Monday, October 29, 2012

'Argo' leads in soft weekend for new releases

Argo may not have opened at number one, but in its third weekend, it finally rose to the top. Despite four new wide releases, it was the Ben Affleck-directed and led thriller that grabbed the first-place position with a $12.3 million finish. Although Argo's 25% drop was larger than last week's 15% dip, that's still an extremely strong hold. By next week, the movie should be tracking ahead of Affleck's previous picture, The Town, which opened higher but had larger week-to-week
Cloud atlas tom hanks 1

Cloud Atlas led the group of new releases, finishing with $9.4 million, right below Hotel Transylvania's $9.5 million. The literary adaptation reportedly cost over $100 million, so that part doesn't bode well for the career trajectory of the Wachowski siblings, who directed the picture along with Tom Tykwer. It's possible the actual total could be even lower, since many NYC theatres shut down in early evening, when public transit in the city also ground to a halt in preparation for the storm. This appeared to be a film choice for an older, arthouse-leaning crowd. 77% of ticket-buyers were over the age of 25. 12% of the totals came from IMAX screens, indicating this was an "event" film for certain fans.

The horror sequel Silent Hill: Revelation 3D opened to $8 million. The original opened to $20 million in 2006, indicating that this adaptation of a video game franchise has lost almost all momentum. Any plans for a Silent Hill 3 are likely dead and buried.

The teen comedy Fun Size failed to ignite, and barely squeaked into the top ten with just $4
Fun size victoria justice million
. Teen girls, likely fans of "iCarly" star Victoria Justice, did show up: 67% of attendees were female and 73% under the age of 25. But not enough of them showed up, so the opening ended up below even other Nickelodeon-produced flops like Hey Arnold! The Movie, which had a similarly lackluster opening of $5.7 million back in 2002.

Chasing Mavericks had an extremely disappointing debut of just $2.2 million, giving it a thirteenth-place finish. Why release a surfing movie in the fall? Spring or summer would be a better choice for the release, just the time of year when people are anticipating or enjoying beach vacations. It's also the second bomb for a Fox/Walden Media release. Won't Back Down recently debuted to a figure almost as low, $2.6 million.

Loneliest planet 2The specialty front was also quiet. The Loneliest Planet opened to a $10,000 per screen average at two locations. On Rotten Tomatoes, critics liked it, giving it a 76% positive rating. Rotten Tomatoes users were less happy, with only 46% coming out in favor of the tale of a couple's relationship, which is tested while traveling in the remote Caucasus mountains. That indicates the feature may not do as well in coming weeks. Compare that to The Sessions. In its second week, the heartwarming romance-drama went from four to twenty screens and reaped the rewards. The $11,000 per-screen average was the highest of any release this weekend, and gave the John Hawkes-led picture a total of $231,000. The ratings on Rotten Tomatoes show the difference: the 96% positive critics ratings are matched by an 86% positive audience rating.

This Friday, the CG-animated Wreck-It Ralph will likely steal the thunder from kid-friendly competitor Hotel Transylvania. The well-reviewed Flight will also open in theatres along with The Man with the Iron Fists.

Friday, October 26, 2012

'Argo' should stay ahead of four new wide releases

Four new wide releases are hitting theatres this weekend, but none are expected to surpass the $4-12 million range. That means that Argo has a good chance of spending a second week at number one. Last week, the '70s suspenser based on the Iranian hostage crisis dipped just 15%, a record hold for a wide action release. A similar hold would put the movie around $13 million, slightly ahead of projections for the four new wide releases.

Cloud Atlas (2,008 theatres) has been billing itself as a cineaste's film, a must-see for those who admire the work of the directors, the Wachowski siblings and Tom Tykwer (Run Lola Run).
Cloud atlas tom hanks jim broadbentThe "incredibly ambitious undertaking," as described by critic Maitland McDonagh, may have trouble recruiting mainstream audiences, with
its six separate storylines interweaving over 172 minutes.. But the "consistently entertaining
and surprisingly effective" movie is "the shortest three hours
most moviegoers will ever spend in a theatre…and that's no small
recommendation," McDonagh assesses, though she notes that in tying together so many disparate storylines, the filmmakers must go for the lowest common denominator, "greeting-card platitudes rather than genuinely provocative
notions," along the lines of "we are all connected" and "no man is an island." The hard sell of a movie may end up with less than $10 million.

Looking for a throwback to the teen comedies of my youth, I checked out Fun Size (3,014 theatres). The rather obvious movie is also genuinely funny, with some slapstick moments and goofy cariactures (eccentric hippie lesbian parents) that connect. There are also plenty of slo-mo
Fun size duomoments of the hunky teen boy driving his car away while the crushed look on. It is a teen comedy, after all. The Nickelodeon-produced movie, which is full of TV stars young (Victoria Justice of "iCarly") and old (Chelsea Handler of "Chelsea Lately"), is also directed by "The OC"'s Josh Schwartz. The teen comedy is also projected to hit around the $10 million mark.

Silent Hill: Revelation 3D (2,933 theatres) should top $10 million, in part because horror-tinged releases tend to perform best their first weekend. Early Rotten Tomatoes reviews
have 20% of critics liking the horror sequel and 86% of audiences
voting it "fresh." However, the popularity of the video game franchise
the series is based on has waned in recent years, which could spell
trouble for the movie's performance at the box office.

Fans of the great surf movies like Riding Giants and The Endless Summer will be in store for more great surfing shots in Chasing Mavericks (2,002 theatres), a fictional film based on the story of a real surfer who tackled Mavericks, those formidable waves off the coast of California. The "true stars of the film are the waves themselves, awesome liquid mountains that rear up magnificently
Chasing mavericks gerard butler 2and resoundingly crash, thrillingly recorded by the sensational cinematography of Oliver Euclid and Bill Pope," critic David Noh notes. But that's all they'll get, thanks to the "unmitigated corn of a hopelessly mawkish screenplay." The question is whether one would be better off watching YouTube surf videos instead of sitting through a bad story.

Also opening this week is the well-reviewed The Loneliest Planet (2 theatres), "a nuanced story about a couple’s wilderness hiking trip through the Caucasus Mountains" shot with "accomplished simplicity," according to our critic Maria Garcia. The remake of Nicholas Winding Refn's Pusher (15 theatres) also opens. According to THR's Deborah Young, the crime movie "struggles to rise above standard drug
dealer/gangster fare and succeeds, but only in part," a lukewarm endorsement.

On Monday, we'll see where the four new wide releases settled in the top ten, and if Argo was able to keep its spot at number one.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

DOCNYC Fest: Stories of false confessions in 'Central Park Five'

If there's anything the DOC NYC Festival drives home, it's how easy--and utterly damning--it can be to make a false confession. This year's selection, Central Park Five, talks about the famous Central Park Jogger case. In 1989, five black and Latino teens, all of whom confessed in some manner, were implicated in the rape and near-murder of a white investment banker. Thirteen years
Central-Park-5-Key-Image-Photo-courtesy-of-NY-Daily-Newslater, the real rapist, who was imprisoned with one of the convicted, confessed after seeing how much the innocent man was suffering. Last year at the DOC NYC Fest, the documentary Scenes of a Crime followed a similar case. A black man was interrogated for ten hours before confessing that he shook his own baby to death. In reality, the baby probably died of sepsis--while he was being held by the police. As of two days ago, the Adrian Thomas case has hope. The documentary's website reports that New York's Court of Appeals will hear the case, which is extremely rare. "The Court’s eventual decision may affect more than Adrian Thomas: it could make precedent on police interrogation tactics, voluntariness of confessions and the use of courtroom experts on questions of false confession," they note. Years after the Central Park Five case, innocent people are still succumbing to police pressure and making false confessions, something that may change if the Thomas case wins its appeal.

Central Park Five, which was directed by Ken Burns, Sarah Burns, and David McMahon, does not have the usual Ken Burns style--no pans or zooms on still images. However, it does have the patience characteristic of his movies. After opening with the confession of the real rapist, to leave no doubt in the viewers' minds, the directors spend several minutes laying out the atmosphere in New York City at the time: High crime, pockets of extremely impoverished areas, and a decaying, trash-ridden city. The case was a "proxy" for everything else going on in the city. The fact that black teens were being implicated for the rape of a white woman vaulted the case into the headlines, when other brutal rapes without perpetrators of different races were relegated to the back pages.

The Central Park Five were interrogated all night. The men explain they confessed because they were tired, scared, and they were told they could go home if only they could admit they were present at the woman's rape--with the implication being that they were just there, but they didn't do anything. Although parents were often absent at the initial confessions, they were present for their videotaped confessions. How could that be?  Many teens were arrested that night, since over two dozen went "wilding," participating in mischief that included throwing rocks and beating up joggers and homeless people. I wish the filmmakers had interviewed the other teens the police interviewed who were not persuaded to make a false confession. How were they able to see through the police's tactics? Perhaps including those stories would have made the viewers more likely to blame the teens for a mistake that cost them years of their lives, but it would have also illuminated the social psychology aspect of false confessions. Central Park Five is a stomach-knotting look at how false confessions and social prejudices locked up five innocent boys. I hope this movie can be used as instruction for those who are least likely to know their rights when arrested. For the adult fans of Ken Burns docs and indies who are most likely to see this doc, the story may serve as a different warning: that of caution and contemplation in the face of sordid headlines that confirm prejudices.

After the DOC NYC Fest, Central Park Five will open in New York City on November 23.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

DOC NYC Fest: 'Venus and Serena'

Venus and Serena Williams have far more personality than most female tennis players on the pro tour. When they win, they're extemely demonstrative. Serena has famously yelled at line judges, and they showcase their latest fashions on the court. Venus & Serena, a selection at this year's DOCNYC Fest, which will run from Nov. 8-15, shows the sisters off the court. Even though the sisters and their family
Venus-and-Serena-Key-Image-Photo-by-Rashidi-Harper-580x300give directors Maiken Baird and Michelle Major access, they're still private people. "When the food gets here, make like a banana and split," a sister tells the person behind the camera after Serena's 2011 loss at Wimbledon. The person doesn't understand, so she slowly repeats the phrase, ending with a direct statement: "Leave." Most of the time when the cameras are present, so is the sister's entourage. A hitting partner, various people who appear to be assistants-slash-masseuses, various family members. And, of course, wherever there is one sister, the other is always nearby. It's humanizing to hear the sisters, who live together, joke that the other is their "wife" and debate how they want to cook their fish.

With careers now lasting over a decade, it's hard to know where to start or end with the sisters' stories. The doc avoids recapping too much of their early careers, but it does talk about key events. Like the time Serena was booed at the Indian Wells tournament, where racial epithets were hurled at her and her family, and where she has never returned. Or the upbringing of their father, Richard Williams, who grew up with casual, cruel racism and violence in Shreveport, Louisiana. Cameras followed the sisters during 2011, and that time period is what we mostly see. At the beginning of the year, Serena is recovering from a pulmonary embolism brought on by a blood clot she acquired from having her leg in a cast: an injury on top of injury on top of injury. Venus has a diagnosis that's not life-threatening, but could be career-ending. She has the autoimmune disorder Sjogren's Syndrome, which causes terrible fatigue.

Of all the intimate moments with the sisters, two are the most telling. While in the gym with her trainer, Venus diligently struggles through movements, mentioning, "I can't wait to get stronger." The comment was in marked contrast to most reality show scenes in the gym, which center on complaining, whining, or a preoccupation with weight loss. That kind of dedication is why Venus is so inspiring. The other comes from interview footage with Venus when she's only around eleven. An interviewer asks her if she will be a champion, and she replies in the affirmative. He pauses, and asks a couple of follow-up statements intended to make Venus qualify. "Really? Do you have any doubts?" At this point, her father steps in, the camera pulls back to reveal the lights and setting, and he reams the interviewer for trying to place questions into the mind of his budding champion. Venus smiles with the slightly puffed-up cheeks that occur when you are trying to hold in a laugh. She's clearly pleased to have her dad step in. Yes, he may be known as eccentric and controlling, but it's also clear that his protectiveness and complete faith in her is what made Venus and her sister Serena champions.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Hugh Grant signs on play the cad in a romantic comedy

Hugh Grant's most entertaining work, in my opinion, is when he plays the cad. Perhaps the best showcase of his work as a cad was in About a Boy--because he reforms in a rather heartwarming way. Grant appears to be going for a similar role in an untitled romantic comedy. He will play a
About a boy hugh grant 2washed-up screenwriter whose success--including an Oscar win--over a decade ago has since faded away. He takes a job as a professor in at a small college on the East Coast, hoping he'll be put in touch with cute college girls. Then he falls for a single mom.

Marc Lawrence, who has directed Grant in Two Weeks Notice, Music and Lyrics and Did You Hear About the Morgans?, will direct the project, which Castle Rock is producing. Lawrence and Grant's collaborations haven't really been Grant's best work, with mixed critical reactions and waning box-office success. Two Weeks Notice, which co-starred Sandra Bullock, earned $93 million in 2002: a hit. The latter two collaborations did worse: Music and Lyrics earned half as much, $43 million, and Did You Hear About the Morgans? did worse, totaling just $29 million. Of course, cute About a Boy, my favorite, only ended up with $41 million, far below Grant's biggest success, Notting Hill, though Julia Roberts gets a lot of the credit for making that romantic comedy a success.

Another reason I'm behind this romantic comedy, at least in theory, is because it has a logical obstacle to romance. It seems like recently, romantic comedies have finally moved away from using  contrived circumstances or petty differences as obstacles as romance.  Dating someone with kids is a dealbreaker for some people, and I like the idea of Grant's character trying to wrap his head around dating someone so far away from his ideal. With filming starting this April, it won't be long before audiences find out if this one is a dud or up there with Grant's hits. In the meantime, Grant appears as a number of characters--including a face-painted cannibal--in Cloud Atlas, which comes out this Friday.

Monday, October 22, 2012

'Paranormal Activity 4' loses steam in fourth outing

This fall has been filled with weekends unexpectedly good (the $50 million opening of Taken 2) and bad (the week The Possession opened was off 38% from the previous year). Underperforming openings meant the box office this year was just slightly up from last year. Paranormal Activity 4 placed first this weekend with $30.2 million. For a horror movie budgeted at just $5
Paranormal activity 4million, that's great, but Paranormal 2 debuted to $ 40.7 million and Paranormal 3 to $50.2 million, making this the first sequel to open lower, not higher. Just because the opening of Paranormal Activity 4 was 40% off the opening of the third film isn't necessarily a bad thing. The Saw franchise has had seven movies to date, and it peaked at the second film. Movies three through seven trended downward. In its favor, Paranormal Activity 4 still has one more pre-Halloween weekend to take advantage of. There will be more competition, in the form of Open Road's Silent Hill: Revelation 3D, but that horror sequel doesn't have nearly as much awareness or marketing support.

Tyler Perry may want to hang up his FBI badge, because Alex Cross opened to just $11.5 million, the star's worst opening ever. It's also under the previous two James Patterson adaptations starring Morgan Freeman that released over a decade ago. Perry fans did show up, as evidenced by the
Alex cross tyler perry 2demographic breakdown: 74% black, 60% women, and 68% over the age of 35. However, Patterson's fans, which tend to be older and skew white, did not turn out, a big miss. People who did show up gave the movie an "A" rating, so perhaps the problems was with the movie's marketing, not the movie itself.

Fox Searchlight's Sundance Film Festival pickup, The Sessions, opened to $30,000 per screen in four locations. The story of a man paralyzed with polio who resolves to lose his virginity has been met with a generally positive critical reception. It's the kind of film that builds momentum with positive word-of-mouth,

Sessions helen hunt john hawkesso its performance in coming weeks will be telling.

While none of the new wide releases opened as big as expected, it was a great week for holdovers. Argo dipped just 15% to earn another $16.6 million. That's the best hold for a wide release action movie outside of the holiday season ever. While the opening of Argo was below star/director Ben Affleck's previous outing, The Town, Argo has now regained the lead and is tracking ahead of the bank robbery movie.

In third place, Hotel Transylvania held on strong with just a 21% dip to $13.5 million. Taken 2 was right behind, falling 38% for another $13.4 million. That was enough to bring the Liam Neeson-led movie over the $100 million mark. After a soft opening, Here Comes the Boom showed strength by losing just 28% of its audience for another $8.5 million. Finally, Pitch Perfect went down just 24% to earn another $7 million. The under-the-rader comedy never rose above third place, but it could be in the top ten for another week or two thanks to its strong holds week after week.

This Friday, the Halloween-themed comedy Fun Size will open, along with surfing movie Chasing Mavericks, the ambitious literary adaptation of Cloud Atlas, and horror pick Silent Hill: Revelation 3D.

Friday, October 19, 2012

'Paranormal Activity 4' prepares to scare away the competition

The found-footage style showcased in Paranormal Activity 4 (3,412 theatres) is far from played out. In fact, the style is popping up in other horror movies, action movies (Chronicle), and epidemic movies (The Bay), to name a few examples. But when it comes to the Paranormal franchise itself, THR's Justin Lowe feels the filmmakers "seem short
on new ideas, relying more on the series’
Paranormal activity 4 image 2reputation for
low-budget thrills to attract audiences." Still, "it’s unlikely
that anything will stop the first few waves of fans" from turning out through Halloween. Paramount predicts the release will end up in the high $30 million range. That would be a bit down from the third outing's $52 million opening, and more in line with Paranormal Activity 2's $40 million opening. The studio has been smart about keeping production costs low. With a reported budget of $5 million, the release will be pure gravy for the distributor.

Tyler Perry has his first starring role in a movie he did not direct in Alex Cross (2,539 theatres). He plays the eponymous character, an FBI profiler. Morgan Freeman last played Cross in Kiss the Girls and Along Came a Spider. The crime-suspenser has the potential to attract both Perry's fans
Alex cross tyler perry gloves and readers of the source material, James Patterson's novels. However, Perry's fans are most loyal to his Madea character, so that may dampen the grosses a bit. It doesn't help that FJI critic Daniel Eagan didn't feel Perry was "a comfortable fit" for the role, describing him as a "lumbering screen presence who
is better at projecting teary-eyed sincerity than brutal, vengeful
anger." Plus, the "slapdash plotting, nonsensical
action and inept pacing" could make viewing the feature more of a trial than a mindless pleasure. A number in the teen millions would be a good showing for Alex Cross.

This week's specialty pick is The Sessions (4 theatres). Charming, sweet, and gentle, the based-
Sessions john hawkeson-a-true-story movie follows a man (John Hawkes) who was paralyzed by polio and lives part of the day in an iron long. After receiving the blessing of his priest (William H. Macy), he goes on a quest to lose his virginity with the help of a sexual surrogate (Helen Hunt). The film festival darling also pleased critic David Noh, who praises the movie for "possessing vast amounts of humor and humanity."

On Monday, we'll see if audiences still want to be scared by Paranormal Activity 4 and if enough viewers turned out for Alex Cross. The Sessions, an awards hopeful, may receive a nice dose of buzz if it has a strong debut.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Hidden gems populate Gotham Independent Film Award nominations

Oscar nominations won't be announced until January 5th. The Gotham Independent Film Award nominations, which come far before the Oscars, Globes, or the multitude of critic association awards, stand apart not only on the calendar, but in content. If you look at IndieWire's current list of potential Oscar nominees, for example, there's almost no crossover with the Gotham Awards. In the list of nominations below, I provide links to Film Journal reviews, and give a few recommendations of my own.

Best Feature
Bernie: This arthouse feature has earned $9 million to date, with steady returns week after week. It's also nominated for "Best Ensemble Performance," with the unlikely trio of  Jack Black, Shirley
Bernie jack black shirley maclaineMacLaine, and Matthew McConaughey sharing the screen.
The Loneliest Planet: This one hasn't released yet, but it's about an engaged couple (one half of which is the handsome Gael Garcia Bernal) who go on a hike, and bad things happen. If the Gotham people like it, it must be good.
The Master: This is the only one of Gotham's nominations that's also polling high in the Oscar race. Though our critic Chris Barsanti felt it lacked some of director Paul Thomas Anderson's "characteristically thunderous panache," this Scientology-esque biopic is high-profile enough everyone should see it in order to weigh in.
Middle of Nowhere: The story of a woman "who cares for her imprisoned husband while struggling to keep her true self afloat," as described by critic Tomris Laffly, "reinstates one’s at times
diminishing faith in independent film," refusing to give out "louder
statements about social injustice" but instead letting the audience draw its own conclusions. Participant Media helped finance, and they only back "socially conscious" films.
Moonrise Kingdom: One of director Wes Anderson's most successful films in recent years, the charming story of young love is a natural fit for the director's reflexive, nostalgic style. Some think this one can slide into the Oscar race, with at least some chance of picking up nominations. Another nominee for "Best Ensemble Performance," this movie will likely do even better in critics' awards and the Spirit Awards.

Best Documentary
I've seen a number of docs this year, but none of these are among them. Here's a roundup of these films, and hopes that they'll be in a theatre near you or on Netflix soon.
Detropia: "A tone poem soaked in the
blues," as described by Barsanti, about Detroit's continuing decline from its manufacturing glory days, is a haunting look at what forty plus years of recession
Detropia 2 looks like.
How to Survive a Plague: A victorious look over how AIDS has gone from a death sentence to a treatable disease.
Marina Abramović: The Artist is Present:  A countdown to the performance artist's solo show at New York's Museum of Modern Art.
Room 237: Reviewed here as part of a NYFF recap, Room 237 interviews "a handful of die-hard [Stanley] Kubrick fans and scholars
who make largely preposterous, hilarious and only sometimes sober
arguments for symbols that permeate his work." Anyone who's speculated about the blood coming out of the elevator doors might find this movie a worthy follow-up to Kubrick's masterpiece.
The Waiting Room: A fly-on-the-wall look at an ER waiting room.

Among the other nominations, there are two for Beasts of the Southern Wild, "Breakthrough Director" for Benh Zeitlin and "Breakthrough Actor" for Quvenzhané Wallis. I recommend it as one of this summer's best and most successful indies. The "This American Life" crowd may take a shine to Sleepwalk with Me. Star/writer/director Mike Birbiglia was nominated for his performance in the "Breakthrough Actor" category. Everyone I know who has seen it found it sweet and recommended it to others. Awards frontrunner The Silver Linings Playbook grabbed one nomination for "Best Ensemble Performance," which is probably only a small precursor of what's to come. The Gotham Independent Film Awards are on November 26th, right in the midst of the awards releases onslaught.

Monday, October 15, 2012

In adult-driven weekend, 'Argo' places second to 'Taken 2'

For the second weekend in a row, Taken 2 finished first. Even though the Liam Neeson-led kidnapping thriller dropped 55% from the previous weekend, its $22.5 million total was still $2 million more than the second-place finisher, Argo. With $86 million earned to date, Taken 2 is seriously outpacing its predecessor. Taken had only earned $53 million by its second week, but it did have very low week-over-week drops that helped make it a sleeper hit.

Ben Affleck's writing/directing/starring effort, Argo placed second with $20.1 million. Affleck's last movie, The Town, opened slightly higher, at $23 million, and ended up earning four times its

Argo ben affleck 2
Ben Affleck in 'Argo'

opening weekend. Argo, with an "A+" CinemaScore in exit polls, could easily surpass that figure, earning five or six times its opening weekend, especially if the positive word-of-mouth is complemented by recognition come awards season. 74% of viewers were over the age of 35. My parents, who were in their late twenties during the Iranian hostage crisis depicted in the film, reported the '70s costumes, big glasses, and old news footage helped bring that time of their life back in vivid (and suspenseful) detail.


The horror flick Sinister did solid business with an $18.2 million total. Younger audiences turned out for the scares, with a fairly even male/female split. Although that's right around the same amount as slow-burn horror sensation

Here comes the boom kevin james henry winkler 2
Kevin James in 'Here Comes the Boom'

Insidious, it's more likely that Sinister will get steamrolled by Paranormal Activity 4 next weekend.


Here Comes the Boom had a disappointing opening weekend of just $12 million. That's far below star Kevin James' other openings, including the $31 million opening weekend of Paul Blart: Mall Cop and the $20 million for The Zookeeper.
There's a chance this movie could turn around. Family-driven titles
tend to stick around for a while, and this one earned an "A" CinemaScore rating from viewers.

Seven Psychopaths had a disappointing weekend, with a nationwide release that yielded just $4.2 million. That's the worst wide opening ever for CBS Films, which already has a bad track record with a number of films that have opened below $10 million. Despite its poor showing, audiences liked the movie. The majority of viewers were male, and 71% of the audience was over 25.

Christopher walken seven psychopaths 1
'Seven Psychopaths'

Younger viewers (18-34), though, were most enamored with the black comedy about crime, giving it an "A-" rating that exceeded the overall average of "B+."


The Perks of Being a Wallflower added 500 theatres for 726 total. The Emma Watson-led comedy about outsider teens added $2.1 million to its total thanks to the expansion, a 36% increase from the previous week.

Higher up on the chart, Pitch Perfect posted a strong hold, dipping just 37% to earn $9.3 million. With $36 million to date, the a capella comedy has already made back two times its budget. Sounds like  a success for Universal.

 Despite added attention thanks to conservative-driven movies in the marketplace, Atlas Shrugged: Part II performed on par with its predecessor. Part I opened to $1.6 million last April, while Part II debuted to $1.7 million. What's worse is that the follow-up opened in three times as many theatres, meaning every location's theatres were one-third as full, and distribution costs were higher.

On the heels of a "60 Minutes" story about the doc last Sunday, Searching for Sugar Man soared 135% from the previous week for a total of $203,000, its highest weekend in a three-month run. The doc about a musician who becomes a hit in an apartheid-era South Africa and never knows it also expanded from 38 to 157 locations.

This Friday, Paranormal Activity 4 will jump on the pre-Halloween horror bandwagon, and Tyler Perry will play a smart action hero in Alex Cross. Well-reviewed The Sessions will open small with an eye towards gathering accolades come awards season.

Friday, October 12, 2012

'Argo' vies against 'Taken 2' for adult males in busiest fall weekend yet

Argo (3,232 theatres)
became a serious awards contender after its great critical reception at
the Toronto Film Festival. Now it has to prove its worth to a nationwide audience. Ben Affleck stars in his third directing
effort, and this is"most accomplished work yet," reports critic Kevin
Lally. The real-life adaptation centers on the CIA's plan to rescue six
Americans who escape from the Iranian
Argo ben affleck 1takeover of the embassy in 1979
but remain trapped in the country. Great direction and writing mean
audiences are in for "a true nail-biter, even if you
already know the outcome." Since Taken 2
overperformed last weekend, earning a stunning $50 million, even a 50%
drop would put the suspense-actioner at $25 million. That's a high
target for Argo to beat, so the movies may end up neck and neck for the first-place finish.

Beating the Halloween rush for R-rated horror, Sinister (2,527 theatres)
centers on a typically ill-advised move to a haunted house. A crime
writer decides to move into a dwelling that was the site of a murder. Home
movies upstairs give him clues about the past that could end up killing
his family too. The "genuinely creepy" movie "doesn't break any new
ground, but it works
haunted-house conventions with considerable skill and admirable
conviction," according to critic Maitland McDonagh. The fact that there
hasn't been an adult scary movie for a while should mean
Here comes the boom kevin james 1this scary movie will
end up close to $20 million.

The PG-rated Kevin James comedy Here Comes the Boom (3,014 theatres)
should receive strong support from the Heartland, but that may not be
enough to bring the opening above the teen million range. James' brand
of silly comedy generally doesn't receive strong critical support (Boom is currently at just 43% positive on Rotten Tomatoes), but our critic David
Noh crowned the movie "a
winner in terms of entertainment and crowd-pleasing satisfaction." Sure,
the tale of a teacher who moonlights as an MMA fighter in order to save
the school's music program is "predictable," but the "heartwarming" parts
balance it out.

Word-of-mouth about writer/director Martin McDonagh's In Bruges, which had a very under-the-radar release in 2008, should help Seven Psychopaths (1,480 theatres) 
improve on the
Seven psychopaths colin farrell 2first crime comedy's box-office performance. The only problem is
that the older males who are showing the most interest in this option
also have Argo and Taken 2 on their to-see list, so Seven Psychopaths
may be the loser in this crowded weekend. Lally praises the
"alternately hilarious and horrifying
comedy," but warns that the "extreme approach to black comedy
won’t be for everyone." Somewhere between $7-10 million is in store for
the violent feature, which should have strong playability in weeks
to come.

The first Atlas Shrugged movie tanked in 2011 with just $4.6 million on a reported $20 million budget. That didn't stop the production of Atlas Shrugged: Part II (1,012 theatres), which will open even wider than the first one. Trailers for the allegorical work played before the successful conservative doc 2016: Obama's America and the Christian-leaning Last Ounce of Courage,
so the movie should have high awareness among the target demographic. An
opening of over $5 million will make this adaptation of the book by Ayn
Rand a success.

On Monday, we'll chart how all the new releases fared in this movie-saturated fall weekend.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Today in casting: Rebel Wilson, Beyoncé, and Ralph Fiennes

Best news first. Rebel Wilson, who had a bit part as Kristen Wiig's eccentric Brit roommate in Bridesmaids, followed up by more prominent roles in Bachelorette and Pitch Perfect, has landed a project with Universal. The "Untitled Rebel Wilson Comedy" is based on an idea she came up
Rebel wilson ringwith. Wilson will star, produce, and write the script. With Judd Apatow and now Kristen Wiig in its stable, Universal has become comedy-centered in recent years. The studio is also distributing Identity Thief, another comedy starring a Bridesmaids vet, Melissa McCarthy. Add in Wilson, and Universal has quite the lineup of comedians.

Next up, Beyoncé. The singer and actress was supposed to star in director Clint Eastwood's remake of A Star is Born, but she's officially dropped out. Without a clear start date for the movie, the actress was having too many scheduling difficulties. Her replacement may be the little-known (at least compared to Beyoncé) jazz singer Esperanza Spalding. The woman can sing, so that's one thing. The movie will definitely read differently if there is a superstar in the role versus an unknown, but I love rise-to-fame stories regardless.

Finally, Ralph Fiennes will play a concierge in writer/director Wes Anderson's latest, The Grand Budapest Hotel. Anderson lived in France during the production of Fantastic Mr. Fox, so perhaps he found the inspiration for the Europe-set film there. Anderson players Bill Murray and Owen Wilson have already signed on, along with a newbie, Jude Law. Anderson's charming Moonrise Kingdom was one of this summer's indie movie successes, indicating the writer/director is back on track and pleasing his fanbase and beyond.

Monday, October 8, 2012

'Taken 2' sweeps box office with $50 million

Three years after his daughter was stolen in Taken, Liam Neeson was captured in Taken 2.  With an astonishing $50 million, Taken 2 doubled the opening of the predecessor and drew audiences across all demographics. Abroad, the thriller is also a hit, with totals already exceeding the domestic
Taken 2 liam neesonopening total. I'm sure there are movie executives out there right now trying to figure out how to make a Taken 3. What's next--kidnapping the family dog? Neeson starts a kidnapping consulting firm? Although critics had mainly unkind things to say about the follow-up, audiences graded the Liam Neeson vehicle a solid "B+."

Frankenweenie floundered compared to the second weekend of Hotel Transylvania. The Tim Burton-directed animated feature, which ended up with $11.5 million, suffered in part due to Hotel Transylvania's positive momentum. The black-and-white movie drew couples, who made up 32% of the audience, and another 52% of attendees were families. Frankenweenie
Frankenweenie tim burtonmay have appealed to adults at the expense of the children. Hotel Transylvania, which included the vocal talents of Adam Sandler and his style of broader humor, placed second with $26.3 million, a mere 38% fall from the previous week.

Female moviegoers turned out in force for Pitch Perfect, which reeled in $14.7 million as it expanded nationwide after a successful limited release last weekend. 80% of ticketbuyers were female. The college a capella comedy drew viewers from roughly the same demographic as the cast, with 60% of attendees under the age of 30. The skewed demographics indicate this is a movie for a very specific demographic, which could limit its box office total, Still, the audience that turned out will likely become huge advocates of the comedy: they gave it an "A" CinemaScore in exit polls.

This week was a lackluster one in the specialty sector. Director Lee Daniels' The Paperboy averaged $10,000 per screen at 11 locations, the best opening of any specialty film. Poor reviews should dampen the release, though its racy subject matter will draw some viewers, especially those who want to see grown-up teen idol Zac Efron semi-naked. The second-highest per-screen average of a new release went to The House I Live In, a documentary criticizing America's drug laws. The Eugene Jarecki-directed movie averaged $9,850 per screen at two locations.

This Friday, director/star Ben Affleck's Oscar hopeful Argo will open. Kevin James will appeal to the the heartland with Here Comes the Boom, Atlas Shrugged: Part II will try to keep up the momentum of conservative-aimed movies. Horror fans will have Sinister, and those in need of a funny crime film can check out Seven Psychopaths.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

MoviePass relaunches its all-you-can-watch movie theatre service

A Netflix for movie theatres, MoviePass promises that for a monthly fee ranging from $29.99-$39.99, a user can watch all the movies they can (though no more than one per day, for those who like to schedule old-school double features on rainy Saturdays). Last year, the service launched without the support of the movie industry and quickly shut down amidst reports that
Moviepass-app2ticket booth employees were not accepting the printed vouchers. Now, after a successful private beta test, the service is rolling out nationwide. Exhibitors still don't support the service, but MoviePass found a way around that. Using a smartphone app, viewers select the show they want to see while they are within GPS range of the theatre (I suspect the geolocation is to prevent sharing, since few people would be willing to give up their phone just to let a friend score a free movie ticket). Then, a prepaid debit card loads with the correct amount, and people can buy their ticket. Looks simple enough, though I imagine there are still a few kinks to be worked out. For example, when I lived in Ohio, we paid a tax on our movie tickets. Would MoviePass cover that? Or would the customer have to pay the difference?

Details aside, it's interesting that MoviePass is able and willing to move forward with the product without the support of exhibitors. They say that they have had conversations with some chains about the project, and received the support of a few independent theatres--but that hasn't led anywhere. They have also made sure to tout the fact that MoviePass members bought 123% more concessions, a big profit center for movie theatres.

Even without the support of the exhibition industry, the industry may eventually come around. Movie theatre attendance is declining. A service like MoviePass could be a big help in terms of bringing people back into theatres. One potential hurdle to getting exhibitors on board is that a small percentage of moviegoers who attend very frequently account for most of their profit. No one wants to cut into the returns from these viewers. However, with MoviePass, you don't really break even as a customer unless you see a movie every week. I suspect an extremely small percentage of people go to the movies more than once a week, or even every single weekend. Currently, MoviePass pays exhibitors (and by extension, studios) full price for every ticket. It loses money when customers see seven movies in a month. It might make a little profit if someone sees only three. Long-term, though, can MoviePass really sustain its business by only making money off under-users? Won't those people eventually cancel when they realize they're not getting their money's worth? The long game for MoviePass will have to involve negotiating for discounts from studios and exhibitors in order to make the product viable long-term.

Monday, October 1, 2012

'Hotel Transylvania' charms families, breaks September record

After a few lackluster weekends, the box office has bounced back. The top twelve movies earned 28% more than last year's corresponding weekend, allowing everyone in the industry to breathe a sigh of relief.

Hotel Transylvania helped the most, breaking the record for highest opening in September (unseating Sweet Home Alabama). Not only did the animated comedy earn $43 million,
Hotel transylvania cast 2audiences gave the family-geared feature an "A" CinemaScore rating. That ensures that Transylvania will post stiff competition to its creepy animated competitor, Frankenweenie, which is opening this Friday. Moms and kids liked the movie even more, with an average rating that topped out at "A+." Besides the record of best September opening, the $43 million handily became the best debut ever for a feature from Sony Pictures Animation.

In second place, Looper also performed above expectations, pulling in $21.2 million. Its clear marketing campaign and positive reviews helped draw in an older male audience In a sign of
Looper joseph gordon levitt carchanging times, the movie is expected to bring in slightly more, between $23-25 million, from its debut in just one foreign territory: China. The sci-fi movie was a Chinese co-production, allowing it to sidestep the nation's small quota for foreign films.

Universal made a successful bet with Pitch Perfect. In advance of its planned wide release next week, the distributor opened the college-set comedy in 335 theatres. The release exceeded expectations and ended up with $5.2 million, with an impressive per-screen average of $15,200. A friend who caught the a capella comedy over the weekend predicts it will be the "Bring it On of the next generation,"
Pitch perfect anna kendrick rebel wilson 2referring to 2000's popular, tongue-in-cheek cheerleader comedy, which Universal also distributed. That movie finished with $68 million a decade ago. With a $5 million debut in limited release, Pitch Perfect may sing an octave higher than that.

Despite opening on seven times as many screens as Pitch Perfect, Won't Back Down disappointed with $2.7 million, eking out a tenth-place finish. The "parents take back our schools" drama had little marketing support, which Fox reportedly withdrew after predicting a flop. That helped push the inspirational drama near the top of another list--worst opening of a release on 2,500+ screens. Won't Back Down now holds second place on that list, below another Fox release, The Rocker. Despite the poor performance, viewers who showed up gave the picture an "A-" CinemaScore rating. 

This Friday, Frankenweenie will compete for families in search of Halloween-themed entertainment, Taken 2 will put Liam Neeson in the midst of another kidnapping plot, and Pitch Perfect will expand into wide release.