The Weekend Warrior: Non-Stop, Son of God

Well, that’s a wrap on February as this snowbound year flies by quicker than usual, and after a couple of weak weekends, there’s still hope the winter/spring season can be saved by a few more big hits along the lines of The LEGO Movie, Ride Along and Lone Survivor.

Universal Pictures is certainly going to give it a go for their third hit of the year with the action-thriller Non-Stop, which reunites actor Liam Neeson with director Jaume Collet-Serra, their previous collaboration Unknown opening with $22 million in a similar February release three years ago, going on to gross $63 million domestic and twice that worldwide. (They also have a third movie together called Run All Night that was just dated for a February 6 release next year.)

Neeson is on a huge roll right now, having ably entered a new place in his career when Luc Besson hired him to star in the action-thriller Taken. Even though it took years for it to finally be released in the United States—watered down to a PG-13 rating–it opened with nearly $25 million in a late January 2009 release and went on to gross $145 million in North America, the last territory in the world where it was released. Since then, Neeson has played pivotal roles in big movies such as Clash of the Titans and its sequel, Joe Carnahan’s The Grey ($51.6 million domestic gross), plus the sequel Taken 2, which much opened bigger and ended up grossing around the same as the original. He also provided his voice for both of this year’s animated releases, The Nut Job and The LEGO Movie, both hits in their own respect but his role in the latter has certainly proven popular enough that someone made a trailer for Non-Stop out of LEGOs which you can watch below.

The casting of Neeson in the role of an air marshal who starts receiving threatening messages from some unknown callers is a smart one, because it’s not too far removed from the roles he played in Taken or Unknown, and it’s going to be easy for moviegoers to immediately be on board. (Yes, that was an airplane joke, if you hadn’t guessed.)

Airplane thrillers have generally been successful over the years with 2005 seeing two hit thrillers set on cross-country flights. Opening in late August, Wes Craven’s Red Eye, starring Cillian Murphy and Rachel McAdams, only made $16 million its opening weekend but built on word-of-mouth to $58 million domestic and nearly $100 million worldwide. A month later, Jodie Foster starred in Flightplan, which did even better, opening with $24.6 million and grossing $89.7 million in North America. But then of course, there was Snakes on a Plane a year later which seemingly had a lot of buzz but faltered at the box office, grossing just $34 million domestic.

Non-Stop is clearly more in line with the first two movies and having a popular A-lister like Liam Neeson as the lead can only help it have a solid opening, probably in the same $25 to 30 million range, but how much more it might do will depend on that pesky winter weather and how moviegoers are feeling about seeing Neeson in yet another movie that seems like it mixes Taken with Unknown with The Grey. We’ve heard generally good things about the movie so far so a solid opening could also lead to decent legs among older moviegoers even as movies like 300: Rise of an Empire and other March releases try to steal some of its thunder.

And in some of the oddest counter-programming we’ve seen so far this year, 20th Century Fox is releasing Son of God (20th Century Fox), a feature film apparently culled from footage from Mark Burnett and Roma Downey’s hit History Channel mini-series “The Bible,” focusing on the story of Jesus. Apparently, there is some new footage in this feature film which is clearly trying to entice the cable-less ultra-religious Christian right and Catholics who may not have gone to see a movie since Mel Gibson’s The Passion of The Christ.

There doesn’t seem to be a ton of buzz for this movie, and those who’ve seen the History Channel series may wonder why they should bother to pay to see the same footage again even if it’s cut together with a new score from the ubiquitous Hans Zimmer. Either way, there’s definitely a push for the movie among churches and that should help it do better than it might have otherwise, probably in the $14 to 17 million range, although Jesus is likely to be overshadowed by Neeson this weekend.

This weekend last year, we were already into March, but in the interest of not following behind, we’ll just go with it. Director Bryan Singer returned with his take on the fairy tale Jack the Giant Slayer (Warner Bros.), starring Nicholas Hoult, Ewan McGregor and more, but it failed to achieve the summer blockbuster status it may have been aiming for, scraping together just $27.2 million for first place. The raunchy party comedy 21 and Over (Relativity), starring Miles Teller, Skylar Astin and Justin Chon, took third place with $8.8 million, while the found footage horror sequel The Last Exorcism Part II (CBS Films) opened in fifth with a weak $7.7 million. The Russian submarine thriller Phantom (RCR Distribution) was released into over a thousand theaters, but it ended up making less than $500 thousand. The Top 10 grossed $87.8 million which should be beatable with The LEGO Movie still holding strong even if it’s in second place.

This Week’s Updated Predictions -

1. Non-Stop – $26.7 million N/A (same)

2. The LEGO Movie (Warner Bros.) – $21.5 million -32% (down .2 million)

3. Son of God (20th Century Fox) – $18.4 million – N/A (up 2.8 million)

4. 3 Days to Kill (Relativity Media) – $6.5 million -47%

5. RoboCop (MGM/Sony) – $4.7 million -52%

6. The Monuments Men (Sony) – $4.4 million – 44%

7. About Last Night (Sony/Screen Gems) – $4.1 million -46%

8. Pompeii (TriStar/Sony) – $3.7 million -63%

9. Frozen (Walt Disney) – $3.0 million -29%

10. Ride Along (Universal) – $2.6 million -44%

This Week’s Limited Releases:

THE CHOSEN ONE:

I first saw Ritesh Batra’s wonderful Mumbai-based film The Lunchbox (Sony Pictures Classics), a veritable romance for foodies, back at the Toronto International Film Festival, one of the few movies that I caught just because I had a gap in my schedule.

It stars one of India’s finest actors Irrfan Khan as Sajaan, a white collar claims accountant about to retire who mistakenly is sent the wrong lunchbox despite Mumbai’s notoriously efficient lunch delivery system – consisting of 5,000 “Dabbawallahs,” or delivery men. Instead of his own lunchbox from a local restaurant, Sajaan receives the lunch made by frustrated housewife Ila (Nimrat Kaur) trying to please her workaholic husband who never spends much time or pays much attention to her.

“The Lunchbox” is essentially a two-handed romance where Khan spends most of the movie never being in a scene with Kaur, but they pass notes back and forth through the daily luncbox once they realize their error. Both lonely people, their notes start as friendly conversations, telling stories about their days, but things become more intimate as they become more comfortable in the relationship and Ila realizes she needs to meet Sajaan to help her decide whether to stay in her loveless marriage.

Khan is always a terrific actor, always bringing a subtlety to his performances, especially in this case where we’re often watching him reading Ila’s notes silently. It’s a film that’s all about facial expressions as they read each other’s notes and the results are warm and wonderful.

There are a few supporting characters who enhance the humor, including Mrs. Deshpande, referred to by Ila as “Auntie,” a disembodied voice coming from the floor above Ila who gives her instructions on her cooking. The last piece of the puzzle is Nawazuddin Siddiqui as Shaikh, Sajaan’s trainee who adds a great bit of humor as he constantly shows up at the wrong time – usually while Sajaan is trying to consume Ila’s food or read her notes.

While I don’t really watch many Bollywood films and in general (there haven’t been too many films from India I’ve truly enjoyed), The Lunchbox is a very special film that transcends its origins. Despite its simple premise, it’s a story that could really only take place in Mumbai if only due to its use of Mumbai’s lunch delivery system, but also its use of India’s politics when it comes to relationships between men and women.

The Lunchbox opens in New York at the Lincoln Plaza and Angelika Film Center as well as in Los Angeles.

Rating: 8.5/10

Other Foreign Films of Interest:

Already one of Russia’s highest grossing films ever, Fedor Bondarchuk’s 3D war epic Stalingrad (Sony Pictures Classics) opens nationwide in IMAX 3D theaters on Friday, telling the story of a brave group of Russian soldiers who defended a key building in Stalingrad against the overwhelming invading German forces. Thomas Kretchmann plays a German officer in love with a beautiful Russian woman who is torn between the romance and his orders to destroy the building killing everyone inside.

Interview with Director Fedor Bondarchuk (Coming Soon!)

Action, Thrillers and Horror:

David Grovic’s crime-thriller The Bag Man (Millennium Pictures) stars John Cusack as a tough guy with bad luck who is brought to a remote hotel by crime boss Dragna (Robert De Niro) where he encounters the beautiful Rivka (Rebecca Da Costa) in an eventful violence-filled night. It opens in select cities starting Friday.

Stephen Sommers, director of the first two “Mummy” movies and G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra, returns with an adaptation of Dean Koontz’s Odd Thomas (RLJ/Image Entertainment), starring Anton Yelchin as the title character, a small-town fry cook who sees dead people everywhere. When a stranger shows up in town with an entourage of predatory ghosts, Thomas must team with his girlfriend Stormy (Addison Timlin) and the town sheriff (Willlem Dafoe) to fight them off.

An impressive all-star cast comes together for Philippe Caland’s psychological thriller Repentance (Codeblack Films/Lionsgate), starring Forest Whitaker, Anthony Mackie, Mike Epps, Sanaa Lathan and Nicole Ari Parker. Mackie plays Tommy Carter, a man who has reinvented himself as a spiritual advisor years after a drunken car crash. The successful book he writes draws the attention of Whitaker’s Angel Sanchez, whose mother died in an untimely way so Carter takes him on as a client to raise funds for his brother (Epps).

Comedies

(I haven’t seen any of the movies below but they all sound absolutely awful, so maybe that’s a good thing.)

Jason Lockhart’s retirement home horror-comedy Silent But Deadly (Indican Pictures) features an oddball cast of TV stars from the ’60s and ’70s including Lee Meriwether (“Barnaby Jones”), Dawn Wells (“Gilligan’s Island”), Martin Kove (“Cagney and Lacey”), Rip Taylor and Bruce Vilanch. There’s a masked killer taking out “old farts” (that’s from the official plot summary) at the Lake View Retirement Home, and seriously, I’m not sure how Lockhart convinced the likes of Lee Meriwether to be in a horror movie with such a schlocky concept—Taylor and Vilanch aren’t so hard to believe.

Brendan Fraser and Parker Posey star in Billy Kent’s comedy Hairbrained (Vertical Entertainment) with Alex Wolff playing 14-year-old genius Eli Pettifog who ends up at Whittman College after being rejected from Harvard. There he meets a gambling 40-something freshman (Fraser) and they become friends.

Jay (Slingshot) Alaimo’s dramedy Chlorine (Gravitas Ventures) stars Vincent D’Onofrio, Kyra Sedgwick, Dreama Walker and Tom Sizemore, set in the town of Copper Canyon, a community that is cashing in on the economic housing boom. Roger and Georgie (Sedgwick, D’Onofrio) Lent’s marriage is falling apart but they find a way to invest and Roger sees a great opportunity when a drug dealer (Rhys Coiro) comes to him for investment advice.

Next week, the month of March kicks off with two big movies, the sequel and prequel to Zack Snyder’s blockbuster historical war epic 300: Rise of an Empire (Legendary/Warner Bros.) and a new animated take on the classic television cartoon Mr. Peabody & Sherman (DreamWorks Animation/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.

Copyright 2014 Edward Douglas

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