The Weekend Warrior 1/6/17: Underworld: Blood Wars, Hidden Figures, A Monster Calls

– by Edward Douglas

Welcome back to the first Weekend Warrior of 2017, your weekly look at the new movies hitting theaters this weekend, as well as other cool events and things to check out (when applicable). 

We’ll bypass the past couple holiday weekends cause that was so 2016, and we’ll instead get right into the new movies opening on Friday including two that opened in select cities and are expanding nationwide.

UNDERWORLD: BLOOD WARS (Sony/Screen Gems)

Cast: Kate Beckinsale, Theo James, Tobias Menzies, Lara Pulver, Charles Dance, James Faulkner, Peter Andersson, Clementine Nicholson, Bradley James, Daisy Head
Director: Anna Foerster  (debut feature from director of TV shows Outlander & Criminal Minds)
Genre: Action, Horror, Thriller
Rated R
Plot:
The vampire death dealer Selene (Kate Beckinsale) finds herself facing both Lycans and vampires, both of them trying to use the blood of her daughter to create new hybrids, so she and David (Theo James) and his father Thomas (Charles Dance) seek out an ancient vampire race up north to help them defend Selene’s daughter.
Theater Count (est.): 2,300+         

The first new wide release of the year is the fifth film in an action-horror franchise originated by director Len Wiseman, along with screenwriter Danny McBride and actor Kevin Grievioux way back in 2003. Back then, very few people knew who Kate Beckinsale was, even though she had appeared in Michael Bay’s Pearl Harbor and in the romantic comedy Serendipity with John Cusack. Others already loved her from Whit Stillman’s indie The Last Days of Disco.  The first Underworld opened with a decent $21.7 million in September on its way to $51.9 million domestic and another $43 million overseas. It led to a 2006 sequel, Underworld: Evolution, which did even better, although they decided to make a prequel without Beckinsale a few years later that didn’t fare nearly as well.

The original Underworld benefitted greatly from jumping on the whole vampire/werewolf thing long before Twilight, and mixed those elements with high-speed action that could appeal to the growing video game generation. It’s now been five years since Beckinsale returned to play her popular character Selene in Underworld: Awakening, but she hasn’t been that active otherwise, having only appeared in her former husband Len Wiseman’s Total Recall remake and reteamed with Whitman for the Jane Austen film Love & Friendship, which received great reviews and critical support for Beckinsale’s performance.  

In the last year or so, Beckinsale and Wiseman split up as a couple, so directing the new movie is first timer Anna Foerster, who has acted as 2nd unit and DP for Roland Emmerich as well as directing television, although that probably won’t make much of a difference since Wiseman hasn’t directed one of these movies since Evolution.

A good thing going for Blood Wars is that the previous installment, Underworld: Awakening, scored an A- CinemaScore, which is higher than the B+ the other movies in the franchise received. It was also the highest grossing in the franchise but by only a couple thousand dollars over Evolution, and clearly fans of the series are happier when Kate Beckinsale is reprising her role, since the Beckinsale-less prequel fared the worst of the three movies.

Screen Gems has launched a really strong marketing campaign for this one that included exciting commercials that have been all over the airwaves, and there’s no denying that the franchise has discovered a lot of fans in secondary markets like Blu-ray and cable which just means its fanbase has grown. Even so, one wonders whether last year’s horrible “sequelitis” will continue into 2017, especially since it’s been five years since the last Underworld movie, which opened with $25 million on its way to $62.3 million domestic. We also have to wonder whether opening in the first weekend of the year will help or hurt the movie, since we’ve seen genre films do very well but it’s also a tough week to get people into theaters after the holidays. The Devil Inside and Taken 3 are just two of the movies that did big business in the opening week of January (as well as The Revenant last year) and even Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones’ $18 million opening isn’t bad considering how much it cost to make.

Screen Gems likely won’t screen this in advance for critics, maybe because the reviews so far for the movie when it opened early internationally are very, very bad.  At this point, it’s not even definite that they’ll have Thursday night previews for the movie—just in case film critics try to pay to see the movie to have a review for the “Friday editions.” These would both be very bad signs.

They’re also opening this installment in less theaters than previous installments, so Blood Wars is going to have it tough going up against Rogue One even in its fourth weekend where it’s very likely to be #1 again. Even so, it should still be good for an opening in the high teen millions.


HIDDEN FIGURES (20th Century Fox)

Cast: Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, Janelle Monae, Kevin Costner, Jim Parsons, Kirsten Dunst, Mahershala Ali, Glenn Powell
Director: Theodore Melfi (St. Vincent)
Genre: 
Drama, History
Rated PG
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.
Theater Count (est.): 2,300 

Offering counter-programming to the movie expected to bring in mostly young men and women between 17 and 25 is this acclaimed biodrama about three amazing women who worked at NASA during the Space Race of the ‘60s. Fox has been promoting the film since the Toronto Film Festival, where they did a huge presentation of footage and outdoor party, to get members of the press, particularly the Critics Choice voters on board.

Critics certainly have loved the movie so far, going by the RottenTomatoes reviews and there’s a lot of things going for the movie, especially the cast put together by director Theodore Melfi, who had a decent sized hit two years ago with Bill Murray’s St. Vincent, which grossed $44 million.

First up, there’s Taraji P. Henson, who has been finding many new fans from her role as “Cookie” on Fox’s Empire, but already has an Oscar nomination under her belt for David Fincher’s The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. She’s joined by Octavia Spencer, who continues to be a popular actor with all her roles, but especially the one in Tate Taylor’s The Help back in 2011, for which she won an Oscar. Singer Janelle Monae has already conquered the music world with her high-energy stage shows, but this year she’s been branching out as an actor, both in Barry Jenkin’s Moonlight and for Hidden Figures, both which received prestigious Ensemble Cast nominations from the Screen Actors guild. As it happens, actor Mahershala Ali also appears in both those movies, and he’s actually earmarked not only to get an Oscar nomination for Moonlight but he’s thought to be the frontrunner to win. That should be enough to interest audiences, but Melfi also got Kevin Costner to play a pivotal role, which could possibly bring in his older fans, and it’s rounded out by actress Kirsten Dunst and Jim Parsons from The Big Bang Theory.

Spencer’s film The Help is actually a great example of how having a strong cast can help a movie do big business. The Help opened in August 2011, going on to make $169.7 million, and get four Oscar nominations, including one for Spencer (who won the Oscar that year).

Hidden Figures has already received some award accolades, including a Golden Globe nomination for Spencer, as well as a SAG nomination and one for the ensemble as a whole. Unfortunately, we won’t know if the movie will get Oscar nominations until they’re announced on January 24, but it should fare well up until then, not just this weekend but also over the Martin Luther King Jr. weekend where pioneers in Civil Rights are honored. It doesn’t hurt that it’s already grossed over $2.5 million in just 25 theaters since opening on Christmas Day.

With that in mind, expect a decent showing this weekend, possibly falling just behind Underworld, and as it continues to bring in audiences from positive word-of-mouth, we could see it making $65 million or more before the month’s end.

The LRM Interview with Director Theodore Melfi

A MONSTER CALLS (Focus Features)

Cast: Lewis MacDougall, Felicity Jones, Liam Neeson, Sigourney Weaver, Toby Kebbell.
Director: Juan Bayona (The Orphanage, The Impossible, upcoming Jurassic World 2)
Genre: Fantasy, Drama
Rated PG-13
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.
Theater Count (est.): 1,500

A Monster Calls is going to be a hard movie to gauge in terms of box office potential because a.) I love the movie and it ended up in my Top 10 this year AND b.) The film’s marketing includes a quote from yours truly, so I’ll feel especially bad if no one goes to see the movie even though I recommended it. That be as it may, Focus Features will be expanding this dark fantasy film moderately wide on Friday hoping that the lack of direct competition for the more cultured cinephiles out there will allow it to find an audience.

If you haven’t read what I’ve previously written about the film (or the plot above), it’s about a young boy whose mother is dying of cancer while he’s dealing with bullies at school. He finds solace in the stories told to him by a giant walking tree, voiced by Liam Neeson and created using CG similar to what Steven Spielberg did with The BFG last year. It’s the third film from Spanish filmmaker J.A. Bayona, who was introduced to our country through his horror film The Orphanage, then followed that with the Thailand typhoon film The Impossible, which got Naomi Watts nominated for her second Oscar. Earlier this year, Bayona was earmarked to direct the sequel to the mega-blockbuster Jurassic World, which should get the film more interest.

Similarly, while the film mainly focuses on Lewis MacDougall and Neeson’s voice role, Conor’s mother is played by Felicity Jones, who is kinda hot right now thanks to Rogue One. Her role in this film is being played down and she hasn’t done as much press for the movie as she has Rogue One, and this follows her teaming with Tom Hanks in Ron Howard’s latest Dan Brown thriller, Inferno, which by all accounts was a disastrous bomb.

Just like Bayona’s last two movies, A Monster Call has been well reviewed with 90% Fresh on RottenTomatoes since premiering at the Toronto Film Festival in September. And yet, sadly, this is still the underdog this weekend because it might not be strong enough to get younger moviegoers away from Underworld, while Hidden Figures has the older female audience fairly sewn up. It probably will end up near the bottom of the Top 10 unfortunately.

THE LRM Interview with Juan Bayona


Underworld: Blood Wars (Screen Gems) - $17.4 million N/ABOX OFFICE PREDICTIONS:

At any other time, this might have been a close battle between Rogue One and Underworld: Blood Wars, but it seems likely that 2016’s ennui about sequels will continue unabated as Underworld wins Friday, but then falls behind the latest Star Wars and even the animated Sing for the weekend.  Hidden Figures should end up somewhere behind them, while Juan Bayona’s dark fantasy is probably going to end up near the bottom of the Top 10 unless it gets bumped altogether by Assassin's Creed. Also, La La Land is supposed to continue to expand this weekend, probably into 1,500 or more theaters, so it could move up a couple notches, as well. 

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

Updated 1.5.17: Despite the success of previous Underworld movies, there just doesn't seem to be nearly as buzz for this new one, aeven though  it's still opening in more than 3,000 theaters on Friday and 700 more than Hidden Figures, which looks likely to break out due to positive word-of-mouth from before the holidays.

1. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (Lucasfilm/Disney) - $23.5 million -52%

2. Sing (Universal) - $19.6 million -54%

3. Hidden Figures (20th Century Fox) - $17.6 million +1771% (Up 2.1 million)

4. Underworld: Blood Wars (Screen Gems) - $16.2 million N/A (down 1.2 million)

5. La La Land (Lionsgate) - $8.5 million -11%

6. Passengers (Sony) - $7.3 million -55%

7. Moana (Disney) - $5.2 million -54%

8. Fences (Paramount) - $5 million -50%

9. Why Him? (20th Century Fox) - $4.7 million -53%

10. Assassin's Creed (20th Century Fox) - $3.9 million  

11. A Monster Calls (Focus Features) – $3.5 million +1,666%

LAST YEAR:

2016 kicked off with one new movie in wide release and one movie expanding nationwide and neither of them defeated Star Wars: The Force Awakens in its fourth weekend at #1 with an astounding $42.3 million. The movie that came closest to defeating it was Oscar-winning director Alejandro Inarritu’s The Revenant, starring Leonardo DiCaprio, which expanded to 3,375 theaters after a limited release over the holidays and grossed $39.8 million for a very strong second place. The one new movie, the horror-thriller The Forest, starring Natalie Dormer from The Game of Thrones, which opened in fourth place with $12.7 million, not bad but also not great. Underworld: Blood Wars will have to do quite a bit better than that to be deemed successful.                                                                                                                                                                                                    


THIS WEEK’S PICKS:

Limited releases coming in January tend to be somewhat dubious but we still have a couple things worth recommending…

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GROWING UP COY (Netflix)

Cast: Coy Mathis and the Mathis family
Director: Eric Juhola
Genre:  Documentary
Plot: Documenting the journey of the Mathis family from Colorado, whose 6-year-old, Coy, was born a boy but considers herself a girl, putting them into a tough situation since Coy’s school (and the state) won’t let her use the girls’ room, leading to a groundbreaking civil rights case.   

Okay, so I’m starting the year with a movie that’s streaming on Netflix, so sue me, but this documentary is such an interesting documentary about a highly-debated hot topic right now that it couldn’t come at a more opportune time.

Since I’m not transgender myself, it’s never been something I’ve been able to fully understand, but like a good portion of the American populace, I fully respect the decision of people to live by whatever gender they feel like living, and I’m still shocked that well into the 21st Century, this is still an issue.

The case of Coy Mathis is particularly interesting, because she’s still a child and not yet at the point where “sexuality” is something she needs to be concerned about. Being able to use the bathroom when and where she needs to is another case, and that’s really what’s being debated in this doc as the Mathis family tries to make life comfortable for their young daughter.

For some time, the Mathis family had kept Coy’s gender identity within the family, but eventually, they have to go public where they’re attacked and ridiculed by the right wing press. Coy’s situation being brought to light also ends up putting a lot of pressure on the family unit to try to deal with being thrust into the spotlight.

Through all of this, Coy is just an absolutely adorable kid who you really feel bad that she has to deal with all this, and director Eric Juhola does a good job having his cameras in just the right place to capture this important start as it’s breaking.

Growiing Up Coy will be available on Netflix internationally in 190 countries starting Friday. Here’s hoping the people who seem incapable of understanding the issues transgenders face will give this a try and be enlightened.


For those of you without Netflix but who live in New York or L.A. you might be interested in…

THE ARDENNES (Film Movement)

Cast: Jeroen Perceval, Kevin Janssens, Veerie Baetens
Director: Robin Pront  (debut)
Genre:  Crime, Drama
Unrated
Plot:
 A crime drama involving two brothers, Dave (Jeroen Perceval) and Kenny (Kevin Janssens), the latter who has just spent four years in prison for a robbery gone wrong, not realizing that his ex-girlfriend Sylvie (Veerle Baetens) has moved in with Dave and is pregnant with his baby. Dave gets Kenny a job at the car wash, but Kenny’s constant jealousy of who Sylvie has been sleeping with while he’s in prison, a jealousy that drives Kenny committing a new crime that sends him and his brother into the countryside to get help from Kenny’s former cellmate Stef (Jan Bijovet). 

It’s always a little sad when a country’s Oscar selection is released after we already know that it didn’t make it onto the shortlist, but Belgium is a very special place I visited while still in high school, and the people there—like Scandinavia, Korea and other countries—have a very distinctive way of telling a story. Belgium only has a few cinema stars like the Dardenne Brothers, who have no connection to this movie, but the country is also responsible for Bullhead, the movie that introduced us to Matthias Schoenaerts.

This one starts out like a family drama about two brothers reunited when one of them gets out of jail, not knowing that his brother has been seeing his ex-girlfriend. It seems like a typical family drama as it explores the relationship between the three main characters, but it’s constantly pushed further by Kenny’s anger issues and the chance of him getting back into trouble and thrown back in jail.

Things start to get crazy in the second half when Kenny makes a mess and has to turn to his old cellmate Stef to help clean it up, so Kenny and Dave drive out to the Ardennes, remote woods in the middle of nowhere to deal with Stef and his transvestite accomplice Joyce. (Yes, both of this week’s picks involve transgenders.) This is where the film really takes off as the brothers try to deal with these dangerous individuals, and we start to get some revelations about how their relationship went sour.

If you like some of the dark warped crime-comedies from the likes of the Coens (Fargo especially) or David Lynch (Blue Velvet and Lost Highway, especially) then this movie is definitely worth checking out.

The Ardennes will open in New York and L.A. this weekend. Not sure how much expansion we’ll see. 


OTHER LIMITED RELEASES:

Jackie Chan (remember him?) stars in Ding Chang’s action-comedy Railroad Tigers (Well GO USA) playing a railroad worker who along with a group of freedom fighters decide to hijack a military train filled with much-needed supplies, as they have to take on an entire army in order to do so. It opens in select cities.

Nicolas Cage and John Cusack—literally the kings of VOD—appear in Steven C. Miller’s crime-thriller Arsenal (Lionsgate Premiere) about brothers Mikey and JP Linden, played by Johnathon Schaech (Jonah Hex in Legends of Tomorrow) and Adrian Grenier (Entourage)—the former who becomes a small time thug always up to his neck in trouble. When Mikey’s daughter Alexis is kidnapped and held for ransom by crime boss Eddie King (Nicolas), JP and a plain lothes detective Sal (Cusack) have to get Mikey and face Eddie’s army of gangsters. As with most Lionsgate Premiere films, it gets a nominal theatrical release and can be seen on VOD. 

In Rafael Palacio Illingworth’s relationship comedy Between Us (IFC Films), Ben Feldman and Olivia Thirlby (Dredd) play Henry and Dianne, a thirty-something couple who have been together for six years whose relationship is put to the test because they’re unable to commit and get married. One night, they encounter exciting possibilities in a rocker (Adam Goldberg) and artist (Analeigh Tipton) that tests their fidelity even further. Not to be confused with every other movie already called Between Us, this selection from last year’s Tribeca Film Festival will open at the IFC Center on Friday.

For those not feeling like starting the year off with a new movie, Janus Films is releasing Marcel Pagnol’s Marseille Trilogy, his trio of films made between 1931 and 1936—Marius, Fanny and César—that makes up an “epic love story” deemed to be a “pillar of French cinema,” according to the press release. (I personally haven’t seen any of them.) If this sounds intriguing, get down to the Film Forum in New York on January 4 or the Laemmle Royal Theater on January 27 for a new 4K restoration of all three films. (Just make sure you have 6 to 7 hours free so you can see all three in one sitting.)

That’s it for this week, but join us again next Wednesday right here on LRM Online for a look at new movies, including the family adventure flick Monster Trucks (Paramount), the horror nmovie The Bye Bye Man (STX Entertainment) and the Jamie Foxx crime-thriller Sleepless (Open Road), while Mark Wahlberg’s Patriots Day (CBS Films), Ben Affleck’s Live by Night (Warner Bros.) and Martin Scorsese’s Silence (Paramount) all will expand nationwide. (Man, I wouldn’t want to be the guy who has to write about all those movies next week…  Nerts.)

(Text copyright Edward Douglas 2017. The Weekend Warrior logo designed by and copyright Tim Nardelli 2017.)

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