In the middle of a financial crisis, Hollywood is poised to gross $10 billion at the box office this year. The global economy may have melted down in 2009, but the Hollywood economy has never been stronger. The previous record of $9.68 billion, set in 2007, was eclipsed about two weeks ago — before James Cameron’s game-changing “Avatar” earned almost a quarter-billion dollars worldwide over the weekend — and before this year’s Christmas releases hit theaters. The bottom line is that people will spend $10 to take a detour from their reality and get lost in an on-screen fantasy for a couple of hours. Films like “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen” and “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince,” which had domestic box office earnings of $400 million and $300 million respectively — and even “The Hangover” and its $275 million — show that the movie business is truly recession-proof.
The studios will still spend another year crying broke, however, and this year’s successful Christmas releases will again be the templates for projects that will be green-lighted in 2010. Last year, “Benjamin Button” paved the way for this year’s big-budget fantasy flicks, “Valkyrie” shelved any planned historical biopics, and “Bedtime Stories” made Adam Sandler turn down stupid scripts (for once) and only do “Funny People.”
For my many Jewish friends and their time-honored Christmas night tradition of Chinese food and a trip to the multiplex, here are this year’s offerings and where they’ll finish the weekend:
“Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel” is the children’s movie released this weekend. Even if I had kids, this hot mess wouldn’t be on my radar. Never mind the fact that it starts with the Chipmunks’ guardian being hospitalized, it follows his accident with kindly Aunt Jackie falling down a flight of stairs and dying in the hospital. Alvin and the boys go back to school and find the music program is being cut and the solution to this problem pits the pop star rodents in a battle of the bands with another group of singing chipmunks called “The Chipettes,” voiced by Christina Applegate, Anna Faris, and Amy Poehler. There is also some kind of revenge scenario where the girls’ manager kidnaps them or something — I couldn’t follow the plot summary — and Alvin saves the day on a motorcycle. This stinker will finish in fourth place.
“It’s Complicated” stars Alec Baldwin, Steve Martin, and Meryl Streep as a woman who has an affair with her ex-husband (Baldwin) who is cheating on his much-younger wife. Written and directed by chick-flick auteur Nancy Meyers, it’s billed as a comedy about “love, divorce, and everything in between,” but strikes me as a movie by a middle-aged white woman about a middle-aged white woman who lives in a world populated entirely by white people — not that there’s anything wrong with that. If you are a middle-aged white person or enjoy stories about them, then I’m sure you’ll get your 10 buck’s worth out of this talented filmmaker and the incredible cast she has assembled. A third-place finisher.
It’s no surprise that Guy Ritchie would turn an intellectual private detective into a metrosexual action hero in “Sherlock Holmes,” but the trailer still threw me for a loop. There was no sign of the iconic deerstalker hat that Holmes made famous and way too much of Robert Downey Jr.’s naked body. I understand the need to put butts in seats compels Ritchie to add a little beefcake, blow some stuff up, and have Holmes make a three-story dive into the river Thames, but I hope he doesn’t try to make this 18th century British private detective into a bad ass crime fighter. If so, this movie needs to be a one-off and not a franchise (sorry, Jude Law). It finishes the weekend in second place.
The top draw this Christmas will be the last film of the late Heath Ledger, “The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus,” also starring Christopher Plummer in the title role, written and directed by Terry Gilliam. It tells the story of the doctor and his traveling show that offers people the chance to travel beyond reality through a magical mirror he uses to guide their imaginations. He has this power because of a deal he made with the devil (called Mr. Nick, played by the great Tom Waits), who granted Parnassus eternal life. Later, when he meets his true love, the doctor makes a different deal and trades his immortality for youth — on the condition that at 16 years old, his first-born would become property of Mr. Nick. As Valentina Parnassus’ 16th birthday approaches, Mr. Nick appears. But the deal is re-negotiated into a head-to-head battle between the doctor and the devil to see who can seduce five souls first. This movie has the added draw of Johnny Depp, Jude Law, and Colin Farrell finishing Heath’s work on the film in tribute and giving their salaries to Heath’s daughter, Matilda.
As usual, the over/under on good speaking black parts is 1.5 for all of these movies — and the under is a safe bet. Merry Christmas!
Kenny Mack is a multi-platform content provider with four-quadrant crossover appeal who will be seeing “Dr. Parnassus” this weekend. His past columns are archived at www.ifyoumissedit.com and he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.