This Week In Movies By Pete Hammond: ‘Little Fockers,’ ‘Tron Legacy’

By Pete Hammond What does it say about the current state of Hollywood that movies with gargantuan budgets , big stars and endless hype are, as of the turn of the new year, being rated anywhere from disappointing to disasters , while smaller films from directors not exactly known for box office blockbusters are being perceived as surprising hits. I will tell you what it says. It says ‘nobody knows nothing’ when it comes to predicting public taste. Granted four of those “disappointments” I refer to are indeed in the top five of this weekend’s boxoffice, ‘Little Fockers’ (#1) , ‘Tron Legacy’ (#3), ‘Yogi Bear’ (#4) and ‘The Chronicles of Narnia: Voyage of the Dawn Treader’ (#5). But in each case their total boxoffice is considered less than expected or hoped for. Fockers, which will probably do about $300 million worldwide before it ‘s done is still going to be about $200 million less than its predecessor , ‘Meet The Fockers’ did in 2004. ‘Tron: Legac with about $130 million domestically so far can’t seem to be the break out success Disney was hoping for. ‘Yogi Bear’ at just $66 million to date is certainly no ‘Alvin And The Chipmunks.’ The new Narnia does not seem to be doing as poorly as the last Narnia but will get nowhere near the results of the first Narnia which was certainly Fox’s hope when they picked up the franchise from Disney. All of these “projects” got greenlit because they were based on known commodities, brand names. Add to this list , Jack Black’s underachiever ( ie: bomb) ‘Gulliver’s Travels’ (#8) and such brand name superstar misses as the Angelina Jolie/ Johnny Depp pairing in ‘The Tourist’ (just over $50 million domestically) and the complete fizzle of the all-star James L. Brooks comedy, ‘How Do You Know,’ both not even in the top ten and you get the idea that audiences sniffed out major studio holiday fare and didn’t like what they smelled.

On the other hand it is hard to imagine that Paramount could have guessed that ‘True Grit,’ their western remake collaboration with the quirky Coen Brothers would instead become the breakout hit of the season. After all westerns are dead, the Coens have never had a film that hit $100 million – or even close, it’s a remake of a beloved John Wayne classic etc etc etc. Yet it only cost $38 million to make and at $86 million and counting after just 12 days it’s a certified smash, a film hitting all parts of the audience.

Then there is the case of two other films no one thought would be in the box office top ten at this early point in their run , and on way fewer screens that all of the above: ‘Black Swan’ and ‘The King’s Speech,’ both R-rated “art house” movies aimed at high end adult audiences. With $47 million so far, edgy director Darren Aronofsky’s ‘Black Swan,’ the dark, twisted tale of a mentally ill diva ballerina has become a breakout success even to the point of starting fashion trends. It is by far the number one specialty hit of 2010 but better watch its back because The Weinstein Company’s ‘King’s Speech,’ a drama about the stuttering problems of King George VI and his friendship with his speech therapist (not exactly obvious box office fodder) is hot on its tail. It was up a whopping 70% on the same number of screens it had the previous weekend (about 700) , an unheard of improvement which can only mean word of mouth is taking hold. Add the steady performance of the dysfunctional family boxing drama, ‘The Fighter’ to this mix and you have four films that all have beaten the odds and certainly don’t fit into the mold of what studios expect will be rocking the box office . Go figure. Maybe audiences have gotten a little savvier. Certainly the results of this holiday period will give food for thought to executives who think they know what the public wants.

No new film openings over the New Year’s weekend cracked the top ten since the new arrivals were strictly limited NY/LA runs. However both adult dramas, ‘Blue Valentine’ starring Michelle Williams and Ryan Gosling and Mike Leigh’s latest , ‘Another Year’ did well on a per screen basis. ‘Valentine’ with an estimated $47,000 per screen at 4 locations did exceptionally well and that could be due in part to all the free publicity it received over its initial NC-17 rating which was overturned to an ‘R’ after Weinstein Co. head Harvey Weinstein personally pleaded his case in front of the MPAA appeals board. Still the company is marketing the film as the “Uncut and Uncensored” version. The MPAA probably did the Weinsteins a favor by stupidly slapping this intense marital drama with the forbidden NC-17.

Controversy never hurts and both stars were very vocal about pointing out the “injustice” of it all in interview after interview. Gosling said torture porn movies like “Saw” regularly got ‘R’ ratings while movies showing people making love were definitely offensive, at least to the MPAA. Now however Blue Valentine with its two superlative lead performances is getting the chance to be seen, and no matter what reason audiences are showing up that’s a very good thing.

Pete Hammond

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About Pete Hammond

Pete Hammond is a writer, producer, movie critic and film expert whose commentary on the entertainment industry has appeared in numerous publications and on air interviews including The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, USA Today, Entertainment Weekly, New York Magazine, OK Magazine, NBC Nightly News With Tom Brokaw, Evening News With Brian Williams on MSNBC, the CBC, BBC, Bravo, E!, AMC, Canada AM and the KTLA Morning Show.

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