Weekend Movie Preview (9.2.11)

Can you smell that autumn air?
Neither can I. Not just given that global warming has altered our seasons, but the first weekend of September seems to be offering films that didn’t want to squeeze into the summer. Labor Day weekend might be the third worst compared to Super Bowl Weekend and the weekend after Thanksgiving. With families hoping to gather outside and wear white pants for the last time deemed fashionably suitable, it never fairs well for the movies.
As such, the long-delayed “Apollo 18” opens this week next to camp-fest “Shark Night 3D.” Offering a little bit of thought-provoking counter-programming is the thriller “The Debt.”

New This Week

The Debt (Wed.)

Directed by John Madden
Written by Matthew Vaughn, Jane Goldman and Peter Straughan, Assaf Bernstein and Ido Rosenblum (Israeli film)
Starring: Jessica Chastain, Helen Mirren, Sam Worthington, Marton Csokas

Summary: Three Israeli Mossad secret agents went on a perilous mission to hunt down a Nazi criminal in East Berlin in 1966. More than 30 years later, they are still haunted by the events and a dangerous secret.

The Word: ”The Debt” went through considerable delays (as did most Miramax films) before finding a home with Focus Features, but the talent behind and in front of the camera has to be noted. Matthew Vaughn and Jane Goldman (the duo behind “Kick-Ass” and “X-Men: First Class”) adapted the script with help from Peter Straughan (“The Men Who Stare at Goats”) and John Madden directed “Shakespeare in Love.” The film stars venerated talents Mirren and Wilkinson and blossoming stars Worthington and Chastain.

Rotten Tomatoes: 76% (very good)

My Thoughts: Although a bit frustrating at times thanks to romantic subplots and Nazis who talk a bit longer than they should, “The Debt” does come together and with some great moments of suspense, thick tension and sharp acting throughout. Read my review.

Recommendation: Not a must-see in theaters, but a thought-provoking and worthwhile thriller.

Apollo 18

Directed by Gonzalo López-Gallego
Written by Brian Miller, Cory Goodman

Summary: The story behind the “actual” last NASA mission to the moon and why we were never told of its existence … until now.

The Word: A found-footage type of horror film that takes place in space when NASA astronauts are attacked by some kind of presence. The Weinstein’s moved this film from April to January of next year to the last weekend of summer to the first weekend of fall. Not sure what that says about the quality, but you can expect a very “‘Paranormal Activity’” in space” result from the end product.

Rotten Tomatoes: N/A

My Thoughts: I like the film premise-wise, but that hardly makes it original in the face of aforementioned films (“Paranormal Activity”). At least it doesn’t take place in a creepy house or involve creepy children. The moving around of the release dates is discouraging, especially with another campier horror offering available the same weekend in the next film on this list.

Recommendation: I’ve previewed this film so many times to this point I can’t possibly judge it fairly.


Shark Night 3D

Directed by David R. Ellis
Written by Will Hayes and Jesse Studenberg
Starring: Sara Paxton, Dustin Milligan, Joel Moore, Katharine McPhee

Summary: A group of friends vacationing at a lake in the Louisiana Gulf find themselves being attacked by freshwater sharks.

The Word: In the vein of “Piranha 3D,” which did reasonably well last summer for a film about killer fish and naked women, comes “Shark Night 3D” a “Jaws” meets “Deliverance” film about killer sharks and naked women. For fans of this “genre,” Ellis is a good choice. The longtime stunt coordinator turned director knows a thing or two about campy horror having directed “Final Destination 2,” “The Final Destination” and none other than “Snakes on a Plane.”

Rotten Tomatoes: N/A

My Thoughts: It’s a bit curious that Relativity couldn’t sneak this one into the summer while kids such as the ones vacationing in this film are no yet in school, but it hardly matters. If there’s anything we learned from “Snakes on a Plane,” it’s that no amount of hype can possibly make a campy horror film successful at the box office.

Recommendation: If you enjoyed “Piranha” and like to see no-name actors fight for their lives, here’s your best shot this fall, but most likely this is fun to on-demand in the wee hours of the morning.


Box Office Predictions

I was initially skeptical, but with a distribution of more than 3,300 theaters, I think Apollo 18 will beat out The Help. Business for the champion of the past two weeks should barely move from its $14 million from last weekend thanks to Labor Day, but given the success of found footage horror, I boldly think the film will somehow manage $15-20 million: close to, but not quite the levels of last year’s “The Last Exorcism.”

Everything else should make less than $10 million. That was about the mark hit by last year’s campy horror film “Piranha 3D,” so I think Shark Night 3D will roll up just below that with $8-10 million.

Beyond that it’s tough. When little competition hits the market, it’s tough to predict whether the returners will drop in typical fashion or hang around a bit longer. I think Rise of the Planet of the Apes has another good weekend in it, so I’m slotting it fourth. I’m also going to give Colombiana the edge over “The Debt.” My gut says Zoe Saldana’s action film will drop to about $7 million whereas “The Debt” will only make $6 million thanks to few screens and an early Wednesday opening.

1. Apollo 18
2. The Help
3. Shark Night 3D
4. Rise of the Planet of the Apes
5. Colombiana


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