http://chud.com/nextraimages/giantrat.jpgPixar + Brad Bird + Patton Oswalt = go see their movie. Pretty simple math, that.

THE MOST INTERESTING PARALLEL OF THE WEEK

In our modern world, branding is one of the most frustrating and ridiculous element of cinema. Since the studio system no longer grooms actors, they prefer to rely on things people already know about to sell their wares.

And so we have slates of remakes, TV reimagings, comic book adaptations, and sequels, but when that’s not good enough or runs out (we probably won’t see a big screen Facts of Life in our lifetime), they’ll go for anything. And so we’re having toy lines turned into films, and if the rumors are to be believed, board games (Sir Ridley Scott is rumored to do Monopoly. If so, Tony Scott should do Mousetrap. Just spitballing). None of this is all that new, all things (Do you need a Clue?)

But what we also get is something like Live Free or Die Hard, which is, as Devin so coined it, Die Hard In Name Only. And this DHINO stands for so much of what’s wrong with the film industry today. Die Hard sells well as a catalog title, so the books were looked at, the sequel was green-lit for a budget that will guarantee profitability, and the film was brought in on budget. The film is not much of a sequel, but that name recognition gets it over enough to not be an embarrassment. And so Bruce Willis gets paid a hefty sum to do what the world usually likes it when he does, never mind any real sense of continuity or purpose.

That the reviews are lightly positive as of this writing is also no surprise. It surely crafted to be adequate fast food. Things blow up. Done for a PG-13 rating, it’s open to everyone, even if doing so betrays what made people love the original (and curried favor for the follow-ups). The only people who will be frustrated are people who care.

Even if you like the film, it’s a con job. A shell game. Because the people behind it don’t respect you, the franchise, or anything more than the fact that Die Hard is a known quantity.

The positive side of this phenomenon is Ratatouille. The branding here is Pixar, and though the plot is about a Rat who loves gourmet food, the name value of Pixar should guarantee its success over the return of John McClane. The word is that it’s a great film, and parents and children alike will probably be happy to go. The small victories of this summer will likely be Pixar and the Apatow brand name, and though neither of which may make Spider-Man 3 money, they will likely be more profitable, and (perhaps more importantly) more durable.

But that’s the nature of branding. Some earn their label through constant quality. Others abuse the goodwill, and churn out product. And you can’t always be sure of either. That’s why critics are still important, and will always have a place in our society. But all that said, and yes the cunts are still running the world and the studios, this weekend the good guys get to win the weekend.

THE MOST INTERESTING INDEPENDENT OF THE WEEK

Sicko, Michael Moore’s ode to American Health care, hits 441 screens this weekend. Though sucker punched by a bootleg leaking, Moore should still have a faithful audience, and it should outperform last weekend’s A Mighty Heart. But as Devin opined about V for Vendetta, the Republicans are getting smarter about taking the bait, for the most part. Perhaps with the recent subpoenas and the ’08 election, it will be too small a fish to fry, or perhaps they’ve learned their lesson. But the film was always about the long play. It isn’t a Fahrenheit 911.

PREDICTIONS ALWAYS HANG IN A BUFFALO STANCE, DOING A DIVE EVERY TIME WE DANCE

Pixar cleans house, while Die Hard does respectable business considering that Fox knew they couldn’t win the weekend, or- for that matter – any weekend this summer. Though the internet grumbling can’t have helped the film, the main obstacle has always been obsolescence. Fox will likely do better with the title overseas, which has always been a safe haven for action stars past their prime. But with the Wednesday $9 Mill, the all-in total by Sunday should be a little over or under $50 million.

Evan should take a 50 plus hit and The Silver Surfer should continue its slide, whereas 1408 should outperform both. Knocked Up passed The 40-Year-Old Virgin’s gross this week, and should have a another solid weekend, unless it bleeds screens, which it hasn’t had to yet. 4th of July weekend, which starts on Monday (but that’s for next week’s column) this year, is where trouble brews. So don’t you get fresh with me.

1. Ratatouille – $58 Million
2. Die Hard In Name Only - $34 Million
3. Evan Almighty - $11 Million
4. 1408 - $9 Million
5. Fantastic Four 2 - $8 Million
6. Knocked Up - $7.5 Million