The Weekend Warrior 9/23/16: The Magnificent Seven, Storks

– 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:

 Yikes. What a terrible weekend we just had, not only for the new movies released but also for the Weekend Warrior’s predictions. Clint Eastwood and Tom Hanks’ Sully won its second weekend in a row with just under $22 million, but as far as the new movies, neither Lionsgate’s Blair Witch nor Universal’s Bridget Jones’s Baby did very well, putting the last nail in the coffin (hopefully) for sequels/remakes trying to play upon nostalgia that just isn’t there. (Good luck to the Rings movie opening next month!) Blair Witch ended up with $9.6 million to take second place and both Bridget Jones’s Baby and Oliver Stone’s Snowden ended up with around $8 million, so only the latter was close to last week’s prediction. Hillsong: Let Hope Rise didn’t have a prayer of getting into the Top 10 with a terrible $1.3 million weekend. 


As we near the end of September, we get a weekend with two bigger movies targeting different audiences, one a rock ‘em sock ‘em honest-to-gosh Western with big-name stars, the other another original animation idea from a director best known for R-rated fare.

THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN (MGM/Sony)

Cast: Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt, Ethan Hawke, Peter Sarsgaard, Vincent D’Onofrio, Hayley Bennett, Byung-hun Lee, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, Matt Bomer
Director: Antoine Fuqua (Training Day, The Equalizer, Brooklyn’s Finest, Olympus Has Fallen, Southpaw and more)
Genre:  Western, Action
Rated PG-13
Plot:
When the town of Rose Creek is terrorized by the villainous Bart Bogue (Peter Sarsgaard), one of the townspeople (Haley Bennett) seeks out a lone gunman (Denzel Washington), who has to assemble a similar team of outlaws to help defend the town.
Theater Count (est.): 3,600 

Back in 2001, director Antoine Fuqua teamed with Denzel Washington and Ethan Hawke for the police drama Training Day (written by Suicide Squad director David Ayer, no less), and the three of them are back together for their take on the 1960 Western classic The Magnificent Seven, but also harking back to that movie’s inspiration, Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai.

Mind you, this remake has been in development for a long time, but it seems like the right time for it considering the success of other recent Westerns, including last year’s The Revenant starring Leonardo di Caprio, which grossed $183 million, making it the second highest grossing Western after Kevin Costner’s Dances with Wolves. Before that, the Coen Brothers had their own Western hit with True Grit and Quentin Tarantino has gone to the well with two back-to-back Westerns, Django Unchained and The Hateful Eight, the latter not doing quite as well as the former. Still, there’s already a big audience for action movies in a Western setting before you pull together an insanely illustrious cast.

There’s no question that Denzel Washington is one of the most reliable box office stars in Hollywood right now, because he’s built a huge fanbase for himself with his mix of heavy drama and action movies. This one harks back to his 2010 hit The Book of Eli, which paired him with the Hughes Brothers, and while it didn’t hit the $100 million benchmark of some of the actor’s bigger hits, it showed that he was great as a lone gunman type. Washington’s last teaming with Fuqua for 2014’s The Equalizer, released the same weekend two years ago did in fact gross over $100 million after opening with $34 million, but Washington’s biggest opening was 2007’s American Gangster with $43.6 million.  Washington will also help to bring in African-American audiences that might normally not be very interested in seeing a Western as opposed to the crime genre in which he’s excelled.

For this one, Denzel is joined by the equally bankable Chris Pratt, who has turned into an A-list star thanks to back-to-back hits The LEGO Movie, Guardians of the Galaxy and Jurassic World, which is why he can be seen as another strong reason why people would want to see the movie.

Besides The Equalizer with Denzel, Fuqua has also had a lot of recent success with hits like Olympus Has Fallen, although he’s had quite a few ups and downs since first teaming with Washington for Training Day. This will be the third time he’s worked with Ethan Hawke, appearing in his second Western of the year after Ti West’s In a Valley of Violence (out next month), who also got an Oscar nomination from their earlier pairing. They’re joined by the likes of Peter Sarsgaard, Vincent D’Onofrio, Byung-hun Lee (for the Asian audiences), Manuel Garcia-Ruffo (to help bring in Latinos) and it even has Haley Bennett, who appeared in Fuqua’s The Equalizer, in a significant role for the ladies interested in the normally testosterone-heavy Westerns. Obviously, most of the focus is being put on Washington and Pratt.

It’s a really impressive cast and when you add that to exciting action-packed trailers, you have plenty of reasons for people to want to see the movie this weekend. The Magnificent Seven should be one of the first choices for guys 17 and older this weekend even if much of that business will be on Thursday and Friday with football season in full effect.

LRM Interview with Peter Sarsgaard

LRM Interview with Vincent D’Onofrio

LRM Interview with Byung-hun Lee (Later this week)


STORKS (Warner Bros.)

Voice Cast: Jennifer Aniston, Andy Samberg, Kelsey Grammer, Katie Crown, Keegan-Michael Key, Jordan Peele, Danny Trejo, Ty Burrell
Director(s):  Doug Sweetland (Oscar-nominated animated short Presto, plus animation on other Pixar features), Nicholas Stoller (Neighbors, Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising, Get Him to the Greek, Forgetting Sarah Marshall)
Genre:  Animation, Family, Comedy
Rated PG
Plot:
The storks that once delivered babies now deliver packages for an internet store, but when Junior (Andy Samberg), one of the delivery storks, accidentally activates the “baby-making machine” (because kids, that is where babies come from) and makes an unauthorized baby girl, so he has to work with his human friend Tulip (Katie Crown) to get the baby to a family before their boss finds out.
Theater Count (est.): 3,800+

There was a time when opening a family film in September seemed like a crazy idea, because kids are back in school and releasing an animated movie might… sorry, I’m still reeling from that plot and the kinds of conversations parents will be having with their kids somewhere between five and ten years after seeing this.

Anyway, when Sony released Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs in 2009, things changed for the idea that kids movies should be saved for the summer or holidays, possibly because releasing it in September where there isn’t much competition allowed it to gross $125 million. Four years later, the sequel was equally successful and Sony has had just as much success with Adam Sandler’s Hotel Transylvania and its sequel.

This new one is from the mind of Nick Stoller, best known for raunchy comedies like Neighbors and its sequel, as well as Forgetting Sarah Marshall. Maybe it seems odd for him to tackle this sort of family fare, but he’s depicted so much sex in his movies, maybe he felt guilty and needed to make a movie to show his own kids when they ask where babies come from. And hence… Storks.  Stoller is obviously a great writer and this isn’t his first foray into family films, having co-written Gulliver’s Travels and Disney’s The Muppets, the latter with Jason Segel, his frequent collaborator, but Warner Bros. have a lot fewer animated hits under their belt i.e. Happy Feet and The LEGO Movie. (The ads are making sure that parents make that second connection even though the real thing in common is that the directors of The LEGO Movie were similarly responsible for the R-rated 21 Jump Street movie.)

For Stoller’s first animated movie, he’s teamed with animator Doug Sweetland, who directed a very funny Oscar-winning Pixar short called Presto, and clearly the prestige of the filmmakers and idea helped get a strong cast that includes Jennifer Aniston doing her first voice work since The Iron Giant. More importantly, one of the voices is provided by Andy Samberg, who appeared in the two Hotel Transylvania movies that are still currently the top two September openers. The rest of the voice cast have done quite a bit of voice work including Kelsey Grammer and Ty Burrell, and all that might bring something to the table.

Storks will definitely benefit from there not being a lot of family movies in theaters right now with The Wild Side, Kubo and the Two Strings and Pete’s Dragon all starting to drop out of theaters, and parents looking for something to keep their kids entertained. That said, the premise is somewhat daunting for parents not wanting to have to deal with awkward questions from their kids, which might keep them from rushing out opening weekend, but without any other animated movies until November, it should do well even with Tim Burton’s young adult adventure Miss Peregrine’s coming out next week.


Box Office Predictions:

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

It’s looking very likely that Sony will be trying to set another September opening record with their Western The Magnificent Seven, although Warner Bros’ animated Storks should do decently among families with kids for a solid second place.  Sully should also continue to do decent business. Everything else? Buh-bye… 

1. The Magnificent Seven (Sony) - $44.3 million N/A

2. Storks (Warner Bros.) - $31 million N/A

3. Sully (Warner Bros.) - $13 million -38%

4. Bridget Jones’s Baby (Universal) - $5 million -42%

5. Snowden (Open Road) - $4.6 million -43%

6. Blair Witch (Lionsgate) - $3.4 million -64

7. Don’t Breathe (Screen Gems/Sony) - $3.3 million -42%

8. When the Bough Breaks (Sony/Screen Gems) - $2.6 million -53%

9. Suicide Squad (Warner Bros.) - $2.5 million -47%

10. The Wild Life (Summit/Lionsgate) - $1.5 million -45%

Last Year:

On this September weekend last year, it was a similar battle between Sony and Warner Bros, and the former came out victorious with their animated sequel Hotel Transylvania 2, featuring the voices of Adam Sandler, Andy Samberg, Selena Gomez and more, opening with $48.4 million, setting a new September opening record. Anne Hathaway and Robert De Niro teamed for Nancy Meyers’ The Intern, a snappy crowdpleasing comedy that took in $17.7 million in 3,305 theaters to take second place that went on to gross $75 million. Meanwhile, Eli Roth’s The Green Inferno (BH Tilt) bombed with just $3.5 million in 1,540 theaters two years after premiering at the Toronto International Film Festival.


This Week’s Pick(s):

SPAGHETTIMAN (Uncork’d Entertainment)

Cast: Ben Crutcher, Winston Carter, Brand Rackley, Joe LoCicero, Leigh Wulff, Kevin M. Brennan, Doug Manley
Director: Mark Potts (Cinema Six, S&M Lawn Care and a ton of shorts)
Genre:  Comedy, Action
Plot: Clark (Ben Crutcher) is a deadbeat slacker, living off his kindly roommate Dale (Winston Carter), but when he eats a bowl of microwaved spaghetti, he gets the power to produce spaghetti from his hands (and other extremities).  While going out and fighting crime as the bag-headed Spaghettiman might be fun, Clark prefers to be a hero for hire and get paid to help people.  

I know what you're probably thinking after reading that plot synopsis, something along the lines of “Has Ed gone insane?” Maybe I have because ever since I saw this movie at the Oxford Film Festival where it premiered, I’ve been almost obsessed with it, and I’m so glad that it’s finally going to be out there for the rest of the world to see.  This very funny take on superheroes from an L.A. comedy troupe known as Heckbender is one of my biggest guilty pleasures of the year.

Before I tell you why I love this movie so much, I feel like I need to share a story.  Back in February, I was asked to be a juror for the Oxford Film Festival (in Mississippi, not England) and a few weeks before then, someone named “Mark Potts” reached out to me and told me that his movie was premiering there and he sent me a link to watch it. Of course, I never got around to watching it, but during the festival, I had a chance to catch the actual premiere, which was in a strange high school auditorium with maybe thirty to forty people other people there—definitely not full.  And yet, the few of us that got to see it were laughing constantly, and there’s one particular scene that had me in tears. Word quickly got around as the guys from Heckbender, especially Benjamin, started going around downtown Oxford and the University of Mississippi campus, and a second screening was booked on Saturday night, which was complete packed. The point of this story is that I completely underestimated Spaghettiman because of its strange title and concept, but actually ended up loving it.

First of all, it should be known that this is an incredibly low budget movie, which probably adds to its charm since it doesn’t have the special FX budget of most superhero movies, but honestly, who needs it? The visual of someone being hit in the face with spaghetti--and the thought of how much fun it must have been to throw spaghetti at people on set—is just such a funny image that you can forgive the lack of expensive CG FX.

More than anything, there’s so much talent on display in this movie, particularly Crutcher and Carter who probably could use this movie as a comedy or acting reel and get scooped up by “the majors,” but a lot of why the movie works so well is that the guys in Heckbender clearly love comic book movies enough to play with the tropes in a fun way. It reminds me a lot of Deadpool, which I had seen the work before I saw this, but they’re definitely cut from the same cloth… if one had a much smaller budget for costumes.

I can’t tell you how excited I am that this hilarious superhero comedy is finally getting out into the world and can be seen by others, because I think fans of comic books and superhero movies in general are going to appreciate what Heckbender has done.

Rating: B+

Spaghettiman will be out on VOD starting Thursday, but you can see screenings in L.A. and San Francisco on September 24 and 29 respectively, with a bunch of the cast and crew in attendance, which I highly recommend. You can find out more and watch the trailer on the Official Site.


THE QUEEN OF KATWE (Disney)

Cast: Madina Nalwanga, David Oyelowo, Lupita Nyong'o, Martin Kabanza, Ivan Jacobs, Nicolas Levesque
Director: Mira Nair  (Monsoon Wedding, The Namesake, Amelia, The Reluctant Fundamentalist)
Genre:  Chess, Drama, Biography
Rated PG
Plot:
A Ugandan girl named Phiona (Madina Nalwanga) who comes from a poor section of the country is introduced to the game of chess by a kindly teacher (David Oyelowo) and works her way to becoming a champion.

I’ve been a fan of director Mira Nair for some time but The Queen of Katwe, she really has created something quite special. Now, mind you, a movie that’s about chess might not sound like the most enticing way to spend two hours, but it comes not long after the New Zealand chess drama The Dark Horse, which I also loved.

This one is all about a young girl who lives in poverty in the Katwe section of Kamala, Uganda, who discovers the joys of chess through a man working part time at a place where poor kids can spend time together. That man is Robert Katende, played by the always great David Oyelowo, and he really gives an amazing performance, mostly working with young inexperienced African actors as the “Pioneers” in his chess club. Oscar winner Lupita Nyong'o plays Phiona’s mother who is concerned about her spending so much time playing chess, which she considers gambling, and she has a lot of great scenes with Oyelowo in which they try to work out their differences.

But what makes this “chess movie” so wonderful is that it focuses so much on the kids, particularly Phiona, and it’s impressive to see Nair working with so many inexperienced actors to create such a fun and entertaining film.  Phiona’s journey is particularly enticing because Madina Nalwanga is quite an amazing find.

The movie isn’t devoid of issues though, because it is quite long at over two hours and there’s a few moments of drama that seem forced, mainly because they’re resolved so quickly. That’s especially the case with the subplot involving Phiona’s older sister Night, who is running off with a bad element and neglecting her family as they’re evicted from their home.

Mira Nair does a fantastic job with the material as she's generally working further outside her element, although one expects she must understand the poverty and the street life of Uganda by comparing it to sections of India. She does a great job getting performances out of the kids, but also found someone who could give the film such an upbeat score that really helps with the film's tone. 

But it all comes back to the fact that this story is not something that was made-up for a movie and is in fact based on a true story about this girl from Uganda who became a chess champion, and Nair even makes the chess-playing scenes fun to watch, mainly because the young characters are so likable.

Not only that, but this past weekend The Queen of Katwe won second runner up for the People’s Choice Award at the Toronto International Film Festival, so clearly it’s a real crowd-pleasing film.

Rating: B+

The Queen of Katwe opens in select cities this Friday then expands nationwide on September 30, so we'll have a little more about in next week's column.


GOAT (Film Arcade/Paramount)

Cast: Ben Schnetzer, Nick Jonas, Gus Halper, Danny Flaherty, Virginia Gardner, Jake Picking, James Franco
Director: Andrew Neel (King Kelly, Alice Neel, New World Order)
Genre:  Drama
Rated R

Plot:  After being badly beaten up by muggers, Brad (Ben Schneitzer) enrolls in college where his brother Brad (Nick Jonas) wants him to follow his legacy by pledging to the same fraternity. Brad soon learns that the cruel initiation rituals of the frat go against his own personal beliefs, and he starts to question his loyalty to his own brother.

Co-written by David Gordon Green, this adaptation of Brad Land’s novel about his own traumatic experiences is another one of the pleasant surprises from the Sundance Film Festival (although I only got to see it this past summer when it played at the BAMCinemaFest in Brooklyn).

There’s been a lot of talk about frats recently, mostly about the rapes and sexual assaults that happen there, but it seems there was a time not that long ago when the frat houses’ hazing rituals came under scrutiny, and Brad Land’s experiences have been turned into a fantastic character drama by Andrew Neel.

While most people might be coming to this for Nick Jonas or James Franco (who really only has one very amusing scene), it’s the performance by Ben Schnetzer (who also appeared in Warcraft this summer) that really impressed me, and I think he’s an actor that you’ll want to keep an eye on in the future. It’s a really tough role because he has to be vulnerable and yet deal with everything that’s thrown at him by the frat boys, who often go too far. I won’t say more about the meaning of the title, but let’s just say that it involves a goat.

Either way, it’s a pretty fantastic character study that really keeps you invested in the story and where it goes and hopefully it will be a topic people are interested in seeing tackled in a more serious manner than it has in comedies like Animal House and Old School.

Rating: B+

Goat opens in select cities on Friday.


Other Limited Releases:

After premiering at the SXSW Film Festival and playing at the Tribeca Film Festival earlier this year, Sophie Goodhart’s My Blind Brother (Starz Digital) will open in select cities. It stars Nick Kroll and Adam Scott as brothers, the former always in the shadow of the latter, who happens to be blind. When they both fall for the same woman (Jenny Slate), their competition intensifies.

Kate Winslet stars in the Australian period comedy The Dressmaker (Amazon/Broad Green) playing dressmaker Tilly Dunnage, who returns to her small hometown to get revenge on those who drove her out of town, while at the same time caring for her mother (Judy Davis) and falling for local farmer Teddy (Liam Hemsworth). Also starring Hugo Weaving, it opens in select cities Friday.

We stay in Australia for Rosemary Myers’ debut Girl Asleep (Oscilloscope Labs), a distinctively quirky coming-of-age film about a girl named Greta who is about to turn 15, leaving her childhood behind. It opens in L.A. on Friday at the Landmark Nuart and then in New York on September 30 and other cities to follow. You can find out where else and pre-order for download on December 6 at the Official Site.

Our international travels take us to South Korea for The Age of Shadows (CJ Entertainment), the latest from director Kim Jee-woon (The Good, The Bad, The Weird, I Saw the Devil and A Tale of Two Sisters), a 1930s set spy thriller involving agents from Shanghai trying to destroy Japanese facilities in Seoul with Japanese agents trying to stop them. Produced by Warner Bros, Kim’s film was selected as South Korea’s entry into the Oscars, and it will open in about 35 theaters this Friday.

The relationship between South Korean and its Northern neighbor plays a central part in Rob Cannan and Ross Adam’s doc The Lovers and the Despot (Magnolia), which tells the story of prestigious South Korean director Shin Sang-ok and his actress wife Choi Eun-Hee, who were kidnapped by North Korea to make films for Kim Jong-il, producing 17 features for the dictator before escaping. It opens in New York, L.A., Boston and Philly. You can find out where else on the Official Site.

Next, we make a quick trip to India for Shirhari Sathe’s 100 Rupee Note (Kino Lorber), a story set in Maharashtra where a widow whose son committed suicide becomes friendly with the young man next door. When she gets a sudden and unexpected fortune, they go shopping. This opens at the Village East Cinema in New York and then other places.

From French filmmaker Christoph Gans (Silent Hill) comes his take on the classic fairy tale Beauty and the Beast (Shout Factory). After a merchant is exiled in the countryside with six children including his youngest daughter Belle (Lea Seydoux), he comes across the domain of a Beast (Vincent Cassel) who sentences him to death for stealing a rose from his garden. Belle chooses to take her father’s place, living at the castle with the Beast. This French fantasy/adventure, which precedes Disney’s take on the musical animated film early next year. You can find out where it’s playing here.

Cynthia Wade and Cheryl Miller Houser’s doc Generation Startup (Creative Breed) follows six recent college graduates working on building their first startups in Detroit, shot over 17 months. It opens at New York’s IFC Center on Friday.

Technology also plays a part in the Pierce Brosnan thriller I.T. (RLJ Entertainment), directed by John Moore (Behind Enemy Lines), in which he plays successful businessman Mike Regan whose daughter is being stalked by his I.T. consultant (James Frecheville from Animal Kingdom), who wants to ruin his business, creating a “high stakes game of cat-and-mouse” in which Regan needs to call on old connections to tackle this new enemy. It opens in select cities on Friday 

You know those dog shows they have every year to award prizes to the best dog? Well, apparently, chicken owners have similar shows as seen in Nicole Lucas Haime’s appropriately titled doc Chicken People (Samuel Goldwyn Films), which opens on Friday.

Marisa Tomei is one of the executive producers on SEED: The Untold Story (Collective Eye Films), the new doc from Jon Betz and Taggart Siegel (The Real Dirt on Farmer John), which looks at the world of seeds, dealing with the history and the corporate seed market where most of the seeds that make are food comes from ten agrichemical companies.

Movies about chickens and movies about seeds… yup, that’s it for me this week.

But join us again next Wednesday right here on LRM Online for a look at new movies including Mark Wahlberg and Peter Berg’s Deepwater Horizon (Lionsgate), Tim Burton’s Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children (20th Century Fox) and the ensemble comedy Masterminds (Relativity).

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

Box Office, LRM Exclusives, The Weekend Warrior, Featured The Weekend Warrior, Denzel Washington, Storks, Spaghettiman, The Magnificent Seven, The Queen of Katwe, Goat