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.
If you aren’t doing so already, you can follow The Weekend Warrior on Twitter where he talks about box office, movies, music, comic books and all sorts of random things.
1. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2 (Warner Bros.) – $68.0 million -60% (down 5.6 million)
2. Captain America: the First Avengers (Marvel/Paramount) – $63.2 million N/A (up 2.5 million)
3. Friends With Benefits (Screen Gems/Sony) – $21.5 million N/A (Up .3 million)
4. Horrible Bosses (New Line/WB) – $11.2 million -39% (up .6 million)
5. Transformers: Dark of the Moon (Paramount) – $10.0 million -53% (same)
6. Zookeeper (Sony) – $7.6 million -38% (same)
7. Winnie the Pooh (Walt Disney Pictures) – $5.1 million -35%
8. Cars 2 (Disney/Pixar) – $4.8 million -43%
9. Bad Teacher (Sony) – $2.7 million -48% (down .1 million)
10. Larry Crowne (Universal) – $1.0 million -60% (down .3 million)
As we go into Comic-Con weekend, Marvel Studios’ second movie of the summer, Captain America: The First Avenger (Paramount), starring Chris Evans, Haley Atwell, Tommy Lee Jones, Hugo Weaving, Stanley Tucci and more, is in a weird position as it faces the second weekend of the hugely successful Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2 (Warner Bros.), which should bring in solid repeat business as well as business from the rave reviews and publicity that setting box office records brings in. It’s doubtful any amount of second weekend drop-off will keep Harry from staying on top for a second week in a row, although Captain America is a very popular Marvel Comics character, one that has broken out into the mainstream thanks to cartoons and such, so we can see it doing enough comic fanboy business on Friday to win the day, but then fall behind “Potter” by Sunday, putting it in second place in its opening weekend. Shame.
Offering the tiniest bit of counter-programming for the younger women not interested in star-spangled superheroes and the guys trying to get lucky with them, there’s Will Gluck’s Friends With Benefits (Screen Gems/Sony) starring Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis, an R-rated sex comedy that will mostly be trying to appeal to the same teen girls that went to see Bad Teacher, but without nearly as much interest for males, except for possibly the date night crowd, who might try to convince their women to go see Captain America instead.
This weekend last year saw a nice surprise as Christopher Nolan’s Inception remained on top for a second weekend in a row with a minor 43% drop and a second weekend gross of $42.7 million. That only left second place for Angelina Jolie’s action-thriller Salt (Sony), which was still a substantial hit with $36 million. The only other new movie in wide release was the kids’ film Ramona and Beezus (20th Century Fox), starring Selena Gomez, which took in a disappointing $7.8 million in 2,750 theaters for sixth place.
THE BATTLE CRY
This week’s “Battle Cry” has been influenced by two interesting articles I read over the last month that some may have missed. Honestly, I can’t think of a more appropriate time to write about it since this is the one week every year where all of the geeks and fanboys and fangirls converge on San Diego for the annual Comic-Con International. We’ll be there as well.
The first article is by Devin Faraci of Badass Digest who a couple weeks ago claimed The Death of Geek. The other piece is by a friend of mine, “Cole Smithey of ColeSmithey.com”–it cracks me up everytime I hear him say that in person–who has declared The Death of Fanboy Culture. (I’ll give you a few minutes to read through each of those by clicking on the link before we proceed. Done? Okay, moving on.)
From the titles, one might think that both of these essays are saying the same thing, though reading them proves otherwise. Now mind you, I know both these guys pretty well, so I can easily discern at least somewhat where they’re each coming from – Faraci’s essay comes more from a place of familiarity while Smithey’s rant is coming from a place of disdain. Oddly, they both compare the respective subjects of their eulogy to “punk,” which is indeed dead, but they take very different approaches to essentially say the same thing… that when a specific culture or community enters the mainstream, it no longer can be seen as its own culture. And therefore, it’s dead.
Faraci’s main issues seems to be with how the very word “geek” has been appropriated by the mainstream, in this case the current Miss USA claiming she’s a “history geek” because she watches HBO’s “Game of Thrones”… which last time I checked was fantasy-based fiction, but whatever, beauty queens have never been known for their brains.
As Faraci states:
“Passion doesn’t define your geekiness. It has nothing to do with your geekiness. Your geekiness is predicated on your level of expertise and intelligence on the subject but, let’s be honest, also on the subject’s inherent lack of societal acceptance.”
He feels that there needs to be a separation of the word “geek” from what people really mean, which is a “fan” of something, which also doesn’t have the same negative connotations, although if you add the suffix “boy” to that word, you suddenly have critics like Smithey proclaiming:
“The term fanboy began as a term to describe a lower class of pimply-geeky males, and less frequently females, caught in a stage of arrested development signified by their choice of logo-scripted T-shirts. They were proselytizers for an underground kitsch culture–dilettante hobbyists who didn’t know the meaning of the D-word.”
Smithey goes on… “Like Teabaggers, fanboys like to complain. It’s what they do. They are a strident minority who likes to obsess and nitpick over minutiae. The filmic rendering of a superhero’s costume as it differs from the original comic book is food for endless fodder. Fanboys are famous for wielding their opinion over others in a bullying manner.”
That statement probably makes it a bit clearer where Smithey is coming from, more that he’s making a hopeful assumption that the fanboy culture he hates so much is dead, even if there really is no proof stating that is so. Really, it’s more of an attack on the bloggers that come from a place within fandom rather than being film-school trained professionals.
By comparison, Faraci’s piece is more taking issue with the way the term “geek” is being used rather than saying that the culture that inspired it is dead.
On the other hand, to fully dissect Cole Smithey’s argument, one would have to first determine whether the term “fanboy” is something that need be applied only to those of male gender of a certain age, because as we know, there can be “fanboys” of all ages and genders. In the same way, has a “geek” always been assumed to be a male? Women can certainly be geeky about things and I have the friends to prove it–they read comics and gush over boy wizards and anything to do with vampires–but going by what Faraci is saying, that doesn’t necessarily make them geeks. Are you as confused as I am?
Now mind you, these claims were made weeks before Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2, the epitome of “fanboy” “geekiness”–became the box office record breaker, something that could only be possible from the fannish aspect of those movies finally breaking through to the mainstream in a much bigger way than it has with past movies.
Really, the only way to kill any negativity to words like “geek” or “fanboy” is to wear the labels proudly and allow them to be used by mainstream media until they no longer can be deemed a bad thing. That’s really what’s important to consider, that those cultures aren’t necessarily dead, just that the way they’ve been separated from normal society is no longer factor. You can find both groups everywhere from the school to the office and in some ways, it’s almost as cool to be passionate about something, whether it’s comics or science fiction or music or art, then it is to try to deny your love for something outside the mainstream.
So who knows if either of the statements made in the articles above could be deemed “right” or “wrong,” but as someone about to spend the next five days in the midst of the thriving “fanboy culture” that’s over 100,000 strong and includes everyone from 5-year-old girls to 60-year-old plus grandfathers, my feeling is that it’s not a culture that’s dead, as much as it’s one that’s evolving and encompassing a far bigger audience than the presumably nerdy, overweight and predominantly bearded “geeks” that have kept it growing strong.
Captain America: The First Avenger (Marvel Studios/Paramount)
The fifth movie from Marvel Studios and fourth being released through Paramount Pictures brings another character from Marvel Comics to the big screen, although in this case, it’s one of their very first heroes, a character that dates all the way back in the early ’40s just a few years after the likes of Superman and Batman, as well as one who has appeared in various formats, whether it’s the serialized series of the ’40s, various cartoons or the 1990 film starring Matt Salinger. The latter was never officially released in the United States ironically enough.
Captain America is a character that’s a lot more popular than some of the others who have received movies, especially in the United States where patriotism runs high for a character who is essentially a living breathing American flag. It’s a great choice by Marvel Studios who have had enormous success with Iron Man in 2008 and its sequel last year, both grossing $300 million domestically. Their recent release Thor did enough business worldwide to warrant the start of development on a sequel to that as well. To helm this one, they hired Joe Johnston, who directed movies like Honey, I Shrunk the Kids, The Rocketeer and Jurassic Park III, which would make him just as odd a choice as Jon Favreau or Kenneth Branagh, both whom ended up doing a great job. Johnston’s last movie was Universal’s remake of The Wolfman, which opened with $31.5 million over President’s Day weekend 2010, but quickly tanked after that.
From their success at the movies, it’s become fairly clear that Marvel Comics has many characters that mainstream audiences have become familiar with due to their presence in other media like cartoons, and theoretically, Captain America should be one of the more popular characters. That said, it may seem like a somewhat strange decision that the movie is set during WWII, and doing a superhero movie as a period piece might be somewhat of a turnoff to young audiences. (It certainly didn’t help Matthew Vaughn’s X-Men: First Class, a prequel set during the early ’60s.)
Playing Steve Rogers and Captain America is 30-year-old Chris Evans, an actor who has a lot of experience both with superheroes and comic book movies, as well as playing Marvel Comics characters, having played Johnny Storm the Human Torch in two “Fantastic Four” movies for 20th Century Fox. That was followed by the sci-fi action-thriller Push, which was also about people with superpowers, The Losers, based on the Vertigo Comics series, and then a supporting part in Edgar Wright’s Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, which was also based on graphic novels. Clearly, Evans has quite a clear connection to comic book fans who will already be aware of him as an actor, which certainly gives his Captain America an advantage over Thor.
Playing the main baddie the Red Skull is Hugo Weaving, who has appeared in many huge blockbusters including both the “Matrix” trilogy (as its prime baddie Mr. Smith) and in Peter Jackson’s “The Lord of the Rings.” The fact that he also provides the voice of Megatron in Michael Bay’s “Transformers” movies means that Hugo Weaving may have pulled ahead of Ian McKellen as one of the top actors in terms of genre blockbusters. Last year, Weaving appeared with significantly less make-up in Johnston’s The Wolfman and his casting as the Red Skull couldn’t be more perfect. Not quite as well known is Steve Rogers’ love interest Peggy Carter, played by British actress Haley Atwell, who has done a lot of work on television, appeared in Woody Allen’s Cassandra’s Dream and costume dramas The Duchess and Brideshead Revisited. The cast is rounded out by veterans like Tommy Lee Jones and Stanley Tucci, as well as relative newcomer Dominic Cooper playing the younger version of Howard Stark, Tony’s father.
Some may remember that earlier this summer we had predicted the movie would open upwards of $80 million, a number we lowered to the 70s last month, but now, there seems to be a number of factors holding Captain America back and one of them is a biggie-the second weekend of “Harry Potter.” Even if it has a huge drop from its opening week, you can’t set those kinds of records and not get a lot more people interested in seeing it, not to mention all of those who either couldn’t get tickets last weekend or just wanted to try to avoid the crazy crowds.
The other one is that there is definitely some burnout for superhero movies this summer with this being the fourth superhero movie in less than three months, and they’ve shown diminishing returns with Marvel’s Thor opening with over $65 million, Matthew Vaughn’s X-Men: First Class opening with $55 million and then Warner Bros.’ Green Lantern opening lower than that and now struggling to even make $120 million domestically.
On top of all that, it’s either a supremely great idea or a really bad idea to release the movie during Comic-Con week, because in theory, many comic professionals and fans who don’t have parties or other things to go to at night might check it out. On the other hand, there have been so many bombs on this weekend over the years from M. Night Shyamalan’s Lady in the Water and on, although Fox opened The Simpsons Movie over this weekend a few years back to great success and last year, both Inception and Salt 2 did great business. Realizing where their potential audience is, Paramount decided to open the movie one day earlier exclusively at the Horton Theater in San Diego, which means that we could see lots of comic fans and pros in attendance going out to see the movie that day.
Paramount’s marketing for the movie is absolutely brilliant, emphasizing the patriotism of the character that will appeal to Americans across the country, maybe now more than ever. Heck, by putting the line “I’m just a boy from Brooklyn” in a trailer might guarantee that Brooklyn theaters are sold out all weekend! On the other hand, they seem to be hiding this one from critics, unlike Thor, which got a lot of advance reviews. It’s not screening in New York until Tuesday night when most of the online movie writers will be getting ready for Comic-Con and across the country on Wednesday and Thursday. Not a good sign of confidence in a movie, which is quite opposite Marvel and Paramount’s approach to their previous movies. The movie and character have also been used in so much branding in terms of putting the character into commercials for everything from Dunkin Donuts to Norton software and others, although that’s something that could take away from the integrity of the movie and hurt the movie similarly to how Green Lantern had been overused in commercials before its release.
For the most part, the primary audience for the movie will be young and older men, probably ranging from 11 or 12 to 40 or even older–Captain America has been around for a long time after all–and they’ll probably be looking for something new to see with the Transformers movie already losing steam. The movie probably will bring in more African-American and Latino audiences than some of the other superhero movies this summer just by nature of the character being more popular among those groups. Being released in 3D won’t make that big a difference since so many audiences seem adverse to paying more for the “privilege,” especially when a movie is converted.
Many of these factors will probably balance each other out to offer a movie that does relatively decent business its opening weekend and probably will do even better based on word-of-mouth just because so many people are tentative about the movie. It might lose some of the older guys to Cowboys & Aliens next week but the two should be able to play together to offer older guys a number of choices.
Why I Should See It: Having been around for 70 years, the character of Captain America is an extremely popular one.
Friends With Benefits (Screen Gems/Sony)
I was really hoping I could just run my entire analysis from earlier this year for No Strings Attached, the Ashton Kutcher-Natalie Portman R-rated romcom with the same concept, here and save myself some time, but unfortunately, I was just too specific when writing about that movie and doing that probably wouldn’t fly. Obviously, the idea of having meaningless sex without romance is something that’s in the air these days for so many movies to be using it as their central premise, but this one hopes to create its own identity despite its connections to the other movie.
Friends With Benefits stars Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis, both of whom have been around since they were teenagers, Timberlake as a member of the boy group N-Sync, Kunis as a cast of “That ’70s Show,” but both of them have really come into their own in recent years.
Timberlake’s had a successful career as a solo artist in the pop world, but he seems more interested in doing comedy these days, having appeared a number of times on “Saturday Night Live” in the last few years, including his participation in the Grammy-winning Lonely Island digital shorts. Like many singers who have tried to make the transition to movies, it’s been rough going for Timberlake with his debut film Edison Force going straight to video and others like Richard Kelly’s Southland Tales bombing. He did have success with his small role in Shrek the Third, but his role in Michael Myers’ The Love Guru was not received well. Last year, Timberlake appeared in David Fincher’s Oscar-nominated and critically-acclaimed The Social Network, which certainly gave him a bit more credibility as an actor, but then just a few weeks back, he appeared opposite Cameron Diaz in the R-rated comedy Bad Teacher, which opened with $31 million and is on its way to $100 million despite the amount of R-rated competition in theaters. Those last two certainly point to Timberlake being more of a box office draw.
Mila Kunis is decidedly less of a box office draw than her Black Swan co-star Portman, but that psychological thriller by Darren Aronofsky and the Oscar nomination Kunis received for her role in its certainly has certainly helped her being taken seriously. Kunis had a comeback in 2008 when she was cast in Jason Segel and Nick Stoller’s comedy Forgetting Sarah Marshall, which was a sleeper hit, which she followed with the turkey Max Payne and the considerably more successful The Book of Eli opposite Denzel Washington.
Oddly, there are so many connections between the cast of this one and No Strings Attached. First of all, Kunis appeared with Ashton Kutcher on “That ’70s Show,” as well as in Black Swan with Portman. Kutcher and Timberlake are long-time friends who used to hang out back when Timberlake was dating his Bad Teacher co-star Cameron Diaz (who is friends with Mrs. Ashton Kutcher Demi Moore due to their Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle connection). So that makes you wonder how two movies with essentially the same premise with actors who’ve known each other for a long time gets made in the same year.
The film’s director, Will Gluck had a minor hit last year with Easy A starring Emma Stone, and he’s been able to pull together an impressive cast around the duo including Woody Harrelson, Patricia Clarkson, Stone herself and lots of cameos that we won’t spoil.
The big difference between this and the recent R-rated hit Bad Teacher was that one was marketed and released by Sony who generally have a much bigger budget to advertise their movies; they were able to really push the movie to the older teen audience who would eat it up. One would expect they’d appreciate the concept of this movie more than anyone over 30 as well, but one wonders if they’ll be up for a movie like this that’s more romantic comedy than straight comedy.
One of the craziest things about the movie is that it’s had its awareness increased dramatically in the last week when Mila Kunis was asked to the Marine Corps Ball by a soldier, something which has been getting more publicity for the movie than anything else they’ve done.
There’s no doubt that there’s an audience for this movie and it’s mostly going to be the older teen and 20-something women who like the idea of Justin Timberlake doing comedy, singing and rapping (as he does in the trailers) and of course, getting naked. Even so, it seems like a fairly limited audience, one that probably won’t grow over time, mainly because there are a lot of R-rated comedies already in theaters including the hit Horrible Bosses and more to come, many of which would appeal to a much wider audience than this one.
Why I Should See It: If you missed No Strings Attached…
THE CHOSEN ONE:
Sarah’s Key (The Weinstein Company)
Just when you thought you’ve heard everything there’s possible to say about the Holocaust, here’s a look at one aspect of it that has been brushed under the rug by the French authorities, something called the Vel d’Hiv Roundup of 1942 when Jews were picked up by the French police and shipped off to the concentration camps as part of an arrangement with the invading Nazis.
Based on the novel by Tatiana de Rosnay, there’s something about this film by Gilles Paquet-Brenner that reminded me a bit of Golden Door, the Italian film about immigrants coming to America, because it has similar production values and a sense of gravitas as the story is told through two storyline, one during the ’42 roundup as experienced by a young girl named Sarah who makes the deadly mistake of hiding her younger brother in the closet from the police, locking him in there. The other storyline takes place in modern-day with Kristin Scott Thomas playing a journalist writing a story on the genocide and learning that her own family has a connection to tate young girl.
What really makes the 1942 storyline so special is a fantastic performance by young French actress Melusine Mayance as the young girl who is herded into a cramped Paris stadium with her parents, but whose every waking thought is how she can escape to free her younger brother with the key she keeps with her at all times. She’s so good in her half of the movie, it’s almost a disappointment when the film cuts back to the present day storyline even with Kristin Scott Thomas giving another effortlessly terrific performance herself.
Once we learn of the boy’s fate, the film remains in present day as Kristin Scott Thomas’ character continues to investigate what happened to Sarah after she escaped, tracking down her family and eventually finding her grown-up son, played by Aidan Quinn, who doesn’t want to believe what his mother endured.
The film by does have its share of problems, particularly the ending which seems to go on for a very long time, as Thomas travels across the globe trying to get answers to her questions. This includes a completely needless epilogue that brings Quinn and Scott back together for one more scene. Otherwise, it’s a fairly decent drama about a little-known part of French history that may be a little melodramatic at times but offers solid storytelling one can easily see coming from literary roots.
Sarah’s Key opens in New York and L.A. on Friday.
The Myth of the American Sleepover (Sundance Selects)
Mini-Review (Coming Soon!)
It opens in New York at the Angelika Film Center on Friday.
Also in Limited Release:
Mike Cahill directed and co-wrote Another Earth (Fox Searchlight) with actress/producer Brit Marling, who also stars in the Sundance favorite as Rhoda Williams, a young woman who spent four years in jail after a drunk driving accident that killed the wife and son of a composer (William Mapother). Meanwhile, it’s been discovered that there’s an identical earth that has become visible and we’ve made contact to learn that it’s inhabited with identical beings as ourselves. It opens in New York and L.A. on Friday.
Review (Coming Soon!)
Opening at the Film Forum in New York On Wednesday is Vadim Jendrekyo’s documentary The Woman with the 5 Elephants (A Cinema Guild Release), which looks at the work of the late Svetlana Geier in translating Dostoyevsky’s literary works from Russian into German despite all sorts of obstacles.
Jenna Fischer from “The Office” stars in “King of Queens” roducer Michael J. Weithorn’s Long Island dramedy A Little Help (Freestyle Releasing) as dental hygienist Laura Pehlke who has hit difficult times when she thinks her husband Bob (Chris O’Donnell) is cheating on her, but when he dies suddenly, she gets pressure from her mother and sister to sue for medical malpractice. Meanwhile, her sister’s brother (Rob Benedict) is the only one who offers Laura a friendly ear. It opens in select cities on Friday.
Mini-Review: Fans of Jenna Fischer’s work on “The Office” have probably been hoping she would avoid the normal pitfalls of making the transition to film, but agreeing to appear in a movie this bad certainly won’t help matters.
She plays Laura, a dental hygienist and mother of a slightly dysfunctional 12-year-old named Dennis (Daniel Yelsky), who thinks her husband, played by Chris O’Donnell, is cheating on her. After she drunkenly confronts him, we’re back in the dentist’s office where she works and learn that her husband has died. The rest of the movie deals with how they cope with his death and a lot of other silliness which has nothing to do with that premise.
Fischer is so good on television one wonders why she gives such a lifeless performance here, creating a character so drab and uncharismatic, you wonder why anyone watching this might be even remotely interested in what’s going on in her life. By contrast, the best part of the movie is Rob Benedict as Paul, Laura’s brother in law who admits he has had a thing for her despite marrying her unpleasant sister, who insists Laura sue the doctors who diagnosed her husband before he died. To show how nonsensical the movie is, there’s an entire subplot about Paul’s son wanting to be a musician despite the disapproval of his mother and an equally pointless scene of him meeting doowopper Dion at his father’s radio station. That storyline goes nowhere and is immediately forgotten, then in another scene, Laura and her son are in a car singing along with another Dion song, again for no reason except that maybe the filmmaker is friends with the singer. We won’t even get into the absolutely offensive use as the 9/11 attacks as a plot device.
Maybe the fact that this is directed by a producer of “King of Queens” that makes this feel like such a bad TV sitcom pilot with so many disjointed parts that have no reason being in the same movie together, as if Weithorn decided to throw every single idea he’s had into one movie, knowing full well he’d never be given a chance to make another. The movie is all over the place and direction is so incompetent from beginning to end, it leaves you feeling as if you’ve wasted 104 minutes of your life.
“A Little Help” attempts to do dark comedy without being even remotely funny, and it’s a terrible story with deplorable characters. Maybe it’s no surprise it’s being self-distributed through Freestyle Releasing. As much as one might try to avoid the obvious by saying “A Little Help” could have used a lot of help, it’s doubtful that would have saved it from being one of the most incompetent movies we’ve seen this year. Rating: 3/10
The latest from Bollywood is Rohit Shetty’s Singham (Reliance BIG Pictures) starring Ajay Evgn as Inspector Bajiao Singham who fights against injustice as he’s pitting against a corrupt politician who is making his life in Jaykant Shikre a living hell. It opens in select cities.
Next week, the month of July comes to a close with Jon Favreau’s Cowboys & Aliens (DreamWorks/Universal), starring Daniel Craig and Harrison Ford, the big screen introduction of The Smurfs (Sony) and Steve Carell, Julianne Moore, Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone star in the romantic comedy Crazy, Stupid, Love. (Warner Bros.) Because we’ll be in San Diego for Comic-Con all weekend, next week’s column will probably be on the later side as well as shorter than usual.
Copyright 2011 Edward Douglas