The Weekend Warrior

The Weekend Warrior: Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2, Rush, Don Jon, Baggage Claim

Source: Edward Douglas
September 24, 2013

September ends with three new movies in wide release as well as a fourth expanding after platforming last weekend, but the box office should well and fully belong to the animated sequel Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2, which is released at a time that's normally slower for family films but one where Sony Pictures Animation has found success in the past. It's going to make a second attempt this month to beat the September opening record currently held by SPA's 2012 release Hotel Transylvania, but may fall just slightly short. For older moviegoers without kids who have no interest in animation, we get the latest movie from Ron Howard set in the world of Formula 1 racing, Joseph Gordon-Levitt's directorial debut, which was all the talk at this year's Sundance, and an urban rom-com starring Paula Patton that hopes to find an audience of women looking for a little romance in a market notably devoid of it.

Before we get into this week's movies, it's time for that "bittersweet announcement" teased last week...

I'm not going to spend a lot of time going into details, because I assume most people already know that back in April I was diagnosed with acute leukemia. While I've had roughly four months of chemo that put the cancer in remission, there's still a strong enough chance of a relapse that on Friday, September 27, I'm going back into the hospital for the next step, a stem cell transplant that will basically rebuild my immune system from scratch using stem cells from a donor. If that sounds somewhat scary, then imagine being the one who has spent the last few months knowing that this lay ahead of me as a I breezed through chemotherapy. But honestly, if that's the way to finally kick this thing and make sure it never sidelines me as it has this past five months, then I'll do whatever it takes.

Unfortunately, I have a feeling that what lies ahead of me is going to require a lot more focus and after being told for months by many friends I should stop working and rest up and get better, I've finally decided to listen. This led me to have to make a very tough decision that now would be the best time for me to put the column on temporary hiatus so I can focus fully on the treatment ahead rather than the weekly worrying about what to write about movies.

Now mind you, I wasn't sure how much I would be able to do or write when I was first diagnosed back in April, and I've tried to stay fairly active, especially in between rounds of chemo, and who knows? Maybe in a couple weeks of being in the hospital, I'll start to get bored and get the itch to start writing again, in which case, the Weekend Warrior will be back sooner than later. Right now though I'm thinking that October would be a good month to take off with fingers crossed that everything will go well enough that I can be back in the game by November.

It just so happens that September is Blood Cancer Awareness Month, so I want to point my readers to the official site for The Leukemia & Lymphona Society to learn more. Also if you're between the age of 18 and 44, joining the bone marrow donor registry could end up saving a life if you turn out to be a match for someone with blood or other types of cancer, and you can join for free at BeTheMatch.org.

So yeah, this will be the last Weekend Warrior for at least a couple of weeks or at least until I get to a point where I feel like I can focus my energies back into writing about movies. I'm just a little bummed that I won't have an official 12th Anniversary column in a couple of weeks when I could have used the tasteless "12 Years a Slave to the Weekend Warrior" joke I had planned… so I guess we should consider ourselves lucky we dodged that bullet.

Anyway, thanks as always to my editor Mirko Parlevliet--who I may be referring to as "Saint Mirko" for years to come--as well as regular WW readers for being so understanding and supportive during these difficult times. I hope to be back soon.

Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2 (Sony Pictures Animation)
Starring (the voices of) Bill Hader, Anna Faris, James Caan, Will Forte, Andy Samberg, Benjamin Bratt, Neil Patrick Harris, Terry Crews, Kristen Schaal
Directed by Cody Cameron (Open Season 3), Kris Pearn (head of story for Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs and other films from Sony Pictures Animation); Written by John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein (Horrible Bosses, The Incredible Burt Wonderstone), Erica Rivinoja ("South Park," "Up All Night")
Genre: Animation, Comedy, Family
Rated PG
Tagline: "Something Big Was Leftover"

Mini-Review: The problems with following up a successful and popular animated movie with a sequel that delivers the same goods--especially when the filmmakers behind the original movie have moved onto other things--is one that's been faced many times before.

This latest attempt is a direct sequel to the first movie, continuing almost immediately where that one left off with inventor Flint Lockwood's mentor and New Age guru Chester V (voiced by Will Forte) showing up to help the clean-up efforts at Swallow Falls. He quickly gains Flint's trust and gives him a job at his inventor's community at Live Corp but soon realizes he needs Flint's help when his team run into troubles while trying to find said invention. Flint, his now girlfriend Sam Sparks and their friends return to Swallow Falls to discover it's been overrun by jungle-like vegetation and food that's come to life from Flint's still-active machine.

What follows is basically "Jurassic Park" with fruit, meat and vegetables with many of the jokes and references and story beats taken directly from that iconic film, but that's after a fairly long sequence in which Flint tries to make his way through the ranks at Live Corp, which isn't nearly as interesting.

From the fantastically creative creature designs of things like the Tacodile and the Cheesespider to the over-vegetated Swallow Falls environment, the "Cloudy" sequel certainly looks great, maybe even better than the first movie as it vies for the honor of being the most colorful movies of the year. As with the first movie, there are a lot of clever jokes, many which will go over the heads of the little ones, but this one also resorts to the type of physical humor and poop jokes that get easy laughs from kids more than the first movie as well. Eventually, it also falls back on familiar themes of other animated movies--the importance of friendship, for instance--that make a few of the running subplots predictable where they will go.

While Flint Lockwood's monkey Steve steals many a scene in the first half of the movie, he ends up taking a backseat to the lovable smiling Barry that becomes Sam's new pet and a real crowd winner by the end. On the flip side, Andy Samberg's Brent--the guy still wearing a chicken suit for some reason--quickly gets annoying and few would miss him if dropped from a third installment.

Still, with enough fun and laughs for both kids and parents, "Cloudy" proves itself to be a worthy follow-up even if there's less creativity involved once the central premise is introduced.

Rating: 7.5/10

In a year in which we've already had a couple huge animated films but also a number of bombs during an overcrowded late summer, along comes another family movie sequel that's going to try to fare better domestically than The Smurfs 2 did a few months back.

Based on the books by Judi and Ron Barrett, the original Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs was the first real hit for Sony Pictures Animation when it opened in mid-September 2009 with $30.3 million in 3,119 theaters. It went on to gross $124.9 million in North America and $236.8 million globally, which isn't bad even though it's nowhere near the amount made by the likes of DreamWorks, Pixar or Blue Sky Studios. Still, it fared well enough that a sequel was put into play and it couldn't be released at a better time for reasons we'll talk about below.

The key to the sequel working is that they figured out a good premise that's just as exciting and fun as food precipitation, creating an environment where food comes alive as fantastic creatures. Other than that idea, they're not exactly reinventing the wheel by bringing back all of the original characters and voice cast from the original movie including Bill Hader as inventor Flint Lockwood, Anna Faris as his weathergirl girlfriend Sam Sparks and everyone else. Will Forte joins the mix as Flint's idol inventor Chester V, while Kristen Schaal voices his ape assistant Barb.

There aren't any family movies in theaters and the last animated movie, Disney's Planes, has been benefitting greatly from that fact by having decent legs despite poor reviews and a weak early August opening. On top of that, the marketing for the movie has remained on point by focusing on the humor that will appeal to kids but also attracting their parents, teens and older moviegoers with well-placed commercials on the Food Network and similar places in hopes of bringing in more than the family audience, similar to Despicable Me 2 over the summer.

These two things along should help the sequel open well ahead of its predecessor. Although we don't think the original movie did well enough to warrant a $50 million opening for its sequel, the lack of family-friendly films between now and November should help Cloudy 2 do decently over the coming weeks.

Weekend Est.: $39 to 42 million; Est. Total Gross: $150 million

Rush (Universal Pictures)
Starring Chris Hemsworth, Daniel Brühl, Olivia Wilde, Alexandra Maria Lara, Stephen Mangan, Christian McKay, Julian Rhind-Tutt, Jamie de Courcey, Pierfrancesco Favino, Natalie Dormer
Directed by Ron Howard (Apollo 13, A Beautiful Mind, Frost/Nixon, Cinderella Man, The Da Vinci Code, Angels and Demons, many more); Written by Peter Morgan (The Queen, Frost/Nixon, Hereafter)
Genre: Racing, Drama, Thriller
Rated R
Tagline: "Everyone's Driven by Something."

8.5/10 Review

Video Interview with Ron Howard

Video Interviews with the Cast

As has been mentioned by better writers than me, this fall is all about the prestige films for older moviegoers with a number of serious dramas coming out in the next few weeks. This one is significant because it's director Ron Howard's return to prestige filmmaking for the first time since his 2009 movie Frost/Nixon. Like that movie, Rush was written by Oscar-nominated screenwriter Peter Morgan, but it's a much more fun and fast-paced movie that could appeal to the many racing fans in this country even if they're not necessarily into Formula 1.

The movie's a real test to see whether Australian actor Chris Hemsworth can capitalize on the success he's found playing Thor in Thor and Marvel's The Avengers to convert that into being a bonafide leading man who can be dependable at the box office. (His younger brother Liam failed his own test when put in the leading role in Paranoia, released last month.) Second to Hemsworth (but only slightly) is Olivia Wilde, who has appeared in a wide variety of movies this year and whose star has been progressively on the rise in recent years, although her role in Rush is fairly small. European stars Daniel Bruhl and Alexandra Maria Lara aren't likely to pull in as many audiences even though their roles in the movie are quite significant - in fact there's already been Oscar talk for Bruhl's performance as Austrian racer Niki Lauda, who becomes obsessed with Hemsworth's character James Hunt.

What's probably going to be more of a draw for moviegoers is that this is the new movie from Ron Howard, one of America's top directors, and one that's getting a lot stronger reviews than his recent movies. We could go through Howard's entire career with a fine toothed comb, but instead we'll focus on the last 12 years since he won the Oscar for A Beautiful Mind. Following that up with the Western The Missing, which failed to make back its $65 million budget, Howard then made the boxing movie Cinderella Man, which fared slightly better. Howard followed that by directing two adaptations of Dan Brown's bestselling novels, The Da Vinci Code and Angels and Demons, with the lower budget adaptation of Morgan's play Frost/Nixon sandwiched in between. Howard returned to comedy with The Dilemma, which paired superstars Vince Vaughn and Kevin James but failed to find the success of their other movies with just $48.5 million total.

Rush opened in five theaters in New York and L.A. last Friday but only did moderately well with $200,000 or $40,000 per screen, which isn't great for a movie expanding nationwide although one expects that Universal has put a lot more focus on their nationwide release. It's only expanding into a moderate 2,200 theaters which will certainly limit how much it can make, but it should do decent business in places like the Midwest and South where Nascar racing is popular. For the most part, the audience for this one is more likely to be older males who won't have as much interest in the other three movies opening this week and that should be enough to put it up against Prisoners for second place.

Weekend Est.: $11 to 13 million; Est. Total Gross: $45 million (more if it receives any Oscar nominations, but then Universal will have to rerelease it in January)

Baggage Claim (Fox Searchlight)
Starring Paula Patton, Derek Luke, Taye Diggs, Jill Scott, Boris Kodjoe, Tremaine Neverson, Adam Brody, Jenifer Lewis, Ned Beatty, Lauren London, Tia Mowry, La La Anthony, Christina Milian, Affion Crockett, Terrence J, Rickey Smiley, Thomas Miles, Djimon Hounsou
Written and directed by David E. Talpert (A Woman Like That, First Sunday)
Genre: Romance, Comedy
Rated PG-13
Tagline: "She's Done Flying Solo."

While the romantic comedy genre seems to be on somewhat of a long-term hiatus, there's a long-running sub-genre that features a strong black woman trying to find love among a group of dashing African-American men, often surrounded by an ensemble cast, many of whom have past experiences in said sub-genre. Baggage Claim is the latest in what's sometimes referred to as the "urban rom-com" because it's mainly targeting African-American women from teen and up in a fairly focused area near large cities.

This one stars Paula Patton, who has been working her way up the ranks from appearing in secondary roles in similar movies like Queen Latifah's Just Wright to starring in the ensemble wedding comedy Jumping the Broom, which opened with $15 million in 2,035 theaters in May 2011 and grossed $37.3 million total. Patton went on to play a key role in Tom Cruise's blockbuster Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol and was recently seen opposite Denzel Washington in 2 Guns, but Baggage Claim is fully her show, rather than being an ensemble piece.

What might be an even bigger draw to African-American women than Patton is actor Taye Diggs, who has starred in so many of these movies going back to the gold standard How Stella Got Her Groove Back, then going on to movies like The Wood and The Best Man, which gets a sequel this November after 14 years, as well as Brown Sugar with Queen Latifah. (Hmm… I'm noticing a trend here.) The other guys in the film include Derek Luke and Djimon Hounsou, the latter who has two Oscar nominations under his belt, and popular recording artist Trey Songz. Also from the world of music comes R ‘n' B singer Jill Scott, who has been doing more acting in recent years including Tyler Perry's Why Did I Get Married? movies. And how bad do we feel for Adam Brody, the token white guy in the movie, for not even getting his picture on the poster?

Distributor Fox Searchlight has had relative success with this genre, having released Kingdom Come in 2001 in just 1,111 theaters where it opened with $7.5 million, as well as the aforementioned Brown Sugar, which opened with $10.7 million in just 1,372 theaters, grossing $27.4 million total. Searchlight reunited with Queen Latifah for Just Wright, released in May 2010, to the tune of $8.2 million and $21.5 million total, showing the possible diminishing returns for this genre.

The question is whether Searchlight will be able to bring in the targeted African-American women in their 20s and 30s who will get the most enjoyment from the movie with the moderate targeted release into roughly 1,800 theatres. Baggage Claim certainly offers something that's not in theaters which should help, although it's likely to lose some of its business with women who are mothers with small kids who might take them to the "Cloudy" sequel instead. There should be enough business left over that the movie won't completely bomb and it probably will end up somewhere in the range of Just Wright.

Weekend Est.: $8 to 10 million; Est. Total Gross: $27 million

Don Jon (Relativity)
Starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Scarlett Johansson, Julianne Moore, Tony Danza, Brie Larson, Glenne Headly
Written and directed by Joseph Gordon-Levitt (writing and directing debut)
Genre: Comedy, Romance
Rated R
Tagline: "Everyone Loves a Happy Ending"

8.5/10 Rating

Interview with Joseph Gordon-Levitt

The weekend's underdog award has to go to this comedy, the directorial debut by actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt (who also wrote and stars in it), in which he plays a very different character from what we've seen him play before, a porn-addicted ladies' man, but also one that could readily appeal to fans of his movies (500) Days of Summer and 50/50.

It's a movie that made big waves back at the Sundance Film Festival in January where it was picked up by Relativity Media, who changed the title from "Don Jon's Addiction" to the simpler "Don Jon," which definitely isn't a better title. Not having a very good title might be the film's biggest stumbling block, which may be why Relativity has been screening the film quite abundantly most of the year, both at festivals and promo screenings, hoping to build word-of-mouth.

Of course, these days, having JGL in the movie may be enough to get moviegoers interested since his star has been on the ascendant since having key roles in the Christopher Nolan double whammy of Inception and The Dark Knight Rises, building on his popularity from the smaller movies mentioned above. While Gordon-Levitt himself is the big draw for the movie, particularly among younger women, he's paired with an equally popular star in Scarlett Johansson, who hasn't been appearing in many high profile movies beyond her role as Marvel's Black Widow last seen in Marvel's The Avengers. The pairing of two stars from two of 2012's biggest movies could be enough to attract some of the older teen and 20-something moviegoers away from some of the other choices this weekend. The movie also stars Julianne Moore—who isn't even being shown in the trailer or commercials--Tony Danza and Brie Larson.

Relativity certainly has high hopes for the movie even though they're opening it moderately in about 2,200 theaters (roughly the same as Rush), but overscreening the movie may backfire if everyone who has wanted to see it has already had a chance, especially in bigger cities. The good news is that however Don Jon does this weekend, word-of-mouth should generally be good among those who see it, which should help it do better in the long term and we can see it ending up with 3 times its opening weekend or more when all's said and done.

Weekend Est.: $9 to 11 million; Est. Total Gross: $35 million

This weekend last year was a very good one for Sony who went against the grain by releasing two new movies in the same weekend, a family animated movie and, as counterprogramming, a sci-fi action movie. Both were huge hits!

Opening in first place was Adam Sandler's animated comedy Hotel Transylvania (Sony), featuring the voices of many of his usual friends and Selena Gomez, a pairing that helped the movie open to $42.5 million and set a new September opening record. Filmmaker Rian Johnson returned with the sci-fi action flick Looper (Sony), starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Bruce Willis, which took second place with a strong $20.8 million in less than 3,000 theaters. Anna Kendrick and Rebel Wilson starred in the musical comedy Pitch Perfect (Universal), which opened in just 335 theaters, but was able to bring in $5.1 million or $15,000 per venue, allowing it to slip into sixth place. Things weren't as good for the educational drama Won't Back Down (20th Century Fox), starring Maggie Gyllenhaal and Viola Davis, which opened with just $2.6 million in 2,515 theaters—that's half as much as Pitch Perfect in 2,000 theaters--to open in tenth place. The Top 10 grossed $103 million, which is around where we expect this weekend to end up as well.

This Week's Updated Predictions -

1. Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2 (Sony Pictures Animation) - $41.6 million N/A

2. Rush (Universal Pictures) - $11.5 million N/A (down .3 million)

3. Prisoners (Warner Bros.) - $11.0 million -47%

4. Don Jon (Relativity) - $10.5 million N/A

5. Baggage Claim (Fox Searchlight) - $8.5 million N/A

6. Insidious Chapter 2 (FilmDistrict) - $6.5 million -53%

7. The Family (Relativity Media) - $3.6 million -49%

8. Instructions Not Included (Lionsgate/Pantelion) - $3.4 million -38%

9. We're the Millers (New Line/WB) - $3.0 million -34% (down .2 million)

10. Lee Daniels' The Butler (The Weinstein Company) - $2.5 million -40% (down .3 million)

For our last CHOSEN "ONE(s)" for a while, we're going with two very different music-related movies: Metallica Through the Never (Picturehouse) and Muscle Shoals (Magnolia).

Granted, I was already a fan of Metallica when I sat down in an IMAX theater in Toronto to see what ends up being way more than just a concert movie. Of course, the band plays some of their biggest hits and lots of early classics like "Battery" and "Master of Puppets" in a concert that was created just for IMAX 3D, played on an immense stage with larger props including a real-life recreation of the covers for "Ride the Lightning" and "Master of Puppets."

Directed by Hungarian filmmaker Nimrod Antal--who I've been a fan of since his early thriller Kontroll--what firmly sets this apart from other recent concert movies is that they embellish the performances with a narrative element involving Dane DeHaan as a roadie set on a quest for an object that has him traveling through a seemingly abandoned city, facing angry mobs of protesters, brutal policemen and a killer riding a horse. This storyline could well be seen as a long-form video to accompany the music from the concert but it's also something that could probably work on its own, and DeHaan has to be given a lot of credit for being able to carry the weight of the storytelling often without saying a word.

The marriage of the concert with the narrative makes Metallica Through the Never something way bigger than just Metallica in concert, though the genre elements and accompanying imagery will certainly appeal to fans of Metallica's music and its dark-leaning themes. It's especially fun when the narrative story starts to have an impact on what's happening at the concert, and Antal does a brilliant job integrating them in fun ways. Not that the concert really needs the help because the raw energy and power of Metallica live combined with the enhanced staging, not to mention the fantastic 3D camerawork that puts the viewer on stage with the band, makes the concert quite entertaining in its own right.

While it's hard to tell whether those who just plain don't like Metallica will be able to put up with their music for 90 minutes—it's never softened for too long with a ballad before the band kicks into some of their more bombastic early classics—but those who dig what they do will certainly appreciate what they and Antal have done to create a very different experience from other concert docs that have come out in recent years.

Metallica Through the Never opens exclusively in IMAX 3D theaters starting Friday and then in other theaters starting October 4.

Video Interview with Lars Ulrich

Also worth seeking out is Greg Camalier's music doc Muscle Shoals (Magnolia), which takes explores the music scene of Muscle Shoals, Alabama and the sound created around Rick Hall's FAME Studios and its house band, The Swampers. Together, they helped create hits for Percy Sledge ("When a Man Loves a Woman"), Wilson Pickett ("Land of 1,000 Dances") and Aretha Franklin, while having a huge influence on British bands like the Rolling Stones who recorded classics like "Brown Sugar" and Wild Horses" at Muscle Shoals and the Beatles. The studio also could boast the origins of the Allman Brothers Band and birth of Southern rock, having recorded Lynyrd Skynyrd's "Freebird" there. Sure, there's a lot of talking heads in the movie--Camalier gets the likes of Bono, Keith Richards, Mick Jagger and Greg Allman talking about the influence of the music from that regions recorded at FAME Studios—but hearing such great stories from the history of music makes it another great "rock doc" based around a recording studio, similar to Dave Grohl's Sound City and Big Star: Nothing Can Hurt Me, both released earlier this year. Muscle Shoals opens in New York at the IFC Center on Friday, expands to Chicago on October 4 and other cities after that. You can find out when it's playing near you on the official Magnolia site.

Stakeland creators Jim Mickle and Nick Damici return with a remake of the Mexican thriller We Are What We Are (eOne Films) about the Parkers, a family rocked by the death of their father (Bill Sage), leaving his two daughters Iris and Rose (Ambyr Childers, Julia Garner) to carry on the family's traditions for survival which involves cannibalism.

Elizabeth Olsen plays the title role of Therese (LD Entertainment) in Charlie Stratton's adaptation of Emile Zola's "Therese Raquin" about a repressed young woman in 19th Century Paris, trapped in a loveless marriage to her cousin (Tom Felton) until she meets and has an affair with one of her husband's friends, played by Oscar Isaac. It opens in select cities.

James Franco co-wrote, directs and stars in As I Lay Dying (Millennium Entertainment), an adaptation of William Falkner's novel, centering around the Bundren family of Mississippi who are bringing the body of their mother Addie home for burial and facing all sorts of obstacles. Co-starring Danny McBride and Tim Blake Nelson, it opens in select cities Friday.

Marina De Van's Irish thriller Dark Touch (IFC Midnight) involves an 11-year-old girl who survived a bloody massacre that kills her family, which she blames on the house, as she's put in the care of a neighboring couple.

Leland Orser's drama Morning (Anchor Bay Films) stars himself and Jeanne Tripplehorn as a couple dealing with the death of their only child, which eventually drives them apart.

Other movies out in limited release this weekend include Eva Orner's doc The Network (FilmBuff) about Afghanistan's independent television network TOLO TV, Treva Wurmfeld's doc Shepard & Dark (Music Box Films) about the relationship between Sam Shepard and Johnny Dark as the two look back over correspondence from the ‘60s, the comedy The Secret Lives of Dorks (Gravitas Ventures) co-starring Jim Belushi and Jennifer Tilly, and Erik Matti's Filipino crime-thriller On the Job (Well Go USA).

Next week…. Well, see above… but I'll leave you on the note that Alfonso Cuaron's first movie in seven years, the space thriller Gravity (Warner Bros.), starring Sandra Bullock and George Clooney, is coming out, as is the poker-based thriller Runner Runner (20th Century Fox), starring Justin Timberlake and Ben Affleck.



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.

Copyright 2013 Edward Douglas




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