The Weekend Warrior: Fury, The Best of Me, The Book of Life

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Welcome back to ComingSoon.net’s weekly movie preview and predictions column now entering its 14th year of existence. It would be nice if there was a more exciting way to kick things off than this week’s offerings, but if nothing else, we have a new WWII movie starring Brad Pitt for the guys, a new Nicholas Sparks movie for the ladies and a new animated film for the kids. Oh, and we also have lots of movie for those audiences already in theaters, so who knows what anyone is going to want to see this weekend? Oh, wait, that’s what I’m here for, so read on!

Before we get to the weekend, I had been doing some reflecting on how to make this column better and more useful and interesting and as luck would have it, I went back and looked at my second column ever which had been archived. My writing was pretty godawful back in those days, but one thing I liked was that I started the column by discussing how well or poorly I did the previous weekend. I now write a box office recap on Sundays without mentioning my predictions, mainly since I’ve learned that the best way to not let this stuff make you crazy is to move onto the next weekend, especially when you really screw the pooch (as I’ve done one or two times in the past 13 years). If anyone is interested in me doing a short recap of how things turned out compared to my predictions, just let me know in the comments. (And if there’s any part of the column you’re not reading at all, please let me know, so I can save myself some time writing thiss every week!)

Back to the movie businessÂ…

The big movie of the weekend will most likely be Brad Pitt’s first appearance of 2014, following a successful year that saw him starring in the zombie blockbuster World War Z and producing the Oscar Best Picture 12 Years a Slave. Pitt returns to the WWII setting of Quentin Tarantino’s Oscar-nominated Inglourious Basterds as he plays the sergeant of a battalion of tanks taking on the Germans in Fury (Sony), the latest movie from Training Day writer and End of Watch filmmaker David Ayer.

Needless to say, Brad Pitt is a bigger star than ever, as seen by the success of those two movies, World War Z being one of Pitt’s biggest movies, opening with $66.4 million and grossing $202 million domestic and $540 million worldwide. Pitt generally had done pretty well for himself over the years but it was a good way to remind people of the clout he has at the box office after a few softer years. His appearance in Tarantino’s war movie in 2009 is a perfectly viable comparison with its opening of $38 million and $120 million domestic gross.

While this doesn’t have the added box office clout that Tarantino brings as a fan favorite filmmaker, David Ayer certainly has created a name for himself both for his screenplays and once he started directing. The police thriller End of Watch, starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Pena, grossed $40 million on a $7 million budget. The rest of the cast includes Pena from End of Watch, Logan Lerman from the “Percy Jackson” movies, Jon Bernthal from “The Walking Dead” and Shia LaBeouf from “Crazyville.” This is LaBeouf’s first movie since whatever he was doing earlier this year in the name of “performance art,” although they’re definitely playing down his role in the movie, which is odd considering that he’s starred in three huge “Transformers” movies for Michael Bay.

While the movie will mainly be appealing to older males (and maybe some younger ones), the presence of Brad Pitt could bring more 30-year-old-plus women than a war movie would normally. Unlike movies like Steven Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan, which opened with over $30 million in the summer of 1998 and went on to gross nearly $500 million globally, Fury isn’t necessarily “Oscar fodder” or a movie that’s looking to win awards, as much as it is a solid action movie with more dramatic weight than the typical one. (If you liked Peter Berg’s Lone Survivor, this is more in that vein.) Reviews are generally good, if not great.

A mid-October release is a little worrisome, especially since Fury was initially due for release in November, but Sony is giving it a big push and an ultrawide release into over 3,000 theaters and the genre and presence should be enough to push it over $30 million in its opening weekend. It shouldn’t be too surprising if this one doesn’t join some of Pitt’s other movies in the $100 million club.

Mini-Review: David Ayers’ “Fury” is unlike other World War II movies–and there have been a lot of them–but it does take some time before you realize what makes it so different from what we’ve seen before.

It’s a fairy simple story about the members of a tank battalion, which in itself is quite original, although having Brad Pitt back in the role of an army sergeant, similar to the one he played in “Inglourious Basterds,” is going to make it hard for some to avoid comparisons despite this having a very different look and tone.

A scene of a lone soldier on horseback riding across a field full of bodies and destroyed military vehicles is our first introduction to Pitt’s Sgt. “Wardaddy” Collier, whose crew is weary after a battle where they lost one of their own. Logan Lerman’s Norman is the young, barely wet recruit who has been assigned to take the place of their colleague and he’s hazed mercilessly by the rest of the team as they head out on their first mission.

“Fury” is not your typical modern-day version of World War II, nor does it feel old-fashioned or dated, because it takes a very serious and gritty tone and is almost unapologetically relentless in depicting the horrors of war. It’s also very focused on the five main characters, the brothers in arm that are manning the tank and trying to keep each other alive.

After so much devastation, it’s surprising when Ayer tones things down with a quiet post-battle sequence where Collier and Norman get to know two local women and have a pleasant dinner that’s crashed by their very drunk colleagues. There’s so much tension in this sequence since you never know what’s going to happen, and that’s generally true for the entire movie where you never now when someone is going to get shot or explode in a rain of body parts. (And this is not a movie for the faint of heart when it comes to gore, since it’s quite graphic about showing what bullets and shells do to a man’s body.)

Those looking for an action movie that’s as intense and exciting as any video game will be thrilled by the tank battles, which are so visceral and full of energy that you can feel every bullet and tank mortar as it whizzes by your head. It’s a true testament to Ayer’s visual and sound FX departments that such realism is created while looking like no other battle sequences.

Pitt is generally solid in a role that suits himself well and Lerman continues to surprise as a fine young talent. It takes a little longer to acclimate oneself to the Appalachian white trash played by Jon Bernthal and Shia LaBeouf, and the “fish out of water” storyline is almost too simple and a little predictable on where it’s going, especially when the tank breaks down in the path of an entire SS battalion.

Overall, the film is quite an achievement for Ayer in creating something far more expansive and cinematic than some of his earlier films, but it never loses sight of its characters, which is very important for it working as well as it does.

Rating: 8/10

Interview with David Ayer

Author Nicholas Sparks’ novels have proven to be solid box office fare over the years, starting way back in 2004 with the hit The Notebook, and the latest adaptation, The Best of Me (Relativity Media), based on his 2001 novel, stars Michelle Monaghan and James Marsden, both of whom have appeared in popular films even if it’s hard to gauge them as big box office stars.

There have been eight movies based on Sparks’ works and all of them have grossed over $40 million, but the two biggest hits were the aforementioned The Notebook, starring Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams, which grossed $81 million. In 2010, Dear John starring McAdams with Channing Tatum, opened with $30 million on its way to $80 million, while other Sparks movies have opened with between $16 and 22 million. The last one released by Relativity was 2013’s Safe Haven, which opened with $21.4 million in 3,223 theaters and made $71.3 million domestic.

While Marsden will probably always be best known for playing Scott Summers aka Cyclops in the first three “X-Men” movies, he’s appeared in a similarly eclectic mix of films with roles last year in Anchorman 2 and Lee Daniels’ The Butler (playing John F. Kennedy no less!). Add to that roles in the popular musicals Hairspray and Enchanted and a smaller role in Bryan Singer’s Superman Returns. The first two of those movies as well as his role in Kathryn Heigl’s romantic comedy 27 Dresses certainly should make him a viable draw for the ladies, as should his charm and good looks. Like Monaghan, this is a very different movie for him, although it’s hard to think of him as being on par with a Ryan Gosling or Channing Tatum in terms of getting women into theaters.

Monaghan on the other hand had her big break in 2005 with Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang opposite Robert Downey Jr., followed quickly by her role opposite Tom Cruise in Mission Impossible III. Since then, she’s been in a mix of action films, drama and comedy with her appearance opposite Shia LaBeouf in D.J. Caruso’s Eagle Eye being a high point, grossing $100 million. She had the tiniest role in the hit comedy Due Date, which reunited her with Robert Downey Jr., then was cast opposite Jake Gyllenhaal in Duncan Jones’ Source Code, which did decently with $54.7 million. That was three years ago and Monaghan has mainly been doing smaller indie films that have barely gotten theatrical releases.

One big difference with The Best of Me is that it’s opening in October rather than in the spring/winter season that have proven decent months for previous Sparks movies, but it’s also opening in fewer theaters even than Safe Haven, which could very well limit its box office. It probably will open more on the low end of the openings with $16 million but should have decent legs worth around $50 million domestic gross.

4/10 Review

Produced by Guillermo del Toro, Jorge Gutierrez’s animated musical adventure The Book of Life (20th Century Fox) is set around the timely and relevant Mexican holiday known as the Day of the Dead, and it has a fantastic voice cast that includes Diego Luna, Channing Tatum, Zoe Saldana, Ron Perlman, Ice Cube, Christina Applegate and more. It isn’t just an adventure movie though, because it also features takes on popular songs which oddly are not being featured in much of the promotion for the film when that might actually interest more moviegoers.

With so many animated family films being released every year between Blue Sky Films, DreamWorks Animation, Sony Pictures Animation, Studio Ghibli (see below) and Pixar Animation (though none this year from the latter), it’s always interesting when there’s a new voice or vision in the world of animation. Mexican animator Jorge Gutierrez has established himself with the television cartoon “El Tigre: the Adventures of Manny Rivera” and now he makes his feature film with a movie that explores the myths behind the Mexican holiday of the Day of the Dead, which takes place around Halloween time for families and friends to remember those who have died. (Oddly, Pixar Animation was once going to make a movie about the Day of the Dead directed by Toy Story 3‘s Lee Unkrich, and we’re wondering if that’s still happening.)

The Book of Life has quite a distinctive look from other CG animated films, which could either work in its favor or really turn audiences off, particularly young kids who are used to a certain style of animation and humor in movies. One thing that definitely should work in The Book of Life‘s favor is that it has an appeal towards the Latino audience that has made up a huge percentage of moviegoers in recent years, and one could definitely see them going to a movie based on a Mexican custom over something like Alexander and the Â… Bad Day (although that should still be playing strong enough for family audiences as well.)

The supernatural element of the film certainly makes it timely in the weeks leading up to Halloween (and Day of the Dead), similar to Tim Burton’s stop-motion animated movies like the popular hit The Nightmare Before Christmas as well as some of LAIKA’s offerings. (It’s good to note that LAIKA’s latest, The Boxtrolls, may top out at around $60 million or less.) One can presume that Guillermo del Toro being involved in this one could help it bring in some of his older fans but that did very little for DreamWorks Animation’s “Shrek” spin-off Puss In Boots, which grossed less than $150 million domestic after a $34 million opening (not great when compared to the “Shrek” movies) and had to make back its budget with the $400 million it grossed in foreign markets.

While 20th Century Fox is saturating the market with the movie in hopes of finding that Latino audience we mentioned, it’s also not really spending that much on advertising and promotion, and the film’s odd look and themes might minimize the family audience interested in seeing it. Fortunately, Fandango is reporting strong advance ticket sales, so this could do better than the $14 to 16 million we’re expecting, which could give The Best of Me some competition. The movie also has the best potential for legs leading up to the end of the month as families with kids start getting into the Halloween mindset. Still, this one might have trouble making more than $50 or 60 million.

Video Interview with Jorge Gutierez & Guillermo del Toro from Comic-Con

Video Interview with Ron Perlman from a Different Comic-Con

Expanding nationwide on Friday is Jason Reitman’s Men, Women & Children (Paramount), which stars Adam Sandler, Rosemarie DeWitt, Judy Greer, Ansel Elgort and more, and has grossed just $129 thousand. (The Skeleton Twins (Roadside Attractions), starring Bill Hader and Kristin Wiig seems to have expanded as wide as its going to.) Paramount has really been pushing for its wider release but expanding into just 609 theaters mens that it probably won’t end up with more than $1 million over the weekend.

Last year this weekend saw the release of three new movies that essentially bombed allowing the previous weekend’s Top 2, Gravity and Captain Phillips, to remain in their previous positions with Gravity staying at #1 with $30 million and the Tom Hanks movie remaining in second place with roughly half that amount. The remake of Stephen King’s Carrie (MGM/Screen Gems), starring Chloe Moretz and Julianne Moore, did the best of the new movies with $16 million in 3,157 theaters, although doing that amount just two weeks before Halloween wasn’t great. Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger teamed up for the prison flick Escape Plan (Summit), which tanked with less than $10 million for fourth place. Popular British actor Benedict Cumberbatch played Julian Assange in the bio-drama The Fifth Estate (DreamWorks) which absolutely tanked, taking eighth place with $1.7 million in 1,769 theaters with an average of under $1,000 per location. Pitiful. The Top 10 grossed $90.5 million, which this weekend’s offerings should be able to best as the box office continues to stay ahead of last year.

This Week’s Updated Predictions

UPDATE: Not a lot of major changes, just up or down a few notches for some of the movies, and we still think The Best of Me will win out over The Book of Life due to the Nicholas Spark factor, although the latter should surpass it by next week.

1. Fury (Sony) – $32.6 million N/A (up .4 million)

2. Gone Girl (20th Century Fox) – $19.2 million -27% (up .2 million)

3. The Best of Me (Relativity Media) – $16.0 million N/A (up .2 million)

4. The Book of Life (20th Century Fox) – $15.2 million N/A (up .2 million)

5. Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day (Disney) – $11.2 million -39%

6. Dracula Untold (Universal) – $11 million -53%

7. The Judge (Warner Bros.) – $7.9 million -40%

8. Annabelle (New Line/WB) – $7.5 million -53%

9. The Equalizer (Sony) – $5.0 million -44% (down .2 million)

10. Addicted (Lionsgate) – $4.5 million -47% (This should remain in the Top 10 as opposed to The Maze Runner.)

Men, Women & Children (Paramount) – $1.2 million (down .2 million)

This Week’s Limited Releases:

THE CHOSEN ONE:

There really isn’t that much competition for “CHOSEN ONE” this week, since Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s Birdman (or The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) (Fox Searchlight) is easily one of the best movies of the year. (See my review below.)

It stars Michael Keaton as Riggan Thomson, an actor best known for his role as Birdman in a blockbuster superhero franchise who is trying to revive his career by staging a Broadway play that’s plagued by problems as he fights with his own inner demons. It sounds like so many other movies but it’s done in such a masterful way that there’s no way one can fully appreciate everything about it on a single viewing.

It co-stars Edward Norton, Naomi Watts, Emma Stone, Andrea Riseborough, Zach Galifianakis and Amy Ryan as the other actors in Riggan’s play and others involved in Riggan’s life and career who are present as things start to fall apart. While it’s a very talkie movie, the way Inarritu films it with Alfonso Cuaron’s Oscar-winning Gravity cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki–essentially having the entire movie looking like it’s a single shot–keeps it visually exciting.

This is the type of rich and deeply-layered film that can be discussed and thought about for a long time to come – without being laborious, mind you, because it can also be enjoyed merely for the surface laughs and the exciting pace.

Honestly, we get so few of those sorts of movies a year that it’s the type of film that demands to be seen on the big screen to fully appreciate the art of Inarritu’s direction as well as the skilled performances without other distractions.

Deserving of all the praise it’s already received and will continue to get, Birdman opens in select cities on Friday and it probably will expand nationwide sometime during awards season, maybe once the early awards and nominations arrive in December, but probably sooner. Definitely one worth looking out for.

Video Interview with Director Alejandro Inarritu

9/10 Review

And once again, we have a serious “Honorable Mention,” which is the latest from Japan’s Studio Ghibli and director Isao Takahata (Grave of the Fireflies). Their latest animated film, The Tale of the Princess Kaguya (GKIDS), is adapted from the 10th Century fable “The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter” about a poor bamboo cutter who finds a tiny princess inside a stalk of bamboo, so he brings her home to his wife and they raise her from a baby to a teenager, which occurs in a matter of months. Eventually she is expected to resume her role as a princess, learning everything that comes with it, but word soon gets out of her beauty and she’s approached by many royal suitors, none of whom interest her.

I don’t want to say too much more about the plot, because this is one of those films that’s just a pleasure to watch unfold. Visually, it’s just an absolutely beautiful film, one that uses a simpler form of animation with fewer lines but uses them as wisely as it does conservatively, it doesn’t seem to be primitive at all. On the other hand, Takahata and his animators are able to create a surprising amount of realism and emotion with fewer brushstrokes as it mixes different art styles including painted backgrounds and even charcoal art at times.

Establishing itself in the Japanese country life of the times, the storytelling is superb as it shows the princess growing up in the woods with her adopted parents, running around and playing with the other kids, before being moved to the Capitol where she needs to learn the proper manners expected of a princess. She’s such a playful and spirited girl that being repressed by the demands put on her really comes through, as does the sexism and misogynist attitudes towards women in those days.

As much as this is a film that you can take your kids to see, they may not appreciate some of the subtleties of what Takahata is doing and just enjoy it for the fun moments and visuals, which quickly make you forget you’re watching an animated film.

It will be released both in Japanese with subtitles and an English-dubbed version featuring Chloe Grace Moretz, James Caan, Mary Steenburgen, Darren Criss, Lucy Liu, Beau Bridges, James Marsden and Oliver Platt. But honestly, I recommend seeking out the Japanese version, because there’s so many things about it that just won’t translate well to English and takes away from the setting.

Rating: 8.5/10

Comedies

The Color Wheel director Alex Ross Perry’s second feature Listen Up Philip (Tribeca Film) stars Jason Schwartzman, Elisabeth Moss, Jonathan Pryce and Krysten Ritter, with Schwartzman playing a bitter author named Philip who keep burning bridges including the relationship with his photographer girlfriend (Elisabeth Moss). When his idol (Jonathan Pryce) offers him refuge at this summer house, Philip sees it as an opportunity to get away and spend more time with himself. It opens in New York on Friday

Video Interview with Jason Schwartzman & Alex Ross Perry

My Review from the New York Film Festival

Justin Simien’s directorial debut Dear White People (Roadside Attractions) follows four black students at an Ivy League college who are somehow linked to a riot on campus when the white students throw an “African-American”-themed party.

Action, Thrillers and Horror:

In a bizarre twist on the Somali pirate movies we’ve been seeing the last few weeks, Simon Brand’s thriller Default (Amplify) has David Oyelowo playing a Somali pirate who takes an American news crew on a jet hostage in hopes of being interviewed by journalist Frank Saltzman (Greg Callahan).

Second-gen filmmaker Jake Paltrow returns with the sci-fi thriller Young Ones (Screen Media Films) set on an Earth where water has run out leaving the survivors in a farming district struggling to make ends meet. Ernest Holm (Michael Shannon) works hard to take care of his kids Jerome and Mary (Kodi Smit-McPhee, Elle Fanning) while fending off bandits including one Flem Lever (Nicholas Hoult), Mary’s boyfriend who wants Ernest’s land for himself and will do whatever it takes to get it.

Alfonso (“American Horror Story”) Gomez-Rejon’s acclaimed directorial debut The Town That Dreaded Sundown (Orion Pictures), written by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa (Carrie)–the two of them met on “Glee,” of all things–involves a serial killer returning to terrorize the small town of Texarkana and the high school girl (Addison Timlin from “Zero Hour”) who may hold the key to stopping him. The remake of the 1976 film opens in select cities Thursday.

Gerard Johnstone’s horror-comedy Housebound (XLrator Media) stars Morgana O’Reilly as Kylie Bucknell, who is forced to live with her superstitious mother Miriam who believes the house is haunted when she’s put on house arrest. (This sounds a lot like my 2013.) Soon, Kylie starts hearing notices that makes her wonder whether her mother is right or she’s just going stir crazy.

Drama:

Kristen Stewart stars in Peter Sattler’s Camp X-Ray (IFC Films) as a young soldier who ends up working as a guard at Guantanamo Bay, but as her colleagues tend to harrass her, she finds solace in one of the inmates (Payman Moaadi from the Oscar-winning A Separation) as they build a rapport.

William H. Macy makes his directorial debut with Rudderless (Samuel Goldwyn Films), starring Billy Crudup as ad exec. Sam whose son suddenly dies, sending him into a drunken tailspin living on a sailboat. When he finds a box full of his son’s lyrics and demo tapes, he learns the songs and performs at a bar, bonding with a young musician named Quentin as they form a band together.

Australian actor Joel Edgerton wrote and stars in the crime-thriller Felony (Gravitas Ventures), directed by Matthew Saville, playing Malcolm Toohey, a detective who spends a night celebrating his surviving a gunshot wound with the squad but has a tragic accident while driving home. The two officers looking into what happened include a tough colleague (Jai Courtney) and Malcolm’s veteran partner (Tom Wilkinson), who will do anything to keep him from going to jail.

Foreign Films of Interest:

Opening at the Film Forum in New York on Wednesday is Oscar-winning filmmaker Volker (The Tin Drum) Schlondorff’s Diplomacy (Zeitgeist Films), based on the play by Cyril Gely, shows an all-night confrontation between Nazi General Dietrich von Cholitz (Niels Arestrup) and the Swedish consul-general Raoul Nordling (Andre Dussollier) at Paris’ Hotel Meurice following the end of World War II.

Documentaries of Note:

Brett Harvey’s The Culture High (Entertainment One Films) looks at the arguments surrounding modern-day marijuana prohibition from the viewpoint of those for and against the existing pot laws.

Next week, we get one week closer to Halloween with the low-budget horror flick Ouija (Universal) and Keanu Reeves seeks revenge as John Wick (Lionsgate).


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