The Weekend Warrior: The Great Gatsby & Peeples

This week’s column is dedicated to the memory of Mr. Ray Harryhausen 1920-2013. I still remember seeing “The Golden Voyage of Sinbad” at a drive-in in 1973 at the age of seven and it changed my life forever. I didn’t know who Harryhausen was at the time, but just to see all those amazing creatures I’d only read about in books come to life on the screen, it really drove an already impressionable 7-year-old to all sorts of new possibilities. Within three years I was doing stop-motion animation myself in school and doing other creative projects. I’m saddened that my Harryhausen box set is sitting somewhere in my apartment in New York City and I can’t throw them in and watch them right now. Needless to say, anyone who had such a pivotal impact on my childhood would upset me to hear of their passing, but at the same time, knowing that his influence over the art of filmmaking will never be forgotten and that his masterful craftsmanship will be influencing other creative creature makers for decades if not centuries to come warms my heart.

But now let’s talk about the box office if that’s okay by you.

The second weekend of May has now become famous for the number of movies that outright bombed and no one knows this better than Warner Bros. who have had some really disastrous releases on the weekend including Poseidon, Speed Racer and last year’s Dark Shadows, starring Johnny Depp. The problem is that when so much focus is put on the first movie of the summer, opening just one week earlier, and you end up with such a huge opening like last weekend’s Iron Man 3, there’s really very little chance any movie can possibly overshadow it even in weekend 2.

Undaunted, Warner Bros. are giving it another go with The Great Gatbsy, which teams one of Australia’s greatest auteurs with one of Hollywood’s biggest stars for an adaptation of a classic piece of literature that’s sold millions of books over the years. On the other hand, this may be a good weekend for counter-programming offered to African-American audiences, particularly women who won’t have much interest in white people parties, but what Peeples has is that Tyler Perry attached his name as a presenter to help get it attention and Lionsgate would love this movie to have that kind of success with it.

The Great Gatbsy (Warner Bros.)

Starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Tobey Maguire, Carey Mulligan, Joel Edgerton, Isla Fisher, Jason Clarke, Amitabh Bachchan

Directed by Baz Luhrmann (Strictly Ballroom, Moulin Rouge!, Australia, Romeo + Juliet); Written by Baz Luhrmann, Craig Pearce

Genre: Drama

Rated PG-13

Interview with Baz Luhrmann

Probably one of the more interesting summer releases is this adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s period drama which is generally considered mandatory reading in schools and considered by many to be one of the most influential and important pieces of literature of the 20th Century. And ninety years later, a lot of what took place in that mansion on Long Island is stuff that seeps through into our everyday lives, so clearly Fitzgerald was well ahead of his time.

That was something quickly determined by Australian filmmaker Baz Lurhmann when he decided to adapt Fitzgerald’s novel as his follow-up to 2008’s Australia, which wasn’t as well received in the United States as it was the rest of the world following his beloved classic Moulin Rouge!. It’s certainly an odd choice as a follow-up because while many people love the book, some might wonder why they’d want to sit through a movie about it especially when there was a very good 1974 movie starring Robert Redford that’s still considered a classic.

With a theater background and a foot within the fashion world, Luhrmann has established himself as one of Australia’s premiere auteur filmmakers with just four movies over the course of 20 years and what makes this movie special, besides being his first adaptation since Romeo + Juliet, is that it once again reteams him with that film’s star Leonardo DiCaprio for the first time in 17 years. Remember that when DiCaprio made Luhrmann’s movie, he hadn’t done Titanic yet and that movie turned him into a mega-star.

Lurhmann is always able to pull together great casts and DiCaprio is joined by Tobey Maguire, Carey Mulligan, Joel Edgerton, Isla Fisher and Jason Clarke, the last three proper Australians, and like his previous movies, Luhrmann didn’t shoot on location on Long Island where the story was set but built Gatsby’s North Shore Long Island locale right in his home of Australia.

Either way, it’s hard to compare Lurhmann’s previous films in terms of box office analysis because his four previous movies have all been released at different times in different ways. His last collaboration with Leo for Romeo + Juliet was in 1996 and that opened with $11.1 million on its way to $46.3 million. Its follow-up Moulin Rouge! platformed in mid-May 2001 but built up enough word of mouth to open with a whopping $13 million a few weeks later. Yeah, not great but at $57 million, it’s Luhrmann’s biggest hit Stateside while it went onto make most of its money elsewhere. His following film Australia, starring Hugh Jackman, opened weakly over Thanksgiving with $14.8 million and took in $49.5 million total, which also doesn’t seem impressive.

But the big thing is that he’s back with Leo now who is considered a huge star with blockbuster movies like Titanic and Christopher Nolan’s Inception under his belt as well as five $100 million blockbusters since Titanic. Leo’s coming off his great turn as Calvin Candy in Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained, which didn’t get him the awards attention many people thought he deserved, but it helped turn the movie into one of Tarantino’s biggest hits. Next up, DiCaprio is reteaming with Martin Scorsese for their fifth movie together The Wolf of Wall Street and seriously if the actor isn’t up for awards consideration by year’s end, the Academy sucks.

The important thing is that women of all ages absolutely adore everything about Leo, his looks, his demeanor, his mystery, his closet celebrity – you don’t really see him out and about that much. He really is a classic movie star like the Clark Gables and Rock Hudsons of their day and women love that sh*t. They will be out on Friday night en masse with their friends to gush over Leo and this tragic love story and we can only hope theatres were wise enough to put down drop cloths before the first midnight shows on Thursday night ’cause those theaters are going to get swampy… I mean, with tears! Get your minds out of the gutter.

Now, one might think African-American audiences wouldn’t have much interest in a movie about rich spoiled white people, but one of the smartest moves Lurhmann made was teaming with rapper Jay-Z for the soundtrack, which gives the movie another level of interest for audiences. The movie was also filmed in 3D, which seems like an odd choice for a period drama (go read my interview for an explanation), but we’ve already seen auteurs like Martin Scorsese and Ang Lee using 3D to create absolutely fantastic films and we’re hoping that will be the case here as well.

The movie was initially planned for a November release which would make sense if Warner Bros. were going for awards with the movie but for whatever reason, they decided earlier in the year that it would be better to release it as an early summer movie in the (sorry for all caps) WORST BOX OFFICE WEEKEND THAT’S DELIVERED SO MANY WARNER BROS. BOMBS THAT YOU WOULD THINK THEY WOULD KNOW THIS BY NOW!!!! I’m going to go and repeatedly hit my head against a wall to a Jay-Z tune right now.

Incidentally, critical acclaim for Moulin Rouge! was able to carry over from its own May release to Oscar night where it won two of its eight nominations for costume design and production design, both to Baz’s wife Catherine Martin. And yet Baz Luhrmann wasn’t even nominated for his direction of the movie putting him years before Christopher Nolan as a director whose vision is well deserving of an Oscar nomination but who can’t get it.

Awards might not matter much for this because it’s tracking well among women who want to see Leo in the role of The Great Gatsby, being far more familiar with the book than their male classmates, boyfriends and husbands and the whole lavish party attitude of the movie will probably appeal to them more than guys anyway.

Reviews are probably going to be mixed at best ’cause the critics’ pool is mostly male and Luhrmann has not proven himself to be a critics’ darling especially after Australia, but you know what? The young girls and older women just won’t care ’cause it’s Leo and he’s Gatsby and there’s parties and music. So yeah, the primary audience for the movie will be those women drawn in by Leo plus the film’s literary pedigree, the amazing look of the costumes and the music. That said, it will probably do better in bigger cities where there are cultural centers for music and theater and the arts rather than in rural areas. Guys in general might find the movie too boring to bother like it’s some kind of “an education” (shout out to Carey Mulligan!) but if it means getting a bit of love from their women after taking them to see it, knowing full well they’ll be playing the role of “Leo” that night, I know a lot of guys who will bite that bullet.

We think this will open big ’cause of all the “young” girls who want to see it, but it may not do well in the long term because there are too many other bigger options to follow, but could it be Baz Luhrmann’s biggest hit in North America? Yes, indeed. We think it will be… and good on him.

Weekend Est.: $33 to 37 million; Est. Total Gross: $75 to 78 million total.

Peeples (Lionsgate)

Starring Craig Robinson, Kerry Washington, David Alan Grier, S. Epatha Merkerson, Tyler Williams, Melvin Van Peebles, Diahann Carroll

Written and directed by Tina Gordon Chism (writer of ATL and Drumline)

Genre: Comedy

Rated PG-13

Tagline: “Every guy has an idea how meeting her family will go. This isn’t it.”

I’ll be the first to admit that movies like this just aren’t my thing. They’re not targeted towards me. It’s hard for me to read who might want to see it, and trying to analyze it with any sort of intelligence or lack of cynicism is impossible for me. Although it is pretty funny that a movie about a family gathering at the Hamptons is opening the same weekend as “The Great Gatsby.” At least someone at Lionsgate has a sense of humor.

Because African-American audiences, especially women, generally need something to see in theaters together, comedies geared directly towards them have become regular things, led by Tyler Perry and his Madea movies but he certainly wasn’t the first, just the one who found the perfect formula. Before that movies like Brown Sugar and others were produced fairly cheaply so that they can make money without much effort. Oh and of course I have to give a shout-out to producer Will Packer who made the holiday comedy This Christmas for $13 million and turned it into a $50 million hit with a smart Thanksgiving release. His work with Screen Gems has run the gamut of genres, but he did even better with Steve Harvey’s Think Like a Man and is already working on the sequel.

This one directed by first-timer Tina Gordon Chism is a little different since it features actors not really known for doing these kinds of roles and it’s mainly a spotlight for Kerry Washington who has appeared in many great movies that have won for Oscars for other people such as The Last King of Scotland and Ray. She also appeared in Eddie Murphy’s Norbit. Last year, she really came into her own as the star of the hit ABC political show “Scandal” and with a key role in Quentin Tarantino’s hugely successful Django Unchained… opposite “Gatsby’s” Leonardo Dicaprio! You know, I seriously love Kerry Washington and I’d watch her in just about anything except for “Scandal” which I’ve yet to see… or a crappy paycheck movie like this one.

She’s joined by comedian Craig Robinson from “The Office” who has been appearing in comedies like Knocked Up and Pineapple Express and has a very busy summer between this, Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg’s This is the End and Rapture-Palooza. We think one of those other movies would probably be better ones for Robinson’s current fans than this one. The movie also stars legendary comedian David Alan Grier from “In Living Color” as well as legendary filmmaker Melvin Van Peebles (no relation) who is just an amazing man. Heck, I might go see this movie just for him!

Peeples filmed over two years ago and then literally sat on the shelf for another year, another bad sign, and I have literally see one commercial for this movie and it looked absolutely atrocious. This won’t screen for critics and I wouldn’t be surprised if Lionsgate has guards standing outside theaters on Friday looking for critics to drag them off before they try to buy tickets.

But we do need to discuss the Tyler Perry connection because he has attached his name as a presenter to help Tina Gordon Chism’s directorial debut get more attention. At one point the movie was going out with the title “Tyler Perry Presents Peeples” and it does still say that on the posters although for all intents and purposes, it’s going to be seen on most movie theater marquees just as “PEEPLES” which bodes the question… again, sorry for the all-caps.. “HOW BAD DOES A MOVIE HAVE TO BE FOR TYLER PERRY TO REMOVE HIS NAME FROM THE TITLE?” Sorry, Tyler, I’m sure you’re a swell guy. You can go jump in your swimming pool filled with my money if my jokes upset you.

Regardless, this is coming out just a few weeks after Lionsgate’s The Big Wedding, which didn’t open that great despite various promotions, and while this one might fare slightly better due to the targeted audience, best it can do is third place and if nothing else it definitely will do better than the $4 million we expect from Pain & Gain in its third weekend.

Weekend Est.: $7 to 9 million; Est. Total Gross: $20 to 22 million

This weekend last year, Tim Burton’s take on the ‘60s television show Dark Shadows (Warner Bros.), once again pairing him with Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter among others, opened in second place with less than $30 million, but the real story was the amazing 50% hold for Marvel’s The Avengers, which became the first movie to gross more than $100 million in its SECOND weekend. The Top 10 grossed $159.6 million and this weekend’s offerings? It probably will fall just short as we expect a bigger drop for Iron Man 3 even though it will remain steadfast at #1.

This Week’s Updated Predictions

UPDATE: We think Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby, which has now upped its theater count for the weekend, is going to do huge business on Friday as lots of girls and women rush out to see Leo in a role he was born to play, but it’s probably going to be very frontloaded to Friday and will tail off over Saturday and Sunday as Iron Man 3 picks up steam from family business. We still don’t thinkPeeples will make much of a mark.

1. Iron Man 3 (Marvel Studios/Disney) – $75.2 million -57% (down 1 million)

2. The Great Gatbsy (Warner Bros.) – $36.3 million N/A (up 3.8 million)

3. Peeples (Lionsgate) – $8.5 million N/A (up .4 million)

4. Pain & Gain (Paramount) – $4 million -47%

5. 42 (Warner Bros.) – $3.8 million -37% (up .2 million)

6. The Croods (DreamWorks Animation/20th Century Fox) – $3.0 million -30%

7. Oblivion (Universal) – $2.8 million -50%

8. Mud (Roadside Attractions) – $2.6 million +20% (up .2 million)

9. The Big Wedding (Lionsgate) – $2.3 million -43% ( up .1 million)

(You know, we’re not even going to bother with the #10 place ’cause it’s probably something that will make less than $1.5 million.)

There are a number of strong limited releases this weekend but we have to give the “CHOSEN ONE” to Sarah Polley’s Stories We Tell (Roadside Attractions), her third movie, this time making an autobiographical documentary about her actress mother’s dalliances while in Montreal that may have led to an affair. The thing about this movie that deals with memory and storytelling is that I can’t say too much about it because the more you know going in, the less impact it will have as you watch it. And yet if I don’t tell you what it’s about, you won’t know if it’s something that will interest you.

It’s a very personal doc and it begins with Polley merely talking to her elderly father and significantly older brother and sister about their late mother and stories she heard about time she spent in Montreal acting in a play. What these stories lead to is that Polley discovers the man she thought for most of her life to be her father was not, and in fact, someone her mother had an affair with in Montreal was her father. The movie documents her search to find the man who had an affair with her mother who could be her real father, which ends up pointing to a number of different candidates.

Instead of just filling the movie with lots of interviews, she actually recreates some of the stories she’s heard using actors, but making them look like actual home movies that were from those times.

It’s fascinating introspective stuff and while it couldn’t be more different than Polley’s first two dramatic features, if you’re a fan of her work both as an actress and filmmaker, it’s a must-see film since it greatly informs what drives her as a person to do such amazing work like Away From Her and Take This Waltz. I wish I could say more about it but I may have already said too much. Go see it when it opens on Friday at the Angelika Film Center and Lincoln Plaza Cinemas in New York City.

Another great doc we can highly recommend this weekend is Venus and Serena (Magnolia Pictures), a portrait of the two tennis-playing siblings by Maiken Baird and Michelle Major who followed the duo around during a tumultuous year in their lives. Even if you’re not into tennis–I’m only peripherally–it’s an extremely candid look into their relationship with each other and with their father and how they get through the tough year as they try to fight back to being the top seeds. It opens in New York at the Village East and Harlem Magic Johnson Theaters, in Los Angeles at the Royal and Washington DC on Friday.

Horror and genre fans have a couple choices this weekend as well with our favorite choice being the dark comedy Sightseers (IFC Films) directed by Ben Wheatley (Kill List), starring Steve Oram and Alice Lowe (who co-wrote it based on their stageplay) as a British couple going on a sightseeing trip through England that starts out innocent enough but starts turning deadly as people around them start dying. If you like your humor very dark and very British (think Shaun of the Dead… oh and it’s exec. produced by that movie’s director Edgar Wright, too!) then this might be the movie for you this weekend. It opens Friday at the Landmark Sunshine in New York and in Los Angeles as well.

Interview with Ben Wheatley and Alice Lowe (Coming Soon!)

Meanwhile, Eli Roth co-wrote, produces and stars in Chilean filmmaker Nicolas Lopez’s Aftershock (Radius-TWC), a thriller in which a group of partying tourists get trapped in a horrific earthquake with all sorts of chaos including the prisons releasing rapist prisoners on the population. If you like your horror of the B variety and feel the need to see Eli Roth put through the wringer, then this is the horror movie for you.

Interview with Nicolas Lopez

Lastly, Japanese genre auteur Ryuhei Kitamura, the director behind such Japanese classics as Versus, Azumi and Godzilla: Final Wars, is behind the lens of No One Lives (Anchor Bay Films), a gory thriller about a gang that takes a young couple hostage. But when the woman is killed, they learn that her husband, played by Luke Evans (he’s everywhere!), is a seasoned killer that takes them out by one making sure none of the sadistic killer survive. It opens in select cities.

Next week, there’s only one new movie, but it’s J.J. Abrams’ anticipated sequel Star Trek into Darkness (Paramount), starring Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Zoe Saldana, Karl Urban, John Cho, Bruce Greenwood, Simon Pegg and Anton Yelchin as the crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise.

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 2013 Edward Douglas


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