December 01, 2003 5:34am EST
The Haunted Mansion and Dr. Seuss' The Cat in the Hat dominated the Thanksgiving box office with Eddie Murphy's Disneyland attraction flick placing first for the five day holiday period and Mike Myers' wacky feline topping the three day chart.
The Haunted Mansion enjoyed the biggest five day (Wed.-Sun.) slice of box office pie with $35 million* versus The Cat in the Hat's $34 million take. For three days (Fri.- Sun.), The Cat in the Hat led with $25.5 million versus The Haunted Mansion $25.3 million.
Of the four new wide releases vying for the North American box office, The Haunted Mansion was the only one to crack the Top Five, with last week's topper The Cat in the Hat giving it a run for its money, despite taking a critical beating.
"[Family films] are sometimes put up against a much more critical standard than they should be," Disney head of distribution, Chuck Viane, told The Associated Press Sunday. "You have people who want everything to be so artistic. That's not what family movies are about. They're about enjoyment and laughter and having fun."
Family entertainment was certainly the thing to beat this weekend. The holiday comedy Elf remained in third place in its third week of release, taking in a not-so-elfish $31.8 million. Elf's weekend take was enough to push it by the $100 million mark, making it the 24th release of the year to do so. This ties 2002's record of 24 films.
Gothika, meanwhile, came in fourth with $18.2 million, and Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World rounded out the Top Five with $17.5 million.
Thanksgiving's three other wide theatrical openings were turkeys compared to Mansion--Bad Santa brought in only $16.8 million, The Missing made $16.5 million and Timeline took $12.6 million. The films came in sixth, seventh and eighth respectively.
Key films grossed $209.5 million for five days, up about 8.6 percent from last Thanksgiving (Nov. 27 to Dec. 1, 2002) when key films did $192.9 million. The year 2000 still holds the overall Thanksgiving record with $232.16 million for the Top 12's five-day period, but if this week's estimates hold, this year's five-day posts will be the second all-time best.
THE TOP TEN
(NOTE: Today's films are ranked according to their estimates for the FIVE-DAY Thanksgiving holiday period from Wednesday through Sunday. Percentage variations do not apply because the previous weekend was a normal three-day weekend. Estimates for the three-day period from Friday through Sunday are indicated parenthetically.)
Buena Vista's PG rated horror comedy The Haunted Mansion led the five-day box office in its opening week with an ESTIMATED $35 million at 3,122 theaters, with a strong $8,104 per theater average. (Its ESTIMATED gross for three days is $25.3 million.)
In the film, a real estate agent moves his family into a mansion located on a remote bayou with the hopes of refurbishing it and making the deal of a lifetime--until he unearths the house's history and finds that his wife has unexpected connections to its haunted past.
Directed by David Berenbaum, it stars Eddie Murphy, Terence Stamp, Nathaniel Parker, Marsha Thomason and Jennifer Tilly.
Universal Pictures' PG rated Dr. Seuss' Cat in the Hat, last week's box office champ, followed in close second in its second week with an ESTIMATED $34 million at 3,467 theaters (+3 theaters, $7,130 per theater). Its cume is approximately $77 million. (Its ESTIMATED gross for three days is $25.5 million.)
Directed by Bo Welch, it stars Mike Myers, Dakota Fanning, Spencer Breslin, Kelly Preston, Alec Baldwin and Sean Hayes.
New Line Cinema's PG rated holiday comedy Elf remained in third place in its fourth week with an ESTIMATED $31.8 million at 3,202 theaters (-179 theaters; $6,925 per theater). Its cume is approximately $130.1 million. (Its ESTIMATED gross for three days is $22.1 million.)
Directed by Jon Favreau, it stars Will Ferrell, James Caan, Bob Newhart, Ed Asner, Zooey Deschanel and Mary Steenburgen.
Warner Bros.' R rated horror thriller Gothika fell two notches to fourth place in its second week with an ESTIMATED $18.2 million at 2,382 theaters (unchanged; $5,336 per theater). Its cume is approximately 41.1 million. (Its ESTIMATED gross for three days is $12.7 million.)
Directed by Mathieu Kassovitz, it stars Halle Berry, Robert Downey Jr., Penelope Cruz and Bernard Hill.
Twentieth Century Fox's PG-13 rated naval epic Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World dropped one place to round out the Top Five in its third week with an ESTIMATED $17.5 million at 2,703 theaters (-398 theaters; $4,698 per theater). Its cume is approximately $67.4 million. (Its ESTIMATED gross for three days is $12.7 million.)
Directed by Peter Weir, it stars Russell Crowe and Paul Bettany.
*Box office estimates provided by Exhibitor Relations, Inc.
Miramax Films' R rated holiday comedy Bad Santa kicked off rather politely in sixth place with an ESTIMATED $16.8 million at 2,005 theaters ($6,227 per theater). (Its ESTIMATED gross for three days is $12.4 million.)
In the film, two conmen disguised as Santa and his elf go on a road trip to rob malls during the holiday season.
Directed by Terry Zwigoff, it stars Billy Bob Thornton, Bernie Mac, Tony Cox and John Ritter.
Sony Pictures' R rates Western The Missing debuted in seventh place with an ESTIMATED $16.5 million at 2,765 theaters ($4,245 per theater). (Its ESTIMATED gross for three days is $11.7 million.)
In the film, a young medicine woman raising her two daughters in an isolated area of New Mexico in the 1880s must reunite with her estranged father when one of her children is abducted.
Directed by Ron Howard, it stars Cate Blanchett, Tommy Lee Jones, Jenna Boyd and Eric Schweig.
Paramount Pictures' PG-13 rated thriller Timeline opened in eighth place with an ESTIMATED $12.6 million at 2,787 theaters ($3,041 per theater). (Its ESTIMATED gross for three days is $8.4 million.)
In the film, based on Michael Crichton's 1999 bestseller, a group of archeologists travel to and get trapped in 14th-century France.
Directed by Richard Donner, it stars Paul Walker, Gerard Butler, Billy Connolly and Frances O'Connor.
Universal Pictures' R rated romantic comedy Love Actually dropped four positions to ninth in its fourth week with an ESTIMATED $11.2 million in 1,714 theaters (+24 theaters; $4,597 per theater). Its cume is approximately $43.2 million. (Its ESTIMATED gross for three days is $7.8 million.)
Directed and written by Richard Curtis, it stars Hugh Grant, Emma Thompson, Alan Rickman, Liam Neeson, Laura Linney, Colin Firth, Keira Knightley and Bill Nighy.
Buena Vista's G rated animated film Brother Bear slipped three spots to No. 10 in its sixth week with an ESTIMATED $6.4 million in 2,034 theaters (-851; $2,409 per theater). Its cume is approximately $77.7 million. (Its ESTIMATED gross for three days is $4.9 million.)
Directed by Aaron Blaise and Bob Walker, it features the voices of Joaquin Phoenix, Jeremy Suarez, D.B. Sweeney and Michael Clarke Duncan.
As the major studios begin generating their pre-Academy Award buzz, several Oscar-bait films debuted this weekend in limited release.
Fox Searchlight's PG-13 rated drama In America debuted in 11 theaters with an ESTIMATED $257,853 ($18,430 per theater average. (Its ESTIMATED gross for three days is $202,729.)
Directed by Jim Sheridan, it stars Samantha Morton, Paddy Considine, Djimon Hounsou, Sarah Bolger and Emma Bolger.
Lions Gate's R rated black comedy The Cooler opened in 11 theaters with an ESTIMATED $173,000 ($11,909 per theater). (Its ESTIMATED gross for three days is $131,000.)
Dirceted by Wayne Kramer, it stars William H. Macy, Alec Baldwin and Maria Elana Bello.
Sony Picture Classics' PG-13 rated animated feature Triplets of Belleville (Les Triplette de Belleville) opened in six theaters with $150,371 ($19,106 per theater). Its ESTIMATED gross for three days is $114,636.)
Directed by Sylvain Chomet, it features the voices of Jean-Claude Donda, Michel Robin, Monica Viegas and Michèle Caucheteux.
Key films--those grossing more than $500,000--took in an ESTIMATED $209.5 million for the five day Thanksgiving holiday period, up about 8.6 percent from last year's five day Thanksgiving weekend when they totaled $195.9 million. Comparisons to last weekend of this year are not valid because last weekend was a normal three-day weekend.
Looney Tunes: Back in Action revisits an age-old Tunes question: Why does the affable Bugs reap all the fame and glory while the egocentric Daffy gets shafted again and again? Our duck friend quite frankly has had it up to his skinny neck playing second fiddle to the carrot muncher. All Daffy wants is a little recognition from the studio but the brothers Warner (actual twin brothers as we come to find out) decide instead to let Daffy out of his contract on the advice of their no-nonsense VP of comedy Kate Houghton (Jenna Elfman). Bugs however knows they're making a mistake. Even though Daff bears the brunt of the abuse Looney Tunes would fail without him and Bugs convinces the powers that be they need the nutty mallard. If the plot had only followed this thread--perhaps showing Daffy on the skids--then maybe the film wouldn't have spiraled into Looneyville. Unfortunately Daffy ends up hooking up with the hunky D.J. Drake (Brendan Fraser) a studio security guard who finds out that his famous movie star father Damian Drake (Timothy Dalton) is really a secret agent hunting for a mysterious diamond known as the Blue Monkey a supernatural gem that can turn the planet's population into monkeys. The evil head of the Acme Corporation Mr. Chairman (Steve Martin) wants the diamond for his own diabolical plans and he's kidnapped D.J.'s dad in an effort to get it. Now the gang has to get the diamond save D.J.'s dad and of course save the world.
It might be a little hard to act subtly around cartoon characters but these aren't your ordinary cutesy Mickey Mouse types. Bugs Daffy Porky Yosemite Sam and Foghorn Leghorn are pros at comic timing able to spar with the best of them throw out zingers without a second thought and slay you with a droll glance at the camera. It isn't really necessary for the human actors to match their madcap-ness; just reacting would have sufficed. Fraser comes off the best of the human bunch; since he's had practice (Monkeybone) he easily interacts with his animated co-stars and deftly handles the doubletakes and jabs at pop culture. Elfman on the other hand sputters and goes bug-eyed every time she encounters silliness. She looks uncomfortable doing the green screen thing especially when she's trying to look natural when peeling a distraught duck from around her waist. Martin's highly anticipated turn as Mr. Chairman turns out to be the biggest disappointment. The over-the-top character is reminiscent of Martin's hysterically funny Rupert the Monkeyboy in 1988's Dirty Rotten Scoundrels but Martin turns Mr. Chairman--an angry schoolboy with knee socks and matted-down hair who never grew up--into a caricature of ridiculous proportions and unlike Rupert who came in small hilarious doses Mr. Chairman gets very tiresome very quickly.
Back in Action's animation is well done more engaging and ambitious than its 1996 predecessor Space Jam in which the action mostly took place in Looney Tunes land; here animated characters go the Who Framed Roger Rabbit? route and Bugs Daffy and the rest coexist harmoniously with humans in the real world. But despite its aspirations Back in Action leaves out vital elements that made Space Jam appealing. While the earlier film stuck to a simple plot Back in Action guided by director Joe Dante (Small Soldiers The 'Burbs) tries too hard to keep things wild and wacky while incorporating elements of '60s heist pics and action-adventure scenes and in the process loses sight of the most important ingredient in any kids movie: the story. Tykes may have limited attention spans but if the story's good they will watch. Granted some individual bits are laugh-out-loud funny particularly the scene in the Warner Bros. commissary where a stuttering Porky Pig complains about being politically incorrect with Speedy Gonzales while an animated Shaggy and Scooby-Doo berate actor Matthew Lillard for playing Shaggy as such a bonehead in the live-action Scooby-Doo. These scenes prove that if any cartoon characters could pass themselves off as real celebrities in the entertainment industry the gang from Looney Tunes could but moments like these simply can't overcome a contrived plot and juvenile antics.
Based on the best-selling novel by Dennis Lehane Mystic River is full of characters wrought with heavy emotions--and burdens. Yet it is also a fairly simplistic murder mystery. Three 13-year old boys Jimmy Sean and Dave are playing on a street in a tough Boston neighborhood when two pedophiles pretending to be cops grab Dave and take him away. In that moment all three lives are irrevocably changed. Jimmy (Sean Penn) grew up as tough as his neighborhood doing time for robbery but finally settling into a comfortable family life with his wife Annabeth (Laura Linney). Sean (Kevin Bacon) went on to become a cop but his personal life is in a shambles and he is estranged from his wife. Dave (Tim Robbins) has never been able to face his demons despite being a loving father and husband to Celeste (Marcia Gay Harden). Now 25 years later tragedy brings them together once again. Jimmy's 19-year-old daughter is found murdered and while Sean is assigned to the case with his partner Whitey (Laurence Fishburne) Jimmy seeks his own vigilante investigation with the local hoods--and Dave emerges as a prime suspect. As the mystery is unraveled all are pulled closer toward an abyss that will force them to face their true selves--and will mark them as irrevocably as the past itself has tainted their lives.
This is one of those dream scripts serious actors simply go gaga over--and the high-quality ensemble in Mystic River does their jobs superbly. To pinpoint the best performance of the bunch however is virtually impossible--and the Academy may have a tough time making the same distinction as there is surely going to be a nomination or two coming from this film. Penn as the emotionally charged Jimmy stands out a little ahead of the rest with his fury resonating throughout the film. Robbins' ultra-vulnerable Dave is also a remarkable study of a soul completely wounded by the horrors he has experienced. Linney and Harden too are excellent as the spouses; Linney as Annabeth is a strong defiant mother whose only impetus is to protect those she loves while Harden in contrast is meek and unsure as Celeste faced with the dilemma of showing faith and loyalty to her husband while at the same time being convinced he committed the murder. All the performances will quite literally blow your socks off.
With all its excellent acting Mystic River has the added benefit of being helmed by director Clint Eastwood who has enormous talent behind the camera. He likes his films to simmer; his Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil and Oscar-winning Unforgiven are two examples. Mystic River is beautifully put together with lingering shots of Boston neighborhoods and the people who live in them. He doesn't move the camera much keeps things steady but knows when to pull in or pull out as the drama escalates (an aerial shot of an anguished Jimmy being held back by several policeman after he discovers his daughter's body shakes you to the core). Still there are some problems with this slow-burn technique in that sometimes things should move along rather than stand still. Eastwood seems also to have had trouble finding the ending. After a pivotal powerful climactic scene with Jimmy and Sean discussing Dave's kidnapping 25 years ago and its effect on all their lives Eastwood tacks on a few more final scenes of the men tying up loose ends resolving feelings with each other and their wives--and then going to watch a parade. It's a minor point compared to the quality of the rest of the film but it still leaves things on an anti-climactic note.
Bobby Garfield (David Morse) returns to his small hometown to attend the funeral of his childhood friend and remembers the fateful summer in 1960 when his whole world changed. The story flashes back to when 11-year-old Bobby (Anton Yelchin) and his best friends Carol (Mika Boorem) and Sully-John (Will Rothhaar) capture the pure joy of youthfulness. When a mysterious stranger named Ted Brautigan (Anthony Hopkins) moves upstairs and starts to pay attention to Bobby the boy suddenly realizes what's truly missing from his life--the love of a parent. Bobby's mother Liz (Hope Davis) is embittered by the death of Bobby's father and shows little compassion for her son's growing needs. Ted fills a void with the boy opening his eyes to the world around him and helps Bobby come to terms with his real feelings for Carol--and his mother. But Ted also has some deep dark secrets of his own and Bobby tries hard to stop danger from reaching the old man.
The performances make the film especially in the genuine camaraderie of the kids. Yelchin Boorem and Rothhaar never deliver a false move with an easiness that makes us believe we are simply watching three 11-year-old children grow up together. Yelchin in particular is able to get right to the heart of this young boy who misses his father and clings to the only adult who will listen. And his scenes with Boorem simply break your heart. (Davis) does an admirable job playing a part none too sympathetic. She manages to show a woman whose been beaten down but who does truly love her son in her own way. Morse too is one of those character actors you can plug in any movie and get a performance worth noting. In Hearts you want to see more of him. Of course the film shines brightest when Hopkins is on the screen. It may not be an Oscar-caliber performance but the actor is unparalleled in bringing a character to life--showing the subtleties of an old man looking for some peace in his life.
If you are expecting the Stephen King novel you may be disappointed. Screenwriter William Goldman and director Scott Hicks (Shine) deftly extracted the King formula of telling a story through a child's eye and explaining how the relationships formed as a child shaped the adult later. Hicks did an amazing job with his young actors especially Yelchin and Boorem. But where the novel continued into a supernatural theme explaining Brautigan's fear of being captured by "low men in yellow coats" (a reference to King's The Dark Tower series) the movie downplayed the mystical elements instead giving real explanations for Brautigan's man-on-the-run. That was the one problem with Hearts--we needed more danger. Introducing men from another dimension may not have been the way to go but had there been more tension the film would have resonated more especially when Bobby risked his own safety to save Ted.
Supermom Claire (Michelle Pfeiffer) and her geneticist husband Norman (Harrison Ford) are adapting to their only daughter's departure to college when Claire begins sensing an unearthly presence in the couple's lakeside Vermont dream home. Is she losing her marbles or is that the spirit of a beautiful young woman she keeps glimpsing? To say any more (as the too-explicit ad campaign does) would spoil some delicious twists.
The toplining Ford is his usual solid self in a role that plays cleverly on his familiar persona but the picture is Pfeiffer's from beginning to end. She delivers one of her most pleasing performances nicely disarming audience doubts about the story's supernatural elements with some judicious eye-rolling and embarrassed frowning -- her character is so painfully aware that what she's saying sounds crazy how can we possibly doubt her? Among the low-key supporting cast Joe Morton ("Terminator 2") stands out as an amiably down-to-earth psychiatrist.
Robert Zemeckis ("Forrest Gump") takes Clark Gregg's highly derivative haunted house script and pours on the Hitchcockian visual flourishes unapologetically pilfering from the Master's "Rear Window" and "Psycho " among others. His extended homage results in scene after scene of almost unbearable tension as the audience waits for the next shock. There's some clunky storytelling in the first section but the all-suspense second half more than makes up for it with some classic work including what seems destined to go down in movie history as "the bathtub scene."