Box Office Predictions: March 1-3

A busy weekend at theaters as four new pictures try to shake up a rather sluggish box office in which only Melissa McCarthy’s Identity Thief has broken out with moviegoers.

Bryan Singer’s Jack the Giant Slayer, a “reimagining” of the Jack and the Beanstalk fairy tale, was pushed back from its original June 2012 release date. The reason given was more time needed to work on visual effects. Singer has directed the well-received first two X-Men features, as well as the not-so well-received Superman Returns from 2006. With a huge $190 million dollar budget, Warner Bros. is taking quite a gamble here. It’s one that may not pay off. The picture’s trailers don’t seem to convey this as a “must-see” event and plenty of moviegoers may just wait until next weekend to see what appears to be 2013’s first real tentpole release, Oz the Great and Powerful. Anything below a $30 million opening would have to be considered disappointing and I suspect Slayer is headed in that direction.

Touting itself as from the writers of The Hangover is the R rated teen comedy 21 and Over. Shot on a puny $13 million budget, 21 and Over seems to have run a fairly effective marketing campaign and audiences might be ready for a raunchy comedy. On this very same weekend last year, a similar title (Project X) managed to exceed expectations and deliver a $21 million opening. There is even a small possibility 21 and Over could open #1 if Slayer falls far below expectations. An opening in the high teens for 21 seems likely, but it could tick up even higher.

Our next offering is The Last Exorcism Part II, the sequel to the successful 2010 original. This is another title looking to exceed expectations. I’m not so sure with this one, just like Slayer. While the original managed a truly impressive $20 million opening, it dropped fast. Audiences didn’t seem to particularly care for it, so the thought that they would be clamoring for a sequel seems unlikely. The second Exorcism may be lucky to open at half of  its predecessor’s gross. However, like most horror titles, it could surprise and deliver a much bigger opening than anticipated.

Last, and most certainly least, is Phantom. This submarine thriller, set in the 1960s, stars Ed Harris and David Duchovny. Inexplicably, it’s opening on a hefty 2,000 screens. This kind of movie has “made for TV” or “direct to DVD” written all over it. I have no idea how this got a major theatrical release. Expect it to post embarrassing numbers.

The three newbies talked about first should open 1-3. This leaves last weekend’s two top grossers, Identity Thief and Snitch, likely to round out the top five.

And with that, here are my box office predictions for the weekend:

1. Jack the Giant Slayer

Predicted Gross: $25.4 million

2. 21 and Over

Predicted Gross: $18 million

3. The Last Exorcism Part II

Predicted Gross: $10.6 million

4. Identity Thief

Predicted Gross: $8.2 million (representing a drop of 42%)

5. Snitch

Predicted Gross: $7.3 million (representing a drop of 45%)

Finally, I look for Phantom to open with a tiny $2.3 million.

Check back through the weekend as final numbers come in!

Movies You Might Not Know: Stephen King Edition

A more appropriate heading for this post could be Movies You Might Think Todd Is Crazy For Recommending.

The literary works of the great Stephen King has given us some classic films from 1976’s Carrie to 1980’s The Shining to 1990’s Misery to 1994’s The Shawshank Redemption. There’s also been major disappointments. Two pictures from 1993 immediately come to mind: The Dark Half and Needful Things. There’s a whole lot more from Arnold Schwarzenegger’s guilty pleasure The Running Man to that creepy clown played by Tim Curry in “Stephen King’s IT”, an effective and frightening TV movie.

Any self-described movie buff has those films that they seem to like, even though pretty much no one else seems to agree. One of those titles for me is undoubtedly 2003’s Dreamcatcher, based on King’s 2001 novel.

First off: I will readily admit Dreamcatcher is a mess of a film. Tonally it’s all over the map, switching from psychological drama to gross-out horror flick to alien invasion military thriller, sometimes from scene to scene.

There is a lot of talent involved here. The director is Lawrence Kasdan, who brought us The Big Chill and Silverado. He also co-wrote the screenplays to The Empire Strikes Back, Raiders of the Lost Ark, and Return of the Jedi. His co-writer here is William Goldman, writer of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Marathon Man, All the President’s Men, and The Princess Bride. And, once again, it’s based on a work by one of the world’s most celebrated novelists.

The cast includes Morgan Freeman, Tom Sizemore, Damian Lewis (Brody from “Homeland”!), Jason Lee, Thomas Jane, Timothy Olyphant, and Donnie Wahlberg.

With all the pedigree involved, audiences had a reasonable expectation that Dreamcatcher could join the pantheon of classic King adaptations. What audiences got is a movie that is just… well, way out there. Its plot involves a group of guys reuniting for their annual Maine hunting trip at a cabin when they encounter alien forces… including in one extremely disgusting and shocking bathroom scene. Turns out the group all became telepathic as young boys after they befriended a mentally challenged boy who also possessed similar abilities. It’s as strange as it sounds. When the alien forces who have infiltrated the cabin are revealed, the military moves in with Morgan Freeman playing a ruthless commander.

Just when you think Dreamcatcher can’t get more bizarre, it does. Consistently. And there is no doubt that moviegoers were probably completely blindsided by it. I know I was. Strangely enough, though, I totally dug it. I sincerely admired its go-for-broke attitude, even though it doesn’t always work. I found it quite entertaining.

Film goers did not respond positively. Dreamcatcher grossed a weak $33 million domestically and suffered a nearly 60% drop in its second weekend, indicating that audiences were not telling their friends to go see it.

Now, ten years later, I am telling my friends to go see it. You may resent me for it if you take me up on the offer. Or you might have the same positive reaction I did. That’s what movies are all about and that’s why I’m proud to recommend Dreamcatcher for your consideration.


Movies You Might Not Know: Matt Damon Edition

He might be Jason Bourne or Will Hunting to most moviegoers, but in my humble opinion, Matt Damon gave the performance of his career in an under appreciated 2009 feature that I highly recommend if it’s a Movie You Might Not Know.

Steven Soderbergh’s The Informant! give us one of those stories that’s so unbelievable, it must be true. Kind of like Argo, for an ultra timely reference. Damon plays Mark Whitacre, a corporate executive who becomes a famous whistle blower shedding light on his company’s price fixing activities. All the while he’s embezzling millions from that same company.

The depth of Whitacre’s illegal activities becomes more and more wild as the film moves along. Did he take $500,000? $1 million? $2 million? It keeps getting crazier and crazier as the FBI, who started out working with Mark, are simply dumbfounded by his actions.

Based on a true story, Soderbergh makes the choice to make The Informant! a comedy. It’s a decision that pays off. The script is razor sharp and filled with terrific supporting characters. They include Scott Bakula (Sam from “Quantum Leap”!) and Joel McHale (“The Soup”, “Community”, Ted) as the FBI partners tasked with unenviable job of working with Whitacre. Melanie Lynskey shines as Marc’s poor wife, who’s just as duped by him as everyone else. There’s also a great musical score by the late Marvin Hamlisch, who was honored at last night’s Oscars.

Ultimately, though, it is Damon’s often hilarious and sometimes touching portrayal of Whitacre that makes The Informant! a special movie. This is a guy who has serious issues, namely the fact that he simply can’t stop lying. Mr. Damon should have been nominated for Best Actor for his work here. I truly believe this a career-best performance.

The Informant! is one of those films that I’ve grown to like more and more with each viewing. It did not connect with audiences in 2009, grossing a meager $33 million. The film deserves a larger audience and if you haven’t seen it, do yourself a favor.


The 2012 Oscars: My Final Thoughts

After a whole lotta speculation on this here blog, the 2012 Oscars have come and gone. Soon enough, I’ll be speculating on what/who gets nominated for 2013 movies. That’s a little ways off, however, so let’s talk about the ceremony last night.

As far as the winners, no huge surprises. I went 15/20 on my picks (not bad). In the six major categories, it was 5 for 6. I picked Tommy Lee Jones to win for Lincoln, but the Academy honored Christoph Waltz for Django Unchained. As I mentioned before on the blog, this category was more wide open than many others and I saw Jones, Waltz, and De Niro as real possibilities to win. Needless to say, Mr. Waltz’s association with Mr. Tarantino has turned out quite well.

The precursor award ceremonies like the SAG and Golden Globe awards made it much easier to predict Argo for the win and that’s what happened. When I made that decision, it made it easier to predict Ang Lee would get honored for his achievements directing Life of Pi, with Argo director Ben Affleck not being nominated. The folks out there expressing shock that Lincoln and Spielberg didn’t win probably should have paid more attention to the precursors… in which the film and Mr. Spielberg pretty much got nothing. While the film and director weren’t victorious, Daniel Day-Lewis being honored was a foregone conclusion and he becomes the first to win Best Actor three times. Jennifer Lawrence for Silver Linings Playbook had gained the momentum in the last few weeks, giving her the edge over Jessica Chastain in Zero Dark Thirty. And Anne Hathaway, like Day-Lewis, was an obvious choice as she’d won every major precursor.

I was slightly surprised Brave won Best Animated Feature over Wreck-It Ralph, but lesson learned. Don’t bet against Pixar in that category. I also predicted Anna Karenina would win Production Design. Lincoln won. I picked up Skyfall for Sound Mixing and Les Miserables won. And I wrongly picked against Les Mis for Makeup/Hairstyling, incorrectly guessing The Hobbit. An interesting note in another race: I did correctly pick Skyfall for Sound Editing, but it actually tied with Zero Dark Thirty. That is the only the sixth time in 85 years of Oscars where a tie has occurred.

Interestingly, the six major categories were awarded to six different movies that were all nominees in the Best Picture race. This shows you more than anything else what a strong year 2012 was in the theaters.

As for the ceremony itself? Eh, it was decent. It went way longer than it should have, like it always does. Seth MacFarlane proved to be an adequate host. He was probably a bit tamer than some would have expected, but “edgy” and “Oscar host” usually doesn’t mix. I love David Letterman and Chris Rock, but they seemed a bit out of place when they handled hosting duties. There was nothing particularly memorable about MacFarlane in his hosting gig (let’s face it: it’s a thankless job). But he was pretty solid. If I was producing the Oscars, I’d have Jimmy Fallon and Justin Timberlake co-host. I think they’d be great.

The show’s focus on musicals produced a mixed bag. For me personally, there were probably a couple too many song and dance numbers. And I found it a strange choice to honor “the history” of musicals with Chicago, Dreamgirls, and Les Miserables, three films released in the past decade. I mean, Jennifer Hudson is a wonderful singer, but I seem to recall that same Oscar performance only six years ago. On the flip side, two terrific musical moments came from the James Bond franchise, with Shirley Bassey and Adele killing it with “Goldfinger” and “Skyfall”, respectively.

Some of the acceptance speeches were quite good. I’m particularly thinking of Mr. Day-Lewis and a clearly emotional Ben Affleck accepting Best Picture. And J-Law is just great!

All in all, the Oscars closed a chapter on a truly impressive year in film in satisfactory fashion.

We’re two months into 2013 and I think I can safely say none of next year’s Best Picture nominees have come out yet. Not even Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters.

Box Office Results: February 22-24

It was, as expected, a quiet week at the box office as Identity Thief returned to the #1 spot as two newcomers posted mediocre results.

Thief was back on top with a gross of $14 million, slightly below my $14.9M projection. The Rock’s action drama Snitch opened second with a soft $13.2 million, inches below my $13.3M estimate. At third, the animated Escape from Planet Earth with $10.7 million (I said $11.1M). A Good Day to Die Hard fell from 1st to 4th, dropping farther than I thought it would. The fifth installment in the franchise grossed $10.2 million in its second weekend, well below my $14.1M projection. Finally, the horror thriller Dark Skies was a big disappointment in sixth with $8.2 million, less than my $10.6M estimate.

Be sure to check back Wednesday for next weekend’s prediction, when Jack the Giant Slayer, The Last Exorcism Part II, 21 and Over, and Phantom all debut.

Historical Accuracy in Movies: Todd’s Take

This post could also be titled “One of Todd’s Biggest Pet Peeves with Other Moviegoers”.

Allow me to explain. Over the past year, we’ve seen a number of pictures based on historical events, some more recent and some much older. Quite a few are Best Picture nominees. Argo, centered on events during the Iranian Hostage crisis in 1979. Lincoln, focusing on the passage of the 13th amendment. Zero Dark Thirty, about the manhunt and raid to kill Osama Bin Laden. Even Django Unchained, which isn’t a true story but has self-appointed historians talking about its realism or non-realism during the slavery era in which it takes place.

There were biopics like Hitchcock, with Anthony Hopkins as the great director. And Hyde Park on Hudson, casting Bill Murray as President Franklin D. Roosevelt. This year, we’ll see Naomi Watts in a Princess Diana biopic. Also The Butler, about a White House caretaker who served eight Presidents.

Inevitably, these kinds of pictures serve as fodder for followers of those times to harp and complain about “historical inaccuracies”. This picking apart is often used as a convenient crutch to explain why one doesn’t care for a particular title: “I didn’t like Zero Dark Thirty because I don’t think that’s how detainees were tortured” or “They were certain politicians just as important to the 13th amendment in Lincoln that weren’t talked about”.

And, yes, this serves as one of my biggest pet peeves with other film fans. Why? I’ll explain my position. It’s pretty simple. It’s these three words. Read carefully: It’s a movie. 

It’s. A. Movie.

Even movies based on historical events are not meant to be documentaries. Why? Because those are called documentaries.

Let me repeat: Documentaries are supposed to be historically accurate. This is not required of movies.

Again: It’s. A. Movie.

To me, movies are meant to be judged on how well you liked it or not. How entertained you were. How thrilled you were. How funny it is. How moved you were. And so on and so forth.

The biggest examples with this pet peeve of mine occur when political opinion interferes with a movie watcher’s experience. Oliver Stone’s Nixon is a perfect example. Those on the right felt it was far too harsh on the President. Those on the left felt it didn’t hit the President hard enough. My opinion? Nixon is a terrific picture about a man whose demons get the best of him at the highest levels of power. It’s a fascinating portrait of someone who has the power to do nearly anything, but goes too far in pursuit of that power for small and unnecessary reasons.

Here’s the important thing: do I think everything in Nixon happened in “real life”? Of course not. Did the film change my personal opinion of Mr. Nixon? Not it did not. Why?

Because… It’s. A Movie. It’s Oliver Stone’s take on the Nixon presidency. And filmmakers have a right to make movies signifying… well, whatever the heck they want.

Films such as Michael Mann’s The Insider, about the cigarette companies misleading the public as to health risks, were criticized for some inaccuracies. In my mind, The Insider is one of the best films of the last 20 years. I could care less whether certain events happened in a particular order, etc…

I could go on and on. You get the idea. I respect everyone’s opinions when it comes to movies. What I don’t quite respect is being so nitpicky when it comes to pictures based on actual events. That’s not what movies are all about. Not to me, at least.

Movies You Might Not Know: Sylvester Stallone Edition

Rocky Balboa and Lando Calrissian as New York City cops battling the bad guy from Blade Runner!?!?!

Yep, it’s a movie and quite possibly one you haven’t heard of or seen. It’s 1981’s Nighthawks, a gritty crime thriller that is one of the best pictures of Sly Stallone’s career.

Stallone and Billy Dee Williams are tracking an international terrorist with dastardly plans, played by Rutger Hauer. Why this film didn’t connect with audiences in beyond me. Stallone was certainly popular at the time, but Nighthawks earned just $19 million upon release.

For fans of the action and crime movies genre, this is well worth seeking out. Especially if you only know Mr. Stallone as Rocky and Rambo.