Second Floor) returns with a look at the “everyday foibles of human nature.” It premieres on Wednesday at the Film Forum in New York City.
Gotta Dance (Mitropoulos Films) – Dori Berenstein’s documentary about New Jersey’s NETSationals, the first seniors hip-hop dance team as they hold auditions for new members. It opens in New York on Friday at the Beekman Theatre and in L.A. on August 21.
Flame & Citron (IFC Films) – Danish filmmaker Ole Christian Madsen’s WWII thriller shines the spotlight on two freedom fighters, the fearless “Flame” (Thure Lindhardt) and the more sensitive “Citron” (Mads MIkkelsen from Casino Royale), who put their lives on the line fighting with the Holger Danske resistance group. When they’re ordered to sent on a mission to kill two German officers, they start to question their orders. Having played at last year’s Toronto Film Festival, it opens at the Lincoln Plaza and Landmark Sunshine Cinemas in New York City on Friday.
Lorna’s Silence (Sony Pictures Classics) – Belgium’s The Dardenne Brothers return with Arta Dobroshi playing a young Albanian woman named Lorna trying to open a snack bar with her boyfriend, who gets caught up in the plans of a mobster who uses Lorna’s need to get a Belgian citizenship to set up a false marriage with Claudy (Jeremie Renier), which the mobster hopes to end to use her to marry a Russian mafioso. The latest film from the award-winning Belgian auteur opens in New York at the Cinema Village and in L.A. on Friday.
Next week, August kicks off with the long-anticipated movie based on the popular Hasbro toy line G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra (Paramount), directed by Stephen Sommers; Amy Adams and Meryl Streep have a biopic cook-off in Julie & Julia (Sony) while filmmaker David Twohy returns with the serial killer thriller A Perfect Getaway (Rogue Pictures).
Copyright 2009 Edward Douglas