This Week in Movies by Pete Hammond – George Clooney, ‘Moneyball’

By Pete Hammond a recent event I was at for the Telluride Film Festival just under two weeks ago I had a brief conversation with George Clooney about his good friend, former partner and sometimes-director Steven Soderbergh. Clooney had just dropped out of Warners The Man From U.N.C.L.E. reboot that Soderbergh is plotting to direct.

His exit from the film had nothing to do with their own relationship. He said at age 50 he has to scale back on physically challenging action roles like that and had upcoming surgeries planned for his neck and shoulder. Clooney though balked somewhat at Soderbergh’s repeated vows to retire after his next 3 movie commitments are done (he has since changed the declaration to “taking a sabbatical” rather than a clean break). Clooney said the director of such hits as the Ocean’s 11 franchise, Out of Sight, Erin Brockovich and his Oscar-winning Traffic but also some esoteric head-scratchers like Solaris and The Good German, simply needed a big hit to set his head straight on this retirement craziness and he hoped that Steve might get one in his then-upcoming thriller, Contagion, about worldwide efforts to stop a killer disease from spreading across the globe. Well, it appears Clooney’s wish was granted as the downbeat, deadly serious thriller opened to a very strong number one last weekend with $22.4 million. It even played those giant IMAX screens and those higher dollars probably also helped the cause. The all-star cast didn’t hurt either, as it included Matt Damon, Gwyneth Paltrow (who had a good weekend also winning an Emmy as Guest Actress in a Comedy for Glee), Laurence Fishburne, Marion Cotillard, Jude Law and Kate Winslet among others.

As the first serious film of the fall season it benefited from adult interest in seeing something that might not be as “popcorn” oriented as summer fare and Warner Bros effectively sold the film as a solid thriller despite its downbeat and all too believable premise that a deadly disease (think bird flu) could quickly wipe out millions around the world. The realistic treatment didn’t scare off audiences and the film finally knocked the leader of the last three weeks, The Help, off its perch. So will that re-energize Mr. Soderbergh to keep on truckin’? Perhaps. I do think one of the reasons he lost his drive to make movies was when he was booted off Sony’s upcoming September 23rd release, Moneyball after turning in his recalibrated draft of Steven Zaillian’s screenplay with changes the studio did not like. The movie starring Brad Pitt which premiered over the weekend in Toronto is drawing rave reviews under director Bennett Miller and should do substantial boxoffice when it opens next week in the heart of baseball season.

Last week I talked about Lionsgate’s high hopes for Warrior but despite good reviews and enthusiastic word of mouth from sneak previews it did not ignite at the boxoffice for some reason. Keep in mind the distributor chose to open it at only a modest 1869 screens, a little more than half of what Contagion is in. Still its $5.2 million third place gross was considered a disappointment and Lionsgate will now have to rely on ferociously good word of mouth to keep it in theatres. Despite their brilliance, in the end stars Joel Edgerton and Tom Hardy just are not yet big enough household names to carry a movie like this as boxoffice stars.

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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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