In Theaters This Weekend: September 28, 2012

As we head into the last weekend of September, it's not quite the array of films we were greeted with last week, but there still looks to be a bit of variety amongst the newest titles. The big name this week appears to be "Looper", as Rian Johnson's latest sci-fi thriller aims to grab the top spot with relative ease at the box office. It's biggest competition, however, might be the Adam Sandler and Andy Samberg animated family comedy, "Hotel Transylvania". And rounding out the wide releases this week is "Won't Back Down", a gritty, educational drama starring Maggie Gyllenhaal and Viola Davis.

Check out my rundown on all three after the break, including some box office predictions.

We'll start with "Looper", because not only do I expect it to make the most money this weekend, but this is also the only film I have any real interest in this week. Written and directed by Rian Johnson ("Brick"), this sci-fi action/thriller takes place in 2072 and centers around the then-illegal act of time traveling, and the underground uses its taken on, including hired hits. Our two main characters, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Bruce Willis, discover that they're the same person, separated by 30 years of time, only with the older version sent back in time for the younger to assassinate.

That description does not do the film justice, but it's always difficult to put a time travel film into words. If you've missed all of the advertising thus far, I recommend checking out the trailer if you still have questions. But the film looks good, and I'm always up for a futuristic sci-fi tale. The film did really well at various film festivals last month, and even official reviews that are already in have the film sitting incredibly well. Currently at a 92% on Rotten Tomatoes, everything I'm reading seems to sing of the film's various praises - the smart and inspired writing and directing styles, the acting of its leading men, the futuristic climate that Johnson sets up, the non-stop action thrills throughout, even to this just being one of the most enjoyable theater experiences of the year. It's hard to find much to nag on there, and obviously we'll have to see how it all plays out for ourselves, but with me already having strong interests in this film, I see nothing here to dissuade me. The cast looks great, and I love the additions of Emily Blunt and Jeff Daniels. I'll be checking this out Friday afternoon as soon as the theaters open. I expect this to be a very fun experience, and I think if you have any interest in the action/sci-fi/thriller genre, definitely give this one a shot.

If this isn't your cup of tea however, maybe it's because you have young'ens and aren't prepared to let them sit in on a film about murder quite yet. In that case, maybe "Hotel Transylvania" is for you (or at least, your kids). This animated film revolves around Dracula (Adam Sandler), who owns a high-end resort for monsters and various other creatures of the night. All is sent spinning out of control though when a human boy discovers the hotel and falls in love with the Count's daughter. The film is directed by Genndy Tartakovsky, who is the man behind several hit animated television shows, including The Powerpuff Girls, Dexter's Laboratory, and Samurai Jack. He obviously brings a strong animated background to the project, which should help, but I think anytime you're involved in an Adam Sandler project, you pretty much know what you're in for (whether that's good or bad is up to you). The cast features other stars such as Andy Samberg, Selena Gomez, and Fran Drescher, along with other regular Sandler alums like Kevin James, Steve Buscemi, and David Spade. I like the concept of Dracula running a resort (feels like it could have been a possible spin-off from our old television show, "Off the Subject"), but Sandler headlining gives me even less interest than I already had for this film. This one looks far too silly for me, which is great for the kids, but not to appealing to me.

Reviews have been mixed so far, with many showing praise to Tartakovsky's zany directorial styles, but most agreeing that for a premise that had promise (say that five times fast), it generally fell flat and seemed stale. I think if you have kiddos, they will probably be able to appreciate this film. This provides something new over the decade-old "Finding Nemo" that is in theaters right now, so if you have young children and are looking for something bright and funny to satisfy their attention spans for an hour and a half, I say go for it. There's zero chance I see this in theaters, and probably that I'll ever watch it. But I can see this being at least tolerable for the proper audiences.

Finally, we have "Won't Back Down". This schoolhouse drama is based on a true story and centers around two mothers (one a teacher), who are determined to reform the inner city school systems. Facing various obstacles along the way, these two women risk everything for the future of their children. Could that sound any more dramatic and produced? I'm sure that the real people who fought for reform in the school systems were very tough and courageous people, but I have to imagine that once the film studio got whiff of this synopsis, they salivated knowing just how sappy and overdone they could make this tale. I'm sure it's inspiring and I know its heart is in the right place, but I can't help but look at this and feel like it's playing with the emotions of people watching more so than trying to tackle any real issues.

I do like the cast of Maggie Gyllenhaal and Viola Davis though. Both seem like great fits for the roles they're taking on. I'm not too familiar with writer-director Daniel Barnz, other than that he last wrote and directed "Beastly", which reviewed terribly (I never saw it). His newest film doesn't appear to be doing much better either, currently at a 25% on Rotten Tomatoes. Overall, I'd say if you have interest in this one, and you're more interested in just getting into an emotional character drama than worrying about the true issues at hand, this one will probably satisfy you. I'm sure it will feel inspiring and elicit a few tears. And who says that a film has to be authentic anyway? If this one just wants to tug at some heartstrings, good for it if it can pull it off.

Needless to say, I won't be checking this out in theaters, but I can envision myself giving this a rental someday down the road on a slow Sunday afternoon. My affections towards Maggie Gyllenhaal set this higher on my radar than probably should be, even though it still sits quite low. Check this out at your own risk.

Let's move on to some box office predictions, where I can't imagine anything but "Looper" and "Hotel Transylvania" having much effect on the top spots this weekend. Last weekend saw basically three films pull in $13MM each, resulting in roughly $40MM peppered amongst the top spots. I expect that to be a similar cap this week, if not a touch higher. "Looper" seems poised to claim victory with its incredibly impressive reviews and buzz so far, hopefully enough of which to warrant $25MM or so. That seems really high after what we've seen over the past month, but considering that "Resident Evil: Retribution" made nearly that much in its first weekend, you want to think "Looper" could do ever better. But it's a slow time of year, and studios releasing films in these months know the drill. I hope for $25MM, but seeing something in the lower $20MM range seems more likely. "Hotel Transylvania" will probably be right behind it, in the $18MM-$20MM range. This film looks poised to steal the family audiences from "Finding Nemo", which probably won't have very good holds going into its third weekend. I don't expect "Won't Back Down" will figure too prominently into the plans, probably closer replicating the numbers "Dredd" put up last week ($6MM).

Those are the films we can look forward to this week though. A few interesting titles in there - which will you be checking out?