Scrooge, Boxes and Goats Lead Season's Unlikeliest Box-Office Battle Royale
Welcome back to Movieline Attractions, your regular guide to everything new, noteworthy and/or nonstarting at the movies. This week, Disney delivers the holidays about a month early, the latest Oscar-ready thoroughbreds trot out of the stable, and Richard Kelly once again gets down to baffling business.
WHAT'S NEW: Robert Zemeckis returns to a few of his favorite things in Disney's A Christmas Carol, blending performance-capture animation and preemptive season's greetings in 3-D. The results -- featuring Jim Carrey as Scrooge in a bunch of "AHHHH! It's coming right for meeeee!!!!" moments that no doubt improve dramatically on Charles Dickens's tired old 19th-century source -- are not really dazzling anyone, but that won't matter at the box office, where A Christmas Carol can and should break out in first place with around $43 million.
Shoring that up in wide release is the alien-abduction thriller The Fourth Kind, with Universal marketing shamelessly clutching Paranormal Activity's coattails as far as they'll take them. It could be pretty far under the circumstances: Paranormal peaked a few weeks ago, and around $13 million worth of its constituents are likely ready for Fourth Kind. Their parents will probably be down the corridor at The Men Who Stare at Goats, the telekinetic-military farce starring George Clooney, Ewan McGregor, Kevin Spacey and Jeff Bridges. It wasn't the Toronto sensation Overture Films hoped it would be, but considering the fates so far of darlings like Whip It, maybe that's a good thing. Either way, Overture has kept the faith promotionally, so don't think this is going to open to a few thousand empty theaters. $7.5 million seems fair.
Opening limited, it's tough to believe that Precious: Based on the novel Push by Sapphire premiered nearly 10 months ago at the Sundance Film Festival, and we still have four months of hype (some well-deserved, some not so much) to listen to ahead of the Oscars. Which at once has nothing and everything to do with whether or not you should see it: It's a grueling sit that's mostly redeemed by its ensemble cast, and yet the "Big Event" quality lent by executive producers Tyler Perry and Oprah Winfrey seems a little fulsome for the subject matter and the style. It should make a small fortune this weekend on 18 screens ($25,000 per theater? $30,000?) before trickling out wide in the weeks ahead, but if you're the type of moviegoer who accounts for hype in your final estimation of a film's merits, just hold off until everything calms down. Precious deserves at least that much.
Also opening: L.A. finally gets a look at the shit-stirring doc The Yes Men Fix the World as well as the vigilante photojournalist thriller Victory Day, the latter of which is earning strong interest as a future Bad Movie We Love. In New York, the acclaimed paranoiac conspiracy documentary Collapse arrives on one screen, as does the quirky small-town carnival comedy Splinterheads.
THE BIG LOSER: There is most certainly something going on in The Box, Richard Kelly's adaptation of the Richard Matheson short story "Button, Button." Hell if I know what it is, though -- and not because I'm too lazy to contemplate it, but because Kelly has tied a knot the size of a beach ball with themes, characters, influences and digressions that offer no hint of a reward for straightening them. Cameron Diaz and James Marsden are mismatched as a married couple in the throes of moral and psychological crisis, having pushed a red button from a mysterious man (Frank Langella) that will kill a stranger for a $1 million cash prize. That can't go well, of course, but all The Box offers are Kelly's typically striking images in the service of a near-complete intellectual vacuum. In the end you've witnessed little more than an exercise, some Kubrick knock-off whose sense of dread may be its only workable dimension. That probably could have done well were it not opening against The Fourth Kind, but if I were Warner Bros. -- which, in fairness, should be commended for continuing to take chances on risky, high-concept films for adults -- I'd take the write-off and just hope this can crack $6 million.
THE UNDERDOG: Another one opening in New York only (for now; it expands a bit Nov. 20), That Evening Sun is a revelatory little gem featuring Hal Holbrook as Abner Meecham, an ornery Tennessee octogenarian who escapes a nursing facility to return to his farm miles out of town. There, he finds a family renting the place; the malcontent head-of-household Choate (Ray McKinnon) plans to shape it up as the first step in getting his life back together. What begins as a darkly comic battle of wills unfolds as a much deeper, sobering consideration of home -- what it is, who it belongs to, and what we do to preserve it. Holbrook is incredible, personifying the frailty of those concepts with every limp and every waver in his voice. Director Scott Teems trips a few times on hoary Southern-gothic tropes -- the folksy, saucy aphorism, the poetry of disrepair -- but more than makes up for it in his command of Sun's tone, which harmonizes terror, humor and more than a little heartbreak in the season's most out-of-nowhere pleasure. For those of you keeping score at home, Holbrook just qualified for the Oscar race.
FOR SHUT-INS: This week's abundant new DVD releases include the underrated The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3, G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra, Aliens in the Attic, Watchmen: The Ultimate Cut, the lauded documentary Food Inc., the 50th anniversary reissue of Alfred Hitchcock's North By Northwest, and a nifty collection of Pedro Almodovar reissues including Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, Law of Desire, All About My Mother and the director's unheralded classic Matador.