The Weekend Warrior: The Maze Runner, A Walk Among the Tombstones, This is Where I Leave You

ON

Back from Toronto with a lot of stuff to run and share, but hopefully you checked out some of my updates and my wrap-up earlier this week. Now it’s time to get back to my regularly scheduled movie preview column with the second-to-last weekend of September bringing us four new movies in wide release.

The big release of the weekend is the 500th young adult novel adaptation of the year–I may be exaggerating there–The Maze Runner (20th Century Fox), which is based on the first novel in James Dashner’s “popular best-selling series.” I haven’t read any of these books, but one thing that makes this different from many of the young adult adaptations of the past few years, other than last month’s The Giver, is that it features a male protagonist, played by Dylan O’Brien from MTV’s popular “Teen Wolf” show. It also features a mostly male cast that includes Thomas Brodie-Sangster (who is both the voice of Ferb from “Phineas and Ferb” and also a recurring character on “Game of Thrones”) and Will Poulter from We’re the Millers.

The fact that I’m actually a rather old adult means I’m not the target audience for the movie, nor do I know how many people, young or old, have read the book and enjoyed it, because it hasn’t been in the mainstream consciousness as much as more popular series like “Twilight,” “The Hunger Games” or “Divergent.” Despite the popularity of “Teen Wolf,” it doesn’t feel like O’Brien, who previously had a role in The Internship, directed by Shawn Levy (see below), is enough of a box office draw to get the younger female audience into theaters, but it’s really hard to tell with these things. Certainly the likes of Jennifer Lawrence, Shailene Woodley and Chloe Moretz, all of whom found some success before their foray into young adult characters, have proven to be strong draws while the last male star of a Y.A. movie, Brenton Thwaites in The Giver, didn’t help it open above $13 million and it’s barely grossed $42 million since opening last month.

A couple of things make The Maze Runner different, the first one being that 20th Century Fox (who have proven themselves able to market these movies) are selling it based on its action sequences, which could help it do better among younger males as well as women, rather than focusing on the romance at the center of many of these films. This is also opening in September when school is back in session which could lead to more “group mindthink” where classmates and school friends go to see this as a group. For that demographic, this is the only viable choice for movie-going this weekend. While it doesn’t seem likely this will bring in the $50 million plus opening weekend we’ve seen as recently as Divergent and The Fault in Our Stars, a strong opening similar to last year’s Ender’s Game is definitely achievable and probably a bit better without too many other strong options in theaters. I’m going to predict an opening weekend between $30 and 35 million and it might push its way to $100 million or slightly less depending on whether this one lives up to the books.

Liam Neeson stars in his sixth movie of the year (including voice roles in two animated films) with A Walk Among the Tombstones (Universal), an adaptation of Lawrence Block’s 1992 novel in his long-running series featuring alcoholic private detective Matthew Scudder.
Directed by Oscar-nominated screenwriter Scott Frank, his second feature as a director after the 2007 cult film The Lookout, starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, this is a little different from Neeson’s normal high concept action-thrillers like Non-Stop earlier this year or the “Taken” movies which will return next year. It’s a slower, quieter suspense thriller more in the vein of The Silence of the Lambs or other serial killer thrillers that were prominent during the ’90s and early ’00s, although it’s still being sold as if it were the types of movies that appeals to Neeson’s normal fanbase. (It also stars the super-hot Dan Stevens, coming off his appearance on the popular series “Downton Abbey,” although he plays a fairly small role compared to Neeson.)

Not being an action film, it’s going to be harder to get the four-quadrant audience who usually checks out Neeson’s bigger releases, particularly the younger males who may not be interested in either of the two other big releases and women, who could theoretically pick either of the other wide releases. Neeson is clearly “at the top of his game” right now and reviews should generally be better for this than some of the other movies opening on Friday which should help it among older adult moviegoers who do frequently go to theaters over the weekend. While Neeson’s appearance in Seth MacFarlane’s comedy Western A Million Ways to Die in the West did nothing to help that film from dying a quick death, his previous thriller Non-Stop grossed nearly $92 million domestic and more than double that worldwide.

Due to the nature of the film being less action-based than Neeson’s other movie, I’m expecting a softer opening but similar legs as audiences find it, so look for it to do around $14 to 17 million this weekend and probably $45 to 50 million overall.

Scott Frank Interview (Coming Soon!)

Next up is an ensemble dramedy based on the novel by Jonathan Tropper, This is Where I Leave You (Warner Bros.), which features an impressive cast headlined by Jason Bateman and Tina Fey, but also featuring Adam Driver, Corey Stoll (“The Strain”), Kathryn Hahn, Rose Byrne, Dax Sheppard and Jane Fonda. It’s a very different kind of movie for director Shawn Levy, whose best known for the “Night at the Museum” movies and other straight comedies like the hit Date Night, which co-starred Fey.

Having had huge success as head writer of “Saturday Night Live” and NBC’s hit sitcom “30 Rock,” Tina Fey’s film career started with the bang that was Mean Girls, which grossed $86 million and featured a cast of actresses who went onto bigger things (except for Linsday Lohan, who didn’t). That was followed four years later by the minor hit Baby Mama with her friend Amy Poehler ($60.5 million gross) and the aforementioned Date Night, co-starring Steve Carell, which brought in nearly a hundred million. Other films like last year’s Admission and this year’s Muppets Most Wanted haven’t fared nearly as well.

The same can be said for her co-star Jason Bateman, who has co-starred in enormous hits like last year’s Identity Thief with Melissa McCarthy and Horrible Bosses in 2011, which has a sequel coming out next year, but then he’ll star in a dud like The Change-Up with Ryan Reynolds or his directorial debut Bad Words, which fared well at film festivals but only grossed $7.8 million when it opened earlier this year.

The breakout star of the movie is most definitely going to be Adam Driver, who has found himself a strong fanbase thanks to his role on HBO’s hit comedy “Girls” and small roles like in last year’s Inside Llewyn Davis (and this weekend’s limited release Tracks), so his strong presence in the trailers will help get some women to choose this over The Maze Runner. Similarly, Rose Byrne has really been exploding lately with roles in the two “Insidious” movies and the comedy Neighbors earlier this year. (She’s also on Broadway right now and has appeared on a bunch of the New York talk shows, which is one of the benefits of a large cast in that you can get many of them on the talk show circuit to help raise awareness for the movie.)

Warner Bros. has done a good job focusing on the laughs and romance in the various commercials and trailers, although this type of movie generally can find a smaller audience among 30-something and older adults who like the various actors and might want something a little more low-key than the other offerings this weekend. That should be good for an opening in the $11 to 12 million range and possibly as much as $40 million total in its theatrical run, more if word-of-mouth is good. (Reviews so far have been mixed, at best.)

Shawn Levy Video Interview

7/10 Review

Lastly, we have Kevin Smith’s new movie–his first since the independently-released Red State–as he delves further into horror with Tusk (A24), a very strange movie co-starring Justin Long, Michael Parks, Genesis Rodriguez and Haley Joel Osment, in which a podcaster gets kidnapped by a eccentric reclusive who is fixated on walruses. Without knowing how wide A24 plans on release this–right now, we just know it’s opening in more than 500 theaters–it’s hard to determine how it will do among Kevin Smith’s fairly diehard fanbase, but one probably can expect an opening in the $2 to 3 million range, which will be enough to get into the Top 10.

This weekend last year saw the release of the thriller Prisoners (Warner Bros.), starring Hugh Jackman and Jake Gyllenhaal, mere weeks after its acclaimed Toronto Film Festival debut, as it rode that buzz to $20 million opening for first place. Battle of the Year 3D (Sony/Screen Gems) was a rare dance flop from executive producer William Packer as it bombed with just $4.6 million in 2,000 theaters, a terrible per-theater average of $2,292. The IMAX rerelease of The Wizard of Oz IMAX 3D brought in $3.1 million in 318 IMAX theaters, enough to get into the Top 10 at #9 with the highest per-theater average in the Top 10. With the Top 10 grossing $69.9 million, there’s a good chance that The Maze Runner will put this weekend over the top 10 in order to make up for the last couple of slower weeks.

This Week’s Updated Predictions

1. The Maze Runner (20th Century Fox) – $34.0 million N/A (up 1.2 million)

2. A Walk Among the Tombstones (Universal) – $15.7 million N/A (up .3 million)

3. This is Where I Leave You (Warner Bros.) – $12.6 million N/A (up 1.2 million and one spot)

4. No Good Deed (Screen Gems/Sony) – $11.6 million -52%

5. Dolphin Tale 2 (Warner Bros.) – $10.2 million -38%

6. Guardians of the Galaxy (Disney/Marvel) – $6 million -26%

7. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (Paramount) – $3.2 million -35%

8. The Drop (Fox Searchlight) – $3.0 million -27% (Up .5 million and 2 slots)

9. Tusk (A24) – $2.8 million N/A (up .1 million)

10. Let’s Be Cops (20th Century Fox) – $2.8 million -36%

This Week’s Limited Releases:

THE CHOSEN ONE:

Since I haven’t had a “CHOSEN ONE” for a couple weeks, this week I’ll offer two movies that have a similar joie de vivre as they follow two very different individuals as they go on two very different journeys of discovery across thousands of miles.

A movie that premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) last year (which I missed back then) was the drama Tracks (The Weinstein Company), starring Mia Wasikowska as Robyn Davidson, a young woman who traveled 1,700 miles across the Australian outback accompanied only by three camels and a dog.

Directed by John Curran (We Don’t Live Here Anymore), it’s a fantastic film on so many levels from the use of the geography and the use of music to enhance what’s often almost dialogue-free at times. Wasikowska, who has proven herself to be a fantastic young actress, really gives this one her all playing a young woman who decides she wants to be on her own and that the best way to so is by traveling across the outback on her own. But first, she has to learn something about camels, so she works on a number of camel farms trying to learn while earning her keep in hopes of being paid with a camel or two of her own.

The minimal cast also features Adam Driver (who co-stars in Shawn Levy’s This is Where I Leave You, being released this weekend) in a less comedic role than we’re used to seeing him. In this, he plays a photographer named Rick who meets Robyn early on her journey and gets the gig taking photos along the way for a National Geographic story. Rick clearly has more interest in her than just as a photographic subject as he follows her around, but she really doesn’t want much to do with other people until she meets an Aboriginal elder named Eddie, who accompanies her on the toughest part of her journey.

It’s interesting to have seen this movie shortly before I saw Reese Witherspoon’s “Wild” at TIFF, another true story about a woman going on a long trip alone to get away and find herself, but that’s about where the comparisons end, because we don’t learn as much about Robyn’s past and her journey is told in a far more linear way. Still, it’s a beautiful and inspirational story, and a real filmmaking coup for Curran which should be getting a far more high-profile release than it’s being given.

Rating: 8.5/10

A really nice surprise at this year’s TIFF was the Simon Pegg vehicle Hector and the Search for Happiness (Relativity), based on the novel by Francois Lelord, which shows a very different journey, that of a psychiatrist who has gotten bored with his humdrum life, living with his fiancĂ©e Clara (Rosamund Pike), so he goes on a world tour trying to find the meaning of happiness. It puts him in all sorts of danger while he’s trying to discover the epiphany that will finally make him happy, as Clara gets more frustrated by his absence.

I have to admit I was somewhat skeptical about this movie since it felt like something I’d seen before (plus it’s easy to be cynical about a film like this which espouses what makes a person happy), but “Hector” has a similar feel and sense of humor as Ben Stiller’s The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (my favorite movie of 2014) while taking a different approach to show a man’s journey to changing himself.

Pegg is fantastic as Hector and this may be his best solo movie outside of his work with Edgar Wright and Simon Frost, maybe because he’s playing such a pleasant character who isn’t as cynical or snarky as other characters he’s played. (It’s pretty obvious he’s been somewhat typecast by the roles he’s become famous for.) He also has established a great chemistry with Rosamund Pike following last year’s The World’s End, so it’s really easy to believe them as a married couple.

After being introduced to Hector in a way that doesn’t really foreshadow what’s to come, we watch as he travels to China then Tibet and Africa, meeting interesting new people along the way, but also getting into various degrees of trouble as he encounters some of the worst aspects of humankind while trying to find out what makes people happy. What I also enjoyed about the film was the appearance by a couple of great underrated actors who show up for a scene or two along Hector’s journey, whether it’s Stellan Skarsgard or Jean Reno or Toni Collette and Christopher Plummer.

The film’s last act in Los Angeles and the explanation for why Hector is so repressed lost me a little bit, but the film otherwise has such a good heart that you leave the theater smiling, which is not something we get very often nowadays.

Rating: 8/10

Both of these movies open in select cities on Friday, Tracks presumably doing the NY/LA thing but Hector and the Search for Happiness opening in more cities right off the bat.

Video Interview with Simon Pegg

Drama:

Michelle Monaghan stars in Fort Bliss (Phase 4), Claudia Myers’ drama that has the actress playing Maggie Swann, a U.S. army medic who returns from duty in Afghanistan to have to balance taking care of her estranged five-year-old son while working as a training sergeant at a nearby boot camp, always with the memories of Afghanistan ingrained in her mind. It opens in select cities and on iTunes Friday.

If you happen to be in New York this evening (Wednesday, September 17), you can come to the Apple Store in Soho and ask Michelle questions about the movie at an event being held at 5pm moderated by yours truly. More information here.

Lance (The Good Doctor) Daly’s Life’s A Breeze (Magnolia) stars Pat Shortt, Fionnula Flanagan and Emma as an Irish family struggling to stay afloat through tough times as they race against time to find a lost fortune. It opens in New York at the Quad Cinemas and at the Beverly Hills Music Hall on Friday as well as On Demand and iTunes.

Documentaries of Note:

Alan Hicks’ documentary Keep On Keepin’ On (RADiUS-TWC) looks at the relationship and friendship between teacher and mentor, 94-year-old jazz legend Clark Terry and his 20-year-old blind piano playing protege Justin Kauflin. It’s this unlikely pairing that makes the movie almost impossible not to love, which may be why Hicks and his film have won awards at every festival where it’s played. While it’s not quite as groundbreaking or on par with last year’s 20 Feet From Stardom, it does a damn good job commemorating the great jazz trumpet player who famously taught Quincy Jones before becoming a part of his band. Even at his elderly age and barely able to walk as he deals with medical complications, Terry pushes his students to excel at the difficult nature of playing jazz with heart and soul, something Kauflin has in spades. It’s just one of those amazing stories that you might never have heard if not for a forward-thinking filmmaker like Hicks, who surprisingly is making his feature film debut with “Keep On Keepin’ On.” If you’re a fan of jazz or music or just really inspiring stories, then it’s definitely worth checking out when it opens in Los Angeles on Friday and in New York on October 3.

Filmmakers Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollard follow musician and author Nick Cave on his day-to-day encounters in 20,000 Days on Earth (Drafthouse Films), a very different style of documentary that’s not a concert film or a talking head biograpical doc as much as a portrait of an intriguing artist that blends both fact and fiction. It opens in select cities on Wednesday.

One of the hits of this year’s Tribeca Film Festival, Art and Craft (Oscilloscope Laboratories), directed by Sam Cullman, Jennifer Grausman and Mark Becker, shines a spotlight on Mark Landis, a prolific art forger who has managed to fool museum curators for years to get his counterfeit paintings displayed in many prestigious art galleries across the country. That is, until he finds a worthy adversary in Matthew Leininger, a former museum curator who becomes obsessed with outing and discrediting Landis. To do this, he sets up an art exhibit of all of Landis’ forged art and invites him to the opening.

Science Fiction:

Katie Cassidy from the popular CW series “Arrow” stars in The Scribbler (XLrator Media), adapted by Dan Schaffer from his own graphic novel, playing Suki who uses an experimental machine called “The Siamese Burn” to cure her multiple personality disorder.

Terry Gilliam returns with his latest film The Zero Theorem (Amplify), starring Oscar winner Christoph Waltz as Qohen Leth, a computer genius suffering from existential angst as he is assigned an important project by Management (Matt Damon) in attempt to discover the meaning of life. (And not the Monty Python movie of the same name.) As he tries to get the job done, he gets all sorts of unwanted visitors who try to throw him off track. Co-starring Melanie Thierry, David Thewlis, Lucas Hedges and Tilda Swinton, it opens in select cities following its VOD run.

Patrick Wilson, Liv Tyler and Matt Bomer star in Jack Plotnick’s sci-fi melodrama Space Station 76 (Vertical Entertainment), dealing with the internal squabbles of the residents on the Omega 76 Space Station, an odd mix of characters who try to get along under the guidance of the ship’s suicidal Captain Glenn Terry (Wilson). It opens in New York and L.A. on Friday, before being available as a digital download on 9/23 and on DVD 9/30.

Action, Thrillers and Horror:

Opening on Wednesday is the thriller The Guest (Picturehouse) from You’re Next filmmakers Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett, starring Dan Stevens (“Downton Abbey” AND this week’s A Walk Among the Tombstones) as David, a soldier back from war who pays a call on the Peterson family, claiming to be a friend of their son who died in action. They allow him to stay at their home but when people around them start dying, their teen daughter Anna thinks David is responsible. It’s another solid thriller from the duo of Wingard and Barrett, one that really showcases Stevens’ talent as an actor, both at being charming and menacing, and it’s also a truly cinematic experience in terms of the look and tone of the film.

The ubiquitous John Cusack stars in Reclaim (Lionsgate), the new suspense thriller about a small town couple (Ryan Philippe, Rachel Lefevre) whose adopted daughter goes missing and as they look for the truth about her disappearance, they discover secrets behind the adoption agency where they got her. In select cities and On Demand starting Friday.

Foreign Films of Interest:

Hong Kong legends Donnie Yen and Simon Yam star in Wing-cheong Law’s Iceman (Well Go USA) as a palace guard who gets buried and frozen while battling three brothers swearing vengeance for a murder he committed, a struggle that is resumed 400 years later when they’re defrosted.

Next week, Denzel Washington is back, reteaming with his Training Day director Antoine Fuqua, for their own version of The Equalizer (Sony), co-starring Chloe Moretz and Marton Csokas. Also, we get stop-motion animated The Boxtrolls (Focus Features) from the makers of Coraline and ParaNorman.


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