Mayans, miners in culture clash
'Apocalypto,' 'Diamond' battle lighter fare 'Holiday,' 'Minors'It's likely to be a photo finish at the boxoffice this weekend when three wide releases targeting adults ? Warner Bros. Pictures' "Blood Diamond," Buena Vista Pictures' "Apocalypto" and Sony Pictures' "The Holiday" ? are sent out into the marketplace. All are looking to lure a very busy preholiday audience this frame. Warners will up the ante by unveiling a second wide release, the family-oriented "Unaccompanied Minors," which the studio hopes will be a holiday success in the vein of 20th Century Fox's 1990 hit "Home Alone."
Warners unveils its Oscar hopeful "Diamond" in 1,910 theaters. From director Edward Zwick, "Diamond" is set in Sierra Leone and centers on "conflict diamonds" ? those mined in a war zone and sold clandestinely to finance war.
Leonardo DiCaprio stars as a former soldier and current diamond trader who is paired with Djimon Hounsou, who plays a Mende fisherman. The film tracks their quest to recover a rare pink diamond and the risks attached to their efforts. Jennifer Connelly co-stars as an American journalist. The film, from producers Paula Weinstein, Graham King and Marshall Herskovitz, has received a lot of attention, with the diamond industry trying to counter the film's point of view that the industry profits from wars waged in Africa.
Mostly aiming to attract males, "Diamond" is hoping to broaden its appeal to women, but with talk of the film's violence, even DiCaprio's good looks and acting chops might not be enough to bring in the girls.
Extreme violence also is the lure and the deterrent surrounding Mel Gibson's "Apocalypto." Written, directed, produced and financed by Gibson before his public meltdown, "Apocalypto" has been lauded in early reviews for its sophisticated filmmaking and harrowing adventure. The R-rated film centers on the turbulent decline of the Mayan civilization. Co-written by Farhad Safinia, the story follows one man's will to survive to rescue his family.
With no name actors, the film, which opens in 2,465 theaters, is all about Gibson's moviemaking bravura, and its ultra-violent nature is sure to turn men on and women off. However, because of the curiosity surrounding the film, "Apocalypto" is sure to bring in audiences, and it will fight tooth and nail with "Diamond" for boxoffice ranking.
The female-oriented "Holiday" is positioning itself as an alternative to the high levels of testosterone affecting the boxoffice. Director Nancy Meyers, the queen of romantic comedies, is back at it with the star power of Kate Winslet, Cameron Diaz, Jude Law and Jack Black. The PG-13 film centers on an American woman with man problems who trades houses with a British woman experiencing similar issues. Columbia Pictures is hoping for a repeat performance from Meyers, who in December 2003 grossed $125 million for the studio with "Something's Gotta Give," which opened to $16 million. "Holiday," bowing in 2,610 theaters, is tracking in the same range, though insiders think it could be the movie to break out of the three high- profile openers because of its levity and the fact that the others contain such dire subject matter.
Warners is keeping its employees busy this holiday season by also bowing "Minors" in 2,775 theaters. Based on essayist Susan Burton's true-life story, which she told on NPR's "This American Life" to host Ira Glass, the film revolves around a group of kids who create their own holiday when they become snowed in without supervision at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport. Lauren Shuler Donner produced the Paul Feig-directed film. (Glass received an executive producer credit.) Lewis Black and Wilmer Valderrama co-star. "This American Life" is produced by WBEZ/Chicago Public Radio and distributed to public radio stations nationwide by Public Radio International.
In limited release, ThinkFilm opens the R-rated "Off the Black" in three theaters. The film centers on Nick Nolte as a grizzled umpire who gets an unexpected second chance at fatherhood.