Attractions: Oscar-Chasers of the World Unite and Take Over
Welcome back to Movieline Attractions, your regular guide to everything new, noteworthy and Oscar-baiting this week at the movies. And has Hollywood ever got your Oscar bait: Death! Salvation! Soul-stirring! Race issues! And that's just the Disney movie opening today. Join me for a quick rundown of what's what after the jump.
WHAT'S NEW: Disney pretty much put a gun to its fans' heads in recent weeks, charging $50 per ticket in some cases for the privilege of seeing its cherished return to hand-drawn animation, The Princess and the Frog. This, as if the layoff since 2003 (six full years! How did we stand it?) has resulted in some heartbreaking dearth of art coming out of the studio, as if watching a bayou love story loaded down with unsavory first impressions and self-congratulatory ethnic sensitivity was equivalent to reuniting The Smiths or something. Anyway, you know who you are if you paid that then, and you likely know who you are if you're paying markdown this weekend as the film blows up to 3,400 theaters: You are the majority of moviegoers, likely launching Princess to $25.4 million and first place overall. Congrats.
In better news, Clint Eastwood heads off to South Africa for Invictus, his biopic-ish look at Nelson Mandela's attempt to unite his country by hosting the 1995 Rugby World Cup. Reviews are generally admiring, and Warner Bros. has placed some pretty pricey faith on the sports-fan/mature-viewer marketing tip; Morgan Freeman and Matt Damon have seemingly been everywhere but my bathroom (and thanks for that, Warners, by the way, though your own results may vary). The big problem -- and it's a good one to have -- is whether or not Invictus can knockoff WB's other humanitarian sports juggernaut The Blind Side. The latter is dropping off very gradually, has a 50-percent screen-count advantage on Eastwood, and is still perfectly capable of pulling down another $15.5 million this weekend -- not far off where I'd place Invictus. You may actually see their respective takes go a long way toward determining how Warners approaches Oscar '09: Eastwood will obviously get a healthy push (especially after the windfall of Gran Torino), but that backdoor opens wider and wider every week for Sandy and Co. to make in-house trouble by the end of the year.
Peter Jackson's afterlife/mystery/drama adaptation of the bestseller The Lovely Bones pukes on to three screens this weekend, whinnying and stomping into the awards-race gate like a horse that ate some bad hay. It's nothing a $70,000-per-screen average can't fix -- for now. Also making its way out of the Oscar-thoroughbred paddock: the fitter, leaner, more muscular meditation on mourning A Single Man, which lands on nine screens with Colin Firth and Julianne Moore game for gold. I was underwhelmed in Toronto, but at least one colleague of mine here will beg to differ later today. Stay tuned!
Also opening in L.A. only, the surprise Indie Spirit Award nominee The Vicious Kind and the Ellen Burstyn/Hillary Duff coming-of-age flick According to Greta. And of course, on one lonely screen in New York, Russell Crowe's dumped thriller Tenderness.
THE BIG LOSER: Does anyone actually see Broken Lizard films anymore? The comedy troupe's latest, The Slammin' Salmon, arrives with Michael Duncan Clarke in the title role of a compulsive gambler/restaurant manager who sets up a bonus contest for his waiters to help himself pay off a debt. Customers eventually spend more, but will viewers? We're talking 11 screens here. I hope I'm wrong if only for the distributor's sake (from Warner Bros. to Anchor Bay in one movie -- tough break), but seriously. Broken Lizard? It's hard to believe Super Troopers was almost 10 years ago.
THE UNDERDOG: Werner Herzog. David Lynch. One screen in New York. A steady drizzle of mixed opinion. Anything can happen with My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done, featuring Michael Shannon in the true-crime matricide tale directed by Herzog and produced by Lynch. Can it knock off Lovely Bones's PTA? Probably not, but as self-distributed mindfuck supercombos go, this one will be a long-playing mint for its makers.
FOR SHUT-INS: Not a bad week for new DVD releases, including three different versions of the marvelous Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Michael Mann's problematic Public Enemies, the sleeper hit Julie & Julia, the superb, blacker-than-black Robin Williams dramedy World's Greatest Dad, Hayao Miyazaki's animated voice-talent catch-all Ponyo, and the year's front-running Oscar candidate among documentaries, The Cove.