Smurfs & Gramps Take One Last Swing At Box Office -- The Weekend Warrior

– by Edward Douglas

Welcome back to the Weekend Warrior, your weekly look at the new movies hitting theaters this weekend, as well as other cool events and things to check out. 

Three New Movies May Have Trouble Making Much of a Mark

After a couple impressive March weekends with one new box office record, and a couple impressive openings, we’re now into April, and of the new movies, there just doesn’t seem like anything can defeat last week’s powerful duo of DreamWorks Animation’s The Boss Baby--which exceeded all predictions with $49 million, taking the top spot from Beauty and the Beast. Ghost in the Shell didn’t even do as well as I thought it may, opening with just $19 million, those late reviews helping to kill its weekend.

Sony Pictures Animation are giving the loveable blue Smurfs a third go at American audiences with THE SMURFS: THE LOST VILLAGE (Sony), after two previous movies, featuring the popular comic and cartoon characters by Belgian illustrator Peyo. The height of the characters’ popularity was in the ‘80s when there was a popular television cartoon, and there have been a number of animated films in the past, but Sony took things over in 2011 with a movie that opened with $35 million and grossed $142.6 million domestically (and another $421 million overseas).  Its 2013 sequel opened in the exact same July weekend, and did about half those numbers across the board.

They’re taking a completely new approach by making the latest movie an entirely animated movie and hoping there are enough fans left for the characters that it can fare decently while some areas have their spring break. Part of the charm of the previous Sony movies was their live action talent that included Neil Patrick Harris and Hank Azaria as Gargamel, but The Lost Village introduces an all-new voice-cast.  Rainn Wilson from The Office voices Gargamel, Demi Lovato voices Smurfette and other Smurfs are also voiced by well-known comic talent. What also makes this Smurfs story different is that Smurfette, the only female Smurf, is joined by a whole village of female Smurfs, voiced by the likes of Ellie Kemper (Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt), Michelle Rodriguez, Julia Roberts and Ariel Winter from Modern Family. Presumably, these new female Smurfs could help increase interest among younger girls who will have already seen Beauty and the Beast.

Who knows if taking a more traditional approach will work, but the biggest hurdler this Smurfs movie has to face is that there have been three weeks of suitably family-friendly PG fare, including Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, and last week’s DreamWorks Animation hit, The Boss Baby. Granted, there may be parents with younger kids still looking for ways to entertain them, but it seems doubtful this movie can do much better than The Smurfs 2. That leaves it looking to open in third place with somewhere around $20 million or even less.                                                                          

For older moviegoers not interested in the Smurfs, there’s the crime-comedy remake GOING IN STYLE (Warner Bros.), starring three Oscar winning actors--Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman and Alan Arkin--as three retirees who desperately need cash so they plan an elaborate bank heist. A remake of the barely-remembered 1979 movie starring George Burns and Art Carney, this is a movie hoping to bring in the same audience that went to see Freeman’s earlier comedy Last Vegas ($64 million gross) or even his earlier movie The Bucket List, which teamed him with Jack Nicholson and grossed $93.5 million.

While Freeman and Caine have had a lot of success as part of Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight trilogy, none of the three have really proven themselves as box office draws for smaller projects, but going by those other similar movies, Freeman probably has the biggest draw of the three of them.

The movie is directed by former Scrubs star Zach Braff, as he ventures into more mainstream fare, but the movie was originally set to come out last year before being delayed, which makes you think the studio wants to hide it.  It’s doubtful reviews will be good, and older audiences do allow reviews to change their movie-going decisions. As with many movies this year, most critics won’t see it until Wednesday night, but this has been marketed well enough that it can still bring in a good amount of walk-in business, possibly to the tune of $9 to 10 million.

LRM Interview with Alan Arkin (Coming Soon!)

The last movie opening in wide release is the faith-based drama THE CASE FOR CHRIST (Pure Flix), based on the 1998 book by Lee Strobel, which will be in roughly 1,200 theaters across the country, and honestly, I’ve long given up on figuring out how these movies might do. I just never see any of the marketing or know much about the movie, except that it will be targeted directly towards the same audience that went to see God’s Not Dead and its sequel. Even with the Easter holiday just one week away, there’s no guarantee that this audience will go to see this, because some of these movies have done better than others, so I’ll just take a wild dartboard guess that this will get into the Top 10 with between $3 and 4 million.

Either way, it looks very likely that DreamWorks Animation’s The Boss Baby will win its second in a row, followed by Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, as it zooms past the $400 million benchmark. After a decent opening last Friday, Focus Features’ The Zookeeper’s Wife, starring Jessica Chastain, will expand into over 800 theaters, which should help it stay in the Top 10. Also look for the Anime Your Name. (see below) to open fairly wide across the country and possibly bring in a million or more.

BOX OFFICE PREDICTIONS:

(NOTE: Check back on Thursday night for any updates to these predictions due to changing theater counts, etc.)

Updated: 4.6.17: Not a lot of changes this week, and really, the only question is whether Smurfs will do better or worse than my prediction and whether The Case for Christ beats Focus Features' The Zookeeper's Wife, as it expands to 806 theaters.

 1. The Boss Baby  (DreamWorks Animation) - $27.6 million -45%

2. Beauty and the Beast (Disney) - $24.1 million -47%

3. Smurfs: The Lost Village (Sony) - $17.1 million N/A (up .4 million)

4. Going in Style (New Line/WB) – $9.8 million N/A

5. Ghost in the Shell (Paramount) –  $8.5 million -54%

6. Power Rangers (Saban/Lionsgate) – $6.5 million -53%

7. Kong: Skull Island (Legendary Pictures/WB) - $5.4 million -40% (up .3 million)

8. Get Out (Universal) - $3.7 million -35%

9. Logan (20th Century Fox) - $3.5 million -43%

10. The Zookeeper’s Wife (Focus Features - $3.5 million -3% (up .1 million)

--- The Case for Christ (PureFlix) - $3.3 million N/A (up .1 million)


THIS WEEK’S PICKS: 

It’s another crazy busy weekend for limited releases but at least there’s some true standouts, including one of my favorites of the year so far:

GIFTED (Fox Searchlight)

Cast: Chris Evans, Mckenna Grace, Octavia Spencer, Jenny Slate, Lindsay Duncan.
Director: Marc Webb (50 Days of Summer, The Amazing Spider-Man, The Amazing Spider-Man 2)
Genre:  Drama.
Rated PG-13
Plot:
Seven-year-old Mary (Mckenna Grace) is a young girl who lives with her uncle Frank (Chris Evans) in a Florida trailer park, but when she’s finally sent to regular school (after being home-schooled), her teacher (Jenny Slate) realizes that the girl has an amazing aptitude for mathematics unlike anyone her age. Before they can decide what to do, the girl’s grandmother (Lindsay Duncan) shows up wanting to take custody of her brilliant kin.

I hate being pessimistic, but Gifted might become one of the year’s saddest missed opportunities in terms of being a wonderful movie that no one bothered to see, similar to last year’s The Dark Horse and even Queen of Katwe. Those two movies dealt with chess, so maybe there’s no surprise there weren’t that many moviegoers interested, and the fact that this story revolves around math might be more daunting if Fox hadn’t had a huge hit recently with Hidden Figures.

While the movie revolves around a custody case, it’s not a heavy drama by any means, as it’s handled in a lighter way through the relationship between a broken down man named Frank, played by Chris Evans, who lives with his niece Mary (Mckenna Grace) in a Florida trailer. He’s been trying to raise her right by home-schooling her, but when they finally decide she should go to school it’s obvious she’s on another level when it comes to math. 

It’s a great return to smaller movies by director Marc Webb, and a fine dramatic performance by Evans, greatly enhanced by his young co-star and actors like Octavia Spencer and Lindsay Duncan, the latter British actress really bringing her A-game.

It actually may be surprising how wonderful this movie is in terms of tapping into authentic human emotions and really wanting to see this wonderful little girl end up with the best parental care that will let her thrive, both mentally and emotionally.

Gifted is already one of my favorite movies this year, and I hope that it will get a little more attention from Evans’ involvement because it really is a wonderful movie even if it’s not the easiest one to market, or sell in order to find an audience that will love it as much as I do.

Gifted opens in select cities Friday and then will expand into other cities over the course of April. Definitely try to check it out!

LRM Interview with Marc Webb


THEIR FINEST (STX Entertainment)

Cast: Gemma Arterton, Bill Nighy, Sam Claflin, Jack Huston, Eddie Marsan, Jake Lacy, Helen McCrory.
Director: Lone Scherfig (An Education, One Day, Italian for Beginners and more)
Genre:  Drama, Romance
Rated PG-13
Plot:
At the height of World War II, the British Ministry of Information are trying to produce propaganda films to inspire British moviegoers, and a young woman named Catrin Cole (Gemma Arterton) is hired to write female dialogue given the derogatory term “slop.” Instead, she discovers a story about two brave twin sisters who helped soldiers during the battle of Dunkirk, and she and her writing partner Buckley (Sam Claflin) begin production while dealing with too many cooks wanting different things, including the veteran actor Ambrose Hiliard (Bill Nighy), who has taken on a somewhat humiliating supporting role.

This is a movie that I saw back at the Toronto International Film Festival last year, mostly because I’m a big fan of Gemma Arterton and I’ve loved almost everything she’s been in (with a few exceptions), and I also have been a fan of Danish filmmaker Lone Scherfig since I saw her Scandinavian indie comedy Italian for Beginners.

It’s a World War II drama that looks at the propaganda films being made by the Ministry of Information and a woman brought in to write female dialogue, who instead finds a story that she tries to tell in a way that empowers and inspires British women, who are used to being oppressed by normal gender traditions. This is also not a heavy drama, and it works at entertaining with many light and humorous moments, many of them provided by Bill Nighy as an aged, veteran actor, as well as some from Jake Lacy, as an American soldier hired so the movie they’re making could appeal to the Yanks. In that sense, it’s a movie about making a movie, which is always fun, especially when the authenticity is maintained.

Obviously, having a great female director like Scherfig, best known here for An Education, makes all the difference in the world in terms of capturing the tone, and the movie never turns into the type of romantic fluff that it could have.  In fact, the movie never loses sight of the seriousness of the times when Germans were dropping bombs on London and no one ever knew what the next day would bring, which makes the film’s tone quite difficult to balance. It somehow works, which is why I ended up enjoying it more than I thought I might.

Their Finest opens in New York and L.A. Friday and will expand into further cities over April.

LRM Interview with Gemma Arterton and Lone Scherfig


SHOT! THE PSYCHO-SPIRITUAL MANTRA OF ROCK (Magnolia Pictures)

Cast: Mick Rock
Director: Barnaby Clay
Genre: Documentary, Music.

While I didn’t want to go too crazy with the recommendations this weekend. I just couldn’t overlook this fantastic music-related doc that shines the spotlight on legendary rock photographer Mick Rock, whose iconic photographers helped define the rock music of the ‘70s. Besides being David Bowie’s personal photographer during his “Ziggy Stardust” phase, Rock’s amazing images could be seen on the cover of Lou Reed’s “Transformer,” “Queen II,” and the Stooges’ “Raw Power,” and later album covers for the Ramones and Blondie.

Rock’s own story is pretty amazing as he fell into photography by being in the right place at the right time, becoming one of the most in-demand photographers of the era, dubbed “The Man Who Shot the Seventies.” He also got caught up in the rock ‘n’ roll excess of drug use that eventually got him sent to the hospital for a quadruple bypass surgery, and ever since he’s tried to be a lot healthier. This is a great companion film to last year’s Danny Says about Ramones manager Danny Fields, who also had a connection to Lou Reed, the Ramones and other ‘70s acts, and a must-see for fans of that era of rock music.

Shot! opens in New York (at the Metrograph!) and L.A. as well as On Demand.


Festivals, Series and Repertory:

There isn’t nearly as much going on in terms of series and festivals this weekend as last. (As mentioned last week, I’ll be going down to the Sarasota Film Festival as a juror.) New York’s Film Society of Lincoln Center is presenting its Sound + Vision Festival, which presents some of the best cinematic celebrations of music. I’m kind of bummed that I’m not going to be around because on Sunday they’re showing a double feature of the two movies that Barbet Schroeder did with one of my favorite bands, Pink Floyd--More and The Valley (Obscured by Clouds).

Opening at the Film Forum on Friday is John Schlesinger’s 1962 British “kitchen sink” drama A Kind of Loving (Rialto Pictures), starring Alan Bates and June Ritchie, as the finale of its Brit New Wave festival. It takes place in a Northern industrial town where Bates’ character, a draughtsman, lives with his mother and father and enjoys talking about “birds” and cheering on the local football team, but has eyes for the firm’s “untouchable” blonde secretary, Ingrid.


OTHER LIMITED RELEASES:

Like I said above, this is another weekend with a lot of choices in select cities, and On Demand including quite a bit of genre fare.

Narratives -- Dramas, Comedies and Genre:

Anne Hathaway and Jason Sudeikis star in Colossal (NEON Pictures), the new movie from Nacho Vigaondo (Time Crimes), and his clever twist on the giant Kaiju monster movie. Hathaway plays a New York party girl who returns to her small town home to work in the bar of a high school friend (Sudeikis), but she soon discovers that her drunken actions are being replicated by a giant monster that’s been sighted in South Korea. It gets weirder from there. It opens in select cities Friday and then expands across the country on April 14.

Interview with Nacho Vigalondo 

Filmmaker Werner Herzog has not one, but TWO new movies opening Friday. His thriller Salt and Fire (XLRator Medai), based on the Tom Bissell story “Aral” and filmed in Bolivia, stars Michael Shannon, Gael Garcia Bernal and Veronica Ferres, and it deals with a hostage taking situation where the head of a scientific delegation is stranded with two blind boys in a giant area of salt flats.

Herzog also has Queen of the Desert opening at the IFC Center, which teams him with Nicole Kidman playing Gertrude Bell, a woman who in the turn of the (previous) century left her home in England to travel in Tehran, where she has a passionate affair with a British officer (James Franco) and encounters T.E. Lawrence (Robert Pattinson). This one was filmed in Morocco and Jordan.

Another legendary filmmaker, Walter Hill (The Warriors), makes his big return with the action-thriller The Assignment (Saban Films/Lionsgate) starring Michelle Rodriguez as hitman Frank Kitchen, who after being double-crossed on a job discovers that he’s been surgically altered into a woman. He swears revenge on the surgeon responsible, played by Sigourney Weaver. It opens in select theaters following a run on UltraVOD.

It’s not to be confused with Michael O’Shea’s New York City thriller The Transfiguration (Strand Releasing), which follows a troubled teen into vampire who forms a bond with an outcast girl named Sophie around his dark obsession.  It opens at New York’s Angelika Film Center Friday and then in L.A. on April 21 at the Nuart Theatre.

Arnold Scharzenegger stars in the drama Aftermath (Lionsgate Premiere) as a man looking for answers, and possibly revenge, after the death of his wife and daughter in a plane crash caused by the negligence of an air traffic controller, played by Scott McNairy. It opens in select cities and On Demand Friday.


Some of Broadway’s biggest stars, including Lin-Manuel Miranda and Kristin Chenoweth, appear in Dan Harris’ adaptation of Stephen (The Humans) Karam’s off-Broadway musical Speech & Debate (Vertical Entertainment). It follows three teenagers (Liam James, Sarah Steele, Austin P. McKenzie) brought together brought together by a series of mishaps who decide to revive a school club as resistance to their anger at their parents, teachers and the school board. Also starring Janeane Garofalo, Wendi McLendon-Covey, Kal Pen and Skyler Astin, it opens in select theaters, VOD and iTunes on Friday.

Armie Hammer stars in the psychological thriller Mine (WellGo Entertainment), the directorial debut of filmmaking partners Fabio Guaglione and Fabio Resinaro, playing U.S. soldier Mike Stevens, who while on a mission in North Africa becomes trapped on a land mine in the middle of the desert that will explode if he moves. A bit like the Ryan Reynolds movie Buried (who also produced this movie) but on a mine, it opens in select cities and On Demand.

Dan Stevens from the hit FX show Legion stars in Ido Fluk’s modern fable The Ticket (Shout! Factory Films) along with Malin Akerman. He plays a blind man who one day regains his vision and while making improvements on his life, he just doesn’t have room in his life any more for his “plain wife” (how dare they call Akerman plain??) and best friend (Oliver Platt).  Having premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival last year, this opens in select cities Friday.

Jeremy Gillespie & Steven Kostanski’s ‘80s throwback horror film The Void (Screen Media Films) stars Aaron Poole as a police officer who finds a blood-soaked man wandering down a deserted road. When he’s taken to the hospital, it’s surrounded by cloaked cult-like figures who do something that turns all those inside insane and deadly. After playing the festival circuit, it opens in select cities.

Also opening at the IFC Center is All These Sleepless Nights (The Orchard), Polish filmmaker Michal Marczak’s unconventional “documentary” that explores the intersecting lives of two Warsaw students, best friends Kris and Michal, who roam the city at night going from party to dance club doing drugs and having sex. When Kris falls for Michal’s ex-girlfriend, their friendship starts falling apart. (Since the movie has actors in the roles and is scripted, I find myself having a hard time considering this a documentary, though.)

Documentaries:

Magnolia Pictures has another doc opening this weekend, one I didn’t see called Alive and Kicking (Magnolia), which takes a look at the world of swing dancing, and it opens in select cities and will be On Demand, iTunes and Amazon Video starting Friday.

Foreign Films:

Romanian filmmaker Cristian Mungiu (4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days) returns with his new drama Graduation (Sundance Selects), a film that has run the festival gauntlet since premiering at Cannes last year, where Mungiu shared the prestigious Director’s Prize. It follows a smalltown physician who desperately wants his studious daughter Eliza to pass her final exams, and do well enough to get admitted to a prestigious British university. When Eliza is assaulted outside school, her father needs to decide whether to help her by bribing officials, which wouldn’t be a good example to set for Eliza. It opens at New York’s IFC Center and Lincoln Plaza Cinemas.

The blockbuster Japanese anime sensation Your Name. (Funimation Films) from Makoto Shinkai (Voices of a Distant Star) finally hits these shores in dubbed (Yuk!) and subtitled (Yay!) versions. It’s a little like Freaky Friday in that it involves two high school students who randomly switch bodies and have to work together to make things work. It will open in select cities Friday.

I missed Danielle Thompson’s historic drama Cezanne et Moi (Magnolia) when it opened in New York last week, but it will expand to California and Canada this Friday. It stars Guillaume Canet and Guillaume Gallienne as painter Paul Cezanne and novelist/poet Emile Zola, who grew up together as boys. The film follows them through college, and into adulthood, as their friendship is put through the test as their ideals push them apart. It’s kind of like a French post-impressionist version of Moonlight.

Spanish filmmaker Cesc Gay’s Truman (FilmRise) stars Argentina’s Ricardo Darin (The Secret In Their Eyes) as Jullaìn, a man with terminal cancer who decides not to treat it, and when his childhood friend Tomais (Javier Cámara from Almodovar’s Talk to Her) comes to visit, the two of them prepare his funeral arrangements. It opens in New York and Miami on Friday, then in L.A. and other places on April 14.

Streaming:

One of my favorite indie filmmakers, Joe Swanberg (Drinking Buddies), moves to Netflix with his new comedy Win It All (Netflix), reuniting him with Jake Johnson (New Girl) as small-time gambler Eddie Garrett who is entrusted with a duffel bag full of cash from a friend going to prison. When Eddie’s friend is released earlier, he has to try to win the money back gambling. Having just premiered at the SXSW Film Festival (a Swanberg mainstay), it will stream on Netflix this Friday.

Also on Friday, Baz Luhrmann’s hip-hop musical drama series The Get Down (Netflix) returns with its second half, following the relationship between two kids from the Bronx, Ezekiel (Justice Smith) and Mylene Cruz (Herizen Guardiola), as they each start to achieve fame in their respective music careers, he as one of the first rappers, she as a disco diva. I’ve seen the seventh episode of the series, and it’s quite fantastic, including a musical performance by Ezekiel aka “Books” and his group “The Get Down Brothers,” and Mylene appearing on a disco television show as she gets pressure from her father (Giancarlo Esposito from Breaking Bad) to use her musical career to promote the church. Their relationship also seems to be going into different directions as they become busier with their careers. I’m very excited to see how it all turns out.


That’s it for this week, but join us again next Wednesday right here on LRM Online for a look at new movies, including one that some might have some interest in...can you say Fate of the Furious (Universal)?  I thought you could. 

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(Text copyright Edward Douglas 2017. The Weekend Warrior logo designed by and copyright Tim Nardelli 2017.)

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