Greetings and welcome back to the Weekend Warrior, your weekly guide to the weekend’s new movies. Tune in every Tuesday (Wednesday this week) for the latest look at the upcoming weekend, and then check back on Thursday night for final projections based on actual theatre counts.
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(UPDATE: All the new movies are opening in fewer theaters than estimated though we’re still generally in the same ballpark all around)
All below are four-day predictions:
1. I Am Number Four (DreamWorks) – $32.7 million N/A (down .8 million)
2. Unknown (Warner Bros.) – $23.0 million N/A (down .5 million)
3. Big Mommas: Like Father, Like Son (20th Century Fox) – $20.8 million (down .2 million)
4. Gnomeo & Juliet (Disney/Touchstone) – $20.5 million -20%
5. Just Go With It (Sony) – $20.2 million -34%
6. JustIn Bieber: Never Say Never (Paramount) – $18 million -39%
7. The King’s Speech (The Weinstein Co.) – $7.6 million +5% (up .1 million)
8. The Eagle (Focus Features) – $6.0 million -31%
9. No Strings Attached (Paramount) – $4.7 million -19% (down .4 million)
10. The Roommate (Sony/Screen Gems) – $4.5 million -45% (down .3 million)
It’s Presidents Day weekend and three new movies will try to attain the success of the movies released over the four-day holiday weekend last year, although that was helped by opening a week earlier and folding in the Valentine’s Day festivities. With three big movies opening last week, it may be harder for these three to make a mark, but the box office has clearly been rejuvenated after starting off slow in January, and all three new movies should benefit from that.
Disturbia director D.J. Caruso and producer Michael Bay team to bring the teen novel I Am Number Four (DreamWorks) to the big screen as a sci-fi action thriller starring Alex Pettyfer and Dianna Agron from “Glee,” which will target teen and slightly older audiences with its promise of action and teen angst. Oddly, the film seemed to be targeting younger women at first with its romance, but distribution partner Disney have switched gears and now are focusing on the action and FX, which should combine with the sci-fi premise to entice guys, though it still will be looking at an audience from 11 to 18 first and foremost.
Liam Neeson and Diane Kruger star in competing action-thriller Unknown (Warner Bros.), which is wisely targeting the older moviegoers who have been the prime audience for the box office so far this year. It should be able to benefit greatly from Neeson’s heightened presence as an action star in recent years thanks to Taken and The A-Team as well as the high concept premise that will be an easy sell. Add to that the bump that comes from the holidays and you’re looking at an opening weekend just north of $20 million.
Martin Lawrence is back in a dress, this time “dragging” (get it?) Tropic Thunder‘s Brandon T. Jackson along with him for Big Mommas: Like Father, Like Son (20th Century Fox), a comedy threequel that comes out over ten years since the first movie and five years since the previous installment. One may wonder if even Martin Lawrence’s diehard fans care much for the premise after five years of Tyler Perry’s Madea, but with few other films geared towards African-American women, the film could end up doing better than expected though we don’t see it having the type of success of the previous two movies, since it just doesn’t to have anything new to offer.
With three new movies making more than $25 million last weekend, we can expect that at least Disney’s Gnomeo & Juliet will continue to do well with schools out on Monday, so we should see one or two of those end up in the same $20 million range for the four-day weekend as Big Mommas and Unknown, possibly knocking one of them out of the Top 3.
This weekend last year wasn’t Presidents Day weekend, but Martin Scorsese’s Shutter Island (Paramount), starring Leonardo DiCaprio, had the weekend all to itself, which helped it make $41 million, the Oscar-winning filmmaker’s biggest opening weekend to date. Everything else dropped off from the previous week, particularly Valentine’s Day, which dropped 70% in its second weekend to take second place and The Wolfman, which dropped a similar amount to end up in fifth place. The Top 10 grossed $119 million, which is an amount this weekend may be able to beat with the added day off for Presidents Day.
I Am Number Four (DreamWorks)
Mini-Review One has to wonder what sort of thought process went into greenlighting an adaptation of a young adults’ science fiction novel before that book has been released, but “Disturbia” director D.J. Caruso takes on that challenge in telling the story of a teenager from another planet called Lorien, played by Alex Pettyfer, being chased by alien killers called Mogadorians. But first, we watch as one of his race, #3, is hunted and killed by the Mogs and elsewhere, a young man suddenly learns that he has powers (called “legacies”) and that him and his mentor Henri (Timothy Olyphant) need to leave town in a hurry and set up a new life in order to avoid being killed as well.
As one might expect, one can only exposit about “Loriens” and “Mogadorians” before it starts sounding silly, and there’s a lot left open in terms of the back stories of these characters and how much John knows about it. Instead, the movie quickly turns into a fairly conventional “new kid in school” story where John has to adjust to the high school politics of the jock bullies and the outcasts, becoming a target for the former when he starts hanging out with Dianna Agron’s Sarah, a cheerleader-slash-shutterbug who is uncharacteristically intrigued by the new guy. Even so, the movie is very predictable in its use of clichés and much of it feels like it may have been better-suited for a TV series than a feature film, as it takes a long time to find its footing and for the characters to establish themselves.
Golden-locked Alex Pettyfer does an okay job with a role that relies more on his good looks than acting talents, but you sort of feel bad that his powers essentially involve his hands lighting up, useful for walking around the dark but little else. (We’re being facetious, he can do some other things.) By comparison, Tim Olyphant doesn’t seem to have much of a challenge playing John’s mentor Henri and the young cast do a passable job playing typical high school archetypes with little heavy lifting. Teresa Palmer is the best thing going for the movie as another alien numbered 6, the type of badass heroine we might see in a “Terminator” movie, but unfortunately other than a few brief appearances where she’s trying to find John and Henri along with the Mogs, we really don’t get to see much of her until the last act.
The writing is fairly weak and standard Hollywood fare, and Caruso does the best he can with the material, but it often just feels like the influence of producer Michael Bay overshadows what may have been a much better film. Caruso certainly thrives during the film’s acting sequences with the CG looking far better than the wirework stunts, but the film generally looks great due to Caruso’s choice in DP of Guillermo Navarro, who is able to use skills developed on the “Hellboy” movies and “Blade 2” to create a darkness in the quieter scenes but making the CG-heavy action scenes look just as good. Possibly the worst part of the movie is the aggravating soundtrack of pop tunes, which are thankfully replaced by a more conventional Trevor Rabin score, but it’s hard to get the cheesy musical taste of the film’s first 80 minutes out of mind.
Parts of “I Am Number Four” seem like it would be appreciated more by teen girls than it would guys, and in that sense, it’s better than the first couple of “Twilight” movies, though not as good as the third. Like those movies, “Number Four” will require a lot of patience from guys to put up with the overt teen drama before they get to the good stuff. Fortunately, the film ends on a high note with a terrific action scene when we see all the different characters and elements coming together and it does leave you wanting to see what happens next to the characters, and that almost makes up for the film’s earlier cheesiness, but not quite. Rating: 6/10
With three movies doing big business over Presidents Day weekend last year, the one bigger budget action and FX movie of the week will be hoping to capitalize on the fact that those kinds of movies normally aren’t released until the summer giving it an advantage this weekend. I Am Number Four is the first of a series of alien invasion sci-fi movies coming out in 2011, this one based on the recent young readers’ novel by Pittacus Lore, a pseudonym for authors Jobie Hughes and James Frey, the latter who was famously ousted as a fake after his book “A Million Little Pieces” was heralded as part of the Oprah Book Club. The book spent nine weeks on the New York Times’ bestsellers list, although DreamWorks had picked up the movie rights and the movie was well into production before the book was even released.
I Am Number Four marks the return of director D.J. Caruso for the first movie since his back-to-back hits with Shia LaBeouf of Disturbia and Eagle Eye and it also marks the return of DreamWorks under its new distribution and marketing partnership with Walt Disney Pictures, which was once its fiercest competition. Caruso played a fairly large part in the company’s success while at Paramount as did Michael Bay, who was originally going to direct it but got sidelined by Transformers: Dark of the Moon, so he instead produced it for Caruso to direct.
The combined clout of Caruso and Bay might be enough to sell the movie, but the film does have a cast of young actors, many of whom are being groomed to be future superstars. That case is the most apparent with handsome blonde-haired Brit Alex Pettyfer who previously appeared in the British film Alex Rider: Operation Stormbringer, also based on a book. This is only his second movie since then, but in a couple weeks, Pettyfer also stars in the adaptation of the novel Beastly, which is being released by CBS Films in the first week of March. They certainly should hope that I Am Number Four does well enough to put Pettyfer on the map, as much as DreamWorks is relying on him being the next Shia LaBeouf.
Even so, Pettyfer isn’t the only good-looking young cast member and more Americans will likely be familiar with his love interest, Dianna Agron, from the hit show “Glee.” There’s also Australian actress Teresa Palmer, who appeared in last year’s summer bomb The Sorcerer’s Apprentice and before that with Adam Sandler in Bedtime Stories, both for Disney. She has a great kick-ass role in the movie as Number 6, another alien who ends up fighting with John Smith against the invading aliens.
This means that actor Timothy Olyphant may be the biggest name in the cast in terms of box office clout, although he’s also better known for his television shows HBO’s “Deadwood” and more recently “Justified” on FX, but he’s been appearing in more movies recently including last year’s thriller The Crazies and David Twohy’s A Perfect Getaway the year before.
Presidents Day weekend is a great time for a movie like this because teenagers and younger moviegoers are out of school on Monday, which means that the film won’t have the normal Sunday drop-off even if it’s front-loaded. Some of the family hits based on books that have opened over the weekend are Paramount’s The Spiderwick Chronicles and Disney’s Bridge to Terabithia, two movies that probably played to a younger audience than “Number Four” will. In some ways, the movie is closer to Doug Liman’s Jumper, which was released over Presidents Day in 2008, targeting a similar young audience, and it was able to make $34 million over the same weekend. Similarly, Chris Columbus adapted the first Percy Jackson and the Olympians book, which was released by 20th Century Fox over Presidents Day last year to make $38 million over the four-day weekend. That probably had a few more name actors, but it also appealed more towards a family audience since many kids had read the books.
The biggest problem facing I Am Number Four may be that it’s based on a book that’s not particularly well-known, since it was only released last August and hasn’t had the time to build the audience that comes along with ongoing series of books ala “Spiderwick” and “Percy Jackson.” Clearly, DreamWorks would love this to turn into a franchise, but it really will depend on how well this one does and they wisely didn’t spend the $100 million plus that’s usually necessary to make an action-FX epic. (And it probably would have cost $200 million or more if Bay had directed as originally planned.)
Originally, the marketing were pushing the movie as a “Twilight”-like teen romance, which does play a part in the storyline, but with few young women biting, Disney/DreamWorks have changed tactics and are now focusing on the CG-enhanced action as well as the Michael Bay connection that should be of interest to younger males. Regardless, the premise of warring alien races and teen aliens trying to survive on earth should be a strong enough to get sci-fi fans interested in the movie, and it won’t suffer from the “Man, I’m getting sick of alien invasion movies” ennui that’s likely to hurt some of the weaker alien invasion movies that come out later this year.
Why I Should See It: Caruso is a solid action director who has done well with young actors before.
Unknown (Warner Bros.)
One of the relatively big news stories at the box office this year so far is that the average age of moviegoing audiences has gone up as younger people can’t afford higher ticket prices, so adults over 25 are more regularly frequenting the movies on the weekend. This is good news for the new movie from Joel Silver’s Dark Castle Productions, who normally specialize in movies for the 18 to 25 crowd, starting with horror remakes and then venturing into original high concept horror premises. Their latest endeavor isn’t a horror movie but it does retain a genre flavor and particularly the action that was equated with Joel Silver during the ’80s and ’90s thanks to franchises like the “Lethal Weapon” movies. It’s more of a high concept action thriller reminiscent of The Bourne Identity, and it’s really more of a starring vehicle for Liam Neeson, who has had an incredible couple of years career-wise despite the tragic death of his wife Natasha Richardson.
Following his Oscar nomination for Steven Spielberg’s Schindler’s List, Neeson was cast in a major role in George Lucas’s “Star Wars” prequel, which first showed him off as an action hero. Many years later, Christopher Nolan cast him as Ra’s al Ghul in Batman Begins, but it was only in 2009, when the long-delayed France-based action-thriller Taken by Pierre Morel was released in the States to be a huge sleeper when Hollywood types started taking Neeson seriously as someone who could headline bigger budget movies. Last year, he was one of the godly headliners of the blockbuster hit Clash of the Titans, which he followed a few months later by playing the leader of The A-Team, both movies that would appeal to a much younger male audience.
Although most of the focus is on Neeson, the cast also includes popular German actress Diane Kruger, who has had roles in big movies like the “National Treasure” films, Troy and Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds, as well as January Jones from “Mad Men.” Other familiar faces include Warner Bros. regular Frank Langella as well as renowned German actor Bruno Ganz, who played Hitler in Downfall, which must have been a favorite of Silver’s since he hired its director Oliver Hirschbiegel for the sci-fi remake The Invasion. This one is directed by another Joel Silver regular, Spanish filmmaker Jaume Collet-Serra, who helmed the remake of House of Wax for Dark Castle as well as the high concept thriller Orphan, which has become a bit of a cult favorite, not that the movie is being marketed on its director.
Strong cast aside, the movie is mostly being marketed on the familiarity of the premise and how moviegoing audiences will be able to relate to Neeson’s plight in the film even if the first half of that equation may give some a been-there-seen-that feeling. More importantly, the action that Joel Silver has built his rep on should bring in moviegoers in their 20s, who won’t be as interested in I Am Number Four, though it certainly seems like the two movie will be splitting a good section of the potential male audience.
Reviews are likely to be mixed at best, although older TV critics will probably give the movie a pass due to Neeson’s presence, which should help convince moviegoers in the 25 to 40 range to check the movie out this weekend over some of the other offerings. Although the marketing has been rather low-key, this is the movie that has the most potential to break out even though we don’t expect it to have the success of Taken.
Why I Should See It: Is there anything better than Liam Neeson in action?
Big Mommas: Like Father, Like Son (20th Century Fox)
Lawrence had already starred in movies opposite Will Smith and Eddie Murphy before he was given his own vehicle in 2000 with Big Momma’s House, which opened with $26 million and then grossed $117.5 million. The world was pretty much Lawrence’s oyster as he appeared in a number of other comedies, none of which were quite successful. Lawrence’s career floundered a bit in the years after that until he returned to his most popular character in 2006, and it opened bigger than the original movie but ended up with just $70 million total. Ever since then, Lawrence has been a regular in movie theaters with the ensemble comedy Wild Hogs, teaming him with Tim Allen, John Travolta and William Macy, being his biggest hit. His next three movies, including last year’s ensemble comedy Death at a Funeral ended up in roughly the $40 million range. The question is whether Lawrence’s fans still have any interest in seeing him as Big Momma, and in the five years since Martin Lawrence starred in Big Momma’s House 2, Tyler Perry has come along and stolen his schtick as Madea, which has proved quite a bit more popular.
Offering back-up to Lawrence this time around is Brandon T. Jackson, the young actor who played a big part in Ben Stiller’s Tropic Thunder, which he followed last year with roles in Percy Jackson and the Olympians and co-starring in the Ice Cube urban comedy Lottery Ticket, which did okay last summer. The movie also has the likes of Faizon Love, and in case anyone cares, director John Whitesell who helmed the sequel is back as well, having not had much to do other than Fox’s holiday dud Deck the Halls since then.
One has to expect that African-American audiences won’t have too many other choices this weekend and will give this a chance over some of the other choices, but there is something rather old hat about this and 20th Century Fox doesn’t even seem to be trying very hard with this one. (I’ve been told that the commercials run fairly regularly, but I haven’t seen a single one, though I also don’t watch FOX.) Knowing that reviews won’t matter to the film’s audience, 20th Century Fox won’t bother to show the movie to critics in advance, and I’m sure they’ll have a fit about it, despite knowing fully well there’s no possibility of the movie being good.
Why I Should See It: Because you find grown men dressing up as old women to be funny.
THE CHOSEN ONE:
Brotherhood (Phase 4 Films)
One of the standout films at last year’s SXSW Film Festival was this debut by Will Canon that features an ensemble of young actors in a fairly high concept thriller that ends up being far better than one might expect from the premise. (Put it this way. We saw “Winter’s Bone” for the first time directly after seeing “Brotherhood” and we were more impressed by the latter.)
The opening sequence, recreated from Canon’s debut short “Roslyn,” really pulls you into the story as we watch four young men driving around a rural area to various convenience stores where the three pledges are told by their leader, Jon Foster’s Frank, that they’re expected to hold the store up for roughly $19.00 as part of their initiation. The first few go through with it without a hitch but then the third pledge, Kevin, gets shot while trying to follow up on the assignment and things spiral out of control from there.
After that, much of the story goes back to the Sigma Zeta Chi frathouse where a pledge party is interrupted by what happened, and the brothers have to work together to figure out how to cover up what happened. This involves kidnapping the black convenience store clerk and convincing him to lie to cover up what they’ve done, and it turns into a game of control as one of the pledges, played by Trevor Morgan, needs to decide whether it’s worth going against his own ideals in order to get into the frat.
“Brotherhood” is an incredibly dramatic ensemble film that involves a lot of yelling and arguing between the characters as they try to figure out the right thing to do, but overall, the dialogue is solid and the strong performances by everyone involved, particularly Morgan and Foster, makes it feel like it could have done as a Broadway play, only it’s made stronger by the use of real locations. The results are a very testosterone-heavy film with the only women being a few supporting roles, but it’s clear that the entire ensemble are bringing their A-game to every scene, which brings authenticity to every scene. We didn’t even recognize indie regular Lou Taylor Pucci in the role as the shot frat brother Kevin, maybe because he looks very different without his long hair. We were especially impressed by Arlen Escarpeta, who plays the convenience store clerk Mike, probably one of the more difficult roles since he has less to lose if the fraternity gets busted for what they did, and therefore, less of a moral quandary about covering up. The scenes between Morgan and Escarpeta are particularly impressive.
What it comes down to though is that Canon is a terrific filmmaker, probably one of the more talented new directors we’re likely to see this year due to what he’s able to do with a fairly low budget, yet able to make every scene tense and exciting, knowing when to use music to drive the action and when to let his cast do what they do best. We were really impressed by this debut, and we can certainly see Canon having a future directing bigger studio movies if given the right opportunity. Either way, we can’t say enough great things about this terrific debut and how well it plays even on repeat viewings when you know where things are going; we’ll keep our fingers crossed that Canon and his writing partner Simon are able to get another movie made that’s up to this one.
Brotherhood opens in Dallas, Texas at the Angelika Film Center, then in L.A. at the Laemmle’s Sunset 5 on Friday, February 25. It’s also available in some areas on Video on Demand starting Friday.
The Film Society of Lincoln Center kicks off its annual Film Comment Selects series on Friday, February 18, which will offer New Yorkers a mix of upcoming genre films as well as foreign films that have yet to find distribution in the States.
French filmmaker Isild Le Besco is being featured heavily in this year’s selection, debuting her latest film Bas-fons as the opening night film, but also her earlier films Charly and Demi-Tarif, which have still to receive U.S. distribution. Another standout is Klaus Kinski: Jesus Christ the Savior, which is a lot like it sounds, Kinski performing his own one-man show about Christ that isn’t received as expected.
Some of the highlights include sneak previews of John Landis’ Burke and Hare, starring Simon Pegg and Andy Serkis (with Landis in attendance), Werner Herzog’s 3D documentary Caves of Forgotten Dreams, and James Wan and Leigh Whannell’s Insidious, one of our favorite midnight movies at Toronto last year. They’ll also be screening two other popular festival favorites, the serial killer thriller I Saw the Devil, the latest from Kim Jee-woon (The Good, The Bad and the Weird) and Jason Eisener’s Hobo with a Shotgun, starring Rutger Hauer as you guessed it, a hobo with a shotgun, a movie that reminded us of all those crazy Troma Studios movies from the ’80s and ’90s.
Part of this year’s selections are being co-hosted by Subway Cinema the peeps behind the super-fun New York Asian Film Festival, which they brought to Lincoln Center last year, and that may be why there are a lot more Asian films than normal. Along with I Saw the Devil, their contribution to the program includes Sion Sono’s gory Cold Fish about tropical fish dealers and the serial killer partner who gets rid of their competition and Andrew Lau’s period action flick Legend of the Fist: The Return of Chen Zhen, starring Donnie Yen as the Chinese war hero Chen Zhen, which we caught at Toronto last year. Other prominent Asian films of note are Lu Chuan’s controversial City of Life and Death about the 1937 invasion and pillaging of China by Japanese troops as well as I Wish I Knew, the latest from Jia Zhanke, director of the award-winning Still Life.
One of the vintage films in the festival is a double feature of Andy Warhol’s The Velvet Underground and Nico paired with the concert movie The Velvet Underground in Boston and they’re also showing Submarino, the latest film from Denmark’s Thomas Vinterberg (The Celebration) and many other similarly intriguing offerings.
Film Comment Selects begins on Friday and runs through March 3; you can see the full listing of movies being shown and check for ticket availability on Film Society’s Official Site. (Hopefully we’ll be able to find some time to watch and review some of these movies for you soon, although you’ll definitely see coverage of at least the ones with distribution over the next few months.)
Also in Limited Release:
Jorge Michel Grau’s Mexican thriller We Are What We Are (IFC Films) probably would have fit in well with the above “Film Comment Selects” though it already played at the New York Film Festival and Fantastic Fest. It follows a family who after the death of their patriarch desperately looks for someone to sacrifice and eat in a cannibalistic ritual they need to perform to survive. It opens at the IFC Center on Friday.
Interview with Jorge Michel Grau (Coming Soon!)
Filmmaker Brad Anderson (Session 9, The Machinist) returns with Vanishing on 7th Street (Magnolia Pictures), starring Hayden Christiansen, John Leguizamo and Thandie Newton as people trying to survive when a darkness envelopes the city causing all of the people to vanish. It opens in New York on Friday at the Village East Cinemas f ollowing its run on Video-on-Demand, plus it opens in other theaters, which you can see here.
WWE superstar Paul “Triple H” Levesque stars in The Chaperone (WWE Films/Samuel Goldwyn), a family dramedy directed by Stephen Herek (Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure), playing Ray Bradstone, an ex-convict who gets out of prison and tries to connect with his teen daughter (Ariel Winter of “Modern Family”) while resisting the temptations of a former colleague (Kevin Corrigan) who wants Ray to be the getaway driver for a bank robbery. In order to stay out of trouble, Ray takes on a job chaperoning his daughter’s high school field trip. It opens in select cities Friday before its DVD release on March 8.
Interview with Paul “Triple H” Levesque (Coming Soon!)
Gael Garcia Bernal stars in Icia Bollain’s Even the Rain (Vitagraph Films), written by Ken Loach’s screenwriting partner Paul Laverty, combining the story of Columbus’ arrival in America with the struggle of a Bolivian city to get clean drinking water in the 21st Century.
The romantic comedy Immigration Tango (Roadside Attractions) from David Burton follows a couple of illegal immigrants in the U.S., Russian Elena and Carlos, her Columbian boyfriend (played by Carlos Leon) who switch partners with their friends Betty and Mike in order to try to stay in the country despite the wariness of an immigration agent. It opens in select cities including New York, Los Angeles and Miami.
The nature film The Last Lions (National Geographic Entertainment) by filmmakers Dereck and Beverly Joubert about a lioness and her two cubs trying to survive on an island in Botswana after being ousted from their tribe, having to deal with the dwindling land and hunters. Narrated by Jeremy Irons, it opens in select cities on Friday.
Pop singer Sky Ferreira stars in Matt Porterfield’s second film Putty Hill (Cinema Village) , a drama set in the outskirts of Baltimore as a group of people at a karaoke bar try to piece together the life of a young man who died. It will open in New York at the Cinema Village on Friday (Porterfield will be in attendance at that screening) and then in L.A. at the Laemmle Sunset 5 on April 8.
Next week, the month of February ends rather prematurely with the Farrellys’ new comedy Hall Pass (New Line/WB), starring Owen Wilson and Jason Sudeikis, and Nicolas Cage stars in the action revenge-thriller Drive Angry 3D (Summit).
Copyright 2011 Edward Douglas