In the hands of an increasingly self-aware media, the traditional fairy tale romance has come under fire in the past couple of decades. The genre has earned a wealth of criticism that includes accusations of instilling limiting female role models and harmfully unrealistic illustrations of relationships. As such, we've seen a wave of deconstruction: subtle entries like Shrek, Ella Enchanted, and the upcoming play-to-film adaptation Into the Woods. Now, Reese Witherspoon — with a hue and bone structure that seem to be modeled after those of a fabled royal — is delivering Happily Ever After, a Disney film that looks to showcase what happens to your standard prince and the princess 10 years down the line.
A decade past being whisked off from the clutches of a dragon or a witch or whatever evil might have befallen Witherspoon's character, we find her and her husband struggling to keep their relationship afloat. But how biting do we expect this potentially interesting project to be? On the one hand, it's a Disney production, which suggests that a happy ending will indeed follow a rocky rom-com set-up. But there's hope: the premise was pitched to the studio by Nahnatchka Khan, the creator of the short-lived Don't Trust the B— in Apartment 23, a sitcom that was unapologetically acerbic and devilish.
Disney, through ABC, allowed Khan free reign over her dark sense of humor with Don't Trust the B— (a television show that was cut down before its due), so perhaps we'll see another impressively caustic tale in Witherspoon's Happily Ever After. After all, the actress has gained quite a colorful reputation in recent months.
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SATURDAY 12:00 p.m. (Pacific): Dreamworks/Paramount is reporting a $20M opening day for Kung Fu Panda, which is better than the $17.75M I reported last night. The studio is floating a $60M estimate for the three-day, and that generally means it will be something higher. I say that the final weekend take will be $65M+, and there is an outside chance that it could reach the Animated Non-Sequel benchmarks of The Incredibles (Disney/Pixar) and Finding Nemo (Disney).
ALL-TIME TOP 10 OPENINGS FOR DREAMWORKS ANIMATION
1. Shrek The Third: $121.6M
2. Shrek 2: $108M
3. Kung Fu Panda: $60M (estimated)
4. Shark Tale: $47.6M
5. Madagascar: $47.2M
6. Shrek: $42.3M
7. Over the Hedge: $38.5M
8. Bee Movie: $38M
9. Chicken Run: $17.5M
10. Antz: $17.1M
Even more impressive for Kung Fu Panda , featuring the voices of Jack Black, Angelina Jolie, Jackie Chan, Seth Rogen, Lucy Liu and David Cross, is its standing among the All-Time Best Openings for Animated Non-Sequels. Kung Fu Panda compares favorably to The Incredibles, Finding Nemo, Monsters, Inc. and Cars, and it will likely finish stronger than last year's Pixar offering Ratatouille.
ALL-TIME TOP 10 OPENINGS FOR A NON-SEQUEL ANIMATED FILM
1. The Incredibles: $70.46M
2. Finding Nemo: $70.25M
3. Monsters, Inc.: $62.57M
4. Cars: $60.11M
5. Kung Fu Panda: $55M (estimated)
6. Ratatouille: $47.02M
7. Shrek: $42.34M
8. Happy Feet: $41.53M
9. Madagascar: $47.22M
10. Ice Age: $46.31M
Based on the Cars opening weekend model, Kung Fu Panda would get to $61M, but when you plug in the first frame pattern of The Incredibles, the new Dreamworks family flick would yield $69M. For information, Paramount is projecting $60M based on $20M Friday, $23M Saturday and $17M Sunday. I think they are following the "under-promise and over-deliver" rule, and at least $65M will be in the bank by Monday morning.
Even if we use Paramount's lowball $60M number for Kung Fu Panda, it will easily reach $200M. Following Iron Man and Indiana Jones & the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, that would make the Melrose gang the first studio in history to release back-to-back-to-back $200M+ grossing movies.
Meanwhile, You Don't Mess With The Zohan (Sony) enjoyed a better-than-expected late night performance with $14.85M. Sony is pushing a $42M number for the weekend, which is very close, but I am projecting a possible $43.65M. If the number holds, it would be Adam Sandler's second best opening ever.
All-Time Best Adam Sandler Openings
1. The Longest Yard: $47.6M
2. You Don't Mess With The Zohan: $43.65M (estimate)
3. Anger Management: $42.2M
4. Big Daddy: $41.5M
5. Click: $40M
6. 50 First Dates: $39.8M
7. The Waterboy: $39.4M
8. Mr. Deeds: $37.1M
9. I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry: $34.2M
10. The Wedding Singer: $18.8M
As I wrote last night, Sex and the City was No. 3 for the day, but it will dip to the fourth spot for the weekend. SATC grabbed a solid $7.3M on Friday according to Warner Bros, which will likely translate to an estimated $21.8M. That will probably leave the picture just shy of the $100M mark after 10 days. Indy 4 swooped in for another $6.54M, and it appears that the Spielberg-directed pic will wrap up its third weekend with $24M.
Rogue's The Strangers scared up another $3M on Friday, and the Liv Tyler-Scott Speedman slasher pic should wrap the weekend with $9.1M or so and a new cume of $37M+. Marvel's unstoppable Iron Man (Paramount) is slowing a bit at No. 6 with $2.2M on Friday and a likely $8M for the frame. Robert Downey Jr.'s superhero debut will have banked about $290M by Monday.
Mongol (Picturehouse), a 2008 Oscar nominee for Best Foreign Language Film, has opened powerfully on four screens with $6,500 per location on Friday. This Genghis Khan historical epic will likely win the weekend per theatre race with an almost $25,000 PTA. Takeout (CAVU), the story of an illegal Chinese immigrant, surprised with $4,318 at its single engagement, and that could lead to a $15,000+ per theatre average. Kung Fu Panda will probably be No. 3 followed by Zohan and Film Movement's The Grocer's Son.
EARLY THREE-DAY ESTIMATES
1. Kung Fu Panda (Dreamworks): $60 million; $13,369 PTA; $60 million cume
2. You Don't Mess with the Zohan (Sony): $42 million; $10,471 PTA; $42 million cume
3. Indiana Jones & the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (Paramount): $23.75 million; $5,668 PTA; $253.97 million cume
4. Sex and the City (Warner Bros.): $23.5 million; $7,068 PTA; $101.48 million cume
5. The Strangers (Rogue Releasing): $9.1 million; $3,674 PTA; $37.45 million cume
6. Iron Man (Paramount): $8 million; $2,729 PTA; $289.37 million cume
7. The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian (Disney): $6.52 million; $2,129 PTA; $126.84 million cume
8. What Happens in Vegas (20th Century Fox): $3.9 million; $1,651 PTA; $72.73 million cume
9. Baby Mama (Universal): $1.3 million; $1,419 PTA; $58.43 million cume
10. Made of Honor (Sony): $1.24 million; $1,676 PTA; $45.12 million cume
The story of Lust Caution begins in the midst of WWII in Asia as the Japanese have a stranglehold on key areas of China including Shanghai and Hong Kong. The iron-fisted Chinese who are collaborating with the invaders are led by Mr. Yee (Tony Leung) a cruel and ruthless man who delights in the torture and murder of his fellow countrymen who are fighting against the Japanese occupation. When a patriotic band of college students (made up of four men and two women all part of the drama school) decide to strike a blow for Chinese freedom by assassinating Mr. Yee it falls to Wang (the mesmerizingly beautiful Wei Tang) to infiltrate his home and heart to pave the way for the killing. But as her compatriots--including handsome Kuang played by American-born Chinese rock star Lee-Hom Wang who loves her from afar--bid their time waiting for the moment to strike Mr. Yee and Wang enter into a torrid affair that begins to consume them both. Think of the Hitchcock classic Suspicion shift from Europe to Asia add in intensely explicit sex scenes and a completely unexpected ending and you have Lust Caution--a film that is soon to be considered a classic as well. Veteran actors Tony Leung and Joan Chen lead a fine cast of actors who together create this completely believable glimpse into Chinese culture during the dark days of Japanese occupation. Both give intense performances--he as the powerful emotionless Mr. Yee and she as his vapid shopping and Mah Jong-obsessed wife. But the most amazing performance is that of newcomer Wei Tang the Miss Universe finalist who makes her film debut in Lust Caution. Her fantastic face slim body and almost ethereal presence seem to blot out everyone else when she is on the screen; you can’t help but look at only her. Her transformation in the four-year span of the story is masterful. As she goes from a naïve young student to a mature woman whose physical obsession with a man she despises begins to overwhelm her. The ingénue proves that she is much more than just a pretty face. In fact she deserves an Academy Award nomination for her often subtle always fearless performance that is at the heart of the film. Ang Lee has a unique cinematic ability to begin a story very specific to a time a place and a culture and end with a universal tale that resonates across all societies and peoples. He did it beautifully with Sense and Sensibility Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon as well as Brokeback Mountain and he’s done it again masterfully with Lust Caution. This newest film is an intense look at how war often causes an individual to make the ultimate sacrifice for the common good yet it also explores another underlying theme: the idea that there is a never-ending battle between the sexes for emotional dominance within a sexual relationship. Ang Lee’s deft hand is evident in every frame including the incredibly explicit (and often violent) sex scenes that have given the film its NC-17 rating. But this is not pornography; every scene is necessary to the story showing us that using sex as a means to an end (no matter how noble that end) is a very dangerous game to play especially during wartime. Look for Ang Lee’s name to come up on the Academy’s list again this year as awards season kicks into high gear. He deserves every honor for this emotionally disturbing masterpiece.