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.
1. Surrogates (Disney/Touchstone) – $22.4 million N/A (down .3 million)
2. Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs (Sony) – $19.3 million -36% (same)
3. Fame (MGM) – $13.7 million N/A (up .5 million)
4. Pandorum (Overture Films) – $6.3 million N/A (same)
5. The Informant! (Warner Bros.) – $5.7 million -45% (same)
6. Love Happens (Universal) – $5.0 million -38% (same)
7. Tyler Perry’s I Can Do Bad All By Myself (Lionsgate) – $4.8 million -50% (same)
8. 9 (Focus Features) – $3.4 million -38% (same)
9. Jennifer’s Body (20th Century Fox) – $3.2 million -54% (up .1 million)
10. Inglourious Basterds (The Weinstein Company/Universal) – $2.3 million -39% (same)
September is grinding down as normal with very few memorable breakouts, and after a weekend where movies starring Jennifer Aniston, Matt Damon and Megan Fox barely could open with $10 million, can this week’s return of Bruce Willis to action fare much better? Yes indeed, it can, and that’s because Surrogates (Disney/Touchstone) returns him to the action fare that has helped build his fanbase over the ’80s and ’90s. Being his first major role since 2007’s Live Free or Die Hard and his first foray into science fiction since Michael Bay’s Armageddon, his fans should be interested in the movie even if there hasn’t been a ton of early buzz for it, and most of that buzz comes from the curious marketing campaign. While the audience will mainly consist of older males, the PG-13 rating is very inviting to teen males as well, so this should be able to bring in roughly $20 million or more this weekend.
Hoping to bring in the same younger female crowd that flocked to Disney’s “High School Musical” movies is the remake of Fame (MGM) that introduces a lot of new faces, but will be capitalizing on the namebrand value of the original movie and television show alongside the popularity of movie musicals and dance flicks. Opening in over 3,000 theaters should help the movie end up in third place behind Sony Animation’s hit family comedy Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, pushing for an opening in the teens.
Lastly, Dennis Quaid and Ben Foster star in the dark sci-fi thriller Pandorum (Overture Films), which will be hurt by trying to go up against the far stronger genre fare with a much easier-to-sell premise than this enigmatic R-rated movie. Even so, with few movies doing very well last weekend, it should still be able to place in the Top 5 despite making less than $10 million.
UPDATE: A quick addition we forgot to mention earlier but Drew Barrymore’s roller derby movie Whip It will be getting sneak previews in roughly 500 theaters on Saturday night.
This weekend last year saw the release of the Spielberg-produced action sci-fi movie Eagle Eye (DreamWorks/Paramount), starring Shia LaBeouf and Michelle Monaghan, which topped the charts with $29 million, making it the fourth-biggest September opener ever. Also, Richard Gere and Diane Lane reunited for the romantic drama Nights in Rodanthe (Warner Bros.) based on the book by Nicholas Sparks, which took second place with $13.4 million. The Christian drama Fireproof (Samuel Goldwyn Films) became a surprise hit, scoring $6.8 million in 839 theatres for fourth place, while Spike Lee’s WWII epic Miracle at St. Anna (Touchstone) bombed with just $3.5 million in 1,185 theaters. The Top 10 grossed $82 million, an amount that should be beat by this weekend’s offerings.
(Not enough time for another “Battle Cry” as of yet, but don’t worry… another one is Coming Soon!)
Mini-Review: The future foretold by Ray Kurzweil and imagined by Philip K. Dick has come true in this near-future shock story which builds upon a semi-original graphic novel premise about a world where most humans go through their day-to-day lives as lifelike cyborgs. This is a future where anyone too lazy to shave or put on make-up can just shell out the shekels to buy an advanced robot that allows them to be slim and good-looking, as well as able to do things that would kill any non-robot, making for a world of ridiculously sexy and good-looking models and business types. We learn this through a clever documentary-like title sequence that includes a surprising amount of real news footage of actual robotics just to blur the line between fiction and reality. That aesthetic goes out the window once we see the first use of a weapon meant to zap surrogates and take out their operators as it’s used on the son of the inventor of the program, played by James Cromwell. We’re then introduced to police detectives Greer (Bruce Willis) and Peters (Rhada Mitchell) who are assigned to the case of finding the person responsible for the high-profile murders.
For a movie that’s marketing itself as an action flick, this is surprisingly sparse on much beyond a couple of chase sequences, instead beginning like a noir detective tale–cue “Blade Runner” comparisons–then straddling the line between a police drama where every officer is in shape and looks good, and a family drama about Bruce Willis’ Detective Greer’s home life, trying to build his character by using the far-too-obvious cliché of him having lost his son. At the same time, he’s trying to reconnect to his wife (Rosamund Pike) who like everyone else in the world, has become addicted to living life through surrogacy. The writing, by the team behind “Terminator Salvation” is mostly bland, and the fact that the majority of the characters are robots gives license for a lot of pretty actors and actresses to give stiff and unconvincing performances. At the center of that is Willis who is lifeless whether he’s playing the real Greer or Greer’s surrogate, which is essentially a slimmer clean-shaven version of himself only with a full head of blonde hair (and wearing way too much make-up). It’s not a good role for Willis and he isn’t able to bring anything special to the role. Director Jonathan Mostow has experience with cyborgs from his previous movie “Terminator 3,” but when we take a peek under the face plates of the surrogates, the robotics are just embarrassing.
Much of the purpose behind the film is to act as a preachy message about allowing technology to take over one’s life, and like everything even remotely fun in life, there’s an activist group morally opposed to it. In this case, it’s the Human Coalition, led by The Prophet–Ving Rhames wearing a ridiculous beard and dreadlocks–and populated by the fat, the poorly dressed and the unshaven, just to drive the contrast home. By the time we get to the third act and a couple of ridiculously lame twists are thrown our way, it’s too late for us to be won over, and having James Cromwell just reminds us of Will Smith’s “I, Robot,” because even that handled its subject matter in a far more entertaining way.
In a year where there’s been a lot of good science fiction but just as much bad, “Surrogates” unfortunately falls into the latter category, partially because it feels stripmined from so many better movies, but also because even at a mere 88 minutes, it’s unable to maintain that premise in an interesting enough way to make it worthwhile. Surely Isaac Asimov, Philip K. Dick and Stan Winston must be tossing in their grave for what all their creative and innovative ideas have wrought. Rating: 5/10
Every September, there seems to be one big action or genre movie that tries to bring in a bit of extra business in the slower fall months, and more often than not, it does work, only because there is so little else to see and they wouldn’t be competing against the summer tentpoles. That theory helped the original Rush Hour open big and movies like Underworld and last year’s Eagle Eye have fared decently by skipping the summer months and opening in late September.
Based on an original graphic novel published by indie Top Shelf, this high concept sci-fi crime-action amalgam might sound slightly like the recent Gamer in that it also takes place in the world where people sit at home using avatars to interact, but this has a stronger whodunit story that returns Bruce Willis to the action genre. In fact, it’s Willis’ first major role since returning to the “Die Hard” franchise with 2007’s Live Free or Die Hard, which grossed roughly $135 million, making it Willis’ first live action movie since M. Night Shyamalan’s The Sixth Sense in 1999 to gross over $100 million. It was certainly a welcome return to action by Willis’ fans who had seen him jump between genres in previous years, the closest to action being Robert Rodriguez’s Sin City and Planet Terror (one half of Grindhouse with Wills’ former collaborator Quentin Tarantino). Willis had made brief forays into crime with the crime-thrillers 16 Blocks, Hostage and Lucky Number Slevin, but none of them were really action movies. This one is based around a futuristic sci-fi premise, similar to Luc Besson’s The Fifth Element, which became somewhat of a cult hit after its theatrical release. Willis has a lot of older male fans who have been waiting for him to do something more exciting, and there’s certainly a crossover audience with those who like science fiction.
This time around, Willis has been teamed with Jonathan Mostow, the director of Terminator 3 and U-571, and with co-stars Rosamund Pike and Radha Mitchell, who both have some genre experience, both with video game movies, Doom and Silent Hill, respectively.
This is a rare action-thriller from Touchstone Pictures who haven’t had that much success when trying to do genre or action fare. Their biggest success in recent years was the Jodie Foster thriller Flightplan, which opened on the same weekend four years ago, but they’re hoping that releasing this in September will bring in the same size audiences that movies like Underworld and Eagle Eye were able to bring in… not phenomenal but decent. What Touchstone has in its favor is that it has a great marketing campaign that involves a series of posters with scantily-clad men and women with robotic parts exposed. Oddly, the posters don’t feature the image (or name) of Bruce Willis even though he’s clearly in the commercials and trailer, but Touchstone is putting less focus on the starpower and more focus on the high concept premise, the action and the intrigue. They’re essentially using a similar “fake advertising” method of selling the movie as the “Resident Evil” movies to introduce the premise. In fact, they even stole Screen Gems’ Comic-Con idea for Resident Evil: Extinction by having hundreds of supermodel types parade out during their presentation at the New York Comic-Con earlier this year. It’s obvious that they’re using that movie franchise as a prototype, which is ironic since that franchise’s producer Paul W.S. Anderson has a new movie opening this week as well.
This is the first movie in some time that’s geared mainly towards guys that’s also rated PG-13, which means that groups of younger teens will be able to see it as a choice this weekend after many weeks of mainly R-rated fare. That’s another reason why the movie isn’t being sold mainly based on Willis, because one presumes that younger audiences won’t necessarily be that interested in seeing him.
Why I Should See It: This is a cool premise, one that pairs a great action star like Bruce Willis with a solid action director like Mostow. Results should be interesting.
Long long long before the “High School Musical” phenomenon, David de Silva thought it would be a cool idea to make a movie centering around the students of New York’s High School of Performing Arts, where everyone is there to try to better themselves, directed by Alan Parker, coming straight after his thriller Midnight Express. Besides spawning a memorable hit single from the movie’s title for its star Irene Cara, it proved successful enough that two years later, the premise was spun off into a popular television show that ran for five years on NBC. That wasn’t the end of the premise, though, as De Silva then turned it into a stage musical that has run nationally and off-Broadway for nearly twenty years.
Nowadays, the popularity of movie musicals is undeniable with the theatrical success of High School Musical 3, Mamma Mia! and Hairspray, and thanks to the musical and syndication, Fame still holds a place in many people’s hearts, so it made sense that someone would get the idea to remake and update the premise for modern young audiences.
This new version of Fame looks to introduce a lot of new talent to the world including director Kevin Tancharoen and his mostly unknown, but presumably talented, cast of singers, dancers and actors. For older audiences that might be interested in this remake, there’s television and theater stars Kelsey Grammer and Bebe Neuwirth (“Cheers” and “Frasier”) and Megan Mullaly (“Will & Grace”), which is a smart move, since these are actors who will appeal to the older audiences over 30 who might be interested in this movie for the nostalgia factor, especially those who remember the original movie fondly. That fact should make this a good movie for mothers to see with daughters, although it’s very much going to be a women-only flick as guys have plenty of other options.
This is the first movie from the newly revamped MGM in quite some time, and they’ve yet to really make too many waves with any of their releases. Although they’re getting this into over 3,000 theaters, a good amount of those seeing this movie will be due to the namebrand recognition rather than it being a destination movie, which might keep the movie from exploding into theaters, but it should still generate enough curious interest for it to do well enough for third place.
Why I Should See It: The time is rife for this remake and certainly, it’s gotta be as good or better than “High School Musical” right?
Pandorum (Overture Films)
Hoping to get some of the younger guys away from Bruce Willis’ big comeback movie (like that might happen) is this sci-fi thriller produced by Paul W.S. Anderson, the man who has explored this territory with many of his previous movies including Event Horizon and even the first Resident Evil movie. It harks back to dark sci-fi flicks like Ridley Scott’s Alien or David Twohy’s Pitch Black, playing up the creatures and the scares.
This one stars veteran actor Dennis Quaid, who is coming off his starring role in the summer hit G.I. Joe and last year’s political thriller hit Vantage Point. Oddly, he’s not even featured in the commercials, because he’s taking somewhat of a backseat to actor Ben Foster, best known for his role as Angel in X-Men: The Last Stand, but he also appeared in the vampire slasher 30 Days of Night, the Western remake 3:10 to Yuma and the crime-drama Alpha Dog. Although he’s a great actor, it’s odd to see him getting top billing in a movie like this because he’s certainly not much of a draw without Quaid. The female lead is even lesser known German actress Antje Traue, and it also stars Vietnamese martial arts expert Cung Le and Cam Gigandet from the “Twilight” series, none of whom will be much of a draw. The film is directed by Christian Alvart, the German director of the festival favorite Antibodies, whose second movie Case 39 has been sitting on the shelf for years, and most Americans won’t be familiar with his work.
The fledgling Overture Films are trying hard to follow the path of Lionsgate and their marketing of movies like Crank and the “Saw” movies, but this is just a quizzical movie that’s very unclear what it’s about or where the horror lies, the title itself being far too vague and enigmatic to work. Like with way too many horror movies, Overture is going to hide this from the critics in hopes that those who see the commercials, posters, etc. will be interested enough to check it out, but they haven’t been able to build buzz on the movie from earlier screenings like Lionsgate did with The Descent and others. (Even the presentations at WonderCon and Comic-Con earlier this year were met with general lack of interest.)
Even though this is getting a surprisingly wide release, one should expect business to be fairly spread out and scattered with some younger college-age guys choosing this over Surrogates but few others. It should do well enough to get into the Top 10, but the best bet for this sci-fi horror flick at this point is probably on DVD after it leaves theaters.
Why I Should See It: Alvart’s debut showed a lot of promise and this could be an interesting movie to show what he can do when given a bigger budget.
THE CHOSEN ONE:
Now that we’re into film festival and awards season, we’re going to have a lot more limited releases on a weekly basis, and this weekend, “The Chosen One” was a tough choice, but after a lot of dice rolling and such, we ended up going with…
The Boys are Back (Miramax Films)
One of the movies I was very happy to have had a chance to see early before its premiere at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival was the new drama from Shine director/writer Scott Hicks, who has become one of my favorite filmmakers in recent years, partially due to his documentary (and former “Chosen One”) Glass: A Film About Philip in 12 Parts. His new film is a powerful drama that takes a look at fatherhood through the eyes of a man who has to raise two sons on his own after the death of his wife.
It’s a tough movie because it starts with 15 minutes of Owen’s Joe Warr watching his wife die, and then having to take care of his difficult young son by himself. This is the type of material that works well on the page but is difficult to translate to the screen because it has to deal with real life domestic issues that affect millions, but it has to do so in an entertaining way without over-simplifying or glossing over the emotional content inherent in the drama. This was handled in a really corny way in recent movies like Marley & Me or My Sister’s Keeper, but Hicks handles the material in an extremely tasteful and honest way. You can tell that he clearly has an artistic soul from the gorgeous way he uses Australia’s coast as a painted backdrop for this powerful tale of coming to terms with one’s responsibilities as a parent.
This is easily one of Owen’s best performances since Closer, playing on the things he does so well but also taking him to new places emotionally. It’s an extremely well-realized character as Owen appears in every single scene, usually opposite newcomer Nicholas McAnulty as his young son Artie, but he also has some amazing scenes with George MacKay, who plays his older son from another woman that he left behind when he moved to Australia with his new wife. The relationship of young sons to the fathers that left them is something we’ve seen in movies before but never this raw and stark and true-to-life. I was also impressed with Emma Booth, who plays his son’s pretty schoolteacher and somewhat of a romantic interest in the movie, although she also has a more dramatic turn later in the film.
Sure, some of the scenes in the movie probably could have been cut, because they don’t work as well or might not be necessary to the overall story, but you’ll definitely want to bring the hankies, because this moving drama is a real tearjerker and the themes it explores will be ones that really stick with you for a long time.
The Boys are Back will open in select cities on Friday, and hopefully it will get some of the awards attention it deserves and will be able to expand wider over the next few weeks.
One of the most memorable films from this year’s Sundance Film Festival was John Krasinski’s directorial debut, an adaptation of the difficult novel by David Foster Wallace.
Brief Interviews with Hideous Men (IFC Films)
Mini-Review: One thing that seems to be a growing trend this years is that we’re seeing a lot of first-time filmmakers taking on difficult subject matter for their first films, and that’s a large part in what makes John Krasinski’s debut so impressive, not because it’s a big flashy FX movie, as much as it does and says so much solely using David Foster’s Wallace’s words. There isn’t much of a story, but it revolves around a grad student played by the highly-underrated Julianne Nicholson, who barely speaks a word in the movie as she allows male interview subjects to do all the talking about a variety of subjects, mostly about their thoughts on women. Krasinski has filled the film with an eclectic mix of television actors, both comic and dramatic, who deliver their performances almost like a play. Either they’re telling their stories directly to Sara’s recording equipment or she’s eavesdropping on conversations in coffee shops and elsewhere, the point being that it’s all research for a unidentified research paper she’s writing. Some bits are funny, some bits are not, and others will leave you scratching your head. Most of the men talk about their prowess with the opposite sex in humorous soliloquies from Bobby Cannavale, and another bit involving Christopher Meloni and Denis O’Hare as businessmen sharing a life-changing story. Then, you have things like Frankie Faison’s story involving his father working as a bathroom attendant, which doesn’t seem to fit into the general tone and direction of the overall film. Either way, this is an intensely dialogue-heavy movie that’s all about the performances and putting the pieces of the puzzle together as all of the segments are told in non-sequential order. As much of the funnier moments drive the film, there are just as many tough dramatic scenes, including one with Dominic Cooper as one of Sara’s students who clashes with her over the content of one of his papers. Krasinski takes on the role of Sara’s boyfriend, and he mostly coasts along on his charm and his smile, until the end when we see the confrontation that ended their relationship as Krasinski explodes with an absolutely shocking monologue, not only due to its content but also for who is delivering it. Even if you’re not into the play-like staging used to tell this story, “Brief Interviews” will surely allow you to see Krasinski in a different light, both as a filmmaker and as a dramatic actor. Rating: 8.5/10
Next, we have one of the highlights of this year’s Toronto International Film Festival, as we were able to catch the North American Premier of…
Capitalism: A Love Story (Overture Films)
Also in Limited Release:
Coco Before Chanel (Sony Pictures Classics) – Audrey Tautou stars in Anne (The Girl from Monaco) Fontaine’s biopic about the early life of Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel, the young woman who would go from being a humble seamstress to becoming a fashion icon. It opens in New York and L.A.
Mini-Review (Coming Soon!)
I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell (Freestyle Releasing) – Tucker Max’s bestseller comes to the big screen as it follows the outspoken womanizer on his adventures to live life to the excess. It opens in roughly 100 theaters nationwide on Friday.
Paranormal Activity (Paramount) – Oren Pell’s Slamdance chiller about a young middle class couple who move into their first house and begin detecting some sort of presence visiting them in the middle of the night while they sleep. It will play at midnight in select cities, a list of which you can find here. Don’t see it there? Take part in the innovative “Demand It!” program and demand they bring it to your local theater!
The Other Man (Image Entertainment) – Liam Neeson stars in this drama from director Richard Eyre (Notes on a Scandal) and author Bernard Schlink (The Reader) as a man who discovers that his wife (Laura Linney) has been receiving Emails and messages from a mysterious man named Ralph (Antonio Banderas) and he flies to Milan to learn the truth about their relationship.
Blind Date (Variance Films) – Stanley Tucci remakes the late Theo Van Gogh’s 1996 film about an estranged couple (Tucci and Patricia Clarkson) trying to fix their marriage after the death of their daughter by going on blind dates in different roles they create and advertise via the personal ads. It open at the Cinema Village in New York on Friday.
The Blue Tooth Virgin (Regent Releasing) – Russell Brown’s comedy about two writers whose friendship is put to the test when one of them critiques the latest effort by the other, forcing them both to reevaluate their motivations to write. It opens in select cities.
The Providence Effect (Slowhand Releasing) – Rollin Blinzer’s documentary takes a look at the Providence – St. Mel school in Chicago that had a 100% college placement record thanks to the vision of its founder and the dedicated teachers. This educational doc opens in New York, Chicago and Washington D.C. on Friday and then in Los Angeles on October 2. You can read the full theater listing here.
Next week, October kicks off with three new movies, almost all of them comedies and all of them directorial debuts! These include the zombie comedy Zombieland (Sony), Drew Barrymore’s roller derby comedy Whip It (Fox Searchlight), while Ricky Gervais also makes his feature directing debut with The Invention of Lying (Warner Bros.), co-starring Jennifer Garner. The classic CG animated Pixar movies Toy Story/Toy Story 2 (Walt Disney) get a 3D double feature. Also, Michael Moore’s Capitalism: A Love Story will open wide.
Copyright 2009 Edward Douglas