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The Weekend Warrior: Monsters University & World War Z

Source:   Edward Douglas
June 19, 2013


It's been over six weeks since Iron Man 3 kicked off the summer movie season and yet… the actual, official start of summer only begins for real this Friday, June 21. With almost all of the country's schools out of session and the 4th of July weekend just a couple weeks away and the heat and humidity starting to rise, moviegoing should be at a premium over the next few weeks. The terrific success of Man of Steel and This is the End this past weekend is a good sign that the box office is recovering well after being down for so much of the year leading up to May and this Friday Man of Steel is joined by two very different, strong releases including the latest from the popular Disney•Pixar and the first true action movie from Brad Pitt in many years.

Monsters University (Disney•Pixar)
Starring (the voices of) Billy Crystal, John Goodman, Steve Buscemi, Helen Mirren, Alfred Molina, Dave Foley, Sean P. Hayes, Joel Murray, Peter Sohn, Charlie Day, Nathan Fillion, Bobby Moynihan, Julia Sweeney, Aubrey Plaza, Tyler Labine, John Krasinski, Bonnie Hunt, Beth Behrs, John Ratzenberger
Directed by Dan Scanlon (Tracy, "Mater and the Ghostlight" short); Written by Daniel Gerson and Robert L. Baird (additional story material for Monster, Inc., Cars, Meet the Robinsons, "Tangled Ever After" short), Dan Scanlon
Genre: Animated, Comedy, Family
Rated G

Review

The last few years have been interesting ones for Pixar Animation Studios and their relationship with Walt Disney Pictures who have gotten away somewhat from movies with original premises to try to revisit older characters from their past hit films. It paid off big time with Toy Story 3, the long-awaited follow-up to Pixar Animation Studios' very first two movies which literally put them on the map back in the ‘90s. Their latest Monsters University is the prequel to Pixar's fourth movie Monsters, Inc., which was released in November 2001 to a then-impressive opening of $62 million before grossing $289 million by the time it left theaters the following April. (Incidentally, Monsters, Inc. has a special place in my heart because it was the very first Pixar animated movie I saw and it was one of the very first movies I reviewed as well.)

Unfortunately, it would be overshadowed by the success of Pixar's next movie Finding Nemo a few years later, but the characters and premise of Monsters, Inc. still proved popular enough that nearly 12 years later, Pixar decided to revisit them for a prequel in hopes that the millions of people of all ages who saw the original movie during its theatrical run, on DVD/Blu-ray and in last year's 3D rerelease would want to see more of Billy Crystal and John Goodman in the roles of monster energy collectors Mike Wazowski and James Sullivan, only this time getting to see their first meeting way back in college.

As one would expect from the success of the "Toy Story" movies, it's really the reteaming of this voice talent and their chemistry in creating the characters that will get people into theaters this weekend, although they've also added a great new cast of characters that includes Helen Mirren as the headmaster Dean Hardscrabble and a motley crew of outcasts voiced by the likes of Charlie Day ("It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia"), Peter Sohn (the influence for Russell in "Up"), Joel Murray, David Foley and many more.

Last year's Pixar original Brave was received with a lukewarm reception by many critics, receiving some of Pixar's worst reviews outside the Cars movies, but it harked back to the great Disney animated movies of yesteryear and it was able to find an audience to the tune of a respectable $66 million opening and $237.3 million total. Considering the history of Monsters, Inc., it's highly doubtful that Monsters University will not do significantly better among moviegoing audiences both this weekend and overall.

That's mainly because Monsters University should greatly benefit from the 12 years since the original movie which literally will have many more moviegoers clamoring to see it and we expect a much bigger opening day and weekend than Brave or some of the recent Disney*Pixar movies, with somewhere over $30 million coming in on Friday alone.

The biggest hurdle Pixar faces right now is that it has Universal's even more anticipated sequel Despicable Me 2 is opening in less than two weeks which will likely cut into business although after that opens, Monsters University should be able to continue to find an audience over the rest of the summer as it makes its way to similar numbers as the original Monsters, Inc. and families look for other things over the course of the summer and early fall.

Weekend Est.: $84 to 88 million; Est. Total Gross: $288 million

World War Z (Paramount)
Starring Brad Pitt a bunch of pigpiling zombies (Oh and Mireille Enos, Daniella Kertesz, James Badge Dale, Matthew Fox and David Morse are in the movie, too.)
Directed by Marc Forster (Quantum of Solace, Finding Neverland, The Kite Runner); Written by Matthew Michael Carnahan (The Kingdom, State of Play, Lion for Lambs), Drew Goddard (Cloverfield, The Cabin in the Woods), Damon Lindelof (Prometheus, Star Trek, Cowboys & Aliens)
Genre:
Rated PG-13

Mini-Review: A better vehicle for Brad Pitt as an actor than as a faithful adaptation of Max Brooks' popular novel, "World War Z" does little to dissuade the fact that it's a big scale action movie first and foremost, as we barely get a chance to meet Pitt's Gerry Lane, a Philadelphia family man before his entire family is surrounded by writhing and snarling "zombies."

These aren't the ambling zombies from "The Walking Dead" that are easy to outrace, instead they are flailing beings, bending themselves into all sorts of contortions as they attack and infect others in the most visceral way possible. They work much better visually than slow-moving zombies, leading to absolutely enormous set pieces that are as oppressive as they are impressive showing a huge amount of scale, but with so much going on it's hard to follow at times.

At its best, "World War Z" treads in territory much like Steven Soderbergh's "Contagion" but when it covers territory that's already been well covered in films like Danny Boyle's "28 Days Later" it feels somewhat redundant. This is particularly true in the moments when Pitt is trying to survive the immediate danger with his family which is taken almost verbatim. Apparently, Gerry had a high profile job at the UN and they want him back in the field because he they think he may be the only one who can figure out a solution to the viral outbreak that has hit the globe.

The film's erratic pacing is somewhat problematic, especially the scenes with Pitt and his family which are so weak they slow the pace down, even as convincing as Mireille Enos from "The Killing" may be waiting on the other end of a global cell phone for her absent husband to check in every night.

The film was rumored to have gone through some much-needed repair work and reshoots but this work definitely paid off because it helps not only to keep the audience firmly in Pitt's court during the parts of the journey where he's surviving things that seem hard to believe even for a big action hero. Genuinely well written by a series of high profile names, things eventually do slow down again and we learn more about the origins of the virus—presumably these parts are closer to Brooks' initial intentions.

Where things really get going is in the final act where Pitt is trying out one very drastic solution to the problem. This is the section of the movie when the zombies actually start to show off individual personalities that go a long way in bringing the film down to a far more intimate scale. That doesn't mean things slow down and it offers the type of thrills and tension that the larger scale scenes just don't.

In the end, "World War Z" isn't the perfect representation of what Brooks was trying to do in his books, but Pitt and Forster do a good job creating an entertaining movie that plays with scale in ways that allows it to feel like a big movie at times but it also has enough intimate moments to keep sight of the fact that it's a character piece.

Rating: 7/10

The other big movie of the weekend could very well be seen as this week's Prometheus to Monsters University's Madagascar 3 (see "This Weekend Last Year" below) because the big zombie action movie based very loosely on Max Brooks' best-selling novel of the same name seems to veer quite far from the popular zombie history that inspired the movie, while offering something for the older audiences who may not necessarily be interested in an animated movie.

Zombies are hot right now partially thanks to the success of AMC's "The Walking Dead" although good luck even realizing that World War Z is a zombie movie since that aspect of the movie seems to be well hidden by the crazy way they're being depicted as fast-moving pig-piling zombies that are nothing like the zombies fans of "The Walking Dead" will be familiar with.

What makes the movie a viable summer blockbuster though is the presence of Brad Pitt, an actor who hasn't made any sort of big action movie since maybe Quentin Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds in 2009 and even that wasn't quite on par with the likes of Troy and Mr. & Mrs. Smith with future wife Angelina Jolie. All three of those grossed over $100 million confirming Pitt's blockbuster star status with the latter being a huge milestone with a $186 million gross, making it Pitt's highest grosser to date. In between, Pitt did three "Ocean's 11" movies with George Clooney and Matt Damon that helped solidify all three as bonafide box office stars. For Pitt, World War Z is a summer blockbuster akin to Steven Spielberg's b>War of the Worlds ($234.3 million gross), which was a showcase spotlight for Tom Cruise, or I Am Legend ($256.4 million gross), which was a similar spotlight for Will Smith, and while there are other actors in the movie, people are literally going to see the movie for Pitt and Pitt alone.

The bad news for this kind of movie is that we're currently in a weird summer where bonafide blockbuster stars like Will Smith, Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn are releasing movies that outright bomb in the States and it's hard to believe that Brad Pitt may be impervious to that phenomenon even though he's been getting out there to support the movie more than he has anything else he's done in recent years.

On top of that, World War Z teams Pitt with director Marc Forster, a filmmaker who has done a variety of different projects of different scales including the 22nd James Bond movie Quantum of Solace, an adaptation of the enormous bestseller The Kite Runner, teaming with Johnny Depp for Finding Neverland and a variety of different projects in between. World War Z is clearly his biggest project to date in terms of scale and whether it succeeds or not may be blamed entirely on him.

That's because World War Z has been plagued by very highly publicized problems that had them bringing in writers Damon Lindelof and Drew Goddard for fairly last minute rewrites and reshoots when it was obvious the movie Pitt and Forster were making just wasn't working. That said, there are already reviews of the movie out there from the movie's high-profile UK premiere and they're generally positive, at around 76% on RottenTomatoes, which may mean that the reshoots were enough to save the movie. Clearly, for the fans of Brad Pitt the reshoots probably won't be much of a problem--Paramount has done a good job distracting from them even happening--and for the fans of the book a bigger problem might be that the film's marketing won't do much to convince them that the movie has anything to do with what Max Brooks was trying to do when he wrote the book. Considering how jaded male moviegoers from 15 to 40 are that might pose a bigger problem for them then it will be the gushy-eyed girls who might want to see Pitt in action, and there's the serious competition for both audiences from the latest from Pixar which will often bring in more than just parents with kids, especially when you consider the popularity of the original movie.

World War Z should have a very strong opening day but we don't expect it to hold up business over the weekend and we wouldn't be too surprised if it beats Man of Steel on Friday and then falls behind by the weekend. Regardless of whether World War Z does better or worse than we're predicting this weekend, we think it's going to have a HUGE drop-off next weekend, definitely 60% or more, because a lot of people will rush out to see it and then there are a lot of better choices both next week and the week after. We'd actually be surprised if the movie makes more than $120 million domestic despite what should be a strong opening.

The thing is that however well or poorly the movie does Stateside, Paramount knows that they're in for a huge worldwide hit just because of Pitt's presence and that's the sad state of the world box office today, that movies that aren't very good will deservedly flop in the States but our foreign counterparts will flock out to anything with a big name star.

Weekend Est.: $42 to 46 million opening; Est. Total Gross: $115 million

Following the successful release and nationwide expansion of Harmony Korine's Spring Breakers a few months back, A24 is taking the same route with Sofia Coppola's new movie The Bling Ring, starring Emma Watson of the "Harry Potter" movies. It's based on the real story of a bunch of Hollywood girls—it costars Katie Chang, Israel Broussard, Taissa Farmiga, Claire Julien and Leslie Mann—who break into celebrity homes to steal stuff from them. It's a premise that could interest a similar number of girls as Spring Breakers although we don't think it's nearly immediate. How well it fares in nationwide release will probably depend on how many theaters A24 gets this weekend, but we think it's good for $2 to 3 million depending on that theater count which may help it sneak into the bottom of the Top 10.

You can read my REVIEW of Sofia Coppola's latest movie by clicking here.

For some reason we completely skipped over the "This Weekend Last Year" portion of the column last week but considering that it saw the release of the musical Rock of Ages (Warner Bros.)--opening in third place with $14.4 million--and the Adam Sandler-Andy Samberg comedy That's My Boy (Sony)--fourth place with $13.4 million--can you blame us?

But this weekend last year saw the release of the previous movie from Disney•Pixar, the Scottish fairy tale inspired Brave, which opened in first place with $64.7 million, not a huge opening for Pixar but certainly respectful. Coming in a distant second was Timur Bekmambetov's oddball mash-up Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter (20th Century Fox), which took in $22.1 million, also not bad considering it could have been a Jonah Hex level bomb. Lastly, Steve Carell and Keira Knightley were teamed for an end of the world movie that was a year ahead of its time, as Seeking a Friend for the End of the World (Focus Features) opened weakly in tenth place with $3.8 million in 1,618 theaters with less than $2,500 per site. The Top 10 grossed roughly $152 million, but the one-two-three punch of Pixar, Brad Pitt and last week's Man of Steel should put this weekend well over $200 million and see another nice bump from this weekend last year.

This Week's Updated Predictions -

1. Monsters University (Disney•Pixar) - $84.7 million N/A (same)

2. Man of Steel (Warner Bros.) - $49.0 million -58% (same)

3. World War Z (Paramount) - $45.6 million N/A (up 1.1 million)

4. This is the End (Sony) - $11.4 million -44%

5. Now You See Me (Summit) - $6.8 million -38%

6. Fast & Furious 6 (Universal) - $4.6 million -52% (down .4 million)

7. The Internship (20th Century Fox) - $3.2 million -55% (down .4 million)

8. Epic (20th Century Fox) - $3.1 million -50%

9. Star Trek Into Darkness (Paramount) - $3.0 million -52% (down .1 million)

10. The Purge (Universal Pictures) - $3 million -64%

-- The Bling Ring (A24 Films) $2.5 million N/A (up .1 million)

Before we get to this week's limited releases, we want to draw a special attention to the 10th Annual New York Asian Film Festival, literally our favorite film festival of the summer, once again being held at Lincoln Center and the Japan Society. This is a somewhat bittersweet year for the festival and not just because I won't be attending for the first time in nine or ten years but also because of the passing of Daniel Craft last year. He was such an important part of the festival. We'll write more about this next week because the festival doesn't kick off until June 28, but this week they're giving a really good preview of what to expect with a Jackie Chan retrospective called The Jackie Chan Experience at Lincoln Center's Walter Reade. Knowing the guys at Subway Cinema, they won't just be showing "Rush Hour" movies either but probably some of Jackie Chan's Hong Kong classics that rarely are seen on these shores, so it's well worth checking out between June 23 and 27. You can see the full line-up for the retrospective here and a preview of the schedule for the rest of the New York Film Festival (at least what's being shown at Lincoln Center) here. We'll hopefully have more to share about this great homegrown New York film festival in next week's column.

New York Asian Film Festival aside, there are two really solid foreign films being released this Friday of note.

For those that can't wait until the Tom Hanks-Paul Greengrass Somali pirates movie Captain Phillips, from Denmark comes Tobias LIndholme's A Hijacking (Magnolia), about an invasion of a Danish cargo ship by Somali pirates in the Indian Ocan, although this one is more about the negotiations by the shipping company's CEO in trying to keep the men on board the ship alive. It opens only in theaters in New York and Los Angeles on Friday.

Also, Ziad Doueiri's The Attack (Cohen Media Group) was a terrific drama that played at last year's Toronto International Film Festival, the story of a Palestinian surgeon who has assimilated himself into Israeli society with many Jewish friends whose wife dies in an explosion at the scene of a suicide bombing, which he learns she might have been at the center of. It's a terrific drama and very timely to what is going on both in Israel and here in the States. It opens in New York and Los Angeles on Friday.

Veteran actor Terence Stamp does a rare bit of comedy in Paul Andrew Williams' Unfinished Song (The Weinstein Company) paying pensioner Arthur whose cheerful wife Marion (Vanessa Redgrave) loves to sing in the local choir while he hides away and complains about it. When something happens to her, he's forced to come out of his shell and join the choir with the urging of the choir director (Gemma Arterton) and his estranged son (Christopher Eccleston). Formerly called "Song for Marion" when it played at the Toronto Film Festival last year, this movie is finally seeing the light of day.

Elijah Wood stars in the horror remake of William Lustig's 1981 cult classic Maniac (IFC Midnight) written by Alexandre Aja (High Tension) and directed by Franck Khalfoun, playing serial killer Frank who owns a mannequin store an becomes obsessed with a young artist named Anna, played by Nora Arnezeder who needs help with her exhibition.

Next week, the month of June comes to a close--boy, summer is just flying by--with the return of Roland (Independence Day) Emmerich and the Capitol invasion movie White House Down (Sony), starring Channing Tatum and Jamie Foxx, while Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy team up for the female buddy cop comedy The Heat (20th Century Fox).



You can read stuff like this and regular box office, awards and festival coverage on the Weekend Warrior Blog and to keep up with the latest articles and posts, you can follow us on Twitter.


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