This Week In Movies By Pete Hammond – Poor Box Office

By Pete Hammond Seems like Hollywood wants to blame poor boxoffice receipts this final weekend of August on Hurricane Irene. I will blame it on bad movies. How about that? Don’t be afraid of Hurricanes, Hollywood. Be afraid of movies like Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark. Clearly with its terrible audience satisfaction Cinemascore grade of a C- and only $8.6 million and a third place finish in a wide release this one is not long for the world. That gross is weak for a horror film endorsed by the likes of Bloody on the Film District ads. Usually these kinds of films do more in their opening weekend before nosediving in the second week. This film has a checkered history. Because esteemed filmmaker Guillermo Del Toro was obsessed for some reason with the 1973 ABC Movie of the Week of the same name, telling me at the film’s Los Angeles Film Festival premiere that it was one of the scariest horror films ever made, he got financing for this shoddy remake starring Guy Pearce and Katie Holmes, slapped his name on it as a presenter and co-wrote the adaptation . Miramax had the film until Disney decided to unload the company and along with it two films in their pipeline, the intelligent thriller The Debt (which opens Wednesday) and this stinker.

An S.O.S. was sent out to Del Toro’s friend Bob Berney at the new company, Film District. Berney had successfully shepherded Del Toro’s multi-Oscar winning masterpiece, Pan’s Labyrinth when he was at Picturehouse and jumped at the chance to help him out. With this kind of passion and power behind a movie, not to mention its Oscar winning co-producer Mark Johnson (Rainman) how did they come up with such a disappointment? Perhaps the blame lies in trusting it all to a first-time director named Troy Nixey who clearly was in over his head and nowhere near the league of a Del Toro.

Perhaps it was a sign when at the film’s World Premiere as the closing night of the Los Angeles Film Festival in June an alarm went off halfway through the movie and the theatre had to be emptied. Even though the alarm turned out to be due to some burnt popcorn in the lobby and they managed to get the film going again, the sight of seeing people running for the exits during Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark wasn’t good karma. Look for this one to be in –and out – of theatres on its way to Netflix right next to the TV movie that inspired it.

Of all this week’s new films, Sony’s female action-driven Luc Besson film, Columbiana did the best, coming in second with an estimated $10.3 million despite the East Coast wipeout. That’s not too bad for a film like this without much of a high profile. It’s surprisingly high A- Cinemascore ranking bodes well for a good hold over the upcoming Labor Day holiday weekend since word of mouth should be good and thanks to Hurricane Irene, it should play almost like a new film on the East Coast next week.

The same can’t be said for the fifth place finisher, The Weinstein Company’s forgettable but reasonably entertaining (especially if you are as stupid as the title character) slacker comedy, Our Idiot Brother which despite a very likeable Paul Rudd as a doofus who moves in with his three sisters after getting out of jail , and a terrific supporting cast just didn’t click with moviegoers who probably sensed this one will go quickly to DVD. Still it was a cheap bet , reportedly only costing about $5 million to make so the Sundance acquisition shouldn’t be much of a money loser. It can also take solace in the fact that it was the only one of the three new wide releases this week to earn a Fresh ranking among critics on Rotten Tomatoes with a positive score of 66%. Actually the film , thanks to Rudd and his dog in the film named Willie Nelson is a good time waster in the dog days of August.

But again the number one film is the one that continues to defy studio expectations for what makes a hit. Adding over $14 million to its haul this weekend, The Help is up to $96 million and about to hit $100 mil . Clearly it is one of the year’s major success stories so far.

If you are tired though of the general lack of challenging and intriguing movie fare out there as summer winds down try some of the smaller independent or foreign films making their way slowly around the country. The rewards from the likes of a gem of a new French film, The Hedgehog are rich indeed. This movie about a precocious 12 year girl who decides to commit suicide but instead , through the kindness of others in her building , learns there is much to live for is one of the year’s very best. For every Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark, Columbiana or Our Idiot Brother it is nice to know there can be a Hedgehog lurking around the corner ready to win your heart.

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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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