An already packed July goes out with a bang this weekend, filling it with four new wide releases, three of which are loaded with box office promise. As the summer movie season makes its finishing kick, the selection of films couldn't be better.
Weekend Forecast for July 30 - August 2, 2004
By Reagen Sulewski
July 30, 2004
There's been so much ink spilled about M. Night Shyamalan's rise to fame as a populist director a la Steven Spielberg that it's practically cliché at this point to even bring it up. Yet it's an undeniable fact that he remains one of the handful of directors to be known by name (even if we're only halfway sure how to pronounce it). He's accomplished this feat with a series of horror films and thrillers which have each - in their own way - contained something of a twist to get audiences talking after the show, to the point that we'd be disappointed if there wasn't one in his films. So with that in mind, The Village arrives as the front-runner for the weekend.
In an idyllic village in 19th century Pennsylvania, the people there have come to an understanding with the mysterious beings that live outside their borders. Don't call us and we won't call you. Someone always has to screw up the deal, though, and after one nosy nogoodnik decides to venture into the woods, the monsters counter by entering the town, and wackiness ensues. The setup is not without its hokiness, as a lot of the villager scenes play corny without context. After the crop circle reveal of Signs, a red slash on a door just isn't doing it for me. As a standard bearer for mood and suspense, though, Shyamalan hasn't let me down yet, so I'm willing to give him the benefit of the doubt.
He's working without an obvious A-Lister in his cast for the first time since his little-seen film Wide Awake, bringing Joaquin Phoenix over from Signs to be the lead here. One of those great character actors who for some reason has never broken out despite appearing in numerous big films (and receiving an Oscar nomination for Gladiator), if he doesn't become a huge lead out of this film, it'll probably never happen. Shyamalan continues to attract solid casts overall, bringing aboard Adrien Brody, Sigourney Weaver and Brendan Gleeson, among others, for this film. However, the buzz around The Village centers on Bryce Howard, daughter of Ron Howard, who by all accounts steals the movie.
Shyamalan has made low-key horror a respected genre again, placing The Sixth Sense in the top ten all-time (since booted, but you can't blame him) and opening Signs to a very impressive $60 million and a $227 million total. I think The Village will represent a slight step backwards, just as Unbreakable did. Critical reception is lukewarm compared to his previous films and I think both critics and audiences are starting to develop an immunity to his style of filmmaking, at least to some degree. I think we're still looking at a very healthy $48 million opening weekend, though.
Just in time for the main political season, The Manchurian Candidate opens in 2,867 theaters Friday. A remake of the 1962 classic by John Frankenheimer, this movie looks to be a worthy successor to that film and perhaps more relevant than it ever was. Years after returning from the first Gulf War, Bennett Marco (played by Denzel Washington) is plagued by nightmares of unspecific thing that may have happened to him during his time there. As his paranoia grows, he begins to suspect there may be a connection between his nightmares and Raymond Shaw (Liev Schrieber), a man from his platoon who was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor and is now a vice presidential candidate.
With the Red Scare of the original no longer plausible, the newest boogeymen, multi-national corporations become the malevolent entity here (eerie parallels to today abound; I've give you credit for seeing them yourself). It's almost a 'ripped from the headlines' situation and could not come at a more opportune time, with interest in politics and political film at a peak. It will undoubtedly share some audience with Fahrenheit 9/11, if not being nearly as partisan (if at all). Of course, it won't appeal simply to the politically minded, as the summer has been light on thrillers. Also with a brilliantly talented cast including Meryl Streep (just mark her in for Supporting Actress right now and get it over with) and Jon Voight, The Manchurian Candidate should satisfy the demand for smart, thought-provoking yet slick drama that often characterizes late summer fare. Look for an opening weekend of about $29 million.
Continuing with Visible Minority Weekend is Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle. In the tradition of the Bill & Ted films and Dude, Where's My Car?, this is another "idiot stoners go on a voyage of self-discovery and surreal adventure" film, only this time, there's an Asian guy and an Indian guy. Woo! Whole different movie there! OK, so I'm being way too harsh here, as it's about time we had minority actors play lead comedic roles in mainstream film, I just wish it wouldn't be such an issue. In any case, the trailers for this film are among the funniest of the year, or at least to the previously established subgroup of people who are predisposed to this kind of lunacy (guess if I'm in that group or not. C'mon, guess!). Now, they're no Ashton Kutcher and Sean William Scott (and maybe that's a good thing) but John Cho (the MILF guy from American Pie) and Kal Penn (the ridiculously profane guy from Van Wilder) have their charm and it's not too hard to see this movie making them into college-dorm names. Like D,WMC? before it, Harold and Kumar is going to turn into one of the mainstream cult classics. I expect an opening weekend of approximately $15 million, which should pretty much immediately put it in the black.
Bringing up the rear for the new films is Thunderbirds, based on the 1960s children's TV series... using all marionettes. Surprisingly enough, for the update we get a live action film, though still keeping in the spirit of the series. Jonathan Frakes continues to build himself a directing career with these youth-targeted action adventures (e.g. Clockstoppers), though this is the first time outside of Star Trek that he's been given something with a franchise potential. Despite the fact that Bill Paxton and Ben Kingsley would seem to lend it credibility, the trailer is almost perfectly designed to exclude adults (other than those tripping down memory lane) and kids who have no idea what this series was. Thunderbirds shouldn't make much impact at the box office at all, finishing up with about $8 million for the weekend.
The Bourne series turned into a legitimate franchise over the weekend by opening to $52 million. Matt Damon has secured himself a big fat paycheck for about as long as he is willing to play along or until they turn out a stinker. With even good sequels having trouble keeping their box office, don't view the inevitable drop to $25-30 million as a failure or a judgment on the movie's quality, simply a new reality in the box office business.
The previous weekend's number one, I, Robot, passed $100 million on Tuesday, making it an unqualified success and a much needed comeback for Will Smith. Though it fell a troubling 60% in weekend two, the hot start was enough to ensure it easily passes the $150 million mark in domestic box office, which were the realistic expectations before it opened.
In milestone news, Shrek 2 continues its steady climb in the all-time box office rankings and will move past Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace into fourth place all-time, perhaps even before the weekend. E.T. is just beyond that mark and will fall no later than next weekend, but third place will be the absolute limit, as Star Wars's $460 million is untouchable by Shrek barring some fairy godmother intervention. Spider-Man 2 should enter the top ten all time this weekend, with The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers easily in its sights. As August fare thins out, Spidey 2 may be able to hold a portion of its screens and thus could try and make a run at the original's $403 million, but that seems like a pipe dream as well.
In indie releases, watch for She Hate Me, Spike Lee's latest. Featuring a plot about a former executive earning money by impregnating lesbians, this movie is pretty out there even by Spike's standards. Garden State is a film to watch in the coming weeks; featuring Zach Braff of Scrubs (also in his directorial debut), this film was a Sundance favorite and has two trailers that are simply outstanding.