The Weekend Warrior 11/04/16: Doctor Strange, Trolls, Hacksaw Ridge

– 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.  

THIS PAST WEEKEND:

Wow. Talk about me overestimating a movie’s potential, and it failing to deliver! Even with my rather modest prediction for Tom Hanks and Ron Howard’s adaptation of Dan Brown’s Inferno, the movie tanked with $14.8 million over the weekend, putting it in second place behind Tyler Perry’s Boo! A Madea Halloween. That’s right. Tyler Perry has bested both Tom Cruise AND Tom Hanks! That opening is lower than the that of the Steven Spielberg spy thriller Bridge of Spies last October, but this one didn’t have any other new competing films while that opened against Crimson Peak and The Martian.  Maybe it was the historic World Series games on Friday and Saturday that kept people from going to the movies or the negative reviews or just people not being interested in another Dan Brown movie, but it’s not a good way to end a month that was already not doing great. Hopefully, things will be better now that it’s November.


With the start of November, we’re officially into the holiday movie season, and we have three big ones that might finally kick out the October doldrums 

DOCTOR STRANGE (Marvel/Disney)

Cast: Benedict Cumberbatch, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Tilda Swinton, Rachel McAdams, Mads Mikkelsen, Michael Stuhlbarg, Scott Adkins, Amy Landecker, Benedict Wong
Director: Scott Derrickson (Sinister, The Exorcism of Emily Rose, Deliver Us from Evil, The Day the Earth Stood Still)
Genre: 
Action, Superhero, Fantasy
Rated PG-13
Plot: Dr. Steven Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) is one of the world’s top brain surgeons, and he knows it. When he gets into a horrific car accident, his hands are damaged beyond repair. Instead of retiring, he travels to Nepal in search of a more spiritual solution to fix his hands. There, he encounters The Ancient One (Tilda Swinton) and starts learning how to use magic to do a lot bigger things to help save the world.  
Theater Count (est.): 3,800

While I’ve written about most of Marvel Studios’ movies over the years, this is the first Marvel Studios movie I’m writing about for this new incarnation of the Weekend Warrior. Doctor Strange is exciting because it’s another standalone film introducing a new Marvel Comics character to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, rather than being another sequel or Avengers movie disguised as a Captain America sequel.

Doctor Strange was another early creation by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko, the creators of Spider-Man, first appearing in 1963’s Strange Tales #110, and appearing in that book throughout the ‘60s until its title was finally changed to Doctor Strange. Now, Strange has not been a Marvel character who has been able to sustain his own series over the years, but he was a regular member of The Defenders and then more recently, the New Avengers. Marvel Comics started publishing a new Strange book recently with the film on its way.

Eventually, Marvel Studios decided they were ready to bring Strange to the big screen, nearly forty years after an unfortunate TV movie in 1978. Put in charge of the movie was filmmaker Scott Derrickson, who has mostly cut his teeth on hit horror films like The Exorcism of Emily Rose and Sinister, as well as an unfortunate remake of The Day the Earth Stood Still, starring Keanu Reeves.

Derrickson may have seemed like an odd choice at first, but he was able to pull together an impressive cast of Oscar-winning and nominated actors, the first one being Benedict Cumberbatch from the hit BBC show Sherlock, as well as numerous films, including The Imitation Game (which got him that Oscar nomination) and voicing Smaug the dragon in Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit movies. That was just the first of the mostly-British cast assembled for the film, and he was soon joined by another Oscar nominee Chiwetel Ejiofor (12 Years a Slave) as Baron Mordo, and probably in some of the most controversial casting, Tilda Swinton as The Ancient One.

Let’s talk about that last one for a bit, because that controversy, mostly among the Asian community, was based on the fact that they went with a white British woman rather than an old Chinese man, as the Ancient One is depicted in the comics. It was another clear case of “white-washing” i.e. casting a white actor instead of a lesser-known Asian one that’s been very much a hot topic in the past few years.

Other casting included Rachel McAdams, Mads Mikkelsen and Michael Stuhlbarg in unspecified roles, but it’s clear that Cumberbatch was going to drive the interest of movie fans unfamiliar with the comic book character.  Cumberbatch has a huge female fanbase (known as “Cumberbitches”) which could theoretically help get more women to go see Doctor Strange over something like Ant-Man.  There’s no question that this cast is bona fide, even if none of them have really had a huge hit based solely on their names.

Let’s face it. Doctor Strange isn’t Spider-Man or The Hulk in terms of popularity and familiarity. He’s gone for many, many years without having a regular comic, and he’s never had his own cartoon or ‘80s TV show, so even some comic readers won’t be as familiar with him as they are with other Marvel characters.

Even so, reviews so far have been very good across the board, although there have been some caveats even with the most positive reviews. The good thing about Doctor Strange is that so much of the conversation is about the special effects that people will likely want to go see it in 3D or IMAX 3D to get the full experience, and those higher ticket prices should help it do decently even if attendance isn’t up there with Marvel’s last movie, Captain America: Civil War.

One thing that might hold the film back is the fact that it’s not opening on its own and actually has competition for a number of key demographics, especially younger girls and women, as well as older folks that might not care so much for another superhero movie in a year full of them. Besides Ejiofor, it also is a very white movie, although the mystic and martials arts aspect of the character should be of interest to Asians as well as African-Americans that like action movies.

While this clearly isn’t going to open with Iron Man numbers, it’s also not Ant-Man, so it should be able to do somewhere in the high-$70 million to $80 million range for the weekend.  Since the movie has already made $86 million in its first weekend overseas in 33 markets, doing particularly well in Korea, so North America is probably going to be icing on another tasty Marvel cake.


TROLLS (DreamWorks Animation/20th Century Fox)

Voice Cast: Anna Kendrick, Justin Timberlake, Zooey Deschanel, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Christine Baranski, Russell Brand, Gwen Stefani, James Corden, John Cleese, Jeffrey Tambor
Directors: Mike Mitchell (Shrek Forever After, Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked, SkHigh, Surviving Christmas) and Walt Dohrn (SpongeBob SquarePants)
Genre:  Animated, Musical, Comedy
Rated PG
Plot:
Decades after the happy singing and dancing Trolls escaped from the Troll-eating Bergens, Princess Poppy (voiced by Anna Kendrick) is leading the Trolls in their singing and dancing fun when they’re discovered by the Bergen Chef (Christine Baranski) who kidnaps them.  Poppy must then team with the dour Branch (Justin Timberlake) to save her people while the Bergen’s King Gristle (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) falls for a pretty Bergen that happens to be his scullery maid Bridget (Zooey Deschanel).
Theater Count (est.): 3,950

It has been six weeks since the last family animated movie, Sony’s Storks, which failed to find much of an audience, so there’s a huge void being left for family audiences that seems like the perfect time for DreamWorks Animation to kick off the holiday movie season with a fantasy musical adventure meant for family audiences, but that will mostly appeal to girls and young women.

That is, because their latest movie is based on those troll dolls that were so popular in the ‘60s and ‘70s, as they try to find a way to base a movie around a toy in a similar way as The LEGO Movie and others that have been successful. It’s definitely a slightly direction for DreamWorks Animation, who have often based their biggest hits (and some major flops) on popular children’s books like Shrek and Rise of the Guardians.

One thing DreamWorks Animation has been masterful at is casting big names in their movies, and this one is no different, as it’s led by Justin Timberlake, who provides his voice and also produced the movie’s soundtrack. They also got Anna Kendrick, an actress who has had as much success with her singing as she has her acting, the two of them coming together for the hit Pitch Perfect and its sequel, plus she’s appeared in other musicals, both big (Into the Woods) and small (The Next Five Years).  They’re joined by Zooey Deschanel, another actress who has made waves both as a singer (as part of the alt-rock group She & Him) and as an actor (on Fox’s hit show New Girl).

That’s not all, though, as the cast includes favorites and awards winners like Christopher Mintz-Plasse (Superbad), Christine Baranski (The Good Wife), Jeffrey Tambor (Transparent), John Cleese and even Gwen Stefani! That’s a crazy amount of talent that could easily sell itself based on Timberlake, Kendrick and the musical, but maybe that’s because Trolls is an important film both for DWA but also distributor 20th Century Fox, who are about to lose the DWA account to Universal.

The movie has already received great reviews and done decently internationally, but it’s really going to be the only movie-watching choice for families with younger kids and the mothers who will be familiar and/or fans with much of the cast. (There is a chance that Doctor Strange might steal away some of the older teen female audience due to Benedict Cumberbatch, though.)

It’s been hard for DWA to achieve the success that Disney’s Pixar and Universal’s Illumination movies have found in recent years, opening with over $100 million in the case of some sequels, but even so, we have to remember that they’re the studio that began the huge openings for animated films with the Shrek movies. There’s a chance that Trolls could have a similar effect, since there are aspects to the movie that will appeal to teen and older girls and women, who might not be as interested in other movies in theaters.

LRM Interview with Christopher Mintz-Plasse


HACKSAW RIDGE (Summit/Lionsgate)

Cast: Andrew Garfield, Hugo Weaving, Teresa Palmer, Sam Worthington, Luke Bracey, Hugo Weaving, Rachel Griffiths, Vince Vaughn
Director: Mel Gibson (Apocalypto, Braveheart, The Passion of the Christ)
Genre:  Drama, Action
Rated R
Plot: Desmond Doss (Andrew Garfield) wants to do his part to help during WWII, but he long ago took a religious vow to never commit an act of violence, and he refuses to carry a gun, something that will surely get him killed while in the field. He’s put to the test when he’s shipped off to Okinawa, during one of the war’s bloodiest battles on Hacksaw Ridge, and he manages to save 75 men without firing a single bullet.
Theater Count (est.): 2,750

It’s been ten years since Mel Gibson directed Apocalypto, and while he hasn’t been completely absent from the screen as an actor, his personal problems have overshadowed his many achievements as an actor and filmmaker.  For Hacksaw Ridge, Gibson explores another piece of history, this time a little known bit of American history from World War II, an era that has been so well covered in movies over the years—even Michael Bay did one with Pearl Harbor! But Mel Gibson does have a pedigree for war films, having won a number of Oscars for Braveheart in 1995, but that was over twenty years ago and times and opinion on Gibson have definitely changed.

To play Desmond Doss, Gibson called upon British actor Andrew Garfield, who is best known on these shores for playing Peter Parker and Spider-Man in Sony’s The Amazing Spider-Man and its sequel, but he’s a strong dramatic actor with roles in Boy A and The Social Network. Playing Doss’ love interest is Australian actress Teresa Palmer, who really has been lining up quite a few nice roles, having starred in the horror hit Lights Out over the summer. Other Australians in the cast include Sam Worthington, playing more of a supporting role after being the lead in big movies like Avatar and Clash of the Titans, as well as Hugo Weaving, one of Australia’s best dramatic actors, as Doss’ father. You’re more likely to know Weaving from The Matrix Trilogy and playing the Red Skull in Captain America: The First Avenger. Another surprise is seeing Vince Vaughn in the movie, also playing more of a supporting dramatic role as Doss’ sergeant. (Some people forget that Vaughn cut his teeth as a dramatic actor before shifting to the world of comedies.

What’s interesting is that the fact Gibson is directing will probably be more of a reason for people to see the movie than any of the cast despite it having name actors who used to sell movies in supporting roles,

It’s been a while since we’ve seen a good war movie in theaters, and this one harks back to Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan and Clint Eastwood’s Letters from Iwo Jima in terms of covering World War II in a gritty realistic way. Gibson himself starred in Randall Wallace’s 2002 war drama We Were Soldiers, which grossed $78 million with a March release, but that was well before both Passion of the Christ and his fall from grace.

One thing Gibson’s film has going for it that may actually help is the faith-based aspects of Doss’ story that are being played up quite heavily, and those could appeal to the same audience that helped Passion of the Christ make $370 million domestically and $612 million worldwide.

Either way, there probably isn’t going to be a lot of interest for this movie from anyone under 40 or women as much, but there probably will be enough older guys who like war movies, who aren’t so interested in Doctor Strange that could help this open respectably but still under $20 million.

LRM Interview with Teresa Palmer


BOX OFFICE PREDICTIONS:

The weekend will clearly belong to Doctor Strange and Trolls, two non-sequels in a year that’s been full of them, but Mel Gibson’s Hacksaw Ridge should also get some interest even if it ends up a distant third place.

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

Updated 11.3.16  - Looks like Moonlight isn't expanding very wide after all, so it probably won't make the Top 10, but everything else is mostly where predicted earlier in the week, although most of the returning films are losing more theaters to make way for the three new ones.

 1. Doctor Strange (Marvel/DC) - $78.1 million N/A (Up .7 million)

2. Trolls (DreamWorks Animation/Fox) - $38.6 million N/A (up .1 million)

3. Hacksaw Ridge (Summit/Lionsgate) - $14 million N/A (up .3 million)

4. Boo! A Madea Halloween (Lionsgate)  - $9.1 million -47%

5.  Inferno (Sony) - $7 million -53%

6. The Accountant (Warner Bros.) - $4.6 million -45%

7. Jack Reacher: Never Go Back (Paramount) - $4.2 million -53% (down .1 million)

8. Ouija: Origin of Evil (Universal) - $3.2 million -53%

9. Girl on the Train (Univeral) - $2.2 million -50%

10. Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children (Fox) - $2.1 million -45%

LAST YEAR: 

Just like this weekend, last November also began with one big action movie and a family animated film, and like this weekend, the former won, as Daniel Craig’s fourth movie as James Bond 007 in Spectre(MGM/Sony) was #1 at the box office with $70.4 million. Taking second place was the animated The Peanuts Movie (20th Century Fox), which took a solid second place with $44.2 million. Ridley Scott’s The Martian, starring Matt Damon, took third place with $9 million, as sit edged its way closer to $200 million. None of this Fall’s movies have come even close to that amount.


THIS WEEK'S PICKS:

THE EAGLE HUNTRESS (Sony Pictures Classics)

Cast: Aisholpan, Nurgaiv, Almagul, Dalaikhan, Daisy Ridley (narrator)
Director: Otto Bell (debut)
Genre:  Documentary
Rated PG
Plot:
AIsholpan is a 13-year-old girl living in the Mongolian steppe with her family who has decided that she wants to take on the family tradition that’s been passed down from father to son and become an eagle hunter.  The difficult aspect of capturing and training eagles, not to mention riding a horse while carrying them, is something Aisholpan is ready to face with the help of her supportive father Nurgaiv.

As you probably know, I love the documentary genre, and The Eagle Huntress is a fantastic debut from Otto Bell that takes a look at a part of the world we don’t get to see often in films as well as telling the inspirational story of a teen girl who is trying to break the glass ceiling of sexism that’s part of her people’s traditions.

While I don’t want to say too much about the film, as to not detract from your own enjoyment, the film follows 13-year-old Aisholpan, as she climbs down the side of a mountain to capture her first eaglet, trains the bird to hunt and then takes part in an annual eagle hunter’s competition against much older male competitors.  I won’t spoil how that goes, but it’s clear that she’s ready to actually go out and hunt with her father. That’s the last act of the film as we watch Aisholpan and Nurgaiv riding horses across the steep and icey mountains of the Mongolian steppe, using their eagles to hunt down fox.

It’s an amazing film, not only to our own world where girls are still treated very differently from boys in how they’re raised to grow up and be whatever they want to be, even if it doesn’t match with the generally sexist worldview we live in. Aisholpan gets that in spades from the elder men of the tribe who don’t think girls and women are strong enough to be eagle hunters, but she proves them very, very wrong.

The Eagle Huntress is just a fantastic doc, and it’s also one that you can bring your kids (especially girls) to see it, since they’re likely to be inspired by Aisholpan to go after their dreams.  So if you’re looking for an alternative to Trolls, then this will open in New York and L.A. on Wednesday and then in more cities in the weeks to come. Look out for it!


LOVING (Focus Features)

Cast: Joel Edgerton, Ruth Negga, Nick Kroll, Marton Czokas, Michael Shannon
Director: Jeff Nichols (Mud, Take Shelter, Midnight Special, Shotgun Tales)
Genre:  Drama
Rated PG-13
Plot:
In late 1958, Virginia residents Richard and Mildred Loving (Joel Edgerton and Ruth Negga from Preacher) got married in Washington, DC but when the authorities discover that a white man and a black woman have been married, they throw the two of them in prison. The two have no other choice but to move to Maryland where they set up a life with three kids, but they miss their families, so when Civil Rights lawyer Bernie Cohen (Nick Kroll) comes forward, wanting to fight their case to allow people of different races to marry, they allow their private lives to be put in jeopardy to fight for what’s right.

Since it’s November and awards season is about to kick into high gear, it seems like a good time to release a drama that’s already received accolades out of the Cannes Film Festival, where it premiered, as well as the more recent Toronto and Telluride festivals.

Loving is the latest film from Jeff Nichols, who has built a reputation on creating realistic Southern-based dramas, but this one is different, because it’s based on a real story about two real people who were pivotal in changing the laws that discriminated against mixed race couples by making it against the law for them to marry.

But this is a very different type of drama about the civil rights era in the country, since it’s a much more subdued film in terms of the emotions, basically telling the story of the Loving. (By coincidence, one of last week’s Top Picks, the doc By Sidney Lumet, was directed by Nancy Buirski, whose original doc The Loving Story was the inspiration for Nichols’ film to get made.) As might be expected, the performances by Joel Edgerton (The Gift) and Ruth Negga (Preacher, Warcraft) are absolutely fantastic, but again, they’re very low-key, and that actually has a bigger impact than if they were screaming and crying their way through the film. Nope. Richard and Mildred (nicknamed Bea) take everything that’s thrown at them on the chin even when she’s thrown into prison while pregnant. It’s almost guaranteed that one or both will be getting Oscar nominations this year.

There’s also nice surprises, like the character played by Michael Shannon (a small but important cameo), and a terrific more dramatic role for Nick Kroll (The League), playing the Lovings’ lawyer Bernie Cohen, who takes their case all the way to the Supreme Court to allow them to legally live together as a married couple.

It’s a powerful and inspiring film about two people who have pretty much been forgotten by history, but the way Nichols and his cast tell the story, they’re a couple whose contribution to fixing a major civil rights infraction will become more known to a much wider audience.

Loving opens in select cities this Friday (with previews Thursday) and supposedly will expand nationwide next Friday, November 11.

LRM Interview with Jeff Nichols

LRM Interview with Joel Edgerton


OTHER LIMITED RELEASES:

Produced by the Duplass Brothers, filmmaker Linas Phillips (Bass Ackwards) is back with Rainbow Time (The Orchard), a really interesting comedy. Timm Sharp plays Todd, a guy who grew up under the shadow of his mentally-challenged older brother Shonzi (Phillips). When their Dad (Tobin Bell from the Saw movies) suffers a heart attack, Shonzi moves in with Todd and his new girlfriend Lindsay (Melanie Lynskey from the Duplass HBO show Togetherness), and he wants to get more involved in their relationships. It’s actually a fun and funny film--not for everyone for sure—but Phillips is so good in this role, and Lynskey also does a great job bringing much-needed warmth to the snarkier comedy that’s very much in the Duplass Brothers’ vein. Rainbow Time will open Friday at the new Alamo Drafthouse in Brooklyn, but if you can’t get there, then it’s also On Demand.

Filmmaker Paul Schrader returns with Dog Eat Dog (RLJ Entertainment), an action-thriller starring Nicholas Cage and Willem Dafoe as ex-cons Troy and Mad Dog, who along with Diesel (Christopher Matthew Cook) are hired by a mob boss to kidnap a baby for ransom, which as expected, goes completely wrong, so they have to fix it since they don’t want to go back to prison. Select cities and On Demand for this one. (And yes, it’s pretty awesome that Cage is back to baby-napping, just like he did in his early film Raising Arizona!)

Adrien Grenier from Entourage stars in Richard Bates Jr.’s dark horror-comedy Trash Fire (Vertical Entertainment), playing a man named Owen, who is forced to confront his dark past that he’s been running from when his girlfriend Isabel becomes pregnant. It opens in select cities and On Demand following its premiere at the Sundance Film Festival.

Opening in select cities (Including New York’s Metrograph!), On Demand, Amazon and iTunes is Tony Stone’s doc Peter and the Farm (Magnolia) looking at the life of Mile Hill Farm proprietor Peter Dunning, whose farm takes up 187 acres in Vermont, but who now lives alone with his animals after three wives and four children. Dunning uses the film to confess to his life of alcoholism and regret that’s left him on his own.  You can watch a trailer and find out how to see it on the Official Site.

Leonardo DiCaprio continues his run as a purveyor of socio-political docs, executive producing Richard Ladkani’s The Ivory Game (Netflix), which goes undercover into the world of ivory trafficking, filmed for 16 months in China and Africa along with intelligence operatives and activists. It opens at New York’s IFC Center and on Netflix Friday. Oddly, a similar doc called Ivory. A Crime Story is also opening on Friday at the Cinema Village in New York. Coincidental or intentional?

Michael Manasseri’s The Pickle Recipe (adopt films) is a crime-comedy that follows a single father (Jon Dore) and Detroit party MC, who falls upon harder times, forcing him to turn to his Uncle Morty (David Paymer), who agrees to give him money if he steals his grandmother Rose’s top secret dill pickle recipe. It will open in New York at the City Cinemas Village East and L.A. on Friday.

In a similar vein but more of a dramedy than comedy is Keep in Touch (Filmbuff), Sam Kretchmar’s directorial debut that also involves a man in crisis, this one trying to track down his first love, only to learn she was killed in a car crash years earlier, but he ends up falling for her younger musician sister.  It opens at Los Angeles at the Downtown Independent and Lammle’s Music Hall on November 18 after playing the Austin, Heartland and Calgary Film Festivals.

Fred Peabody’s doc All Governments Lie: Truth, Deception and the Spirit of I.F. Stone is exactly what you might think it is i.e. the last major political documentary before next week’s Presidential Election. It focuses on independent journalists like Amy Goodman, Glenn Greenwald, Jeremy Scahill, Cenk Uygur and Matt Taibbi, who follow in the footsteps of I.F. Stone to unveil government corruption and corporate deception. It also features interviews with Noam Chomsky, who seriously, appears in EVERY documentary, and Michael Moore.

Opening at the Film Forum in New York on Wednesday is Anna (The Second Mother) Muylaert’s Brazilian gender identity dramedy Don’t Call Me Son (Zeitgeist), which follows the androgynous bisexual teenager Pierre whose single mother is arrested for having stolen him as a baby, so he’s returned to his biological parents who aren’t ready for having their son wearing dresses.

That’s it for this week, but join us again next Wednesday right here on LRM Online for a look at new movies which will include the sci-fi film Arrival, the ensemble comedy Almost Christmas and the thriller Shut In, starring Naomi Watts.

(Text copyright Edward Douglas 2016. The Weekend Warrior logo designed by and copyright Tim Nardelli 2016.)

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