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.
(Note: All of the predictions below are for the four-day holiday weekend)
1. Valentine’s Day (New Line/WB) – $41.2 million N/A (up .7 million)
2. The Wolfman (Universal) – $31.4 million N/A (down 1.1 million)
3. Percy Jackson & The Olympians: The Lightning Thief (20th Century Fox) – $28.3 million N/A (up 2 million)
4. Dear John (Screen Gems/Sony) – $23.5 million -23% (up .5 million)
5. Avatar (20th Century Fox) – $21.4 million -6% (down .9 million)
6. From Paris With Love (Lionsgate) – $5.5 million -33%
7. Tooth Fairy (20th Century Fox) – $5.4 million -19%
8. Edge of Darkness (Warner Bros.) – $4.1 million -40% (down .4 million)
9. When in Rome (Touchstone/Disney) – $4.0 million -28% (up .2 million)
10. Crazy Heart (Fox Searchlight) – $3.7 million +3% (up .3 million)
One of the biggest holiday weekends of the winter season is Presidents Day weekend when most schools and government offices will be closed on Monday. This year, the weekend also overlaps with one of the year’s most prominent Hallmark holidays, Valentine’s Day, on Sunday with couples across the country getting all romantic and going out to do things, which often will include a romantic movie.
A lot of big movies have opened over this weekend, including a number of weaker family films that still brought in a solid opening number–you can look at a chart of the Top 12 Presidents’ Day openers here–but this year, we have three new movies opening in over 3,000 theaters, presumably offering something for everyone while trying to follow-up on the 1-2 punch of Dear John and Avatar last weekend.
Somewhat ironically, the movie that’s most likely to win the weekend, possibly even shocking some people, is actually called Valentine’s Day (New Line/WB). It’s a romantic anthology directed by Garry Marshall and featuring one of the most impressive ensemble casts ever assembled for this type of movie. It’s headlined by Julia Roberts and co-starring the likes of Jennifer Garner, Bradley Cooper, Jamie Foxx, Jessica Alba, Ashton Kutcher and many more, a cast so large and diverse it’s going to bring a lot of the women looking for romance on the weekend into theaters. While the movie might not win on Friday, the pervasive power of marketing a movie called “Valentine’s Day” on the holiday with many people off the following day will be too strong to keep this from trouncing the competition on Sunday. Expect it to do more on Sunday than either Friday or Saturday even though both those days should see solid date night business as well.
Since no self-respecting guy will see a movie like that without a date, they’ll likely be checking out the new remake of the horror classic The Wolfman (Universal), this one starring Benicio Del Toro, Anthony Hopkins and Emily Blunt. It’s R-rating and the competition for women and younger audiences will probably keep it from setting any records, but it should do solid business based on the name-brand of the horror classic and prestigious cast.
Younger guys, like under the age of 13 will more than likely be eyeing the action-adventure movie Percy Jackson & The Olympians: The Lightning Thief (20th Century Fox) directed by Chris Columbus (Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone), which brings Rick Riordan’s popular young adult novels to the screen with its premise of teens related to the Greek gods who get caught up in an adventure. Kids love Greek mythology and this looks like a strong family draw, especially for those with younger boys. It should do a good amount of its business over the weekend and Monday to help it catch up to the other two.
Still, it’s likely to end up in the miasma that is third place with Dear John in it’s second weekend (also getting a push from Valentine’s Day) and Avatar in its ninth week. The rebound from last week’s Super Bowl and the debilitating snowstorms on the East Coast should make this is a very busy weekend as those who didn’t get out to the movies last week and they’ll have lots of choices.
This week’s “Chosen One” is Barefoot to Timbuktu (Meschugge Films), Martina Egl’s portrait of artist and entrepeneur Ernst Aebi’s development of a tiny oasis village in Mali. You can read more about it below.
Last Presidents’ Day saw the release of three new wide releases including the return of Jason Voorhees in the horror remake Friday the 13th (New Line/WB) which won the weekend with an astounding $43.5 million over the four-day holiday weekend, averaging roughly $14k per site. He’s Just Not That Into You dropped to second place followed by Taken, both with just over $20 million. Isla Fischer starred in the shopping comedy Confessions of a Shopaholic (Disney/Touchstone), which took fourth place with $17.8 million in 2,500 theaters. The other new movie, Thomas Tykwer’s action-thriller The International (Sony), starring Clive Owen and Naomi Watts, opened with a disappointing $10.7 million in 2,364 theaters to take seventh place. The Top 10 grossed $177.97 million over the four-day weekend and unless one or more of the new movies do better than expected, this year’s offerings will fall just short.
THE BATTLE CRY
This week’s “Battle Cry” can only be called one thing… “3D Insanity!”
Some might remember I was one of the early boosters of the 3D phenomenon, going back to when I first interviewed RealD CEO Michael Lewis about 3D at the annual ShoWest Convention in Vegas (which you can read here), then again a year later. Both times, we talked shortly after a fairly huge watermark for his company, the first one being Miley Cyrus’ concert movie which had just set a bunch of new records for theater averages, playing in less than a thousand 3D theaters; a year later it was following the amazing showing of DreamWorks Animation’s Monsters vs. Aliens in 3D theaters. Of course, there had already been other movies using the technology like Disney’s Chicken Little and Meet the Robinsons, as well as Robert Zemeckis’ Beowulf. Neither of us could have possibly foreseen what James Cameron would do with the 3D technology for Avatar and what a huge box office hit it would become, even recently surpassing the long-standing record grosses set by Titanic. That was mainly credited to the desire by moviegoers to see the movie in 3D and the higher ticket prices that came along with that.
While Avatar is the pinnacle of what’s been done in 3D (and hopefully a plateau, not a peak), there were enough surprise hits that took advantage of the technology and the higher ticket prices that many studios have started to take it very seriously. The biggest recent shocker in the race for 3D has to be Warner Bros.’ decision to convert Louis Letterier’s Clash of the Titans into 3D just two months before its planned release date, despite the fact that it was opening against DreamWorks Animation’s How to Train Your Dragon, which presumably already claimed those 3D screens. More on that in a bit. (Oddly, there were rumors of Ridley Scott wanting some more money to make Robin Hood into a 3D movie right around the time where Avatar was first being released, and those ideas were shot down as an outlandish concept at the time.)
Last summer, after New Line’s The Final Destination became a bigger hit than expected thanks to the boost of 3D, lots of studios started looking at doing 3D versions of their own franchises, including Screen Gems who announced the next chapters in both the “Resident Evil” and “Underworld” franchises would be in 3D, even if reaction to the previous movies didn’t seem to warrant more of them. MGM jumped on the bandwagon, announcing that they would delay the Joss Whedon produced Cabin in the Woods by a year in order to convert it to 3D. When Saw VI bombed, Lionsgate decided they should make the next chapter in 3D to reinvigorate interest. Last week, Screen Gems decided their summer release Priest would be pushed back to next January in order to do the same. Dimension Films’ Piranha 3D was always meant for the format and in fact, they planned the movie to be in 3D before this craze began. That’s not to say that 3D horror movies are particularly original as many franchises like “Friday the 13th” and even “Jaws” have had their gimmicky 3D installments.
And that’s the thing. No one wants to see 3D turn into another gimmick… not the studios, not the filmmakers, certainly not the people responsible for creating the tech and not the moviegoers. But that’s exactly what it has the potential of becoming if every studio starts feeling the need to give the 3D treatment to every movie.
Much of this madness to try to release every movie in 3D can be sourced not only to the success of Avatar but also to how the cost of 3D conversion in post has come way down since last year. When you figure that theaters can charge significantly more for tickets, it means that for very little added production costs, the studios can make significantly more money on the backend, especially with movies that might need help. I personally have yet to see a live action movie that was converted after the fact, but so far, the only movie filmed in 3D that really has worked fully was Avatar. One would imagine that filmmakers who want to make a 3D movie should be doing that from the get-go, much like how Henry Selick did with his stop-motion animated Coraline, and not after the fact.
In some of the cases cited above, we potentially end up with two 3D movies competing for the same screens–Warner Bros. delayed the release of “Clash” by a week to help counter this–and this seems to be an ongoing problem where theatres just don’t seem to be able to meet the demand for 3D and for the number of movies now being produced using that technology, either during filming or in post. Around this time last year, it didn’t seem like theaters would be ready for the 3D Explosion as the digital upgrade of theatres was going slower than planned due to the economic crunch. The success of Avatar in Digital 3D has made it so that everyone is falling over each other trying to get those upgrades so that they can provide local moviegoers with movies in the most desired format to watch them. (Those higher ticket prices don’t hurt either!)
Clash of the Titans seems to be setting a precedent, not just because it’s a live action movie being turned into 3D in post, Tim Burton’s doing the same with Alice in Wonderland although there’s a lot more CG animation involved with that. If it does well, then we’ll likely see other studios converting their finished movies to 3D and the most obvious candidates would probably be some of Disney’s summer releases like Prince of Persia and The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, both which also involve a lot of CG animation. The problem is that even with theaters trying to upgrade to digital as fast as humanly possible, there are going to be conflicts where they’re not going to be able to dedicate as many or enough screens to fulfill demand for every 3D movie out there.
There’s actually been some concern about Avatar being taken out of 3D and IMAX theaters in early March for Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland, which has held claim to that weekend for over eight months. IMAX theater owners will have to start making decisions about what people might want to see, and they’ll certainly want to make sure the many fans of Burton’s work who want to see it in the new format will be able to get tickets to see it. They also don’t want to cut off Avatar while it’s still in demand and making money, especially if it wins the Best Picture Oscar in early March.
One would think that with more movies being released in 3D and the more theaters with the technology available, essentially the supply meeting and possibly even exceeding the demand, those 3D ticket prices will have to eventually come down (Or maybe they can charge less for 2D?). We’ll see if any of the studios or theater owners start thinking about the consumer and how expecting them to pay more for 3D movies means their monthly spending on movies goes up dramatically; hence, they’ll have to pick and choose which movies they want to pay that premium for. If the supply exceeds the demand, it means that we could start seeing more 3D bombs. (Trust me, there have been a few already; you just haven’t heard about any of them.) There’s also the very real reality of 3D television looming on the horizon which will effectively allow those who feel the need to see movies in 3D, but not the inclination to pay more for certain movies, to wait until they’re available on Blu-ray.
As an early fan of making movies 3D, it saddens me that my earlier enthusiasm has become colored by cynicism, but the honest fact is that not every movie has to be seen in 3D nor will every movie work in 3D. That’s going to be a hard lesson to learn for some studios who’ll just see the potential to make more money on the horizon and won’t think as much about the art involved with filmmaking and how not every filmmaker will be able to use the 3D as imaginatively as Cameron or Burton or others. It’s something that I talked about with the CEO of Walden Media back when I wrote that first “3D Explosion” piece, and unfortunately, his thoughts on the subject don’t seem to be shared by the rest of Hollywood. They’re just seeing the amount of money being made by Avatar and thinking “My movie can make that money, too… if only I convert it to 3D!” It’s really not a good way to think, especially since we’re not quite out of the woods with the current recession.
Fortunately, we’ll have a slight respite this month from all the 3D talk but then prepare for it to start anew next month when we have a string of 3D movies with ShoWest happening in between. I can guarantee the success of Avatar in 3D and IMAX will be a topic brought up again and again that week, and we’ll just have to see how long before everyone else starts talking about how 3D has reached the point of oversaturation or overkill.
Valentine’s Day (New Line/WB)
Starring Jessica Alba, Kathy Bates, Jessica Biel, Bradley Cooper, Eric Dane, Patrick Dempsey, Hector Elizondo, Jamie Foxx, Jennifer Garner, Topher Grace, Anne Hathaway, Ashton Kutcher, Queen Latifah, Taylor Lautner, George Lopez, Shirley MacLaine, Emma Roberts, Julia Roberts, Taylor Swift
Directed by Garry Marshall (Runaway Bride, Raising Helen, Beaches, Pretty Woman, Young Doctors in Love, The Princess Diaries); Written by Katherine Fugate (The Prince and Me, “Army Wives”), Abby Kohn and Marc Silverstein (Never Been Kissed, He’s Just Not That Into You)
Genre: Romance, Comedy
Tagline: “A Love Story. More or Less”
Plot Summary: It’s Valentine’s Day in Los Angeles and this movie follows a bunch of the denizens as they try to find love in the city. How romantic.
Probably the biggest no-brainer of the year, at least so far, is this star-studded romantic comedy anthology movie that assembles one of the most impressive casts of any movie in recent memory, ranging from Oscar winners and generally popular actors to cute guys and gals, then releasing it on a weekend to take full advantage of the holiday known for romance.
Valentine’s Day was announced roughly around this time last year as the newly-merged two-headed New Line/Warner Bros. beast were having an enormous hit with the book-based He’s Just Not That Into You. It worked once, so why not try again? With that in mind, they took a screenplay being developed by the same writers that takes place on Valentine’s Day called “Valentine’s Day,” and snagged a release date right before… you guessed it! As much as some might grumble at such an obvious marketing ploy, it’s also nothing short of genius because when you think of how most moviegoers decide what to see, especially when they’re going out with their loved one on Valentine’s Day, what title is immediately going to jump off the marquee or ticket booth sign? That’s right!
Knowing how many people will just be seeing the movie based on the title and release date, let’s try to go a little deeper into what should make this movie the weekend’s biggest “surprise” hit. First, it’s directed by Garry Marshall, the ’70s TV mogul who has had great success as a film director, especially in the world of romantic comedies, but also making movies that women and younger girls generally love.
While this might not be quite as high concept as say having Amy Adams traveling across Ireland to propose to her boyfriend, it is high concept that it involves a lot of stories that take place on Valentine’s Day, an anthology movie of sorts like Robert Altman’s Short Cuts only with a bigger name cast of modern actors, all of whom have had their share of hits and misses, including a number of romantic comedies. It’s probably closer to something like Richard Curtis’ Love Actually in that sense.
The biggest sell for the movie is that it reunites Marshall with Julia Roberts, who starred in two of his biggest hits, Pretty Woman and Runaway Bride, both which grossed more than $150 million. In fact, Pretty Woman was mostly responsible for turning Roberts into a huge Hollywood star, and her popularity hasn’t waned even if she hasn’t been quite the box office draw she was in the ’80s and ’90s. Her last movie was Tony Gilroy’s corporate comedy Duplicity opposite Clive Owen, which only did moderate business; same with the political film Charlie Wilson’s War with Tom Hanks. In fact, the only movies in the 21st Century that have maintained Roberts’ star status were her movies with Steve Soderbergh, paired with George Clooney and Brad Pitt for the first two “Ocean’s” movies, as well as her Oscar-winning turn in Erin Brockovich.
Also reuniting with Marshall for the first time since starring in his “Princess Diaries” movies is Anne Hathaway, who has become a much bigger star in recent years, and in some ways could be seen as the new Julia Roberts in terms of looks and personality. Hot actresses like former “Alias” star Jennifer Garner and Jessicas Alba and Biel are also featured very prominently in the cast, as do awards-worthy older actresses like Shirley MacLaine and Kathy Bates. The rest of the female half of the cast includes Julia Roberts’ niece Emma and country singer/songwriter Taylor Swift, appearing here and providing a featured song just a few weeks after having won a number of Grammy Awards.
As far as the guys in the movie, the most focus will likely be put on Bradley Cooper, who shares his scenes with Roberts after appearing with her in the 2006 stage revival of “Three Days of Rain” on Broadway. Since that time, Cooper has gone from being the best friend in movies like Failure to Launch and Yes Man to being a leading man in his own right. He had a key role opposite Scarlett Johansson in He’s Just Not that Into You and then he starred in the blockbuster R-rated comedy The Hangover, one of the highest grossing comedies and biggest-selling DVDs of all time. He also shared one of the worst movies of 2009, All About Steve, with Sandra Bullock, star of the summer’s other big comedy. Cooper’s role in the movie might actually overshadow Ashton Kutcher who would normally be the biggest male draw, having starred in rom-com hits like When in Vegas with Cameron Diaz and Just Married; he’s certainly been more prominent in the last year, having just hosted “Saturday Night Live.” Kutcher’s “That ’70s Show” co-star Topher Grace also appears in the movie–his first movie since Spider-Man 3–as does the hugely popular Taylor Lautner, who women young and old seem to love following his shirtless romp in New Moon. Former ’80s teen heartthrob Patrick Dempsey who appeared in the rom-com Made of Honor and has starred in the popular romance-driven television show “Grey’s Anatomy” is there for the 30-something women.
The above makes it sound like the movie would be very whitebread (even for Marshall), but he’s also cast two top African-American stars in Jamie Foxx and Queen Latifah, both of whom have done romantic comedies geared towards black audiences in their filmographies.
Essentially, the movie offers something for everyone, although mostly for women who will be looking for a reason to go see this besides the title. (It’s not like anyone can figure out much of a plot from the commercials or trailer.) The good thing is that with such a diverse and experienced cast, Warner Bros. has an endless stream of talent who can pimp the movie on the talk show circuit to the point where it will be almost impossible to avoid the movie this coming week.
For women, this will be the first choice for any of them looking for a movie to either see with their girlfriends or with their boyfriends and hubbies, and while the stars should bring them out on date night Friday and Saturday, one can expect an enormous bump on Sunday, Valentine’s Day proper, possibly even grossing more than Friday thanks to the government/school holiday on Monday, which will allow more people to go out on Sunday night than they normally would. There might be a little bit of competition from the romantic drama Dear John, which did very well last weekend and should have strong enough word-of-mouth to get those who couldn’t catch it due to snowstorms or Super Bowl, but that shouldn’t have that much of a negative effect.
Wisely, New Line knows they have a potential home run here, which is why it was just announced that they’ve been developing a thematic sequel featuring some of the same characters celebrating a different holiday. If Valentine’s Day is as big a hit as we think it will be, expect it to be fast-tracked by next Monday with more to follow.
Why I Should See It: When it comes to directing comedies and romance, you can’t beat Gary Marshall and the cast he’s assembled is nothing short of astounding.
The Wolfman (Universal)
Starring Benicio Del Toro, Anthony Hopkins, Emily Blunt, Hugo Weaving, Art Malik
Directed by Joe Johnston (The Rocketeer, Honey I Shrunk the Kids, Jurassic Park 3, Hidalgo, Jumanji); Written by Andrew Kevin Walker (Se7en, Sleepy Hollow, 8MM), David Self (The Haunting, Thirteen Days, Road to Perdition)
Genre: Horror, Thriller
Tagline: “When the moon is full, the legend comes to life”
Plot Summary: When Lawrence Talbot (Benicio Del Toro) returns home to the estate of his estranged father (Anthony Hopkins) in Blackmoor to investigate the disappearance of his brother, he gets caught up in the investigation of brutal murders of villagers and learns of an ancient curse that turns men into wolves when the moon is full.
Mini-Review: Like with Peter Jackson’s remake of “King Kong” a few years back, Joe Johnston’s far-too-faithful version of the Universal Monsters classic “The Wolfman” suffers somewhat from trying to be the type of fanciful Hollywood epic Universal used to make back in the day. Sadly, that kind of movie just doesn’t fly with modern moviegoers and when you create a remake too reverential to the original source material, you end up with something so very predictable that any and all of the original shock value is gone.
Essentially, the plot is similar to the 1941 movie of the slightly different name with Benicio Del Toro’s Lawrence Talbot returning home to the Blackmoor Estate of his family and Anthony Hopkins in the Claude Rains role as his father Sir John Talbot. Lawrence’s brother has gone missing and Lawrence, an actor who has had psychological problems after finding his suicidal mother’s body, takes it upon himself to go after the beast that mauled his brother only to be attacked himself. His injuries start to reinstate Lawrence’s long-dormant Daddy issues as he struggles with the curse of the werewolf that makes him a target for the villagers.
It takes an alarmingly long time before we finally get to see Talbot transform into the Wolf Man and that’s where the fun really begins, because we get to see Rick Baker’s magic at work. Surprisingly, the look of the new Wolf Man is more reverential to the original rather than making him more wolf-life, which seems to be the norm these days. There are a lot of great action scenes of the Wolfman running wild, first through the woods surrounding Blackmoor and then across the roofs of London, slicing and dicing anyone he encounters in a fashion far more gory than what could have been done in the original.
For the most part, the movie is all about these four strong actors who all have many dramatic scenes together, few of which really have a lot of fire or passion. It all feels fairly stiff and stagnant, especially the scenes between Del Toro and Blunt just don’t work, because they have very little chemistry. One of the cleverest divergences from the original movie is having Scotland Yard inspector Abberline, the chief officer on the Jack the Ripper case (and star of Alan Moore’s “From Hell”), showing up at Blackmoore to head the investigation about the slaughters. As played by Hugo Weaving, he’s one of the stronger characters, bringing some much needed levity to a film that spends way too much time watching Benicio brooding and acting tortured.
For the most part, the movie looks fantastic, every shot a work of art in terms of lighting and production design, just perfectly realizing the era in a grand way, but it does get tiring to keep getting shown shots of Blackmoor mansion basking in the light of the full moon. At times, it feels like Johnston is just showing off what he can do with a big budget.
Although the pacing problems do eventually rectify themselves, things start getting silly especially towards the end as we witness a Battle of the Wolfmen that just can’t be taken very seriously.
Unfortunately, the movie is also filled with all sorts of wonky dream sequences and flashbacks, not to mention the type of cheap scares one would think might be below a horror movie with as prestigious roots as this one.
At least one can be thankful Johnston didn’t add an extra hour and a half to the running time like Jackson did with “King Kong,” but the movie still feels like a filmmaker more concerned with making this a grand-looking epic and less concerned with creating a movie that can keep modern horror lovers as riveted to the screen as the original did back in its day. Rating: 6/10
If there’s one thing Universal Studios is better at than any of their competition, it’s monsters. After all, they were the studio who first introduced classic movie monsters like Dracula, Frankenstein, The Mummy and the Wolfman to the screen. The first two were based on works of literature, and they were groundbreaking as some of the movies of the post-silent era; the latter two were original creations. In the past few decades, the first three have all had star-studded big budget remakes, The Mummy being reinvented roughly ten years ago as an action-adventure franchise. Meanwhile, the Wolfman remained fairly dormant for a number of years while other studios jumped on the werewolf bandwagon and the popularity of the creatures has grown in popularity in recent years. The clearest example has to be the “Twilight” saga, of course, which introduced its own hunky shirtless werewolves to moviegoers with New Moon, making it one of the biggest movies of 2009. While movies like Blood and Chocolate and Stan Winston’s Skinwalkers and even Wes Craven’s Cursed bombed, Screen Gems launched the “Underworld” series about a war between vampires and werewolves, which have done great business, finding a strong audience of mostly males with its gory take on the creatures.
Playing the role of Lawrence Talbot made famous by Lon Chaney in the 1941 classic is Benicio Del Toro, the Oscar-winning actor who first got attention for his role in Bryan Singer’s debut The Usual Suspects before winning an Oscar for Steven Soderbergh’s Traffic. Del Toro hasn’t been in that many movies since then with notable roles in Awards fodder like 21 Grams, Things We Lost in the Fire and Soderbergh’s epic Che. His only real forays into genre were his small role in Frank Miller’s Sin City and the thriller The Hunted. Talbot’s love interest in the remake is played by British actress Emily Blunt who has been getting strong notices for her roles in smaller movies like Sunshine Cleaning and The Young Victoria (currently in theaters) but she’ll probably be best known for key role in the chick flick hit The Devil Wears Prada.The real sell of the movie might be the film’s other Oscar winner, Sir Anthony Hopkins, who successfully drove Universal’s serial killer franchise playing Hannibal Lecter and who was also involved with the Zorro movies of the ’90s. Even though it’s hard to imagine him as a box office draw, he does bring a certain amount of prestige to the project that makes it seem like a much more worthwhile remake than some of the cheap horror movies we’ve seen in recent years.
Directing the movie is Joe Johnston, a big name in genre having helmed movies like The Rocketeer and Jurassic Park III, although a straight horror movie like The Wolfman is quite a departure from his last movie which was the Disney action-adventure Hidalgo. He got the gig after the original director Mark Romanek bailed due to creative differences, and in the last couple years, there’s been a lot of word that the movie was plagued with similar problems. What sets a lot of alarm bells ringing is that the movie has been delayed for over a year. Sure, we can figure that part of the delays might have been to get the important transformation scenes right, but releasing the movie in February, even over the holiday weekend, is not showing the type of confidence the studio would have if they released it in October or during the summer. (Although both The Silence of the Lambs and Hannibal were released in February, those were very much exceptions.)
One key thing that’s going to speak volumes to horror fans is that they had Rick Baker on board to handle the make-up effects, Baker having done the amazing transformation in An American Werewolf in London, considered by many to be a werewolf classic. He also did The Howling, Wolf with Jack Nicholson and many other movies that required hairy creatures, so Baker really knows his stuff. One thing that might throw modern audiences off is that the movie is done as a period piece rather than as a movie set in modern times, although the recent success of Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes seems to show that American audiences may be more open to period genre movies.
While the movie’s inability to get PG-13 rating might hurt its chances at getting younger teens over the holiday weekend, releasing it with an R-rating and all the blood and gore expected with the violent creatures will mean the movie can and will be taken more seriously among horror fans. The amount of gore might also detract it from branching out to other audiences. Universal’s marketing for the movie has been solid, although they haven’t really been using the name actors they have in the movie, instead focusing on the eerie visuals while keeping the werewolf somewhat hidden (another warning sign). You probably won’t have seen any of the actors doing the talk show rounds in the past few weeks, although that’s likely to kick into high gear this coming week. For the most part, Universal has waited until the last week to screen it for critics, which is not something the studio normally does. The movie has basically been hidden and chances are that it’s not very good. Even so, one can only have doubts that the movie will be as good as they hope and either way, it’s likely to do most of its business on Friday and Saturday and then start dropping off over the week, then get slaughtered by Martin Scorsese’s own horror offering Shutter Island next week.
Why I Should See It: The original “Wolfman” movie is considered a horror classic and the great cast should help this one.
Percy Jackson & The Olympians: The Lightning Thief (20th Century Fox)
Starring Logan Lerman, Brandon T. Jackson, Alexandra Daddario, Sean Bean, Pierce Brosnan, Steve Coogan, Rosario Dawson, Catherine Keener, Kevin McKidd, Joe Pantoliano, Uma Thurman, Ray Winstone
Directed by Chris Columbus (Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Adventures in Babysitting, Rent); Written by Craig Titley (Cheaper by the Dozen, Cheaper by the Dozen 2, Scooby Doo)
Genre: Action, Adventure, Family, Fantasy
Plot Summary: Percy Jackson (Logan Lerman) is just a regular teenager until he discovers that he’s actually the son of Greek God Poseidon (Kevin McKidd) and having been accused of stealing Zeus’ Lightning Bolt, he gets caught up in a war between the Gods and must journey to the underworld realm of Hades (Steve Coogan) in order to rescue his mother (Catherine Keener) along with his friends Annebeth (Alexandra Daddario), daughter of Athena, and his satyr protector Grover (Brandon T. Jackson).
This one is based on Rick Riordan’s popular series of “Percy Jackson and the Olympians” novels, five of which were released between 2005 and 2009 that found themselves a fanbase of avid young readers who enjoyed the mix of fantasy and adventure, essentially modernizing the classic stories of Greek mythology that have stirred the imagination of young people for many centuries.
The film’s main star is Logan Lerman, the 18-year-old child actor who has appeared in a number of movies, including playing the young Ashton Kutcher in The Butterfly Effect and starring opposite Christian Bale and Russell Crowe in the remake of 3:10 to Yuma. He also was one of the young stars of the Walden family film Hoot, which was a major bomb, but recent gossip that Lerman might be in the running to play the next Spider-Man certainly won’t hurt matters as it will get parents more curious. His co-stars are Brandon T. Jackson from Ben Stiller’s war comedy Tropic Thunder and Alexandra Daddario, who has mostly done small roles in indies and television shows like “White Collar” on USA. The grown-ups include the likes of Pierce Brosnan, Sean Bean, Kevin McKidd, Uma Thurman, Rosario Dawson and Steve Coogan, few of whom will be much of a draw for audiences, as they all have fairly small roles in the movie compared to the main trio.
Certainly, having a prestigious filmmaker like Chris Columbus helming this one will make it a draw for the parents familiar with his work mentioned above, especially some of his classics like Home Alone, Mrs. Doubtfire and Adventures in Babysitting, but the first two “Harry Potter” movies are certainly his most recent successes, which is why the similarities between the two franchises is featured very prominently in all marketing. Many studios have tried to capture the immense success of the “Harry Potter” movies (and the first “Chronicles of Narnia” for that matter) by scooping up the rights to popular teen and young adult books and 20th Century Fox has been no different, having jumped onto Christopher Paolini’s Eragon, a movie which didn’t fare very well despite the success of the book. Even though the “Percy Jackson” books might not be on “Harry Potter” level in terms of sales, you’ll find lots of young people who love them.
While movies like this might normally be released in the summer or over the holidays, releasing it on Presidents’ Day has a number of precedents. Fox’s long-time partner Walden had a hit with Bridge to Terabithia over the Presidents’ Day weekend, as did Paramount when they chose to release their movie based on The Spiderwick Chronicles on this weekend a year later. In some ways, the high concept adventure aspect of the movie is also reminiscent of Fox’s action movie Jumper, although clearly, this will be geared more towards younger moviegoers since males teen and older are more likely to go see The Wolfman. (There’s nothing really connecting this movie to New Moon or Taylor Lautner’s shirtlessness but we’ll mention it again for consistency.)
Still, one can’t discount the fact that there aren’t a lot of strong family movies in theaters except for the comedy dog Tooth Fairy (also from Fox) and they’re likely to shift the focus (and theaters) to this easier sell for the under-10 set. While it will probably be settling for third or even fourth place on Friday, expect this to see a huge boost over Saturday, Sunday and Monday as parents look for something to keep their kids out of trouble for a couple hours.
Why I Should See It: Greek mythology is awesome, and this is a great “in” for kids to get into it.
THE CHOSEN ONE:
Barefoot to Timbuktu (Meschugge Films)
I’ll freely admit that this documentary was a very hard sell for me for many reasons despite the persistent urging of its publicist to get me to watch the screener she sent me months ago. I honestly had no idea who Ernst Aebi was, but hearing things like “real estate developer” and “Timbuktu” in the same sentence just wasn’t something that really struck my fancy enough to dedicate 90 minutes of time to watch a screener of it. Boy, do I feel silly now.
To call Aebi eccentric may indeed be the understatement of the century–he is first and foremost an artist after all–but for whatever reason, he was deeply moved by the struggles the people of this tiny African village of 30 or 40 people were experiencing, out there in the Sahara cut off from the rest of the world, that he settled down and helped them to use the water supply of the region to help them create gardens for fruits and vegetables. This is a man who got incredibly rich by buying, renovating and selling loft space, but instead of sitting in some tower in midtown ala Trump, he remained in touch with his life as a starving artist, ready to throw on a backpack and travel to the middle of the Sahara in order to dedicate his time to helping these people. Surprisingly, he fits right in with the African natives, as he teaches them the importance of education, as well as trying to teach them about commerce and business so they can actually earn a living by building a hotel for those traveling through the desert and providing water.
The film includes a lot of great film footage taken in the late ’80s and early ’90s while Aebi was first working with the people of Araouane develop their community, the title referring to Aebi’s three-day walk through the Sahara after him and his wife were ambushed by rebels while traveling to Araoaune by camel, forcing them to walk back to Timbuktu, which led to his long separation from his newfound people during the country’s political upheaval.
The second half of the movie deals with Aebi’s return to Araouane, driving two days through the desert with a tension of what might happen if they’re stopped again. That modern-day footage of Aebi in the Sahara is beautifully shot with an inventive score by Fatima Dunn and Nico Contesse, and you can quickly tell why he fell in love with the place and its people.
Egi’s film does cover a lot of ground, showing Aebi walking around in different locations, clearly someone who doesn’t like remaining in one place for very long, but it does get somewhat disjointed as it keeps jumping back to telling Aebi’s backstory via interviews with his brothers and children, and some parts of the movie, like the tangent involving his daughter sailing around the world, takes the focus away from the central story, which is that of Araoaune. It’s somewhat of a shame that we only get about ten to fifteen minutes of Aebi returning to the village and seeing how it had deteriorated since his visit, and there really isn’t very much time spent explaining why the people hadn’t learned enough to try and rebuild. There also isn’t much resolution to the story or anything about whether Aebi planned on staying and trying to help them again.
For the most part, this is the type of documentary that probably will be undervalued because it doesn’t really cover a subject matter that any of us might immediately be able to relate to or think might be of interest (like me) but in fact, it’s a gorgeous film about a man who made efforts to cross a cultural divide and help elevate these primitive people, and his return is somewhat bittersweet seeing how much of his work was destroyed by the rebels.
Who knows how many people know who Aebi is or about his selfless efforts he put into making the world a better place starting with this primitive village, but it’s inspiring to watch and Martina Egl has done a good job finding an inventively artistic way of telling his story.
It opens in New York at the Quad Cinema.
Also in Limited Release:
Videocracy (Kino Lorber) – Italian filmmaker Erik Gandini (Gitmo – The new rules of war) looks at the corrupt political system in Italy where the prime minister owns the majority of the tabloids and the country’s most watched television station, causing all sorts of conflicts, including the people not being able to get the facts through normal media outlets, as well as an overpowering desire for fame and fortune. It opens on Friday at the IFC Center.
Mini-Review: We’ve seen many personal political statements made in documentary format but Erik Gandini’s look at the corruption inherent in Italian Prime Minister Sylvio Berlusconi’s reign over the media as he came to power, using that control over television to maintain his image among Italy’s people, certainly takes a unique approach.
Gandini essentially follows a number of characters involved in Italy’s celebrity treadmill, including Ricky, a local mechanic who dreams of fame and will do anything to get onto a television show, and Paparazzi mogul Fabrizio Corona, who is sent to jail and comes out an even bigger celebrity in his own right only to discover how much of your soul is lost when your only talent is being a celebrity. Gandini includes footage that could have easily come from any American competitive “talent” reality show of dozens of sexy women dancing seductively for judges, a display that’s oddly disconcerting to think how far the young women of Italy are wiling to lower themselves to being eye candy for the sake of fame. Other parts of the film take place on the luxurious island of Sardinia, where women compete at the Billionaires Club for the chance of being a weathergirl. There, we meet creepy talent agent (and Berlusconi stooge) Lele Mora, who proudly displays his love for Italy’s fascist dictator Mussolini while explaining why fame and celebrity is so important. Berlusconi himself, who would never agree to be interviewed for Gandini’s movie, comes across much like “The Smiler” in Warren Ellis’ comic series “Transmetropolitan” and in fact, those who’ve read that will see many eerie correlations to the microcosm being created in Italy. It’s a world that’s swirled in controversy that’s mostly met with approval by an administration whose very leader pioneered the concept of sleaze on television. (Imagine if Rupert Murdoch successful ran for political office and then proceeded to deny that there is a conflict of interest, and you can an idea of the direction Gandini is taking with his film.) The idea that television and power are roughly the same thing is just one of many interesting themes expressed in the movie that meanders through Gandini’s stream of conscious and it isn’t always very clear where he’s going with any of it. On the other hand, Gandini does create a documentary with a far more artistic and cinematic aesthetic rather than taking the normal talking heads route, and there’s something haunting and almost sad watching these people who are so concerned with their image. If nothing else, he might have been better off getting someone else to narrate the film so it would seem like the investigative piece he intended, rather than a biased personal vendetta. For instance, where are the interviews with others from the country who feel the same way he does? For the most part, his camera seems to show many happy people who seem perfectly contend with the way things are even as they subjugate themselves to the possibilities of fame.
It’s clear that Gandini spent a lot of time researching and assembling what is ultimately a fascinating film, but for every interesting idea he explores, there are just as many that don’t seem to have as much relevance, and the film is never focused enough to be wholly effective. Rating: 7/10
My Name is Khan (Fox Searchlight) – Bollywood actor Shakh Rukh Khan stars in Karan Johar’s drama about an Indian muslim man with Asperger’s Syndrome whose possibilities for a happy family life in America is rocked after 9/11 when his son is killed in a hate crime, forcing his family apart and sending him on a mission to talk to the President and let him know that he isn’t a terrorist. It will open in a few hundred theaters, essentially the usual markets that play Bollywood films.
October Country (Wishbone Films) – This documentary from Michael Palmieri and Donal Mosher takes a look at the latter’s family, a struggling working class clan who are fighting against things that threaten to tear their family apart. It opens at the IFC Center in New York on Friday.
Next week, only one new wide release and that is Martin Scorsese’s latest crime-thriller Shutter Island (Paramount) starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Mark Ruffalo and Sir Ben Kingsley.
Copyright 2010 Edward Douglas