This week at the movies prompts several questions. Will the latest Bond movie ("Casino Royale," starring Daniel Craig) leave pundits shaken and stirred? Can penguins learn to dance ("Happy Feet," featuring voice work by Elijah Wood, Nicole Kidman, and Robin Williams)? And can prison be fun ("Let’s Go to Prison," starring Dax Shepard)? Find out what the critics have to say!
"Batman Begins" heartily displayed the virtues of taking a moribund series back to basics by ditching the camp and placing its titular superhero in a more plausible, real-world context. With "Casino Royale," the Bond series has taken a similar no-nonsense approach, and critics say the result is a triumph. "Casino Royale" delves into the 007 creation myth; the early days of the suave secret agent find him a lot more haunted — and casually cruel — in ways only vaguely suggested in the previous 20 Bond pictures. But scribes also note the film is hardly morose, with enough exciting action and in-jokes to please the diehards. Some even go so far as to say that Daniel Craig is the best Bond since Sean Connery. At 95 percent on the Tomatometer, "Casino Royale" has the Midas touch; it’s not only Certified Fresh, it’s also the best reviewed wide release of the year (although it’s still a cut below "Dr. No" at 100 percent).
For those of you whose cinematic appetite for flightless fowl was left unsatiated by "March of the Penguins," we’ve got good news. Featuring motion-capture dancing by Savion Glover and an eco-friendly message, "Happy Feet" is winning praise from critics for its sharp animation and rousing soundtrack. The film tells the story of a young penguin named Mumble (voiced by Elijah Wood) who’s gotta dance when all the others Emperors gotta sing. At 80 percent on the Tomatometer, "Happy Feet" is the best reviewed animated feature of the year.
"Let’s Go to Prison" was not screened for critics, which means it’s unlikely to join the list of timeless jailhouse classics that includes "Cool Hand Luke," "The Shawshank Redemption," and "Caged Heat II: Stripped of Freedom." So kids, it’s time to call up your parole officer to get some help Guessing that Tomatometer.
Also opening this week in limited release: "Who the $#%& is Jackson Pollock?, a documentary about the battle to verify what could be a painting by the famed abstract expressionist, is at 100 percent on the Tomatometer; "Flannel Pajamas," an indie about the deterioration of a longstanding relationship, is at 80 percent; the Argentine thriller "The Aura" is at 80 percent; the zero-budget teen indie "Dance Party, USA" is at 80 percent; the drug addiction drama "Candy," starring Heath Ledger and Abbie Cornish, is at 65 percent; "Fast Food Nation," Richard Linklater‘s fictional multi-plotline treatment of the muckraking bestseller, is at 60 percent (read RT’s interview with cast and crew members here); Emilio Estevez‘s "Bobby," an Altman-esque tale of the night of Robert Kennedy’s assassination starring half the population of California, is at 56 percent; the Hollywood-skewering "For Your Consideration," Christopher Guest‘s latest ensemble comedy, is at 56 percent; and the Quay Brothers’ twisted fairytale "The Piano Tuner of Earthquakes" is at 50 percent.
And finally, props to dreday, who came the closest to guessing "The Return"’s Tomatometer of 13 percent. Everybody’s celebratin.’
There was no stopping the Kazakh sensation Borat which expanded nationally this weekend after a stunning debut and remained at the top of the North American box office once again.
In fact, the top three spots remained unchanged as ticket buyers ignored most of the new offerings aimed at them this weekend. Will Ferrell‘s new comedy Stranger Than Fiction posted a respectable opening, but Hollywood stars Russell Crowe and Sarah Michelle Gellar suffered some of the worst openings of their careers this weekend as their new films, A Good Year and The Return respectively, were both dead on arrival. The overall marketplace struggled to keep pace with previous years as for the first time since 1997, the first half of November failed to deliver a single film with a weekend gross of at least $30M.
Borat crushed its competitors for a second straight weekend as the raunchy docu-comedy expanded from 837 to 2,566 theaters and grossed a stellar $29M, according to studio estimates. By more than tripling its theater count, Fox put its hit into full nationwide release and actually saw its three-day take climb 10% over the debut frame. Borat’s per-theater average understandably dropped by two-thirds this weekend to a still strong $11,302. The ten-day cume stands at an amazing $67.8M and at its current pace, the $18M movie-film could find its way to the $140M mark from the domestic market alone.
Thanks to a wave of media hype this fall, the Sacha Baron Cohen creation has become a national phenomenon and is already make benefit from glorious word-of-mouth and repeat business, according to the studio. Holdover theaters witnessed drops of about 30% from last weekend which is encouraging as it moves forward to fight off James Bond and other holiday pics armed with a war chest full of marketing dollars. Borat has become the first film to spend back-to-back weekends at number one since the football drama Invincible which opened in August, and has generated the best ten-day start of any movie since the Will Ferrell blockbuster Talladega Nights which also co-starred Cohen. Both comedies saw their main stars appearing on talk shows in-character to generate publicity.
Holding steady in the runnerup spot was Disney’s Christmas flick The Santa Clause 3 which dipped only 13% to an estimated $16.9M. After ten days, the Tim Allen sequel has grossed $41.1M putting it behind the pace of the last installment in the franchise. In 2002, The Santa Clause 2 also bowed on the first weekend of November and dropped 15% to $24.7M in its sophomore session. Its ten-day cume of $60M repped 43% of its eventual $139.2M gross. Clause 3 looks to be on course to erode at a similar pace which would allow it to reach the vicinity of $90M.
Also staying put for a second weekend was the animated comedy Flushed Away which remained in third place with an estimated $16.7M. Off only 11%, the Paramount release has upped its cume to $39.9M and remains just a step behind Santa. With better buzz and a slightly slimmer decline, Flushed could also reach the same region and conclude its run near the $90M level.
Santa and Flushed opened last weekend and split the family audience almost evenly with only a $700,000 difference in their weekend debuts. This frame, the gap was cut down to only $200,000. Per-theater averages were also close with Santa averaging $4,885 from 3,458 and Flushed averaging $4,508 from 3,707 sites. But both films will face stiff competition on Friday when Warner Bros. goes after the exact same crowd with its heavily-hyped penguin toon Happy Feet which has been backed by a sizable marketing push.
Will Ferrell‘s newest comedy Stranger Than Fiction led the frame’s new releases and bowed in fourth place with an estimated $14.1M from 2,264 theaters. Averaging a solid $6,228, the PG-13 film about a man who discovers his life is being narrated by an author earned good reviews and co-starred Emma Thompson, Dustin Hoffman, and Maggie Gyllenhaal. The production budget for the Sony release was under $30M. According to studio data, Fiction’s audience was 55% female while 53% were under 30. As a smart comedy aimed at young adults, the film did not open like Ferrell’s bigger smashes like Talladega Nights ($47M), but it does hope to have good legs.
The horror sequel Saw III fell hard once again dropping 55% in its third weekend to an estimated $6.6M pushing the 17-day cume to $69.9M. The third installment in the popular torture franchise is running a bit behind the pace of last year’s Saw II which enjoyed a third-weekend take of $9.1M for a total of $73.9M over the same number of days.
After two successful weeks in limited release, Paramount Vantage’s cross-continent drama Babel expanded nationally to mixed results with an estimated $5.7M. The Brad Pitt–Cate Blanchett pic averaged a decent $4,517 from 1,251 locations and raised its sum to $7.5M. Last weekend, Babel grossed just under $1M from 35 theaters for a potent $26,264 average, but arthouse films don’t always remain powerful after expanding into all regions of North America.
Martin Scorsese‘s The Departed took in an estimated $5.2M in its sixth mission, down 32%, giving Warner Bros. $109.8M to date. With $58M overseas, the Leonardo DiCaprio–Matt Damon cop drama sits at more than $168M worldwide and counting. Opening close behind in eighth place was the horror pic The Return with an estimated $4.8M from 1,986 theaters for a weak $2,405 average. For Sarah Michelle Gellar, the PG-13 film’s debut represented her second worst opening ever in a lead role after 1999’s Simply Irresistible with $2.2M. Focus Features was the distributor.
The magician pic The Prestige followed with an estimated $4.6M, off 38%, for a $46M cume to date for Buena Vista. Like Gellar, Russell Crowe also bombed with his new entry. The romantic comedy A Good Year bowed to just $3.8M, according to estimates, averaging a poor $1,827 per theater from 2,066 sites. Fox’s PG-13 pic barely entered the top ten as Crowe suffered his worst opening since Mystery, Alaska‘s $3.1M launch in 1999. Like so many other fall films targeting mature adults, Year just did not have room to breathe and flopped instantly. Poor reviews also hurt the Ridley Scott-directed picture which played mostly to older women.
Another new release that failed to excite paying customers was MGM’s action thriller Harsh Times which debuted outside of the top ten with an estimated $1.8M from 956 locations. Averaging a sluggish $1,913 per site, the R-rated pic finds Christian Bale playing a bad cop on the streets of South Central.
Four films dropped out of the top ten this weekend. Clint Eastwood‘s war saga Flags of Our Fathers grossed an estimated $2.8M falling 36% in its fourth attack. The $90M Paramount release has amassed only $31M to date and looks headed for an underwhelming $38-40M finish. Miramax’s awards contender The Queen continued to expand, but faced the first weekend decline of its seven-week run. The Helen Mirren film collected an estimated $2.6M from 484 venues for a decent $5,372 average. The Queen was playing in 387 theaters last week and bumped its cume to $13.8M while its average declined by 29%.
Sony’s hit toon Open Season tumbled 53% to an estimated $1.4M. With $83.5M in the bank, the $85M film should end its season with around $86M. Just a week away from giving audiences a dual voice role in the Warner Bros. toon Happy Feet, funnyman Robin Williams saw his political comedy Man of the Year pass the $36M mark. A final tally of just under $40M seems likely for the not-so-stellar Universal title.
The top ten films grossed an estimated $107.4M which was dead even with last year when Chicken Little remained at number one with $31.7M; and down 18% from 2004 when The Incredibles stayed in the top spot with $50.3M.
Author: Gitesh Pandya, www.BoxOfficeGuru.com
This weekend, multiplexes hope to cram in lots of moviegoers thanks to a wide selection of new films. Six movies open or expand nationally on Friday making for what will be one of the most competitive weekends of the holiday season.
Adult audiences looking for a laugh can see Will Ferrell in a more mature role in "Stranger Than Fiction." The female vote will be split with daughters going for a scare with Sarah Michelle Gellar in "The Return" while their mothers can spend the evening with Russell Crowe in the romantic comedy "A Good Year." The action flick "Harsh Times" rounds out the menu of new releases targeting young men.
In addition, the cross-continent drama "Babel" expands across the country after two weeks of stellar results in limited release. Despite all the new opponents entering the field, reigning box office incumbent "Borat" will go fully national in an attempt to be re-elected for a second term as commander-in-chief. Rarely does a November weekend have so many new offerings. The fight for screens and moviegoer attention will be fierce. Not every film will survive so some casualties will be left behind on the battlefield by the end of the frame.
After battling Sacha Baron Cohen with race cars last summer in "Talladega Nights," Will Ferrell once again takes on the British comedian at the box office with "Stranger Than Fiction" which will try to stop the seemingly unstoppable "Borat" machine. In the PG-13 film, the funnyman plays an agent with the IRS who begins to hear a voice narrating his life and his every move. Emma Thompson provides the voice while Maggie Gyllenhaal, Dustin Hoffman, and Queen Latifah co-star. Directed by Marc Forster ("Finding Neverland," "Monster’s Ball"), "Stranger" takes an A-list comedian and puts him in a more mature and serious film that still has some comedic elements. That means that the 14-year-old boys who powered "Talladega Nights" to a $47M opening will take a pass this time around.
When Jim Carrey went arthouse, he saw "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" open to $8.2M with a $6,042 average and "Man on the Moon" bow to $7.5M with a $3,615 average. Adam Sandler‘s "Spanglish" debuted to $8.8M and a $3,617 average. It can often be a tough sell to take a comedian known mostly for mainstream comedies and put him into a more mature film, even if it still has laughs. "Stranger Than Fiction" might find it difficult to pull in teens and young adults, but mature adults will have interest. Reviews have been generally good and the concept makes the film stand out in the current marketplace. Competition for adults will come from both "Babel" and "A Good Year" while "Borat" will continue to steal away millions of moviegoers looking for a good laugh. Launching in 2,264 theaters, "Stranger Than Fiction" might open with roughly $16M.
Halloween may have passed but those in search of a scare, and were disappointed that "The Grudge 2" did not have Sarah Michelle Gellar in a full role, will have a chance to see their favorite vampire slayer in the new supernatural thriller "The Return." With a commercially friendly PG-13 rating, the spookfest finds Gellar playing a young businesswoman guided by mysterious forces to avenge her own death from a previous life. In the horror genre, Gellar is a bonafide star and can pull in teens and young adults. But with so many fright sequels cramming into theaters recently during the pre-pumpkin period, many genre fans might be all scared out by now. Luckily for "The Return," competition will not be too fierce as nothing else is exciting teenage girls at the moment. The marketing push has been decent, but in many ways it does not stand out as something special or unique that is worth seeing right away. Opening in 1,986 theaters, "The Return" might gross around $8M over the weekend.
Russell Crowe reteams with his "Gladiator" director Ridley Scott for a trip to a new genre (romantic comedy) in "A Good Year." The PG-13 film finds the former Maximus playing a financial guru who finds women and wine at a french vineyard he inherits. Talk about a tough sell. On paper, the Scott-Crowe combo is box office gold, only they chose to try out a type of film that will repel fans who spent $187.7M on the 2000 Best Picture Oscar winner. Plus the Fox release has no notable female star to boost its potential. Add to that the bad buzz that "Year" received at the Toronto Film Festival plus the mostly negative reviews from critics, and it surely will have its work cut out for it. Could this be "All the King’s Men" all over again?
"A Good Year" stands as that rare film which reunites an Oscar-caliber director with an Oscar-winning actor that earns bad reviews and lukewarm studio support. Crowe’s last film "Cinderella Man" bowed to $18.3M from 2,812 theaters for a $6,515 average in June of last year and was considered an underperformer. The actor’s latest picture lacks the Ron Howard film’s strong critical support, added starpower from Renee Zellweger, and sizable push from Universal. "A Good Year" should play mostly to adult female audiences as the male appeal is low. That makes "Babel" and "Stranger Than Fiction," which have better cross-gender appeal, direct competitors this weekend for mature couples. Opening in 2,066 theaters, "A Good Year" could find itself with about $8M this weekend and a rough road ahead.
Still in the top ten with "The Prestige," Christian Bale comes back for double duty in the new action thriller "Harsh Times" from MGM. The R-rated film from the writer of "Training Day" finds the Caped Crusader playing an ex-Army Ranger enlisting with the LAPD who still has ties into the crime world in South Central. "Harsh" will play to urban audiences and should skew male but will find the marketplace difficult to navigate with bigger titles like "Borat" and "Saw III" already doing strong business with that demo. Bale lacks the drawing power of Denzel Washington in his Oscar-winning role in "Training Day" so the grosses should not be in the same ballpark. A moderate national release in over 900 theaters will also limit the potential. "Harsh Times" will have to fight hard in order to crack the top ten and could finish the frame with around $3M.
Among holdovers, all eyes will be on "Borat" this weekend. Can the Kazakh superstar spend another weekend at number one? Following its robust $26.5M bow from 837 theaters, the Sacha Baron Cohen starrer has delivered solid midweek results grossing over $3M on both Monday and Tuesday. Now, Fox will expand the raunchy comedy on Friday by more than tripling the run to 2,565 theaters allowing everyone to have easy access to the most-talked-about film of the season. Word-of-mouth has been encouraging and "Borat" might even reach the Holy Grail of the box office – repeat business.
Last weekend’s potent average of $31,607 will certainly come crashing down since the film will be in more theaters and most of the hardcore fans have now already seen it. But the buzz is still hot and the Uzbekistan-hating TV journalist is now trying to crossover into new audience segments not initially sold on the concept last week. With the frame’s new films all a mixed bag without a surefire smash among them, "Borat" looks ready to retain its hold on the number one spot. A weekend gross of around $24M could result giving Fox a stellar $62M in only ten days.
Another cross-cultural film with a five-letter title starting with a B expanding over the weekend is "Babel" starring Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett. Paramount Vantage has attracted scorching results in limited release for two weeks and is now hoping that moviegoers nationwide are ready for the acclaimed drama. Last weekend, "Babel" popped into the Top 20 with a stellar $26,264 average from 35 locations. On Friday, the R-rated film expands to over 1,200 sites and should continue to play to an upscale adult audience.
"Babel" is likely to play to the same crowd that powered last December’s "Syriana" to a $11.7M bow from 1,752 theaters for a $6,699 average. That film had more theaters and a star, George Clooney, who is despised by many American moviegoers for his political beliefs. On the other hand, Pitt can cheat on his wife and father a baby with another woman, and the public still can’t get enough of him. That’s pure starpower. But "Babel" is not the type of commercial role that Pitt attracts large crowds to. Still, the average should be solid so given its level of distribution, "Babel" could gross about $10M this weekend.
Disney and Paramount went head to head last weekend with competing kidpics and split the family vote in half pretty evenly. "Flushed Away" is getting better word-of-mouth and is offering audiences something new so its decline might be smaller than that of "The Santa Clause 3." Kid movies opening in early November typically have good legs and enjoy strong second weekend holds. Sophomore drops for recent films of the genre include 21% for last year’s "Chicken Little," 29% for 2004’s "The Incredibles," 15% for 2003’s "Elf," and 15% for 2002’s "The Santa Clause 2." This weekend, "Clause 3" might drop by 25% and "Flushed" could wash away 20% leaving each with a three-day tally in the neighborhood of $15M. That would push ten-day cumes to roughly $39M a piece for the Mouse House pic and the rat toon.
LAST YEAR: Disney’s poultry toon "Chicken Little" stayed at number one for a second weekend with an impressive $31.7M. Three new releases followed within a tight range. Sony’s big-budget kidpic "Zathura" bowed in second with $13.4M on its way to a disappointing $28.2M. Jennifer Aniston was close behind with her thriller "Derailed" which opened to $12.2M. The Weinstein Co. release went on to gross a moderate $36M. Paramount’s urban action pic "Get Rich or Die Tryin’" debuted in fourth place with a $12M weekend and $17.7M over five days. The 50 Cent starrer finished its run with $31M. Rounding out the top five was the military drama "Jarhead" which tumbled 58% to $11.7M. Premiering to sensational results was the period film "Pride & Prejudice" which grossed $2.9M from only 215 theaters for a sizzling $13,326 average. The Focus release went on to become an awards contender and took in $38.4M making it the top-grossing pic among the weekend’s new films.
Author: Gitesh Pandya, www.BoxOfficeGuru.com
This week at the movies, we ve got a rom-com in Provence ("A Good Year," starring Russell Crowe), a guy whose life is a novel ("Stranger than Fiction," starring Will Ferrell), interconnected tales of despair ("Babel," starring Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett), a tough homecoming ("Harsh Times," starring Christian Bale), and supernatural visions ("The Return," starring Sarah Michelle Gellar). What do the critics say?
"Stranger than Fiction" is a movie about a guy named Harold Crick (Will Ferrell) who discovers that his life is being narrated and controlled by a bitter, brilliant novelist (Emma Thompson) who intends to do him in. As a result, Crick tries to turn the tables and reclaim his own life story. Sounds totally meta, huh? Well, critics generally say this is one head trip that won’t trip you up, thanks to warm performances and an agreeably kooky (and not over-heady) script. At 68 percent on the Tomatometer, it’s a fact that "Fiction" is Fresh.
"Guess how much I liked ‘Mystery, Alaska.’"
There’s a new movie out called "A Good Year" that’s being described as "Under the Tuscan Sun" with a guy in the main role. Even weirder, it’s from the ultra-macho team of Ridley Scott and Russell Crowe — y’know, the dudes who brought you "Gladiator." Perhaps it isn’t much of a surprise that the critics are finding this pairing of filmmakers and material doesn’t totally work. Crowe stars as an arrogant, hyper-competitive London banker who inherits a house in Provence; laughs, love and life-lessons ensue. The scribes give Crowe and Scott props for trying to stretch, but unfortunately, they also say the film is working way too hard to be whimsical. At 29 percent on the Tomatometer, this "Year" isn’t looking so…. well, you get the idea.
"Babel" is a story of a shot heard ’round the world. A boy in Morocco unintentionally shoots an American tourist, and the ramifications of his mistake are felt in the U.S., Mexico, and Japan. Critics are praising Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu‘s latest as an elaborate, stylistically deft emotional juggling act, with fine performances from Brad Pitt, Cate Blanchett, and particularly Rinko Kikuchi as a deaf teenager trying to make her way in the world. If there is a complaint from the scribes, it’s that "Babel" may be overly ambitious, but most concede that it’s ambition of a high order. At 73 percent on the Tomatometer, "Babel" is Certified Fresh.
"I suggest you stop killing people; it’s doing a number on your cholesterol."
"Harsh Times" is not a movie with a misleading title. However, critics are split on whether this dark, intense story of an Iraq war vet returning home is ultimately rewarding. "Harsh Times" stars Christian Bale as a man consumed by his memories of war; as he tries to integrate back into society, he finds it impossible to suppress his violent impulses. Some critics have praised "Harsh Times" for its performances and intensity, but others say it’s too relentlessly grim and brutal to really be worthwhile. "Harsh Times" currently stands at 52 percent on the Tomatometer.
"To tell you the truth, I’ve been listening to a lot of Prince lately."
Also opening this week in limited release: the Mongolian import "The Cave of the Yellow Dog," featuring breathtaking scenery as well as cute kids and adorable doggies, is at 100 percent on the Tomatometer; "Iraq in Fragments," a structurally adventurous documentary about the state of Iraq, is at 82 percent; "Cautiva," an Argentine film coming-of-age tale about an uprooted teenager, is at 80 percent; "Come Early Morning," a tale of Southern small-town life starring Ashley Judd, is at 65 percent; "F***," an examination of the English language’s naughtiest word, is at 50 percent; "Fur: An Imaginary Portrait of Diane Arbus," starring Nicole Kidman as the gifted but troubled photographer, is at 33 percent; and the historical fiction "Copying Beethoven," about the great composer’s relationship with a copyist, is at 27 percent.
Recent Russell Crowe Movies:
81% — Cinderella Man (2005)
85% — Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World (2003)
78% — A Beautiful Mind (2001)
40% — Proof of Life (2000)
78% — Gladiator (2000)
Recent Will Ferrell Movies:
72% — Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby (2006)
41% — Winter Passing (2006)
70% — Curious George (2006)
52% — The Producers (2005)
24% — Bewitched (2005)
Y’know that movie where Sarah Michelle Gellar deals with creepy otherworldly spookiness? Well here’s another one, only this time she has dark hair instead of blonde.
Trailer’s right here.
Synopsis: "Joanna Mills is a tough young Midwesterner determined to learn the truth behind the increasingly terrifying supernatural visions that have been haunting her. She has made a successful career for herself, as sales representative for a trucking company; but her private life has been difficult. Estranged from her father, stalked by an obsessed ex-boyfriend, and with few friends in her life, Joanna fears that she is losing control. She sees and feels the brutal murder of a young woman she’s never met, at the hands of a heartless killer–a man who appears to be making Joanna his next target. Determined to fight back, Joanna is guided by her nightmares to the murdered woman’s hometown. Once there, she will discover that some secrets can’t be buried; some spirits never die; and that the murder she is trying to solve may be her own."
Tell the truth: Did you actually read that whole synopsis or did you just skim it?
"The Return" opens on November 10th.