Weekend Openings (July 6-8)

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*Sigh* You guys…sometimes I don’t have the energy for this.  Well, just because I personally cannot muster up any excitement whatsoever for the newest releases this weekend doesn’t mean I can neglect my duty to you, dear readers.  Without further ado…

Look, I’m not naïve.  I understand that moviemaking is a business, and with risky passion projects must also come those aimed to make a profit.  I have no problem with companies exercising their power over franchise installments and popcorn flicks for commercial purposes.  It’s business…it’s life.  But dammit, a line has to be drawn somewhere, and the debate over whether or not a reboot of Spider-Man so soon after the previous trilogy ended was “necessary” sidesteps why it exists in the first place.  Because the truth of the matter is that The Amazing Spider-Man – retelling the iconic superhero’s origin story with Andrew Garfield web-slinging through New York City – was made for the sole purpose of fulfilling a fine-print contractual obligation regarding licensing rights.  There was no personal ambition in the creation of this film, either artistically or financially.  Even the popular canard that Columbia and Sony Pictures are trying to redeem the franchise à la Batman Begins doesn’t fly; the only reason they didn’t move forward with a Spider-Man 4 was because Sam Raimi was frustrated with their strong-arming of the third film and called it quits when they were planning to do it again.

It’s not always prudent to let a film’s production history effect one’s decision on whether or not to go see it, but in my opinion, paying money to see this film would support the growing McDonaldization of Hollywood filmmaking; an assembly line method of passionless corporate bean-counters making and remaking predictable films based on established franchises without regard to originality or risk.  I might have been willing to dismiss this hunch if reception was especially strong (as was the case with the surprisingly fun The Avengers) and was almost convinced to do so after reading Joey Magidson’s very strong endorsement of it last weekend.  But my colleague and I do not share the same views on superhero movies, and the vast majority of critics are reading very similar to the kind of “Well, I guess it’s not bad…” sugar-coating that greeted Spider-Man 3 before everyone agreed that, yes, it was terrible.

But hey, this is just my two cents.  If you’re keen on seeing Spider-Man’s origin story rehashed with some tweaks here and there, by all means knock yourself out.  Certainly TASM been pulling in pretty good – if somewhat hyperbolically reported – numbers since its theatrical debut last Tuesday, earning about $60 million from its head start over the Fourth of July week.  Despite the film’s “record-breaking” grosses I have my doubts about its staying power.  Contrary to the predictions of many skeptics, TASM will not outright fail, but there is a wariness from a potential audience that needs to be allayed with reboots.  Batman Begins in fact overcame this very obstacle after it didn’t score a monster opening and had to rely on word-of-mouth to maintain strong “legs” throughout the summer.  TASM has less enthusiastic reviews plus holdover competition from surprise hits Magic Mike and Ted, probably bringing down to a still-hefty $63-68 million over the weekend for a six-day total of $123-128 million.

Oliver Stone has a new movie out.  No, no, you don’t understand, Oliver Stone is making a comeback!  You know, the fearlessly deranged filmmaker whose lurid portrayals of everything from the Vietnam War to Nixon’s presidency endlessly fascinated us even when we weren’t sure if he was an exceedingly brilliant director or a hack in auteur’s clothing?  Well, after proving with U-Turn, Alexander and World Trade Center that the answer was probably the latter, it appears He Has Returned.  Adapting Don Winslow’s cult novel of the same name, Savages stars Aaron Johnson as a brilliant marijuana grower and his ex-Navy SEAL buddy Taylor Kitsch whose idyllic life is threatened when their shared girlfriend is kidnapped by an evil Mexican drug cartel led by a ruthless Salma Hayek and Benicio del Toro, and enlist the help of a corrupt DEA agent to rescue her.

God, how many things about the premise alone turn me off?  How about the lazy “badass character” shorthand of making one of them an ex-Navy SEAL?  Or how about making them both carnally share the same hot blonde girlfriend?  No, it’s probably the machismo racist fantasy of killing a bunch of Dirty Scary Mexicans to rescue their joint sexual conquest.  The whole thing sounds like a self-parody of manly chest-beating wish fulfillment.  Who knows, that might be exactly what it is and I never read the popular novel, in which case I may owe Mr. Stone an apology like I did to Mr. Fincher last year.  After all, the majority of critics aren’t complaining about the film’s seemingly rancid worldview but they have been mixed, with some reviews calling Savages highly entertaining pulp while others complain about its clunky script, overdone grisly violence and odd contrast between two stiff performances from its heroes clashing with two over-the-top villains.  Yet again I’ll let my colleagues test the waters before I jump into Stone’s newest, but men looking for an alternative to tame commercial movies this summer may flock to guaranteed bloody gunfights and a scantily-clad Blake Lively, boosting it to a soft but decent $9-14 million this weekend.

The third and final “but life is too short” wide release this weekend is a film that actually came out yesterday.  It looks like Katy Perry has reached the 3D concert documentary point in her career, and while critics are quick to note that Katy Perry: Part of Me is basically a PR puff piece fawning over her, the music star is so darn likeable that fans will more than get their money’s worth.  But even her legions of fans won’t bring this film to Justin Bieber: Never Say Never grosses as the multiplex is just too crowded right now with higher-profile titles.  And I don’t care how many times Perry promises her movie will be like “being in bed with me,” male audiences are just not going to see it.  A decent $12-17 million is what I’m predicting for it to rake in this weekend.

The only notable limited release this weekend is The Do-Deca-Pentathlon, Mark and Jay Duplass’ new movie that isn’t technically their new movie since it was completed before Cyrus.  The story of two brothers who became estranged after a dispute during the titular competition years ago was given a slightly positive response from Joey, though he was quick to note that it was one of their lesser efforts.

Sorry to be a Debbie Downer today, folks.  The next few weeks will be better, I promise.  Hey, if I’m wrong about any of these films don’t hesitate to sound off on them!