The Weekend Warrior: Transcendence, Heaven is for Real, A Haunted House 2, Bears

Merrily we roll along through the month that’s just holding us back from the summer movie season and the movies that everyone really wants to see. But never fear, we only have a few more weeks to go and maybe there’s a couple of buried treasures in this week’s offeringsÂ… and maybe I could say that with a straight face if I didn’t already know that this is the weekend that Marlon Wayans is releasing his sequel to A Haunted House. Never mind.

Not only that but it’s also Easter weekend, a little late this year, which means movie houses should get a nice bump in business on Good Friday, a day on which movie theaters tend to be as crowded as a normal Saturday. Since Easter Sunday tends to be slower, that will make all of the movies a bit more frontloaded than usual. Regardless of the options, there are three movies that stand a good chance at making somewhere in the mid-teens or maybe even as high as $20 million or more, although at least two of them are likely to be avoiding reviews.

On paper, the strongest offering would probably be the sci-fi thriller Transcendence (Warner Bros.), the directorial debut by Wally Pfister, Christopher Nolan’s cinematographer for the “Dark Knight” movies and Inception, with a title as hard to get your head around as the latter. The movie is based on some of the theories about the singularity that deal with artificial intelligence and how humans can be improved through integration with technology, turned into a thriller starring Johnny Depp, Morgan Freeman, Rebecca Hall, Paul Bettany and Kate Mara.

Obviously, the big draw for the film beyond the sci-fi premise is the presence of Johnny Depp, who is still trying to put salve in his wounds after last year’s disastrous The Lone Ranger bomb. This is a more subdued role for Depp, closer to something like Secret Window, which was one of the first movies to capitalize on Depp’s growing popularity after the first “Pirates of the Caribbean” movie. Unfortunately, Depp isn’t in the movie a whole lot, mainly as a computerized version of his character, so that leaves the others, and though Rebecca Hall and Paul Bettany were in last year’s blockbuster Iron Man 3 (and Mara had a small role in Iron Man 2), Morgan Freeman being in the movie will probably be more of a draw than either of them.

The movie’s primary target audience will probably be older males, science fiction fans and those interested in the subject of technology (which at this point, is everyone, right?) but it’s not an easy-sell movie by any means, being more of a slow burn with a lot of techno-babble that might not play well with normal moviegoers who might be expecting something closer to Inception.

Reviews, once they show up, may not be great but as mentioned before, Warner Bros. has the advantage of being able to open the movie in a thousand more theaters than the other new movies, which gives it a clear advantage to bring in more dough, although I’m dubious if it will do much more than $20 million this weekend and word of mouth probably won’t help matters.

Mini-Review: It’s hard to exactly pinpoint where and why Oscar-winning cinematographer Wally Pfister’s directorial debut goes wrong but it probably can be attributed to the fact that it tries hard to be a film for intellectuals, but ends up being a movie that’s likely to come across as dumb to anyone who gives more than a passing thought to anything that happens.

Johnny Depp plays Dr. Will Caster, one of the most brilliant minds on the subject of artificial intelligence and how it can help mankind, working in tangent with his wife Evelyn (Rebecca Hall) and colleague Dr. Max Waters (Paul Bettany). When Caster is shot by a member of the anti-tech group RIFT, Evelyn and Max realize the only way to save his brain is to upload it to the computer system they designed. As Will’s power grows, however, they wonder if that’s really Will at work or if the computer itself is making the decisions.

The premise of transcendence, derived from the theories of singularity glorified by the likes of Ray Kurzweil, is an interesting basis for a good sci-fi thriller, which is probably why this movie exists. The problem is that it’s such an expansive idea that distilling it down to something simple enough that can work as a movie premise means that a lot of explanation and exposition is necessary and that’s where “Transcendence” often stumbles.

To be honest, even having done some reading on the theories of The Singularity, there were a lot of times during this movie where I really had no idea what they were trying to achieve, because we’ve seen far better uses of the conflict between man and technology before, whether it’s “The Matrix” or “2001: A Space Odyssey.”

Story aside, those going into the movie just for Depp might be disappointed when he disappears for a good chunk of the movie, as his wife Evelyn becomes his arms and legs, carrying out his plan to take over a small town and turn it into a compound where Will can expand his network and grow stronger.

As one might expect from Pfister, he’s created a terrific looking movie that pays a lot of attention to making every shot look great, but most of the performances feel flat including Depp, who spends much of his time on an LCD screen, and the strange casting choice of Kate Mara as Bree, the leader of the RIFT. Rebecca Hall always gives great performances, being such a strong dramatic actress, but it’s hard watching her trying to bring her talents to another thriller that just falls short. (And honestly, most AI programmers probably look more like the cast of “The Big Bang Theory” than the good-looking cast Pfister has assembled.)

Probably the strongest moments are the ones that solidify the romance between Will and Evelyn, really the heart and core of the film, but those moments are surrounded by a lot of silliness involving computer Will trying to make the community better using nanotechnology. There’s just a little too much going on in “Transcendence” and yet very little of it really has much of an impact, because just as you’re getting into it, something dumb happens that throws things off.

It doesn’t help matters that the movie opens with a scene showing the world in five years, basically giving away where things are going, thereby removing any sort of suspense about where things might end. That’s not good for a movie trying to sell itself as a thriller, and clearly a lot of the problems are in the screenplay, which could have been reshaped by a stronger filmmaker and a cast that were giving it their all.

While “Transcendence” has the potential for being a half decent techno-thriller, any momentum tends to get swallowed up by its failed attempts at being smarter than everyone in the room, which isn’t exactly a good way to keep an audience invested.

Rating: 6/10

Opening early on Wednesday is Heaven is for Real (Sony/TriStar Pictures), a movie directed by Randall Wallace (We Were Soldiers) adapting the bestselling book by Lynn Vincent and Todd Burpo, based on the latter’s experiences with his four-year-old son Colton who had a near-death experience and claimed to have seen heaven.

This one stars Greg Kinnear, whose last wide release movie was the 2013 stinker anthology Movie 43, and before that, he starred in the 2010 adaptation of Nicholas Sparks’ The Last Song opposite Miley Cyrus, which actually has more in common with this new movie. That also opened on a Wednesday in April right before Easter in a few hundred more theaters. While that wasn’t as much of a spiritual movie, it had a similar tone as Heaven is for Real, which doesn’t have the star power of Miley Cyrus but should make up for it based on the readership from the book.

One big factor in play is that the studio is selling the movie to church groups and offering group sales which is a good way to get discussion groups going based around the movie and that could help the movie do far better than expected. With that in mind, the movie should be able to bring in between $7 to 8 million on Wednesday and Thursday but it should really explode on Good Friday and do well through the weekend, probably to the tune of $16 to 18 million, as spiritually-based movies continue to bring in moviegoers in a big way. (Noah and God’s Not Dead could hold up well due to Good Friday and Easter although both probably have done their business and at least one will drop out of the Top 10.)

Then we have the aforementioned A Haunted House 2 (Open Road Films), a sequel to the surprise 2013 comedy hit from Marlon Wayans that once again takes a satiric look at the horror movies that have come out in the last year. Wayans and his family helped put spoof comedies on the map (along with the Zuckers), culminating in the release of Scary Movie in 2000, which became such a huge hit that it led to a number of sequels, although the Wayans were only involved with the first two. Marlon reunited with his brothers for 2009′s Dance Flick, which didn’t fare as well, so Marlon branched off his own to return to horror with A Haunted House, released in January 2013 to the tune of $18 million opening weekend and $40 million total.

The sequel doesn’t seem to necessarily be spoofing specific horror movies as much as just being Wayans trying to do a horror-comedy and while it’s obviously targeting the same African-American audiences that went out to see the previous movie, there’s a chance they’re not buying it a second time around. Wayans’ secret weapon this time may be Gabriel Iglesias, the Latino comedy superstar who has his own concert documentary The Fluffy Movie coming out during the summer, and his presence might help bring in Hispanic moviegoers who make up such a big part of the demographic these days. (It’s doubtful either of these audiences will have much interest in Transcendence either.)

Since it’s targeting the under-25 set, many who won’t have school on Good Friday, A Haunted House 2 should do well on opening day and the night before, possibly making a play for the #2 or 3 spot, but it’s going to drop off after opening day and probably won’t do as much business on Easter, keeping it from matching the opening of the original movie. We’re probably looking at a $15 to 17 million opening weekend tops on its way to $35 million or less.

Lastly, we have the latest from Disneynature, the nature doc Bears (Walt Disney Pictures), opening in a moderate 1,600 theaters, which is right in line with previous Disneynature releases, although this one is being released earlier than Earth Day. For whatever reason, Disneynature skipped their Earth Day release last year, but even the lowest opening ones–Oceans and African Cats–were able to bring in at least $6 million opening weekend in less theaters than Bears. 2012′s Chimpanzee opened with $10 million on its way to $28 million, putting its gross just behind 2009′s Earth, which kicked off Disneynature’s run. Their latest movie has to battle it out against the second weekend of Rio 2 for family business, and that’s likely to keep it from making a huge mark this weekend, but an opening in the $6 to 8 million range should be achievable thanks to Good Friday, and probably $20 to 23 million total.

This weekend last year saw the release of just one movie, Tom Cruise’s latest foray into science fiction with Oblivion (Universal), directed by Tron: Legacy‘s Joseph Kosinski and co-starring Morgan Freeman, Olga Kurylenko, Andrea Riseborough and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau. It opened at #1 with $37 million in 3,782 theaters, which is fairly decent for the release timeframe. The Top 10 brought in $96 million which should be fairly easy to beat with Rio 2 and Captain America: The Winter Soldier still going strong.

This Week’s Updated Predictions -

UPDATE: Not too many major chances although the order’s changed slightly. Heaven is for Real opened on Wednesday to $3.7 million but we still think it’s going to really explode on Good Friday, possibly making almost twice that amount and if that’s the case, then our original prediction of $16.5 million is still good, although the drop-off on Easter might be bigger, so we think it’s going to be a closer finish with A Haunted House 2.

1. Rio 2 (20th Century Fox) – $22.7 million -42%

2. Captain America: The Winter Soldier (Marvel Studios/Disney) – $21.5 million -48%

3. Transcendence (Warner Bros.) – $20.5 million N/A (up .1 million)

4. A Haunted House 2 (Open Road Films) – $15.6 million N/A (down .1 million)

5. Heaven is for Real (Sony/TriStar Pictures) – $15.2 million N/A (down 1.3 million and one place)

6. Bears (Walt Disney Pictures) – $7.8 million N/A (up .5 million)

7. Oculus (Relativity Media) – $6.0 million -52% (up .2 million and one place)

8. Draft Day (Summit) – $5.9 million -39% (down .1 million and one place)

9. Divergent (Summit) – $4.2 million -43% (down .1 million)

10. Noah (Paramount) – $3.9 million -49%

11. God’s Not Dead (Freestyle Releasing) – $3 million -33%

This Week’s Limited Releases:

Before we get to that, Thursday kicks off the 13th Annual Tribeca Film Festival, which runs from April 16 through April 27 and offers dozens of world premieres of narrative and documentary films. It’s always a robust festival filled with a lot of unique voices, many with a New York angle, kicking off with the Nas doc Time is Illmatic on Wednesday night. Look for our preview of some of the movies worth checking out if you’re in New York City during those dates very soon.

In fact our Tribeca “Preview in Pictures” is now live and you can check it out here.

THE CHOSEN ONE:

John Turturro wrote, directed and stars in Fading Gigolo (Millennium Entertainment), a comedy in which he plays Fioravante, a New York florist who allows his former boss and friend Murray (Woody Allen) to convince him to accept money from lonely, wealthy women. It doesn’t hurt that those women look like Sharon Stone and Sofia Vergara, though. Eventually, Murray sets Fioravante up with Avigal, a lonely Hassidic window played by Vanessa Paradis, giving him a new perspective on what his services mean to these women.

It’s always interesting when an actor who you know from so many roles in hundreds of movies writes a part for themselves that’s so different from what we might expect and that’s part of what makes Turturro’s fifth movie as a director something quite special. It doesn’t hurt that he convinced Woody Allen, who barely even appears in his own movies anymore, to play a major role. It’s obvious Allen still has what makes him so popular among moviegoers and though he does go away for a good portion of the movie, Turturro wrote a well-rounded character for Allen, one that allows him to interact with his (presumably) step-kids and with some of the other actors as well.

The other highlight of the film is seeing French actress and model Vanessa Paradis doing something very different from what we might expect from her, as she easily transitions into a very different role from the more glamorous things we’ve seen from her in the past. The idea of setting what is essentially a low-key romantic comedy within the world of the Orthodox Jewish community is part of what sets Fading Gigolo apart, but it also adds to the New York-ness of the film.

Fading Gigolo is not just impressive for Turturro’s performance and the cast he got around him–including Liev Schreiber in an unintentionally amusing role as a Hassidic police officer–but also the fact that he both wrote and directed the movie. This is clearly the work of a more mature filmmaker than the one who made Romance & Cigarettes and that’s evidently clear not only from his writing but also the way the movie looks, everything from the lighting to the way the rooms are dressed up. Turturro has made a movie that looks so much better than it probably cost to make, which allows the already solid storytelling and performances to really stand out.

Fading Gigolo is a delightful movie that’s sexy and funny and even moving at times, tones that are hard to balance for the best of filmmakers, but Turturro gets that balance right and makes a movie as entertaining as some of Woody Allen’s classics but also one with its own personality.

Rating: 8/10

Fading Gigolo opens in select cities on Friday.

Interview with John Turturro

Comedies

Just in time for April 20th, Trailer Park Boys 3: Don’t Legalize It (eOne Films) is the third movie based on the popular Canadian television series which was itself spawned from Mike Clattenburg’s original 1999 film. Julian, Ricky and Bubbles find new ways of making money and getting themselves into trouble, as they leave the trailer park behind seeking out easy money.

“The Big Bang Theory’s” Kaley Cuocco stars in Authors Anonymous (Screen Media Films), Ellie Kanner’s comedy about her character Hannah’s acceptance into a dysfunctional group of unpublished writers that includes Chris Klein, Dylan Walsh and the late Dennis Farina, who start to get bitter when she finds overnight success.

Bankstas (Main Street Films) stars Joe Dinicol and Michael Seater as finance school grads who get a job at Hoss Investments only to learn that the company’s boss, played by Alan Thicke, has created a plot that could bankrupt college students, something they need to stop from happening. Yeah, I’m not quite sure how some of these movies get made either.

Roger Gual’s Tasting Menu (Magnolia) takes place at a beachside restaurant in Catalonia, Spain, which is ready to close with one last night of treating its guests to a special menu. Among them is actress Rachel and her former husband Marc, who are in the middle of divorce proceedings but are reunited by their pre-existing reservation for the special night. Co-starring an international cast of guests including the likes of Stephen Rea and Fionnula Flanagan, it opens in L.A. and New York (at the Quad Cinemas) on Friday.

Foreign Films of Interest:

Dante Lam’s suspense thriller That Demon Within (China Lion), which premiered at the recent Berlin Film Festival, stars Daniel Wu as policeman David Wong, who has to decide between giving blood to save a wounded man before learning that the man is the boss of a brutal gang of street thugs.

Action, Thrillers and Horror:

The Last Exorcism director Daniel Stamm returns with the action-thriller 13 Sins (RADiUS-TWC), starring Mark Webber as Elliot, a man down on his luck with a baby on the way who receives a mysterious phone call challenging him to take on 13 tasks, each one more dangerous than the last, in order to earn the money he needs to end his problems. It’s on VOD now and opens in select cities on Friday.

Interview with Mark Webber (Coming Soon!)

Zack Parker’s thriller Proxy (IFC Midnight) stars Alexia Rasmussen as Esther, a woman who turns to a support group after being viciously attacked where she meets and befriends Melanie, a relationship that turns dangerous.

As much as I love monster movies, I have a hard time fathoming that a movie like Poseidon Rex (Anderson Digital) exists, let alone that it’s getting a theatrical release rather than airing on Syfy. But basically, divers in Mexico find a long-dormant dinosaur and it starts terrorizing anyone who comes near the water.

Hey, look! John Stockwell is back, just weeks after the release of In the Blood, with his next movie Kid Cannabis (Well GO USA) about a high school drop-out and his older friend who start bringing marijuana across the Canadian border (probably to the Trailer Park Boys) in order to make money. Also released to coincide with 4/20.

Drama:

Christopher Meloni stars in Joel Surnow’s Small Time (Anchor Bay Films) playing Al Klein, a divorced used car salesman whose son Freddy decides to follow in his father’s footsteps after graduating high school, so the two move in together. Also starring Bridget Moynahan (as Klein’s wife) and Dean Norris from “Breaking Bad” as Al’s best friend, it opens in select cities on Friday as well as On Demand and on iTunes.

Documentaries of Note:

Jonah Bekhor and Zach Math’s The Final Member (Drafthouse Films) looks at the Icelandic Phallological Museum in the village of Husavik where “Siggi” Hjartarson has dedicated his life to preserving the male genitalia of all sizes of animals but has yet to include a human genitalia until he receives an interesting offer.

Opening at New York’s Film Forum on Wednesday and playing FOR FREE (details at the previous link) is John Cohen’s Visions of Mary Frank, a look at New York artist Mary Frank whose outsider artwork from the ’50s was countered by photograph portraits of her by various artists. It’s accompanied by Tacita Jean’s short “JG.”

Other:

Derek (“Dancing with the Stars”) Hough stars in Duane Adler’s dance movie Make Your Move (High Top Releasing) playing Donny, who falls in love when he sees Aya (BoA) performing with her hip-hop dance crew at New York’s hot underground club Static. I think I need to quote the plot summary for this next bit: “They come from two different worlds, but they speak the same language – dance.”

Next week, the month of April and the spring movie season ends with three new movies: a comedy, a horror film and an action movie, and hopefully one of them will break out. Cameron Diaz, Leslie Mann and Kate Upton lead the comedy, The Other Woman (20th Century Fox), while Britain’s legendary horror house Hammer presents The Quiet Ones (Lionsgate), and the late Paul Walker stars in Brick Mansions (Relativity), a remake of the French Parkour action-thriller District B13.


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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