Weekend Movie Preview (1.27.12)

January wraps up with some thrillers and a female-skewing action comedy. Liam Neeson once again looks to prove that he is box-office king of January/February with “The Grey.” Katherine Heigl will look to see if she’s got any box-office mojo left starring in an action rom-com based on a bestselling book series in “One for the Money.” Then, after a quiet 2011, “Avatar” star Sam Worthington jumps back onto the scene (maybe literally, even) in “Man on a Ledge.” Lastly, five-time Academy Award nominee “The Descendants” will be the first of the contenders to do a wide pre-Oscars run.


Now in Theaters

The Grey

Directed by Joe Carnahan
Written by Joe Carnahan, Ian Mackenzie Jeffers (screenplay and short story)
Starring: Liam Neeson, Dermot Mulroney, Frank Grillo, James Badge Dale

Summary: A plane full of oil drillers crash lands in the Alaskan wilderness. Under the leadership of a trained wilderness bodyguard, they must struggle to survive against the elements — and a pack of angry wolves.

The Word: Carnahan and Neeson team up again after a successfully entertaining effort in 2010′s “The A-Team.” This seems like a whole other animal, as it has a darker and grittier bend, especially when compared with “A-Team” and Carnahan’s previous effort, “Smokin’ Aces.” At the same time, it’s being marketed as much like an escape from rabid creatures flick as anything. Interestingly, with some of the 2011 screenings, it was one time thought that Neeson would get an Oscar push for his performance.

Rotten Tomatoes: 75% (very good)

My Thoughts: Neeson makes anything better. He’s like the extra butter in every baking recipe. He’ll be hard at work in “The Grey,” trying to turn a story of survival into something exciting and original. The early buzz for the vet suggests this is an ironic warm spot on the winter calendar.


Man on a Ledge

Directed by Asger Leth
Written by Pablo F. Fenjves
Starring: Sam Worthington, Elizabeth Banks, Jamie Bell, Ed Harris

Summary: An escaped convict (Worthington) accused of stealing a diamond sets out to prove his innocence by climbing out onto the ledge of a Manhattan hotel. While a cop (Banks) tries to talk him down, his brother (Bell) is busy trying to get revenge on the man (Harris) who he says framed him.

The Word: You’ve never heard of the writer or director, but the faces are easy to recognize. Considering Summit had no additional writers work on Fenjves script, they must feel really good about what they read. After a slow 2011, Worthington will look to boost his box-office appeal. The appearance of an Ed Harris and Kyra Sedgwick seems strange, but it only helps this thriller that’s sure to have some crazy twist.

Rotten Tomatoes: 21% (bad)

My Thoughts: Never mind the literal title, the marketing is in full force and looks to have people’s attention like a … man on a ledge … actually would. The star power is there unlike many January thrillers, but films like this can build up some serious anticipation of an awesome twist. If “Ledge” doesn’t deliver in this capacity, it won’t find many fans, and critics have already called it out on its believability issues.


One for the Money

Directed by Julie Anne Robinson
Written by Stacy Sherman and Karen Ray, Liz Brixius, Janet Evanovich (novel)
Starring: Katherine Heigl, Jason O’Mara, Debbie Reynolds, Sherri Sheppard

Summary: When lingerie saleswoman Stephanie Plum (Heigl) finds herself without a job, she turns to her cousin, a bail-bondsperson, who gives her a job as a bounty hunter, essentially. Turns out her first assignment involves bringing in a former lover who dumped her some time ago.

The Word: Heigl gives the rom-com another whirl, this time with the help of Janet Evanovich’s best-selling book series (despite some obvious similarities to 2010′s Jennifer Aniston film “The Bounty Hunter.” Frequent TV director Julie Anne Robinson, whose last film was “The Last Song” with Miley Cyrus, lead the all-female directing/writing crew. Liz Brixius, creator of Showtime’s ”Nurse Jackie,” did work on the script.

Rotten Tomatoes: N/A

My Thoughts:  Why Heigl won’t try her hand at something better blows my mind. She obviously doesn’t know a good script, or maybe just doesn’t read them. Perhaps “Knocked Up” was really an anomaly and not indicative of her potential as an actress. She did decently last time she opened a film in January (2008′s “27 Dresses”), but this one is more similar in premise to “Killers,” her biggest dud. Without being screened for critics, Lionsgate will rely heavily on book fans and a demographic that hasn’t been catered to since “New Year’s Eve.”

The Descendants

Directed by Alexander Payne
Written by Alexander Payne, Nat Faxon and Jim Rash, Kaui Hart Hemmings (novel)
Starring: George Clooney, Shailene Woodley, Amara Miller

Summary: After his wife ends up in the hospital on life support, Hawaiian land baron Matt King must take care of his two daughters, but when he learns that his wife had been cheating on him before the accident, he takes the girls on a trip to confront the man she had an affair with.

The Word: Alexander Payne had been absent from the movie world since “Sideways” about seven years ago, but he’s back in full force with “Descendants.” The film has been nominated for five Oscars: Best Picture, Best Actor (Clooney), Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Editing.

Rotten Tomatoes: 90% (excellent)

My Thoughts: I wasn’t all that excited about this one at first, but it quickly became my favorite film of the year. It’s not an easy film, but Clooney gives one of if not his best performance and everything from the setting to the acting works to tell one story. It’s a beautiful film, but completely different from its more lighthearted Best Picture counterparts. Read my review.



Box Office Predictions

Feels good to finally come off of a 5/5 weekend! This one will be much harder, but I can confidently side with Liam Neeson and The Grey for the number one spot. Normally a wilderness flick from a tiny distributor (Open Road Films) would be a warning sign, but good reviews and Neeson’s box-office powers since “Taken” assure a strong opening. Without a huge marketing machine, however, I suspect $20 million tops.

It sounds optimistic to put One for the Money second, but Heigl’s proven capable of $15 million many times and so much of what’s playing caters to men right now. Add the fans of the book and the recent Groupon special to get butts in seats (which worked well for “The Lincoln Lawyer” last March) and you can feel confident in the receipts of the film if nothing else.

Underworld: Awakening will hit third, seeing as these films tend to drop by a predictable amount weekend-to-weekend. $10-12 million would be a nice second-week take for Screen Gems.

After that it gets tough with a lot of films aiming for $10 million. Based on Summit Entertainments lack of confidence, it seems Red Tails will come in fourth and their thriller Man on a Ledge in fifth. With a studio that hadn’t just been bought up pushing them and during a time when their weren’t so many male-skewing thrillers, this film could perform well, but it won’t crack $10 million, so “Red Tails” is the safer pick. After its Oscar nomination, “Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close” will be extremely close behind.

1. The Grey
2. One for the Money
3. Underworld: Awakening
4. Red Tails
5. Man on a Ledge


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