The Weekend Warrior 12/16/16: Rogue One, Collateral Beauty, Fences

– 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:

In the week preceding the release of the second new Star Wars movie under the Disney banner, there was only one new wide release and a couple movies expanding nationwide. Paramount’s Office Christmas Party didn’t fare nearly as well as I projected, ending up in second place behind Moana in its third weekend at #1.  It ended up with just under $17 million to take second place. Meanwhile, Tom Ford’s Nocturnal Animals (Focus Features), which just received a number of surprise Golden Globes nominations, expanded into 1,262 theaters where it made a little over $3 million to take seventh place. Jessica Chastain’s political drama Miss Sloane (EuropaCorp) failed to even get into the Top 10 as it ended up with just under $2 million in 1,598 theaters. Released in just five theaters in New York and L.A., Lionsgate’s La La Land, starring Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling, set a new per-theater record with over $170,000 per theater and it should continue to do well as it expands.


ROGUE ONE: A STAR WARS STORY (Lucasfilm/Disney)

Cast: Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Ben Mendelsohn, Donnie Yen, Jiang Wen, Forest Whitaker, Mads Mikkelsen, Alan Tudyk, Riz Ahmed, Valene Kane
Director: Gareth Edwards (Godzilla, Monsters)
Genre: Science Fiction, Action
Rated PG-13
Plot:
With word of the Empire building a “Death Star,” a group of resistance fighters come together to steal the blueprints so that the rebels can forge an attack at the end of Star Wars (the original movie that was since relabeled Episode IV: A New Hope).
Theater Count (est.): 4,100

We’re now at the weekend of the year that’s been snapped up by a big movie for many years, whether it’s James Cameron’s Avatar or one of Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings or The Hobbit movies. Last year, this pre-Christmas weekend was snagged by Lucasfilm and Disney’s very first movie in a new Star Wars trilogy, and this year, we get the first of a number of planned spin-offs, this one focusing on an all-new story set during the time of the original 1977 Star Wars movie.

There isn’t a lot of history or backstory that’s necessary to know except that it’s basically about a group of rebels who are trying to steal the blueprints for the Empire’s Death Star, and it introduces a number of new characters, both heroes and villains, to the Star Wars mythos.  Having not seen the movie, I don’t know enough about this movie to talk much about who each of the actors plays, but the featured hero character is played by British actress Felicity Jones, who has been keeping busy since her Oscar nomination for The Theory of Everything a few years back. Besides starring with Tom Hanks in the recent action-thriller Inferno (which bombed big time), she also has a key role in the upcoming Juan Bayona fantasy-thriller A Monster Calls, which will open limited next week.

She’s joined by a bunch of other actors who have slowly been making a mark in a variety of films, including Mexican actor Diego Luna, who we first met as one of the stars of Alfonso Cuaron’s Y Tu Mama Tambien, and Riz Ahmed, who received accolades as the star of HBO’s mini-series The Night Of earlier this year. Playing the main new villains are Ben Mendelsohn from Netflix’s show Bloodline (for which he won an Emmy) and Mads Mikkelsen, the Danish actor who was first introduced to these shores as the Bond villain in Casino Royale and most recently played the bad guy in Marvel Studios’ Doctor Strange.  Alan Tudyk voices a droid apparently, and there are other roles played by Hong Kong martial arts master Donnie Yen and Oscar winner Forest Whitaker, so it’s a pretty well-rounded and diverse cast.

The movie is directed by Gareth Edwards, who helmed the most recent Godzilla reboot after his earlier film Monsters, and it might not matter much, but there were rumors of problems on the movie that involved reshoots and bringing in writer Tony Gilroy to help shape the movie.

There are a couple things to keep in mind about Rogue One, the first one being that while this is a spin-off of Star Wars and essentially a “side-quel,” the only original or returning character seems to be original Star Wars villain, Darth Vader, who may only have a small cameo, even if he’s being featured in most recent trailers. None of the key trinity of Han Solo, Luke or Leia are going to be in this one, which was a huge deal and why The Force Awakens was such a monster hit because we haven’t seen any of them (or Chewbacca) since the original trilogy ended with 1983’s Return of the Jedi. So imagine an over-thirty-year gap for these characters that helped build the excitement and anticipation for their return, which helped contribute to The Force Awakens’ massive success.

One imagines that Rogue One will have even less interest for older women than Force Awakens, although Star Wars have generally become four-quadrant movies that appeal to older and younger moviegoers of both genders. Another thing to take into account when dealing with new characters is that there just won’t be as much interest from younger moviegoers as seen by the lesser success of the recent Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, which is about to crack $200 million domestically but won’t come close to the average $300 million of previous Harry Potter movies. If Rogue One is thought of as a sequel, it might succumb to the same “sequelitis” as other movies this year, although it will still be building on the good karma towards J.J. Abrams’ The Force Awakens last year.

As of this writing, the earliest reviews have been fairly positive but a little more guarded than those for The Force Awakens, especially after the reactions out of the L.A. premiere were the usual amount of gushing raves that clearly had no semblance of critical veracity.

Needless to say, and regardless of reviews, Rogue One is going to make a ton of money, helped greatly by the holidays, but like The Force Awakens last year, it might be one of those surprises whether it does far better than expected or maybe doesn’t attain the humongous opening some may be expecting and hoping for.  In other words, most movies would be satisfied with $150 million plus opening, but should Rogue One be, opening just a year after a movie that opened with $250 million?


COLLATERAL BEAUTY (New Line/WB)

Cast: Will Smith, Edward Norton, Keira Knightley, Michael Pena, Naomie Harris, Jacob Latimore, Kate Winslet, Helen Mirren
Director: David Frankel (The Devil Wears Prada, Hope Springs)
Genre: Drama
Rated PG-13
Plot:
Howard (Will Smith) is an ad executive suffering from great loss is trying to deal with his grief while his partners (Edward Norton, Kate Winslet, Michael Peña) need to find a way to get him declared incompetent so they can sell the company, so they hire three actors (Keira Knightley, Helen Mirren, Jacob Latimore) to show up as representatives of Love, Time and Death, to whom Howard has been writing letters.
Theater Count (est.): 2,800+

Now it isn’t that uncommon for a studio to try to offer counter-programming to one of the big holiday releases and that’s really the only logical reason for the existence of this light drama starring an actor who is still considered one of the top box office stars, Will Smith.

Before we get into the film’s complicated plot, which has clearly been difficult to market, we have to look at Collateral Beauty in the context of other similar Smith films, in other words, his December holiday releases like 2006’s The Pursuit of Happyness, 2008’s Seven Pounds, the Michael Mann film Ali from way back in 2001 and last year’s Concussion. In all cases, they were thought to be movies that could help get Smith awards attention, although only two of them (Happyness and Ali) earned him an Oscar nomination. Happyness was also the biggest hit, grossing $163 million, which is more on par with the blockbusters we’ve come to expect from Smith. Concussion only grossed $35 million over the holidays last year but it was a sports drama about a difficult subject matter, and the same could be said about this movie.

Earlier this year, Smith had quite a return to the blockbuster space by starring in the ensemble superhero movie Suicide Squad, which grossed $325 million domestically, surpassing his first major hit Independence Day, not accounting for inflation, so he’s been more present in the public consciousness.

Collateral Beauty teams Smith with director David Frankel, whose success directing the HBO show Sex and the City led to hit films like The Devil Wears Prada and Hope Springs with Meryl Streep, and Frankel has brought on an amazing cast that includes Kate Winslet, Helen Mirren, Keira Knightley and Edward Norton, the latter two not having been in much this year. It also stars acting workhorse Michael Penã and Jacob Latimore from the Maze Runner films. It’s a fairly prestigious ensemble cast that’s meant to offer moviegoers a wide array of popular actors playing smaller roles.

Now you’d think that with a superstar cast of Oscar winners and nominees that Collateral Beauty would be thought of a key awards contender, but it’s not really the type of movie that gets critical or industry support, meant more for mainstream moviegoers in a way. It’s clearly meant to be a modern day A Christmas Carol with the feel of other holiday films like Miracle on 34th Street and such, but that hard-to-describe premise and quizzical title is certainly going to be limiting in terms of being able to market it.

Reviews so far have been awful, maybe the worst in Will Smith’s career, but it’s not like critics are going to go bananas for a feel-good movie like this when they have all sorts of year-end cinephile fodder and a Star Wars movie to cream over. (Seriously, the state of film criticism is pretty sad when a movie like this is immediately dismissed, merely because it’s trying to do something original and somewhat heartwarming.)

While Collateral Beauty probably won’t have a big impact on Rogue One and is likely to end up making less than $15 million this weekend, it still seems like the type of feel good offering that can do well over the holidays, which should help its word-of-mouth even if reviews aren’t great.


BOX OFFICE PREDICTIONS:

There’s very little to stop Rogue One: A Star Wars Story from having a huge opening weekend, even if there doesn’t seem to be as much interest in it as last year’s The Force Awakens, and Will Smith’s ensemble drama Collateral Beauty will just have to settle for a very distant second place. Kenneth Lonergan’s acclaimed drama Manchester by the Sea, starring Casey Affleck—thought of as an Oscar frontrunner in the lead actor race—will expand nationwide on Friday, which should help move it up the Top 10, as well.

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

Updated 12.15.16

1. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (Lucasfilm/Disney) - $158.5 million N/A

2. Collateral Beauty (Warner Bros.) – $10.8 million N/A (down .3 million)

3. Moana (Disney) - $9.5 million -49% (down .5 million)

4. Office Christmas Party (Paramount) - $8.0 million -53% (down .5 million)

5. Fantastic Beasts and How to Find Them (Warner Bros.) - $5.5 million -49%

6. Manchester by the Sea (Amazon/Roadside Attractions) - $4.6 million +34%

7. Arrival (Paramount) - $2.7 million -52% (up .2 million)

8. Doctor Strange (Marvel/DC) - $2.3 million -48%

9. Allied (Paramount)  - $2.1 million -47%

10. Nocturnal Animals (Focus Features) $1.9 million -40%

LAST YEAR:

Last year this weekend, we also got a Star Wars movie, maybe something you heard about called Star Wars: The Force Awakens, which was thought to open big and maybe bigger than the previous opening weekend record-holder Jurassic World. When the movie made $27 million in Thursday previews alone, it certainly looked like a new record was to be had. (Jurassic World’s Thursday previews earlier that year took in $18.5 million.) Those Thursday added up to a $119 million opening day Friday, another record and $248 million grossed in the movie’s first three days, pretty much breaking every single box office record that it was eligible to beat. The Force Awakens would go on gross $936 million in North America alone, which destroyed previous records set by both of James Cameron’s previous films, Titanic and Avatar. While The Force Awakens wasn’t the only movie released on this weekend last year, it pretty much dominated over everything else, so that the other two new releases: Alvin and the Chipmunks: Road Chip and the Tina Fey-Amy Poehler comedy Sisters each ended up with just under $15 million. Presuming that Rogue One might not make as much as The Force Awakens this weekend, this does show that there’s still room for counter-programming even with the opening of a box office behemoth.


THIS WEEK’S PICKS:

FENCES (Paramount)

Cast: Denzel Washington, Viola Davis, Stephen Henderson, Jovan Adepo, Russell Hornsby, Mykelti Willimason, Saniyya Sidney
Director: Denzel Washington (The Great Debaters, Antwone Fisher)
Genre: Drama
Rated R
Plot:
Based on August Wilson’s multiple Tony-winning play about Troy (Denzel Washington), an older African-American father living in Pittsburgh during the late ‘50s who is dealing with trying to raise his son (Jovan Adepo), a high school football star who Troy worries will follow a similar path as himself. Meanwhile, Troy has been cheating on his loving wife (Viola Davis), something that comes to a head when she learns that one of Troy’s mistresses is pregnant. 

We’ve already had a number of prestige Oscar contenders released over the past couple weeks but this week and next, there’s going to be a huge influx of awards movies with this week seeing the release of Denzel’s third movie as a director, this one based on the Tony-winning play by August Wilson in which Denzel starred with Viola Davis. (Both of them won Tony awards for their performances.)

This is a fairly small drama focused around a Pittsburgh man in the late ‘50s who is struggling with where his life has ended up and who is cheating on his loving wife while also dealing with his extended family—his poor musician older son and his younger son who wants to play football. If you missed the play during either of its runs on Broadway, then Washington does a good job capturing what made it such a riveting piece of theater without going too overboard on the cinematic bells and whistles.

In other words, this is a fairly straight ahead telling of the play with Washington interacting with each of the rest of the cast, but his scenes with Davis really being some of the strongest ones. In his previous movies, Washington discovered Derek Luke and Nate Parker but in this one, he found a great young actor in Jovan Adepo, playing Troy’s son Cory, another standout among the small, but solid cast.

Fences certainly looks like it’s going to get a good deal of awards attention, even if it was seemingly snubbed by the Golden Globes other than for its performances, and the Screen Actors Guild might be its best for awards attention otherwise, but it’s pretty obvious that Davis is going to take this performance all the way to Oscar night, having already won the Critics Choice Award in the supporting actress category.

Sure if you’re not into filmed theatrical drama (such as Davis’ earlier film Doubt) than Fences probably won’t change your mind, but it’s an interesting study of a specific time and person through the words of the late August Wilson which does deserve getting some attention.

Fences opens in New York and L.A. on Friday and then opens nationwide on Christmas Day.


NERUDA (The Orchard)

Cast: Luis Gnecco, Gael García Bernal, Alfredo Castro
Director: Pablo Larrain (No, Jackie, The Club)
Genre:  Drama, Crime, Politics
Rated R
Plot:
Beloved poet and politician Pablo Neruda (Luis Gnecco) is the country’s most famous communist, but when the climate changes in the country after World War II, he’s forced into exile with a tenacious police inspector (Gael Garcia Bernal) on his tail. 

A couple weeks back, I wrote about Chilean filmmaker Pablo Larrain’s new film Jackie, starring Natalie Portman, but he also has this Chile-based political crime drama (of sorts) based around a certain period in the life of acclaimed poet Pablo Neruda (as played by Luis Gnecco) and his exile from Chile for being a Communist.

You have to love a political movie that starts in a men’s bathroom where various factions are arguing about politics with the Communist party Senator Neruda, and it’s the type of wry humor that’s abundant in this film Larrain made with his producer brother and playwright Guillermo Calderon.

It’s a film that ably mixes genres and uses an interesting narrative technique with a voice-over explaining what is really going on in the abundant dialogue.  What makes it particularly interesting is that Gael Garcia Bernal’s character, a police inspector hired by the Chilean President to find Neruda, may in fact be a fictional character from one of Neruda’s own works, and that’s where Neruda gets interesting, as it plays with reality and fiction and where they come together.

But really, it’s the performance by Gnecco as the not-always-likeable politician who drinks and womanizes while at the same time professing his love to his wife in scenes that are quite romantic. Bernal also has an interesting romance going on in the film.

Not everyone is going to be as interested in the movie for its post-WWII South American politics or even Neruda’s poetry—for which he is quite legendary--but these things are combined together into a compelling film that keeps you entertained even if you don’t always understand who everyone is or what the significance is to some of what is happening.

Neruda opens in New York (at the IFC Center) and in L.A. this weekend and then will expand to other cities.

The LRM Interview with Pablo Larrain

Streaming on Netflix Friday is Barry (Netflix), the second movie of the year about the early days of President Barack Obama, this one directed by Vikram Gandhi (Kumaré) and starring Devon Terrell as the current president during his days in college, where he dated white women (as mentioned in Richard Tanne’s film Southside with You, released earlier this year).


OTHER LIMITED RELEASES:

You lucky moviegoers who don’t go see Rogue One this weekend will get a Patrick Wilson double feature this weekend, as the actor appears in Andy Goddard’s A Kind of Murder (Magnolia), based on Patricia Highsmith’s novel The Blunderer about an architect in 1960’s New York married to the beautiful but damaged Clara (Jessica Biel) who gets entangled with Kimmel (Eddie Marsan), a bookstore owner accused of murdering his wife. After premiering at the Tribeca Film Festival earlier this year, it will open in California, Florida and New Mexico, but also On Demand.

Wilson also stars with Ian McShane, John Leguizano and Lynn Collins in The Hollow Point (Vertical Entertainment), a crime thriller directed by Gonzalo López-Gallego (Apollo 18), which deals with a botched Mexican cartel arms deal that leaves many dead and a missing bag of money, forcing the town’s older retired sheriff (presumably McShane) to team with his replacement to protect the people in town from a cartel hitman who comes looking for the money.

Jeffrey Dean Morgan and Abbie Cornish are FBI profilers who call upon Anthony Hopkins’ psychic to catch a serial killer in Brazilian filmmaker Afonso Poyart’s English debut, the thriller Solace (Lionsgate Premiere).  With the psychic’s help, they learn that this serial killer is only killing people who are suffering from terminal diseases, making them essentially mercy killings. It opens in select cities and On Demand Friday.

Oscar-nominated Canadian filmmaker Kim Nguyen (War Witch) returns with Two Lovers and a Bear (Entertainment One) starring Dane DeHaan (Place Beyond the Pines) and Tatiana Meslany (Orphan Black) as… well, guess what? They’re not “a bear.” The two young lovers, Roman and Lucy, meet each other in a small Arctic Canadian town near the North Pole and find inner peace within each other.  The indie drama opens at the Village East Cinemas in New York with Nguyen and DeHaan on hand for the Friday 7pm screening and Nguyen on hand for the Saturday 7pm screening.

Keith Fulton and Lou Pepe’s doc The Bad Kids (FilmRise), which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival, explores the progressive Black Rock High School in the impoverished neighborhood near the Mojave Desert, and its principal Vonda Villand, who is trying to support troubled teens that are in danger of getting into trouble with the law. It opens in New York Friday and in L.A. on Friday.

Lastly, the doc Blood on the Mountain (Abramorama) from directors Mari-Lynn Evans and Jordan Freeman looks at the struggles of the American coal workers in West Virginia who have had to deal with being exploited by corporate interests and abandoned by the government. At the end of this year, the pension and health benefits of may of these former Patriot coal miners will end unless Mitch McConnell acts on the Miners Protection Act. Clearly, this movie is being released at a very important time.

That’s it for this week, but join us again next Wednesday right here on LRM for a look at new movies opening over Christmas Day proper, a huge slew of movies that includes Illumination Entertainment’s Sing, Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence’s sci-fi film Passengers, Michael Fassbender in the video game movie Assassin’s Creed, the James Franco-Bryan Cranston comedy Why Him? Denzel Washington’s Fences expands nationwide.

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

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