The Weekend Warrior: The Wolf of Wall Street, 47 Ronin, Grudge Match, Walter Mitty, Justin Bieber

And now, it’s officially Christmas and the last official movie release weekend of the year and often how movies fare depend on what day of the week Christmas itself lands on. This year, it lands on Wednesday and we can expect the seven days that follow Christmas to act like seven successive Saturdays with theaters doing enormous business both for new and returning movies from the past few weeks. Of course, with so many movies released in the last few weeks–joined by five more this week–some of the November movies might be getting bumped, but we can expect some bigger than usual numbers this weekend, starting on Christmas Day.

While Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (New Line/WB) should still bring in a lot of business with many people waiting to see it with their families and Will Ferrell’s Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues (Paramount) could possibly get some word-of-mouth and repeat business, there’s quite a few strong new movies being released and how they fare will depend solely on how many of them can sustain that business through the weekend.

Probably one of the strongest offerings of the weekend and a movie that’s already received critical acclaim and ended up on many year-end Top 10 lists is Martin Scorsese’s latest, The Wolf of Wall Street (Paramount), starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Jonah Hill and others. While it might seem weird to release a hard R-rated movie about the stock market on Christmas Day, both Scorsese and DiCaprio have a pretty good track record with Christmas releases. For Leo, this goes all the way back to his movie What’s Eating Gilbert Grape in 1993 and Marvin’s Room three years later. And then there was James Cameron’s Titanic, which opened on December 19, 1997 to $28.6 million and went onto staying the #1 movie for 15 straight weeks, ultimately grossing $658.7 million and becoming the highest-grossing movie of all time (it has since been surpassed by Avatar).

The Scorsese-DiCaprio Christmas tradition began in earnest with 2002’s Gangs of New York, which opened the week before Christmas with $9.5 million and then had a 15% bump up the following week as it competed against DiCaprio’s teaming with Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg for Catch Me If You Can. That movie opened on a Christmas Day Wednesday and took in almost $19 million before grossing another $30 million over the weekend and $164.6 in total. Two years later, they took the same approach with The Aviator, opening it limited on December 17, then expanding wide on Christmas Day, a Saturday, so it only did $8.6 million that weekend but had a nice bump in the weekend that followed. Smaller DiCaprio Christmas releases included Blood Diamond in 2008 (it opened on Dec. 8 but had a major spike over Christmas) and Revolutionary Road two years later, and then he also had a major role in Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained, which opened last Christmas (see below).

DiCaprio’s star power has added up to a cumulative gross of nearly $6 billion worldwide for all his movies and earlier this year, he had another substantial hit with Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby, which opened to $50 million (a new high for the actor) and grossed $337 million worldwide; that movie’s popularity was mostly driven by the popularity of the source material and pairing it with an actor women love like DiCaprio. While Wolf of Wall Street may not be as much of a draw for women, especially on Christmas Day, one expects that many might go see it with their husbands or boyfriends over the coming week.

That’s not to take anything away from one of the country’s greatest filmmakers, Martin Scorsese, whose name alone is an enormous draw for movie lovers who will see anything he does, especially when it’s receiving the rave reviews that this one has received. The problem is that the forced delay necessary to finish the movie meant that fewer early awards groups were able to see it, limiting the amount of awards although it did get two Golden Globe nominations and made the National Board of Review’s Top 10 list.

So how might this one fare? Although it’s opening fairly moderately in 2,400 theaters due to the big-time holiday crowding, it should have a pretty massive opening day due to all the demand for new Scorsese, possibly grossing as much as $7 to 8 million or more. It’ll drop a little bit on Thursday but then have another bump on Friday and hold steady through the weekend to bring in $24 million plus. Ultimately, this should be another $100 million grosser for the duo, joining The Aviator, The Departed and Shutter Island (the last of their collaborations released by Paramount), especially if it gets some Oscar nomination love.

My Review

Next up is the long-delayed Kurosawa-inspired fantasy action-thriller 47 Ronin (Universal), starring Keanu Reeves surrounded by a cast of mainly Japanese actors including Rinko Kikuchi (Pacific Rim) and Hiroyuki Sanada (The Wolverine), which looks pretty exciting and is more likely to interest guys than women, although it looks like the kind of movie that could do decent business on Christmas Day but then quickly tail off. Loosely based around a Japanese historical legend that has been translated into dozens of Japanese feature films and television shows, this is the first Western attempt at the material with hopes there’s enough interest in that era with so few samurai movies being made these days.

The movie was filmed over two-and-a-half years ago by first time feature director Carl Rinsch (Ridley Scott’s son-in-law) and it was meant to be a part of Universal Pictures’ big push for tentpole franchises, but it was also originally to be released last Thanksgiving (that is, 2012) before it was delayed – first to March and then all the way back to Christmas. Maybe this helped build interest in the movie and gave Universal time to figure out a marketing strategy, but releasing it over such a busy Christmas weekend probably isn’t a good move. The advertising certainly has been solid, but Universal clearly doesn’t have much faith in the movie, maybe due to the amount of Japanese actors who may or may not be acting in their native tongue – the movie was shot in both Japanese and English.

The movie already opened in Japan, where it should have been huge considering the subject matter, but it’s only done moderate business compared to Western imports, grossing $2.8 million, and if Universal was hoping Asia would save this movie, they figured wrong. The problems with releasing movies like this, essentially an action movie for guys, is that it might have a good-sized audience on Christmas Day of guys not spending time with families, but then by the weekend, theaters are taken over by the family audiences going to see movies together.

There were some notable bombs going for this sort of release including Black Christmas and The Spirit, but 47 Ronin would more likely be joining something like Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem, a sequel that opened with nearly $10 million on Christmas Day but then dropped by half the following day and ended up making only a little more over its first weekend than it did opening day. If 47 Ronin follows that pattern, it could gross around $7 to 8 million on Wednesday, have a similar drop Thursday and the end up with around $10 million on the weekend, which would get it into the Top 10, but just barely.

After that, it’s a tough call, but when we’re talking about a movie that could do decent business on the weekend after guys have seen The Wolf of Wall Street and 47 Ronin (see below), they probably could do worse than the boxing comedy Grudge Match (Warner Bros.), which pits Rocky Balboa against Jake LaMotta. Not really, but it does have Sylvester Stallone and Robert De Niro playing rival boxers who are convinced into a rematch thirty years after their last bout by a boxing promoter played by the currently very-popular Kevin Hart.

Neither Stallone nor De Niro have had a very good year with a number of flops and quite a few bad movies as well. This is De Niro’s fourth movie of the year–five if you include his cameo in another movie currently in theaters–and only the recent Last Vegas has grossed more than $50 million. Most of his movies have been deemed rotten, which is a fine how-d’you-do for an actor who was just nominated for his seventh Oscar (and first in 20 years) earlier this year. Stallone’s comeback hasn’t fared much better with both Bullet to the Head and Escape Plan not faring too well at the box office, and one wonders if pitting these two actors against each other will be of much interest to either of their fans, especially when they didn’t care to see Stallone and Schwarzenegger reunited for Escape Plan. (But let’s not forget that both these actors were in very popular and acclaimed boxing movies, so the nostalgia factor is in play here.)

Directed by Peter Segal (Get Smart), we don’t expect Grudge Match to get great reviews, but the commercials are very funny, mainly due to the interaction between Hart and Oscar-winner Alan Arkin, and this could be a good choice for men and couples in some of the cities outside New York and L.A., in the South and Midwest for instance. It should also fare very well in Pittsburgh where the movie is based. With less overall interest but more theaters than other movies, this might get off to a slower start with between $7 to 9 million in its first couple days and then should pick up on Friday as audiences look for new things to see. An opening weekend of $15 to 17 million is definitely possible with the abundance of holiday business available.

Mini-Review: While the premise of two old ring foes reuniting for one last bout doesn’t feel too original, there’s something to be said about the way this comedy has been assembled to take full advantage of its cast and setting that keeps it from being completely discardable.

In this case, it’s all about the boxing rematch between two Pittsburgh titans, Robert De Niro’s Billy “The Kid” McDonnen and Sylvester Stallone’s Henry “Razor” Sharp, whose last bout thirty years earlier left them at a draw. “Razor” decided to retire from boxing rather than giving Billy the satisfaction of a rematch after learning that Billy slept with his girlfriend and got her pregnant. Present day, and the son of the original boxing promoter, Dante Slate, Jr, played by scene-stealer Kevin Hart, sees a big payday if he can convince them to fight again and somehow, he convinces “Razor” out of retirement.

While the movie is mainly about the two leads training for their rematch and trying to get into shape after 30 years, there are a number of interlocking subplots–oh, boy are there subplots? “The Walking Dead” star Jon Bernthal shows up as the illegitimate son that “The Kid” had when he slept with “Razor’s” girlfriend (played by Kim Basinger), and he ends up being coerced into being “The Kid’s” trainer, bringing his own young son along to bond with his grandpa. “Razor” meanwhile tries to focus on the fight, but finds himself falling back in love with his girlfriend despite her indiscretion with “The Kid.”

But let’s face the fact that both of these actors are way past their prime, which in some ways, makes this a movie that reminds me of “The Bucket List” with both actors trying to make the movie funnier by hamming it up just a little too much. De Niro really seems to be phoning it in for the role and there are a couple of moments where his delivery is so awful, you can’t imagine this was ever a serious actor who won Oscars. Stallone at least tries to bring some gravitas to a character who has been living on a shoestring budget since retiring, while Basinger, looking amazingly hot for a 60 year old, also doesn’t do herself many favors by acting ridiculously giddy around Stallone, as if that would make her seem more youthful.

Really, the crux of the humor comes from the interaction between Kevin Hart and Alan Arkin (as “Razor’s” crusty retired trainer) both who are very funny whether they’re staying on script or going way off it, though it’s hard not to feel like their best bits have already been used in the trailers.

“Grudge Match” isn’t a terrible movie, it’s just a lot of fluff that serves very little purpose beyond 100 minutes of forgettable entertainment. It has a few saving graces, mostly Hart and Arkin and some touching human moments, but it’s not really holiday fare and could have been released at any other time of year.

Rating: 6/10

Another actor who has had great success with Christmas releases is Ben Stiller, who has had hits with the original Night at the Museum and the two sequels to Meet the Parents. This year, he has a movie he not only starred in but also directed with his adaptation of The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (20th Century Fox), co-starring Kristen Wiig, Adam Scott and Patton Oswalt. It’s a movie about the daydreaming title character created by James Thurber for his short story and played on screen by Danny Kaye in 1947, and it’s just a lovely film that’s very different from the last movie he directed, the ensemble military comedy Tropic Thunder. Having a PG-rating certainly should help the movie since it’s going to be deemed as family-safe even though it’s not really a movie smaller kids might be interested in. It’s more of a touching and romantic story for 20-something and older moviegoers, who will have to be convinced to see Stiller in a more dramatic and less slapsticky light.

Of all the movies this weekend, this one may end up being a tougher sell, maybe because the source material isn’t that well known to anyone under 30, plus there’s a lot of other choices with far stronger marketing campaigns. The good thing is that “Mitty” will have a couple of days to generate word-of-mouth for the weekend and there should be enough business to go around and even if it does lesser business and ends up in the bottom half of the Top 10 this weekend, it still has at least Monday through Wednesday to make more money and word-of-mouth should definitely help it continue to bring in business into January. It probably will top out around $60 million or so unless it gets some unexpected Oscar love.

Interview with Ben Stiller

Mini-Review: Every once in a long while, you find a movie that connects with you in a very special way as well as one that is so impressive on a technical level, from the writing to the acting and direction, that you can’t help but think that you’re watching the evolution and growth of a filmmaker as it happens.

Stiller’s Walter Mitty works in the negatives archive of LIFE Magazine, a department that’s gotten even more obsolete than print magazines due to photographers using digital cameras. There’s one hold-out, a globe-trotting photojournalist named Sean O’Connell (Sean Penn) who sends Walter his latest batch of film including what’s planned to be the final cover of the print version of Life. Except that the negative in question is missing and the new overlord in charge of the transition, played with all-out malice by Adam Scott, will not put up with any incompetence from potentially expendable employees.

Like the original character from James Thurber’s short story, Walter is a daydreamer who constantly zones out as he fantasizes about the best thing to say to his cute co-worker Cheryl, played by Kristen Wiig, or trying to come up with the best comeback to Scott’s taunts. These fantasies get more elaborate and extreme. Unable to find the missing negative and quite desperate, Walter gets on a plane to Greenland to hunt down the elusive Sean O’Connell and so begins a grand adventure that Walter could never imagine he might be on, one that involves shark-infested waters, active volcanoes and Middle-Eastern warlords.

Stiller’s performance as Mitty is quite revelatory as he plays down his comedic instincts to play a more subdued character allowing us to feel empathy for him almost immediately. Part of helping to enrich the character is the presence of Shirley MacLaine as his mother and Kathryn Hahn as his more outgoing sister, both whom worry about Walter. There’s also a funny smaller role for Patton Oswalt as the tech support at an online dating service who ends up following Walter’s adventures and becoming a fan.

There are so many amazing unexpected visual moments in the film once Walter gets out into the field, not that seeing a lifelong New Yorker filming on the streets of New York City isn’t impressive, especially as we watch a full-on superhero chase and fight sequence between Stiller and Scott. Once we get to Greenland, Walter’s fantasies fall away and we’re fully in the moment as he experiences things that few ever have a chance to see. Thankfully, what happens to Walter is real and not just one big fantasy sequence, which would have been a very dark decision indeed.

The results are a movie that’s as perfect as one can imagine, combining a cleverly repressed version of Stiller’s normal humor with multiple levels of fantasy and romance. It’s never just about Walter’s interest and attraction in his co-worker, but also a love of grand adventure and what happens when one thing drives him to seek out the other. There’s also a clear love of filmmaking at “Walter Mitty’s” core that makes every single shot sing on the screen.

Like Clint Eastwood, Ron Howard and most recently Ben Affleck, Stiller has jumped the gap from actor and casual filmmaker to becoming a serious director who seems capable of doing anything, and “Walter Mitty” is an absolute joy of a film and a masterpiece in terms of storytelling. The pushback to the film by some cynical critics who seem to have forgotten their love of big-screen filmmaking is vexing.

Rating: 10/10

G.I. Joe Retaliation director Jon M. Chu returns to his dance roots, reteaming with 20-year-old pop star Justin Bieber for Justin Bieber’s Believe (Open Road), a follow-up to their hit 2011 concert doc Justin Bieber: Never Say Never, which opened with $29.5 million in early February on its way to nearly $100 million worldwide. Bieber certainly was at the height of his popularity at that point and this year he’s gone off the rails a bit, making a few bad decisions that may have lost him some fans. This movie is being distributed by the smaller Open Road, which doesn’t have the track record or budget for heavy-duty marketing ala Paramount. They’re releasing the movie into just 1,000 theaters on Wednesday which will also limit how well it might do. Even so, the Beliebers will probably go out to see the movie on Christmas Day or the day afterwards so that there won’t be a ton of business left over for the weekend, which is similar to what we saw with the Katy Perry doc last year and the Kevin Hart concert movie over the summer. It will end up outside the Top 10 for the weekend with less than $6 million after making $4 to 5 million in its first two days. Most of Bieber’s remaining fans will see it but few others, so it will probably never see more than $20 million in theaters.

Interview with Jon M. Chu

As if there aren’t enough movies opening this week, The Weinstein Company has also decided to use the extra business that comes with the holidays to expand Justin Chadwick’s Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom (The Weinstein Company), starring Idris Elba and Naomie Harris, into roughly 800 theaters. Clearly, they don’t want to get too far away from the South African leader’s recent death that’s generated even more interest for the movie, and this should do particularly well among African-American audiences and older people who might not find much else of interest from this week’s other offerings. We expect this one to bring in about $6 million over the weekend and another $4 to 5 million on Wednesday and Thursday, as those who want to learn more about the late South African leader will check it out.

What’s going to be interesting this weekend is that the entry into the Top 10 is going to be up there in the $9 to 10 million range, so we could easily see a couple of the new movies that do a lot of business on Wednesday and Thursday dropping out of the Top 10 by the weekend.

Christmas Day fell on a Tuesday last year with big critically-acclaimed releases like Les Miserables (Universal) and Django Unchained (The Weinstein Company) dominating on December 25 with $18.1 and $15 million, respectively, but by the weekend, they had slid down behind the three-time returning champ, Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (New Line/WB) which took #1 with $31.9 million, down just 13% from the previous week. “Django” was right behind it with $30.1 million followed by “Les Mis” with $27.3 million, the latter two grossing over $60 million in five days. The Billy Crystal-Bette Midler family comedy Parental Guidance (20th Century Fox) took fourth place for the weekend with $14.5 million in 3,558 theaters, which was about the same amount it made on Christmas Day and the two days that followed. The Top 10 grossed $155 million, which should be beatable by this week’s offerings being that they won’t have the extra day before the weekend.

This Week’s Predictions

1. The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (New Line/WB) – $27.4 million -13%

2. The Wolf of Wall Street (Paramount) – $24.8 million N/A ($13 to 14 million on Wednesday/Thursday)

3. Frozen (Walt Disney) – $22.6 million +15%

4. Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues (Paramount) – $21 million -22%

5. American Hustle (Sony) – $16.5 million -14%

6. Grudge Match (Warner Bros.) – $15.8 million N/A ($8 million on Wednesday/Thursday)

7. The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (20th Century Fox) – $14.9 million N/A ($6 to 7 million on Wednesday/Thursday)

8. Saving Mr. Banks (Disney) – $11.6 million +24%

9. 47 Ronin (Universal) – $10.0 million N/A ($10 to 11 million on Wednesday/Thursday)

10. Walking with Dinosaurs (20th Century Fox) – $9.3 million +31%

Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom (The Weinstein Company) – $5.8 million N/A ($5 to 6 million on Wednesday/Thursday)

Justin Bieber’s Believe (Open Road) – $4.8 million N/A ($8 million plus on Wednesday/Thursday)

For this week’s “CHOSEN ONE,” Peter Berg (The Kingdom, Battleship) adapts Navy SEAL Marcus Luttrell’s stirring autobiographical novel Lone Survivor (Universal) about sent on a mission to the mountains of Afghanistan to take out a Taliban leader along with three other soldiers, played by Taylor Kitsch, Emile Hirsch and Ben Foster. When their location is discovered, they’re left fighting for their lives against dozens of Taliban soldiers with no communications to their home base. It opens in New York and Los Angeles on Christmas Day with plans to expand nationwide on Friday, January 10.


Interview with Director Peter Berg

Ralph Fiennes directs and stars in The Invisible Woman (Sony Pictures Classics), playing acclaimed author Charles Dickens, who had a relationship with a mistress named Nelly Ternan (Felicity Jones) for 13 years until his death. It opens in New York and L.A. on Friday

Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts headline an impressive ensemble cast in John (The Company Men) Wells’ adaptation of Tracy Lett’s Pulitzer-winning play August: Osage County (The Weinstein Company) about a dysfunctional family that reunites in Osage County, Oklahoma after their patriarch disappears and is found dead. Also starring Ewan McGregor, Chris Cooper, Benedict Cumberbatch, Juliette Lewis, Margo Martindale, Julianne Nicholson, Abigail Breslin and more, it opens in limited release on Friday before a nationwide rollout on January 10, 2014.

Interview with Director John Wells

Review (Coming Soon!)

Next week, Paramount is releasing Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones on the 3rd of January, so we’ll have a regular column as usual, but maybe not until later in the week.

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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