They say that time flies when you’re having fun, so is anyone having fun yet? March has been quite a month and it’s coming to a quick end with three very different movies with varying degrees of interest and two of them likely shooting for some of the same audience.
This weekend’s big(gish) movie is Darren Aronofsky’s take on the biblical epic Noah (Paramount), starring Russell Crowe, Logan Lerman, Emma Watson, Jennifer Connelly, Anthony Hopkins and Ray Winstone. The film has gotten a lot of attention, partially due to the controversy of Aronofsky taking on a biblical story in an untraditional way and partially due to the confusion of people not knowing what the movie is, but still wanting to see it.
Aronofsky is an interesting filmmaker and it’s more his involvement with the project that’s gotten people excited than the project itself, maybe because they know that he’s very much an auteur and visionary filmmaker who will do something different with the material. For Aronofsky, it’s his first movie since 2010’s Black Swan, which won Natalie Portman an Oscar as well as Aronofsky his first nomination as a director, but also his biggest scale movie since 2006’s The Fountain, a movie that was delayed a number of times before tanking over Thanksgiving weekend. It ended up grossing $15 million worldwide based on a relatively small production budget of $35 million, which may have inspired Aronofsky to make a smaller, low-budget movie like The Wrestler next.
Crowe, on the other hand, is coming off a string of hits like last year’s Man of Steel and more recent flops like Winter’s Tale, and it’s hard to imagine that Crowe playing Noah will be that big a draw for people even if they did go see him as Robin Hood and he’s still considered at least a B-list star more or less. He has a great cast around him as well such as Logan Lerman and Emma Watson as Noah’s kids, both stars of children’s novel franchises, one way more successful than the other. This marks Connelly’s third movie with Crowe, following the Oscar-winning A Beautiful Mind and the aforementioned Winter’s Tale, and then you have veterans like Anthony Hopkins and Ray Winstone.
There’s some interesting controversy surrounding the movie, mainly from the religious right who don’t think Aronofsky will make a faithful or conventional version of a beloved bible story, and Paramount has gone out of their way to show the film to influential Christians and Catholicslike, say, The Popein order to try to gain their influence over their constituents. This is something that’s been used successfully to help get attention to other movies like Mel Gibson’s The Passion of The Christ and even The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe.
On the other hand, the studio has decided to barely show the movie to film critics, waiting until the Wednesday night before opening, which is odd since critics tend to be the primary boosters of Aronofsky’s work and could help to boost interest if they like the movie. To me, this means only one of two things: that the studio has little confidence in the movie being any good (having already made some changes to it, presumably behind Aronofsky’s back) or that they’re expecting a backlash of negative reviews that could keep people from going to see it despite their extensive and admirable marketing campaign. (As someone who loved “The Fountain,” a movie that still resides in my Top 25 movies of all time, I’m confounded by this decision and considering that the movie placed #2 on my Most Anticipated for the year, Paramount’s lack of effort to show the movie has made me lose interest in the movie almost entirely.)
Even so, all of this controversy has just helped generate curiosity and with an ultrawide release into over 3,800 theaters, there’s a good chance that Aronofsky fans and the same audience that helped drive business to Fox’s Son of God will want to see the movie opening weekend, which should amount for an opening in the low to mid $30 millions. Whether or not the movie is able to gross $100 million domestically is another story, but it’s already doing so well overseas that it should be profitable enough to warrant a Noah 2 or maybe not.
The other movie getting a wide release this weekend probably can’t be any more different as it pairs filmmaker David Ayer with Arnold Schwarzenegger for Sabotage (Open Road), an action-thriller about DEA agents taking on the cartel. Joining the veteran action star are Sam Worthington (who normally would be headlining his own movie), Terrence Howard, Olivia Williams, Joe Manganiello, Max Martini and a “Lost” reunion for Harold Perrineau and Josh Holloway.
This is Schwarzenegger’s third full movie since returning from his acting hiatus as Governor of California–he had a mere cameo in The Expendables–and other than The Expendables 2, it doesn’t really look like his diehard fans from the 80s and 90s have decided to return with him. Early last year, his full return as a leading action star in The Last Stand bombed with just $12 million grossed total despite a very wide opening. His pairing with Sylvester Stallone nine months later in Escape Plan fared better, grossing twice that amount, but one wonders if there’s anything Schwarzenegger can do to restore his audience or if he’s considered a dinosaur just to be wheeled out for each successive “Expendables” movie.
It’s hard to imagine that the presence of Worthington or Howard or any of the other actors will make that big a difference on whether people see it either, because it’s being marketed more on the credentials of Ayer, who wrote Training Day, a big hit for Denzel Washington that even won him an Oscar. Ayer’s previous film as a director, End of Watch, starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Peña, opened fairly well with $13 million in September 2012 before going on to gross $41 million, a decent-sized hit for the fledgling Open Road Films, considering the low budget of the movie.
While Sabotage may be another cool action movie, it’s likely shooting for the same older males as Noah and it’s a lot lower profile in terms of the marketing and the number of theaters in which it’s opening. I don’t think the movie will fare that well this weekend, and will likely end up with an under $10 million opening just like Schwarzenegger’s last two movies, probably in the $8 to 9 million range for the weekend and $25 to 26 million total.
Opening in somewhere around 600 theaters or so is the biodrama Cesar Chavez (Pantelion Films/Lionsgate), starring Michael Peña (Crash) as the Civil Rights leader who helped to unionize underpaid Mexican migrant farm workers to get paid more money. Directed by Diego Luna and co-starring America Ferrara, Rosario Dawson, John Malkovich and others, the filmmakers are hoping that Mexicans and the Latino community familiar with the iconic role Chavez played during the Civil Rights movement will be enough to get at least those who remember his impact to check out the movie. The movie isn’t really tracking well enough to warrant a nationwide release, but it is targeting a very specific market and as we’ve seen with other Pantelion Films releases, they’re able to find that audience with just the right amount of marketing.
While the movie may not be tracking well enough for a nationwide release, Chavez is as iconic figure to Mexicans and other Latinos who realize how bad things were for their parents who first came to the United States, and that’s essentially who the movie is targeting. The movie had a special screening at the White House last week, which may not be as huge as playing your movie for The Pope, but these movies tend to be tough sells as we saw with last year’s Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom, which barely made a mark once it opened nationwide over Christmas, grossing just $8.3 million total. On the other hand, movies targeted specifically towards a Latino audience who make up an ever-growing demographic of moviegoers, are hard to predict and Cesar Chavez could end up breaking out unexpectedly. Right now, I think it will probably end up in the bottom of the Top 10 in the $4 to 5 million range.
On top of that, two movies that have been playing in limited release, one of them doing particularly well, will expand nationwide on Friday with Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel (Fox Searchlight), starring Ralph Fiennes, Tilda Swinton, Edward Norton, Bill Murray and more, already enjoying two weeks in the Top 10. Anderson’s latest was released at the start of March with a huge per-theater average of over $200 thousand per venue and when it expanded into 66 theaters the following week, it was able to break into the Top 10 with $3.6 million, then his past weekend it expanded again into 304 theaters and moved up the Top 10 with $6.7 million or $22 thousand per site. Normally, movies tend to make less per theater when they expand further nationwide and that’s usually the case with auteurs like Anderson or his namesake P.T. Anderson, whose movies always do very well in bigger cities but haven’t fared as well when expanding. P.T.’s highest grossing movie to date, There Will Be Blood, topped out at $40 million. By comparison, Anderson’s top film The Royal Tenenbaums grossed $52 million and his last movie Moonrise Kingdom grossed $45 million, so there’s a good chance The Grand Budapest Hotel will continue building on great reviews and word of mouth to end up in the same place.
With $13 million under its belt while still playing in limited release, the question is how many theaters Searchlight will put it into this week, especially knowing it’s going up against Aronofsky’s movie, which will likely steal away from its audience. If you figure that Searchlight will go ahead and expand it into over 1,000 theaters, business will probably be more spread out but expect it to move up the Top 10 with a weekend between $7 and 8 million as more people discover it thanks to the movie’s strong marketing campaign.
After a couple of weeks in limited release after being picked up at last year’s Toronto International Film Festival (and having a U.S. premiere at SXSW), Jason Bateman’s directorial debut Bad Words (Focus Features) will expand nationwide on Friday as well. It hasn’t had quite the run as Wes Anderson’s movie and whether it breaks into the Top 10 will largely depend on how wide it ends up expanding, something we may not know until closer to Friday. It hasn’t fared particularly well in select cities and with lots of competition, it probably will end up in the $3 to 5 million range, which will put it just on the edge or outskirts of the Top 10, competing against movies already in theaters.
Last year, March came to a close with the release of Jon Chu’s delayed action sequel G.I. Joe: Retaliation (Paramount), starring Dwayne Johnson, Channing Tatum and Bruce Willis, and after opening on Wednesday and bringing in $11 million, it brought in another $40.5 million over its first weekend. It went on to gross $122 million domestically and over twice that overseas, giving merit to the fact that the Hasbro military heroes were still popular. Tyler Perry’s Temptation (Lionsgate)–other than dressing up in women’s clothing, that is–opened in 2,047 theaters where it brought in $21.6 million or over $10.5 thousand per venue, but that was only enough to take third place behind last week’s animated hit The Croods. The latest attempt at a Young Adult adaptation hit ala “The Hunger Games” or “The Twilight Saga,” The Host (Open Road Films), starring Saoirse Ronan, failed to have much of an impact, opening in sixth place with $10.6 million on its way to $26 million. The Top 10 grossed $137.6 million but since we don’t see Noah opening as well as “G.I. Joe” did last year, this might be a rare down weekend.
This Week’s Updated Predictions –
(Update: As promised earlier in the week, we’re updating our predictions based on actual theater counts with both Bad Words and The Grand Budapest Hotel getting fewer than we assumed, though we’re still feeling stronger about the latter than some of the other movies including the moderately-wide opening Cesar Chavez, which should get into the Top 10 but not that far.)
1. Noah (Paramount) – $35.2 million N/A (up 2.5 million)
2. Divergent (Summit) – $24.8 million -55% (up 1.3 million)
3. Muppets Most Wanted (Walt Disney) – $10.2 million -40% (down .3 million)
4. Sabotage (Open Road) – $8.5 million N/A (same)
5. The Grand Budapest Hotel (Fox Searchlight) – $7.8 million +10% (up .3 million)
6. God’s Not Dead (Freestyle Releasing) – $7.6 million -19% (up 2.5 million and one place)
7. Mr. Peabody & Sherman – $7.3 million -38% (up .1 million but down one place)
8. Cesar Chavez (Pantelion Films) – $4.0 million N/A (down .4 million)
9. 300: Rise of an Empire (Legendary/WB) – $3.8 million -55% (up one place)
10. Bad Words (Focus Features) – $3.3 million (down .6 million and one place)
This Week’s Limited Releases:
THE CHOSEN ONE:
It wasn’t really a very hard week to pick my favorite movie since I’ve been a big fan of the rock band The National for many years and I really enjoyed Mistaken for Strangers (Starz Digital Media), a markedly different behind-the-scenes tour movie directed by Matt Berninger’s younger brother Tom.
The idea is that the band is about to go on a global tour supporting their 2010 album “High Violet,” the long-awaited follow-up to their highly-acclaimed “Boxer.” Frontman Matt invites his brother Tom on tour to help out, the latter bringing his video camera with plans to make a behind-the-scenes movie. Few in the band or crew have any confidence in Tom making a decent movie and the ever-present camera becomes more of an annoyance to everyone trying to keep the tour on track without a hitch.
Mistaken for Strangers is by no means a concert tour movie and if you’re looking for that sort of thing, I’d check out Martin Scorsese’s The Last Waltz, and it doesn’t delve too deep into the history of the band or how they formed. The idea is that the band is made up of two sets of brothers, the rhythm section Bryan and Scott Devendorf, and guitarists Aaron and Bryce Dessner with Matt being the only one without a brother in the band. Tom is a very different animal, wild and outspoken and into metal compared to Matt’s quiet introspectiveness. Watching their relationship while on tour and when Tom tries to haphazardly interview his seemingly humorless older brother makes the film so entertaining, a real joy to watch.
Whether or not you’re a fan of The National, you have to admit that Tom Berninger has captured something truly unique and unlike any other music documentary so far. Of course, if you are a fan of The National, Mistaken for Strangers is going to be that much more entertaining, because you get to see behind the veil of the enigmatic band in a way that few other filmmakers could have achieved.
Mistaken for Strangers is available on iTunes and opens in select cities on Friday. You can find out more about where and how to see it on the Official Site.
Documentaries of Note:
After its premiere at the SXSW Film Festival in Austin a few weeks back, Christian Larson’s doc Leave the World Behind, which follows Electronic Dance Music sensation Swedish House Mafia on their global farewell tour before they disband for good, will get a number of one-night only screenings across the country. It starts on Thursday with a screening in Miami Beach, Florida, followed by screenings on April 1 in Hollywood, San Francisco, Chicago, Philadelphia and more. You can see the full list of cities and one-night only screenings and get tickets for any of them at the Official Site:
Action, Thrillers and Horror:
Filmmaker Gareth Evans and Indonesian martial arts sensation Iko Uwais reteam for the action crime flick sequel The Raid 2 (Sony Pictures Classics), in which Uwais’ rookie police officer character Rama goes undercover in a crime family as his latest assignment, constantly facing possible discovery and death under his new identity. It opens in select cities Friday.
Mini-Review (Coming Soon!)
Luke Moran writes, directs and stars in Boys of Abu Ghraib (Vertical Entertainment) as Jack Farmer, a soldier who ends up working in Iraq’s most infamous prison, guarding some of the Army’s top prisoners while being pressured by his superior (Sean Astin) to use harsher methods to get information.
Locker 13 (Brothers’ Ink Productions) is an anthology thriller from five filmmakers involving the mysteries around an old locker in a theme park as a supervisor tells the nighttime janitor stories about who had used the locker before. Directed by five filmmakers and starring Rick Schroder, Rick Hoffman, Krista Allen, Curtis Armstrong and others, it opens in select cities.
Cole Claassen’s Road to the Open (Zoeco Releasing) is a comedy set in the world of tennis with Troy McKay playing Jerry McDonald, who tries to get through the loss of his wife by playing tennis with his best friend Miles (Phillip DeVona), and when the two of them enter a national tournament, they have to take on the Gollant Brothers, played by Eric Roberts and John Schneider (“The Dukes of Hazzard”).
In Seth Fisher’s comedy Blumenthal (Act Zero Films), a legendary playwright named Harold Blumenthal (Brian Cox) has passed away leaving his younger brother Saul (Mark Blum), his wife Cheryl (Laila Robins) and others in the New York community confused and angry. Fisher himself plays Saul’s son who tries to hold the family together while discovering a mysterious woman who had a relationship with his late uncle. It opens in New York Friday.
Felicity Jones and Guy Pearce star in Breathe In (Cohen Media Group), Drake Doremus’ follow-up to Like Crazy, playing Sophie, a British exchange student who moves into the Upstate New York home of Pearce’s piano teacher Keith Reynolds, who had to give up a music career to teach. Meanwhile, his wife Megan (Amy Ryan) and daughter Lauren (Mackenzie Davis) are dealing with the latter’s final year of high school as Sophie and Keith get closer. It opens in select cities Friday.
Jessica Goldberg’s Refuge (Strand Releasing), which premiered at the Hamptons Film Festival in 2012, stars Krysten Ritter as a woman raising her two younger siblings after their parents abandoned them, but she finds some relief from her dead-end job when she meets Brian (The Hurt Locker) Geraghty’s Sam and he becomes more involved with the family. It opens in New York on Friday and in Los Angeles on April 4.
Daniel Patrick Carbone’s Hide Your Smiling Faces (Tribeca Film) is about two young brothers, Tommy and Eric, who try to get on with their lives after a neighborhood tragedy.
Next week, there’s only one new movie but it’s a rare spring release from Marvel Studios as they kick off the summer way WAY too early with Captain America: The Winter Soldier (Marvel/Disney), once again starring Chris Evans and joined by Anthony Mackie, Scarlett Johansson, Samuel L. Jackson, Robert Redford and more.
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Copyright 2014 Edward Douglas