This week at the movies, we’ve got courageous Crusaders (Season of the Witch, starring Nicolas Cage and Ron Perlman) and a country comeback (Country Strong, starring Gwyneth Paltrow and Tim McGraw ). What do the critics have to say?


Season of the Witch

Say what you will about Nicolas Cage, but give the man credit: at a time when too many movie stars studiously protect their images, he’s unafraid to look ridiculous. Sometimes, his devil-may-care attitude pays off (see Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans), and sometimes, well, we get stuff like Season of the Witch, a Medieval action flick that critics say is too dull to qualify as so-bad-it’s-good kitsch. Cage and Ron Perlman star as former Crusaders who are tasked with protecting and transporting a woman accused of being witch to a remote monastery; on their arduous journey, they must contend with wolves, zombies, and the black plague. The pundits say Season of the Witch is bottom-of-the barrel fantasy fare, with cheesy dialogue, so-so special effects, and a general air of silliness. (Check out Cage’s Five Favorite Films, as well as this week’s Total Recall, in which we count down Perlman’s best-reviewed movies.)


Country Strong

A lot of country songs are great not for their originality, but because they’re infused with passion and craftsmanship. The same holds true for plenty of movies, but unfortunately for Country Strong, it can’t transcend its clichés, devolving into a showbiz melodrama despite good performances and heart-on-its-sleeve sincerity. Gwyneth Paltrow stars as Kelly Canter, a country superstar fresh from rehab; still shaky, she embarks on a tour, with hot young singer Beau Hutton (Garrett Hedlund), overseen by her manager/ex-husband James (Tim McGraw). Can our heroine overcome romantic entanglements and the bottle to reclaim her place atop the charts? The pundits say the leads give it their all, and the music is toe-tapping, but Country Strong is undone by meandering pacing and a slavish adherence to soapy formula.

Also opening this week in limited release:

With studios dropping lumps of coal into North American multiplexes, many moviegoers stayed away over the Christmas holiday weekend as the box office fell sharply from recent years. Christmas Eve fell on a Friday helping to disrupt business, but a lack of exciting product prevented any one film from becoming a sensation.

Universal saved itself from ending the year with only one number one hit with the comedy sequel Little Fockers which topped the yuletide frame with an estimated $34M from Friday-to-Sunday. The critically panned pic grabbed $48.3M since its Wednesday debut and joined Despicable Me as the studio’s only releases in 2010 to open in the top spot. Fockers averaged $9,620 from 3,536 theaters over the weekend period.

Though claiming the box office crown, the Robert De Niro-Ben Stiller threequel attracted the worst reviews of the series and opened 32% below the $70.5M five-day Christmas launch of 2004’s Meet the Fockers during the exact same days. Factor in rising ticket prices and a whopping 45% fewer people turned out for the latest installment.

With a $100M budget — hefty for a non-effects comedy — the new Fockers succeeded in funneling large paychecks to its principal cast members. Studio research showed that the audience was 57% female and 53% over 30. A poor B- CinemaScore grade indicates bad buzz in the days ahead from those who bought tickets already.

The Coen brothers gave Paramount a Christmas gift with the better-than-expected showing for True Grit which opened to an estimated $25.6M over the weekend and $36.8M across the five days since its Wednesday launch. Loved by critics, the PG-13 Western remake starring Jeff Bridges and Matt Damon averaged a sturdy $8,402 from 3,047 locations over the weekend which was especially impressive given the Friday hit all films took on Christmas Eve when many theaters close early. The lucrative holiday week ahead could help it make a run for the $100M club. Produced for only $38M, Grit should become a moneymaker despite how it fares overseas in the new year.

Bridges showed up in the number three position as well. Disney’s pricey action film Tron Legacy ranked third for the holiday frame with an estimated $20.1M falling a steep 54% from its top spot debut. The PG-rated effects pic has grossed $88.3M in ten days and will break nine digits before the end of the year on its way to possibly breaking $150M from North America as well.

Enjoying the smallest drop of any film in wide release, The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader collected an estimated $10.8M representing a slim 13% dip. But Fox’s 17-day cume for the big-budget 3D adventure rose to just $63.9M which was still below the $65.6M opening weekend of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe from December 2005.

Family audiences rejected the 3D kidpic Yogi Bear which was hoping for a strong Christmas hold but instead suffered a 46% fall to an estimated $8.8M. With just $36.8M in ten days, the PG-rated pic will struggle to break even given the production cost and marketing expenses. Like so many others this holiday season, audiences are finding this to be a subpar 3D entry not worth paying extra money for.

Paramount’s boxing drama The Fighter held up reasonably well in a crowded marketplace for adult dramas by dipping 30% to an estimated $8.5M. With $27.6M so far, the Mark Wahlberg-Christian Bale pic aims to use good word-of-mouth and awards buzz to keep it in the top ten over the weeks to come as the holiday turkeys fizzle away.

Setting sail with a lackluster debut was Jack Black’s 3D kidpic Gulliver’s Travels which opened on Christmas Day Saturday to an estimated weekend take of $7.2M over two days instead of the usual three. Fox hopes to play well through this holiday week and into New Year’s weekend, but this PG-rated film is just the latest in a string of subpar family offerings in 3D to be rejected by parents not interested in paying so much money for mediocre quality. While Disney’s TRON and Tangled have worked, underwhelming numbers have been seen for Gulliver, Yogi Bear, Narnia, Legend of the Guardians, Alpha and Omega, Cats & Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore, and others. Studios are slowly learning that there are simply too many 3D movies these days.

Fox Searchlight’s awards darling Black Swan dipped 21% to an estimated $6.6M for a sturdy cume to date of $29M. Expanding from 900 to 1,466 locations in its fourth weekend, the Natalie Portman starrer is on its way to becoming one of the distributor’s top-grossing titles ever.

Disney’s hit toon Tangled was close behind with an estimated $6.5M, off 26%, for a $143.8M tally thus far. The Rapunzel film is now the second highest-grossing film of the holiday season trailing only Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 which raised its total to $272.8M for the number 49 spot on the list of all-time domestic blockbusters. Rounding out the top ten was the Johnny Depp-Angelina Jolie dud The Tourist which dropped 33% to an estimated $5.7M and a $41.2M cume to date.

The Weinstein Co. enjoyed a good expansion for its awards contender The King’s Speech which went nationwide on Saturday into 700 locations and banked an estimated $4.6M over the weekend. Averaging a healthy $6,511, the Colin Firth pic has taken in $8.4M overall.

More specialty films got their platform debuts in before the upcoming Oscar deadline. Sofia Coppola’s Somewhere bowed to an estimated $142,000 from seven sites for a solid $20,322 average over three days for Focus. Sony released its Gwenyth Paltrow pic Country Strong in two theaters with $34,642 over the weekend and a $17,321 average. Totals since their mid-week launches are $196,000 and $47,000 respectively.

The top ten films grossed an estimated $133.8M which was down a sharp 48% from last year when Avatar stayed in the top spot with $75.6M; and down 21% from 2008 when Marley & Me opened at number one with $36.4M. Christmas Eve did not fall on the weekend during either of those two years.

Author: Gitesh Pandya, Box Office Guru!

Happy holidays from RT! This week at the movies, we’ve got frontier justice (True Grit, starring Jeff Bridges and Hailee Steinfeld), family awkwardness (Little Fockers, starring Ben Stiller and Robert De Niro), and a fantastic voyage (Gulliver’s Travels, starring Jack Black and Amanda Peet). What do the critics have to say?


True Grit

It takes guts to try to fill John Wayne’s shoes. But if anyone can substitute for the Duke, well, why not the Dude? The critics say the Coen Brothers’ (relatively) straightforward remake of True Grit is a rewarding movie in its own right – it’s tough, sly, and filled with marvelous performances, most notably Jeff Bridges and newcomer Hailee Steinfeld. Steinfeld stars as Mattie, a 14-year-old who hires grizzled U.S. Marshal Rooster Cogburn (Bridges) to track down the man who killed her father; reluctantly, he agrees, and the two journey across an unforgiving landscape, encountering danger along the way. The pundits say the Certified Fresh True Grit is one of the best films of the year, a crowd-pleasing effort from the Coens that manages to maintain their trademark subversion within the framework of an old-school Western. And the cast – which also includes Matt Damon and Josh Brolin – is outstanding top to bottom.


Little Fockers

A few years back, there was a wonderful comedy called Meet the Parents, which generated big laughs from a smart premise: what if someone who was already anxious about meeting his sweetheart’s family discovered that her father bore a striking resemblance to Travis Bickle? But two sequels later, critics are far less amused; they say Little Fockers is a crass, less-than-jovial Christmas turkey that lazily reheats stale material. Once again, Ben Stiller runs afoul of his father-in-law (Robert DeNiro), and a host of talented actors (Barbara Streisand, Dustin Hoffman, Blythe Danner, Owen Wilson, and even Harvey Keitel) are on hand to help make things awkward at every turn. The pundits say Little Fockers is tired stuff, with gross-out gags and punchline-free scenes that make the whole enterprise seem like a cash grab. (Check out this week’s Total Recall, in which we count down Stiller’s best-reviewed films.)


Gulliver’s Travels

Given that Gulliver’s Travels was published several centuries ago, it’s understandable that contemporary filmmakers would downplay Jonathan Swift’s satirical aims in favor of the book’s more fantastical elements. Unfortunately, critics say this big budget, special effects-heavy family film is no modest proposal — it’s got a couple chuckles, but is largely lacking in subtlety and whimsy. Jack Black stars as the title character, a lovelorn schlub who stumbles upon the diminutive Lilliputians while working as a travel reporter near the Bermuda Triangle; soon, our robust hero is lording over his own private fiefdom before getting a comeuppance. The pundits say Black’s energy redeems Gulliver’s Travels a bit, but ultimately it’s a thinly-plotted piece of work that can’t sustain itself at feature length.

Also opening this week in limited release:

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