After a week with two bonafide flops, it’s starting to get a little scary to think that maybe we’re in a summer slump after all, which is why it’s perfect timing for Disney and Pixar Animation to release their latest animated movie, Brave, a Scottish adventure featuring the voice of Kelly Macdonald as Princess Merida, a feisty teenager who prefers archery and horseback riding to the protocol of being a princess, which puts her at odds with her mother. It’s Pixar’s first movie featuring a female lead, which is pretty huge for them, and that should make it a first choice for mothers and young girls this weekend even if teen and older guys may be a little more tentative due to the female lead. Even so, plenty of male moviegoers already know that the Pixar name generally means quality worth checking out even if there won’t be the type of rush like there was with movies like The Incredibles. Unfortunately, the mostly male film critics’ pool has already been going after the movie for a number of reasons including keeping the central plot which involves magic and bears a secret, although women who like Disney’s classic animated fables from Snow White through The Little Mermaid will eat this stuff up. We think the mix of potential audiences will help the movie open with around $60 million give or take a few million on its way to roughly $200 million by summer’s end.
(The Weekend Warrior has chosen not to write a review for Brave because Disney was generous enough to fly me to Scotland for an elaborate junket and I don’t think it would be appropriate to do so, but I did see the movie before the trip to Scotland and really enjoyed it. I think Merida’s a terrific character and the film has a feel more like Disney’s classic animated fairy tales than the typical Pixar fare with a magical “twist” a half hour in that insures that those who’ve seen the commercials/trailer won’t have seen the whole movie. And there are a lot of bears in the movie, too.)
It’s hard to think that Timur (Wanted) Bekmambetov’s action-thriller Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter (20th Century Fox), produced by Tim Burton, is being offered as counter-programming because it’s literally different from every other movie in theaters except maybe that the John Cusack Edgar Allan Poe movie The Raven. Uh oh. Led by unknown Benjamin Walker and with a cast that includes the likes of Anthony Mackie, Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Dominic Cooper, the movie’s based on Seth Graham-Smith’s bestselling novel of the same name. Vampires have been hot in recent years, especially with the return of HBO’s “True Blood,” but period pieces and biopics, probably not so much, and that’s the real dilemma facing the movie, because some may check the movie out of curiosity for the odd title, but others may immediately think the movie is a joke and not feel it’s worth their time and money. Reviews probably won’t help matters, nor will the presence of Pixar’s latest movie, although Bekmambetov’s last movie Wanted took on Pixar’s WALLE in June 2008 and held its ground well, opening with $50 million. That also had Angelina Jolie and Morgan Freeman, however. We think that with many schools already out and the older teens looking for things to kill the boredom, the movie should do decently on Friday although it’s likely to be fairly frontloaded as those who are curious taper off. We’re probably looking at an opening in the low $20 millions and a total gross of $75 million or less.
Mini-Review: The premise of Timur Bekmambetov’s “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter” is already strange enough that it forces one to go into the movie with a certain matter of suspension of disbelief, but mileage is going to vary on whether the over-the-top action will be a plus or minus to enhance this historical fictionalization.
In this take on history, Benjamin Walker’s Abraham Lincoln watched his mother being murdered by a vampire as a child and swears to get revenge. Later in life, he meets Henry Sturgess (Dominic Cooper) who agrees to train him how to kill vampires if he agrees to follow his rules. From there, we see Abe in action, wielding his silver-plated axe against the vampires Henry informs him about. When he’s not fighting vampires, Abe is living his life as we know it, eventually getting into politics, fighting for the end of slavery and eventually becoming President before having to lead the North in a war with the South, which ironically enough, has armies mostly consisting of vampires.
There are a lot of intriguing ideas in the movie, most of them coming from the novel by Seth Grahame-Smith, who also wrote the screenplay, but it’s when the movie goes “off-book” that’s when it starts to get exciting, because Bekmambetov is a master of big scale action. As one might expect, it’s the action scenes that are the coolest part of the movie even if they’re a bit hard to follow at times and they do get pretty ridiculous, especially when horses start being used as weapons, and then full wagons and even forks and pocket-watches. As laughably silly as it may seem, it never gets as bad or stupid as anything in “Jonah Hex,” which unfortunately is the closest comparison.
Otherwise, Bekmambetov knows how to make the most out of CG to give the movie a truly grand scale, which is particularly impressive when it comes to the production design in bringing 19th Century Washington DC to life, at a time before the Capitol Building and other landmarks were being built. The 3D is used to full effect with so much detail that you can even see the dust hanging in the air. Unfortunately, the muted color scheme he uses tends to be distracting, especially when it cut from one sequence to another and they’re tinted differently.
Bekmambetov handles the historical aspect of the story in a conventional way but after seeing lots of crazy and gory action scenes, these scenes tend to be fairly boring, dragging the pace of the story down. Everything is also handled in such a serious way that you’re not really sure if you’re allowed to laugh or have fun with it when it kicks into overdrive.
Benjamin Walker, best known for his stage role in “Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson,” does a decent job creating a believable Abe, both the younger one as well as the older, more familiar Presidential version. Anthony Mackie also fares well as his childhood friend Willie Johnson as does Dominic Cooper and Rufus Sewell as vampires on opposites sides of the battle, all of them getting involved in the gore-filled action scenes. Mary Elizabeth Winstead seems badly miscast as Mary Todd, her wooden performance pretty much ruining any of the more dramatic scenes.
It’s sometimes easier to suspend the necessary amount of disbelief than others, because it’s such a strange mash-up of period biopic and modern vampire action movie that doesn’t entirely work but offers enough entertainment value that it never feels like a complete waste of time either.
This weekend’s underdog may be the apocalyptic rom-com Seeking a Friend for the End of the World (Focus Features), starring Steve Carell and Keira Knightley and directed by Lorene Scafaria, which is only being released into 1,500 theaters but should benefit from being so different from the other options and a viable choice for older women. The commercials have done a good job selling the movie based on the comedy with appearances by the likes of Patton Oswalt and Rob Corddry, but it’s definitely a tougher sell since it is such an odd setting for a romantic comedy and Focus seems to not quite have a handle on how to market it. (The latest commercials feature Carell telling audiences why they should see his movie, which tends to be a last resort.) As you can read in our review below, we’re fans of Scafaria’s directorial debut and maybe positive reviews can help it, though it seems more like a movie that might do better in the fall than in the summer, especially with so many other options in the next couple weeks. With that in mind, we think this should do somewhere between $5 and 7 million opening weekend but should gradually find an audience to bring in roughly $20 to 25 million.
This weekend last year saw the release of two movies that opened with over $30 million with the Pixar sequel Cars 2 opening at #1 with $66 million, roughly $6 million more than the original opened with five years earlier and Pixar Animation’s fifth-biggest opening. Meanwhile, Cameron Diaz starred in the R-rated Bad Teacher (Sony), which took second place with $31.6 million, her second $30 million plus opener of the year. The Top 10 grossed $164.5 million but since we think neither of the new movies will open as well as last year’s offerings, this is going to be yet another down weekend.
This Week’s Updated Predictions -
1. Brave (DisneyPixar) – $64.7 million N/A (up 3.2 million)
2. Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter (20th Century Fox) – $22.1 million N/A (same)
3. Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted (DreamWorks Animation/Paramount) – $18 million -49%
4. Prometheus (20th Century Fox) – $9 million -57%
5. Snow White and the Huntsman (Universal) – $7.6 million -45%
6. Rock of Ages (Warner Bros.) – $7 million -51%
7. Seeking a Friend for the End of the World (Focus Features) – $6.7 million N/A (up .2 million)
8. That’s My Boy (Sony) – $6.4 million -53%
9. Marvel’s The Avengers (Disney) – $6.2 million -30%
10. Men in Black 3 (Sony) – $5.5 million -45%
The Chosen One
Documentary filmmaker Kirby Dick (This Film Is Not Yet Rated) takes on the serious subject of rape in the military in The Invisible War (Docurama Films), hearing true stories of former military women and men who were sexually abused, often by their superiors. It follows a small group of rape victims who band together to get policy changed on how the military handles internal crimes like rape and sexual abuse. (And according to The Wrap, they were successful–now if only the MPAA would fix their problems.)
The primary featured subject of the film is Kori Cioca, who left the Coast Guard and tries to get her life back as a wife and mother in Ohio, but finds it’s impossible for her to do, and other women have similar experiences after being violated by their military colleagues and then disrespected by the country they’re trying to protect. Kori’s attempts to get medical coverage for the injuries she suffered during her rape and how it affects her family are heartbreaking. These aren’t weak-willed women either, but those who come from military families who wanted nothing more than to continue their family heritage and who become disheartened with the military letting them down.
It also looks into the military’s weak attempts at changing things with the poorly-run Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office (SAPRO), which doesn’t seem to understand the best way of handling such a touchy situation and whose attempts at creating awareness are laughable.
What’s always astounding about Dick’s approach to filmmaking is the way he gets such incredible access in exploring the subject and in this case, how he gets these women to open up about their horrifying ordeals, exacerbated by the military’s unwillingness to help them deal with the repercussions. Much like Amy Berg’s Deliver Us From Evil, the results are an extremely emotional film, sometimes making it difficult to watch, but it’s another terrific investigational exposé by one of the more underrated doc filmmakers out there. Rating: 8.5/10
The Invisible War opens in New York, Los Angeles, Washington D.C., San Francisco and Boston on Friday.
After having the biggest hit of his career with last year’s Midnight in Paris, filmmaker Woody Allen is back with To Rome With Love (Sony Pictures Classics), an anthology comedy starring Alec Baldwin, Penelope Cruz, Jesse Eisenberg, Ellen Page and Greta Gerwig as it follows four separate stories taking place in Italy’s beautiful capitol city. It opens in New York and L.A. on Friday.
Martin Sheen and Stephen Rea star in Stella Days (Tribeca Film), a film set in 50s Ireland where a small village gets into a struggle over a movie theater where the locals want new films from Hollywood and Rome shown there putting the local priest, Father Daniel Barry (Sheen) into a bind about the racier movies being made. It’s available On Demand on Tuesday the 19th and will play at New York’s Quad Cinema on Friday.
Maggie and Jake’s dad Stephen Gyllenhaal writes and directs the political comedy Grassroots (Samuel Goldwyn Films), set in 2001 where a political unknown, played by Joel David Moore (Avatar), tries to take down the incumbent Seattle City Councilman, played by Cedric the Entertainer, his campaign being to create a new monorail to replace the city’s terrible transit system. With very little chance of winning, he hires a reporter, played by Jason Biggs, to run his campaign. It opens in Seattle Friday and then in other cities on July 13.
Filmmaker Vikram Gandhi pretended to be a fake spiritual leader named Kumaré (Kino Lorber) as a social experiment in spirituality and how people connect with those claiming to be spiritual leaders, but ends up becoming more introspective about his own identity in doing so. The doc opens in New York City at the IFC Center on Wednesday.
Nathan Adloff’s Nate & Margaret (Breaking Glass Pictures) tells the story of a relationship between a gay 19-year-old film student and a 52-year-old spinster, a friendship broken up when he starts dating a new guy and she decides to pursue a career as a stand-up comic.
Next week, the month of June comes to a close with four new movies in wide release with Family Guy creator Seth Macfarlane’s first feature Ted (Universal) taking on the prolific likes of Steven Soderbergh and Channing Tatum’s male stripper dramedy Magic Mike (Warner Bros.) and the ubiquitous Tyler Perry is back in drag with Tyler Perry’s Madea’s Witness Protection (Lionsgate). Also, sci-fi producer/screenwriter Alex Kurtzman makes his directorial debut with the character drama People Like Us (Disney/DreamWorks), starring Chris Pine, Elizabeth Banks and Michelle Pfeiffer.
Copyright 2012 Edward Douglas