Normally, the saying is that March comes in like a lion, and goes out like a lamb, and that’s the case at theaters as we’re getting two fairly big studio releases right out of the gate, which will try to keep moviegoers coming back to theaters after a few slower weeks where it took Liam Neeson and the story of Jesus to tear them away from The LEGO Movie.
Almost seven years to the date that Zack Snyder blew people away with what could be done when adapting a graphic novel to the screen with Frank Miller’s 300, Warner Bros. and Legendary Pictures are finally going back to that well with 300: Rise of an Empire, a combination prequel and sequel to that blockbuster hit which opened with $71 million on its way to $454 million worldwide.
Needless to say, 300 was quite a phenomenon for its time, especially coming off a number of failed historic war epics like Oliver Stone’s Alexander, but Snyder successfully brought Miller’s distinctive vision to the screen and was able to bring a wide variety of moviegoers from high school jocks to comic book fans to women (and gay men) who just wanted to see ripped guys in skimpy costumes fighting each other with swords. (There has to be something Freudian there.) But it was a huge hit for Warner Bros. and it was quite a groundbreaking movie in terms of the use of CG at a time long before Alfonso Cuaron’s Gravity as well as a fun, action-packed movie that worked on a lot of different levels.
While Lena Headey is back as Queen Gorgo and Rodrigo Santoro as the Persian “God-King” Xerxes (and there’s another cameo by someone from 300), they all play smaller roles in this as the movie shifts focus to the Athenian army led by Australian actor Sullivan (Animal Kingdom) Stapleton’s Themistocles and the action shifts to big sea battles against Xerxes’ fleet commanded by Eva (Casino Royale) Green’s Artemisia. We don’t expect either of those names to put people into movie theater seats–Green is getting a lot of rave reviews for her performance though–because the movie is really about reviving what worked so well in the first film.
The biggest hurdle is that it’s been seven years since the last movie and one would think that a sequel would work better if there was some momentum behind it. The success of Will Ferrell’s recent “Anchorman” sequel may have something to say about that, but that also became a cult hit after its theatrical release while it’s hard to tell if 300 has grown more popular since Zack Snyder has directed other things like Watchmen and last year’s mega-blockbuster Man of Steel or if it’s just become another notch in his filmography. (Not that it matters since this isn’t directed by Snyder, but by Noam Murro, a fairly unknown Israeli director whose previous movie Smart People was a very different indie dramedy that played Sundance and was released by Miramax. Not being able to sell the movie with Snyder’s name certainly won’t help.)
Either way, the movie does have the namebrand value that comes with a sequel and Warner Bros. has done another decent job marketing it, although opening anywhere near the original is highly doubtful, it should fare better than Wrath of the Titans, the sequel to Clash of the Titans and an opening more than half that of the original should be in the cards. It does have a lot of competition coming out in the coming weeks, but I think 300: Rise of an Empire should be the next movie of 2014 to enter the $100 million club even if it may stall out around $120 or $130 million tops.
After having one of their first true bombs with last summer’s Turbo, DreamWorks Animation returns with the delayed CG version of the 50s and 60s cartoon Mr. Peabody & Sherman (DreamWorks Animation/Fox), this one directed by The Lion King‘s Rob Minkoff as they try to revive a classic cartoon character for modern families.
Introduced as a segment during the Rocky and Bullwinkle cartoons called “Peabody’s Improbable History,” the title character Mr. Peabody is a super-intelligent beagle who saves a nerdy young boy named Sherman from bullies and takes him on as his time-traveling apprentice. This isn’t the first time that DreamWorks Animation has used other source material for the basis of their feature films as the original Shrek was based on a children’s book as was Rise of the Guardians, while Over the Hedge was based on a comic strip. The latter two were not DWA’s biggest hits compared to some of their original ideas like Madagascar and last year’s The Croods, but all of those movies followed the animation studio’s pattern of having big name stars as their voice cast. Mr. Peabody & Sherman has Ty Burrell and Ariel Winter from ABC’s “Modern Family” and other actors who’ve done lots of voice work but don’t have the names to bring people into theaters.
Many old cartoons have been remade for the big screen, but in general, they’ve combined live action with CG animation as was the case with Scooby-Doo ($54 opening and $153 million gross) and its less successful sequel ($84.2 million total gros), as well as the Underdog movie ($43.6 million gross), but the best comparison for this one might be the live-action The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle, which bombed with just $26 million. And that was 14 years ago, closer to the time when the characters were popular.
Unfortunately, Mr. Peabody & Sherman probably isn’t as well known a cartoon as some of those others and kids certainly will never have seen or heard of them, unlike Scooby-Doo, although DreamWorks will do their usual push to try to win over kids with the jokes. There’ll also be a little bit of a nostalgia factor for older parents who remember seeing the earlier cartoon in syndication, but not much to offer anyone over 10 or under maybe 35.
Warner Bros.’ The LEGO Movie is also still going strong based on word-of-mouth (as is Frozen, which just won the Oscar for animated feature) so Mr. Peabody is coming into a market with stronger animated films – just like Turbo in fact. This will probably hurt DreamWorks Animation as much as the obscurity of the subject matter, and honestly, I can see this one opening below $30 million unlike last year’s March offering The Croods, which opened with $43.6 million and grossed $187 million domestic and $573 million worldwide. It might just squeak past that mark to somewhere between $31 and 33 million and it should be able to work its way to $100 million with few other family movies opening in March, but I don’t expect it to be a big hit for DreamWorks Animation.
This weekend last year saw the second big budget fairy tale movie in a row, but unlike Bryan Singer’s Jack the Giant Slayer, Walt Disney Studios’ Oz The Great and Powerful (Walt Disney), starring James Franco, Mila Kunis and Michelle Williams, opened big with $79.1 million to become the third-highest March opening after The Hunger Games and Disney’s Alice in the Wonderland, starring Johnny Depp. Colin Farrell and Noomi Rapace starred in the crime thriller Dead Man Down (FilmDistrict), which opened in fourth place with $5.3 million behind Jack the Giant Slayer (which dropped 64%) and the Jason Bateman-Melissa McCarthy comedy Identity Thief. The Top 10 grossed $124.6 million, but unless either or both new movies open better than predicted, this weekend may be down slightly from last year.
This Week’s Predictions –
1. 300: Rise of an Empire (Legendary/WB) – $41.3 million N/A
2. Mr. Peabody & Sherman – $31.4 million N/A
3. Non-Stop – $15.2 million -47%
4. The LEGO Movie (Warner Bros.) – $14.6 million -30%
5. Son of God (20th Century Fox) – $12.5 million -51%
6. The Monuments Men (Sony) – $4.4 million – 44%
7. Frozen (Walt Disney) – $3.0 million -29%
8. 3 Days to Kill (Relativity Media) – $2.3 million -54%
9. RoboCop (MGM/Sony) – $2.1 million -53%
10. Pompeii (TriStar/Sony) – $2.0 million -54%
Before I get to the limited releases, I want to mention that this Friday begins the annual Rendezvous with French Cinema at the Film Society of Lincoln Center and the IFC Center, which is the premiere film series for New Yorkers to see some of the French films released in the past year that haven’t gotten a U.S. theatrical release – and some of them might never get distribution here. Opening with Emmauelle Bercot’s On My Way (Cohen Media Group – March 14), starring Rendezvous regular and French film icon Catherine Deneuve and closing with Bertrand Tavernier’s The French Minister (March 21), two movies already set for release later this month, “Rendezvous” once again has quite a diverse selection.
Michel Gondry returns to his French roots with Mood Indigo (Drafthouse Films – July 18), starring French film mainstays Audrey Tautou and Romain Duris as well as breakout star Omar Sy (Intouchables). The premise is so strange, you may just want to click on the title and see if it’s for you. Mathieu Amalric is another “Rendezvous” regular who appears in Arnaud and Jean-Marie Larrieu’s Love is the Perfect Crime this year (as well as appearing in Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel) and Francois Ozon returns with Young and Beautiful (“Jeuen & Jolie”) (Sundance Selects – April 25), a film that’s received rave reviews going back to its debut at the Cannes Film Festival last year. Other movies of interest include Justin Triet’s Age of Panic and Nabil Ben Yadir’s The Marchers, and you can see the full rundown of films on the Official Site.
This week also begins the annual SXSW Film Festival down in Austin, Texas, where the Weekend Warrior will be spending the next week starting Thursday, March 6. (It kicks off on Friday with Jon Favreau’s new movie Chef, which opens theatrically on May 9.)
You can check out our “Preview in Pictures” featuring 30 movies that look interesting to us right here.
THE CHOSEN ONE:
While those who have been reading the Weekend Warrior and my reviews for a number of years may be perplexed by this choice, I am indeed going with Wes Anderson’s latest movie The Grand Budapest Hotel (Fox Searchlight) as this week’s “CHOSEN ONE,” because I feel it’s his best film in many years, as you can tell from my review below.
It stars Ralph Fiennes as M. Gustave, the manager of a luxury hotel in the fictitious German town of Zubrowka, and newcomer (at least to film) Tony Revolori as the hotel’s lobby boy Zero Moustafa, the two of them ending up in an inadvertent adventure when the rich matriarchal patron of the hotel dies, creating a feud between Gustave and her family, the Desgoffes and Taxis. Having had an affair with the elderly woman, Gustave is named the heir to a valuable painting so he steals it and hides it away before being sent to prison, accused of killing the woman. The disappearance of the painting sends her son Dimitri (Adrien Brody) into a rage and the family send their henchman Jopling (Willem Dafoe) after the thief who stole the painting.
It’s a pretty complex story, even by Anderson’s standards, and the movie enters a lot of territory we haven’t really seen from him before, including a mountaintop chase and a bonafide gunfight, plus there are a lot of familiar faces to Anderson fans, although many of them–like Bill Murray–merely have cameo appearances at best.
You can read more of my thoughts on the movie in the review below and in the feature interviews done in February when the movie premiered at the Berlin International Film Festival.
Action, Thrillers and Horror:
Hong Kong’s Stephen Chow returns with Journey to the West (Magnolia), an action-comedy set in a world where demons are plaguing local villagers and various demon hunters show up to try to save them and take their money. Based on the 16th Century novel, it mostly focuses on a young Buddhist named Xuan Zang, played by Zhang Wen, who has good intentions in his battle against the demons, but when he meets a beautiful (and much better) demon hunter, played by Qi Shu (The Transporter) he has to decide between continuing his quest to bring out the good in the worst demons or try to find the meaning of True Love. It opens in select cities.
Mini-Review: (Coning Soon!)
Elijah Wood stars in the high concept thriller Grand Piano (Magnet) as a concert pianist who hasn’t played a concert in five years, but his return to stage is plagued by an unseen killer (voiced by John Cusack) who threatens to kill him and his actress wife if he doesn’t play a difficult piece without missing a single wrong key played. It’ll open in New York at the Cinema Village and Austin at the Drafthouse Lakeline on Friday.
Mac Carter’s horror film Haunt (IFC Midnight) stars Jacki Weaver (Animal Kingdom as the mother of a family that moves into a new home with a dark past whose son becomes involved with a girl next door and they open up an alternate dimension of the house. No, I didn’t make that up. I literally read that from the plot summary.
Having premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in 2012, Jeremy Lovering’s thriller In Fear (Anchor Bay Films) stars Alice Englert (Beautiful Creatures) and Iain De Caestecker as a couple being terrorized by an unseen tormenter (Allen Leech from “Downtown Abbey”). It opens in select cities on Friday, you can find out which theaters on the movie’s Facebook page.
Donnie Yen stars in Special ID (Well GO USA), directed by Clarence Fok Yiu-leung (Thundercop, Naked Killer), playing undercover police officer Zilong “Dragon” Chen who has infiltrated the crime syndicate of Collin Chou’s Xiong who swears to find every traitor in his midst. Wait, isn’t that the plot of Infernal Affairs? That’s rhetorical because of course it is! I love Hong Kong cinema but originality is not their strong suit. Anyway, it’s Donnie Yen and he’s awesome so we won’t hold it against him. It opens in New York and L.A. on Friday.
Bogdan Dreyer’s wartime comedy A Farewell to Fools (Monterey Media), stars Gerard Depardieu and Harvey Keitel as a madman and a priest–this is already sounding like the start of a bad joke–in WWII-era Romania who find a dead German soldier in their village and must find who killed him or the Nazis will kill everyone in the village. Apparently, this is a comedy. Wonderful.
Foreign Films of Interest:
Yuval Adler’s Israeli film Bethlehem (Adopt Films) follows the story of an Israeli Secret Service agent and his teen Palestinian informant, giving a look into the conflicted world of one of the world’s biggest ongoing conflict. It opens in New York and Los Angeles in five theaters including the Angelika Film Center and Lincoln Plaza Cinemas in the former and three Laemmle locations in the latter.
This week’s Bollywood offering is Total Siyapaa (Reliance Entertainment), directed by Eshvar Nivas and starring Ali Zafar as Aman, a Pakistani man living in London hoping to marry Yaami Gautam’s Asha, a local Indian girl whose parents object to her marrying a Pakistani. Being a romantic comedy, I imagine there’s something funny about Indian-Pakistani racism.
Annette Bening stars in Ari Posin’s romantic drama The Face of Love (IFC Films) playing a widow who years after the death of her husband meets a man who looks just like him, played by Ed Harris, bringing back old feelings. Also starring Robin Williams, it opens in select cities after a VOD run.
Next week, the month of March motors along with Need for Speed (DreamWorks), starring Aaron Paul, Imogen Poots, Dominic Cooper, Kid Cudi and Michael Keaton, and the latest from Atlanta’s media mogul, Tyler Perry’s Single Moms Club (Lionsgate) as well as TWENTY limited releases so far.
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