Welcome back to Defamer Attractions, your regular guide to everything new, noteworthy and/or mortifying at the movies. This week: Hollywood gets stuck in your chimney delivering Benjamin Button and four other holiday blockbuster hopefuls.
WHAT'S NEW: High stakes are hardly unusual for a holiday frame, but their sheer volume in 2008 is slightly disturbing: Last week's new-movie nomads shall be consumed wholly by a pack of heavyweight predators in wide release. Their top grosser should be Disney's Bedtime Stories, a sizable stride in the slow Eddie Murphyfication of Adam Sandler, playing a novice storytelling uncle who is shocked when his tales come to life. Hijinks ensue while conjuring the most explicit double entendres he can imagine, thus leaving both the kiddies and himself fulfilled when the gumball rain outside yields a ball-gum flood requiring Keri Russell's careful attention. Expect Stories to win the long weekend with $39.9 million.
The bourgeois-white-assholes-and-their-crazy-fucking-dog tearjerker Marley & Me won't be that far behind at $35.7 million, defying Disney's covert spoiler ops to steer people to their own family offfering. Behind that, look for The Curious Case of Benjamin Button to officially launch its Oscar crusade with $22.6 million, hindered by its nearly three-hour length and more-than-expected siphoning off by Valkyrie (which we'll get to in a bit). At the bottom of the scrum you'll find The Spirit, Frank Miller's spectacularly awful adaptation of Will Eisner's comics classic, pocketing $11.9 million for Lionsgate. Also opening in limited release: The Cannes darling, Oscar-probable animated documentary from Israel, Waltz With Bashir.
THE BIG LOSER: There aren't enough pejoratives in the world to pile onto Revolutionary Road, Sam Mendes's misbegotten attempt to steal another Oscar while the Academy reaches for its collective Kleenex. Or checks its watch; the reunion of Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet is an interminable slog that, with any justice, should see its early, positive numbers reverse dramatically as Los Angeles and New York audiences flee theaters in search of refunds. What more can we say? Oh — lots.
THE UNDERDOG: We probably have no right to place a Tom Cruise film in this spot — especially one so expensively ubiquitous of late. But after all those months of speculation and dread surrounding Bryan Singer's $90 million thriller about the failed plot to kill Hitler, let's be fair: Valkyrie is a solid if weird popcorn thriller. The first act drags, Singer gets a little too cute for anyone's good (may we never again be subjected to his spinny Phonograph-Cam™), and you never do totally sink into Cruise and castmates Bill Nighy, Tom Wilkinson and Kenneth Branagh as English-speaking German officers. Still, the assassination conspiracy and its momentary glimmer of success is a captivating fluke of history handled articulately and tastefully — and sure, entertainingly — by Singer and Cruise. Even if you don't contribute to its $18.2 million opening, it's worth a look in the weeks ahead.
FOR SHUT-INS: This week's new DVD releases include the Statham-y holiday favorite Death Race, the underrated Coen Brothers caper Burn After Reading, Anna Faris's Playboy commercial-cum-college comedy The House Bunny, and a couple of the year's most notorious indie flops, The Women and Hamlet 2. Gather the family, and have a great holiday weekend!