The Weekend Warrior: Godzilla, Million Dollar Arm

We’re three weeks into May and one week away from Memorial Day, the semi-official start of summer (which always used to start on June 21 before all the summer box office craziness), but as in past years, this is a prime slot for a big studio release ever since the Star Wars franchise staked its claim to the weekend before Memorial Day a long, long time ago. This has been a strong summer so far and that should continue with Legendary Pictures’ Godzilla (Warner Bros.), which hopes to revive the popular giant monster for new audiences, while Walt Disney Pictures release the very different baseball drama Million Dollar Arm, starring Jon Hamm.

Of those two movies, it’s pretty obvious Godzilla is going to seriously dominate as it’s probably one of the more anticipated movies of the summer for most guys, while also benefitting from not being a direct sequel like some of the other summer blockbusters released this month. Spearheaded by Legendary Pictures in their last partnership with Warner Bros. and directed by Gareth Edwards, who helmed the low budget monster movie Monsters, it’s taking a more serious real world approach to the monster movie than last year’s Pacific Rim, while also having the benefits of the name brand recognition of a monster that’s been building a fanbase since being introduced by Japan’s Toho Studios sixty years ago.

Moviegoers over 25 will probably remember the absolutely horrendous 1998 attempt to reboot Godzilla by director Roland Emmerich, and it certainly doesn’t help that this is being released very close to the same weekend as that ill-fated version of Godzilla. Fortunately, most audiences will realize from the marketing that this is a far more serious attempt at a monster movie that’s more akin to a disaster flick or Asian invasion movie, both which have generally done well at the summer box office.

Edwards has assembled a fairly impressive, if not a particularly conventional cast, featuring Bryan Cranston, the Emmy winning star of AMC’s “Breaking Bad” whose actual film roles have run the gamut from critically-acclaimed films like Drive and Argo to roles in notable bombs like John Carter and the Total Recall remake. Much of the marketing behind Godzilla have put Cranston front and center although just as much screentime is given to Aaron Taylor-Johnson aka “Kick-Ass” who is venturing into big summer blockbusters with this movie and will continue by playing Quicksilver in Joss Whedon’s sequel Avengers: Age of Ultron. His wife is played by Elizabeth Olsen, also making her summer blockbuster debut before reuniting with Taylor-Johnson as his sister, the Scarlet Witch. The cast is filled out by Ken Watanabe, a Warner Bros. mainstay who has appeared in everything from The Last Samurai to Batman Begins, as well as actors you wouldn’t normally see in a big budget monster movie like Sally Hawkins, David Strathairn and Juliet Binoche.

But the real star of the movie is Godzilla himself and for many younger moviegoers, this may be their first introduction to the giant lizard, because it’s not like they show Godzilla movies on television all the time like they used to. Sure, we expect that fathers will probably show some of the movies to their kids to prepare them for the experience, although the dark nature of the new movie might keep parents from bringing younger kids to see it.

Warners has really knocked one out of the park with the marketing for the movie, keeping a lot of stuff hidden even as they slowly revealed both Godzilla and some of the other creatures, and yet, one can still watch the movie without everything being spoiled since there are plenty of surprises. Reviews for the movie should generally be good although not everyone might be on board with the serious real world approach taken with the material.

Even so, the movie has turned into one of the summer’s big “must see” event movies, particularly among guys of all ages and that should translate to a big opening as well as a solid run at the box office even going against X-Men: Days of Future Past over Memorial Day weekend. We think an opening in the high 60s or even low $70 million range should be achievable, especially with many wanting to see the movie in IMAX 3D (for higher ticket prices) and if people like what they see, it should be able to achieve $220 million or more by the time it leaves theaters.

Review

Offered as counter-programming of sorts, Jon Hamm stars in the baseball movie Million Dollar Arm (Walt Disney), which takes the true story of two Indian lads who enter a contest meant to find talent in that country and turn them into MLB pitchers. Let’s just cut to the chase here that this is a very weak attempt to recapture the interest of Americans who flocked to see Danny Boyle’s Oscar-winning Slumdog Millionare, even with a similar look, title and premise although this does have the fact that it’s based on a true story working in its favor.

The most recent sports-related movie, Kevin Costner’s Draft Day, opened below $10 million and hasn’t even grossed $30 million and one would think Costner is a much more proven actor at the box office than Hamm. Probably the best bet Disney has with this movie is if the Indian audiences living in North America, who have created huge Bollywood hits in this country, show interest in the movie. One can probably assume the movie will also do better than usual business in Pittsburgh, where the two actual players ended up, similar to the interest from Cleveland in Draft Day due to its setting.

Disney is high on this movie, having been screening it a lot including a full screening at CinemaCon for exhibitors (similar to last week’s hit Neighbors) and also having sneak previews this past Saturday, something we haven’t seen in a while. They’re hoping that those interested in seeing it might tell their friends about it, because it’s a generally crowd-pleasing movie.

Still, a baseball movie would normally be more of interest to guys than women and even with the “Mad Men” star holding it down, one would think it’s not going to convince many guys to see this over Godzilla. Opening in over 3,000 theaters, this may open slightly better than Draft Day with an opening between $11 and 13 million and word-of-mouth should help it get some decent legs, but I don’t think it’s going to gross more than $45 million total regardless. (This probably would have been better off switching dates with Draft Day, opening at the start of baseball season, while that one would have benefitted from opening right after the NFL draft rather than a month earlier.)

Interview with Director Craig Gillespie

THE CHOSEN ONE:

This week’s “CHOSEN ONE” is the finale to Cedric Klapisch’s French romantic comedy trilogy, Chinese Puzzle (Cohen Media Group), reuniting Romain Duris, Audrey Tautou, Cecile De France and Kelly Reilly for one last time over a decade after they first played unlikely roommates in Spain.

I saw Klapish’s original character comedy L’auberge Espagnole way back in 2003 at the Tribeca Film Festival, literally a month after I started writing for ComingSoon.net, and I instantly fell in love with the characters, a beautiful international cast that included Tautou shortly after Amelie and at the time, the lesser-known Duris, De France and Reilly. Years later, I interviewed Klapisch (again at Tribeca) and was thrilled to discover that he was going to make another movie revisiting Duris’ Xavier, now a father of two who has separated from his wife (Reilly), but who follows her to New York City so he can be near their kids. I got even more excited while walking around my neighborhood a few years back and seeing the signs that they were shooting “Chinese Puzzle” there, so clearly, I’m the perfect target audience for this third movie which takes its cues from The Barbarian Invasions and Richard Linklater’s recent Before Midnight in the way it revisits film characters years later.

Once Xavier arrives in New York, he reconnects with his former roommate Isabelle (De France) now living there with her Chinese-American girlfriend who in turn finds him an apartment in Chinatown where Xavier can work on his next novel. At the same time, Xavier struggles finding work as a Frenchman on a tourist Visa so he marries a young Chinese woman for the sake of fooling immigration into giving him a work Visa. If Xavier didn’t have enough to juggle with spending time with his kids, Audrey Tautou’s bubbly Martine shows up in New York and they have a brief fling which just makes things more complicated for everyone.

Klapisch has clearly matured as a filmmaker since making “L’Auberge” delivering one of his strongest screenplays to date, which effectively mixes amusing humor and pointed drama while showing the growth in Xavier’s character since becoming a father. Similarly, Duris has become such a great actor since shooting the original movie and its sequel “Russian Dolls,” starring in strong dramas as well as comedies like “Heartbreaker,” and he uses both these talents quite effectively in his third time playing the character.

The best scenes are the ones of Duris interacting with his former roommates interacting, although the real joy comes from the scenes between Tautou and Duris that reminds us how much we loved them in the previous films. (And apparently, they co-star in Michel Gondry’s new movie Mood Indigo as well.)

Chinese Puzzle is a joyful conclusion to the underrated series of films that works almost as well as Linklater’s “Before Midnight” at giving fans of the original movies closure on the characters, and it’s a true coup for Klepisch that he was able to end the series on such a high.

Rating: 8/10

Chinese Puzzle opens in New York (at the Angelika and Lincoln Plaza Cinemas) and Los Angeles on Friday. Look for our interview with Klapisch and Duris later this week.

Interview with Cedric Klapisch & Romain Duris

This weekend last year saw the release of only one new movie in wide release and that was another biggie in the blockbuster sequel Star Trek Into Darkness (Paramount) from director J.J. Abrams, which opened on Wednesday with $13.5 million (including Tuesday night previews) but then tailed off for the weekend with just $70 million or $5 million less than Abrams’ previous Star Trek made four years earlier. It was somewhat surprising considering what a huge hit the original movie was, but apparently there was only a limited amount of Star Trek fans willing to see it opening weekend and it ultimately would gross $229 million, $30 million less than the original. Iron Man 3 and The Great Gatsby took second and third place, each taking 50% drops, and the Top 10 amassed $147 million, which should be reachable by this week’s offerings.

This Week’s Updated Predictions -

UPDATE: Slight bumps on the two new movies but not much else to add.

1. Godzilla (Legendary/Warner Bros.) – $72.6 million N/A (Up 1.4 million)

2. Neighbors (Universal) – $27 million -45% (same)

3. The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (Sony Pictures) – $16.0 million -55% (same)

4. Million Dollar Arm (Walt Disney) – $13.3 million N/A (up 2 million)

5. The Other Woman (20th Century Fox) – $5.6 million -42% (up .1 million)

6. Heaven is for Real (Sony/TriStar Pictures) – $5.0 million -34% (up .2 million)

7. Captain America: The Winter Soldier (Marvel Studios/Disney) – $3.2 million -45% (same)

8. Rio 2 (20th Century Fox) – $3.0 million -42%

9. Moms’ Night Out (Sony/TriStar Pictures) – $2.3 million -47%

10. Legends of Oz: Dorothy’s Return (Summertime Entertainment) – $2.1 million -43%

This Week’s Limited Releases:

Drama:

Filmmaker James Gray (Two Lovers) and actor Joaquin Phoenix reunite for their fourth movie, The Immigrant (The Weinstein Company), starring Marion Cotillard as Ewa Cybulski, a Polish immigrant who arrives at Ellis Island with her sick sister and is taken in by Phoenix’s Bruno Weiss, a Vaudeville showman who forces Ewa to have sex with the club’s patrons to earn her keep. Along comes Orlando, a magician played by Jeremy Renner, who offers Ewa an escape. It opens in New York and Los Angeles on Friday.

Video Interview with James Gray

Michael Maren’s A Short History of Decay (Paladin) stars Bryan Greenberg as Nathan Fisher, a failed Brooklyn writer who is dumped by his girlfriend and when he learns his father has been hospitalized, he goes down to Florida and ends up staying there longer than expected. Basically, it’s the plot of every single indie movie ever made. This one co-stars Linda Lavin at least.

Chiwetel Ejiofor, Thandie Newton and Anika Noni Rose star in Biyi Bandele’s Half of a Yellow Sun (Monterey Media), the latter two playing twins Olanna and Kaiene from a rich Nigerian family who return to their country after being given an education in England with Olanna moving in with her professor Odenigbo (Ejiofor) while her sister becomes a businesswoman who falls for an English writer, as they try to balance social interests with their love lives.

Robert Duvall stars in Emilio Aragon’s A Night in Old Mexico (Phase 4), based on a screenplay by Bill Wittliff (Lonesome Dove), playing Red Bovie, a rancher who is forced to give up his home so he goes on an adventure-filled road trip with his grandson, played by Jeremy Irvine (The Railway Man). Having played at the Berlin and SXSW Film Festivals, the movie opens in select cities on Friday.

Video Interview with Robert Duvall

Comedies

Justin Schwartz’s The Discoverers (Quadratic) stars Griffin Dunne as history professor Lewis Birch who takes his teen kids Zoe and Jack on a road trip to a conference where he hopes to get his career back on track, but the trip is detoured when Lewis’ father Stanley goes missing.

Dan Fogler and Michael Canzoniero’s Don Peyote (XLrator Media) stars the comic actor as Warren Allman, a 32-year-old stoner who becomes obsessed wit Doomsday theories, which he decides to make a documentary about. Co-starring Josh Duhamel, Jay Baruchel and Wallace Shawn, the cameo-filled off-the-wall comedy opens in select cities.

Action, Thrillers and Horror:

Australian director Greg McLean returns for the sequel Wolf Creek 2 (RLJ/Image Entertainment) as does John Jarratt’s Mick Taylor as the crazed Outback serial killer who terrorized backpackers in the 2005 slasher flick.

Foreign Films of Interest:

Set in the slums outside Casablanca, Nabil Ayouch’s Horses of God (Kino Lorber) tells the story of two friends who fall under the influence of an Islamic fundamentalist that leads to them being involved in a 2003 bombing that left 45 people dead. Heralded by filmmaker Jonathan Demme, the film opens at New York’s Film Forum on Wednesday.

Documentaries of Note:

Just two years after Alison Klayman’s doc Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry, Danish filmmaker Andreas Johnsen’s Ai Weiwei: The Fake Case (International Film Circuit) follows the Chinese artist in the time after his arrest and imprisonment by the Chinese authorities in April 2011 in which the artist reflects on his time in jail and the $2.5 million lawsuit for back taxes as he works on a secret project during his house arrest and probation. It opens on Friday at the IFC Center in New York.

Next week, it’s Memorial Day weekend and director Bryan Singer returns to the X-franchise with X-Men: Days of Future Past (20th Century Fox)–along with Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen, Halle Berry and more–as they join “First Class” stars James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence and Nicholas Hoult for a big old time traveling adventure. Speaking of traveling back in time, The Wedding Singer stars Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore are also reunited for their third relationship comedy Blended (New Line/WB).


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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