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.
The Oscars are coming up in less than two weeks and anyone who reads this column probably knows how strongly I feel about supporting documentary filmmakers who often put years of their lives into researching, filming and sculpting movies about important topics. One of those nominated in this year’s Oscar Doc competition is Anders Østergaard’s Burma V.J.. Although it’s considered by many as an underdog, it’s about the important subject of freedom… freedom of speech, freedom of expression, and freedom of politics and religion. These freedoms have been and continue to be deprived of the people of Burma by a military government responsible for countless injustices and getting away with it by their all-encompassing ban on the media and on cameras. Last week, I was invited to a luncheon with Andres and one of the monks from the film by Oscilloscope Pictures and learned what went into making this underrated film, as well as learning first-hand the plight of the Burmese monks. I do hope that those who might have missed the movie will check it out. You can read my original review here. (Also look for my interview with the director of Which Way Home sometime later this week!)
1. Shutter Island (Paramount) – $21.2 million -48% (up 1.2 million)
2. Cop Out (Warner Bros.) – $19.4 million N/A (up 1.6 million)
3. The Crazies (Overture) – $14.7 million N/A (same)
4. Avatar (20th Century Fox) – $12.4 million -25% (up .4 million)
5. Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief (20th Century Fox) – $8.8 million -42% (same)
6. Valentine’s Day (New Line/WB) – $8.6 million -49% (up .3 million)
7. The Wolfman (Universal) – $4.5 million -55% (up .1 million)
8. Dear John (Screen Gems/Sony) – $3.7 million -48% (same)
9. Tooth Fairy (20th Century Fox) – $3.0 million -32% (same)
10. Crazy Heart (Fox Searchlight) – $2.4 million -20% (up .1 million)
For the third week in a row, two R-rated movies will try to bring in primarily the guys who normally would be targeted by their genre, and in this case, there could be enough competition between the two offerings that it could make it a fairly close race.
On the one hand, there’s the buddy cop comedy Cop Out (Warner Bros.), starring Bruce Willis and Tracy Morgan from “30 Rock,” which will probably bring in the older guys, some urban audiences and the diehard fanbase of its director Kevin Smith. On the other, there’s the horror remake The Crazies (Overture), which doesn’t have the star power but has a much stronger premise that’s easier to sell with disturbing commercials that will probably bring in the generally younger audience looking for scares. Opening in nearly 500 more theatres should give Cop Out the advantage, although both movies will be competing against Scorsese’s thriller Shutter Island in its second weekend. While either or both might make more money on Friday night, they’ll likely be frontloaded enough to leave them fighting for second place as the Scorsese flick coasts by over the weekend.
This weekend last year, Disney tried to replicate the success of their Miley Cyrus/Hannah Montana 3D concert movie with Jonas Brothers: The 3D Concert Experience (Disney) but it failed even to best Tyler Perry’s Madea Goes to Jail in its second week, settling for 2nd place with $12.5 million. It still fared better than the video game movie Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li (20th Century Fox) which opened in eighth place, a mega-bomb with just $4.7 million in its moderate theater count of under 1,200 theatres. (This one was seriously being dumped.) The Top 10 grossed a paltry $80.6 million an amount that should be soundly bested thanks to the two strong releases.
THE BATTLE CRY
Since we skipped last week, I thought I’d jump back into a somewhat less weighty topic, but one that as movie consumers (and even as a movie writer) is constantly in our frame of reference and that is: trailers. (And for the sake of discussion, we’re going to include commercials in the conversation as well.)
Fair warning: This is probably going to be a rather rambling stream of consciousness version of “The Battle Cry”–as if they aren’t all like that–but it came out of a conversation I had with a friend who hadn’t seen Avatar yet. He told me he was unimpressed with the footage he’d seen on television and in various trailers and clips. I had to admit that even though I loved the movie, I haven’t been able to watch any trailer or clip that made me excited about seeing it again, and I tried to explain to him that Cameron had essentially made a movie that is what it is because it creates this experience that pulls you in and encompasses you rather than one that’s made up of a lot of great little moments. You can’t really take any piece of that movie and show it to someone and get them that excited, which may be why the whole “Avatar Day” thing didn’t exactly get the unanimous buzz going that they might have hoped.
And they had 15 minutes to do that, too! In most cases, a trailer gives the studio 2 to 3 minutes to sell their movie, and it’s simply amazing the power trailers have and what they can do in terms of completely changing your mind about a movie either negatively or positively in that little bit of time, and that’s probably why they’ve become such a crucial part of marketing a movie, as well as why you see sites like ComingSoon.net and others always trying to get up the latest trailers as quickly as humanly possible. In fact, I would warrant a guess that more people see movie trailers online these days than they do in theatres, although they’re fairly hard to avoid unless you’re one of those people who shows up just as the movie is starting.
As hard as it is for some filmmakers to tell a story under the 2-hour mark, imagine if you’re a producer or editor of a movie trailer who has to find a way to tell that same story in two minutes or less. And if that isn’t hard enough, imagine trying to create exciting commercials that properly relay what the movie is about in even LESS time while at the same time, not giving everything away. That has to be the toughest job for marketing and some studios are certainly better at it than others. For instance, we’ve seen a lot of trailers in recent years that give away too much of the story, essentially making the viewer feel they don’t need to bother to see the movie, and then on the other side, you have trailers that can’t show what might make the movie enjoyable, since it would essentially be ruining any surprise. Different genres have different issues with how they can sell themselves to audiences and usually, comedies and horror movies have it easiest, ’cause you just have to have a couple laughs or scares and you’re golden.
That’s where the genius of marketing departments and the houses that cut these trailers and commercials together lies, because they often can take movies that are weak or have problems, find the images that really have an impact and then work around them. The best case in point has to be the wave of trailers and commercials that were everywhere for Martin Scorsese’s Shutter Island in the last couple of weeks. Paramount probably realized that awareness and interest were already there but they gave it that extra bump with even more commercials focusing on the strong visuals in the movie that the master filmmaker created, but if you watch them, there really is no connection between the images nor is there much of an idea how they play into the story. That certainly must have made the movie even more intriguing to people.
While not all movies have such strong visuals, sometimes they just have a great scene you can focus on, which is often enough to get people excited. For instance, how many times did you see that bit from Ben Stiller’s Tropic Thunder between Robert Downey Jr. and Brandon T. Jackson which ends in the latter going, “What do you mean YOU people?” You know the one I’m talking about and that scene was just piledrived into our heads over and over for months and yet… we went to see the movie, because we wanted to see if the rest of it could possibly be that funny. (That’s also the problem with R-rated comedies in general because sometimes, they can’t show some of the funniest bits except in limited Red Band trailers, but that’s a topic for another discussion.)
As much as one can get so much more out of many movies by not going into them with the expectations created by trailers, how many people would go to see a movie without having at least watched the trailer to make sure it’s something to watch? That’s probably why so much time is spent by the studios and filmmakers to try to put their best foot forward with trailers–they really are make or break for a movie–and why they’re certainly an interesting thing to analyze if you want to try to figure out why one works or doesn’t work and how that affects how a movie might do at the box office.
Maybe I just haven’t seen it, but I’m somewhat surprised no one has written a book or started a site or done a documentary that analyzes trailers and how they work (or whether they work) – other than the comments we get whenever we post trailers, of course. I assume there must be classes for that stuff in film and business school. Clearly, there are studios out there who have figured out that magic formula, the way to make commercials and trailers that focus and emphasize on the things that immediately click with audiences and gets them into theaters, while others haven’t. It’s certainly something to think about, both after seeing a new trailer that makes you want to see a movie, but also seeing a movie you hated, and then going back to the trailer to figure out how they fooled you into thinking it might have been good.
Cop Out (Warner Bros.)
Starring Bruce Willis, Tracy Morgan, Adam Brody, Kevin Pollak, Guillermo Diaz, Seann William Scott, Jason Lee, Ana de la Reguera
Directed by Kevin Smith (Dogma, Chasing Amy, Clerks, Clerks II, Zack and Miri Make a Porno); Written by Rob and Marc Cullen (writers on “Las Vegas,” “Heist,” and “Lucky”)
Genre: Comedy, Crime
Tagline: “Rock Out with your Glock Out”
Plot Summary: After being suspended, two police officers who have been partnered for nine years, Jimmy Monroe (Bruce Willis) and Paul Hodges (Tracy Morgan), desperately try to find the rare mint-condition baseball card that Jimmy was hoping to use to pay for his daughter’s wedding, but Paul is more preoccupied with his wife’s infidelity.
Mini-Review Coming Soon!
It’s been some time since the police buddy comedy genre has been explored and what makes Cop Out such an interesting entry is that it’s the first studio movie from filmmaker Kevin Smith where he didn’t direct from his own original script. Instead, he’s making the move into director-for-hire possibly in hopes of having better success than he has with some of his previous irreverent and raunchy comedies in the past.
It certainly won’t hurt that Cop Out–formerly titled A Couple of Dicks–stars Bruce Willis, one of the biggest stars of the ’80s and ’90s and best known for playing police detective John McLane in the “Die Hard” series – but one who hasn’t quite found the same level of success in the 21st Century. (That is, except for when he returned as McLane in Live Free or Die Hard in 2007.) Willis started out with three relative hits in 2000 with The Whole Nine Years, The Kid and M. Night Shyamalan’s Unbreakable, followed by a gradual downturn with his only major hit being the animated Over the Hedge, for which he voiced a main character. Otherwise, he’s stayed away from comedy, having some success with Robert Rodriguez’s Sin City (not so much with its follow-up portion of Grindhouse), and weak showings for the thriller Perfect Stranger, Lucky Number Slevin and his last non-“Die Hard” movie playing a police officer, Richard Donner’s 16 Blocks. Willis’ last movie, the sci-fi thriller Surrogates might have been a much bigger hit if it was released in the summer (and/or in the ’90s) but it only did moderately, grossing less than $40 million. Clearly, Willis isn’t the box office draw he once was, although he does tend to have more fans when he’s doing action movies with a sense of humor and Cop Out certainly offers a little of both.
Having Smith at the helm should emphasize the comedy but so should teaming Willis with comic actor Tracy Morgan, who was a second stringer on “Saturday Night Live” for years before breaking out with his role on Tina Fey’s Emmy-winning show “30 Rock.” He’s yet to really break out in movies but his role on “30 Rock” has certainly helped as he was one of the headliners in First Sunday and voiced a gerbil that became the primary selling point of Jerry Bruckheimer’s G-Force. One would presume that Morgan’s work on “30 Rock” will bring in some of that show’s fans as well as some of the urban audience who tends to like police movies.
Playing a secondary role to the two guys but still being featured in the commercials is Seann William Scott, whose success with the “American Pie” movies has led to a series of buddy comedies over the years including the hit Role Models with Paul Rudd in 2008 ($67 million gross), The Dukes of Hazzard ($80 million), and The Rundown ($48 million). Even having him in a secondary role does add some comedic cred for the 20-something audience who grew up with Scott’s movies.
Besides the film’s cast, the appeal of the movie is fairly simple, because for whatever reason, moviegoers tend to like the idea of bumbling police officers on the streets – probably wouldn’t feel that way if they were victims of a crime and needed their protection, but whatever. The police comedy has proven successful for the likes of Will Smith and Martin Lawrence, having starred in two “Bad Boys” movies directed by Michael Bay, and of course, we can’t forget the “Lethal Weapon” series helmed by Richard Donner that helped make Mel Gibson a major box office star. It seems somewhat nostalgic and regressive, especially for a director like Smith who has strayed from genre whenever possible, but maybe there are moviegoers looking for simpler storytelling and something more driven by humor than say Shutter Island or The Wolfman. The closest we have to comedy in the Top 10 right now are either chick flicks or kiddie fare like Dwayne Johnson’s Tooth Fairy.
What’s interesting about Warner Bros.’ marketing campaign for the movie is that they’re not really focusing on Smith at all – in fact, they’re not even mentioning his name in the ads, which is surprising. Even Smith’s reunion with Jason Lee for the first time since Jay and Silent Bob Strikes Back has been played down, although Lee played a big part in many of Smith’s beloved early films. (Lee went on to great success starring in NBC’s “My Name Is Earl” after a number of bombs and in recent years, he’s only been involved in family/animated movies.) Chances are that Warner Bros. realizes that Smith’s name hasn’t helped any of his previous movies open over $11 million, his last movie Zack and Miri Make a Porno grossing just $31 million total despite his pairing with hot comic Seth Rogen. Fortunately, the trailers and commercials are generally funnier, but one probably shouldn’t expect stiff critical types to be particularly receptive to what Smith was trying to do this time.
Either way, Cop Out will mostly be targeting guys from 17 to 30 and even if the movie isn’t necessarily being sold as a “Kevin Smith movie,” his fans should be out in force, guaranteeing at least his normal $10 million opening. Add to that the popularity of Bruce Willis and his pairing with Morgan and that should be worth another $7 to 8 million so expect a decent opening even if it will be fighting against both Shutter Island and The Crazies for its audience.
Why I Should See It: The pairing of Willis and Morgan (and Scott) looks like it could deliver some solid laughs, especially with chronic funny guy Kevin Smith directing.
The Crazies (Overture)
Starring Timothy Olyphant, Radha Mitchell, Danielle Panabaker, Joe Anderson
Directed by Breck Eisner (Sahara); Written by Ray Wright (Pulse, Case 39), Scott Kosar (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Amityville Horror)
Genre: Horror, Thriller
Tagline: “Fear Thy Neighbor.”
Plot Summary: David Dutton (Timothy Olyphant), the sheriff of the tiny town of Ogden Marsh, is mystified by the town suddenly becoming overrun by blood-thirsty killers as even the most mild-mannered person becomes infected and starts going crazy. Dutton and the only sane people left in town then find themselves trapped and forced to work together to survive the night.
Mini-Review Coming Soon!
Roughly six years ago, young commercial director Zack Snyder was put at the helm of a remake of George Romero’s zombie thriller Dawn of the Dead, a movie that proved to be hugely successful for Universal, continuing the run of horror remakes that began with The Texas Chainsaw Massacre the previous year and would continue almost endlessly over the coming years.
In 1973, George Romero made the original movie The Crazies following the cult success of The Night of the Living Dead and before Dawn of the Dead, but it would become one of Romero’s lesser-known movies, although it had a similar feel as his zombie movie, being about a group of people trying to survive an infectious outbreak. Overture Films has done a lot to make this remake directed by Breck Eisner, who helmed the long-delayed action-adventure Sahara and isn’t really known for horror, look like the remake of Dawn of the Dead. It probably wouldn’t surprise many that both writers have horror remake experience, Scott Kosar having written successful remakes of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and The Amityville Horror.
This one stars Timothy Olyphant, who recently starred in David Twohy’s thriller A Perfect Getaway which bombed pretty badly, but Olyphant had a decent-sized hit with the video game based Hitman before that, as well as from his recurring role on the HBO Western “Deadwood.” Australian actress Radha Mitchell is no stranger to genre fare, having starred in the video game movie Silent Hill and opposite Bruce Willis in last fall’s Surrogates. In between, she had the Australian croc thriller Rogue which barely did much business. Danielle Panabaker, daughter of the great filmmaker, was last seen in last year’s hit remake of Friday the 13th, so she’s also no stranger to genre remakes. Granted, none of these actors will bring people in, but they’re there to offer some known faces even if they’re not really box office draws.
The fact is that the original movie was not one of the better-known horror movies, so this doesn’t have the namebrand factor that helps so many previous horror remakes, but it also has the type of premise that’s been easy to sell in the strong commercials. While Overture Pictures might not have the track record on the distribution side to back up the interest from those commercials, releasing the movie in roughly 2,500 theatres, the marketing should do the job as should the title.
While it’s likely to be splitting up the urban audiences with Cop Out, this horror movie might also bring in younger women who like to be scared, although its significantly lower theater count will put it a disadvantage in terms of winning the box office race this weekend and it’s best bet is third place against some of the weaker returning movies from past weeks.
Why I Should See It: Let’s face it, a movie about lots of people going crazy and killing other people sounds really cool.
THE CHOSEN ONE:
A Prophet (Sony Pictures Classics)
I still remember the first time I heard Jacques Audiard had a new movie, as the buzz for his new movie began spiraling out of last year’s Cannes Film Festival, and that continued right through the fall as the movie played at Telluride and Toronto, before being selected by France as its choice for the Oscar Foreign Language category. Now mind you, I was already a fan of Audiard’s work from his previous movies The Beat My Heart Skipped, a remake of an early James Toback film, and Read My Lips, an earlier crime thriller that found cult fame with a moderate U.S. release. I’m also a longtime fan of the HBO show “Oz,” so the thought of Audiard doing a film set in prison is like offering a banana to a monkey (quite literally!)
And yet, with A Prophet (or Une Prophète in French), Audiard takes a different approach to the prison film than we’ve seen before, whether it’s movies like The Shawshank Redemption, the underrated 2008 indie Felon, which I really dug, or shows like “Oz.” Audiard’s prison setting has a similar amount of grit and grime as the latter, and much of that is informed by the segregation between two factions: the Arabs and the Corsicans. The environment is explored from the perspective of Malik, a young Arab man who enters prison with nothing but five francs and the shirt on his back, and finds himself a loner in a world that immediately makes him a target. The jail is run by a powerful Corsican named Cesar, who uses the young man to get to an Arab snitch in protective custody, and unable to refuse, Malik kills the man and is put under protection from Cesar’s group but treated more like a mascot than an equal. Illiterate on entering prison, Malik teaches himself to read and learns Corsican, trying to make himself more useful to Cesar and using what he learns to starts his own business.
The film starts out so confined, and rightfully so considering the setting, but then it opens up later as Malik is given daily leaves from prison to work in the world, something he uses to take advantage of situations he learns about by paying attention in prison. Of course, Cesar is not happy about the young man he liberated thinking for himself but he eventually realizes that he can’t hold him back.
A Prophet is very much about the relationship between Malik and Cesar and how it transforms over time, and a lot of time passes in the telling of that story, but it’s done in a way that flows so smoothly you barely notice the changes in Malik, until much later. Everything just builds over the course of time as Malik puts himself into more and more dangerous situations. He starts to get too cocky for his own good, so you’re always under the impression that things are going to go horribly wrong for him. (The film’s title is a slight hint to why Malik is able to extricate himself from all these dangerous situations.)
Newcomer Tahar Rahim is an amazing find by Audiard, giving a performance as layered as Romain Duris or Vincent Cassel, actors who already had a lot more experience when they worked with the filmmaker, and Niels Arestrup plays the type of role we might see attracting a De Niro or a Nicholson or a Brando in his day, just a really strong and powerful man with a softer side who constantly is keeping that in check to maintain the respect he’s earned in prison from his normally imposing presence.
In terms of the look and feel of the film, Audiard really has created another masterpiece, almost like his “Godfather” trilogy if it were done over the course of one movie. That makes for a very long movie, over two and a half hours, and it feels it at times, but it’s also a film that really pays one off for their patience in the long run, if only because the Malik who ends the movie is so different that you can’t imagine that this is the same actor. That’s part of the brilliance of what makes Audiard such a terrific, and at least up until this point, such an underrated filmmaker. If you haven’t seen any of his previous films, this is a great introduction to his work.
A Prophet opens in New York and L.A. on Friday, and hopefully it will do well enough to get into a few more cities than the normal places where French films play.
The Art of the Steal (Sundance Selects)
Not being one to regularly attend art museums, I was surprised to hear about the buzz coming off this documentary from the Toronto Film Festival last year. It sounded like another doc ala My Kid Can Paint That, a movie that explores the artworld in a way that’s slightly more mainstream but still with the potential of limiting itself to those already a part o that world. In fact, this fascinating doc from Don Argott, who made Rock School a few years back, is about the politics within the art world and how the rich and powerful people who’ve held control over it for enternity tried to use their money and power to usurp the last will of the man who created one of the world’s most spectacular collections of art.
I wasn’t really familiar with the Barnes Foundation before seeing the movie, and I probably wouldn’t have understood how it differed from some of the many New York City art galleries until I did. Essentially, Dr. Arthur C. Barnes was a benefactor of the arts who created an unprecedented collection he decided to display in a quiet Philly suburb using a unique esthetic that enhanced the experience. Rather than creating this as a backdrop for stuffy upper class social events, he wanted the place to be a school for art students as well as a place where anyone who wanted to see art could view the collection. That was the plan, and of course, it didn’t exactly go over well with the rich art snobs at the time nor did it go over well with the city of Philly who thought such a collection should be used as a draw for tourism to the city.
When Barnes died, custody of his art collection was passed along to a group of trustees and that’s where things started to spiral out of control, as the film recounts the conflict surrounding control of the valuable art collection, thought to be worth billions. When Richard Glanton took over the position, he immediately started exploiting the collection by taking it on a world tour and showing it at a prominent Philadelphia museum, completely counter to Barnes’ last will and testament. Eventually, the conflict would lead to the city stepping in and effectively nabbing the rights to display the collection in a gallery in the center of Philadelphia, again counter to Barnes’ last wishes.
Argott tells this story through the words of those who have been closely involved with the Barnes Foundation and the struggle to maintain it over the years, all expertly edited together to tell the story in a fluid and coherent way. He handles the subject matter as gravely and seriously as something like No End in Sight, and so much of the movie is used to introduce Barnes and his artwork and the situation that it doesn’t really get interesting until the last act where see how the layers of corruption have created levels and degrees of scandal amidst the city’s plans to usurp Barnes’ collection for their own purposes.
Of course, without seeing the movie, you might not be able to understand why it’s that big a deal for the art to be moved to a new location. It’s fairly clear that part of the charm of the Foundation is the way that the art has been displayed in that particular setting, something that would be lost if it was put in a place swarming with kids and tourists, but it’s as much about how politicians and the rich use the system to get what they want when they see an opportunity to take advantage of things that might normally slip through the cracks. Argott’s film is a fascinating indictment of how legislation and politics can be abused in a way that quite literally misses the bigger picture.
It opens at the IFC Center on Friday.
Also in Limited Release:
Prodigal Sons (First Look Studios) – Filmmaker Kimberly Reed’s personal doc looks at her dysfunctional family as they reunite in her former smalltown Montana home as she tries to come to terms with her lifestyle change, having formerly been a high school football hero. Meanwhile, her troubled adoptive brother Marc who discovers that he’s related to Orson Welles and Rita Hayworth escalating the long-standing sibling rivalry. It opens at the Cinema Village on Friday.
Mini-Review (Coming Soon!)
Defendor (Darius Films) – In Peter Stebbings’ action-comedy, Woody Harrelson plays self-proclaimed hero Defendor, mild-mannered Arthur Poppington by day, who falls foul of the authorities when he beats up an undercover cop (Elias Koteas) who has been abusing a young prostitute (Kat Dennings). It opens in L.A. on Friday.
Mini-Review (Coming Soon!)
Formosa Betrayed (Screen Media Films) – James Van Der Beek stars in Adam Kane’s crime drama as FBI Agent Jake Kelly, who is assigned to solve the murder of a Chinese professor by killers who have fled to Taiwan, putting him into a dangerous msystery involving the island formerly known as Formosa.
Toe to Toe (Strand Releasing) – Emily Abt’s drama about two girls at a Washington D.C. prep school, privileged white girl Jesse prone to self-destructive behavior, and Tosha, a determined African-American from one of the poorest areas of D.C. When the two of them end up in a conflict, Jesse is expelled from school and her life starts spiraling downwards. It opens in select cities on Friday.
The Yellow Handkerchief (Samuel Goldwyn Films) – Udayan Prasad’s romantic drama about three strangers (William Hurt, Kristen Stewart, Eddie Redmayne) who go on a road trip through post-Katrina Louisiana, each with their own reason for being on the run and hoping for second chances at life and love. Also starring Maria Bellow, it opens in select cities.
Next week, the month of March kicks off with the return of director Tim Burton and his brother-from-another-mother Johnny Depp in their version of Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland (Disney Pictures) while Antoine Fuqua returns to police work in Brooklyn’s Finest (Overture), starring Richard Gere, Don Cheadle and Ethan Hawke.
Copyright 2010 Edward Douglas