This week at the movies, we’ve got mother/daughter conflict ("Because I Said So," starring Diane Keaton and Mandy Moore) and dark proceedings on a North Dakota sunflower farm ("The Messengers," starring Dylan McDermott and Penelope Ann Miller). What do the critics have to say?

Diane Keaton is one of America’s finest actresses, and Mandy Moore has continued to emerge as an engaging cinematic presence. Thus, critics say it’s especially disappointing that "Because I Said So," a dramedy about the dating woes of a mother and daughter, is so derivative. Keaton stars as a mom who is overly involved in Moore’s love life, in the hopes of helping her avoid past mistakes. The pundits say the actors in "Because" do the best they can with the material, which isn’t much, since the script is slight and shrill. At eight percent on the Tomatometer, the critics are saying to stay away from this one just "Because."


The eight percent tomatometer came as a shock.

The folks behind "The Messengers" are sending a missive to audiences by not screening the film for critics. The message is this: the movie probably isn’t any good. Directed by the Pang brothers, the film stars Dylan McDermott and Penelope Ann Miller as a couple whose children see dead people; evil goings-on ensue. Memo to readers: Guess that Tomatometer!


"I see…film critics!"

Also opening this week in limited release: "East of Havana," a documentary about young rap artists in Cuba, is at 100 percent; "An Unreasonable Man," a documentary about Ralph Nader‘s tumultuous career, is at 91 percent on the Tomatometer; "Fired!" a comedic meditation on the nature of getting sacked, is at 75 percent; "In The Pit," a Mexican documentary about freeway builders, is at 57 percent; "Puccini for Beginners," a screwball love-triangle comedy starring Gretchen Mol, is at 36 percent; "The Situation," a multifaceted look at the U.S. occupation of Iraq starring Connie Nielsen, is at 36 percent; and “Constellation,” a story of familial togetherness, is at zero percent.


"An Unreasonble Man" is good for consumers.

And finally, it’s time to dole out congrats to those clairvoyant souls who correctly guessed last week’s Tomatometers for "Epic Movie" and "Blood and Chocolate." To sir_mcchris_the_pirate, we say, "yo-ho-ho and a bottle of props" for correctly guessing "Epic"’s three percent. And a "bow-wow-wow-yippie-yo-yippie-yay" to the one and only dreday, on a Tomatometer-guessing spree; the good doctor correctly estimated "Blood"’s eight percent.

Recent Diane Keaton Movies:
————————————-
53% — The Family Stone (2005)
69% — Something’s Gotta Give (2003)
13% — Town and Country (2001)
11% — Hanging Up (2000)
32% — The Other Sister (1999)

Recent Mandy Moore Movies:
—————————————
41% — American Dreamz (2006)
45% — Romance and Cigarettes (2006)
67% — Brother Bear 2 (2006)
34% — Racing Stripes (2005)
60% — Saved! (2004)

Films Not Screened for Critics in 2007
———————————————-
3% — Epic Movie
8% — Blood and Chocolate
22% — The Hitcher
16% — Primeval

Proving that there’s always money in spoof comedies, Fox’s "Epic Movie" shot straight to number one over the weekend in its debut frame beating out three other new releases plus a handful of expanding Academy Award contenders. In fact, the immature laugher outgrossed all five Oscar nominees for best picture combined.

The crime drama "Smokin’ Aces" and the Jennifer Garner dramedy "Catch and Release" both enjoyed good results in their opening weekends, however the new horror flick "Blood and Chocolate" failed to even make the top ten. Most holdovers remained strong as the overall marketplace bounced back from last weekend’s dismal results.

Matching the numbers it posted a year ago with "Date Movie," Fox struck again with "Epic Movie" which topped the charts with an estimated $19.2M from 2,801 theaters. The PG-13 film lampooned several recent box office action hits and averaged a solid $6,855 per site. "Date Movie" skewered numerous romantic comedies and bowed to a similar $19.1M last February over the three-day portion of the Presidents’ Day holiday weekend. Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer, whose writing credits include "Date Movie," "Spy Hard," and the entire "Scary Movie" series, wrote and directed "Epic." Teenagers made up a large portion of the audience and both genders were well-represented. Critics who did bother to review it trashed the film.


"Epic Movie": 0 percent Tomatometer, $19 million opening

Opening in second place with impressive results and similar per-theater success was Universal’s mob thriller "Smokin’ Aces" with an estimated $14.3M from 2,218 locations. Averaging a commendable $6,430 per site, the frame’s only new R-rated pic connected with young men as its primary audience. According to studio research, 59% of the audience was male and 57% was 25 or older. "Smokin’" stars Jeremy Piven, Andy Garcia, and Alicia Keys and cost less than $20M to produce which should make it a profitable venture when all worldwide rights are exploited. The film also opened at number one in Russia this weekend with $1.7M and has grossed an additional $5.3M from the United Kingdom after its third weekend.


Alicia Keys, in her big-screen debut

The unstoppable blockbuster comedy "Night at the Museum" enjoyed yet another small decline sliding only 21% in its sixth weekend to an estimated $9.5M. The Ben StillerRobin Williams smash has pumped its cume up to $216.7M and will soon join the top 50 domestic blockbusters of all-time.

Jennifer Garner generated respectable results for her latest film "Catch and Release" which was not given a very wide release, but still sold an estimated $8M in ticket stubs. Averaging a solid $4,932 from 1,622 playdates, the PG-13 film about a woman rebuilding her life after her husband’s death played heavily female. According to Sony’s research, an overwhelming 75% of the crowd consisted of women and 58% was 25 or older. "Catch" cost $25M to produce and opened smaller than her previous headlining efforts "13 Going on 30" ($21.1M in 2004) and "Elektra" ($12.8M in 2005). Reviews were mostly negative.


"Catch and Release": At 22 percent, it’s better than "Elektra"

Sony’s "Stomp the Yard," 2007’s top-grossing new release, slipped only 37% and took fifth with an estimated $7.8M. Total stands at an impressive $50.7M.

A quartet of Oscar-nominated films followed. Paramount’s musical "Dreamgirls," which led all films with eight Academy Award nominations, expanded from 2,214 to 2,785 sites and grossed an estimated $6.6M. That represented a slim 17% drop in sales from last weekend but a steeper 34% fall in the per-theater average which was $2,376. Cume to date is $86.7M. Despite not earning a best picture nomination, "Dreamgirls" is still holding up well and posting relatively low declines.


"And You, And You, And You…You’re Gonna Snub Me"

Also showing durability was Will Smith‘s "The Pursuit of Happyness" which earned the box office star an Academy nod for best actor. The Sony blockbuster dipped only 21% to an estimated $5M pushing its sum to $152.9M. "Pursuit" did not have any expansion, but instead lost 378 theaters and still witnessed a decline similar to that of "Dreamgirls" which scored many more Oscar nominations and added hundreds of playdates to its run.

The fantasy tale "Pan’s Labyrinth" widened from 609 to 823 sites and grossed an estimated $4.5M equaling its gross from last weekend. Nominated in six different categories, the Mexican film saw its per-theater average dip 26% from last weekend to a still-solid $5,474. Total is $16.3M for the Picturehouse release.

"The Queen" saw a healthy bump in sales and ranked ninth for the weekend with an estimated $4M, up 18%, for a $41.2M sum to date. Miramax added 244 additional venues and saw its average inch up 2% to $2,186.

Rounding out the top ten was a film that has approximately zero chance of earning any Academy Award nominations a year from now. The horror film "The Hitcher" tumbled 54% in its second weekend to an estimated $3.6M giving Focus only $13.4M to date. A $16-18M final seems likely.

Opening poorly outside of the top ten was yet another horror film, the werewolf thriller "Blood and Chocolate," which bowed to only $2.1M according to estimates. The PG-13 film attacked 1,200 theaters and averaged a weak $1,753 per venue for MGM.

With last Tuesday’s Academy Award nominations putting several films into the media spotlight, distributors took the opportunity to expand their contenders and saw increased weekend grosses, even though averages were mostly not very impressive. Best picture candidate "The Departed," which was near the end of its theatrical run after opening in early October, went back into national release and grossed an estimated $3M. Averaging $2,096 per site in 1,453 locations, the Martin Scorsese crime saga upped its cume to $124.9M. Its best picture rival "Babel" widened to 1,090 playdates and grossed an estimated $2.6M for a $2,368 average. Sales were up 25% from last weekend while the average inched up 2% with the total reaching $27.2M.

Clint Eastwood‘s "Letters From Iwo Jima," which has been holding back much of its release in anticipation of Oscar nods, added 55 theaters to its run and surged 26% to an estimated $1.7M. The Warner Bros. release averaged a decent but not spectacular $4,120 from 415 locations. The average increased a healthy 9% from last weekend and the subtitled film has collected $4.9M to date as "Letters" remained the lowest-grossing best picture nominee by far. But much potential could still be ahead of it.

Among films with high profile acting nominations, Fox Searchlight’s "Notes on a Scandal" more than tripled its run to 640 theaters and grossed an estimated $2.5M as the weekend take doubled. The Judi DenchCate Blanchett pic averaged $3,978 per playdate and has taken in $9M thus far. The distributor’s Forest Whitaker drama "The Last King of Scotland" remained mostly steady with its theater count and saw its gross inch up 3% to an estimated $1.7M for a $7.7M total. Sony Classics more than quadrupled the run of Penelope Cruz‘s "Volver" and took in an estimated $1.2M from 689 sites. The average was diluted down to just $1,671 as the total climbed to $8.9M.

The industry often looks at a film’s box office boost on the weekend after Academy Award nominations are announced to determine how much gold an Oscar nod is worth. But what is often overlooked is the additional marketing and distribution expense that is invested by a distributor to create new marketing materials, buy more advertising, and ship extra prints out across the country. Expanding these films in a crowded marketplace is not cheap, but studios do believe that there are long-term benefits to be gained by the added attention like extra momentum in overseas and video markets, plus possibly some added votes from Academy members. In addition, it is difficult to separate the sales that are due directly to the Oscar attention from those that would have occured anyway even if no nominations came through.

Three films dropped out of the top ten over the weekend. Paramount’s high school drama "Freedom Writers" dipped 33% to an estimated $3.5M in its fourth session. The Hilary Swank pic has grossed a respectable $31.3M to date and should finish with about $36-38M. The MGM family release "Arthur and the Invisibles" dropped 46% to an estimated $1.7M for a $11.5M cume. A disappointing $14M final seems likely.

Universal’s futuristic drama "Children of Men" scored three Oscar nominations, but it meant little to its ticket sales. The R-rated drama fell 46% to an estimated $2M lifting the sum to $30.7M. The Alfonso Cuaron-directed film should conclude with around $35M.

The top ten films grossed an estimated $82.4M which was down 12% from last year when "Big Momma’s House 2" opened at number one with $27.7M; and down 16% from 2005 when "Hide and Seek" debuted on top with $22M.

Author: Gitesh Pandya, www.BoxOfficeGuru.com

A quartet of poorly-titled films will hit the multiplexes on Friday hoping to grab some business opposite a string of acclaimed releases fresh from earning their Oscar nominations.

Leading the newcomers with the most theaters is the spoof comedy "Epic Movie" which goes head to head against the crime drama "Smokin’ Aces." Horror fans get the werewolf pic "Blood and Chocolate" while those who prefer non-violence get the Jennifer Garner drama "Catch and Release."

Fox tries to tap into the immature crowd with its new comedy "Epic Movie" which spoofs many of the big-budget action and fantasy blockbusters of recent years. The "Scary Movie" series has ushered in more spoof flicks and Fox even saw solid results a year ago with its "Date Movie" which lampooned popular romantic comedies. That film bowed to $19.1M and found its way to $48.5M. Fans may be getting a little sick of the same template over and over again so the opening may not be as big, but the genre still works especially with young teens looking for mindless entertainment after a long week of classes. Commercials and trailers do not look that funny, but given the weak marketplace and the success rate of comedies with specific concepts, "Epic" may take in all the cash it needs to hit the number one spot. Holdovers do not seem like they will break into double digit millions this weekend. With a wide release in 2,801 playdates, the PG-13 pic could amass around $14M.


Lampooning Harry Potter in "Epic Movie."

The weekend’s solo R pic comes in the form of the mob thriller "Smokin’ Aces" from Universal. Jeremy Piven, Ben Affleck, Andy Garcia, and Alicia Keys star in this ensemble piece about a witness in protective custody being hunted down by a crime boss before he can testify. Young men are the target audience here in this Vegas-set flick that tries too hard to be cool. The NFL’s weekend off should make guys more available for ticketbuying which will help. The studio saw an underwhelming $6.4M three-day debut for another R-rated crime saga earlier this month – "Alpha Dog" – and will probably see many of the same customers this time around. An extra 1,000 theaters will ensure a bigger opening, but there is no A-list star or director in the film to truly attract a large crowd. A quick in and out of theaters should result. Opening in 2,204 locations, "Smokin’ Aces" might collect roughly $8M in its first hand.


Alicia Keys in "Smokin’ Aces."

Jennifer Garner plays a woman trying to rebuild her life after the death of her husband in the new drama "Catch and Release." Sony proudly offers the only major new pic for female moviegoers and hopes to stand out from the crowd by going after an audience few others are targeting. The PG-13 film will test the starpower of the former "Alias" star who last hit screens two years ago with the big-budget bomb "Elektra." Her comedy "13 Going on 30" which she anchored solo performed well with a $21.1M bow, but "Catch" lacks the same fun factor and will probably draw fewer males too. Plus the studio is going into the marketplace with less than half the theaters they gave to "13." A supporting role by Kevin Smith is not likely to help bring in many dudes. But with so few films playing specifically to young women, a decent average is likely. "Catch and Release" hits 1,622 theaters on Friday and could take in about $7M.


Jennifer Garner, Kevin Smith, and some other dude in "Catch and Release."

Werewolf terror hits the multiplexes in the form of "Blood and Chocolate," a new supernatural fright flick aiming for teens and young adults. The MGM release carries a PG-13 rating which could work well in getting in younger teens, but the film lacks the zing or interesting concept that fans need in order to pay top dollar at the local theater. Every recent horror film has underperformed at the box office and this one does not seem like the savior that can turn things around. Plus other new releases will be distracting the target audience too. Opening in roughly 1,500 theaters, "Blood and Chocolate" could debut to around $4M.


"Blood and Chocolate."

After racking up over $200M through its five-week stay in the top two slots, "Night at the Museum" should get bumped down a bit. The Ben Stiller film once again faces no new competition for the family audience so a slim decline should result. A 30% fall would give Fox about $8M for the weekend and a towering cume of $215M. Sony’s "Stomp the Yard" looks to fall harder so a 40% drop to around $7M could occur pushing the cume to $50M.

After scoring the most Oscar nominations of any film with eight, the big-budget musical "Dreamgirls" shot up to the number one spot on Tuesday after finishing in third last weekend and on Monday. Although it missed out on the top prize of a Best Picture nomination, the Jamie FoxxBeyonce Knowles film is still getting media attention which is fueling the buzz and the studio has wasted no time in advertising the fact that no other film has more Academy Award nods. Still, the film is aging and many other awards contenders are expanding and trying to attract upscale moviegoers too. A small 20% slide to around $6M may occur giving "Dreamgirls" a solid $85M total.

LAST YEAR: Martin Lawrence topped the box office with his hit comedy sequel "Big Momma’s House 2" which bowed to a plump $27.7M. The Fox release went on to gross $70.2M. Debuting in second was the family film "Nanny McPhee" with $14.5M for Universal on its way to $47.1M. Sony’s "Underworld: Evolution" tumbled by 58% in its second weekend and placed third with $11.4M. The military drama "Annapolis" opened in fourth with a modest $7.7M before finishing with $17.1M for Buena Vista. The animated hit "Hoodwinked" rounded out the top five with $7.5M in its third caper.

Author: Gitesh Pandya, www.BoxOfficeGuru.com

The first month of 2007 wraps up with four eclectic releases, featuring hitmen ("Smokin’ Aces", starring Ryan Reynolds, Jeremy Piven, and a million other hip thespians), sad people ("Catch and Release", starring Jennifer Garner and a hatless Kevin Smith), werewolves ("Blood and Chocolate" with Agnes Bruckner), and the almighty Crispin Glover ("Epic Movie"). What do the critics have to say?

In "Smokin’ Aces," Jeremy Piven plays a soon-to-be government snitch, leading a cavalcade of seedy characters who’ve been sent in to kill, or save him. Or maybe just settle with killing each other. This overstuffed movie features a huge list of cool people doing cool action scenes, but fails to give anybody any semblence of identity. It’s one vapid, bloody sequence after another, though critics are distressed over how long the movie takes to set up the convulted plot and action. At 28 percent Tomatometer, "Aces" may be smokin’, but it’s not on fire.


"All we need now is the girl and a pizza place."

Kevin Smith is certainly full of surprises. First the rumor he’ll do a scary flick, and now his apperance in "Catch and Release", a gooey romantic dramadey starring Jennifer Garner as a woman coping with a close death. Kevin Smith is the goofy yet lovable lug, the comic relief in a movie where everyone plays some kind of stock character. It’s a shallow, contrived treatment of a serious subject and with 24 percent on the Tomatometer, "Catch and Release" isn’t reeling in the critcs.


Worst. Survivor. Ever.

We’re going to have you work overtime for this week’s Guess That Tomatometer game. "Epic Movie," which somehow confuses Paris Hilton and "Borat" as part of the genre, is the latest of those spoof movies and the latest movie to not be critic screened.


"I neither deny nor confirm that the snozberries taste like snozberries."

Whenever I hear "Blood and Chocolate", it makes me think Elvis Costello, not babes and werewolves. Maybe the title’s signifcance is explained somewhere in the movie, but it’s hard to tell right now since "Blood and Chocolate" also isn’t being screened for critics. Guess those Tomatometers.


This movie bites.

Speaking of guessing Tomatometers, congratulations to mizzoucritic for coming closest last week to guessing the Tomatometer of "The Hitcher."

Also opening this week in limited release: "Seraphim Falls", a violent Western starring Liam Neeson and Pierce Brosnan, at 54 percent.

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