Two holiday-themed films open this weekend, but only one of them makes sense as season appropriate.
Weekend Forecast for October 22-24, 2004
By Reagen Sulewski
October 22, 2004
That film is The Grudge, which opens a week before Halloween, and is this year's primary offering to horror fans looking for scares on or around All Hallows Eve. Depending on how you score it, it's either a remake of or a sequel to a Japanese film of last year. This film stays in Japan, but has a mostly American cast, headlined by erstwhile vampire slayer Sarah Michelle Gellar.
The Grudge is receiving a lot of comparisons to The Ring, which is both accurate in some ways as well as a little bit of a cop-out. Both are from Japan, and both have extensive mythologies around them, but the similarities mostly stop there. The Ring used a fairly standard narrative, while The Grudge took the form in its Japanese release of a series of tangentially connected vignettes, all designed to scare the crap out of you.
Since the original director, Takeshi Shimizu, was on hand to adapt this for North American markets, we can more or less expect the same thing. With each scene an exercise in how many different ways you can hide something in the corner of a movie frame, but with some legitimately terrifying set pieces, it's a bit of an endurance test for horror fans.
Rounding out the 'names' in the cast other than Gellar are Bill Pullman, Clea DuVall and Thomas "I'm Tom Cruise's cousin" Mapother. It's not the biggest cast in the world, to be sure, but if we've learned nothing else in the last half dozen years or so, it's that the strength of the cast is pretty well irrelevant to the gross of horror films if there's a sufficiently creepy marketing campaign (like, for lack of a better example, The Ring). I'd say The Grudge fits the bill for the most part, and will be able to ride on the coattails of The Ring's performance two Octobers ago, especially considering that it's debuting on significantly more screens than that film, 3,245. Look for an opening weekend of $24 million.
Now, I'm generally onside with movie studios that launch Christmas movies more than a month before Christmas -- it just makes financial sense, getting a second go-round at the box office as things pick up at the Yuletide. However, the week before Halloween? That's just plain crazy. Such was the decision of DreamWorks, who seem to have decided that if summer can start in April, Christmas can start in October, with Surviving Christmas, starring Ben Affleck and James Gandolfini.
On paper, and in trailers, this definitely looked like a really good idea. Hey, you can probably see the reasoning yourself, even if you're not an Affleck fan (especially if you're not an Affleck fan). He plays smarmy very, very well. In fact, some would say he's not playing at all. James Gandolfini plays seething anger as well as anyone. It's just like Robert DeNiro and Billy Crystal! Unfortunately, it looks like we're getting the Analyze That version of the film, instead of the Analyze This.
While I could watch Affleck getting beat in the back of the head with a snow shovel on a 90 minute loop with no problem, it's a tough thing to build a movie around. So there's some plot about him renting out a family for Christmas, and some rigmarole about falling in love with the daughter of the family (played by Christina Applegate, in a 'blink-and-you'll-miss-her' role in the advertising). Trouble is, it's getting positively savaged by critics, who have given it a collective lump of coal. It doesn't seem like anyone's quite ready to forgive Affleck for Gigli just yet, and it doesn't help that this movie is trying just a little too hard to jump start the Holidays (I mean, it's snowing where I am, but I bet that's not the case for 90% of North America). Surviving Christmas should flame out at about a $13 million opening weekend, and may not survive Thanksgiving.
After three weeks at the top of the box office, Shark Tale will step down this weekend. Three turns at number one is impressive at any time of year, however, and it continues the streak of insanely lucrative CGI animated films. A strong run through Thanksgiving could mean up to a $200 million final total, though around $175 is more likely. With around $15 million this weekend, it should place a strong second.
Friday Night Lights moves into its third weekend as the defending number two, having fended off Team America: World Police's opening weekend. Both films earned just over $12 million last weekend. That low a figure for World Police came as a surprise to a number of people, I'm sure, but did you really think there was going to be a mass turnout for a puppet film? I'm calling for a fairly steep drop-off here as well in its second week, as even though word-of-mouth is pretty strong, the audience is pretty self-limiting. Destined to be a late-night college dorm favorite, Team America will probably end its theatrical run with no more than $40 million total.
Shall We Dance? will have to fight to do much better, though as an older-skewing film, it has a better shot at hanging onto its audience. Its blandness works both for and against it, and it should earn $6-7 million this weekend.
Expanding into wide release is I Heart Huckabees, moving to 758 theaters after some fantastic per-screen figures on just a handful. Perhaps this year's Being John Malkovich, the self-described existentialist comedy should definitely break into the top ten after hovering just below it for a couple of weeks. While a huge mainstream breakthrough is probably too much to ask (it's just far too quirky), this weekend should see it take in between $3 and $4 million.
Three films to watch in limited release come in with powerful pedigrees. Undertow is David Gordon Green's latest, director of George Washington and All the Real Girls. Sideways comes from Alexander Payne (Election, About Schmidt) and stars Paul Giamatti and Thomas Haden Church, and The Machinist, starring Christian Bale in a role that is receiving raves. In the latter, Bale plays a blue-collar worker who hasn't slept in a year and finds the world growing more and more surreal. The psychological thriller may be too gritty and disturbing to become a hit, but is definitely receiving notice and is a film to watch for the end of the year, perhaps as this year's Memento.