SPEARE'S TIPS: THE FILMS OF 10/23 - Saw VI, Astro Boy, The Vampire's Assistant, Amelia

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SPEARE'S TIPS: THE FILMS OF 10/23 - Saw VI, Astro Boy, The Vampire's Assistant, Amelia

Post by Shrykespeare on Tue Oct 20, 2009 6:50 am

It sure is refreshing to see an uptick in box office totals this month, given how truly awful September was, isn’t it? After a month that saw exactly one breakout hit (Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs, which not only broke $100 million in receipts this week but now has a staggering 18 Top 5 points to go along with it), October has rallied with three consecutive strong performances from it’s #1s: Zombieland, Couples Retreat and Where the Wild Things Are. All three of those movies are looking at total outputs well above $75 million.

And even those have had to settle for runner-up status have done pretty well as well, with better-than-expected totals coming from Law Abiding Citizen, The Stepfather and Paranormal Activity. And even those that haven’t done well financially have benefited from good reviews and decent word-of-mouth (Whip It, Invention of Lying). Bottom line, the films of October have done a complete reversal of fortune, in virtually every way, from the dismalness of September. Can it continue?

Well, one would be foolish to assume that after three solid weeks, it’s all going to go to pot now, especially when your #1 contender is Saw VI. With the precision of a Swiss watch – or, indeed, the grisly certitude of one of Jigsaw’s many traps – this franchise has been nearly synonymous with the Halloween holiday for the last five years. All five installments have been released by Lionsgate on the weekend preceding All Hallows Eve, and 2009 is no different.

What started in 2004 as an interesting experiment in filmmaking has become a full-on franchise. And say what you want about the banality of repetition and the subsequent argument about the law of diminishing returns, I’ve always admired what the Saw series represents. I’m not a fan of the horror genre at all; in fact, many would dispute that that Saw movies even belong in the “horror” genre. The reason for my admiration is that unlike most horror movies, the Saw films have a brain behind it, with engaging characters, clever twists and some truly inspired sick s—t, something that can’t be said about 90% of the formulaic-and-cheesy horror flicks that come out today.

Of course, once a series hits its sixth installment, you pretty much expect a “formula”, right? It’s what drew people into the theaters in the first place, and to stray from it now would probably alienate what few people actually look forward to what the series has in store next. The other thing I like about the series is that each chapter adds a little something to the story, and once you become comfortable with the often-suspect chronology of events (like the events of parts III and IV occurring simultaneously), it makes it more enjoyable.

The directorial reins have been handed off to Kevin Greutert, who thus far in his career has worked almost exclusively as a film editor. What he inherits is a story that will probably continue right where Part V left off: Det. Hoffman (Costas Mandylor) successfully won the battle of wits with Agent Strahm (who perished at the end of the last movie), and “has emerged as the unchallenged successor to Jigsaw’s legacy.” The only other thing the one-sheet says is “However, when the FBI draws closer to Hoffman, he is forced to set a game into motion, and Jigsaw's grand scheme is finally understood.” Jigsaw himself (Tobin Bell), will continue to appear in a series of flashbacks, and his telltale creepy voice will, I’m sure, continue to delight audiences with his signature line… “Hello, (insert victim’s name), I want to play a game…”

Take a look at how each of the first five Saw films have performed at the box office:

Saw (2004) – $55.2M, $18.3M OW (#3)
Saw II (2005) – $87.0M, $31.7M OW (#1)
Saw III (2006) – $80.2M, $33.6M OW (#1)
Saw IV (2007) – $63.3M, $31.8M OW (#1)
Saw V (2008) – $56.7M, $30.0M OW (#2)

The trend seems clear. The huge upsurge for Parts II and III were due to the immense following Part I generated in theaters and on DVD, but the last two film have seen a dropoff due to what most believe is the same repetitious storylines and dilution of plotlines. Will Part VI be able to improve on V’s numbers, or will it become the first in the series to fail to reach $50 million? That is indeed the question.

In order to beat Where the Wild Things Are's second week, it’s going to have to pull at least $20 million in its first three days. Given that each of the last four chapters has broken $30 million on its OW, that shouldn’t be a problem. The problem lies in its forthcoming weeks, given that the Saw diehards will already have seen it, and thus you can expect huge dropoffs once the season for scary movies has ended.

This film will run you only $15 in both leagues, so let me break it down. In Box Office, I don’t think it will give you what you need for it to be worthy of selection, given that it’s unlikely to give you much more than a 3.0-3.5 multiplier. In Ultimate, however, it could be a decent pick: If it grabs #1 on its OW, it will probably drop to no lower than #3 the following weekend (given that there’s only one big movie, Michael Jackson This Is It, coming the following week. All told, Saw VI could bring you as many as nine or ten Top 5 points and possibly a few PTA as well. The User Rating won’t be stellar, of course, but if that’s a trade-off you can live with, go for it.

Up next is Astro Boy, an animated film that is based on a Japanese manga series first published in 1952, and turned into a television cartoon starting in 1963. (Side note: many don’t know this, but it was this show that was considered the pioneer of the Japanese art-form now known as anime.) The big-screen adaptation was created by Imagi Animation Studios (who brought us the pretty-good TMNT in 2007), and is being distributed by Summit Entertainment (more on that in a sec).

The film is set in the future, in a place called Metro City, where a brilliant scientist (Nicolas Cage) builds a robot in the mold of the young son who he tragically lost, while also endowing his creation with a bevy of abilities, such as rocket boots, super-strength, hand-cannons and butt-guns. (Yes, you read that right.) Of course, you build something like that, eventually some unsavory characters want a piece of it, and soon Astro (Freddie Highmore) finds himself on the run from the technological might of the President himself (Donald Sutherland). The impressive voice cast also includes Charlize Theron, Samuel L. Jackson, Kristen Bell, Bill Nighy, Eugene Levy, Nathan Lane and Madeline Carroll.

It all looks very cute and entertaining of course, so there’s really no reason that it shouldn’t be a worthy family-style animated hit like Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs was… no reason, perhaps, save the fact that Astro Boy is being distributed by Summit Entertainment, who, apart from a certain teenage vampire series that shall remain nameless, has struck out with nearly every offering. Penelope, Never Back Down, Sex Drive, Next Day Air, Bandslam, Sorority Row, all have failed to find an audience. Even Fly Me to the Moon failed to impress, despite being given a boost by inclusion of several 3-D screens.

What a shame Astro Boy isn’t being distributed with 3-D capability; it could have made the difference between success and failure. Despite being shown on over 3,000 screens, it’s advertising campaign has been fairly soft, and with much more hype-heavy animated films coming up in November (Christmas Carol, Planet 51), I think Astro Boy will have a hard time competing.

For $11 in Ultimate leagues, it might be able to squeeze out five Top 5 points and a decent User Rating, but probably not much more than that. I will predict $35 million as the ceiling for this film, so that makes it a complete no-no in Box Office, where it will run you $12. Too bad.

Third up this week, we have Cirque du Freak: The Vampire’s Assistant, bowing on just under 3,000 screens courtesy of Universal. Based on the first installment in the trilogy The Saga of Darren Shan, the story centers on 16-year-old Darren Shan (Chris Massoglia), a typical youngster bored with his plebian surroundings. One day he receives a flyer for a one-night-only show involving the “Cirque du Freak”, a traveling freak-show, presided over by Larten Crepsley (John C. Reilly), who is actually a centuries-old vampire. Hoodwinked into becoming a vampire himself, Darren finds himself embroiled in a 200-year-old battle between two warring vampire factions. Using his newfound vampire powers, he must find a way to stay alive without losing what’s left of his humanity.

When watching the trailer, I wasn’t sure whether I was watching a full-out horror movie, a comedy, or a spoof. And reading through some of the reviews over at RT, it looks like the filmmakers couldn’t decide what The Vampire’s Assistant was supposed to be either. Emmanuel Levy says, “[It] can't decide what it wants to be, a scary horror flick about vampires, a magical circus yarn about freaks, or an emotionally touching coming of age and male camaraderie story. In moments, but only in moments, Cirque du Freak justifies each of the above labels and genres. In moments, but only in moments, the picture is enjoyable, due to its visual effects.” Hardly a ringing endorsement.

Given how well horredy Zombieland has done, I’m loathe to write off TVA’s chances entirely, but at least that film made no bones (heh) about what it was. Given the confusion surrounding TVA’s identity crisis, I’m more inclined to believe that audiences will go in expecting one thing and leave simply scratching their heads. Which is a shame, because the supporting cast is actually quite good: Reilly, Josh Hutcherson, Salma Hayek, Willem Dafoe, Orlando Jones and Ken Watanabe all lend their talents to this film.

This film won’t run you much ($7 Ultimate, $6 Box Office), so ask yourself why. I don’t foresee more than one Top 5 points, no PTA, a middling User Rating and perhaps $25 million. Take it from me: the also-rans in November and December will give you far better numbers than this.

Finally, we have Amelia, a historical biopic brought to us by Fox Searchlight. To the layman, it would seem to have a winning formula: a well-known, controversial and mysterious main character, a two-time Oscar winner playing her, and a release date at the beginning of Oscar season. Sadly, however, this may all be just a mirage.

For those who don’t know who Amelia Earhart was, she was a pioneer in the early days of aviation. She was the first female pilot in a mostly male-dominated profession at the time, and became famous for being the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean. What she is probably most famous for, however, was the way her career ended: on July 2, 1937, while attempting to circumnavigate the globe, she and her plane disappeared, and no trace was ever found of her, her navigator Fred Noonan or her plane ever again.

Obviously, such a storied life is worthy of turning into a feature film, and director Mira Nair (Mississippi Masala, Vanity Fair) is making the latest attempt, with proven actress Hilary Swank (Boys Don’t Cry, Million Dollar Baby) playing the title role. The film also stars Richard Gere, Ewan McGregor, Virginia Madsen and Christopher Eccleston.

I like the idea behind this film, but there are just too many “except’s” in the following paragraph from me to recommend it. It looks like definite Oscar bait, except that unlike 2004’s The Aviator, it has not been given any press screenings, nor has it appeared at any film festivals, and that is not a good sign. It could be a good money earner, like many late-year biopics tend to be, except for the fact that Fox Searchlight is only putting it into 800 or so theaters, with probably very little expansion thereafter.

Even if it sold out every screening (and it won’t), it still would take a Herculean effort to crack the Top 5. Yes, Paranormal Activity was able to crack $20 million last weekend in only 760 theaters, but that is the kind of thing that happens once a decade, not twice in the same month. You might be able to squeak out a few PTA and a decent User Rating, but it won’t help you in Box Office or Top 5. The price tag of $10 in Ultimate ($8 in Box Office) obviously counted on a much wide release platform, and since you’re not going to get it with Amelia, I can’t imagine why you’d want it on your slate.

My predictions for the weekend of October 23-25, 2009 (excluding Paranormal Activity):

1. Saw VI - $28 million
2. Where the Wild Things Are - $18 million
3. Astro Boy - $16 million
4. Law Abiding Citizen - $11 million
5. The Vampire’s Assistant - $10 million


Well, that will do it for me for another week. Next week, I’ll be vacationing in Austin for the weekend, so I may take the week off from column-writing. The only film being given a wide release is Michael Jackson’s This Is It, a concert/rockumentary starring the much-maligned pop icon as he prepares to embark on what would have been his worldwide comeback tour. I’m not sure just how big a release platform it will have, but presales are already through the roof, and some pundits are predicting nine-digit possibilities for this film, which ostensibly will only be in theaters for two weeks (yeah, right…). silversurfer has already agreed to add it to his column, so thanks for that!

As it stands, I will definitely be back the following week to talk about the films of November 6th, which will includine a whopping four films for me to talk about, including: A Christmas Carol, Disney’s latest animated 3-D motion-capture epic, starring Jim Carrey as the miserly-but-not-irredeemable curmudgeon Ebenezer Scrooge; The Men Who Stare at Goats, an odd-looking comedy starring George Clooney, Ewan McGregor, Kevin Spacey and Jeff Bridges; The Fourth Kind, a based-on-real-events thriller starring Milla Jovovich; and The Box, an oft-postponed horror film starring Cameron Diaz and Frank Langella.

Later!

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Re: SPEARE'S TIPS: THE FILMS OF 10/23 - Saw VI, Astro Boy, The Vampire's Assistant, Amelia

Post by Buscemi on Tue Oct 20, 2009 7:44 am

I don't see The Vampire's Assistant hitting $10 million. I'd say $5-7 million is more likely (maybe even down to Seeker numbers of $4 million and a PTA of under $1,500).

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Re: SPEARE'S TIPS: THE FILMS OF 10/23 - Saw VI, Astro Boy, The Vampire's Assistant, Amelia

Post by Shrykespeare on Tue Oct 20, 2009 10:10 am

Well, I'm being optimistic based on the theater count and the decent amount of commercials I've seen for it.

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Re: SPEARE'S TIPS: THE FILMS OF 10/23 - Saw VI, Astro Boy, The Vampire's Assistant, Amelia

Post by BanksIsDaFuture on Tue Oct 20, 2009 10:43 am

The Vampire's Assistant gets 3,000 theaters, but Amelia only gets 800? Something seems wrong about that....
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Re: SPEARE'S TIPS: THE FILMS OF 10/23 - Saw VI, Astro Boy, The Vampire's Assistant, Amelia

Post by undeadmonkey on Tue Oct 20, 2009 10:59 am

BanksIsDaFuture wrote:The Vampire's Assistant gets 3,000 theaters, but Amelia only gets 800? Something seems wrong about that....

very wrong
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Re: SPEARE'S TIPS: THE FILMS OF 10/23 - Saw VI, Astro Boy, The Vampire's Assistant, Amelia

Post by J.I. on Wed Oct 21, 2009 1:44 am

undeadmonkey wrote:
BanksIsDaFuture wrote:The Vampire's Assistant gets 3,000 theaters, but Amelia only gets 800? Something seems wrong about that....

very wrong
I think they are planning to expand Amelia, but that's just a guess.

Anyways, I think it is entirely possible for Paranormal Activity to win the weekend. If it is in 1800 theaters, it would need just under a $14,000 PTA to get $25 million. It will bring Saw VI down a little bit, so I could see it happening. Vampires does look like a bomb. It really needed better marketing.
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Re: SPEARE'S TIPS: THE FILMS OF 10/23 - Saw VI, Astro Boy, The Vampire's Assistant, Amelia

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