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.
Just want to give a quick shout-out to EZ1 Productions who are starting the fall season for their new box office games. If you want to see how your predictions stack up to the Weekend Warrior’s, feel free to sign up and join in on the fun. It’s free!
1. Where the Wild Things Are (Warner Bros) – $37.2 million N/A (plus .9 million)
2. Couples Retreat (Universal) – $18.5 million -46% (same)
3. Paranormal Activity (Paramount) – $13.2 million +62% (plus .4 million)
4. Law Abiding Citizen (Overture Films) – $12.6 million N/A (plus .3 million)
5. The Stepfather (Screen Gems) – $9.0 million N/A (down .2 million)
6. Zombieland (Sony) – $8.3 million -44% (up .2 million)
7. Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs (Sony) – $7.8 million -33% (up .3 million)
8. Toy Story 3D (Disney/Pixar) – $4.5 million -42% (up .3 million)
9. Surrogates (Disney/Touchstone) – $2.3 million -47% (same)
10. The Invention of Lying (Warner Bros.) – $1.7 million -48% (same)
Making up for the sole release last weekend, we’re back to three new movies opening nationwide led by the long-awaited Spike Jonze take on Maurice Sendak’s beloved children’s classic Where the Wild Things Are (Warner Bros.). It’s a strange PG-rated movie that will probably appeal more to 20 and 30-something hipsters than the actual kids who would normally thrill to Sendak’s work, and the enigmatic and eccentric nature of the film might put off some of the more mainstream family audiences. Even so, that probably won’t hurt it opening weekend, as the movie has been well-marketed to look more commercial than it actually is, and the namebrand value of the original book will be a primary draw.
Hoping to get some of the older audiences, Gerard Butler and Jamie Foxx face-off in the R-rated psychological crime-thriller Law Abiding Citizen (Overture Films), directed by F. Gary Gray (The Italian Job), which certainly has the strongest starpower of the weekend, but also the most competition among younger audiences in terms of genre flicks with two movies that might keep it from doing huge business. Even so, it should fare better than the remake of the ’80s thriller The Stepfather (Screen Gems), which has a lot less going for it but should be able to bring in the younger female teens with its PG-13 rating and easier-to-sell premise. The question is whether young audiences are getting sick of remakes–that is if any of them even realize it’s a remake–and it’s going against too many stronger options.
One of those choices which is confusing matters greatly is Paramount’s sleeper indie horror hit Paranormal Activity, which opens nationwide into over 1,000 theaters this weekend, building on the buzz of the midnight shows and its impressive first weekend in wide release where it set a new per-theater average record for over 100 theaters. What should happen is that this will be the first choice in many of the cities where the movie hasn’t yet opened and those who’ve already seen it will likely to go for one of the other choices. With the buzz on the movie being so explosive, it should still do huge business this weekend, although until we know for sure how many theaters it gets, we won’t be able to warrant any sort of accurate prediction.
This weekend last year, Mark Wahlberg headlined the video game movie Max Payne (20th Century Fox), which topped the box office with $17.6 million in over 3,000 theaters. Neck and neck for third place, behind Disney’s Beverly Hills Chihuaha, were the dramas The Secret Life of Bees (Fox Searchlight) and Oliver Stone’s Bush biopic W. (Lionsgate), both which made $10.5 million, “Bees” having a slight advantage. Opening in ninth place, the raunchy road comedy Sex Drive (Summit Entertainment) made just $3.6 million in 2,421 theatres. The Top 10 grossed $80 million, an amount that should be easily bested with the likely success of Where the Wild Things Are and the expansion of Paranormal Activity, this weekend should allow it to move up to 4th place and give both thrillers a run for their money.
THE BATTLE CRY
As some might remember, last week was the eighth anniversary of this column, and I greatly appreciate all of the kind words and congratulations I received. One thing that I think about a lot while writing this column, usually over the weekend, is whether or not anyone actually is reading all of the fine print, the full analysis, the listing of limited releases, etc, and I’m constantly trying to figure out what people who read this might want to see more or less of.
With that in mind, I’ve constructed a very simple and loose readers survey that I’d love it if those reading this will take part in and help me determine where to focus my energies each week.
Just copy and paste the five questions below into a comment post (or Email) and remove all except your answer.
1. What is your favorite part of the Weekend Warrior? A.) Box Office Predictions B.) Box Office Analysis C.) Chosen One and Limited Releases D.) The Battle Cry E.) Mini-Reviews F.) No Preference
2. How much weight do you put behind the predictions and analysis? A.) A lot; I’d bet my house on them B.) They’re generally close enough to be useful C.) They’re helpful guidelines for making my own decisions D.) I tend to take them with a grain of salt E.) None whatsoever
3. Does our coverage of limited releases interest or help you at all? A.) Yes, because I live in a city where I can see many of them opening week; B.) Yes, because eventually I’ll get a chance to see the movies on DVD or cable; C.) Yes, just because I like reading about movies I might have missed; D.) No, I don’t live in a city where any of these movies play; E.) I’m not interested in indies, docs or foreign films at all
4. What are your feelings on the length of the column each week? A.) It’s fine the way it is B.) It’s long but I try to find time to read all of it C.) It could probably be shorter and I’d still enjoy it D.) It’s way too long E.) It should be longer!
5. Would you be interested in having guest writers/experts in the column? A.) Yes, but only if it’s me B.) Sure, why not? C.) Nah
That’s it! Just a few questions I was hoping to get some opinions on. I can’t promise I’ll respond to them or write about the results but it’s good for me to know what you’re thinking of the column as it’s been for the last few years and whether it’s time for any sort of changes just to keep it interesting.
Where the Wild Things Are (Warner Bros.)
Starring Catherine Keener, Max Records, Mark Ruffalo and the voices of Lauren Ambrose, Chris Cooper, James Gandolfini, Catherine O’Hara, Forest Whitaker, Paul Dano
Directed by Spike Jonze (Adaptation, Being John Malkovich); Written by Spike Jonze and Dave Eggers (co-writer of Away We Go, former editor of McSweeney’s)
Genre: Fantasy, Family, Drama
Tagline: “There’s one in all of us.”
Plot Summary: A wild but sensitive young boy named Max (Max Records) feeling dejected and alone, runs away from home and ends up on an island of wild creatures who elect the young boy their king.
Mini-Review: You’ll be hard-pressed to find a person who didn’t cherish Maurice Sendak’s wonderful 1963 book “Where the Wild Things Are” as a child, because it effectively stirred the imagination of kids with the idea that you could go to an island and party with giant cuddly monsters. The vivid imagery from Sendak’s drawings are maintained in this Spike Jonze adaptation, but the intentions and tone seem to have been waylaid for the director to explore some of his own ideas about childhood that have very little to do with why people loved the original book.
The opening segment introduces Max, a sensitive and imaginative young boy who feels secluded in his own little world, and he lashes out wildly to try to get noticed. Anyone who remembers their childhood can understand these feelings of trying to understand the big cruel world around them, and newcomer Max Records does a splendid job conveying these feelings while capturing the spirit of the character from the book. After an altercation with his single mother, played by long-time Jonze muse Catherine O’Keener, Max runs away, jumps in a boat and floats off to an island in the middle of nowhere where he encounters a group of large hairy monsters, who seem to be experiencing their own feelings of inadequacy. They immediately make Max their king and the wild rumpus begins with lots of howling and jumping and frolicking.
That soon gets tiresome for all involved, and the rest of the movie quickly follows suit, because once Jonze has expended the minimal plot from Sendak’s story, he turns the movie into a group therapy session for monsters. One can readily marvel at the beautiful scenery and the production design used to bring Sendak’s unique vision to life and just as easily admire Jonze’s use of human puppets with CG faces to realize the monsters, but trying to create any sort of emotion in the audience using them is a fool’s errand as they open their mouths and start sharing their innermost feelings in dreary monotones that seem rather unmonsterly. It really takes you out of the experience, and once you’re out, it’s hard to get back in. The most obvious miscasting is the gender-confused Carol, who starts moping in the voice of Tony Soprano about his absent pseudo-girlfriend KW, voiced by Lauren Ambrose, a far more adult issue than any child might ever need to deal with until much later in life. At least Catherine O’Hara’s Judith does a good job countering the dour delivery of the others with some of the movie’s funny moments including a revelation about her own secret friends, but those funny bits are always counter-balanced with more moaning.
It’s easy to understand the intentions behind Jonze and his co-writer David Eggers attempting to use Sendak’s characters as a way to tap into the feelings of being a child. It’s fairly obvious how the monsters behave more childishly than Max, forcing the young boy to act more grown up, but most of it feels forced and false within this context.
It’s a shame because most people will be driven to see this based on their love of the book and the marketing that makes the movie look like a warm and wondrous fantasy tale. They’ll be expecting a fantastical land inhabited by fun and playful monsters, not one big downer group therapy session in which we learn way more about the Wild Things than the author ever intended or any child might ever possibly want to know. The fact that the real world scenes that open the movie end up being infinitely more entertaining than the hour spent on the island makes it obvious how flawed Jonze’s efforts were on so many levels.
Instead of making a movie version of Sendak’s book, Jonze has produced a gorgeous $80 million Muppet Movie in the shape of an art film that will bore kids as much as it will depress adults. Rating: 6/10
At this point, a number of popular children’s books have been made into movies, including three of Dr. Seuss’ beloved books, the first two “Chronicles of Narnia” by C.S. Lewis, and Judi Barrett’s Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs continues to do well as a computer animated family movie. This weekend, one of the most popular and beloved children’s picture books maybe of all time, Maurice Sendak’s award-winning 1963 picture book Where the Wild Things Are arrives in theaters courtesy of one of the most eclectic creative teams that could possibly bring Sendak’s distinctive vision to the screen.
Director Spike Jonze has established himself as an eclectic filmmaker first with his original music videos and then with two feature films, Being John Malkovich and Adaptation, which both received a lot of critical acclaim as well as a number of Oscar nominations, the latter earning Chris Cooper an Oscar for his supporting role. Both movies ended up grossing roughly $22 million in theaters but over the years, they’ve become popular cult classics among a certain audience of cinephiles. It’s now been six years since the last movie Jonze directed and his version of Sendak’s book cost $80 million to make, but it was plagued with a number of problems, the most notable one being a screening for Warner Bros. execs that caused them to delay a movie a year for Jonze to rework the movie and do reshoots in order for it to be a little more accessible to the mainstream audiences it would need to earn back its costs.
There is not a lot to say about the cast, although it’s pretty amazing is that the very heart of the movie is kept pumping by 9-year-old first time actor Max Records as the wild child Max who discovers the island of monsters, who are voiced by the likes of James Gandolfini, Catherine O’Hara, Chris Cooper, Lauren Ambrose, Forest Whitaker and Paul Dano. That’s two Oscar winners and an Emmy winner among the voice cast. None of their names are being used to sell the movie but a couple of them are doing promotion for the movie to help get the word out.
The popularity of the original children’s book is going to be a huge draw, especially since so many people have read it over the years, including many who are now parents with their own kids, and they’ll want to bring them to see the movie. On top of that, Jonze is very popular among the 20-to-30-something hipster movie lovers who regularly go to the theaters, so his involvement will also bring in a different audience than that which might normally go see what’s deemed a PG family film, although one would expect that audience would generally be smaller and mostly in the big cities and college towns.
Also helping in those areas is the film’s music, which is getting attention due to the unconventional soundtrack by Karen O., singer of Yeah Yeah Yeahs, that certainly gives the movie a very different feel from the normal studio kids’ movie. Warner Bros. has done a great job with the commercials and trailers for the movie starting with a teaser featuring a song by Arcade Fire that created a wondrous childlike mood that immediately attracted a lot of teen and older people to the project. They followed it up with a few more conventional commercials geared towards kids, which feature the monsters doing silly things.
Unfortunately, the movie is kind of a strange mix of quirky art film with a few scenes thrown in that might entertain kids. Reviews are generally going to be mixed, although Jonze has enough karma among critics that they’re likely to give the movie a pass, as they give him credit for trying to do something different with the movie, rather than making another mainstream studio stinker like Scooby-Doo in order to bring in the largest audience possible.
This may be why the movie is getting such a strange release in the middle of October rather than a more traditional summer or holiday release where it would definitely open much bigger. Adding to the film’s box office potential is that it’s opening in IMAX theaters, something that will help capture the scale of the movie that Jonze created, and the larger format has certainly been the choice for many moviegoers.
Either way, the popularity of the original book and the inherent namebrand value of the title will be key at getting people into theaters this weekend, not necessarily just families either, so expect the second solid mid-October opening in a row, though one can generally expect it to tank once word gets around that the movie is not what some think it is and that it’s definitely not for younger kids.
Why I Should See It: Jonze has succeeded at bringing Maurice Sendak’s vision to the big screen in a fantastic way.
Law Abiding Citizen (Overture Films)
Starring Jamie Foxx, Gerard Butler, Bruce McGill, Colm Meaney, Leslie Bibb, Michael Irby, Regina Hall, Viola Davis
Directed by F. Gary Gray (The Italian Job, A Man Apart, Be Cool, Fridays); Written by Kurt Wimmer (Equilibrium, Street Kings, The Recruit, Ultraviolet, Sphere, The Thomas Crown Affair, upcoming Salt)
Tagline: “How do you stop a killer who is already behind bars?”
Plot Summary: After the murder of his wife and child, Clyde Shelton (Gerard Butler) decides to take matters into his own hands and get revenge on their killers, but once he’s jailed for the crime, he starts to go after Nick Rice (Jamie Foxx), the Philadelphia prosecutor who worked out a deal with his family’s killers, and anyone else involved with that injustice.
Since it’s the fall, specifically October, studios are once again releasing psychological thrillers to try to cater to the generally darker and more serious mood of audiences at this time of year. Law Abiding Citizen is a complex two-handed mix of courtroom drama, revenge and serial killer thrillers featuring two actors from different countries who have found immense amounts of success although neither one has a perfect box office track record so far. Those two gentlemen would be Gerard Butler and Jamie Foxx.
Butler is somewhat of a new commodity, having first broken out when he starred in Zack Snyder’s 300 in 2007, but that movie’s success has helped him score a variety of roles. In the last six months, he’s starred opposite Katherine Heigl in The Ugly Truth and the less successful action flick Gamer. He also starred opposite Abigail Breslin in the family film Nim’s Island and headlined Guy Ritchie’s RocknRolla, and those four movies couldn’t be anymore different. The Ugly Truth fared the best showing that Butler had found himself an audience of female fans, maybe some of whom will check him out in this movie.
Foxx on the other hand has found great success among the African-American community thanks to his appearances in high profile movies Ray and Dreamgirls. The former won him an Oscar the same year he received a nomination by starring opposite Tom Cruise in Michael Mann’s Collateral, and then starred opposite Colin Farrell in Mann’s Miami Vice. Although those both were hits, Foxx has had his share of misses as well, including the summer bomb Stealth and his most recent movie, the musical drama The Soloist failed to get the once-expected Oscar attention when it was delayed for over six months.
Psychological thrillers are clearly new territory for both Butler and Foxx, but it’s by no means the type of high concept thriller we’re used to seeing as the plot and premise are a lot more vague and not as easy to get across in trailers and commercials. Helming the movie is F. Gary Gray, a director who has delved into this sort of territory with movies like The Negotiator and A Man Apart, although he’s still best known for his summer sleeper hit The Italian Job.
While this is likely to be overshadowed by the release of Spike Jonze’s Where the Wild Things Are, chances are that this will appeal more to guys than women and probably more towards the 25 and up crowd, who won’t necessarily be interested in seeing a kids’ flick even based on nostalgia.
Foxx should help the movie do well in urban areas as well, especially since there are so few movies in theaters geared towards that audience. The good thing about the movie is that this is the type of film that can thrive after opening weekend based on word-of-mouth, and how the movie plays with those who decided to go see it should play a large factor in whether this becomes a sleeper or whether it just was not released at the right time to succeed.
Why I Should See It: If you’re looking for a smart, nailbiting thriller, this certainly is more exciting than some of the other options this weekend.
The Stepfather (Screen Gems)
Starring Dylan Walsh, Sela Ward, Penn Badgley, Sherry Stringfield, Jon Tenney, Paige Turco, Amber Heard
Directed by Nelson McCormick (debut of a long-time TV director); Written by J.S. Cardone (Prom Night)
Genre: Horror, Thriller
Tagline: “This Fall, Daddy’s Home”
Plot Summary: A teenager (Penn Badgley) returns from military school to learn that his mother (Sela Ward) has met a guy named David (Dylan Walsh) who she plans to marry, but there’s a lot more to David than meets the eye, including a deadly past.
Mini-Review: There are many “whys” that arise when choosing to discuss this remake of a 1987 cult thriller, ones that go far beyond the normal “why remake this movie at all?” One of them involves the obvious change in gender of the protagonist in order to give a bigger role to “Gossip Girl” Penn Badgley, something that completely changes the dynamic of the relationship between the protagonist and antagonist, part of what made the earlier film somewhat memorable. Maybe it’s the sexual connotations of a teen girl having a creepy new stepfather that added another level to the fear factor even as it continued the exploitative misogyny inherent in the male-driven ’80s slasher genre, but there’s also no denying that it added another unspoken layer of tension to the movie.
In fact, tension doesn’t play much of a factor in this remake, which more resembles a CW family drama that throws in a few cheap scares and a number of disappointing kills, watered down in order to maintain a teen-friendly PG-13 rating. Penn Badgley and Amber Heard spend much of the movie making out or lounging by the pool in swimsuits before racking their brains as ersatz Hardy Boy and Nancy Drew, trying to uncover the truth behind the former’s new prospective stepfather, David Harris. Dylan Walsh from “Nip/Tuck” does a decent enough job stepping in for Terry O’Quinn in the title role, who we learn from the very beginning is killing the families that don’t meet up to his standards, but he goes overboard when displaying the character’s uncontrollable rage when things aren’t going his way. Because we already know he’s a killer, not just from that opening scene but from the very premise and title of the movie, there’s no need to show his bad side in such obvious ways. Sela Ward is underused as the woman who brings this killer into their home, which is a shame because one would expect she would be a lot more cautious and suspicious of David’s behavior. Instead, the film chooses to focus on the two hot young actors in swimsuits hoping that the eye candy will make up for the poor writing.
For the most part, the movie plays much like the original with Harris effectively cutting off loose ends who come close to discovering his secret, including a nosy neighbor who dies a quick death and the former man of the house, who is still in the picture and deservedly protective of his ex-wife and children when it comes to this new man. (It’s interesting to note that in this movie, Walsh and Ward never actually get married, which means he’s not EVEN their stepfather at anytime during the film.)
Nelson McCormick is a competent director whose background in television and proclivity for wantonly stealing from Hitchcock is impossible to ignore. The film is grossly overscored by Charlie Clauser, who tries to make every scene seem needlessly tense using the same ambient sounds he’s used for the “Saw” movies, and he makes the Hitchcock steals even more obvious by switching to a livelier score that seems to have been sampled directly from Bernard Hermann. D.J. Caruso’s “Disturbia” is a much better take on this type of thriller, as it successfully put a modern spin on a Hitchcock premise without making its pandering to younger audiences so obvious.
The movie is barely saved by a well-choreographed five-minute chase sequence through the house, which offers more excitement than the rest of the movie combined, but by then, it’s far too late to forget the boredom suffered over the course of the rest of what’s essentially a competent but dull and highly unnecessary remake. Rating: 5/10
Video Interviews with Cast Coming Soon!
In case anyone isn’t completely burnt out on the number of horror remakes being released on a yearly basis, here is the third horror remake from Screen Gems, who had significant hits, first with their remake of When a Stranger Calls in 2006 followed last year by Prom Night. This time they’re going after the 1987 horror film The Stepfather starring Terry O’Quinn, which actually bombed theatrically but then found a cult audience on VHS and with repeated showings on cable. Unlike remakes like Friday the 13th or Halloween, this one won’t necessarily be playing on the name factor because the original movie isn’t that well known, instead hoping that the premise will interest younger movie goers like the previous movies.
While it’s rare that a horror movie, remake or otherwise, relies heavily on its cast to sell itself, this one has an interesting mix of television actors with a young up and coming starlet. Playing the title role is Dylan Walsh, star of the popular FX show “Nip/Tuck,” while his wife is played by another TV mainstay, Sela Ward, who was most recently seen in “Sisters.” Instead of a daughter, this time the lead character has a son, played by “Gossip Girl” heartthrob Penn Badgley. Surprisingly, actress Amber Heard probably has the most film experience, having starred in the yet-to-be-released All the Boys Love Mandy Lane and last year’s comedy hit Pineapple Express, as well as having a cameo in the current hit Zombieland. (She also starred in the Sundance bomb The Informers that came and left theaters before anyone realized it.)
Bearing in mind that the cast won’t be that big of a draw, one has to look at other factors that might get young people into theaters. The original “Stepfather” isn’t really a classic, enjoyed by a small cult audience, not necessarily horror fans, so it’s not like this remake has that going for it either. On the other hand, Screen Gems has had a lot of success with PG-13 horror movies over the years with huge hits like Boogeyman, The Messengers and the aforementioned horror remakes. Having a lower rating would help it bring in younger teens plus it also won’t turn off those who don’t like gory R-rated horror movies, which seemingly have become the norm in recent years.
The problem is that the movie doesn’t look particularly scary, and opening against stronger movies like Where the Wild Things Are, Law Abiding Citizen and the last minute nationwide expansion of Paranormal Activity is going to put it at a really big disadvantage in getting people interested. Younger people looking for a scary movie will go to Paranormal and “Wild Things” also has a lot of advance buzz. Of course, there won’t be any reviews until opening day either so the awareness of the movie will probably be moderate with women being more interested in this than men.
Why I Should See It: The premise of the original movie is still a solid one and they’ve assembled a decent cast for the remake.
THE CHOSEN ONE:
The Maid (Elephant Eye Films)
Note: Unfortunately, we ran out of time to do an actual write-up for this but we’ll hopefully have more information about this great movie by Thursday. In the meantime, check out the great interview with the filmmaker above where you can learn more about it.
The Maid opens in New York at the Angelika Film Center on Wednesday.
Black Dynamite (Apparition)
Interview with Michael Jai White (Coming Soon!)
Mini-Review: Coming Soon!
Also in Limited Release:
New York, I Love You (Vivendi Entertainment) – Directors Brett Ratner, Mira Nair, Joshua Marston, Shekhar Kapur and others each tackle short films set in New York City with a cast that includes Orlando Bloom, Shia LaBeouf, Ethan Hawke, Natalie Portman, Hayden Christensen, Rachel Bilson and many others. It will open in roughly 125 theaters in and around New York, L.A., San Francisco, San Diego, Philly and elsewhere. You can view the whole list on the Official Site.
Food Beware: the French Organic Revolution (First Run Features) – Jean-Paul Jaud’s documentary could probably be seen as the French take on “Food Inc.” as it takes a look at the food industry in France and the illnesses that have come from improper food production and eating. It opens in New York at the Quad Cinemas on Friday.
The Little Traitor (Westchester Films) – Lynn Roth’s drama about a young Russian boy rebelling against the invading British soldiers who ends up befriending a British sergeant (Alfred Molina) who captures him. It opens in New York at the Quad Cinemas on Friday and in L.A. on November 13.
The Ministers (Maya Entertainment) – John Leguizamo and Harvey Keitel star in the new crime-thriller from director Franc Reyes (Empire) about a female NYPD detective trying to avenge her father’s death, not realizing that she’s involved with one of his killers. It opens in select cities.
All the Best (Yash Raj Films) – Rohit Shetty’s romantic action-comedy about a singer (Fardeen Khan) and his girlfriend (Mugdha Gose) who pretend to be married in hopes that his rich step brother (Sanjay Dutt) will help them out. It opens in 55 theaters in select cities.
One Fast Move or I’m Gone: Kerouac’s Big Sur (Kerouac Films) – After achieving great acclaim, author and poet Jack Kerouac retreated to a cabin in the woods of Big Sur in order to unwind. This documentary by Curt Worden features Sam Shepard, Patti Simth, Tom Waits and others talking about the influence of Kerouac as it covers that period in his life. It’s opening for one night only at New York’s Clearview Chelsea Theaters on Friday and then in select cities on October 20.
Next week, the long-running October franchise turns six-years-old with Saw VI (Lionsgate), the Japanese android hero Astro Boy (Summit Entertainment) gets animated, John C. Reilly stars in Cirque Du Freak: The Vampire’s Assistant (Universal), and Hilary Swank plays Amelia (Fox Searchlight), Earhart that is.
Copyright 2009 Edward Douglas