In Theaters This Weekend: September 21, 2012

As we head into the second half of September, we're actually greeted with four notable wide releases. Last week saw four new films, but not all were available to the masses. This week, most all of us should have our pick of a pretty impressive and diverse lineup of films, including "DREDD", "Trouble With the Curve", "House at the End of the Street", and "End of Watch". All offer up something drastically different, but each should provide value in some capacity.

"The Perks of Being a Wallflower" will also start its limited run this week, while Paul Thomas Anderson's "The Master" gets an expansion - let's see if it can keep up with the record-setting grosses it's already accumulated. Also, I'll take a stab at the box office projections this weekend, where finally it appears that there could be some competition for the top few spots.

Let's start with "DREDD", even though I'm not sure it'll be the biggest highlight of the weekend. Judge Dredd first got his start in the late-1970's in the British anthology magazine, 2000 AD. The character got his first feature film adaptation in 1995, when Sylvester Stallone took the title role. The film was generally met with negative feedback, but how many sci-fi/action films of the 90's really did that great? Not that many. This latest version will put Karl Urban ("Star Trek") in the lead role. I have plenty of nostalgic ties to the '95 version, but nothing too strong to give me feelings one way or the other towards this adaptation. A long while back, I remember when the script first leaked online, and people tore it apart, saying that this sounded like it was going to be a terrible film. And that was pretty much the consensus among movie pundits until screenings started recently popping up. I never read the leaked script, so I'm not sure if there were major changes made to the final product or if the film just translated much differently on screen than it did on paper (when the first copies of PTA's "The Master" leaked, people thought it was a comedy just about a drunk who meets and hangs out with people on a boat - there are those elements, but the film is much deeper than what was initially expected), but either way, so far people are loving it. Amongst an early 60+ reviews, the film is still holding an impressive 89% on Rotten Tomatoes. From what I'm reading, critics are saying everything about this movie is exactly what I hoped for from "Total Recall" (but did not get) - it's intense, gory, campy (in a fun way), thrilling, and easy to engage in. The film is immersive, and offers a fun ride from beginning to end. It's not exactly the same thing, but I beg the question, will "DREDD" be this year's "Rise of the Planet of the Apes"? Seemingly coming out of nowhere and wowing everyone? We'll all have to find out for ourselves, but I can tell you that due to the non-stop praises for the film so far, I will definitely be at the theater taking this one in this weekend. If you love action and sci-fi, it seems like this might be one of the highlights of the year.

The other film that I'm sure to check out this weekend is "Trouble With the Curve". Character dramas are probably my favorite film style, and this has all of the elements I'm looking for: adaptation, broken relationships on the mend, one last hurrah, and even baseball. The film revolves around Clint Eastwood's character, an aging baseball scout out on one last job for his Atlanta Braves. Similar to "Moneyball", the film will weigh themes of old vs. new school. Eastwood's old way uses feeling and intuition to figure out what makes a good ballplayer, but the new school sabermetrics philosophy is pushing him aside for a younger, more calculable approach. The film will also revolve a lot around him and Amy Adams' character, who plays his daughter in the film, and their fractured relationship.

"Moneyball" was my favorite film of 2011, and while I don't expect this one to end up quite so high on my list, it does seem like similar tones are being used and this should be another great modern baseball story to tell. Reviews haven't been quite as overwhelming as I'd hope, mostly mixed to positive, but at least there are elements there that people are liking. Critics so far are praising Eastwood and Adams' relationship on screen, but generally feel the movie lacks much enthusiasm otherwise; it comes off a bit dull. For an obsessed baseball fan like myself, I feel I'll be able to appreciate the slow burn that the film looks to offer, not indifferent to the sport itself. With a story like this I don't need a lot of exciting drama, just people who love the game. I know that makes for an incredible biased analysis, but use it as reference. If you like character dramas or the game of baseball, this is probably worth a watch; the performances alone might warrant such. If you're looking for a bit more fun this weekend, however, you're probably not missing a whole lot waiting for this on DVD. This is still a must-see for me this weekend though.

Next up, "House at the End of the Street". The film stars a post-Hunger Games Jennifer Lawrence, Elisabeth Shue, and Max Thieriot. Shue and Lawrence feature as a mother and daughter who just moved into a new neighborhood. They live right next door to a house where a young girl murdered her parents. When Lawrence's character befriends the surviving son, who still lives in the house, she learns the story is far from over (but the trailers still fill in the remaining gaps pretty well).

This story seemed far more intriguing to me before I started seeing all of the content for it. With Lawrence's involvement, I half-expected the film to be of a slightly different caliber than a lot of the forgetful fluff we've seen from the horror genre over the past few years (something akin to "Silent House", where Elizabeth Olson provided a performance above the norm). But from all I've seen from the trailers, this does not appear to be the case. I think there will be plenty of jump-scares throughout, but don't bank on much ambiance or visceral dampers. This one will be pretty straight-forward, banking mostly on scares hiding around the corner. And while that's fine, that style of film doesn't leave for a lasting impression; it should disappear just as quickly as it comes. For the right audience however, this could make for a great weekend option. No doubt the studio behind the film is targeting the same teenagers that showed up in droves for "The Hunger Games", hoping that Lawrence's inclusion alone will drastically boost ticket sales.

For audience members more interested in a group experience, taking in plenty of jump-scares, I think you'll find all of that here. For true fans of the horror genre, this seems more destined for a video rental, if that. Don't expect anything new, and the format and plot development will probably be more frustrating than anything. I don't expect it to be a terrible movie, but also nothing that stands out from the already over-saturated market.

The last film opening wide this week is "End of Watch". This is probably the film I know the least about, but so far I'm hearing really good things. The film revolves around two young officers who are marked for death after confiscating a small cache of money and firearms from the members of a notorious cartel, during a routine traffic stop.

First off, it seems worth noting that the writer and director of this film, David Ayer, is the same man who wrote "Training Day", a film that was nominated for two Academy Awards (Denzel Washington won Best Actor). Reviews so far are solid, with the film currently holding an 86% on Rotten Tomatoes. From quick snippets, the thrills are great, putting audience members right in the middle of the action. It's brutal, relentless, and offers perfect pacing from start to finish. Also, similarly to Washington and Ethan Hawke in "Training Day", the performances by the two stars here, Jake Gyllenhall and Michael Peña, are riviting (might we see similar outcomes in terms of awards recognition that "Training Day" offered?).

I don't know if I'll see this one in theaters, but it definitely won't be this weekend even if so. I really like Gyllenhall and Peña, and I can see them both shining in roles like this. It looks like it will be a very gritty film, but full of intense, non-stop action. If you enjoy a good cop drama, then this should be a perfect option for you. I really want to see this after hearing such positive feedback (something that I honestly wasn't expecting), it's just a shame that it's opening on such a busy weekend. If "Trouble With the Curve" or "DREDD" doesn't quite seem like your thing, then this appears to be a great alternative. I'll either see this in the coming weeks or rent it the first weekend it releases on DVD. Either way, expect plenty of quality here, and if you can take the brutality, give this one a chance.

As for the box office numbers, I went back and forth on all four of these films multiple times. In certain ways, it seems like each one of these could claim the top spot. Instinct says to go with the big-budget sci-fi film, but I'm just not sure this film was marketed strong enough. And outside of my generation (and some older who read the comic), are kids these days familiar with this franchise; do they really care? Because of that inkling, I'm going with "House at the End of the Street" for the top spot, but in a dead heat with "Trouble With the Curve". My thought with HATES is that Jennifer Lawrence is in the film and this is her first on-screen role since "The Hunger Games". I think she's created a strong following and I expect a healthy portion to show up for her latest film. Plus young fans generally enjoy going to cheap horror films anyway for the thrill of it (much like a roller coaster ride or something - yep, Derek, I'm borrowing that). I think they'll be drawn to this one for her presence, and it should amount in somewhere around a $15MM gain. That isn't much, but this isn't the strongest time of year, and there are three other competent films vying for placement. I think "Trouble With the Curve" can do close to $15MM as well, mostly because so many people love baseball. Adults should enjoy Clint Eastwood's presence in this film, while younger audiences can appreciate Justin Timberlake and Amy Adams. This seems like a sound character drama, and I think there will be plenty of audiences craving something of more awards-caliber after a month or so of basically garbage.

That leaves "DREDD" and "End of Watch". I have these two about on the same level as well, but with the upper-hand going to "DREDD". For one, it's in 3D, and that will surely help ticket sales. But just as I complained about its marketing efforts, I'm not sure general audiences have been than much more exposed to "End of Watch". But gritty cop dramas tend to do well in theaters, and Gyllenhaal should help bring in some reliable numbers on his own. I think both of these films will be in the $11MM-$13MM range, again with "DREDD" probably besting "End of Watch" by a tad.

It looks like there should be some good competition in theaters again, and that's always a plus. I'm looking forward to getting back out there and trying to take some of these movies in. Which will you be checking out?