The Weekend Warrior

The Weekend Warrior: Transformers: Age of Extinction

Source: Edward Douglas
June 24, 2014

Every once in a while, a summer movie gets a weekend on its own with no competition and that's the case this weekend with Michael Bay's Transformers: Age of Extinction (Paramount), his fourth return to the world of the Hasbro transforming robots after taking a break to direct the crime-thriller Pain & Gain last year.

The "Transformers" franchise is a strange anomaly because regardless of how bad reviews are and how much the fans of the popular toys and their spin-off cartoons and comics hate the movies, they seem to still turn out in droves, which is why all of Michael Bay's three previous movies have grossed over $300 million domestically.

Michael Bay had already established himself as the director of big summer blockbusters before directing his first Transformers movie, starring Shia LaBeouf and Megan Fox, which was released over the 4th of July weekend in 2007. It opened on Monday evening July 2 to $8.8 million, followed by $27.8 million its first full day and $29 million on the 4th of July, another $19 million on Thursday, then $70.5 million its first full weekend. That basically added up to $155 million in its first week, leading to a summer gross of $319 million. Its sequel, "Revenge of the Fallen," opened a week earlier on June 24 two years later, and grossed $200 million in its first five days with an opening weekend of $109 million. That ended up grossing over $400 million that summer which was followed two years later by Transformers: Dark of the Moon, which similarly opened earlier in the week and ended up with $97.8 million its opening weekend ($162.6 million including Tuesday through Thursday). That movie grossed less than its predecessor with $352 million and was the second-highest grossing movie that year after Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - Part 2.

Clearly when you have three movie that make that much money--and we're not even counting the amount of money the movies made internationally because "Dark of the Moon" doubled its North American take overseas to end up with over ONE BILLION DOLLARS TOTAL!--then the studio wants to keep the money rolling in. Somehow, they convinced Michael Bay to return to the franchise, but they decided to reboot it with all new human characters and a big bonus this time around is the addition of Mark Wahlberg to the cast, being that he is already considered an A-list star who can get moviegoers into seats.

Wahlberg's last movie, Lone Survivor, did far better than most war movies grossing $125 million after its January wide release opening of $37.9 million. Before that, he was teamed with Denzel Washington last August for 2 Guns, which had a solid $27 million opening on its way to $75 million. His other movies from 2013, Bay's Pain & Gain and Broken City didn't fare as well, although the previous year, Wahlberg's role in Seth MacFarlane's comedy Ted helped solidify his ability to do comedy as well as drama following his teaming with Will Ferrell for the buddy cop comedy The Other Guys two years earlier. What Wahlberg brings to the table is that for once, moviegoers who may not be as into giant robots will have a bonafide human action star they're just as likely to want to see. Wahlberg's supporting cast includes Stanley Tucci, TJ Miller, Jack Raynor, Nicola Peltz, Ken Watanabe and Kelsey Grammer, all of whom hopefully won't be embarrassed too much by what Bay has them do.

Even with the teaming of two box office superstars like Wahlberg and Bay, there'll still be a lot of moviegoers and fans who will remember how bad the previous "Transformers" movies were, which might make them wary of paying money to see the new movie. Oh, who are we kidding? If there's anything that we can guarantee about fanboys is that no matter how much they complain and swear they'll never see a movie, they almost always end up going out opening weekend to see it, just so they can complain about it. Even though "Age of Extinction" seems to have a lower profile than the previous "Transformers" movies, the relatively weak showing for other summer blockbusters that are struggling to make $200 million seems like it opens things up for Bay's latest to have a huge opening weekend, especially after last week's minor offerings.

Unlike the previous installments, "Age of Extinction" isn't opening earlier in the week on a Tuesday or Wednesday, something that would generally limit the amount of money a movie might make over the weekend--not that it hurt the previous two sequels that opened with more than $95 million. One might assume that the World Cup could hurt the movie's opening weekend in a number of countries, but North America probably won't be one of them since the USA isn't playing over the weekend. With ticket prices generally higher and more people likely to see this in one of the premium formats like IMAX and 3D--Bay shot much of the movie using IMAX cameras once again--one can expect that even if attendance is slightly lower than the previous movies, higher ticket prices will push opening weekend over $100 million. (Friday and Thursday night previews should be worth $40 million plus on their own.) In fact, this is very likely to be the first movie of the year to cross that $100 million threshold opening weekend and with weaker offerings over the 4th of July weekend, one can expect Bay's movie to bring enough business to the point where it's likely to be the first movie of the year--and the only one until the next "Hunger Games"--to cross the $300 million mark domestically, making it the top movie of the summer.

This weekend last year saw the release of two movies that seemed like they could effectively split moviegoing audience, although neither of them were able to do well enough to best Pixar Animation's hit sequel Monsters University, which remained at #1 with $45.6 million, down 45% from its opening weekend. Of the two new movies, it really wasn't much as a competition as the Sandra Bullock-Melissa McCarthy police comedy The Heat (20th Century Fox) beat out Roland Emmerich's invasion movie White House Down (Sony), starring Channing Tatum and Jamie Foxx, with a $39.1 million opening to the latter's $24.9 million. That weak opening for the latter was probably frustrating for Sony who were just coming off the summer bomb After Earth, starring Will Smith, and the $200 million the movie ended up making (2/3rds of it from foreign markets) wasn't enough to cover the movie's $150 million price tag. The $180 million grossed by the Top 10 should be attainable by this weekend's offerings, but only if Transformers: Age of Extinction does as well as we predict.

This Week's Predictions

Transformers: Age of Extinction will win the weekend by a large margin without question, but what may be interesting to see is how last week's Top 3 movies end up and whether the presence of Michael Bay's latest may hurt some of the stronger movies allowing the only PG family film, DreamWorks Animation's How to Train Your Dragon 2, to pull ahead of them. With the entry into the Top 10 being less than a million, there's also an opportunity for a limited release to expand wider and break into the Top 10, but it's hard to see what could do that well.

1. Transformers: Age of Extinction (Paramount) - $103.4 million NA

2. How to Train Your Dragon 2 (DreamWorks Animation, 20th Century Fox) - $15 million -41%

3. 22 Jump Street (Sony) - $14.8 million -49%

4. Think Like a Man Too (Sony/Screen Gems) - $14.1 million -53%

5. Jersey Boys (Warner Bros.) - $7.8 million -42%

6. Maleficent (Walt Disney Pictures) - $7.2 million -45%

7. Edge of Tomorrow (Warner Bros) - $5.5 million -47%

8. The Fault in Our Stars (20th Century Fox) - $5 million -42%

9. X-Men: Days of Future Past (20th Century Fox) - $2.8 million -55%

10. Chef (Open Road) - $1.1 million -35%

This week's "CHOSEN ONE" is Snowpiercer (RADiUS-TWC), the new movie from Bong Joon-ho, the filmmaker behind The Host and Mother. Like last year's Stoker and The Last Stand, this is the English language debut by one of Korea's finest filmmakers, and it's exciting to see him working with well-known American actors like Chris Evans, Tilda Swinton and others. Okay, I know what you're thinking: "Didn't this movie come out a year ago in Korea and in other countries over the past year? And can't I simply watch a bootleg or an import DVD?" Sure, you can, but as with director Bong's other films, it's the type of film that really must be seen on the big screen.

The general premise, based on a relatively obscure French graphic novel, involves a future where the Earth has experienced another Ice Age, killing most of the population, but those who survived have been piled onto a train that's miles long. The people onboard the train have been divided and compartmentalized via a class system where the poorest and most violent people are all the way at the back of the train and the wealthy and well-to-do are closer to the front. The entire micro-system is lorded over by the mysterious despot named Mr. Wilford. Those at the back of the train have been dealing with horrible conditions, including the disappearance of some of their kids, but a number of revolutionaries, led by Chris Evans' Curtis, plan on making their way to the engine in order to confront Wilford directly. Along the way, they grab Kang Ho-Song's junkie engineer to help them get past the electronic gates and he brings his equally addicted daughter along with him.

The film is definitely an oddball of a sci-fi movie, similar to what we've seen from Terry Gilliam over the years, and a lot of that has to do as much with the odd characters as it does the situation. One of the oddest is Wilford's second in command played by Tilda Swinton wearing prosthetic teeth and an odd wig and outfit, giving an over-the-top performance that's reminiscent of Monty Python's version of Queen Elizabeth in some ways. Chris Evans is also quite enjoyable in a leading role that's darker and less wholesome than his Steve Rogers/Captain America. Besides Swinton, a real standout is Bong regular Kang Ho-Song as a similarly quirky but constantly entertaining character.

As the group makes its way through the various train compartments, they face all sorts of threats, which adds to the tension and excitement as the film goes along, although the film sometimes gets so dark that it's oppressive. The violence is also quite visceral, at times reaching Takashi Miike levels.

The movie ultimately does pay off with a really fantastic FX-driven ending and that's after a great climax where Curtis comes face to face with Wilford - if you don't know the film's casting it's a nice surprise reveal when we finally meet him. It also offers plenty of variety in terms of the action--gunfights, martial arts, blades, etc.--that it never feels stale or like it's recycling other sci-fi action flicks.

While Snowpiercer is certainly one of the stranger films of the year, that's probably not too unexpected coming from a Korean filmmaker making his American debut and director Bong brings enough straight action to the mix that even those put off by the more bizarre characters should ultimately dig what he's done with the material.

Rating: 8/10

Snowpiercer opens in select cities on Friday, roughly 10 theaters, but if it does well enough, maybe RADiUS-TWC will expand it to other cities.

Speaking of great Asian filmmakers, Friday marks the beginning of the annual 13th New York Asian Film Festival (NYAFF), which runs from June 27 through July 14, organized by Subway Cinema in conjunction with Film Society of Lincoln Center, Japan Society and Asia Society. This is honestly one of my favorite film festivals every year, not only because it's based in New York but also because every year, they tend to bring in one of the rowdiest audiences that's made up of the diehard Asian film fans. While there's plenty of genre movies in the mix, as well as martial arts and crime, the NYAFF tends to mix things up, bringing some of Asia's biggest hits to the States - whether they be romantic comedies, dramas, etc. It's quite a mixed bag full of variety every year and this year is no exception.

I have to be honest that I have not watched too many of the films offered as advance screeners yet, just because I haven't had as much time as I'd like to watch movies. There are a number of interesting sub-sections for this year's fest including the "Hong Kong Forever!" section that features things like 3D Naked Ambition, Golden Chicken and its sequel Golden Chickensss (featuring the festival's special guest, comic actress Sandra Ng). Korean actor Lee Jung-jae gets a mini-retrospective that includes his new movie The Face Reader, and the late Sir Run Run Shaw will get a special tribute that will include many Shaw Brothers films that have never been seen in the States. (The tribute includes a screening of the 1967 martial arts classic The One Armed Swordsman with star Jimmy Wong Yu in attendance.)

As in past years, the festival spills over into the Japan Society's annual "Japan Cuts" program, which begins on July 10 and runs through July 20. They'll be showing the likes of The Snow White Murder Case, Why Don't You Play in Hell? from Sion Sono, the Japanese remake of Unforgiven, as well as a special screening of the acclaimed Killers, which played at this year's Sundance Film Festival.

Other movies of interest include the Taiwanese film Kano, the Korean thriller The Terror Live, Juno Mak's Rigor Mortis (which premiered as part of Toronto's "Midnight Madness") and many more. There will be 60 feature films shown in the festival's two plus weeks, but it's kind of weird to not have a single movie from Johnny To, Takashi Miike, Park Chan-wook and other NYAFF regulars.

If you're in New York City over the next couple weeks, do try to check out a few movies at the festival, because a lot of the films will never receive distribution in North America and it will be your only chance to see many of them.

You can see the full line-up and find out how to get tickets on the Official Subway Cinema NYAFF Site.

This Week's Other Limited Releases:

Comedies

David Wain, director of Role Models and Wet Hot American Summer, returns with his spoof of romantic comedies, They Came Together (Lionsgate), starring Paul Rudd and Amy Poehler as a mismatched couple who "meet cute" and somehow manage to hit it off even though the former's company is trying to shut down the latter's candy shop. Also starring Bill Hader, Ellie Kemper, Ed Helm and dozens of comics from various television shows, it opens in select cities on Friday.

Interview with David Wain

Review

Drama:

John Carney, the filmmaker behind the indie sleeper hit Once (which spawned a Tony-winning musical) returns with Begin Again (The Weinstein Company), a movie starring Keira Knightley as Greta, a songwriter who comes to New York City with her rock star boyfriend (Maroon 5's Adam Levine) but when she's dumped, she connects with a down-on-his-luck record producer (Mark Ruffalo), who is inspired by Greta's music to try to make a comeback. It opens in New York and L.A. Friday before its nationwide expansion on the 4th of July.

Interview with John Carney (Next Week!)

Review (Coming Soon!)

Action, Thrillers and Horror:

In the real-time action movie Drones (Phase 4 Films), directed by Rick Rosenthal (Halloween II, Halloween: Resurrection), two soldiers must decide the fate of a terrorist as they have a chance to push a button and have a military drone take him before their time runs out. (The plot sounds a bit like the Gavin Hood-Colin Firth movie Eye in the Sky currently in development, though that has a much more notable cast including Helen Mirren.)

Foreign Films of Interest:

Norwegian filmmaker Magnus Martens directs the crime-comedy Jackpot (Doppelganger), based on the novel by Jo Nesbo (Headhunters), which follows the travails of Oscar Svendsen, an ordinary working man who wakes up in a strip club holding a shot gun with eight bodies around him. As he's under investigation by a detective, Oscar tries to find out what happened when a soccer pool goes horribly wrong with he and three friends fighting over the money. Having had its U.S. premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival way back in 2012, it finally gets a limited release.

French fashion mogul Yves Saint Laurent (The Weinstein Company) gets the biopic treatment, as played by Pierre Niney, following his overnight rise to fame at the age of 21 in 1958, to him meeting his future lover Pierre Berge (Guillame Gallienne). Directed by Jalil Lesper, it opens on Wednesday at New York's Film Forum.

Documentaries of Note:

Dinesh D'Souza, the filmmaker behind the Tea Party-backed 2016: Obama's America returns with the similarly inflammatory rhetoric of America: Imagine a World Without Her (Lionsgate), which looks at how America has faltered as a "good" nation over the years as it looks back at historical misdeeds against Native Americans, Mexicans and African slaves all the way to decisions when it comes to foreign policy by the current regime. (Although I'd imagine they probably ignore most of the misdeeds made by previous Republican administrations in the movie.) It opens in Houston and Atlanta on Friday before its wide release on Wednesday, July 2.

Brian Knappenberger's doc The Internet's Own Boy: The Story of Aaron Swartz tells the story of programmer and "information activist" Aaron Swartz from the development of RSS to the co-founding of Reddit, who committed suicide at the age of 26 after a two year legal battle. After receiving accolades at a number of film festivals including Sundance, it gets a release into select cities on Friday.

Oscar-nominated filmmaker Joe Berlinger (The "Paradise Lost" series of docs) returns with Whitey: The United States of America vs. James J. Bulger (Magnolia), a documentary about Boston's notorious gangster James "Whitey" Bulger--inspiration for Jack Nicholson's character in The Departed and the subject of the upcoming Johnny Depp movie Black Mass. The film deals with Bulger's trial for his involvement in violent murders with testimonials from some of his capos and surviving relatives of some of Bulger's victims. It opens in New York (at the IFC Center) and in two theaters in the Boston area on Friday, as well as On Demand, ITunes, before expanding to other cities.

Joe Manganiello, the star of "True Blood" and Magic Mike, directs the documentary La Bare (Main Street Films), which takes a look at the dancers at La Bare Dallas, "the world's most popular male strip club," and their rock 'n' roll lifestyle.

Next week, it's the 4th of July weekend but it will start early on Wednesday with the release of three new movies in wide release including Melissa McCarthy's working class comedy Tammy (Warner Bros.), directed by her hubby Ben Falcone; Scott (Sinister) Derrickson's latest supernatural thriller Deliver Us From Evil (Screen Gems/Sony), starring Eric Bana; and the first-ever found footage movie just for kids, the sci-fi adventure Earth to Echo (Relativity Media).



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 2014 Edward Douglas




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