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:
Well, look at that. The Weekend Warrior actually got the big release of the year almost dead on the mark as Rogue One ended up right around my $156 million prediction, but actually fell just short with $155.1 million, the 12th highest opening ever and about $90 million short of the opening for The Force Awakens last year. Looks like I way overestimated the power of Will Smith with my prediction on Collateral Beauty, which bombed with less than $7 million, Smith’s worst opening ever, opening in fourth place rather than second place as I predicted. Maybe the movie will pick up a bit of ground over the holiday week, but there are so many new movies opening, it’s going to be a tough battle for this movie to make much of a mark while Rogue One should be #1 for the next three or four weeks.
We have a crapload of movies to get to this week, so I'm going to try my best to keep the analysis to a minimum to get everything in there, although it’s going to be a tough haul for all the new movies trying to take on Rogue One, which will very easily remain #1 for a second and probably third weekend in a row. Either way, there’s a lot of starpower opening new movies this weekend, so we’ll have to see if that’s enough to overcome the mostly negative reviews.
Voice Cast: Matthew McConaughey, Reese Witherspoon, Seth MacFarlane, Scarlett Johansson, John C. Reilly, Taron Egerton, Tori Kelly
Director: Garth Jennings (The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Son of Rambow)
Genre: Comedy, Musical, Animation.
Plot: Koala Buster Moon (voiced by Matthew McConaughey) wants to save his Moon Theater from being foreclosed by the bank, so he decides to put on a singing competition, but a clerical mistake makes the contestants think they’ll win $100,000 (instead of just $1,000) so it gets a record number of diverse entrants who have to leave their lives behind to rehearse for the big show.
Theater Count (est.): 4,000
Let’s start off this week with what is clearly the strongest new offering, the second animated movie of the year from Universal and Illumination Entertainment following their summer hit The Secret Life of Pets. This musical comedy from British filmmaker Garth Jennings features an amazing cast of voices, some we know for their singing (like Seth MacFarlane) and others maybe not so much.
Most importantly, it features the voices of Matthew McConaughey--his second voice role in animated movie this year after LAIKA’s Kubo and the Two Strings--and Reese Witherspoon, two solid box office stars, although Universal are not going the normal DreamWorks Animation route by touting who is voicing these characters. Instead, they are going for the abundance of humor in the variety of singing animals the movie offers. (There are key characters to the plot who haven’t even appeared in the marketing yet, which shows how strongly they feel that this concept can sell itself.)
What’s interesting about Illumination is that they’re really one of the newer animation houses that have popped up in recent years with 2010’s Despicable Me. The success of that movie as a franchise with the $300 million plus made domestically by its sequel Despicable Me 2 and spinoff Minons has allowed them to take chances with things like The Secret Life of Pets, which has recently surpassed Despicable Me 2 a s their biggest domestic grosser. Worldwide, their six movies have grossed $4 billion with Sing already having opened in a bunch of countries last weekend.
Maybe one of the best things Universal has going for them is their ability to create marketing strategies with their Comcast television partners like NBC, Bravo and USA, where they can run non-stop ads that can help generate interest in the movie similar to how they used the Minions on those channels to promote their bigger hits.
One of the obstacles that might affect Sing is that it’s opening in the same year as Disney’s Zootopia and so soon after DreamWorks Animation’s Trolls, another musical animated comedy, so it just won’t feel as original as The Secret Life of Pets did.
Either way, this should do decently, especially over the weekend and in the week following Christmas where the only competition for family audiences is Disney’s Moana—which has been out for a month now--and Universal has done a great job selling the movie as a comedy first with music that should allow it to appeal to a mass audience. Expect it to do somewhere between $50 and $55 million in its first five days and shoot for the $200 million range by late January.
Cast: Chris Pratt, Jennifer Lawrence, Michael Sheen, Laurence Fishburne.
Director: Morten Tyldum (The Imitation Game, Headhunters)
Genre: Science Fiction, Romance
Plot: On a 120-year space journey, the hibernation pod of Jim Prescott (Chris Pratt) opens up after just 30 years, leaving him on his own on an enormous starship with his only company being an android bartender named Arthur (Michael Sheen). After a year, he decides he needs company, so he opens the pod of a woman named Aurora (Jennifer Lawrence)… and seriously, who could blame him? Oh, yeah… she can, for stranding her in the same situation as he is in.
Theater Count (est.): 3,300
The second biggest new release of this weekend is a new sci-fi romance drama starring two of the biggest recent box office stars, Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence, who are taking a big chance on a project that’s been in development by screenwriter Jon Spaihts (Doctor Strange, Prometheus) for nearly ten years. This outer space opera is also the latest movie directed by Morten Tyldum, the Oscar-nominated Norwegian filmmaker behind The Imitation Game, although when you have two big name stars like this movie does, the person behind the camera just isn’t as significant.
Chris Pratt, of course, has become a big deal thanks to the success of Guardians of the Galaxy and Jurassic World, which elevated him to the status of an A-list star, to the point where he was just as important to the making of Antoine Fuqua’s The Magnificent Seven as Denzel Washington was. That didn’t quite make the $100 million of some of Washington’s other movies but it came close with $93 million, which wasn’t bad for a Western. Otherwise, this will be Pratt’s big space movie until next year’s Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2, which should be one of 2017’s big hits.
Meanwhile, his co-star, Ms. Lawrence, recently finished up her commitments to her two big franchises, The Hunger Games and the most recent X-Men trilogy, so she’s clearly looking for new opportunities that can maintain her own status as an A-lister. This is the second year in a row for Lawrence to have a movie open over Christmas as David O. Russell’s Joy opened with $17 million last Christmas without the added draw of being an epic sci-fi film, but Passengers is surely going to benefit as much for her pairing with Pratt as that one did for her reunion with Bradley Cooper.
While Passengers is being sold based on the romance between Pratt and Lawrence, it’s a very different, far darker movie that may turn casual moviegoers off, and there could be a backlash if they go in expecting something different than what the movie actually is. That “twist” has already caused a lot of critics to turn against what’s an otherwise decent movie, and its current 31% on RottenTomatoes can probably be at least partially be blamed on that aspect of the plot.
Regardless, science fiction has been proving popular at the box office as the Amy Adams sci-fi thriller Arrival has grossed $87 million since opening in November but that’s with much better reviews than Passengers has been getting, and we’ll have to see how much those bad reviews hurt this movie’s opening. It also probably won’t have as much interest to guys as some of the other choices in theaters because it seems to focus so much on the romance rather than any of the usual outer space theatrics, which they can get from Rogue One.
Even so, this still looks good for maybe $35 million over its first five days, but it’s going to tail off once word gets out that it’s not the movie some are expecting.
ASSASSIN’S CREED (20th Century Fox)
Cast: Michael Fassbender, Marion Cotillard, Jeremy Irons, Brendan Gleeson, Khalid Abdalla, Michael K. Williams, Charlotte Rampling.
Director: Justin Kurzel (Macbeth)
Genre: Action, Science Fiction
Plot: Convict Callum Lynch (Michael Fassbender) is taken in by a corporation who want to access his bloodline to a league of assassins to get their hands on the “apple of Eden,” a item which can provide the knowledge of eternal life.
Theater Count (est.): 3,000
The movie that might have the most interest for guys this weekend is this movie based on the popular Ubisoft video game series that reunites director Justin Kurzel with the stars of his adaptation of Macbeth, Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard.
Ubisoft have been trying to get an Assassin’s Creed game made for years and after being shifted around the release schedule for a number of years, it finally settled on this holiday release, which is an odd choice when you consider that Christmas weekend is often saved for poor genre films that the studio doesn’t expect very much from.
It’s especially odd considering the starpower credited to Fassbender following his appearance as Magneto in three X-Men movies including the most successful of the three, 2014’s Days of Future Past (which is also the one with the most participation by Jackman and the original cast). It’s actually kind of interesting to see Fassbender going up against Jennifer Lawrence’s new movie, considering how pivotal both of them were to the popularity of the X-franchise in recent years. That said, Fassbender has been unable to get a hit otherwise with movies like A Light Between Oceans (with real life girlfriend and Oscar winner Alicia Vikander), last year’s Steve Jobs (for which he got another Oscar nomination) and others not really having much of an impact at the box office.
Fassbender’s co-star Marion Cotillard has done a little bit better, but even her recent pairing with Brad Pitt in Robert Zemeckis’ WWII spy thriller Allied hasn’t even made $40 million after opening Thanksgiving weekend. Otherwise, she hasn’t been in a big Hollywood blockbuster since Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises, following an appearance in his previous film, Inception. Since she’s likely to have a baby soon, there’s a chance she might be on hiatus for a while after this one.
We can’t talk about Assassin’s Creed without discussing the jinx that has affected so many video game movies before this, whether it’s Doom or Prince of Persia or even Duncan Jones’ Warcraft earlier this year, which ended up making less than $50 million. But that’s not too surprising as there’s been a cutoff mark for video game movies with only two grossing more than $100 million: Angelina Jolie’s original Tomb Raider and Sony Animation’s The Angry Birds Movie earlier this year. Otherwise, they’re rarely received very well and most of the fans of the games know better than to waste their money on them.
Normally, a movie like this would open on Christmas Day proper, knowing that there are plenty of single guys without families who will go to see it, similar to Black Christmas and Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem, two movies that were hugely frontloaded to Christmas Day. One can certainly expect there are some fans of the video game who won’t be put off by the many bad reviews, but they’re likely to catch this sometime between Tuesday and Friday and then see other things over the holidays.
While this is getting a fairly saturated release into 3,000 theaters, it’s likely that business will be strongest in its opening days and then things will drop off after that, especially since reviews will probably be even worse than some of the other movies opening this week that have already gotten bad reviews. Passengers might offer the movie the toughest competition but chances are that will be more of interest to women than Assassin’s Creed, which means this will just get the teen and older guys who have already seen Rogue One.
Assassin’s Creed might make as much as $25 million in its first five days, but it’s going to have a hard time getting past $50 or 60 million with so many other stronger offerings over the holidays, especially in bigger cities. (See below.)
Opening on Friday is another R-rated comedy that might struggle to bring in business opposite the above three…
WHY HIM? (20th Century Fox)
Cast: James Franco, Bryan Cranston, Zooey Deutch, Megan Mullally, Kegan Michael Key, Cedric the Entertainer
Director: John Hamburg (I Love You Man, Along Came Polly)
Plot: When Stephanie Fleming (Zooey Deutch) finally reveals to her parents that she’s dating an eccentric older billionaire named Laird (James Franco), he wants her to invite her father (Bryan Cranston), mother (Megan Mullally) and younger brother to stay at his place over the holidays, but a rivalry quickly develops between her father who doesn’t like Laird, especially when he learns that Laird wants to marry his daughter.
Theater Count (est.): 2,800
There was a time when R-rated comedy was really exploding with many huge hits, but those days seem to be dwindling with the lack of success this year for the likes of Neighbors 2 and the recent Office Christmas Party. Let’s face it. Movie audiences are fickle and while a high concept R-rated comedy like Bad Moms can explode, there are so many factors involved with these hits that few in Hollywood have figured out so far.
In this case, they’re hoping that the pairing of the very different Bryan Cranston and James Franco in a high concept comedy about meeting your future son-in-law will offer enough laughs for families with teen or older kids. Not surprisingly, it’s written and directed by John Hamburg, who was involved in the writing of Meet the Parents and its sequel, which proved to be such huge hits for Universal, especially when they were released over the Christmas holidays. Granted, those were also rated PG-13, but Hamburg’s also got good comedy cred from his last movie I Love You, Man, starring Jason Segel and Paul Rudd, which has become a popular favorite.
Why Him? Is very much in the vein of movies that Franco has done with Seth Rogen, going back to Pineapple Express and continuing through This is the End and the funny but failed The Interview, which led to all sorts of problems with North Korea, who didn’t appreciate their leader being mocked. (Franco also provided his voice for the summer animated comedy hit Sausage Party.) But other than those comedies, Franco has been directing a lot of mopey dramas and appearing in smaller artsy wankfests like King Cobra, which probably has lowered his Q-rating among comedy fans.
Cranston, on the other hand, hasn’t really done straight comedy in a long time, but he continues to receive good karma thanks to his role as Walter White in AMC’s Breaking Bad, and receive critical acclaim for his roles in last year’s Trumbo and this year’s The Infiltrator. As far as comedy, he’s mainly gotten laughs from his animated roles for DreamWorks Animation in movies like this year’s Kung Fu Panda 3. Cranston has a new Amazon show called Sneaky Pete starting soon, so this may be a last blast for him in terms of a comedy movie.
Although the only comedy released this weekend is the animated Sing, this R-rated comedy seems like it might have a harder time finding audiences, especially in New York and L.A. when there are so many other choices, plus it’s competing against the stronger marketing for Passengers and even Assassin’s Creed.
Granted, Christmas weekend last year was dominated by a Star Wars movie, but a strong second place was taken by the Mark Wahlberg-Will Ferrell comedy Daddy’s Home. This one is a little more reminiscent of the Seth Rogen-Barbara Streisand high concept comedy The Guilt Trip, which was released the weekend before Christmas in 2012, ending up with just $5.7 million opening and less than $40 million overall. Reviews for Why Him? aren’t much better (44% at RottenTomatoes), so this will likely be a last minute pick for most, rather than something they actively seek out. It’ll be interesting to see if this can make more than $40 million in such a busy market.
The LRM Interview with John Hamburg (Coming on Thursday, December 22)
Cast: Denzel Washington, Viola Davis, Stephen Henderson, Jovan Adepo, Russell Hornsby, Mykelti Willimason, Saniyya Sidney.
Director: Denzel Washington (The Great Debaters, Antoine Fischer)
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.
Theater Count (est.): 2,400
After opening in New York and L.A. last weekend, Denzel Washington’s latest film, his adaptation of August Wilson’s Tony-winning play, will expand into theaters nationwide on Christmas Day, but this isn’t the type of movie that might appeal to his young male audience in the same way as The Equalizer or The Magnificent Seven. Nope. This is a serious drama based on a play that will probably be targeting older African-American audiences and probably women more than men.
Granted, a movie based on a play will not be of interest to general moviegoers so this one really is about Denzel and whether his fanbase wants to see him doing something more dramatic. His co-star, Viola Davis, has already won the Critics Choice award for Supporting Actress, and been nominated for Golden Globes and SAG awards, and she’s been earmarked to win the supporting category across the board including winning her first Oscar in February. The buzz that’s been building around the movie should add to the fanbases for Washington and Davis curious to see them in the movie, and frankly, it’s one of the few movies that might appeal to African-American audiences compared to the other fairly white bread offerings.
The movie quietly opened in four theaters in New York and L.A. last weekend where it scored $129,000, which isn’t great by any means and compared to other recent Oscar season fare, but it’s getting a much bigger push for its nationwide release and that will help, for sure.
Because Fences only opens wide on Sunday, it doesn’t get a full weekend so it will probably end up further down the Top 10 but should be good for $5 to 6 million in its opening day and probably $40 million or more depending on how well it fares with the upcoming awards season.
BOX OFFICE PREDICTIONS:
Trying to predict Christmas box office can be tough, especially when so many movies open in the days before Christmas where moviegoing is generally down as people are finishing up work and/or travelling, but then things should pick up on Friday and over the weekend as families get together and try to find movies together, which certainly will help last week’s Rogue One as it will help movies like Sing. We’ll have to see how the others fare with negative reviews stacked up against the Chris Pratt-Jennifer Lawrence space drama Passengers and the video game movie Assassins Creed. Denzel Washington’s Fences will only have Sunday in wide release, but it should do fairly well with so much awards buzz already building up for it. It’s important to note that the week that follows Christmas tends to be huge with so many people off work, but those crowds won’t help so much with this weekend.
(All the predictions below are for Friday through Sunday only.)
1. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (Lucasfilm/Disney) - $88 million -43%
2. Sing (Universal) - $37.3 million N/A
3. Passengers (Sony) - $24.5 million N/A
4. Assassin’s Creed (20th Century Fox) - $15.2 million N/A
5. Why Him? (20th Century Fox) - $11 million N/A
6. Moana (Disney) - $9 million -29%
7. Fences (Paramount) - $5.8 million +4400%
8. La La Land (Lionsgate) - $5.5 million +37%
8. Collateral Beauty (Warner Bros.) – $5.2 million -25%
9. Office Christmas Party (Paramount) - $4.7 million -45%
As expected, Star Wars: the Force Awakens dominated the box office for its second weekend with an astounding $149 million, beating the previous second weekend record (Jurassic World) by $43 million! In fact, that amount would put it ahead of all but 13 of the top opening weekends of all time, continuing a box office phenomenon that seemed unstoppable. Opening in second place was Mark Wahlberg and Will Ferrell’s Daddy’s Home, a high concept comedy that scored $38.7 million its opening weekend. Jennifer Lawrence hocked mops in the David O. Russell-directed Joy, which scored $17 million in 2,896 theaters to take third place. Returning movies Sisters and Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Road Chip took fourth and fifth place with minimal drop-offs while long-time Ferrell collaborator Adam McKay took on the world of high finance in The Big Short, which expanded nationwide to take sixth place with $10.5 million in 1,585 theaters. Will Smith didn’t have much luck playing a South African forensic doctor in Concussion, which opened with just $10.5 million, but that was better than the Point Break remake, which bombed with just $9.8 million for eighth place. Opening in just 100 theaters in a special 70mm roadshow edition, Quentin Tarantino’s latest Western The Hateful Eight, opened in tenth place with $4.6 million, an astounding $46,107 per theater. Either way, that was a pretty decent weekend, although Christmas Day also fell on Friday last year, which could have accounted for some of the bigger openings.
THIS WEEK’S PICKS:
Because there are so many limited releases this week--and many good movies in there to boot--we’ll do things a little different, as my top picks will be presented chronologically by their release date, starting with the movies coming out on Wednesday, December 20.
PATRIOTS DAY (CBS Films)
Cast: Mark Wahlberg, Michelle Monaghan, John Goodman, JK Simmons, Kevin Bacon, Melissa Benoist, Alex Wolff
Director: Peter Berg (Deepwater Horizon, Lone Survivor, The Kingdom and more)
Genre: Drama, Thriller
Plot: On April 15, 2013, two brothers detonated bombs at the finish line of the Boston Marathon, killing three people and injuring countless others and beginning a week-long manhunt that brought the FBI, Boston police and everyone of the city together.
Just three months after taking on the tragedy at the Deepwater Horizon, Mark Wahlberg and director Peter Berg take on an even bigger national tragedy, the week that shocked Boston in 2013 when the annual Boston Marathon was disrupted by two would-be terrorists who ignited two bombs at the finish line, killing three people. They tackle the subject with a similar level of authenticity as they did their last few movies, but in this case, it’s more of an ensemble piece than strictly a Mark Wahlberg movie with a prestigious cast that includes Oscar winner JK Simmons, Kevin Bacon, John Goodman and Michelle Monaghan, as well as a group of lesser known actors in key roles. Berg does a terrific job creating drama and tension leading up to the two explosions and then in following the investigation to find the two brothers responsible, and it always comes down to the filmmaker’s ability to create authenticity in every aspect of his storytelling. (The score by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross does a lot to help in creating the tension.) In this case, it feels a little too real, maybe because it’s closer to our day-to-day than Deepwater Horizon, but that just makes the movie even more effective.
Patriots Day will open on Wednesday in select cities including New York, L.A. and Boston, but will expand nationwide on January 13 and we’ll discuss its box office prospects in further detail in that week’s column.
LRM Interview with Michelle Monaghan (Coming in January)
THE AUTOPSY OF JANE DOE (IFC Midnight)
Cast: Brian Cox, Emile Hirsch, Olwen Kelly, Ophelia Lovebond, Michael McElhatton
Director: André Øvredal (Troll Hunter)
Genre: Horror, Thriller
Plot: Father and son morticians (Brian Cox, Emile Hirsch) are commissioned to perform an autopsy on the mysterious body of a woman found buried at a crime scene without any connection to the crimes committed there. As they get deeper into finding out what killed her, odd occurrences start to happen at their funeral home, which seem to point to their latest “client.”
The Norwegian filmmaker behind the cult hit Troll Hunter takes on a darker form of horror in a creepy and disturbing movie involving an autopsy on a body that seems to evoke all sorts of bad supernatural occurrences around it. The main reason this works so well is that Brian Cox and Emile Hirsch are so good as father and son pathologists to the point where you’ll want them to have a regular one-hour show where they perform autopsies. The movie delves into the supernatural pretty quickly and it just gets scarier and more intense as it goes along. It’s a little weird to release it so late in the year, but it’s probably better than the last few horror movies released.
It also opens on Wednesday in New York and L.A. and will also be available On Demand.
Cast: Andrew Garfield, Adam Driver, Liam Neeson, Issei Ogata, Ciaran Hinds, Tadanobu Asano, Yôsuke Kubozuka
Director: Martin Scorsese (Taxi Driver, Goodfellas, The Departed and many, many more)
Plot: Two Portugese Jesuit priests (Andrew Garfield, Adam Driver) are sent to Japan to retrieve an older priest (Liam Neeson) who is said to have abdicated under pressure. Once there, they find themselves persecuted and tortured by the Japanese inquisitors to get them to renounce their own Christian beliefs themselves.
The latest from Oscar-winning filmmaker Martin Scorsese is a very different film for him, but also a passion project he’s been trying to get made for nearly three decades. It’s a meditative film about faith that pays homage to the great Japanese filmmakers who has inspired Scorsese’s work over the years, and while it may not be Scorsese’s greatest film, it’s far from his worst, and some will probably appreciate his approach to telling a difficult story about faith trying to take root in Japan. Garfield is great in the lead role, but it’s some of the Japanese cast who really deliver some of the most memorable performances. Liam Neeson is also great but he literally appears for about 15 minutes of screen time. So this won’t be for everyone, but those who are constantly impressed by Scorsese’s work won’t be disappointed.
Silence opens on Friday in New York and L.A. and then will expand on January 6 and 13. We’ll have to see how wide this goes based on whether it gets Oscar nominations after that or not
Also this Friday, we get two of my favorite movies of the year!!!
A MONSTER CALLS (Focus Features)
Cast: Lewis MacDougall, Felicity Jones, Liam Neeson, Sigourney Weaver, Toby Kebbell.
Director: J.A. Bayona (The Impossible, The Orphanage)
Genre: Fantasy, Drama
Plot: Conor (Lewis MacDougall) is a young Irish lad whose mother (Felicity Jones) is suffering from cancer, while he’s also being bullied at school. One night, the giant tree outside a nearby church cemetery comes to life and tells Conor that he will tell him three stories, which he does.
A movie that I was really looking forward to and have actually seen three times this year is the third movie from Juan Bayona, a dark fantasy film that harks back to Guillermo del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth in the way it blends dark fantasy with even darker reality. Based on Patrick Ness’ novel, much of the film involves young Lewis MacDougal interacting with a giant tree creature voiced by Liam Neeson. Maybe it doesn’t sound that enticing but Bayona has proven himself to be a master storyteller, and that’s the case here with the way he allows Conor’s story to unfold. The tree tells Conor three stories, each illustrated by gorgeous animation, but just the way the CG monster is integrated with the real world makes it a much better version of Steven Spielberg’s disappointing The BFG. This is an incredibly moving film that probably will make a lot of people cry, but it’s also an amazing achievement in filmmaking from the director who is going onto direct the next Jurassic World movie.
It’s opening in select cities on Friday the 23rd and then go nationwide on January 6.
I, DANIEL BLAKE (Sundance Selects)
Cast: Dave Johns, Hayley Squires
Director: Ken Loach (The Wind That Shakes the Barley, The Angel’s Share, Sweet Sixteen, Jimmy’s Hall)
Plot: Daniel Blake (Dave Johns) is a handyman and carpenter who hasn’t been able to work after suffering a heart attack on the job, but his attempts to get government compensation to help him survive is hindered by bureaucratic red tape and his inability to use a computer. He eventually meets single mother Katie (Hayley Squires) who is having similar problems while trying to raise two kids on her own.
I’ve been a fan of 80-year-old British filmmaker Ken Loach for quite some time and while not all his movies work, he has found a particularly relevant topic this time with the struggles of one Daniel Blake, a working class man who has been waylaid by a heart attack, but can’t get the proper benefits from the government since he’s dealing with the bureaucratic runaround that makes it impossible to recover. It’s when he meets a single mother in a similar situation, trying to care for and feed her kids, where the film really finds its warm and wonderful trajectory to showing how people can help each other. I, Daniel Blake does get dark but up until that point, it’s such a joyful and pleasant experience, and watching Daniel fight back against the people who would rather oppress him than do their job and help him makes this film one of the more inspiring ones I’ve seen this year. Like I said before, this is one of my favorite movies of the year by far.
I, Daniel Blake opens on Friday in New York (at the IFC Center) and L.A. and hopefully will get to other cities.
Opening on Christmas Day in select cities are two great movies about women...
HIDDEN FIGURES (20th Century Fox)
Cast: Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, Janelle Monae, Kevin Costner, Kirsten Dunst, Jim Parsons, Mahershala Ali, Glenn Powell
Director: Theodore Melfi (St. Vincent)
Genre: Drama, Comedy
Plot: In the early ‘60s, three women—Katherine Johnson (Taraji P. Henson), Mary Jackson (Janelle Monae) and Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer)—are working at Langley in the colored computer department, helping to solve complex math equations to help launch the first astronaut into space, but they’re dealing with all sorts of hurdles holding them back from succeeding.
One of the nicer surprises during this awards season is this joyful look at three amazing women who worked at NASA in the ‘60s and helped break boundaries during the early days of the Civil Rights movement. I’m not sure why I was so surprised by it, maybe because I wasn’t that big a fan of Ted Melfi’s debut St. Vincent, but he did a good job juggling the three women’s stories in a way that’s light and entertaining, making this film a real pressure to watch with an audience, since it’s certainly a crowd-pleasing film. Melfi has co-written a great screenplay but more importantly, he has an impressive ensemble cast who work so well together with stand-out performances coming from Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer and Kevin Costner.
After opening on Christmas Day, it will expand nationwide on Friday, January 6. (And I’ll write more about it in the first Weekend Warrior of 2017.)
LRM Interview with Theodore Melfi (Coming Soon!)
Also opening on Christmas Day is this fantastic new movie from Mike Mills (Beginners)...
20TH CENTURY WOMEN (A24)
Cast: Lucas Jade Zumann, Annette Bening, Elle Fanning, Greta Gerwig, Billy Crudup
Director: Mike Mills (Beginners, Thumbsucker)
Genre: Comedy, Drama, Period
Plot: In the late ‘70s, 15-year-old Jamie (Lucas Jade Zumann) is trying to cope with the changing times, so his mother (Bening) convinces his best friend Julie (Elle Fanning) and a couple boarders (Greta Gerwig, Billy Crudup) to help teach Jamie how to become a man.
I’ve been a fan of Mike Mills’ previous films but this one really connected with me, maybe because his 15-year-old protagonist (basically representing himself) is basically that age around the same time I was, so I could really relate to everything he was going through, especially the music that Mills uses for the soundtrack, including the Talking Heads. It’s a really interesting character piece, but he once again gets great performances out of his cast, especially the always great Annette Bening, but Greta Gerwig and Elle Fanning give two of the best performance I’ve seen from them, and a lot has to do with the relatability of the material and characters.
LRM Interview with Mike Mills (Coming Soon!)
Then last but not least, on Wednesday, December 28, we finally get a new movie from Jim Jarmusch!
PATERSON (Amazon Studios)
Cast: Adam Driver, Golshifteh Farahani, Rizwan Manji
Director: Jim Jarmusch (Down by Law, Broken Flowers, Night on Earth, Only Lovers Left Alive and many more)
Genre: Comedy, Drama
Plot: Paterson (Adam Driver) is a bus driver in Paterson, New Jersey, who likes to write poetry during his off-hours. He lives with his wife Laura (Golshifteh Farahani) and their bulldog Marvin.
This new movie from New York auteur Jim Jarmusch is possibly his most accessible film, maybe since Broken Flowers with Bill Murray, as we discover that actor Adam Driver (who also appears in Martin Scorsese’s Silence this week) is the perfect actor to channel Jarmusch’s distinctive tone of delivery and sense of humor. The movie has been playing the film festival circuit since premiering at Cannes this year, and it’s finally getting a theatrical release, and we’ll have to see how wide it ends up going, because as you can see above, there’s a lot of competition for screens. But if you enjoy Jarmusch’s better films over the past few decades, then this is a fun movie about a normal guy dealing with normal day-to-day things and being encountered by odd characters around him. It’s quite funny and entertaining, for sure.
Paterson will open in limited release on Wednesday, December 28.
OTHER LIMITED RELEASES:
As if all the movies above weren’t enough, we also get two highly acclaimed foreign films, a new potential Bollywood hit, a vintage Studio Ghibli animated film and the latest movie from an Oscar winning director, Ben Affleck, which clearly didn’t make the grade compared to the movies above.
Opening on Wednesday in select cities is Dangal (UTV), the new movie from Aamir Khan, director of the Bollywood hits P.K., 3 Idiots and Dhoom 3. Dangal means “wrestling” and the film revolves around the life of Mahavir Singh, an ex-wrestler who has to give up his dreams for wrestling for India due to lack of financial support. Instead, he ends up settling down and has a family only to discover that his two teenage girls have the same talents as him, so he starts training them to be world-class wrestlers.
Also opening on Wednesday in New York and L.A. is Pedro Almodovar’s latest film Julieta (Sony Pictures Classics), starring two beautiful Spanish actresses, Emma Suarez and Adriana Ugarte, as the older and younger title character in a story that spans two decades. Based on three short stories from Alice Munro’s Runaway, the film deals with Julieta as a mother whose 18-year-old daughter has run off and earlier in her own life, when she has a dalliance with a man on a train and begins a relationship with a fisherman, two men who depart from her life before she can properly say goodbye. Like some of Almodovar’s best work, Julieta involves complex storytelling with fantastic performances by his two main actors to create this amazing woman and her story. (I guess I just didn’t feel as strongly about it as some of the other movies above.)
Opening Christmas Day in New York and L.A. is Maren Ade’s German film Toni Erdmann (Sony Pictures Classics), which has already been nominated for a Golden Globe and short-listed at the Oscars as Germany’s Foreign Language offering. It stars Peter Simonischek as a father, who has spent years making practical jokes that embarrass his daughter Ines (Sandra Hüller), but as she tries to deal with closing a big deal at her company, he wants to try to reconnect with her in the only way he knows how…by showing up in outlandish costumes as a character he has named Toni Erdmann.
Ben Affleck’s Prohibition-era crime thriller Live by Night (Warner Bros.), based on Denis Lehane’s novel, will also open in select cities on Christmas Day. In it, he plays Joe Coughlan, an Irish gangster from Boston who travels down to Florida to get involved in the rum smuggling business and try to open a casino. Also starring Sienna Miller, Chris Messina, Zoe Saldana and more, it’s Affleck’s attempt at a gangster flick and it doesn’t really work as well as some of his other films. It will get a limited release on Christmas Day and then expand nationwide on January 13.
Opening next Wednesday, December 28, is the previously unreleased 1993 Studio Ghibli television film Ocean Waves (GKIDS) directed by Tomomi Mochizuki based on the novel by Saeko Himuro, a story about two friends, Taku and Yutaka, whose friendship is put to the test by the arrival of a female transfer student, Rikako, and how that changes their relationship. It opens at the IFC Center in New York and probably a couple other theaters, and sadly, I didn’t have a chance to see it before writing this week’s column, because going by previous Studio Ghibli films, it might have been one of my Top Picks if I had.
That’s it for this week and this year, but join us again soon right here on LRM Online for the Weekend Warrior’s Top 25 and Terrible 10 of 2016! And we’ll back the first week of 2017 for the regular weekly column!
(Text copyright Edward Douglas 2016. The Weekend Warrior logo designed by and copyright Tim Nardelli 2016.)