The Weekend Warrior: The LEGO Movie, The Monuments Men, Vampire Academy
February 4, 2014
The Super Bowl has passed, as has the month of January when most movies are expected to be bad even if the cold tends to drive business into theaters… except this year, where we've had two really bad weekends in a row. So now we're into the second month of winter (or fourth if you include all the snow we've had since November) and baby, it's cold outside… and windy and snowy… and people are starting to get somewhat stir crazy, especially kids.
February isn't necessarily a bad time to release a movie and we have a couple new movies that people may actually want to see, including two very different high-profile movies, both somewhat anticipated, one because it's based on one of the most popular and recognized toy brands in the world, the other based on the actor/filmmaker at the helm and the cast he pulled together for his latest movie. And then we have Vampire Academy.
We'll start with The LEGO Movie (Warner Bros.) since that's going to be the clear winner of the weekend, being the second big family release of the year after the surprising hit The Nut Job. The big difference here is that this one is based on one of the most popular toy brands, created all the way back in 1891, and it's doubtful you could find a person anywhere in the Western Hemisphere, probably most of Europe and Asia, too, who doesn't know what a "LEGO" is.
And yet, when this movie was first announced, there were a lot of questions about "What is this movie going to be?" because movies based on toys and games tend to be somewhat questionable. This one's helmed by Phil Lord and Chris Miller, the guys who figured out how to turn the children's book Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs into an enormous hit. In between they directed the live-action comedy retooling of the FOX TV show 21 Jump Street, for which they have a sequel 22 Jump Street coming out this summer, and they were also involved in the sequel to "Cloudy," which grossed $260 million worldwide.
For this one, they have another great voice cast that includes Chris Pratt, Elizabeth Banks, Will Ferrell, Will Arnett, Morgan Freeman and Liam Neeson and they're playing up the fact that the movie features LEGO versions of Batman, Superman and even a LEGO character voiced by Freeman reminiscent of when he played God in Bruce Almighty. All of that is used to create a brand-new original story set in the world of LEGOs and full of Lord and Miller's typical sense of humor that worked so well in "Cloudy" making it hard not to think that Warner Bros. has a major hit on their hands.
What should really help is how the LEGO company is doing fantastic things by bringing their brand into video games like LEGO Harry Potter and most recently LEGO Marvel Super Heroes, fun games for kids and adults as well, not to mention the fact they have LEGO stores everywhere now. The movie itself should do huge business because it not only appeals to young kids like some family films, but it will also appeal to teens and older males due to some of the characters, as well as anyone who has played with LEGOs over the decades, which honestly can include people in their 40s, 50s and older, many whom will go see it with kids and grandkids, etc. In other words, it's kind of the perfect family movie, released at a weird time of year granted, but that shouldn't matter.
I'm not sure it's possible for it to achieve a $50 million plus opening, but somewhere between $40 and 50 million is definitely possible and with no other family fare between now and the end of the month, this should have great word-of-mouth and repeat viewings. It wouldn't even surprise me if this becomes the first movie of 2014 to cross the $200 million mark.
Once thought to be an Oscar contender, the George Clooney-directed WWII ensemble caper movie The Monuments Men (Sony), co-starring Matt Damon, Bill Murray, Cate Blanchett, Jean Dujardin and John Goodman, was originally going to be released over the holidays to try to take advantage of all the added business, but then things started changing, most notably with Scorsese's The Wolf of Wall Street being moved back to Christmas making it a very crowded market.
Sony moved it to February with the logic that the movie wasn't really meant for awards, and that it was more of an "action-thriller" and it actually does like a more serious version of the "Ocean's" movies with a plot involving a group of art historians and museum curators trying to recover priceless artwork that was stolen by the Nazis during World War II. Based on a true story documented in the book by Robert Edsel, it's certainly an interesting tangent for Clooney, but a WWII movie without soldiers seems like it probably won't have much action in it, which means the guys who normally would go see something like Lone Survivor might not be so interested in this. On top of that, it looks vaguely like Steven Soderbergh's The Good German, which starred Clooney and Blanchett, though so few people saw that movie, it's probably a non-issue.
Clooney will still probably be the biggest draw and his demographic is pretty well spread out among men and women, mostly 20s and up. His recent co-starring role in the surprise blockbuster Gravity has kept him in people's minds. That said, Clooney has not exactly made movies that have people flocking to theaters. His last movie, The Ides of March, grossed about $41 million after a $10.5 million opening, and his movie before that, Leatherheads, a period football comedy that's closer in look and feel to "Monuments Men" than any of his other movies, didn't even fare that well.
Reviews have already come in and they're surprisingly not great, which certainly won't help matters, since the people who might go see a movie like this generally know how to read and they will indeed check to see if the movie is worth paying for. But Sony's done a good job with the marketing and with so few other good movies for grown-ups (besides all the Oscar-nominated stuff, which most have seen), there should still be plenty of adults who will make this their first choice. Opening against The LEGO Movie also isn't going to helps business since that might be the choice of those under 25.
Based on the popular series of Young Adult books by Richelle Mead, the coolest thing about Vampire Academy (The Weinstein Company) may be that it's directed by Mean Girls' Mark Waters and written by Heathers' Daniel Waters, which means this could be the cattiest teen high school movie since either of them, only with vampires instead of cats. It features a fairly young hot cast that includes Zoey Deutch (Beautiful Creatures), Lucy Fry, Sarah Hyland ("Modern Family"), hunky Danila Kozlovsky and fresh-faced newcomers Joely Richardson and Gabriel Byrne. And really that's about all I know about the movie… or the books. I probably could do some research and learn more, but I'm just going to guess it takes place at a school with vampires and a few of them fall in love and there's a love triangle and no one over the age of 20 with a penis will give a crap about the movie. I sure don't.
Here's an excerpt from the plot summary for anyone reading this who cares: "It tells the legend of Rose Hathaway and Lissa Dragomir, two 17-year-old girls who attend a hidden boarding school for Moroi (mortal, peaceful Vampires) and Dhampirs (half-vampire/half-human guardians)."
You know what? Even reading that excerpt gets me pissed off, so let's just talk about its box office prospects. All we have to do is look at some of the young adult releases from last year and how poorly most of them did: The Host ($10.6 mil. open/$26.6 mil. total); Beautiful Creatures ($7.6/$19.4 total); The Mortal Instruments: City of Bone ($9.4/$31.2 total). So you have all of those, you have Warm Bodies which did decently and then you have The Hunger Game: Catching Fire, the highest grossing movie of last year domestically. This one doesn't look very good with none of the humor of the filmmaker's previous movies, although one presumes that vampires are still popular enough among young women to give it a bit of a kicker.
A few weeks back, the Weinstein Company moved Vampire Academy a week earlier, taking it off its Valentine's Day weekend release which was already jam-packed, but they probably would have been wiser to move it to Super Bowl weekend where it probably would have done very well against the weaker offering. Problem is that they haven't really done much promotion or spent much money on marketing, which means this is just catering to fans of the books and like many Young Adult adaptations, it's probably going to disappoint, third place at best and maybe $10 million opening but probably less.
This weekend last year saw the teaming of Melissa McCarthy and Jason Bateman for the comedy Identity Thief (Universal) which did huge business, bringing in $34.5 million in 3,141 theaters, making it one of the Top 15 openings for the month of February. Steven Soderbergh bowed out of filmmaking with the psychological medical thriller Side Effects (Relativity), starring Rooney Mara, Jude Law and Catherine Zeta-Jones, which took third place with $9.3 million in 2,605 theaters. For whatever reason, Paramount decided to release Tom Cruise's beloved 1986 classic Top Gun into roughly 300 IMAX 3d theaters where it brought in $2 million, not enough to get into the Top 10, which grossed $82 million and should be beatable if both The LEGO Movie and The Monuments Men does as well as expected.
This Week's Updated Predictions -
UPDATE: Fandango's publicity department is blasting out some pretty big pre-sales on The LEGO Movie, comparing them to Toy Story 3 which sounds pretty outrageous to me. Either way, it's definitely going to do closer to $50 million this weekend so I'm raising my prediction on that plus the tracking on Monuments Men is definitely showing an opening over $20 million so we're goosing up predictions on all three movies.
You may notice something a little different with the limited releases this weekend. It's probably the section of this column that takes me the most time and nobody reads it. Some of you may know what I've been going through the last nine months, but being that I've been writing this column for over 12 years, it felt like a time for some slow changes… so as I personally transition into Edward Douglas Phase 2, so does the Weekend Warrior transition into a more organized (if not more concise) column.
You'll notice that the limited releases are now divided into sections by genre, which will probably change on a weekly basis thanks to things like "dramedies," "horror-comedies," etc. Either way, I hope it will give WW readers motivation to read up on what else is out there besides the latest superhero movies, cause frankly, you can read about those on about a zillion other sites.
THE CHOSEN ONE:
Having premiered last year at SXSW under the title The Bounceback, Love & Air Sex (Tribeca Film) is the new comedy from Lovers of Hate director Bryan Poyser, and it's almost like the second chapter in what could be a "stalker" trilogy for the filmmaker. It stars Michael Stahl-David from Cloverfield and Ashley Bell (The Last Exorcism)—you might notice that both of them got their big breaks in found footage movies—as Stan and Cathy, a couple who have been broken up for a few months and moved to opposite coasts. When Stan learns that Cathy is going down to Austin to visit their mutual friends Jeff and Kara (Zach Cregger, Sara Paxton), who have also split up, he decides to just show up in hopes of reconciliation. The main focus of the comedy comes from the friends trying to keep the couple apart… and as you can guess from the title, it also involves competitive air sex, which is Jeff's obsession. I've already written a lot about this movie out of SXSW, but it's definitely one of the more original comedies I saw last year and I thought Sara Paxton was hilarious in it. I also think Poyser shows quite a bit of growth between Lovers of Hate and this, maybe because he was working with other writers on the screenplay, but he's a good comedy director who makes the most with what he has.
My Review from SXSW
Skyler Astin (Pitch Perfect) plays an L.A. screenwriter trying to find love and success in Herschel Faber's Cavemen (Well Go USA), wanting to get out of his routine of empty one-night stands and hanging with his sex-obsessed friends (one of them played by Chad Michael Murray). He also has to deal with his feelings for his best friend Tess played by Camilla Belle. Wait a second… didn't this come out last week under the title That Awkward Moment? No, wait… that was set in New York, so this is a completely different movie. Either way, it opens in select cities and you can read how bad it sucks below.
Mini-Review: "Cavemen" epitomizes absolutely everything I hate about Los Angeles, everything I hate about "will they won't they?" romantic comedies and movies about dating in general, and yet it has a few saving graces. Very few. Actually just one.
Skyler Astin's Dean is a wannabe screenwriter in Los Angeles, looking for love and hanging with some of the most annoying a-holes imaginable. In fact, the opening scene of him hanging with his "friends" in a bar is so borderline racist and misogynistic that many will likely walk out, thinking the rest of the movie was more of the same. Dean's a likeable enough guy himself and he's stayed close friends with Tess (Camilla Bell) who he used to date, but for whatever reason, he decides to hang out with jerks—two groups of them, in fact—none of them who seem worth spending time with.
The worst of the lot is played by Chad Michael Murray, who spends the entire movie talking in graphic detail about his sexual exploits right from that opening scene. It's a character with no redeeming qualities and there's no reason to think Dean would have any reason to have him as a friend. Oh, and for some reason, Murray is an actor who got a role in "Romeo and Juliet," an idea so ludicrous I wouldn't expect it to make it even to off-Broadway anytime soon.
But the saving grace of the movie is Skyler Astin himself because he's generally quite likable in the lead role and because of that, at least his performance seems sincere, like it's coming from a good place. If he had a better script or director, I actually might have cared what happened to him.
The whole movie feels disjointed, made up of random segments as if Faber, like many first-time screenwriters, had way too many ideas and didn't know how to fit them all together. Like do we really need scenes of Dean playing with his nephew? The movie should be about Dean's look for love and the whole "will he won't he?" with Camilla Belle—seriously, why is she lowering herself to being an eye candy trophy in a movie like this anyway?—but by the third act, we start following the relationships of Dean's annoying friends who we really don't care about at all.
"Cavemen" is the perfect example (or worst example) of simplistic first-time screenwriting that makes you wonder how filmmakers like Herschel Faber get money to make these movies. There's actually a moment where Dean hands his writing mentor a screenplay title "Cavemen" which the mentor reads studiously as if it's the second-coming of Shakespeare and you wonder…. Is that the screenplay we've been watching this whole time, because the screenplay for this movie is absolute and complete crap.
The sad thing is that the movie really is what L.A. is like and like Dean, Herschel Faber probably went out there hoping to be a great screenwriter and filmmaker, came up with the most generic rom-com premise possible, threw in a bunch of raunchy sex jokes and nudity and ended up with this. If I read this screenplay, I'd probably immediately ban Dean and Herschel from Hollywood.
Maybe moviegoers will have better luck with Rob Pearlstein's raunchy rom-com Someone Marry Barry (FilmBuff), starring Tyler Labine (Tucker and Dale vs. Evil) as a socially inappropriate guy whose friends (including Damon Wayans Jr.) are trying to find him a wife, but his new girlfriend (Lucy Punch) turns out to be just like him.
Zoe Kazan and Jake Johnson star in Jenée LaMarque's The Pretty One (Dada Films) in which the former plays shy introverted Laurel who loses her more outgoing twin sister Audrey in a car accident, giving her amnesia that makes her think SHE is Audrey, and she ends up taking over her life, as a relationship blooms with her sister's next door neighbor (Johnson).
Mini-Review: Another week and another twee indie that started its life on the festival circuit and probably should have stayed there. Maybe it's just that I don't like Zoe Kazan enough to get into this movie from a first-time filmmaker, but we've already seen way too many recent movies about twins and one of them taking over the life of another that it feels like there's very few places for this idea to go.
The long and short of it is that Zoe Kazan plays twins Laurel and Audrey, the first one shy, the second outgoing, but when the latter dies in a car crash—conveniently right after they get matching hair styles—Laurel pretends she's Audrey but that she has amnesia, allowing her to try out her sister's lifestyle.
The film glides along with a mopey ambient tone that would be perfect for someone who just wants to ogle Kazan's pretty face, and there's no question the camera loves Kazan, which LaMarque takes full advantage of, much like Bradley Rust Gray did with "The Exploding Girl."
Fortunately, it doesn't take long before the story brings in Johnson as Audrey's neighbor and as always, Johnson's great at pulling strong performances out of every actress he works with, and then Johnson's "Drinking Buddies" rival Ron Livingston shows up as Audrey's married boyfriend—I mean, they're essentially playing the same roles in this movie! As much as Johnson makes all his scenes better, there's really just nothing to this movie that keeps the viewer invested in the relationship.
The idea just doesn't feel so original and there's only so much watching Kazan trying to pull off the ruse as she meets people from her sister's life before it gets boring. As mentioned earlier, Kazan generally works better as an actress when she's not saying many lines and just allowing the camera to admire her. When she tries to be all energetic and wild (which is required for this dual role), she just seems fake.
Frankly, Lamarque isn't a particularly good director when it comes to actors, giving Kazan too much leeway to just do the Zoe Kazan "thing" which make for perfectly fine indie drama, but she also goes for some of the most obvious imagery just to drive points home.
Instead of trying to flesh out any sort of real story, Lamarque just continues to follow Laurel in her day-to-day attempts at pretending to be Audrey. She eventually has to come out and tell the truth to Johnson's character and to her parents—the latter's reaction is so ridiculous and over-the-top with melodrama that it just seems like Lamarque lost control of the scene. That leads to the obvious third act resolution where Laurel comes to terms with what she does and tries to make amends and everything works out.
It's not a terrible movie and sure, there are plenty of moviegoers out there who enjoy these sorts of films--usually at festivals… when there's an open slot in their schedule--but I honestly have no idea what anyone else might get out of watching this.
Action, Thrillers and Horror:
The Kill List director Ben Wheatley is back with A Field in England (Drafthouse Films), set in 17th Century England when a group of war deserters end up being captured by two men (including Michael Smiley from Wheatley's earlier films) who force the soldiers to help them find a hidden treasure in a field full of magic mushrooms…. which they eat. If you've seen The Kill List, you can only imagine what sort of chaos ensues.
Jason Patric and James Caan---wait, THAT James Caan? Who received an Oscar nomination for The Godfather?--star in The Outsider (Image Entertainment/RLJ Entertainment), Brian A. Miller's crime-thriller stars Craig Fairbrass as British mercenary Lex Walker who learns that his daughter is missing so he enlists the help of a detective (Patric) to try to see if she's still alive, tracing her back to her former boss, a cyber-billionaire played by Caan. Yeah, this sounds good… so good that it's probably going to make about $5 this weekend.
Documentaries of Interest:
Three decades after his landmark film Shoah, 87-year-old Claude Lanzmann revisits the Holocaust in The Last of the Unjust (Cohen Media Group), focusing on Benjamin Murmelstein, the last Jewish elder from the "model" concentration camp who worked under the supervision of Adolf Eichmann with a lengthy interview with Murmelstein originally shot for Shoah.
There are a couple movies literally being dumped into this weekend including Crispian Mills' A Fantastic Fear of Everything (Cinedigm), starring Simon Pegg--that opened in England in June 2012--and the other is Nurse 3D (Lionsgate), starring Paz de la Huerta from "Boardwalk Empire" and directed by Doug Aarniokoski (The Day), which shot in 2011 and has been laying dormant other than a bunch of sexy posters.
In "Fantastic Fear," Pegg plays a children's author who decides to become a crime author looking into serial killers who starts getting hyper-paranoid, and I actually saw the movie in England a few years back and it was absolutely terrible, one of the worst things Pegg has ever done and he's done some pretty bad movies!
I'm actually curious to see Nurse 3D just because I've spent a lot of time in the hospital and clinic around nurses and Paz de la Huerta is notoriously infamous for taking on roles that require her to not wear many clothes. Which could be awkward and unhygienic when you're a nurse. Maybe I'll wait for the DVD/VOD of that one…
Going to throw my good buddy Gitesh Pandya aka the Box Office Guru a bone and a quick shout-out and include this week's Bollywood offering Hasee Toh Phasee (Reliance Entertainment), a romantic comedy set in Mumbai across a decade and starring Parineeti Chopra and Sidhart Malhotra. No, I have no idea who either of them are either but considering how well Dhoom 3 has done since opening before Christmas , grossing $88 million worldwide, it's obvious we should be taking these movies more seriously.
Other options you may find scattered across the country include Robert May's doc Kids for Cash (SenARt Films), Juan Carlos Maneglia and Tana Schembori action-thriller 7 Boxes (Shoreline Entertainment) and apparently Jean-Claude Van Damme has ANOTHER movie coming out this weekend, just two weeks after Enemies Closer, this one called Welcome to the Jungle (Cinedigm). Really? And Universal won't release Joe Carnahan's Stretch?!? So frustrating…
Next week, it's Valentine's Day and Presidents' Day weekend… combined!.. so you can either go to a movie with someone you love or you can go to the movies with someone who has lotsa Dead Presidents! The most romantic movie of the weekend probably won't be the remake of RoboCop (Sony) unless you're really REALLY into Spike Jonze's Her, in which case it might be. But otherwise, you have varying degrees of romance available to you from the infinite Endless Love (Universal) to the one night stand of About Last Night (Sony/Screen Gems) to the seasonal Winter's Tale (Warner Bros.) Or you can just go see The LEGO Movie five more times…
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."