The Weekend Warrior 11/11/16: Almost Christmas, Arrival, Shut-In

– 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:

All three movies did better than I predicted, but there probably wasn’t much surprise when all three movies received rare “A” CinemaScores, which may be unprecedented! After such a terrible October, seeing the box office bounce back in early November is quite refreshing, and Doctor Strange, starring Benedict Cumberbatch, was able to open with $85 million, making it one of Marvel Studios’ bigger non-Iron Man solo debuts, besting the openings of Thor, Captain America and Ant-Man.  DreamWorks Animation had their first big hit in some time with the musical Trolls, featuring the voices of Justin Timberlake and Anna Kendrick, which grossed $46.6 million over the weekend to take second place, a great comeback for the animation house. Mel Gibson also came back in a big way with his war movie Hacksaw Ridge, starring Andrew Garfield, which opened with $15 million for third place, just a little north of my $14 million prediction.


After such a huge weekend, things are going to slow down again with three very different movies, but with a bit of crossover in the audiences they’re trying to reach, at least in the case of two of them. Either way, the big winner of the weekend is likely to be surprising to some but I think it will probably be… 

ALMOST CHRISTMAS (Universal)

Cast: Danny Glover, Gabrielle Union, Mo’Nique, JB Smoove, Omar Epps, Kimberly Elise, Romany Malco, Jessie T. Usher, Nicole Ari Parker, DC Young Fly
Director: David E. Talpert (First Sunday, Baggage Check)
Genre: Comedy, Drama, Romance
Rated PG-13
Plot: 
After the death of his wife, Walter Meyers (Danny Glover) calls his kids back home for Christmas with just one request—that they all get along. That may be tough for sisters Cheryl (Kimberly Elise) and Rachel (Gabrielle Union) have had particular issues in the past, but Walter’s eldest son Christian (Romany Malco) is busy campaigning for Congress while his youngest son Evan (Jessie T. Usher) is a college sports star who has been waylaid by injuries. They’re joined by Walter’s sister-in-law (Mo’Nique) and Cheryl’s philandering husband (J.B. Smoove).
Theater Count (est.): 2,200+

Just in case you need a reminder that it’s almost Christmas, here comes an ensemble comedy called… wait for it… Almost Christmas!

It’s the latest brainchild of superstar producer Will Packer, whose previous movies have grossed a combined billion dollars worldwide—but most of that in North America. These include the hugely successful Ride Along movies that teamed Kevin Hart and Ice Cube, the hit comedy Think Like a Man and its sequel Think Like a Man Too, the megahit hip-hop biopic Straight Outta Compton and mostly importantly, the 2007 release This Christmas, which grossed $50 million with a Thanksgiving release in 2007. The key to Packer’s success has been finding great talent like Gabrielle Union, Idris Elba and Kevin Hart and putting them in movies that will appeal to the widest possible audience of mostly African-American moviegoers. If you look at how much his movies have made compared to their costs, it’s obvious the man is an absolute genius.

For his latest movie, Packer has teamed with writer/director David E. Talpert, the man behind First Sunday with Ice Cube and Tracy Morgan, which grossed $17 million its opening weekend in January 2008. That was followed by Baggage Claim, which didn’t do nearly as well.

Talpert’s script and Packer’s involvement got an amazing cast including Packer regular Gabrielle Union (who is also a producer on the film) and the likes of Danny Glover, Omar Epps, Kimberly Elise and Mo’Nique—none of the three having been in many movies in recent years—comedian J.B. Smoove and Romany Malco (another Packer regular). It also features some newer talent like Jessie T. Usher and DC Young Fly. It’s just a well-matched cast that has allowed for great moments of high comedy as well as drama, so there’s a possibility reviews may be better than some of Packer’s other films—many of which don’t screen for critics.

The best comparison for the movie, other than This Christmas, will probably be Tyler Perry’s A Madea Christmas, which opened later in the holiday season in mid-December 2013. While it didn’t have a very big opening with just $16 million, it had a nice bump from the Christmas week to end up with $52.5 million, which is about par for Perry’s films. (His current movie, Boo! A Madea Halloween got a similar bump from opening before Halloween, and it’s already past $60 million.)

Almost Christmas has a lot going for it beyond the cast and producer, the first being that the movie is actually quite a crowd-pleasing one that is almost guaranteed to get an “A” CInemaScore and great legs due to word-of-mouth. Even if it dips next weekend, expect it to have a bump over Thanksgiving weekend, especially when Black Friday shoppers are looking for a movie to see with the entire family.

Expect it to beat the other new movies opening this weekend but still end up in third place behind Doctor Strange and Trolls. While it might dip from competition next weekend, expect it to pick up some more business with Thanksgiving shoppers going to see it again or for the first time based on the positive word-of-mouth.

LRM Interview with Producer Will Packer

LRM Interview with Romany Malco

LRM Interview with J.B. Smoove


ARRIVAL (Paramount)

Cast: Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Forest Whitaker, Michael Stuhlbarg
Director:  Denis Villeneuve (Sicario, Prisoners, Enemy, Incendies, upcoming Blade Runner 2049)
Genre:  Science Fiction
Rated PG-13
Plot:
Linguistics specialist, Dr. Louise Brooks (Amy Adams) is called upon to work with scientist Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner) to try to decipher the language of mysterious visiting aliens whose spacecrafts have appeared over 12 key locations across earth.
Theater Count (est.): 2,200

We already saw last week with the release of Mel Gibson’s Hacksaw Ridge and Jeff Nichols’ Loving that we’re getting into the release of prestige films that played the festival circuit and are hoping for some awards love at year’s end. They’re joined by this long-in-development passion project, an adaptation of Ted Chiang’s short story “The Story of Your Life,” which is also the latest film directed by Denis Villeneuve.

Arrival premiered at the Venice Film Festival in September where it received rave reviews during the early festival season and positive responses in a couple festivals after that as well. It’s not your typical alien invasion movie, as it’s something bearing a closer resemblance to Steven Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind if that was mixed with the intricate storytelling of Christopher Nolan’s Inception or Interstellar.

As far as the cast, Amy Adams is getting the most attention for her leading role, mainly because she gives anther performance that might get her back in the Oscar race for her sixth nomination. Other than her role as Lois Lane in Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel and Batman v Superman, Adams hasn’t really delivered as a box office draw with films like The Master, Big Eyes and Her doing softer business, even though they’re all artier fare.

Her co-star Jeremy Renner, who was nominated for an Oscar for his performance in the Oscar-winning The Hurt Locker has mainly had success playing Hawkeye in a number of Marvel Studios movies as well as being a part of the Mission: Impossible and Bourne franchises, but his role in the film is definitely being played down. The same thing goes for Oscar winner Forest Whitaker who has a key role in the film, but not one that will get more people into theaters, necessarily.

The fact is that a science-fiction film like Arrival is being sold more on its premise than its cast, even though it’s the performance by the latter that’s helping the movie get such rave reviews—it’s currently 100% Fresh on RottenTomatoes!

That also can be attributed to the direction of Villeneuve, who has already impressed moviegoers with last year’s Sicario and the thriller Prisoners two years before that.  The fact that Villeneuve is currently directing the high-profile sequel Blade Runner 2049 also might help the movie gain interest among older sci-fi fans who may be curious about his work, and they’re likely to be impressed by his handling of Arrival’s sci-fi elements.

Arrival is not the easiest science fiction film to sell, not nearly as much as Alfonso Cuaron’s Gravity or Ridley Scott’s The Martian, both enormous hits both at the box office and come awards time. The premise is definitely more esoteric and philosophical compared to the easy “man/woman stranded in space” idea of those other movies, so it veers closer to the realm of Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar (also released by Paramount) without having the star power or action to sell the movie to audiences.  So basically, this is a case of a very good movie that’s going to have a hard time convincing casual moviegoers to go see it in theaters, at least opening weekend.  Maybe word-of-mouth helps it where reviews haven’t. 

LRM Interview with Screenwriter Eric Heisserer

LRM Interview with Composer Johann Johannsson (next week)


SHUT-IN (EuropaCorp)

Cast: Naomi Watts, Charlie Heaton, Jacob Tremblay, Oliver Platt, David Cubitt
Director: Farren Blackburn (Hammer of the Gods, upcoming Dream On)
Genre:  Thriller, Horror
Rated PG-13
Plot:
Widowed child psychologist (Naomi Watts) ends up being snowbound in a deadly storm with her disabled son, but they discover they’re not alone in the home.
Theater Count (est.): 1,850

For every movie that I’m quite bullish about, like the above Almost Christmas, there’s movies like this one where they seemingly are being dumped into the weekend with very little promotion and probably less awareness.

It’s a high concept horror-thriller starring Naomi Watts, an Oscar-nominated actress who just hasn’t been able to convert her critical accolades into box office success. Sure, she had her most success playing the Fay Wray character in Peter Jackson’s 2005 King Kong remake, which grossed over $200 million in North America alone, as well as her appearance in another horror movie, The Ring (which led to a less successful sequel). Even so, she has mainly had success with movies where she had small roles like The Divergent Series or ones that received awards accolades like Alejander Iñárritu’s Oscar-winning Birdman a few years back. (That, and her other 2014 film St. Vincent ended up with less than $50 million each.)

Watts’ co-star Charlie Heaton has a key role in Netflix’s series Stranger Things, which has been one of the most talked about new things this year, so maybe he can be a draw for those genre fans. The other big name is also the film’s youngest star Jacob Tremblay, who most people discovered from his role in last year’s Oscar-nominated Room—which only grossed $14.8 million despite the accolades--and he’s been working quite a bit since then. Tremblay also played a key role in Mike Flanagan’s horror/thriller Before I Wake, which has been delayed repeatedly due to the problems that its distributor Relativity has been having.

Shut-In is being released by the distribution arm of Luc Besson’s EuropaCorp, who were also originally teamed with Relativity, but after they filed for bankruptcy, the movie was pushed back from its original summer release to early September and then moved again to this weekend, which is not exactly one where releasing a horror movie will benefit much, being that Halloween was almost two weeks ago.

It just doesn’t seem like EuropaCorp has quite gotten things together in terms of the marketing and promotion of their movies, and though there’s some awareness among younger moviegoers (and it should benefit from a PG-13 rating), it’s not going to interest the diehard horror fans that have made this fall one of the weaker ones for the genre, going by Blair Witch and Ouija: Origin of Evil.

With a release into less than 2,000 theaters, this one will be lucky if it even gets into the Top 10, but it’s likely to still end up with $4 to 5 million from the few males that won’t be more interested in the much stronger choice of Arrival.


Almost Christmas (Universal) - $21.5 million N/A

BOX OFFICE PREDICTIONS:

 Doctor Strange and Trolls should retain the #1 and #2 spots without much difficulty, but the ensemble comedy Almost Christmas will definitely give the sci-fi film Arrival a run for third place and may even beat it with its tighter targetted audience and holiday themes. We'll just have to see which movie audiences are more up for after this tough week. The thriller Shut-In probably won’t be able to get into the Top 5 but it shouldn’t be an absolute bomb. Once again, Moonlight has a slight chance at breaking into the Top 10, but it will really depend on how many theaters A24 gets it into on Friday, and they may be holding out for the first round of awards being presented later in November.

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

Updated 11.10.16

 1. Doctor Strange (Marvel/DC) - $40 million -53% (down .2 million)

2. Trolls (DreamWorks Animation/Fox) - $30 million -35%

3. Arrival (Paramount) - $18.5 million N/A (up .7 million)

4. Almost Christmas (Universal) - $17.2 million N/A (up 1 million)

5. Hacksaw Ridge (Summit/Lionsgate) - $9.1 million -40%

6. Shut-In (EuropaCorp) - $6.8 million N/A (up .3 million)

7. The Accountant (Warner Bros.) - $3.6 million

8. Boo! A Madea Halloween (Lionsgate)  - $3.5 million -55%

9.  Inferno (Sony) - $2.7 million -56% (down .2 million)

10. Jack Reacher: Never Go Back (Paramount) - $2.6 million -52% (down .1 million)

LAST YEAR:

Last November, there was a similar situation of having so many big movies opening the month that there was little chance any of the new movies would have much of an impact. So with that in mind, the new James Bond movie Spectre, which remained in first place with $33.7 million, but dropped 52% from its opening. Fox’s The Peanuts Movie remained in second place with a smaller drop of 46% and $24 million.  The holiday comedy Meet the Coopers opened in third place with just $8.3 million in 2,603 theaters, but don’t let that fool you about the potential for Almost Christmas, which has a stronger cast and marketing. The real-life Chilean miner drama The 33 didn’t have much interest, opening in fifth place with $5.8 million in 2,452 theaters. In other words, it wasn’t a great weekend for new movies.


THIS WEEK’S PICKS:

Before we get to this week’s top pick, which is another movie from Sony Classics, just like last week, I’ll counterbalance any potential corporate favoritism by mentioning that this weekend also begins the annual DOC-NYC in New York City, running from Thursday, November 8, through the 17th. Sadly, I’ll be out of town this weekend, and I’ve been too busy to get to any of the press screenings but there’s some cool and interesting docs playing the festival as in previous years.

Opening night of this year’s fest is Citizen Jane: Battle for the City, a film about author Jane Jacobs who redefined urban living with her fights to keep New York City’s historic neighborhoods alive.  The Closing Night is Chasing Trane: The John Coltrane Documentary, directed by John Scheinfeld on November 17.

As some might expect, my favorite section tends to be the “Sonic Cinema” one which showcases music docs, but the one I wish I had a chance to see more than any other is L7: Pretend We’re Dead about the ‘90s all-woman metal band. There’s also Score: A Film Music Documentary, which is about what the title says it’s about. If you’re into the band Mumford and Sons, they also have a doc called We Wrote This Yesterday. One of the docs I did manage to see at Toronto was the stirring The Sixth Beatle, a look at the Liverpool group’s first manager, while Soundbreaking: Stories from the Cutting Edge of Recorded Music takes a look at the history of music production and recording with the help of the late Sir George Martin. Chicago guitarist Terry Kath is also commemorated in Michelle Kath Sinclair’s The Terry Kath Experience,

Filmmakers like David Lynch and Ken Loach (director of the upcoming I, Daniel Blake) are paid respective in the docs David Lynch: The Art Life and Versus: The Life and Films of Ken Loach.

There’s also a section of New York docs, which includes Off the Rails, a movie about Darius McCollum, the man who has been arrested 30 times for impersonating bus drivers and subway conductors, and the anthology Rikers (about the New York prison)

There are dozens of other films of interest--you can see the full schedule on the Official Site—and the series will also put special attention on some of the already-released docs that will be up for awards, including the recently announced Critics Choice Documentary Awards, which this writer took part in the nomination process. The DOC-NYC Short List 2016 is likely to include all the docs that end up being nominated for the Oscars in January, including movies like Ava Duvernay’s 13th, Clay Tweel’s Gleason, Ezra Edelman’s OJ: Made in America (the big winner at the CCDAs) and more.


ELLE (Sony Pictures Classics)

Cast: Isabelle Huppert
Director: Paul Verhoeven (Starship Troopers, Basic Instinct,  
Genre:
Drama, Thriller 
Rated R

Plot: Michele (Isabelle Huppert) is the head of a video game company who is one day brutally attacked in her home by a masked assailant, but instead of letting that destroy her, she seeks out to find the man responsible and get revenge.

It’s been a while since a French film has made it to be one of my top picks, but it’s also been a while since we’ve seen a high-profile new movie from the king of ‘80s and ‘90s genre fare, Dutch filmmaker Paul Verhoeven, who directed popular hits like Robocop, Starship Trooper, Total Recall before returning to Europe in 2006 to make movies back home.

While there’s certainly aspects of Elle that harks back to films like Black Book, Basic Instinct and even Showgirls, he certainly seems to have matured in the way he depicts women, and a lot of that comes down to Isabelle Huppert’s performance. Huppert has been one of France’s top dramatic actresses for decades, but she’s only starting to get recognized on these shores in the past couple decades, particularly her work with Michael Haneke.

Instead of the typical revenge flick, Elle turns into a movie about sexual attraction and politics as Huppert’s character tries to get the upper hand on her attacker, while also staying in charge at a company that’s predominantly male programmers (including one who might be the assailant.)

It’s hard to say much more about this already controversial film that premiered at Cannes and has been playing at festivals all fall, but you’ll either be fully on board (as I am) or not, though there’s little question that Verhoeven’s latest will have an impact on you.

Elle opens in New York and L.A. on Friday and will expand to other cities over the next couple months. It’s likely to get a lot of attention as France’s entry into the Oscar foreign language category, but even moreso if Huppert starts receiving awards intention at the end of this month and into December.

 The LRM Interview with Isabelle Huppert


OTHER LIMITED RELEASES:

Two-time Oscar-winning director Ang Lee returns with his adaptation of Ben Fountain’s novel Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk (Sony), starring newcomer Joe Alwyn as the title character, an Iraq war hero being celebrated with his Bravo squad comrades at a Thanksgiving football game in Dallas. After a heroic attempt to rescue his sergeant under fire (Vin Diesel), Lynn returns home where his sister Kathryn (Kristen Stewart) is trying to convince him to not go back to Iraq, while he and his fellow soldiers are paraded in front of the nation. Also starring Chris Tucker, Steve Martin and Garrett Hedlund, Lee’s latest will be released in a single theater each in New York and Los Angeles where it will have its intended 3D 120 FPS high-frame rate release before expanding nationwide into a number of other formats next Friday.

Sexy British actress Samantha Robinson stars as the title character of Anna Biller’s period thriller The Love Witch (Oscilloscope), who uses spells and magic to get men to fall in love with her, only to kill them after they have sex. It opens in select cities Friday.

Robert Schwartzman, frontman for the pop-rock band Rooney, makes his directorial debut with Dreamland (FilmBuff/Orion Pictures), starring Johnny Simmons as L.A. musician Monty Fagan who wants to open a piano bar but doesn’t have the money, and he still lives with his girlfriend in her mother’s house. When he begins an affair with Olivia (Amy Landecker), an older femme fatale he meets at the bar, he starts getting more confidence but starts to realize that maybe he’s becoming a kept man to get the money he needs for his dream. Also starring Robert’s brother Jason and mother Talia Shire, this noir comedy will open in select cities following its premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival earlier this year.

Fans of the Cartoon Network, Adult Swim and particularly Adventure Time will want to check out Kent Osborne’s eclectic Uncle Kent 2 (Factory 25), a semi-sequel to Joe Swanberg’s 2011 film Uncle Kent, as it follows cartoonist Kent Osborne on a trip to Comic-Con in San Diego, as he starts to go mad.  Directed by Todd Rohal (The Catechism Cataclysm), it will open at the Alamo Drafthouse in Downtown Brooklyn and will be On Demand including iTunes starting November 15.

 

Saban Films have two movies coming out in theaters Friday via Lionsgate, as well as being on VOD.

First up is Zack Whedon’s thriller Come and Find Me (Saban Films/Lionsgate), starring Aaron Paul and Annabelle Wallis (The Tudors) as David and Claire, a couple whose relationship comes to an end when Claire disappears without a trace, sending David on a frantic search to find her, only to discover her double life. It will hit select theaters and be available On Demand.

Nicolas Cage stars along with Tom Sizemore and Thomas Jane in USS Indianapolis: Men of Courage (Saban Films/Lionsgate), directed by Mario Van Peebles (who appeared in Jaws: the Revenge, oddly enough, telling the story of American Navy soldiers who were shipwrecked in shark-infested waters during World War II. It’s already on Ultra VOD but will get a theatrical release into select cities on Friday.

The Strangers director Bryan Bertino returns with his new horror film The Monster (A24), starring Zoe Kazan as a divorced mother with a stubborn daughter who must visit her father, who crash their car on a deserted road, forcing them to travel through a wooded area where an evil force tries to stop them from getting to their destination. 

Stephen Apkon and Andrew Young’s doc Disturbing the Peace (Abramorama) follows normal people who took extraordinary actions to stand for what they believe in, particularly Israeli soldiers and Palestinian fighters who set aside their differences and join together to challenge what’s expected of them.  It opens in New York Friday at the Lincoln Plaza Cinemas and Landmark Sunshine Cinemas and in L.A. next week

Alex (Blue Jay) Lechman’s doc Asperger’s Are Us, produced by Mark and Jay Duplass, takes a look at the comedy troupe “Asperger’s Are Us” are a group of best friends who have overcome adversity to make audiences laugh, but whom are about to go their separate ways, so they plan one last farewell show. It will open in New York and on VOD Friday.

Also on Netflix this Friday comes Kevin James’ new action-comedy True Memoirs of an International Assassin (Netflix), in which he plays author Sam Larson who gets mistaken for an international assassin when his fiction novel is published as true story. He’s kidnapped and gets caught up in a real assassination plot.

That’s it for this week, but join us again next Wednesday right here on LRM Online for a look at new movies including the latest from Harry Potter creator JK Rowling, Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them (Warner Bros.), the teen dramedy The Edge of Seventeen (STX Entertainment), the boxing drama Bleed for This (Open Road) starring Miles Teller, and Ang Lee’s new movie Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk (Sony). Yes, folks, it’s a weekend where the person who has to put the letters up on the movie theater marquee is probably going to kill themselves.

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

LRM Exclusives, Film, The Weekend Warrior, Featured The Weekend Warrior, Arrival, Elle, Almost Christmas, Shut-In, Naomi Watts, Scoops