The Weekend Warrior 12/9/16: Office Christmas Party, Miss Sloane, La La Land

– by Edward Douglas
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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:

A new horror movie called Incarnate, starring Aaron Eckhart, was released by BH Tilt through High Top Releasing, and it did so SO well that clearly, it was the #1 movie of the weekend. No? #2? Keep going…  I’ll save you some time, here. Incarnate bombed, barely getting into the Top 10 but just squeaking a ninth place opening with just $2.5 million in 1,737 theaters, which is about a million less than my prediction. Moana won the weekend again with $28.3 million (down 50%) while second place was held again by Fantastic Beasts with a 60% drop. A fourth week expansion by Arrival helped it cross the $70 million mark, and with awards and word-of-mouth, it could end up with over $100 million.  


For the second weekend in a row, we only have one new movie in wide release, and it might not seem very strong considering to what is coming out next week, but after a couple weeks of rest, hard-working Americans may be ready to laugh again. If not, they’ll also have Jessica Chastain’s Miss Sloane expanding nationwide, but who knows if anyone even realizes that movie is in theaters.

OFFICE CHRISTMAS PARTY (Paramount)

Cast: Jennifer Aniston, Jason Bateman, T.J. Miller, Vanessa Bayer, Jillian Bell, Jamie Chung, Rob Corddry, Abbey Lee, Kate McKinnon, Olivia Munn, Karan Soni, Courtney B. Vance, Matt Walsh
Directors: Josh Gordon and Will Speck (The Switch, Blades of Glory)
Genre:  Comedy, Holiday
Rated R
Plot:
When his older sister Carol (Jennifer Aniston) is made interim CEO of the company where he works and threatens to close his branch down, hard-partying Clay (T.J. Miller), president of the branch, plans with his employees Josh (Jason Bateman) and Tracey (Olivia Munn) to thrown an epic office Christmas party that will help them win over a important client (Courtney B. Vance) that can save their branch and jobs.
Theater Count (est.): 2,800

There are two things you can rely on over the holidays and one of them is “the obligatory holiday comedy.” Sure, we’ve already gotten Almost Christmas and Bad Santa 2 last month, but there’s still room for a more irreverent R-rated comedy that makes fun of one of the most venerable holiday traditions… the (insert title of the movie here).  You know what? You can do worse than come up with a title for a movie and then base a comedy around it—just look at Bridesmaids or Horrible Bosses or any of the holiday comedies with Christmas in their title released during November and December.

This one promises the type of R-rated shenanigans we haven’t seen since Tom Hanks’ Bachelor Party, but with a strong ensemble cast of actors and comics from all different avenues of comedy there to help get laughs from what is clearly a high concept comedy.

More important than anything else is that it’s the new movie from Jennifer Aniston, who has starred in quite a few hit comedies since the end of her popular show “Friends” in 2004. Before the show ended, she starred with Jim Carrey in his mega-comedy Bruce Almighty, which grossed $242 million, before being paired with Ben Stiller (Along Came Polly) and Vince Vaughn (The Break-Up).  More recently, she starred with Adam Sandler for one of his last big comedies, Just Go With It, before appearing in 2011’s Horrible Bosses and 2013’s We’re the Miller, which both grossed over $100 million. When you look at how the careers of Carrey, Vaughn, Sandler and Stiller have pretty much tanked in recent years, it’s clear that Aniston’s presence did a lot to bring in her female fans.  She’s once again playing a “Horrible Boss” and let’s also not forget that one of Aniston’s earliest movies was the comedy classic Office Space! Earlier this year, Aniston starred in Mother’s Day, and honestly, I’m sure she would like to forget about that as much as we do.

Office Christmas Party will also be the fifth movie in which Aniston appears with Jason Bateman, the two of them first appearing in Aniston’s hit comedy The Break-Up ten years ago, before reteaming for The Switch and another hit, Horrible Bosses, and its sequel. As it were, the film is directed by The Switch directors Josh Gordon and Will Speck, who already have experience working with the duo. For some reason, it's being made to look more like an Aniston movie, although she plays more of a supporting role to Bateman.

More than that, the movie is being used as a vehicle for T.J. Miller, who has been killing it on HBO’s Silicon Valley the last couple years and who is probably due for a breakout comedy after playing a supporting role in this year’s breakout superhero comedy, Deadpool, in which he held his own against Ryan Reynolds.  Before that, Miller provided his voice in DreamWorks Animations’ How to Train Your Dragon movies and shows and even appeared in Michael Bay’s Transformers: Age of Extinction, so it’s no wonder he’s getting as much attention as Aniston.

The cast is rounded out by Olivia Munn, Saturday Night Livers Vanessa Bayer and Kate McKinnon (one of the year’s breakout comedy stars from Ghostbusters), former Upright Citizens Brigade co-stars Matt Walsh and Rob Corddry, funnywoman Jillian Bell (22 Jump Street), hotties Jamie Chung and Abbey Lee, and Courtney B. Vance from The People vs. OJ Simpson. Other than Aniston, TJ Miller and maybe Bateman, though, none of them will sell the movie on their own but they’ll all bring something to the mix to sell the outrageous comedy.

Written by Lee Eisenberg and Gene Stupnitsky, best known for their stint writing and directing the hit show The Office (another coincidence? I think not!), the movie has the same possibility Horrible Bosses to get people into theaters based on the title and premise alone. With very few non-animated comedies really doing well in theaters, it actually has a chance at filling a niche that just isn’t out there right now. (And unlike last year’s The Night Before, they were smart enough to put “CHRISTMAS” right there in the title.)

With Christmas and the holidays in general on everyone’s mind, it seems like a good movie to go see with office co-workers and on the weekend while holiday shopping, so I wouldn’t be surprised at all if it defies the usual pre-Christmas blahs that sometimes hits the box office.  (Not to mention not being a sequel which might have a stronger than appeal than some might realize.)

I think that a $25 million minimum is in the works for this comedy over its opening weekend with a possibility even of $30 million if not for everyone hunkering down to finish work before the holidays… let alone next week’s Rogue One!


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, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, The Debt, Proof, Mrs. Brown 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.
Theater Count (est.): 1,600

The first movie of the month to expand nationwide after its limited release is this political drama starring multiple Oscar nominee Jessica Chastain in a film that really showcases her talents as an actor, while also trying to tap into the political conversations going on around the country over the last few years.  Written by first-time screenwriter Jonathan Perrera, it looks into the enigmatic world of government lobbying and how they convince politicians to vote on bills in the way their clients want them to vote. In this case, it specifically deals with gun lobbying, which has been a huge issue as of late.

If your eyes have already glazed over and you’ve clicked away to something else (or at least scrolled down to learn why La La Land is my #1 movie of the year), then Miss Sloane is not for you, and with the current political climate in the country, there’s a chance it might not be for anyone, because let’s face it, we’re ALL politicked out at this point. That being said, here’s a political movie that’s framed within the context of a political thriller, and it reunites Jessica Chastain with director John Madden, who cast her in his earlier political thriller The Debt (written by Kingsman and Hitman’s Matthew Vaughn and Jane Goldman).

The question is whether in those six years since their previous movie, Chastain has managed to turn herself into a viable box office star that gets people into movie theaters. One of her earlier films and first for which she was nominated for an Oscar was The Help, which did very well, and since then, she starred in two movies that have grossed over $200 million domestically (Madagascar 3 and last year’s The Martian) and one that came close (Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar). Granted, one was an animated sequel and two were sci-fi films by two hugely popular fan favorite directors

Besides Chastain, Madden has put together a fairly impressive cast of stage and screen actors, including Mark Strong, John Lithgow, Michael Stuhlbarg and Sam Waterston, as well as up and comer Gugu Mbatha- Raw.  It’s not likely they’ll have that big an impact on the movie’s opening, although having such an illustrious cast does raise the caliber of the film among older moviegoers that might be interested in this.

Miss Sloane opened over Thanksgiving weekend in three theaters where it grossed $59,000, which isn’t a lot and certainly isn’t enough to warrant a wide release, but that’s not stopping EuropaCorp, who hasn’t done particularly well with their previous releases, the family comedy Nine Lives ($19 million gross) and the horror film Shut In, which bombed with just $6.7 million. They’re putting this in 1,600 theaters this weekend, but it seems like business will be spread fairly thinly, so it might not have much of an impact.

Despite fairly good reviews, the lack of awards attention or nominations so far, as well as burnout on politics in general, might end up hurting Miss Sloane more than helping it, although at least it doesn’t have to worry about all the competition for older moviegoers in the weeks to come. It can get its biggest weekend out of the way and then quickly slip out of the Top 10.


BOX OFFICE PREDICTIONS:

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

Update 12.8.16: Since writing the column, Focus Features decided to expand Tom Ford's thriller Nocturnal Animals, starring Amy Adams, Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Shannon nationwide into over 1,200 theaters and considering that it's been doing decently in limited release, there's a good chance, it will fare better than Miss Sloane as they both expand nationwide.

1. Office Christmas Party (Paramount)- $25.6 million N/A

2. Moana (Disney) - $19.5 million -32%

3. Fantastic Beasts and How to Find Them (Warner Bros.) - $10.2 million -45%

4. Arrival (Paramount) - $4.5 million -37%

5. Allied (Paramount)  - $4.2 million -42%

6. Doctor Strange (Marvel/DC) - $3.5 million -48%

7. Trolls (DreamWorks Animation/Fox) - $3 million -40%

8. Nocturnal Animals (Focus Features) - $2.3 million +328% (new entry)

9. Hacksaw Ridge (Summit/Lionsgate) - $2.2 million -35%

10. Miss Sloane (EuropaCorp) - $2.2 million +500% (down .1 million and two slots)

LAST YEAR:

Things weren’t that great in the weeks leading up to Star Wars: The Force Awakens as there was only one new movie, Ron Howard’s In the Heart of the Sea, starring Chris Hemsworth, and it wasn’t even able to beat The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2, which took its fourth week at #1 with just $11.4 million. That’s right. Howard’s $100 million Moby Dick movie made less than that its opening weekend and ended up making just over $25 million overall. Fortunately, Howard had already been filming the next Dan Brown movie Inferno and we just KNOW that is going to be HUGE! 


THIS WEEK’S PICKS:

Before I get to this week’s Top Pick and in fact, a movie that is my #1 favorite movie of the year, I gotta talk about my favorite local theater the Metrograph and their upcoming series “Maggie Cheung: Center Stage,” which starts on Thursday. I’ve been a fan of the Chinese actress since I first saw her in Olivier Assayas’ Irma Vep (without realizing at the time that they were together) and I later got into the work of Wong Kar Wai with whom she’s made several movies including the glorious

The series will kick off Thursday with the film Center Stage, which I only saw for the first time recently. Stanley Kwan’s 1991 drama features Maggie Cheung portraying Ruan Lingyu, a popular actress from the early 20th Century who committed suicide after her privacy was destroyed by the Chinese tabloids, something that’s still going on in China to this day.

(While you’re down in the Lower East Side, you might as well check out the Metrograph’s Apparatus Films programmes, which features some of the early work of Chrsitine Vachon, Todd Haynes and Barry Elsworth in brand-new 4K restorations.) 

But now let’s get to the big pick of the weekend, which is….

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La La Land (Lionsgate)

Cast: Emma Stone, Ryan Gosling, John Legend, Rosemarie De Witt, JK Simmons
Director: Damien Chazelle (Whiplash)
Genre:  Romance, Musical, Comedy, Drama
Rated R
Plot:
In Los Angeles, an aspiring actress named Mia (Emma Stone) and a jazz pianist named Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) meet awkwardly and fall in love despite the pressures on their relationship from them trying to succeed a their careers.

I can’t tell you how long I’ve been waiting to talk about this amazing movie from Whiplash writer/director Damien Chazelle, but that’s because La La Land is easily the best movie I’ve seen this year, and like Whiplash, it’s damn near perfect! I know that you’re probably thinking this is more of the critical hype that surrounds awards movies around this time of year, but I’ve now seen the movie three times and I’m still absolutely amazed by what Chazelle achieved.

First of all, this is a musical, one that harks back to the MGM and Busby Berkeley musicals of old, but that’s only part of why I like it. There have been plenty of good and great musicals over the years, but Chazelle uses that format to explore a couple big things: 1.) The genesis and evolution of a romantic relationship, and 2.) Trying to make it in two avenues of the entertainment business, as a musician and an actor. More importantly, it deals with these things in the context of modern-day Los Angeles, which to some is this glamorous place known as “Hollywood,” but to me is a place I’ve gone to work a couple times but not a place where I like to spend very much time. (For various reason, I won’t get into.)

In some ways, La La Land is funnier in the way Chazelle spoofs and satirizes what living in L.A. must feel like to outsiders, where it’s all about image and succeeding, but it does it through the perspective of two actors who have proven how great they are together in two previous films: Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling.  Although this is a much better vehicle for them both than both Crazy, Stupid, Love and Gangster Squad.  Besides showing off their chops for comedy, drama, singing and dancing, it’s equally impressed to see how Gosling trained to become so masterful at playing jazz piano, which is not something that’s easy to fake.  Really, it’s Emma Stone’s performance that really got me, especially during the number “Audition” where she basically opines about what that process is like, trying to turn yourself into an ideal for others. It’s something we all go through in our day-to-day but it’s also part of life and maybe even moreso in the context of “Hollywood.”

How Chazelle has been able to capture this feeling through Stone’s performance is much of why I think she’s in the lead in the Lead Actress category at next year’s Oscar, even over the always fantastic Natalie Portman (for Jackie) and Amy Adams, who I loved in both Arrival and Nocturnal Animals. What Stone does with the character of Mia is really next level stuff, similar to Michael Keaton in Birdman, and I think her fellow actors will realize how tough it was for her to expose herself in such a way.

And then on top of all that, you have these fantastic and memorable songs, an amazing score by Chazelle’s frequent collaborator, Justin Hurwitz (who wrote those big band tunes for Whiplash), and equally fantastic work by Chazelle’s production designer and cinematographer at making a movie that flows so smoothly from beginning to end. It’s guaranteed to be a movie you’ll want to see more than once.  

La La Land will open in select cities (New York and L.A., for sure) on Friday and then will expand on December 16 and then go wide on January 6… but it should continue to get much-deserved awards attention between now and then. 

LRM Interview with Damien Chazelle


OTHER LIMITED RELEASES:

While the above is one of the best movies of the year, we also get a slew of straight to VOD movies coming out this weekend, most of which are “okay” at best…

Saw director Darren Lynn Bousman returns with Abbatoir (Momentum Pictures), a thriller starring Jessica Lowndes (90210) as an investigative reporter whose family is brutally murdered. When the room in which they’re killed is physically removed from the house, she and her ex-boyfriend detective (Joe Anderson) begin a quest to find the mysterious man buying the houses, taking them to a town where that man has built a house built out of the missing murder rooms. It opens in select cities, VOD and Digital HD Friday.

LRM Interview with Darren Lynn Bousman 

Cult horror icon Barbara Crampton (Re-Animator) stars in and co-produced Beyond the Gates (IFC Midnight), a retro-thriller taking place in the ‘80s as two brothers (Graham Skipper, Chase Williamson), whose father disappeared mysteriously, and they go through his old VHS rental store where they find a VHS board game their father played before disappearing. They end up in an alternate reality run by a sinister hostess (Crampton). It will open in New York, L.A. and On Demand like much of IFC Midnight’s other films.

Katie Holmes makes her directorial debut as well as starring in All We Had (Gravitas Ventures) with Steania Owen playing 15-year-old Ruthie Carmichael, who goes on the run with her mother Rita (Holmes), trying to escape the latter’s boyfriend, and living in a car until they end up in a small town where they build a new family with the staff of a diner where Rita works. Select theaters and VOD for this one.

Another film that premiered at this year's Tribeca Film Festival, Ian Olds’ narrative feature debut Burn Country (Samuel Goldwyn/Orion) reteams him with James Franco, with whom he made the fake doc Francophrenia a few years back.  In it, Dominic Rains (A Girl Walks Home Alone at Midnight) plays Osman, a fixer for Western journalists in Afghanistan comes to Northern California to work as a crime reporter for a local paper. He crashes his friend’s mother’s (Melissa Leo) place and makes friends with a hot tub craftsman (Franco) and a local actress (Rachel Brosnahan), but when the former goes missing, Osman gets dragged into the small town’s backwoods history. It will open in select cities.

 

Michael Shannon and Imogen Poots star in Matthew Ross’ thriller Frank and Lola (Paladin) in which Shannon plays Frank, an upcoming Chef who falls for a fashion designer (Poots), a romance that is short-lived when a man from her past shows up and pushes Frank to jealousy and self-destruction. Fun stuff. Following its premiere at Sundance, it will open in select cities and will be available On Demand and on Digital HD.

Jason Momoa and Cary Elwes star in Richard Gray’s Sugar Mountain (Screen Media) about a man (Drew Roy), his girlfriend and brother, who fake a disappearance in the Alaskan wilderness to avoid paying their debt to a local thug (Momoa), while the local sheriff (Elwes) looks into their disappearances. It will open in select cities.

The next two offerings are opening at New York’s IFC Center on Friday…

Belgian filmmaker Jaco Van Dormael’s The Brand New Testament (Music Box Films) is a dark comedy in which God is alive and living in Brussels with his wife and daughter Ea, who wants to follow her brother JC by escaping from her abusive mean-spirited father, gathering six apostles to counter her father’s.

Legendary photographer Harry Benson, who covered the Beatles’ original 1964 tour of America, is paid tribute in Justin Bare and Matthew Miele’s documentary Harry Benson: Shoot First (Magnolia), which covers the career of the now-86-year-old photographer, as he talks about his iconic photos of Churchill, Muhammad Ali, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and more. It will be available on Amazon, iTunes, On Demand and in a couple theaters in New York, Washington and Santa Monica Friday.

Steven Seagle’s new action-thriller Contract to Kill (Lionsgate Premiere), written and directed by Keoni Waxman (who has directed Seagle in a number of movies now), has him playing a CIA/DEA enforcer who flies to Istanbul to look into Islamic extremists who are using Mexican drug-smuggling routes to bring weapons into the United States.

Speaking of “straight to streaming,” Legendary Pictures’ long-delayed supernatural action flick Spectral (Netflix) is finally seeing the light of day, streaming on Netflix starting Friday. I haven’t seen it yet, but it can’t be great if it didn’t even get a nominal theatrical release.

A couple other movies are getting one-week Oscar consideration runs this weekend, as well, including Michael Keaton's The Founder (The Weinstein Company) and the doc I Am Not Your Negro (Magnolia) but we’ll discuss those further in the New Year when they get their official theatrical releases.

That’s it for this week, but join us again next Wednesday right here on LRM Online for a look at new movies including something called “Rogue One,” some kind of story about wars in the stars. Sounds pretty crazy to me. Also, Will Smith and a bunch of Oscar winners (and nominees) group up for the ensemble dramedy Collateral Beauty (Warner Bros.) in case you prefer to stay a little more grounded.

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

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