This week Bradley Cooper has a smarm-off with Matthew McConaughey for the box office. Shouldn’t a black hole open up when the two have opposing midnight shows?

THE LONELINESS OF THE LONG DISTANCE RUNNER

Predictions are not magic, though I wish they were. People who do them – hopefully – are looking at tracking, seeing how the advertising plays, and guess accordingly. Second weekend predictions tend to be much closer than openings, because there’s more variables. But the studios have picked their campaigns, chosen their advertising slots, and pray for the best. Most of the guesswork is gone by around noon pacific time when numbers start rolling in. There are the odd surprises here and there. Sometimes quality matters, and a film like Inception performs to greater numbers than anyone could have hoped for. But more often than not you’ll get a mediocre film that somehow manages to catch people or be passable or have no real competition so people get what they want out of it. Gnomeo and Juliet did a shocking $90 Million.

This last weekend we saw Mars Needs Moms do $7 Million on a $150 Million dollar budget. But, even given all that money, no one was surprised. Those numbers seem high stakes, but the industry is not above two things: letting something go if it proves a point or ends a career, and thowing away good money. With a film like Mars Needs Moms, Disney no longer wanted to be in the Robert Zemeckis business. Yellow Submarine was going to die there and blood was in the water before the announcement  – I talked to people last summer who weren’t sure it was going to go forward. MNM‘s flopping added grease to the fire.

Dick Cook was long the head of Disney production. He was replaced by the guy who green-lit Tron Legacy. Much of what we’ve seen for the last couple years – even after Cook’s departure – were greenlit by the previous regime. Who looks good when Alice in Wonderland does a billion worldwide even if the film is not very good? It was a product of the previous regime. But that had potential. It’s much easier to squash films that help sever ties. Could MNM been fixed, done better, what have you? A rose by any other name says Shakespeare. We live in the moment, and no matter how much you try to compare two movies, there’s so many variables that there’s no scientific answer. William Goldman’s axiom always comes up about how no one knows anything, but it’s also bullshit. Disney tied their own hands intentionally on this one. I’m not getting conspiracy minded, supposedly they screened it a year ago and washed their hands, so it was finished and dumped.

Audiences can sometimes find a picture – I’m sure if Fox knew what they had with Taken, it wouldn’t have come out on a Super Bowl weekend, but that was mostly a word of mouth hit, and you can’t really stoke those for older audiences like Paramount did with Paranormal Activity. But if the marketing department doesn’t believe in a film, you are fucked these days. Two perfect but older examples of this are This is Spinal Tap - which created a genre – and Office Space. If you look at the poster for Office Space - which has Jennifer Aniston in it – is that really how you would sell the picture? And then they put it out in January. And now it’s a cult classic.

With both Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, the primary targets of the film’s success were England. Anything outside of that was cake. Both did okay numbers domestically, but excelled on home video and television. Simon Pegg was in Mission: Impossible: III and Star Trek. Both are in an upcoming Spielberg film. But his starring roles have not sold him to the public and now we get to Paul. The outside adverts are mostly text with an Alien on them. I don’t know if Universal hates or likes this movie, but they didn’t know what to sell, and so I predict dire returns for the film.

I don’t like this.

Word around the campfire is mixed because it’s geek FUBU. This is where David Poland’s genre 8 comes into play, which I don’t think is on point enough to be true. If you just sell it to the faithful, the returns are anemic. But Paul was likely conceived as a film for British audiences, and the budget was kept in line. And perhaps still stinging from the underperformance of Scott Pilgrim, they seem to be letting this one go. To quote Observe and Report, “there is nothing good here.” I hope for the best, but this appears to be a dump. And dumps now can go rather low. But Pegg and Frost won’t be hurt. Still, it’s never fun saying I think something like that will do poorly.

YOU DROPPED THE PREDICTION ON ME, BABY

Limitless seems to be in better shape than The Lincoln Lawyer, perhaps because of the premise. Both will try to top Battle Los Angeles’s second weekend.

1. Battle Los Angeles - $17.5 Million

2. Limitless – $15.7 Million

3. Rango – $15.5 Million

4. The Lincoln Lawyer - $11.3 Million

5. Red Riding Hood - $7 Million

I would guestimate around a five total for Paul. I’m going low hoping to be proved wrong. hopefully Sunday, I’ll be modestly happy.