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: Mostly the same but we think that the great reviews for Mel Gibson’s new movie is going to help push it over $20 million for its opening weekend.)
1. Avatar (20th Century Fox) – $27.5 million -21% (down .5 million)
2. Edge of Darkness (Warner Bros.) – $20.7 million N/A (Up 2 million)
3. When in Rome (Touchstone/Disney) – $13.4 million N/A (up 2 million)
4. The Book of Eli (Warner Bros.) – $8.5 million -46% (same)
5. Tooth Fairy (20th Century Fox) – $8.2 million -42% (same)
6. Legion (Screen Gems) – $6.5 million -63% (same)
7. The Lovely Bones (Paramount) – $4.6 million -45% (same)
8. Sherlock Holmes (Warner Bros.) – $4.0 million -40% (same)
9. Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel (20th Century Fox) – $3.8 million -37% (down .2 million and one spot)
10. Extraordinary Measures (CBS Films) – $3.7 million -38% (same)
The first month of 2010 comes barreling to a close with two more movies trying to dethrone James Cameron’s Avatar.
Seriously, this is becoming like a broken record already; is there any point to anyone else releasing a movie as long as Avatar is still playing in theaters? Unfortunately, it’s doubtful either of this week’s offerings will do the trick, so Cameron will continue his run of records as it becomes the first movie of the 21st Century to enjoy seven consecutive weeks at #1. Of course, Titanic was the last movie to have that sort of unstoppable reign, and Avatar is only a couple of weeks away from topping that movie’s $600 million record for domestic gross (not taking inflation or higher 3D ticket prices into account). Our prediction for this weekend is roughly what we thought it would make last weekend, and we’ll probably be low again.
The movie most likely to make a play but settling for second place is Martin (Casino Royale) Campbell’s suspense thriller Edge of Darkness (Warner Bros.), featuring the return of Mel Gibson as a police officer trying to avenge the murder of his daughter, and updating the BBC mini-series from the ’80s (previously directed by Campbell). It’s mainly going to be sold based on its revenge thriller premise and its limited action to make it look more like the 2009 hit Taken (see below), as much as it being Gibson’s first time on the big screen in seven years. It generally will be targeting the older guys who’ve already seen some of the other offerings in theatres.
Kristen Bell and Josh Duhamel star in the long-delayed travel rom-com When in Rome (Disney/Touchstone) which might bring in some of the younger women who have nothing else to see in theaters except for Peter Jackson’s The Lovely Bones. Opening moderately in less than 2,500 theaters and with bad commercials that do little to sell it as a comedy, we don’t see this one breaking out, but probably earning enough to take third place due to the popularity of its stars among young female audiences.
The only other significant thing worth noting is the mess that is the bottom half of the Top 10 this week, as a number of movies should end up in the $4 to 5 million range, basically getting whatever business doesn’t go to Avatar or the two new movies.
This week’s “Chosen One” is the doc The Most Dangerous Man in America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers (First Run Features) about the whistleblower who uncovered the government’s cover-up about Vietnam War that ultimately led to President Nixon’s retirement. You can read more about it below.
This weekend last year saw the release of the revenge thriller Taken (20th Century Fox) starring Liam Neeson, which opened big with $24.7 million before going on to gross $145 million over the next few months, becoming one of the season’s biggest surprise sleeper hits. Opening in third place, the horror remake The Uninvited (DreamWorks) grossed just $10.3 million in 2,344 theaters, while the fish-out-of-water rom-com New in Town (Lionsgate), starring Renee Zellwegger and Harry Connick, bombed with just $6.7 million to take eighth place. The Top 10 grossed $96 million, which is right in line with this week’s choices.
THE BATTLE CRY
This week, we’re going to be talking in a somewhat roundabout way about film festivals and how perceptions of movies change when they’re seen in a festival environment and what’s good and bad about that.
Some of you might know that this year’s Sundance Film Festival is taking place in Park City, Utah as we speak and you might also realize that the Weekend Warrior isn’t attending this year. It’s somewhat bittersweet, and maybe part of why I’m writing about it, to justify the reasons we decided not to go, which mostly are inconsequential to the discussion. Even so, I will miss seeing many great independent and lower-budget films early, because in some cases I won’t have a chance to see some of these movies for months (or even years).
Film festivals have certainly become an interesting phenomena in recent years, and while Sundance is one of the pioneers going on 25 years, film festivals have been popping up everywhere in the last few years and in some of the oddest most out of the way places. There’s little question that festivals are a great environment to see movies because you’re packed into theaters with people who love movies just as much as you and are hoping to have as great an experience being able to watch movies as you do.
For those reading this who have never had the opportunity of attending Sundance or another festival, you might wonder what the hype is about, because you’re probably used to hearing all these raves out of film festivals for movies that a.) either never get distribution b.) can never live up to those early raves or c.) just don’t look that great from the way their distributors decide to market them. (One of these days, I gotta write a “Battle Cry” on the difficulties of capturing the tone and spirit of movies in commercials ranging from 30 seconds to 2 minutes and how impossible that is.)
This sort of ties into what I was saying last week about showing movies in the right environment, but thereby poses part of the problem because the festival environment is so singular, especially a festival like Sundance, so a lot of what you’re enjoying about a movie is the experience and that environment which can’t be recreated anywhere else. That may be why you see so many rave reviews coming out of festivals for movies that never can possibly stand out when seen on DVD or cable, etc. (because let’s face it, many of these movies will get very limited releases).
I loved (500) Days of Summer last year, but was my love of it because of what was on screen or because of the environment I saw it in, which was a packed morning screening for the public at the Eccles Theater full of young people who just loved everything about it, even giving it a standing ovation. It was a great place to first see the movie and it helped cement my love for it when I saw it again. I saw my top movie of 2008, Once, at the Sundance Film Festival but that was in a more clinical press screening environment, but I still loved it. So yea, film festivals are a great way to see a lot of movies before everyone else, but they might not be the best environment to be partial and critical, which may be why I have had to rewatch many of my favorite Sundance films when they got theatrical releases so I could write about them fresh in my mind.
What often happens at these festivals is that critics and movie journalists watch these movies (usually together) and then they confer with their peers about what they loved/hated and from there the first public opinion is born. (Personally, I’m not a big fan of conferring with my peers since I prefer saving my opinion for my reviews.) After a few days at festivals, you generally end up with hundreds of exhausted journalists and critics whose attitudes quickly start turning negative as they start to be affected by the amount of work and lack of time and sleep, and that’s where some decent movies that don’t screen until later in the festival tend to get short shifted. In fact, I distinctively remember a number of times I’ve tried to catch movies that have been raved about later in the festival and didn’t get what they were talking about, maybe because there is something about that “new movie sheen” that accompanies every film the first time it’s shown. A movie really has to be VERY good to get through a number of festivals and viewings without at least one person going negative on it. (For instance, some might not realize Kathryn Bigelow’s The Hurt Locker started its life off at the Toronto Film Festival in 2008, and its quality has stood up through countless viewings and showings at film festivals, same with Duncan Jones’ Moon from last year.)
It’s really an interesting decision when a studio or filmmaker decides to pursue debuting their latest wares on the film festival circuit. It’s one thing if the movie is looking for distribution, which is often the case at Sundance and Toronto, but if that angle is already covered, it shows confidence in the end product that it can withstand early reviews. In some cases, building festival buzz is the only way the movie stands a chance, and yet, getting moviegoers to actually pay to see those movies in theaters is a chore. For instance, Sam Raimi’s Drag Me to Hell had a great reaction at SXSW last year but that didn’t translate into any sort of buzz that helped it at the box office.
See, that’s the real killer in this discussion. So far, there’s very little correlation between festival buzz and box office success. Sure, you can always point to movies like Napoleon Dynamite and Little Miss Sunshine and even (500) Days of Summer that became hugely successful, but there’s little proof that this success can be traced back to Sundance, except that Fox Searchlight (in all three cases) saw the reaction the movies were getting at the festival and realized they could capitalize on it with the right marketing and publicity. (Again, having a good movie always helps!)
That’s not to say that I’m personally going to stop attending film festivals anytime soon, but people need to realize that most festival buzz (and early critical raves) are more important to make buyers aware that the movies play well for the right audiences–it’s essentially a free test screening process–and those distributors still need to put the time and work into getting those movies to the right moviegoing audiences who’ll appreciate them as much as festival audiences.
With that in mind, I’ll be interested to see how movies like City Island and I Love You Philip Morris and Antoine Fuqua’s Brooklyn’s Finest play, as these were three of my favorite festival films from last year that audiences will finally have a chance to see in March. I’ll also be curious to see whether I still like all of them as much over a year after I first saw them at various festivals.
Edge of Darkness (Warner Bros.)
As Avatar continues to steamroll over every new movie that dares to open against it, it’s kind of a shame how many other movies are being overlooked completely. Granted, it’s January, a month not known for the quality of its releases, but every once in a while, you get an exception. That’s certainly the case with this conspiracy thriller that teams actor Mel Gibson with British director Martin Campbell, best known for the action movies he’s helmed, including two Bond movies (Casino Royale and GoldenEye) and two Zorro movies (The Mask of Zorro and The Legend of Zorro). Unfortunately, political thrillers sometimes have trouble breaking out and finding younger audiences, relying heavily on older audiences who tend to be more cynical and jaded, especially when a movie is intentionally made to look like another movie. In this case, it’s clearly being marketed as if it’s another “action-packed” revenge thriller ala Taken, which isn’t entirely true.
There’s no question that at one point, Gibson was a bonafide box office star, having the most consistent track record along with the likes of Will Smith and Toms Cruise and Hanks. On top of the ubersuccessful “Lethal Weapon” series, four movies that grossed over $900 million worldwide combined, Gibson has headlined many big movies including Nancy Meyers’ What Women Want ($182 million) and M. Night Shyamalan’s Signs ($227 million), his biggest hit. Besides those, he’s also starred in many movies that have grossed over $75 million, his movies having grossed a cumulative $4.6 billion worldwide since he came onto the scene in 1980 with George Miller’s Mad Max.
Since filming Signs, Gibson decided to focus on his filmmaking, putting his vision behind realizing The Passion of The Christ, which grossed over $600 million worldwide, and then directing the harder-to-sell Mayan road movie Apocalypto, which failed to find as much success. It’s more than likely the latter was overshadowed by Gibson’s alcoholic arrest and anti-Semitic statements during same year, something that created a potential setback for Gibson, similar to the credibility problems faced by Lindsay Lohan and Britney Spears, and resulting in a backlash among his fans. It’s hard to determine whether that well-publicized (and regularly lampooned) event will have that much of an effect on Gibson’s older male fanbase, who in general, tend to be far less judgmental than women.
That said, Edge of Darkness is a strong comeback vehicle for Gibson, because he’s played vengeful roles like this before in Ron Howard’s Ransom and the revenge thriller Payback, as well as having played a police officer many times. Fans of Gibson’s earlier movies should certainly look at this with interest, but realizing the baggage that comes with the return of Gibson, Warner Bros. has been mostly selling the movie based on the filmmakers, being that it’s from “the director of ‘Casino Royale’” and the “filmmakers behind ‘The Departed,’” all of which is true enough. Either way, the movie’s success will surely be eyed very closely by producers and studios to see if Gibson can make a much-needed comeback so they can start pitching him new projects. Gibson is bravely carrying the weight of this one on his own although he has worthy support from the likes of Ray Winstone (Sexy Beast) and Danny Huston (X-Men Origins: Wolverine).
Wisely, Warner Bros. is also playing up the revenge aspect of the movie as much as possible, being that last weekend this year saw an enormous hit in the Liam Neeson thriller Taken, also about a man trying to find the men responsible for “taking” his daughter. (The fact that Pierre Morel, the actual director of Taken, has a movie out next week won’t help these connections.) In fact, the movie is more on par with last year’s The International and State of Play (also based on a BBC series), which were politically-tinged conspiracy thrillers, and neither of them did huge business, although granted, neither Russell Crowe or Clive Owen have even proven themselves to be as big a box office draw as Mel Gibson during the height of his fame.
We still think Gibson has enough older fans who will be willing to forgive if not forget his past indiscretions, and Edge of Darknes should be a strong choice for older guys who have already seen Avatar, Sherlock Holmes and The Book of Eli and won’t be very interested in any of the other movies out in theaters. While it’s not likely to be as big a hit as Taken, it should do decently and have decent word-of-mouth amongst those who do see it.
Why I Should See It: “Mel Gibson is back and better than ever” thanks to his pairing with Bond director Martin Campbell.
When in Rome (Disney/Touchstone)
In case we haven’t had quite enough romantic silliness in the last month, we’re not being allowed even a single week without a romantic comedy in the Top 10. While January and February have always been good months for this kind of fare, in the case of When in Rome, it’s more that Disney were looking for a place to dump it after removing it from its summer release. This is yet another female-driven romantic comedy that puts an actress in a beautiful vacation spot looking for love, something that worked well for the likes of Diane Lane when she appeared in Under the Tuscan Sun, but not so much for Nia Vardalos in last year’s bomb My Life in Ruins or Amy Adams’ recent non-starter Leap Year.
This one is essentially a vehicle for actress Kristen Bell, who has appeared in two breakout comedy hits in the last few years, the R-rated rom-com Forgetting Sarah Marshall and the ensemble comedy Couples Retreat. When in Rome is her chance to breakout and headline her own romantic comedy after playing second fiddle to funny guys. Bell first came to prominence when she starred in the cult television show “Veronica Mars” before having her first major film role in the horror remake Pulse, and she has become an actress who is generally popular among younger people, especially teen girls, which is promising for the movie’s chances.
Bell’s leading man Josh Duhamel is also trying to make a name for himself as a leading man after appearing in the two “Transformers” movies, and trying to make people forget about his previous rom-com Win a Date with Tad Hamilton! and his own horror vehicle Turistas. Duhamel has certainly been in the public eye a lot recently, partially due to his indiscretions with a stripper despite being married to the Black Eyed Peas’ Fergie, not something that might endear him to the women this movie is trying to reach.
The duo are surrounded by a motley crew of comic actors, many of them character actors who seemingly appear in dozens of movies a year, the main perpetrators being Danny DeVito and Will Arnett, both who have brought their humor to big comedies as well as box office bombs. In fact, the movies which Arnett has come the closest to headlining Let’s Go to Prison and The Brothers Solomon are classic exmples of the latter. Similarly, Dax Shepard has appeared in a lot of huge bombs including Mike Judge’s Idiocracy and Let’s Go to Prison (with Will Arnett in fact), which may be why he’s moving to television with the upcoming show “Parenthood.” Bell’s fourth suitor is played by Jon Heder, best known for his breakout role in Napoleon Dynamite, followed by the Reese Witherspoon rom-com Just Like Heaven, which probably did better than it should have. Heder found solid success when paired with David Spade and Rob Schneider in The Benchwarmers and then he co-starred (with Arnett) in Will Ferrell’s ice skating comedy Blades of Glory. Unfortunately, Heder also hasn’t appeared in a movie in three years and he doesn’t seem to be in any of the commercials, at least not featured, so obviously, he is no longer seen as a draw. (Maybe it’s time for “Napoleon Dynamite 2,” Jon… after Gentlemen Broncos, Jared Hess could use the help, too.)
Oddly, the movie is directed by Mark Steven Johnson, best known for directing superhero movies Daredevil and Ghost Rider, from a script by the guys who wrote the appropriately named Old Dogs, and this movie looks just as stupid.
The movie is clearly trying hard to play up the comedy rather than the romance, but the commercials don’t make it look very funny. In fact, it looks even dumber than the recent rom-com bomb Did you Hear About the Morgans? and it’s following so closely after Leap Year that it’s going to be hard to set itself apart. The movie ended up being moved here, possibly to get it away from last summer’s similar comedy bomb My Life in Ruins, but Disney and Touchstone have done their best to give it the same push as their last girlie comedy Confessions of a Shopaholic starring Isla Fischer, which looked just as dumb but still managed to bring in a female audience.
Like with some of their 2009 releases such as Race to Witch Mountain, Disney aren’t screening When in Rome readily for critics, a rarity for a romantic comedy. This tells us they’re well aware they have a dog on their hands, they are doing their best to cut their losses and avoid the reviews that hurt Universal’s recent Leap Year. By not screening it, they basically are putting all their eggs in the basket that is the movie’s marketing in hopes younger girls might think it looks funny. (Heck, they rushed out to see the “Twilight” movies so we wouldn’t put it past any of them.) The movie’s success is also important both to Disney and Bell because they already have the comedy You Again scheduled for the fall; we’ll see how fast that gets moved to January 2011 regardless of how well this movie does.
Why I Should See It: Kristen Bell is seriously adorable and if you’re a young woman, then Josh Duhamel ain’t no chopped liver either.
The Most Dangerous Man in America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers (First Run Features)
Maybe because this doc has one of the most unwieldy titles since that “Borat” movie, I missed this movie when it played at New York’s Film Forum last September, roughly around the same time that it premiered at the Toronto Film Festival. It was a fairly low-key release and yet the movie ended up as one of the 15 movies in the Oscar documentary shortlist (similar to last week’s “Chosen One” Soundtrack for a Revolution), and wisely, First Run Features, the indie studio who are really making a name for themselves with their quality docs, picked this one up and are giving it a real theatrical release so that more people can watch it.
To be honest, I knew very little about the Vietnam War or how it got started before seeing Errol Morris’ The Fog of War, which might have been why that movie had such a huge impact on me. I wasn’t even aware of Daniel Ellsberg or his contributions to ending the war until I watched this movie. This is partially because I was never that interested in American history in high school, but at that time, the Vietnam War was still very new and fresh, and it clearly needed the passage of time before someone decided to reexamine this aspect of that war more in-depth. In this way, it’s also similar to last week’s Soundtrack for a Revolution, being that this is an educational history lesson about what the country was like around that time, and something that should be used in schools to teach younger people how we dealt with war back then.
Essentially, Daniel Ellsberg worked at the Pentagon, and he was involved with some of the decisions that led to the United States involvement in Vietnam. During his days working there, he discovered top secret papers that made it clear the government was lying to the American public. Feeling guilty about his involvement, he leaked the information, by literally sending the Pentagon’s 7000-page study about Vietnam to the New York Times, and then The Washington Post, and each of the newspapers began publishing the top secret information. So angered was President Nixon about what Ellsberg had done that he made a couple remarks about one way to take care of the problem, conversations that were taped and then also leaked, leading to his forced resignation. That’s how important Ellsberg’s involvement was with the eventual end of the war and how one man decided that the government shouldn’t be allowed to get away with lying to the American people.
Telling the story in his own words, Ellsberg goes through the thought-process that went into the decision to leak the papers due to his anger over the government’s lies about how we got involved in Vietnam, and then it goes step-by-step through how that information was leaked, including commentary from all the key players. Even so, it’s not just a lot of talking heads recanting the facts surrounding the events. The movie also covers Daniel’s personal life and how his decision affected his relationship with his wife and kids.
Watching this doc as we approach Year Seven of our military forces being in Iraq, another war that was started for the wrong reasons, makes you wonder why we haven’t seen as many whistleblowers in this day and age, and why the protests about the war have decreased dramatically in recent years.
This fascinating subject matter allows the filmmakers to create a documentary that is at times reminiscent of Man on Wire and The Fog of War both in tone and filmmaking prowess, and it’s equally as entertaining and informative in telling the story about a man whose legacy in helping end the Vietnam War seems to have been lost in the history books. Thankfully, movies like this one remind us of the hard lesson that those who forget the past are forced to relive it.
The Most Dangerous Man in America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers opens in New York at the Cinema Village on Friday.
Saint John of Las Vegas (IndieVest Pictures)
It opens in New York and L.A. on Friday and in more cities on February 12.
Mini-Review: If there’s any doubt Steve Buscemi plays the role of likeable loser better than any other actor out there, then Hue Rhodes’ oddly unique twist on the Vegas road comedy gives him the chance to prove how one can take what normally would be a small character role in a movie and base an entire movie around it.
John is clearly a lost soul, one who fulfills his happiness through gambling although he doesn’t have the luck necessary to be successful at it, something that hangs over his head throughout the movie. Casting Buscemi in this role couldn’t be more perfect, because he easily slips into the role of a Vegas denizen you might see gambling away his paycheck and getting annoyed when anyone around him shows better luck. Even as engaging and amusing as it is watching him shell out his money for scratch cards and losing his money at the blackjack table, it’s hard not to feel somewhat sad for him, and that’s the beauty of Buscemi’s performance.
The movie relies just as much on his pairing with “40-Year-Old Virgin” star Romany Malco playing against type to create an alternative Odd Couple. Sure, we’ve seen lots of indie comedies involving unlikely road partners in the past, maybe too many set in and around Vegas, but Rhodes clearly approaches the material with his own very unique perspective and sense of humor.
The bulk of the movie is about the relationship between the duo and the odd characters they meet while looking into this claim, and Rhodes has assembled an impressive cast to portray those bizarre characters, including Sarah Silverman, who brings so much to the mix as John’s somewhat psychotic “girlfriend,” their awkward long distance romance offering some of the most uncomfortable knowing laughs.
Even so, not every scene and joke works as well as it might have on paper. For instance, who really wants to see Emmanuelle Chirqui as a stripper in a neck brace and wheelchair or be subjected to full frontal nudity from Tim Blake Nelson? Probably no one, and this constant need to subject the duo to strange circumstances often makes the movie feel disjointed, because the strange bits don’t really fit into the overall tone.
Fortunately, it always comes back to the cast and what they bring to these characters, which immediately brings you back into the story after some of the awkward moments. While the results might not be quite as funny as “The Hangover” (nor is it meant to be), it’s such an inventive and quirky film, it’s hard to ignore what a distinctive voice Rhodes brings to indie comedy. Rating: 7/10
Also in Limited Release:
After Dark Horrorfest 4 (After Dark) – The week-long horror festival returns with “eight new movies to die for.” This year’s movies include Anthony DiBiasi’s “Dread,” Joey Stewart’s “The Final,” Brian Pulido’s “The Graves,” Pål Øie’s “Hidden,” Chris Moore’s “Kill Theory” Joel Anderson’s “Lake Mungo,” Nick Cohen’s “The Reeds” and Kevin Hamedani’s “ZMD: Zombies of Mass Destruction.” You can find out if it’s playing at a theater near you at the Official Site and you can learn more about these movies over on ShockTillYouDrop.com (Scroll down to the date).
North Face (Music Box Films) – Phillip Stölzl’s dramatization of the 1936 attempt to climb the Eiger, the dangerous North face of the Swiss Alps also known as the “Murder Wall” by two reluctant Bavarian climbers, played by Benno Fürmann and Florian Luaks. When things start to go wrong, they have to work together with the competing Austrian climbers who have followed their venture. It opens in New York and L.A. on Friday.
Mini-Review: Coming Soon!
Off and Running (First Run Features) – Nicole Opper’s documentary which follows Avery, a black Brooklyn teenager who was raised by two white Jewish lesbians with two adopted brothers of different races. In her search to find her birth mother, Avery goes through growing pains as well as a journey of self-discovery to learn more about her roots. It opens at the IFC Center in New York on Friday.
Mini-Review: Coming Soon!
The End of Poverty? (Cinema Libre) – Phillipe Diaz’s documentary that looks at the cause of poverty and why it’s reached unbelievable levels across the globe as the rich exploit the weakness of the poor. It opens at New York’s Cinema Village
Falling Awake (IFC Films) – This new musical drama from Agustin stars Andrew Cisneros as a Bronx musician who falls for a Brooklyn woman (Jenna Dewan) and decides that he must succeed in life to be worthy of her love. It opens in Miami on Friday and in New York on February 5 and is available on IFC in Theaters Video on Demand.
For My Father (Film Movement) – This Israeli film from Dror Zahavi follows a Palestinian man forced on a suicide mission to Tel Aviv who gets a second chance when his explosive fest fails, forcing him to spend time amongst the people he had been assigned to kill including a beautiful woman cut-off from her Orthodox family. Nominated for multiple Israeli Film Awards, the film opens at the Quad Cinemas in New York on Friday.
Next week, February kicks off with Super Bowl weekend with the action-thriller From Paris With Love (Lionsgate) starring John Travolta and Jonathan Rhys-Myers, and the romantic drama Dear John (Screen Gems), based on the novel by Nicholas Sparks, and starring Channing Tatum and Amanda Seyfried.
Copyright 2010 Edward Douglas