I won’t mention “The Dog Days of Summer” I won’t mention “The Dog Days of Summer” I won’t mention okay, maybe I’ve been writing this column too long to know that every year, we get to the mid-point in August and all of a sudden, people just stop going to movies altogether. That doesn’t stop the studios from releasing movies, including a couple that could theoretically break out and take advantage of the waning competition, but also a few they’re not expecting to do particularly well but they hope to get out before summer’s end so they can focus on more prestige films once September festival season begins.
The strongest release of the weekend has to be the ongoing action supergroup known as The Expendables 3 (Lionsgate), bringing together some of the biggest action stars of the past 30 years and Kelsey Grammer.
This is a classic case of the sum being greater than the parts, because so far, neither Sylvester Stallone nor Arnold Schwarzenegger–two of the biggest action stars of the ’80s and ’90s–have been able to have a hit outside of the “Expendables” franchise in the four years since it was introduced. Sure, Stallone had a comeback of sorts when he returned to his most popular characters like Rocky Balboa in 2006 and less so with Rambo a year later, but Schwarzenegger’s movies like last year’s The Last Stand and this year’s Sabotage were huge bombs. His last pairing with Stallone in the prison escape movie Escape Plan only fared slightly better.
Meanwhile, action stars like Jason Statham and Jet Li, who had some significant action hits both alone and together during the first decade of the 21st Century, haven’t been doing as well since joining “The Expendables.” Is that a coincidence? (At least Statham will appear as the bad guy in next year’s Fast & Furious 7, which should also be huge, confirming the rule that ensemble cast movies tend to prevail when it comes to franchises.)
Back again are Dolph Lundgren, Randy Couture and Terry Crews–Bruce Willis left reportedlly over a salary dispute–and this time they’re joined by an odd mix of stars that includes Antonio Banderas (Zorro), Wesley Snipes (Blade), Mel Gibson (Mad Max), Harrison Ford (Indiana Jones and Han Solo) and yup even Kelsey Grammer (Frasier Crane). (Some may remember that Sesame Street came about “one of these things being not like the other”? Take a wild guess which one I’d choose in this scenario.)
Although the marketing is really focusing on the number of big name stars as a group, one assumes that having Harrison Ford taking a role in the third installment should bring in a whole new group of fans – although like the others, his career hasn’t been going well with a number of consecutive bombs. Same can be said for Mel Gibson, who got into trouble by shooting his mouth off, and Wesley Snipes, who ended up in jail for tax evasion. (In fact, Expendables 3 will only be Snipes’ second movie in the last ten years.) This movie being a hit can certainly do wonders for their careers, as well as that of Banderas, who can’t get arrested if he’s not voicing Puss in Boots from the “Shrek” movies. (His arrest as a mime during a protest in the ’70s pales in comparisons to some of the others’ antics.)
The original The Expendables opened four years ago in the same August weekend and ended up being a strong hit for Lionsgate, grossing $100 million domestically and $171 million overseas, based on an $80 million budget. Its sequel, The Expendables 2, came out two years later, opening softer with $28.6 million but still grossing $300 million worldwide with only a slightly higher budget. There certainly may be signs of diminishing returns as the mostly male and older audiences that went to see the first two movies may be getting somewhat jaded and cynical as the movies aren’t delivering on the quality despite the number of popular action stars. (I certainly thought Expendables 2 was far better than the first movie, maybe because there was more Schwarzenegger and Willis in it.)
(UPDATE: Thanks to my wonderful readers–and I mean that without any sort of sarcasm–I was reminded about a couple factors I wanted to mention but then completely forgot about and that includes the movie’s PG-13 rating compared to the R of the previous two movie. In theory, that could bring in younger viewers though it might also alienate older ones who like the enhanced violence. Secondly, a pristine copy of the movie leaked online last month and reportedly millions of fans have already seen the movie in that form. We’ve seen this happen in the past with movies like X-Men Origins: Wolverine and there’s no way to tell if that might hurt the film’s theatrical release, although there should be plenty of others who would rather wait and see this on the big screen.)
Either way, The Expendables 3 should give last week’s hit Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy a run for the top spot as it should bring in between $25 to 30 million its opening weekend–heck, it might match the opening of 2012’s sequel–but will likely end up with less than $75 million total by the time it leaves theaters.
August has proven itself to be a good month to release an R-rated comedy, thanks to hits like Pineapple Express and last year’s We’re the Millers which may be why 20th Century Fox decided to take a chance with Let’s Be Cops, a twist on the buddy cop comedy starring Damon Wayans Jr. and Jake Johnson, who can be seen together on the hit Fox sitcom “New Girl.”
If you’re Djimon Hounsou’s character in Guardians of the Galaxy, you may be asking the same question he does: “Who?” and that would be fair since neither of these comic actors have really broken out. Wayans had a small role in the Will Ferrell-Mark Wahlberg police comedy The Other Guys – opposite Rob Riggle, who also has a role in this. Jake Johnson’s previous buddy cop comedy was playing a principal in 21 Jump Street (which also starred Riggle) and he’s appeared in a number of highly-praised indie roles like Ceremony, Paper Heart and Safety Not Guaranteed, and he’ll be appearing in next summer’s Jurassic World, directed by the latter’s Colin Trevorrow.
Following so soon after the success of the summer comedy blockbuster 22 Jump Street is more likely to help “Cops” more than hurt it because audiences are already in tune with the typical police comedies and one involving two fake cops is coming out at just the right time to poke fun at the genre. What’s odd is that Fox has screened the movie quite a bit for audiences to build word-of-mouth, and one has to assume that its Wednesday opening will help build buzz for the weekend, but they’re not really screening it for the majority of critics. This automatically sends up alarm bells for anyone familiar with this practice, because even screening it Monday (the night before opening) would be better than nothing.
One possible setback is that this type of humor tends to appeal to the same male audience that would go see the new “Expendables” although this one should skew younger and maybe even interest younger women, although urban audiences will generally be split between the movies with this one starring one of the still respectable members of the Wayans comedy dynasty.
Let’s Be Cops should have a decent opening weekend of between $14 and 17 million after making $5 to 6 million on Wednesday and Thursday and it probably will end up with about $50 million or more by the time it leaves theaters.
Young adult adaptations have been far more hit or miss over the past few years and The Giver (The Weinstein Company), based on a twenty-year-old novel by Lois Lowry, certainly will have a harder time making a mark with a late August release, going by last year’s The Mortal Instruments, a movie that bombed so badly that production on its sequel was halted. As with other young adult movies, this one involves genre elements in telling a coming-of-age story, in this case, that of Jonas (Brenton Thwaites from Oculus and Maleficent) who is living in a literal black and white world where emotions are stifled to avoid conflict, but when he is declared the new Receiver of Memories, he is mentored by The Giver (Jeff Bridges) and learns all about the history before the current state of the world.
At least, this one has a higher pedigree in terms of those involved, including Oscar-winner Jeff Bridges, who has been shepherding the project for a number of years, as well as his fellow Oscar winner Meryl Streep in a rare summer genre movie appearance. It’s not unusual for high caliber actors to do these kinds of movies, maybe because they or their kids are fans of the books. Also in the movie are Katie Holmes and Alexander Skarsgard. Adding to the film’s pedigree is Philip Noyce, another odd choice going by his filmography that mostly involves political thrillers like Angelina Jolie’s Salt and the Harrison Ford-Jack Ryan movies Patriot Games and Clear and Present Danger, although it’s hard to imagine the older audiences that might appreciate the presence of Streep, Bridges and Noyce will have much interest in the premise.
The trailer didn’t look that interesting expect for the fact that it includes a significant portion in black and white, but that might turn people who haven’t read the book off and honestly, it’s hard to determine how many have read Lowry’s book even though it’s been available much longer than many of the other young adult books that have been adapted into movies.
I just can’t see The Giver opening with more than $12 to 13 million over the weekend although if word-of-mouth is good, it could probably bring in somewhere close to $35 to 38 million.
Woody Allen’s latest Magic in the Moonlight (Sony Pictures Classics), starring Colin Firth and Emma Stone, will expand nationwide into over 700 theaters on Friday, but I don’t expect this to be one of his bigger hits, likely bringing in less than $2 million over the weekend.
This weekend last year avoided the “Dog Days” with a surprise hit in Lee Daniels’ The Butler (The Weinstein Company), a star-studded look at history featuring Forest Whitaker and Oprah Winfrey, which scored big with a $24.6 million opening in 2,900 theaters to take first place. The R-rated superhero sequel Kick-Ass 2 (Universal), starring Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Christopher Mintz-Plasse and Chloe Moretz, also opened in over 2,900 theaters but it didn’t fare as well, opening in fifth place with $13.3 million. Ashton Kutcher took on the role of JOBS (Open Road Entertainment), Apple creator Steve Jobs, in the poorly received biopic, which opened with just $6.7 million in 2,381 theaters for seventh place. The top 10 grossed $113 million and the combination of The Expendables 3, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Guardians of the Galaxy should allow this weekend to stay ahead of last August. Speaking of Harrison Ford, his thriller Paranoia (Lionsgate), co-starring Chris Hemsworth and Gary Oldman, tanked with just $3.5 million, not even enough to get into the Top 10.
This Week’s Updated Predictions –
UPDATE: We’ve decided to take some of the other factors under advisement for The Expendables 3 and decided that some of those will likely keep it out of the #1 slot although it will win Friday with relative ease over Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles but then be so frontloaded it will settle into second place for the weekend. Of the limited releases expanding wider, Woody Allen’s Magic in the Moonlight has the best chance at entering the lower end of the Top 10 while Richard Linklater’s Boyhood adds about 30% more theaters across the country which should keep it in the same $2 – 2.5 million range it’s been in, although still outside the Top 10. CBS Films’ What If, starring Daniel Radcliffe and Zoe Kazan, didn’t perform that well in its opening limited release but it expands fairly wide into 786 theaters but it will probably still end up with less than $2 million.
1. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (Paramount) – $27.7 million -58% (down .8 million but up one spot)
2. The Expendables 3 (Lionsgate) – $26.3 million N/A (down 3 million and one spot)
3. Guardians of the Galaxy (Disney/Marvel) – $23 million -45% (up .7 million)
4. Let’s Be Cops (20th Century Fox) – $19.3 million N/A (up 2.3 million)
5. The Giver (The Weinstein Company) – $13.5 million N/A (Up .5 million)
6. Into the Storm (New Line/WB) – $8.3 million -53% (down .2 million)
7. The Hundred-Foot Journey (DreamWorks) – $6.6 million -40%
8. Lucy (Universal) – $5 million -47%
9. Step Up All In (Summit) – $3.2 million -52%
10. Hercules (Paramount) – $2.6 million -51% (down .2 million)
11. Magic in the Moonlight (Sony Pictures Classics) – $2.6 million
— Boyhood (IFC Films) – $2.3 million
— What If (CBS Films) – $1.9 million
This Week’s Limited Releases:
For this week’s “CHOSEN ONE,” Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon reunite for Michael Winterbottom’s The Trip to Italy (IFC Films), the follow-up to 2010’s The Trip, as the comedic duo take a tour through the food, restaurant and hotels of Italy, all the while entertaining (and irritating) one another with their non-stop string of celebrity impressions. Winterbottom once again edited the film down from the 6-episode BBC show of the same name, and there isn’t a lot more that can be said, because if you’ve seen the original “Trip,” then you’ll pretty much know what to expect – lots of gorgeous-looking food and locations, filled with improvised scenes between Coogan and Brydon where they try to one-up each other.
One of the most noticeable differences with this sequel (which is just as self-aware as the first movie) is that Brydon seems to get more of the spotlight, not only in the number of laughs he’s able to get, but also in that he’s given a storyline where this time he’s the one who seems to be getting involved with a woman he meets, despite being married with a child. It makes it so easy to forget that the duo are playing fictionalized versions of themselves, especially when Coogan’s “son” joins them on the last leg of their journey.
Once again, it shows Michael Winterbottom’s mastery as a filmmaker especially when it comes to capturing the journey on film and using editing to mold stories with the supporting characters and also allowing there to be recurring jokes without it seeming completely redundant. Again, he’s not exactly breaking too much new ground with this sequel but as enjoyable as the first movie was, its follow-up successfully evolves that formula into an equally enjoyable film.
The Trip to Italy opens in New York and Los Angeles on Friday.
Lenny Abramson’s Frank (Magnolia) is a tribute to comedian/musician Chris Sievy’s giant-headed alter-ego Frank Sidebottom based on the memoirs of co-screenwriter Jon Ronson (Men Who Stare at Goats). Domhnall Gleeson plays Jon, a wannabe songwriter and keyboard player who gets sucked into the world of the mysterious Frank (Michael Fassbender) and his avant garde band, including the violent Claire (Maggie Gyllenhaal). Having played Sundance and SXSW earlier this year, it’s a rare theatrical-only release by Magnolia that opens in New York, Toronto and two cities in British Columbia on Friday. It will open in more cities starting Friday, August 22, and you can find out where on the Official Site.
Dane DeHaan and Aubrey Plaza star in Jeff Baena’s horror-comedy Life After Beth (A24), DeHaan playing Zach, a teen devastated by the sudden death of his girlfriend Beth, who mysteriously comes back to life forcing Zach to make the decision whether to rekindle their relationship despite her “life-challenged” situation. Also starring John C. Reilly, Molly Shannon, Paul Reiser, Anna Kendrick and Cheryl Hines, it opens in New York and Los Angeles on Friday.
Action, Thrillers and Horror:
Jesse Thomas Cook’s horror flick Septic Man (Starz Digital Media) involves a sewage worker named Jack who is trying to solve the town’s water contamination crisis but becomes trapped underground in a septic tank without food or water and goes through a repulsive transformation. It opens in select cities Friday.
Scott Schirmer’s Found (XLrator Media) is about a fifth grader who is dealing with the usual problems of growing up–parents who don’t understand him, kids picking on him oh, and his older brother is a serial killer. Two years after its premiere (in Bloomington, Indiana) and a year of festivals, it’s getting a limited release.
Mikkel Sandemose’s Ragnarok (Magnolia Pictures) involves an archeologist who has been obssessed with the viking ship Oseberg and its connections to solving the mysteries of Ragnarok, the end of the Norse gods. When they find similar runes in the north of Norway, they’re convinced that it’s a treasure map which takes them to the deserted area between Norway and Russia and a deadly secret. It will be available On Demand, on iTunes and in a single theater in Santa Fe.
Documentaries of Note:
Todd Douglas Miller’s Dinosaur 13 (Lionsgate) follows the journey of paleontologist Peter Larson whose team discovered the most completely Tyrannosaurus Rex skeleton ever found in 1990 but ended up in a battle with the government, museums, Native Americans and competing paleontologists to keep their discovery. Based on Larson’s book “Rex Appeal: The Amazing Story of Sue, The Dinosaur That Changed Science, The Law and My Life,” it opens in select cities and on Demand on Friday. You can see the full list of theaters here
Foreign Films of Interest:
The drama Jealousy (The Cinema Guild) is a family affair directed by French filmmaker Philippe Garrel, co-written by his wife Caroline Deruas-Garrel, and starring their son Louis Garrel as a poor theater actor living in a rented apartment with a woman and the daughter he had with a woman he abandoned. He’s still in love with that woman and tries to win her work by finding her a role, but she cheats on him and leaves him.
Next week, August starts to approach what is likely to be a pathetic end with another action movie and two smaller dramas with Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller reteaming for the mostly black and white crime-thriller Sin City: A Dame to Kill For (Dimension Films), Chloe Moretz starring in the book adaptation If I Stay (New Line/WB) and the football drama When the Game Stands Tall (TriStar/Sony).
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Copyright 2014 Edward Douglas