The Weekend Warrior 11/23/16: Moana, Bad Santa 2, Allied, Rules Don’t Apply

– 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:

The big movie of the weekend was Warner Bros’ Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, a return to the Wizarding World of JK Rowling by director David Yates and starring Eddie Redmayne. It didn’t quite fare as well as I projected, taking in just $74.4 million over the weekend. That’s somewhat disappointing, since it’s lower than the opening of every single Harry Potter movie. Kelly Fremon Craig’s high school comedy The Edge of Seventeen (STX Entertainment), starring Hailee Steinfeld and Woody Harrelson, also didn’t do as well as expected, opening with just $4.8 million to take seventh place behind five other returning movies (all which had significant drops, other than Mel Gibson’s Hacksaw Ridge.)  Bleed for This, the boxing drama starring Miles Teller as Vinny Paz, did even worse with just $2.4 million in eighth place. Moonlight finally expanded nationwide into 650 theaters but that wasn’t enough to get it into the Top 10, as it fell just behind Shut-In with $1.5 million. Ang Lee’s Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk bombed even worse than the others, making just $901,000 to take 14th place, which was far below the $4.3 million I predicted.


It’s Thanksgiving weekend, the bane of the Weekend Warrior’s existence, because nothing ever goes as planned—movies expected to do well bomb and smaller movies end up doing better than predicted. In other words, all bets are off whenever Thanksgiving comes around. Granted, it’s always a busy time at the box office, but especially on Black Friday and over the weekend following Thanksgiving as families get together to go to the movies which tends to help family films like Disney’s Moana and holiday-related films like Bad Santa 2. And they’re countered by two old school films geared towards older moviegoers. Normally, the Disney movie would prevail and that’s likely to be the case this weekend, although it does have some competition in Fantastic Beasts and Trolls.

MOANA (Walt Disney Pictures)

Voice Cast: Dwayne Johnson, Auli’I Cravalho, Rache House, Temuera Morrison, Jemaine Clement, Alan Tudyk, Nicole Scherzinger
Directors: Ron Clements and John Musker (The Little Mermaid, The Princess and the Frog, Aladdin, Hercules) with Don Hall and Chris Williams (Big Hero 6)
Genre:  Animation, Comedy, Musical, Adventure
Rated PG
Plot:
Moana (voiced by Auli’l Cravalho) is the daughter of the king of a remote island in the South Pacific who feels the need to step up as the tribe’s future leader by going on a quest across the sea to find Maui (Dwayne Johnson), a demi-God who could help with the island’s problems by returning a stolen gem. And it’s a musical.
Theater Count (est.): 3,800

One of the most tried and true things we can expect on Thanksgiving weekend is a movie from Walt Disney Pictures, mainly because the studio has had so much success with their family-friendly films over one of the most family-intensive holidays of the year.  Thanksgiving is the time when families are all together and after eating turkey and squabbling over politics, what’s better than to go Christmas shopping and maybe go see a movie or two? This is probably why Thanksgiving has regularly been one of the bigger movie weekends, especially on Black Friday where everyone is out and about and looking for things to do.

Moana is the latest from Disney Animation, following Zootopia, a talking animal movie that scored $341 million earlier this year—one of an astounding EIGHT movies that have grossed over $300 million this year. Last year, their Pixar Animation division released The Good Dinosaur over Thanksgiving, which ended up being their lesser film after Inside Out, and becoming Pixar’s lowest grossing movies EVER with just $123 million. Three years ago, Disney had much more success with Frozen, a snow-themed fairy tale that helped push the “Disney princess” brand which Moana is also trying to convey.  Frozen ended up grossing $400 million, making it one of Disney’s highest grossing non-Pixar animated movies after The Lion King.

Moana has a lot of things going for it that makes Frozen a good comparison, the first one being that it’s also a musical, of sorts, but unlike other Disney animated films, this one has a bonafide box office superstar in Dwayne Johnson, providing his voice for a fun demi-god named Maui. Johnson has a huge social media following that makes it easier for him to help studios promote his movies, and one expects that he’ll be pushing Moana as much as he has other movies he’s made.

If Moana looks or feels like “old school” Disney animated films like The Little Mermaid, maybe that’s because it’s directed by Ron Clements and John Musker, who directed that film as well as ‘90s classics like Aladdin, but also the more recent 2D animated film The Princess and the Frog. They’re working with two co-directors who have more experience doing Disney computer-animated films like Bolt and Big Hero 6. It’s quite a super-team, although few moviegoers will have any thoughts about who is directing the movie.

Moana’s biggest competition is likely to be DreamWorks Animation’s Trolls in its fourth weekend, although that already got knocked down a notch by last week’s Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. The good thing is that this may be one of Disney Animation's better movies, one that includes comedy, adventure and great songs written by none other than Lin-Manuel MIranda, creator of Hamilton, who is super-hot right now. Review so far are at 99% on RottenTomatoes, which is on par with the better Pixar Animation movies.

Disney can currently claim eight of the Top 10 Thanksgiving openings and there’s a good chance that Moana will make that number nine out of 10, as it's looking to top the $68.7 million 5-day opening for Tangled over Thanksgiving in 2010, but probably won’t surpass Disney’s biggest hit Frozen three years later. 


BAD SANTA 2 (Broad Green)

Cast: Billy Bob Thornton, Tony Cox, Brett Kelly, Kathy Bates, Christina Hendricks
Director: Mark Waters (Mean Girls, Freaky Friday, Just Like Heaven, Vampire Academy, Ghosts of Girlfriends Past)
Genre: Comedy, Holiday
Rated R
Plot:
Willie (Billy Bob Thornton), the pickpocket who dresses up as a department store Santa to case joints he’s going to rob reunites with his “elf” friend Marcus (Tony Cox) to rob a charity in Chicago along with Willie’s equally crooked mother (Kathy Bates), but things don’t go as planned.
Theater Count (est.): 2,500

For many years, it’s been a given that holiday movies can do decent business over Thanksgiving weekend (with a few exceptions) but one of the movies that surprised many people was the 2003 holiday comedy Bad Santa, which introduced Billy Bob Thornton as the cranky, drunken, foul-mouthed criminal whose only Christmas spirit came from the robberies he committed while posing as a department store Santa.

The original Bad Santa grossed $17 million over Thanksgiving weekend that day, getting a nice bump on Black Friday and over the weekend as teen and older males chose that as their early holiday viewing. It would go on to gross $60 million over the next couple weeks, a pretty huge hit for Miramax, which was still under the purview of Disney and the Weinsteins at the time.

Thornton has finally returned to the role after a few relatively slow years where his highest profile gig was in the first season of the Fargo TV show.  Also returning are Tony Cox and Brett Kelly, who played the “Kid” Thurman Murman for the first movie, and they’re joined by fairly respected actresses Kathy Bates and Christina Hendricks

The problem is that original creators Glenn Ficarra and John Requa are no longer involved, nor is director Terry Zwygoff, and you have to imagine that they had a lot to do with the tone of the original Bad Santa working so well. It’s uncertain whether anyone is even aware that this is a money grab by the new Miramax, who are releasing the movie through Broad Green, who haven’t been marketing the movie as well as they should for a breakout hit.

It also won’t help that this is being released where “sequelitis” has struck down many potential sequels to hit movies.  That was especially true for comedy sequels like My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2, Bridget Jones’ Baby and Zoolander 2, all of which failed to bring back the audience that flocked to see the original movies—well at least in the case of My Big Fat Greek Wedding.  Reviews are already atrocious, but will that really matter? There should be a good number of guys over 15 who will have made it an annual tradition to watch Bad Santa who will at least give this one a look on Wednesday and Thursday, but expect it to take a tumble by the weekend. 


ALLIED (Paramount)

Cast: Brad Pitt, Marion Cotillard, Jared Harris, Lizzy Caplan, Matthew Goode, Simon McBurney
Director: Robert Zemeckis (Back to the Future, Forrest Gump, Who Killed Roger Rabbit?, Flight, A Christmas Carol, Beowulf, Cast Away and many, many MANY more)
Genre: Drama, War, Romance
Rated R
Plot:
When Canadian intelligence officer Max Vattan (Brad Pitt) is teamed with French agent Marianne Beausejour (Marion Cotillard) to take out a Nazi officer in Casablanca in 1942, the two of them fall in love and get married. When they return to England, Max finds out that Marianne might actually be an undercover Nazi spy and he needs to find out the truth about the mother of his child.
Theater Count (est.): 2,800

Another regular showing for Thanksgiving weekend are some of the more prestige films that studios are releasing, hoping for awards and Oscars in specific, although it hasn’t necessarily been the best weekend for them, as we’ve seen by movies like Oliver Stone’s Alexander, Baz Luhrmann’s Australia or even Martin Scorsese films like Hugo and Casino, which opened more moderately.

This is the latest movie from Robert Zemeckis, and it’s a wartime romance starring one of the biggest stars in Hollywood as well as one of France’s finest, pairing them in a movie that will be appealing more towards older women. Probably the most interest was being paid to this movie a couple months ago when Angelina Jolie filed for divorce against her husband with some claiming that it was because of his steamy on-screen romance with Cotillard, who immediately denied that to be the case.

Either way, there’s no denying that Pitt is one of the top box office stars with his collective movies going back to 1991 having grossed $2.7 billion domestically. His biggest and most recent blockbuster hit was 2013’s World War Z, which opened with $66.4 million, which was also his first movie to gross over $200 million. (So he’s not quite on par with his Interview with a Vampire co-star Tom Cruise, who has many $200 million movies under his belt.) Another big hit for Pitt was his 2005 action movie Mr. and Mrs. Smith, his first movie pairing him with Jolie, which grossed almost that amount. Brad Pitt’s last movie (quite literally) with his soon to be ex-wife Angelina Jolie was last year’s By the Sea, which bombed, grossing less than a million without ever going nationwide. That’s how things can change over just ten years.

Cotillard, on the other hand, has had success following her Oscar win for La Vie en Rose, appearing in Christopher Nolan’s Inception and The Dark Knight Rises, as well as in Steven Soderbergh’s Contagion, and she’s definitely one of France’s most well known stars here in the States thanks to those films.

Zemeckis’ last movie was last year’s The Walk, which was also thought to be a big awards movie until people saw it, and then it ended up bombing, similarly to Ang Lee’s Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk last weekend. But before that, he teamed with Denzel Washington for the film Flight, which grossed almost $100 million and Zemeckis’ track record before that is also pretty solid. At least one of his movies, Back to the Future Part II, opened over Thanksgiving and did quite well for the time, aka 1989.

Either way, it doesn’t seem like the movie has much awards buzz so far compared to moves that have already played the festival circuit, and in that sense, it’s probably more in line with Alexander or Australia where however much it does this weekend probably will determine its cap, which is probably in the $50 to 60 million range.


RULES DON’T APPLY (20th Century Fox)

Cast: Alden Ehrenreich, Lily Collins, Warren Beatty, Annette Bening, Alec Baldwin, Haley Bennett, Candice Bergen, Matthew Broderick, Dabney Coleman, Steve Coogan, Taissa Farmiga, Ed Harris, Megan Hilty, Oliver Platt, Martin Sheen
Director: Warren Beatty  (Bulworth, Dick Tracy, Reds, Heaven Can Wait)
Genre:  Comedy, Drama
Rated R
Plot:
In 1958, Marla Mabrey (Lily Collins) is a devout Christian songwriter who has been brought to Hollywood by Howard Hughes (Warren Beatty) for a screen test with Marla’s mother (Annette Bening) as her chaperone. Frank Forbes (Alden Ehrenreich), another one of Hughes’ newer employees, is assigned to drive Marla around town, but since neither of them have even met Hughes, they end up bonding, although Frank can’t break Hughes’ rules for drivers not to cavort with their passengers. Fortunately, the rules don’t apply to Frank.
Theater Count (est.): 2,000

Another film released this weekend that falls more into the “prestige” category is the first movie directed by Warren Beatty in almost 18 years. Rules Don’t Apply is a fictionalized version of a period in Howard Hughes life with Beatty playing Hughes. It’s more a story about two of Hughes’ younger employees who bond over their religion and the fact that neither of them have actually met Hughes.

 

In any other weekend (like Valentine’s Day maybe?), that might be sold as a movie about young lovers that would interest teens and 20-somethings.  Being that this is directed by Warren Beatty, though, it will mostly be appealing to moviegoers over 40 who have even heard of Beatty (which may not be the case with anyone under 30).

The film makes a fine showcase for Alden Ehrenreich, the young co-star of the Coens’ Hail Caesar! earlier this year, who stood out in a cast that included George Clooney and Tilda Swinton, to the point where he was cast by Lucasfilm to play the young Han Solo in the upcoming spin-off movie. Before that, Ehrenreich was discovered by Francis Ford Coppola for his independent film Tetro and co-starred in the failed young adult film Beautiful Creatures. His love interest is played by Lily Collins, who starred in Tarsem Singh’s Mirror Mirror and in her own failed young adult movie The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones, as well as having a role in Sandra Bullock’s hit The Blind Side.

Beyond the central cast, Beatty has filled his movie with a diverse group of prestigious actors including Alec Baldwin, Martin Sheen, Ed Harris, Steve Coogan, Oliver Platt and Candice Bergen, all in fairly small roles, but it’s really going to be relying on Beatty’s presence and the reviews to sell it to audiences.

 This is likely to be the low opener of the weekend, not because there isn’t interest in a new Warren Beatty movie, as much as there just is too much competition for older moviegoers including Robert Zemeckis’ Allied, and a bunch of movies playing in limited release that they can see over Thanksgiving. With that in mind, this one might not gross more than $25 million unless it starts earning some early December awards buzz.

The LRM Interview with Lily Collins


BOX OFFICE PREDICTIONS:

Disney should once again win the Thanksgiving weekend with their latest animated film Moana, although it might not be as immediate a choice as Frozen, The Muppets, Enchanted and other offerings, but should still do killer business.  Bad Santa 2 and Allied are likely to be fighting it out for fifth place by the weekend although they could do decent business Wednesday (including Tuesday previews).  Rules Don’t Apply is going to be on the low end of the Top 10 this weekend and probably will be gone from theaters fairly quickly. Since it’s Thanksgiving weekend, we’ll do things a little different, as the first number is the movie’s three-day weekend and then there’s also a five-day, which includes Wednesday and Thanksgiving Thursday. There probably won’t be an update this week.

1. Moana (Disney) - $54.5 million N/A ($75.5 million 5-day)

2. Fantastic Beasts and How to Find Them (Warner Bros.) - $39 million -48% ($57 million 5-day)

3. Trolls (DreamWorks Animation/Fox) - $15 million -14% ($21.5 million 5-day)

4. Doctor Strange (Marvel/DC) - $14.2 million -20% ($20.6 million 5-day)

5. Bad Santa 2 (Broad Green) - $13 million N/A ($19.5 million 5-day)

6. Allied (Paramount)  - $12.5 million N/A ($18.4 million 5-day)

7. Arrival (Paramount) - $7.5 million -37% ($10.8 million 5-day)

8. Rules Don’t Apply (20th Century Fox) - $6 million N/A ($8.6 million 5-day)

9. Almost Christmas (Universal) - $4.6 million -37% ($6.5 million 5-day)

10. Hacksaw Ridge (Summit/Lionsgate) - $4.4 million -35% ($6.3 million 5-day)

LAST YEAR:

 Disney tried to continue their Thanksgiving streak with Pixar Animation’s trouble-ridden and delayed The Good Dinosaur, but it ended up with $55.4 million in its first five days and $39.2 million over the three days, which put it in second place behind The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2 which was #1 with $52 million. Michael B. Jordan took on the role of Creed in the spin-off of Sylvester Stallone’s Rocky (for which Stallone received an Oscar nomination), and it grossed an impressive $29.6 million over the three-day weekend and $42 million including Wednesday and Thursday. Fox’s Victor Frankenstein, starring James McAvoy and Daniel Radcliffe, was the weekend’s big bomb, grossing just $2.5 million on the weekend in 2,797 theaters to end up in twelfth place.


THIS WEEK’S PICKS:

LION (The Weinstein Company)

Cast: Dev Patel, Nicole Kidman, Rooney Mara, David Wenham, Sunny Pawar
Director: Garth Davis (debut)
Genre: Drama
Rated PG-13
Plot:
At the age of five, Saroo Briersley (Sunny Pawar) was separated from his family when he was trapped on a train travelling thousands of miles from his hometown. Left on his own in the streets of Calcutta, Saroo is eventually adopted by a kindly Australian couple (Nicole Kidman, David Wenham), but twenty years later, Saroo (Dev Patel) is still coping with the loss of his mother and brother. At the suggestion of his girlfriend (Rooney Mara), he begins using Google Earth to try to find where he originally came from.

This amazing true story drama premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival a few months back, and I was quite blown away by what was achieved by Australian television director Garth Davis in his feature film debut.

Based on Saroo Briersely’s memoir, the film is split into two sections, showing how the younger Saroo was separated from his family and left alone on the streets of Calcutta without being able to speak the local language. The film follows that journey until he’s eventually placed with loving foster parents in Australia. On going to college in Melbourne decades later, Saroo is suddenly reminded of the mother and brother he left behind and begins an obsessive search for them using the little he remembers from his youth.

This is a hugely powerful and emotional film that really pulls you in with the performance by young Sunny Pawar, but then keeps you invested via the dramatic performance by Dev Patel, looking far shaggier than he did in his breakout film Slumdog Millionaire. But together, it’s an amazing story that’s so well written and performed with a number of memorable scenes, including one between Patel and Kidman that’s just devastating.

I honestly can’t recommend this movie enough, as it is one of my favorites of the year, and hopefully people will make an effort to seek it out when it opens in New York and L.A. on Friday before expanding to other cities in December.


MISS SLOANE (EuropaCorp)

Cast: Jessica Chastain, John Lithgow, Mark Strong, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Michael Stuhlbarg, Alison Pill, Jake Lacy, Sam Waterston
Director: John Madden (Shakespeare in Love, Mrs. Brown, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, The Debt, Proof and more)
Genre: Drama, Politics
Rated R
Plot:
Elizabeth Sloane (Jessica Chastain) is a notorious Washington, DC lobbyist who finds herself taking on the gun lobby, while also finding herself under fire by a Congressional inquest, when her tactics start being questioned by those who want to put an end to the gun control law she’s trying to get into effect.

I wasn’t sure if I’d like this film as I watched the first 40 minutes or so with all its talk about lobbying and politics that I’m not particularly interested in, but it’s an amazing showcase for Oscar nominee Jessica Chastain, giving an amazing performance as a woman you don’t immediately like and have trouble rooting for that really drives what makes the film so good.

One of the things that threw me off is that the entire film felt like it was written by Aaron Sorkin, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but Sorkin’s dialogue has a certain patter and rhythm that was clearly being recreated by the cast, which makes it feel quite a bit like Sorkin’s show The Newsroom.  That’s the doing of screenwriter Jonathan Perera, who does an amazing job with his first and only produced screenplay.

I have to admit that I’ve been a little hot and cold on director John Madden’s films but there’s no denying his ability to direct an actress to an Oscar-winning performance as seen by Gwyneth Paltrow in Shakespeare in Love, but this film certainly won’t be for anyone who is already sick of politics and the desperate need for stricter gun laws, which is the main subject matter covered in this tense character-driven drama.

If you’re interested in learning more about how lobbying works in D.C., taken to the furthest extreme, then you definitely might enjoy Miss Sloane, but for others, it will mainly be of interest for Chastain’s performance.

Miss Sloane opens in New York and L.A. on Friday, November 25, and then expands wide on December 9 (so look for more about it in that week’s column).


MIFUNE: THE LAST SAMURAI (Strand Releasing)

Narrator: Keanu Reeves
Interview Subjects: Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorsese, Teruyo Nogami, Kyoko Kagawa, Yoshio Tsuchiya, Takeshi Kato and Yoko Tsukasa
Director: Steven Okazaki (White Light/Black Rain: The Destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Black Tar Heroin)
Genre: Documentary

This is a fantastic doc about legendary Japanese actor Toshiro Mifune, who starred in 16 films by Akira Kurosawa, including all his classic samurai films. The film covers Mifune’s entire life and career with interviews with many of his co-stars and his eldest son shedding light on the actor who has remained a mystery for many of his biggest fans. It includes interviews with the likes of Martin Scorsese and Steven Spielberg, and is narrated by Keanu Reeves, who proved his love of samurais when he made 47 Ronin a few years back.

It will open at the IFC Center in New York this Friday and then open in Los Angeles on December 2, San Francisco on December 9 and other cities to follow.


OTHER LIMITED RELEASES:

Following its run of festivals including last year’s Toronto and Fantastic Fests, French director Lucile Hadzihalilovic’s disturbing thriller Evolution (IFC Midnight) takes place in a seaside village consisting solely of adult women and ten-year-old boys where one of the latter, Nicolas (Max Brebant), finds a dead boy in the ocean and begins to question his very existence in this odd environment.  It opens Friday in New York at the IFC Center and Lincoln Center, Los Angeles at Cinefamily as well as On Demand.

Sophia Takal’s Always Shine (Oscilloscope) stars Mackenzie Davis (Halt and Catch Fire) and Caitlin FitzGerald (Masters of Sex) as two actresses travelling from Los Angeles to Big Sur for vacation, hoping to reconnect after years of competition and jealousy over roles, but the trip ends up causing even more problems. Having premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival where Davis won a jury prize for her performance, it will open in New York at the Village East Cinemas on Friday with Takai, Davis and FitzGerald doing Q & As at select screenings over the weekend.

Opening in select cities is Seasons (Music Box Films), the new film from Oscar-nominated nature filmmakers Jacques Perrin and Jacques Cluzaud(Winged Migration, Oceans). This one takes a look at the forest creatures and how they have tried to survive after the Ice Age, as they’re forced to share their land with humans.

 

Set in the near future, Emmy-winning director Steve Gomez’s Kill Command (AT&T) follows a squad of marines, led by Captain Bukes (Thure LIndhardt), who are sent to a remote island where they lose communication and become targets for advanced military robots, possibly controlled by their coder Mills (Vanessa Kirby). After premiering on DirecTV, it will have a theatrical release Friday.

 

French director Rachel Lang makes her debut with Baden Baden (MUBI), which follows the trials and tribulations of Ana (Salome Richard), a 26-year-old woman who returns home to Strasbourg after living abroad, who is looking for human connection. The first theatrical release from MUBI will open at the Anthology Film Archives in New York on Friday. 

Lastly, Sean Bloomfield’s doc Apparition Hill (Stella Mar Films) follows the journey of seven strangers, including two atheists and people struggling with medical and addiction issues, to a village in Bosnia-Herzegovina to investigate “miracles and supernatural phenomena,” trying to find answers to their questions. It opens in New York at the Cinema Village Friday.

That’s it for this week, but join us again next Wednesday right here on LRM Online for a look at new movies… well, just one new movie and that’s the horror movie Incarnate (High Top Releasing), starring Aaron Eckhart. I could use a break anyway.

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

Box Office, The Weekend Warrior, LRM Exclusives, Film, Featured The Weekend Warrior, Moana, Allied, Bad Santa 2, Rules Don't Apply, Dwayne Johnson, Brad Pitt, Marion Cotillard, Miss Sloane, Lion, Jessica Chastain, Warren Beatty, Scoops