The Weekend Warrior: Sin City: A Dame to Kill For, If I Stay, When the Game Stands Tall

We’re just one week away from Labor Day and two weeks away from the end of summer and just like the rest of the year, the busiest movie season has really flown by. If last weekend wasn’t proof enough we’re into the worst days of the summer with business dropping dramatically, three new movies will try to fight off the curse of August.

Nine years after their 2005 hit, director Robert Rodriguez and comic creator Frank Miller reunite for Sin City: A Dame to Kill For (Dimension Films), the sequel starring the returning Bruce Willis, Jessica Alba, Mickey Rourke, and Rosario Dawson, joined by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Josh Brolin (in Clive Owen’s role, post-Dwight’s facial surgery), super-hot Eva Green (as Ava, the “dame” in the title), Dennis Haysbert replacing the late Michael Clarke Duncan as Manute, Ray Liotta, Jeremy Piven, Christopher Meloni and more.

Like the original movie, the large ensemble cast should help the movie’s success since there are a lot of popular actors in there, though plenty of their careers have faltered, even Bruce Willis, whose movies often barely get a theatrical release anymore (see The Prince in limited release below). Oddly, Willis was one of the few actors who didn’t return for last week’s The Expendables 3 and that bombed, so we’ll see if that’s what made a difference. Josh Brolin has had his share of bombs including last year’s Old Boy remake and Jason Reitman’s Labor Day earlier this year. Despite his starring role in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises and Inception, Gordon-Levitt has had his share of disappointments including the late August release Premium Rush ($6 mil. opening and $20 million gross) and last year’s Don Jon, which he also wrote and directed. He’s definitely considered more of an A-lister now than he was pre-”Dark Knight” when he was mainly starring in indies with Rian Johnson’s Looper, co-starring Bruce Willis, being a stand-out. Eva Green is coming off her starring role in 300: Rise of an Empire earlier this year as well as her role on the Showtime hit “Penny Dreadful.” Her controversial semi-naked poster may do a lot to bring in the testosterone-driven moviegoer on Friday.

Robert Rodriguez first brought Miller’s popular comic series Sin City to the big screen at a time when a lot of graphic novels were being turned into movies, even though things like Zack Snyder’s 300 (also based on a Miller graphic novel) and Watchmen were still years away. This one was distinctive, because it was mainly black and white with a splash of color and it opened decently on April 1, 2005 to the tune of $29 million and grossed $74 million domestic based on a $40 million budget. (It made slightly more than that amount overseas.)

After that, Miller went on to direct a movie based on Will Eisner’s comic strip hero The Spirit, starring Gabriel Macht, Samuel L. Jackson, Scarlett Johansson and Eva Mendes, which bombed pretty badly. Rodriguez is nowhere near as popular now as he was back when he made the original Sin City either, having not had many hits as he tried focusing on his family-friendly films like The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl and Spy Kids: All the Time in the World, both which earned just under $40 million. Other movies like Machete and Machete Kills, based on the Danny Trejo character from Grindhouse, bombed as badly as that anthology did with last October’s sequel ending up with $8 million.

In some ways, the Sin City sequel mirrors last year’s Kick-Ass 2 where it’s a sequel that some fans will want more than others, but the fact that Miller has not been keeping up on the comics have made them disappear from shelves at comic shops. (At least Millar and Romita Jr. were still publishing “Kick-Ass” comics to tie into the sequel and yet that only ended up with $29 million after a $13 million opening.)

There’s a good chance that “A Dame to Kill For” will do better than that because it will appeal to an older male audience who won’t have much interest in anything else in theaters. While the passage of time is ultimately going to hurt the demand for the sequel, it still should win the weekend with between $18 and 20 million, and it should hold up well over Labor Day weekend (possibly even being #1 again) on its way to between $50 million or so.

Review

Speaking of Kick-Ass, that film’s co-star Chloe Grace Moretz is the lead in the adaptation of Gayle Forman’s 2009 young adult novel If I Stay (Warner Bros.), which revolves around a teenager who undergoes an out-of-body experience after a fatal crash that kills both her parents. The movie, directed by noted documentarian R.J. Cutler (“American High,” “Freshman Diaries”), is somewhat of an anomaly for the weekend only because it really could go either way in terms of bringing its targeted female audience into theaters.

Personally, I’m a big fan of Chloe Moretz, but she hasn’t had any huge breakout hits except maybe Tim Burton’s Dark Shadows and Martin Scorsese’s Hugo, which clearly were driven by the prestigious filmmakers at their helm. Other than the “Kick-Ass” movies, Moretz starred in the remake of the Swedish vampire film Let Me In ($12.1 mil. total domestic gross), the comedy anthology Movie 43 ($8 mil. gross) and playing the title role in Kimberly Peirce’s Carrie remake, which ended up with $35.3 million after a $16.1 million opening, not exactly a breakout.

One would assume that the primary interest would be to those who read the book, but this one is more in the vein of The Fault in Our Stars or My Sister’s Keeper rather than The Hunger Games, Divergent or Twilight in that it’s mostly based in real world drama rather than fantasy or science fiction. If I Stay could also theoretically appeal to the Christian spiritual crowd that helped make the summer’s Heaven is for Real such a big hit, because it involves life after death, etc. although it doesn’t feel like Warner Bros. is marketing it to that audience so much, but rather the young adult crowd, who mostly ignored The Giver last weekend.

Being released in mid-August when so many people go on vacation is not a good sign that the film will open huge and frankly it will be lucky if it even brings in $15 million this weekend, because it’s marketing campaign seems so low-key. On the other hand, it’s doing very well on social media which is a good sign that there’s awareness and interest so we’ll use that as a basis for a weekend in the $13 to 15 million range and somewhere around $40 million in its theatrical release.

Lastly, we have the sports drama When the Game Stands Tall (TriStar/Sony), starring Jim Caviezel (“Persons of Interest”) and Laura Dern and directed by Thomas Carter (Coach Carter), which is the weekend’s biggest underdog, maybe because it’s a football underdog story. It’s based on the true story of football coach Bob Ladoucer, who took the De La Salle High School Spartans from a problem team to one with a 151-game winning streak.

With high school football season about to start up again, one would assume this might generate the same interest as Peter Berg’s Friday Night Lights, which grossed $61 million, leading to a hit television show. On the other hand, it has more in common with the McG-directed We Are Marshall, which opened just before Christmas in 2006 to the tune of a low $6 million but was able to make up for that amount over the holidays to amass $43 million. Another good comparison might be the Mark Wahlberg football drama Invincible, which opened on the same weekend in 2006 with $17 million on its way to $57 million.

Those comparisons would all seem to bode well for the clunky-titled When the Game Stands Tall, although this movie has a far lower profile, barely getting much promotion up until recently, plus it doesn’t have nearly the starpower of any of those other movies. Even Carter’s previous film had Samuel L. Jackson in the lead and opened during a prime MLK Jr. weekend leading to $67.2 million after a $24.2 million opening.

Despite the success of Invincible, which had negligible competition for older male audiences, opening in late August won’t help matters and When the Game Stands Tall will be lucky to make $25 million after an opening in the $6 to 8 million range.

This weekend last year saw the wide release of three films, none of which could top Lee Daniels’ The Butler and We’re the Millers, which retained the #1 and 2 spots. The young adult adaptation The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones (Screen Gems/Sony) would not be the first or last of these attempts to fail, as it opened in third place with $9.3 million after making $4.6 million on Wednesday and Thursday. Simon Pegg, Nick Frost and director Edgar Wright reunited for the sci-fi action-comedy The World’s End (Focus Features), which opened in fourth place with $8.8 million in less than 1,600 theaters, while the festival favorite home invasion thriller You’re Next (Lionsgate), which had been on the shelf for years, didn’t fare as well with a 6th place opening of just $7 million in nearly a thousand more theaters. The Top 10 grossed $83.6 million which should be bested by this weekend’s offerings, especially if any of the new movies do better than we’ve projected.

This Week’s UPDATED Predictions -

UPDATE: With the amount of advance ticket sales they’re selling, it’s looking more and more like the young adult adaptation If I Stay may win the weekend over Sin City by a fairly large margin so we’ve updated our predictions accordingly. When the Game Stands Tall, which seemed like a dud earlier this week, actually may be appealing to the same religious crowd that has produced other big hits this year (while we thought that maybe If I Stay might get that audience).

1. If I Stay (Warner Bros.) – $21.5 million N/A (up 8.5 million and three spots!)

2. Frank Miller’s Sin City: A Dame to Kill For (Dimension Films) – $18.3 million N/A (down .7 million and one spot)

3. Guardians of the Galaxy (Disney/Marvel) – $14.2 million -41% (down .4 million and one spot)

4. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (Paramount) – $13.7 million -52% (down one spot)

5. When the Game Stands Tall (TriStar/Sony) – $11.3 million N/A (up 4 million and two slots)

6. Let’s Be Cops (20th Century Fox) – $9.3 million -48% (down 1 slot)

7. The Expendables 3 (Lionsgate) – $7.6 million -53% (down .2 million and 1 spot)

8. The Giver (The Weinstein Company) – $6.3 million -49% (same)

9. The Hundred-Foot Journey (DreamWorks) – $5 million -30% (same)

10. Into the Storm (New Line/WB) – $3.5 million -55% (down .1 million)

This Week’s Limited Releases:

This week’s “CHOSEN ONE” is Ira Sachs’ new relationship drama Love is Strange (Sony Pictures Classics), starring John Lithgow and Alfred Molina as a gay couple who’ve been together for nearly 40 years but shortly after they finally tie the knot, they are separated by circumstance and forced to live apart.

Ira Sachs continues to explore gay relationships in a way that’s not so off-putting to straight men or women by making it apparent how the love shared between two men can be as strong or even stronger than that of the traditional husband and wife we normally see in movies. (In fact, one of Sachs’ earlier movies Married Life almost shows the opposite, dealing with infidelity in married hetero couples.)

Oddly, I wasn’t that into Sachs’ previous movie Keep the Lights On nearly as much, although I was amused to see its star Thure Lindhardt appearing in last year’s Fast & Furious 6, which seemed like quite a drastic departure. Love is Strange might seem like Sachs’ commentary on the recent decision to allow gay marriage in New York City, but it’s really more of a slice-of-life drama showing one couple’s situation and how it’s changed drastically by their separation. In this case, Molina’s George is laid off as a music teacher at the Catholic school where he works shortly after he gets married to Lithgow’s Ben. With less income, they’re forced to sell their apartment and move in with friends and relatives while they find a new place. This not only puts them in an awkward situation where they’re relying on others but also puts their families out having to change their lives to allow George and Ben into their lives.

The performances by Molina and Lithgow are note-perfect and their few scenes together are the ones that really stand out, but it’s impossible to dismiss the typically brilliant performance by Marisa Tomei as the put-upon wife of Ben’s nephew (Darren Burrows), who is having trouble writing her book with Ben always hanging around the house.

The last ten minutes of the movie are likely to bring you to tears even if it does seem like an odd jump forward in time that doesn’t seem to have a logical explanation. In fact, the way the passage of time is handled in the movie may be its biggest overall hindrance.

Either way, Sachs is proving his immense growth as a filmmaker and storyteller with his latest film, beautifully shot by Christos Voudouris and accompanied by gorgeous piano music that really adds to the emotions. Sachs goes for subdued subtlety and winds up with a beautiful and unforgettable film

Rating: 8.5/10

A huge hit during its successful festival run from Sundance to Berlin to Tribeca, Love is Strange opens in New York and Los Angeles on Friday.

Video Interviews with Ira Sachs, Alfred Molina & John Lithgow

Comedies

Mark Duplass and Elisabeth Moss (“Mad Men”) star in Charlie McDowell’s debut feature The One I Love (RADiUS-TWC) as a married couple having issues and are sent to a private retreat by their therapist (Ted Danson), but once there, they discover a mysterious guest house which brings their troubles to the forefront.

Interview with Mark Duplass & Elizabeth Moss

Interview with Charlie McDowell and Justin Lader

Owen Wilson, Zach Galifianakis and Amy Poehler star in “Mad Men” creator Matthew Weiner’s feature film directorial debut Are You Here (Millennium Entertainment) about a guy (Galifianakis) who inherits his estranged father’s fortune but has to fight off a legal challenge by his sister (Poehler) with the help of his local weatherman buddy Steve (Wilson). Opens in select cities.

Action, Thrillers and Horror:

Brian A. Miller’s action-thriller The Prince (Lionsgate) stars Jason Patric, Bruce Willis and John Cusack about a retired assassin (Patric) drawn back into the crimelord when his daughter is kidnapped by a former rival (Willis). It gets released in select cities and on VOD Friday.

David Jung’s horror film The Possession of Michael King (Anchor Bay Films) stars Shane Johnson in the title role, a documentary filmmaker whose wife dies forcing him to start looking into the existence of the supernatural by allowing demonologists and necromancers to try their darkest spells and rituals on him in hopes they’ll fail. Going by the title, I’m going to assume they don’t.

Sophie Turner, Sansa Stark from HBO’s “Game of Thrones,” stars in Isabel Coixet’s adaptation of Cathy Macphail’s novel Another Me (Fox International), a psychological thriller in which she plays a teen girl whose life becomes complicated when she begins to be stalked by a mysterious “double” who is trying to take over her identity and her life. Co-starring Rhys Ifans and Jonathan Rhys Meyers, it opens in select cities on Friday.

Interview with Sophie Turner

Five tourists in Bangkok go missing after contacting an unknown party in Joel (Pulse 2: Afterlife, The Prophecy: Uprising) Soisson’s Cam2Cam (IFC Midnight) as Tammin Sursok’s Allie meets ex-pats Michael and Marit who perform on an interactive website, but Allie soon learns nothing is as it seems as she’s driven to the bring of madness.

Drama:

Alex and Andrew Smith’s Winter in the Blood (Kino Lorber) follows a man named Virgil (Chaske Spencer) who wakes in a Montana ditch, hungover and beaten-up, and returns home to find his wife has left him, taking his rifle with her. He goes on a quest to find her encountering all sorts of odd people, who may or may not be figments of his imagination. It opens on Wednesday in New York at the IFC Center.

Documentaries of Note:

James Franco produces Christine Voros’ documentary Kink (MPI Pictures), which also opens at the IFC Center on Friday as it explores the fetish empire of Kink.com which specializes in bondage and sadomasochism, upholding a set of values to foster a community that feels safe, sane and consensual.

The original Mr. Sulu from the “Star Trek” television series, 76-year-old actor and activist George Takei is the focus of Jennifer Kroot’s To Be Takei (Starz Digital Media), following him around to show his day-to-day life as an internationally beloved figure and showing his journey from a childhood in an internment camp to his 6 million fans on Facebook.

Daniel Dencik’s Expedition to the End of the World (Argot Pictures) follows the voyages of a three-masted schooner filled with a variety of Danish scientists as they travel the fjords of the remote northeastern region of Greenland exploring climate change. It opens at the Film Forum in New York on Wednesday.

Foreign Films of Interest:

Prolific French filmmaker Catherine Breillat (The Last Mistress, Fat Girl) returns with Abuse of Weakness (Strand Releasing), a semi-autobiographical film starring Isabelle Huppert as Maud, a filmmaker who ends up bedridden after suffering a stroke but becomes interested in a conman (played by Kool Shen) as the subject of her next film, falling for his manipulative nature. It opens in New York and L.A. on Friday.

Next week, it’s Labor Day weekend with two new releases, the low-budget horror film As Above, So Below (Legendary/Universal) set in the Paris catacombs, and Pierce Brosnan stars in the action-thriller The November Man (Relativity).


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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