We’re officially into August and while this week is a mixed bag of offerings, we haven’t sunk so low into the “Dog Days” that there isn’t a chance for at least a couple of hits in there. Four different studios are taking a chance with their releases in hopes we get one last late summer boost, the first being a follow-up to a highly-acclaimed science fiction epic that took the world and the box office by surprise in 2009, while the second is a spin-off animated movie hoping to capitalize on the fact there are still parents with small kids trying to keep them entertained and air-conditioned during the last summer month. We also will see the last big studio comedy of the summer as Jason Sudeikis and Jennifer Aniston reteam for a road trip comedy, while Rick Riordan’s popular mythological hero Percy Jackson gets himself a sequel. Will anyone show up for any of these movies or is everyone going on vacation before school starts up again?
Elysium (TriStar Pictures/Sony)
Mini-Review Neill Blomkamp’s follow-up to “District 9” continues his proclivity for combining slums and spaceships, this one starring Matt Damon as Max, an orphaned street kid who grows up stealing cars but as an adult is just trying to keep things on the straight and narrow with a factory job. When Max is irradiated in a workplace accident and has five days to live, he turns to a faction of rebels sending shuttles filled with sick people to the space station Elysium to be cured. They surgically rig Max up with an exoskeleton to take down a high-powered official on Earth, played by William Fichtner.
The film sets up its dual world premise well with fantastic shots of the poverty-stricken Earth and the Eden-like environment of Elysium that give a good sense of the amount of time that was put into designing the world. Once you get past the fact that Matt Damon is literally playing the whitest person left on earth, he’s believable enough as the lead, though it’s hard not to feel we’ve seen some of these same ideas in last year’s “Total Recall” remake with the idea of two worlds, the robot police and even Max’s job working at a robot factory having appeared in that.
It’s never quite clear until the end of the movie what the data is that everyone is trying to get from out of Max’s new micro-processor head, but from that point, the movie is mainly action with much of the fun coming from Sharlto Copley’s Kruger, an enforcer straight out of “Max Max” who faces off against Max a number of times and even figures out a “Terminator”-like return for a final showdown.
On the other hand, any semblance of Jodie Foster ever being one of the top female dramatic actors is sorely absent within her portrayal of Elysium’s defense secretary, her terrible accent being so jarring one wonders what she was going for. In general, there’s a lot of overacting and scenery chewing from everyone involved, and the plot becomes convoluted by an attempt to bring political upheaval to Elysium, but by that point, it seems to have little to do with Max’s journey.
As it turns out, Max’s childhood friend Frey (Alice Braga)–who Max happens runs into decades later as a nurse at a local hospital–has a daughter suffering from late stages of leukemia, so Max feels obligated to save her as well. But as someone currently facing leukemia, it’s hard not to feel slighted by the lazy depiction of the disease in the movie.
Blomkamp goes for a slick and stylized commercial look but tends to go overboard with slow motion effects, and the editing is jarring at times, because instead of staying with the action, he cuts back to Wagner Maura’s rebel Spider or to Foster on Elysium observing the action. By the fourth or fifth time we flashback to Max’s childhood, dreaming of going to Elysium, it starts to feel more than a little manipulative, and the movie ends in the most obvious and optimistic place possible, an ending it never fully earns.
Blomkamp is clearly a skilled filmmaker with a lot of great ideas, many of them well showcased within “Elysium,” but any attempt at heavy political commentary tends to get diluted by the film’s desires to be accepted as a summer action movie.
The story of how South African filmmaker Neill Blomkamp was able to make his feature film debut District 9, starring his childhood friend, on a $30 million budget is somewhat legendary even four years down the road, but that’s because it’s not often when a movie is so fully embraced, not only by moviegoers of all ages, but by everyone in the industry as well. Blomkamp’s movie appeared seemingly fully formed from out of Blomkamp’s head on the back of a viral campaign that culminated in a screening at Comic-Con hosted by producer Peter Jackson. By the time the movie opened mere weeks later, the excitement for the innovative South African sci-fi flick had built to a buzz that exploded into theaters with $37.3 million on its way to $115.6 million domestic and $215 million worldwide. But that wasn’t the end of the story because months later, Blomkamp’s low-budget science fiction movie had received four Oscar nominations including one for Best Picture.
Four years later and Blomkamp is back with a movie that’s hoping to continue the love as he delivers a film that has a significantly bigger budget as well as a couple of bonafide Hollywood stars. It’s been some time since Matt Damon has appeared in any sort of big action movie after walking away from the “Bourne” franchise with 2007’s mega-hit The Bourne Ultimatum. Since then, he’s had a fairly eclectic output, though he had a good run of movies roughly two years ago, co-starring in the Coen Brothers’ Western True Grit–their biggest blockbuster to date–followed by the sci-fi action movie The Adjustment Bureau and Steven Soderbergh’s Contagion. For many, Elysium will rightly be seen as Damon’s return to summer action movies with fans of Bourne and science fiction both having interest. An even bigger get for Blomkamp was actress/filmmaker Jodie Foster, who has barely been appearing on screen in recent years, essentially appearing in Roman Polanski’s Carnage and her own movie The Beaver opposite Mel Gibson and that’s pretty much it. In fact, it’s been over seven years since Foster was appearing in bigger movies like Inside Man, Flightplan and Panic Room, so it’s hard to factor in whether or not her fans have any sort of interest in seeing her back on screen or in this movie. Blomkamp has rounded out his movie with an international cast including his childhood friend Sharlto Copley, who also greatly benefitted from his starring role in District 9.
Elysium is definitely closer to a summer tentpole action movie than District 9 ever was, although at one point Sony was going to release the movie earlier in the year in March or April before deciding to push it back to its current late summer release. Despite the movie’s R-rating, the audience for the movie is obviously going to be the same 15 and older guys that tend to drive the summer box office, although many of them have already shown signs of wear in terms of rushing out to see movies. Although District 9 and science fiction fans in general will help contribute to the movie’s built-in audience, it doesn’t seem like the buzz and excitement for the movie has really stretched too far beyond that core older male audience, while early reviews have not exactly been raving, which isn’t good for branching out to a larger audience. Expect a solid opening just a little lower than District 9 with moderate legs, because there are a number of other action movies and thrillers still to come in the weeks ahead.
Weekend Est.: $31 to 35 million; Est. Total Gross: $105 million
Disney’s Planes (Walt Disney Pictures)
As if we didn’t already have enough animated movies bombing right and left this summer, we’re getting one more animated movie that’s a bit of an anomaly amongst the sequels, being that it’s a movie that ties into two huge animated blockbusters while barely having any of the creative types originally involved with the success of those original movies. That’s right, kids. In a summer of sequels and prequels, we now have an animated movie that purports to come from “above the world of Cars” but which is actually a quickly-produced low budget “spin-off switcheroo.”
The original Cars was directed by John Lasseter following his success with the first two “Toy Story” movies, a movie inspired by a road trip he took with his family, and though it didn’t receive the rave reviews of some of Pixar Animation’s previous movies, it opened with $60 million, a decent showing at the time, and went on to make $244 million and $461 million worldwide. That eventually led to the sequel Cars 2, which opened five years later with $66 million and though it failed to hit $200 million domestically, it amassed $559.8 million worldwide.
Those kinds of numbers would generally warrant a sequel and clearly Disney is thinking with their wallet, not in terms of wanting to make quality animated movies, but in fact to sell the toys that were designed before they even started production on the movie. With that in mind, they quickly threw together a movie through their DisneyToon Studios as a spin-off of the toy franchise created by John Lasseter’s attempt at a personal story and well, that’s basically Planes for ya.
Even the voice cast for this one is somewhat low rent if you consider that Dane Cook is the lead voice actor, although if you dig a bit deeper, there are a few solid players like John Cleese and Cedric the Entertainer mixed in with the rest. Not that it matters since Disney is trying to sell the new plane characters over any sort of voice talent voicing them. That’s because at this point in time you cannot buy John Cleese at Toys R Us but we can dream!
The key thing to remember is that while the movie is being tied into “the world of Cars,” Disney’s Planes isn’t from Pixar Animation and that’s something only the more discerning moviegoers may be able to figure out on their own. Or not. There are a lot of people out there who’ll just assume it’s Pixar. Even so, we can’t expect an opening anywhere close to where Pixar movies generally open, mainly because opening a family movie this late into August when families are on vacation will probably limit its earnings. Despite the questionable August release date, Disney probably realize that the general cost of what probably could have ended up being a straight-to-DVD movie will be counter-balanced by the parents with kiddies who will probably want to keep them entertained, so it should be profitable regardless. Oh and it probably doesn’t hurt that they already have a follow-up movie called Planes: Fire and Rescue scheduled for July 2014, as they clearly are trying to keep these lower-budget animated movies going in order to help sell the ubiquitous toys.
Weekend Est.: $27 to 30 million; Est. Total Gross: $90 million
We’re the Millers (New Line/WB)
So far, this has been a pretty good summer for comedy, but back in May, there were probably a lot of differing opinions about which of the summer’s comedies would have been the biggest and this R-rated road comedy starring Jason Sudeikis and Jennifer Aniston probably wasn’t even on too many radars. That may have changed as we get to the end of summer and movie audiences are still looking for laughs, and this one definitely has a lot of elements that could draw them in similar to some of the summer’s biggest sleepers like The Heat and This is the End.
The big draw for the movie for many will probably be former “Friends” star Jennifer Aniston, but this really is a vehicle for Sudeikis following his recent departure from “Saturday Night Live,” as he plays a pot dealer who is forced to do a drug run across the Mexican border with a fake family he assembled. Sudeikis has appeared in a number of strong supporting roles in comedies like Aniston’s 2010 movie The Bounty Hunter and Drew Barrymore’s Going the Distance, as well as having a bigger role in the Farrelly Brothers’ Hall Pass with Owen Wilson, but his ability to move into a leading role probably came about from his appearance in the 2011 hit comedy Horrible Bosses along with Jason Bateman, Charlie Day and again Jennifer Aniston. That movie’s $28 million opening and $117 million gross definitely helped to solidify Sudeikis’ potential as a comic lead for this movie.
Despite being Sudeikis’ good luck charm, Aniston has been somewhat hit or miss with her comedy endeavors over the past few years and though she’s had a number of $100 million plus comedies, when she was teamed with Paul Rudd for Wanderlust last year, none of her fans bothered to show up. Still, Aniston has many female fans and it’s now been about 18 months since her last movie so they’re likely to be more excited to go see her in a movie, this one continuing her attempt to do more risqué roles being her third movie in a row that involves some form of stripping, lingerie or nudity. The movie also stars Emma Roberts, plus Will Poulter from the 2007 Sundance hit Son of Rambow all grown up and getting some very funny moments in the trailer.
Directed by Rawson Marshall Thurber, who masterminded the 2004 Fox hit Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story, it’s fairly obvious why the premise works and why it can potentially find a big audience since everyone can generally relate to the humor of a family road trip, even if the whole drug smuggling thing might put a few moviegoers off. This is the last big comedy of the summer and it certainly seems like moviegoers are ready for it with the trailers and commercials getting a lot of laughs and buzz and tracking has picked up considerably in the last few weeks as more people see them.
Wisely, New Line is opening the movie early on Wednesday, following a successful run of promo screenings used to get the word out that they have a very funny movie on their hands, and that should do exactly what is needed to help the movie going into the weekend with two more movies opening. While the movie should do fine on Wednesday and Thursday, expect it to make a strong play to take business away from Planes and Elysium over the weekend and business should be fairly steady in its first five days.
Wednesday/Thursday Est: $8 to 10 million; Weekend Est.: $22 to 26 million; Est. Total Gross: $115 million
Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters (20th Century Fox)
It’s hard to think that a movie based on a series of books as popular as Rick Riordan’s might get lost in the shuffle of the late summer, but it is August and things are slowing down, so one has to wonder if there’s any room left for this one. Essentially, Riordan has created a young fanbase for his books by creating new versions of classic Greek mythology characters, and thanks to the success of the “Harry Potter” movies, any kids’ book that finds a book will eventually get made into a movie. Directed by Christopher Columbus, the original movie Percy Jackson & The Olympians: The Lightning Thief opened over Presidents’ Day weekend, and even though it had a lot of competition, the movie did very well, scoring $31.2 million for third place, although it went on to gross just $88.8 million which basically means that any young fans of the books rushed out to see it and there wasn’t much interest beyond that.
Returning from the original movie are the core trio of Logan Lerman, Brandon T. Jackson and Alexandra Daddario, while most of the adult actors such as Pierce Brosnan, Catherine Keener, Sean Bean and others have been replaced by the likes of Nathan Fillion and Stanley Tucci. Not that the cast really matters since it’s really about the fans of the books and whether they want to see the characters on screen.
Even so, it’s hard not to think this is just another unnecessary sequel in a summer full of them, and one wonders whether even fans of the Percy Jackson books enjoyed that first movie enough to go see another one. Sure, the original movie made enough money that it would make sense for Fox to make another one, but even Fox’s once solid “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” series eventually started showing signs of decreasing returns with the third installment and the latest Percy Jackson is opening in an even softer movie market where moviegoers are being particularly finicky.
There’s a good chance that the young readers who enjoy the books and the first movie may go out to see the sequel on Wednesday and Thursday to see their hero’s latest adventure, but by the weekend and with the addition of two other movies, there’s just as good a chance that “Percy Jackson” will get lost in the shuffle of a far too busy late summer weekend similar to other movies over the past few weekends. Expect it to fall to fourth behind the other three new movies.
Wednesday/Thursday Est: $8 to 10 million; Weekend Est.: $17 to 19 million; Est. Total Gross: $68 million
This weekend last year saw Jeremy Renner replace Elysium‘s Matt Damon for The Bourne Legacy (Universal Pictures), following up the successful franchise with a new direction. The movie opened relatively softly with $38.1 million before going on to gross $113 million domestic although its $276.5 million worldwide gross could point to more Bourne for Renner. Will Ferrell took on Zach Galifianakis in Jay Roach’s political comedy The Campaign (New Line/WB), which took a solid second place with $26.6 million as it capitalized on the upcoming election. Opening early on Wednesday, Meryl Streep, Tommy Lee Jones and Steve Carell starred in the adult sex dramedy Hope Springs (Sony), which ended up grossing $14.6 million over the weekend to take fourth place. The Top 10 grossed $129 million which should be beatable by this week’s offerings, especially with Elysium and Planes probably doing similar business to last year’s top 2 movies.
This Week’s UPDATED Predictions –
1. Elysium (TriStar Pictures/Sony) – $34.5 million N/A (up 1.7 million)
2. Disney’s Planes (Walt Disney Pictures) – $27.5 million N/A (Up .3 million)
3. We’re the Millers (New Line/WB) – $26.3 million N/A (up 1.9 million)
4. Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters (20th Century Fox) – $19.6 million N/A (up 2.5 million)
5. 2 Guns (Universal Pictures) – $14 million -48%
6. The Smurfs 2 (Sony) $10.5 million -40%
7. The Wolverine (20th Century Fox) – $10.0 million -52% (down 1.3 million and one spot)
8. The Conjuring (New Line/WB) – $7.5 million -42% (down .3 million)
9. Despicable Me 2 (Universal) – $5.5 million -43% (down .3 million)
10. Grown Ups 2 (Sony) – $4.0 million -49% (down .3 million)
For this week’s “CHOSEN ONE” we’re going with director David Gordon Green’s return to his indie roots with Prince Avalanche (Magnolia), starring Paul Rudd and Emile Hirsch as two road workers assigned to do repair work after a devastating forest fire. Based loosely on an esoteric Icelandic film, it’s definitely a movie that requires a bit of time for the characters to grow on you because it’s far more subdued even than Green’s earlier work, but Rudd and Hirsch have some fun chemistry and when you combine that with the fantastic camerawork by Green’s regular DP Tim Orr and a score by the band Explosions in the Sky with David Wingo, it adds up to a very special film that doesn’t hit you over the head with a message but leaves you feeling pretty good that your time wasn’t wasted watching the two guys going through their fairly mundane day-to-day job.
It opens in select cities and on VOD on Friday, and you can learn more about the movie by reading our extensive interview with Green in the link below sometime later today (Tuesday, August 6).
“Children’s Hospital” star Lake Bell makes her directorial debut with In a World . (Roadside Attractions) playing a struggling vocal coach who is inspired by her father (Fred Melamed from A Serious Man) to get into the competitive world of voice overs even though he refuses to support her decision. Bell’s already shown off her talents by directing episodes of “Children’s Hospital” and for her feature film debut, she has an amazing supporting cast that includes Rob Corddry, Nick Offerman, Ken Marino, Demetri Martin and more. It opens in select cities on Friday following its Sundance debut.
Nick Murphy, director of last year’s underrated thriller The Awakening, returns with Blood (RLJ Entertainment), starring Paul Bettany and Stephen Graham as two detective brothers trying to solve a brutal murder investigation who end up going too far. Also starring Brian Cox as their aging police father and Mark Strong as their suspicious colleague, it opens in select cities on Friday.
Borat co-writer Dan Mazer makes his directorial debut with the raunchy Brit rom-com I Give it a Year (Magnolia), starring Rose Byrne and Rafe Spall as Nat and Josh, a couple who get married even though none of their friends or family believe they can make it work, especially once they each find new temptations, him with his ex Chloe (Anna Faris) and she with an American client (Simon Baker). It’s been playing on VOD for a month, yet it’s getting a theatrical release in New York and Los Angeles anyway.
Amanda Seyfried plays the title role in Lovelace (RadiusTWC), namely Linda Lovelace who in 1972 starred in the controversial “Deep Throat,” the first scripted pornographic film to get a theatrical release. Directed by Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman (Howl) and featuring an ensemble cast that includes Peter Sarsgaard, Sharon Stone, Sarah Jessica Parker, Hank Azaria, Bobby Cannavale, Chris Noth and more, it opens in select cities on Friday.
Other offerings this weekend include the Bollywood romantic drama Chennai Express (UTV), Chad Crawford Kinkle’s horror-thriller Jug Face (Modern Distributors), Jessie James Miller’s Ray “Boom Boom” Mancini doc The Good Son (SnagFilms) and Michael Palmieri and Donal Mosher’s doc Off Label (Oscilloscope Labs) that looks at psychotropic drugs like Adderall, Ambien, Zoloft, and Prozac.
Next week, we get a second weekend of four movies, but now we’re getting into the true “Dog Days” where it’s harder for movies to make a mark, but we have high hopes for the snarky superhero sequel Kick-Ass 2 (Universal), while the techno-thriller Paranoia (Relativity Media) has the likes of Harrison Ford and Gary Oldman giving young Liam Hemsworth a hard time. Forest Whitaker stars in Lee Daniels’ The Butler (The Weinstein Company) while Ashton Kutcher takes on the role of Apple founder Steve Jobs in JOBS (Open Road Films).
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