I don’t dress up for Halloween. Or I haven’t in a while. I guess I should, but I generally don’t. I found out someone I knew doesn’t also, but it’s because they’re a Jehovah’s Witness, and they believe that it promotes Paganism. I had to ask “So when someone dresses up as Lara Croft, that’s Satanic?”


I hate box office, as I am wont to say, but there is no denying the power and the purpose of branding. It works in the regular world just as it does in cinema. The problem is that once something has a brand name, it has associations. I watched a PBS special a while back where the people who made Hummers thought about making a smaller version of their famous gas guzzler. A marketing executive advised them to not only not do that, but make an even more garish version of the same thing. If a Hummer is defined by certain qualities, or McDonald’s, or Whole Foods, if you’ve sold the image of what it is, any change is a change midstream, and the public wants from you a certain amount of the same thing. People don’t want gourmet at McDonald’s, and they don’t want cheap at whole foods. Dylan got booed for going electric. People like their boxes.

There are two ways this failed Kevin Smith. The first is that he hit a ceiling and he hit it twice with Dogma and Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back. Both films did $30 Million, and that looked to be as big as his label could or would get. The second is that he wanted to branch out, and so he made Jersey Girl, which did $25, and then tried to return to the label with Clerks II, which did $24. the difference was that Dogma and Jay and Silent Bob were a little fresher, and though Jersey was hurt by Ben Affleck’s social life, along with Miramax coming to the end of its run as a dependent of Disney, it also alienated the core who weren’t lifers.Smith could not expand his world without alienating the core, and with the core, he had his ceiling. And though Kevin Smith has been able to make a cottage industry with his products, and spoken word engagements, and his Comic-Con slot, and his DVD presentations of his speaking engagements, it has defined the Kevin Smith brand.

Using Seth Rogen, Elizabeth Banks, Craig Robinson and Justin Long suggests that Kevin Smith is slightly sick of his ghetto, but it’s – for better or worse – a ghetto of his own making. This also doesn’t come under the banner of Apatow productions, and though that name may not mean as much to the outside world as it does to geeks, the difference is there. And the posters (which are great) and the title may work against the film.

But for the first time in forever, Smith has the opportunity to make a film that does $40 or $50 Million (doing an Apatow-styled $100 is out of the question, I’d put it nearer to Forgetting Sarah Marshall‘s take), but – for him – these numbers won’t matter. Kevin Smith delivers an automatic $20-$25 Million at this point, and if this film does better it will be viewed as the goodwill of Seth Rogen. Like Paul Thomas Anderson, Smith has a following, but not an audience. That last sentence is poetic, but says nothing, and everything, I guess. But it’s true, neither can be counted on to reach across the aisle to a mainstream audience and in both cases it’s likely that there are people who are just as turned off by their names as there are people turned on. But to achieve success, one must be known, and that was a decision that Smith made. Even Tarantino has suffered for following his muse where it took him away from neo-noir. Kevin Smith defined himself post-Chasing Amy as the wise-ass, and settled on a filmmaking style that could best be described as workmanlike. When his best looking film is considered his ugly stepchild, it’s fair to say Branding works both ways.


Well, boils and Ghouls. Here we go (once upon a time not long ago…) The Changeling opens wide this week, and though some reviewers might like it, I think this one has cast its Oscar weight on Angelina Jolie, who will probably get in with a weak field. The numbers should be that great though. Jeff Wells thinks $20-ish. I don’t think it gets that high. Zack and Miri should do around $20, though, but I’m going to say more like $15 Million. And then there’s The Haunting of Molly Hartley, which is new and could have a good Friday night.

Then High School Musical 3 and Saw V did good business last week. Saw will take the bigger hit, but both should still do some business, with worried mothers likely shepherding their flock to HM3 on Friday.

Bombs Bursting in air:
1. High School Musical 3 - $18.5 Million
2. Zack and Miri Make a Porno - $18 Million
3. The Changeling – $12.7 Million
4. Saw V – $12 Million
5. The Haunting of Molly Hartley - $10.5 Million

RockNRolla goes wide, but it’s been dead for a very long time. The wildcard is The Changeling, as its core demo is not known to flock on the immediate, but may do so. The reviews will the harbinger, but since most of my peers have roasted it, I assume that might be the case, though older critics may do with the cartwheels. I’ll be back Sunday.

Also, this: