It’s Memorial Day weekend, traditionally one of the busiest weekends at the box office since it’s when Americans first start to accept the fact that the summer is here, the temperature is rising, schools are starting to slowly let out, and what’s a better way to spend the weekend than going to see a big summer blockbuster? This is a great time for movies because the movie market is booming with three new movies opening north of $45 million in the past three weeks and two of them opening over $90 million. This weekend we probably will be adding a third as director Bryan Singer returns to the X-Men franchise with X-Men: Days of Future Past (20th Century Fox), which brings back the cast from 2011’s X-Men: First Class as well as many of the original mutants from the earlier movies.
“Days of Future Past” has so much going in its favor especially coming into a summer movie season that’s started off so well, similar to last summer in fact. The amount of excitement for the return of a hugely popular franchise like Fox’s “X-Men” will surely keep that momentum rolling, especially by bringing back Singer as well as the popular original cast: Hugh Jackman as Wolverine, Patrick Stewart as Professor X, Ian McKellen as Magneto, Ellen Page as Kitty Pryde and Halle Berry as Storm.
It would be pretty hard to gauge how well “Days of Future Past” might do this weekend without taking a look at past installments, and there’s no better comparison than when Fox opened the third installment, X-Men: The Last Stand, over Memorial Day weekend in 2006. Bryan Singer had already departed to make Superman Returns, but that didn’t stop fans of the first two movies from rushing out to see it with a Friday opening of $45 million. A lot of its business was frontloaded though as it ended up with $122 million over the four day weekend or 2.7 times its opening day. Although fans of the first two movies rushed to see it, most of them quickly realized that director Brett Ratner wasn’t up to the task of concluding the “trilogy” and it ended up with less than twice its opening weekend during its theatrical run.
Fox waited five years before releasing the rebooted X-Men: First Class, which introduced younger versions of the characters played by James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence and Nicolas Hoult. Without the presence of Wolverine or the other familiar cast, it opened relatively weakly with $55 million on its way to $146.4 million domestic and $353 million worldwide. Then again, last summer’s The Wolverine also opened lower than the previous installment with just $53 million opening, a weak $132 million domestic gross but $414 million worldwide. Those numbers would make one presume there’s waning interest in the mutant franchise, but having many of the popular original actors returning adds a sense of nostalgia to “Days of Future Past” that will help bring back its audience. Regardless of his recent legal woes, Bryan Singer is also a damn fine director and his first two movies, particularly X2, are still considered some of the better pre-Marvel Studios superhero movies. On top of that, many people who skipped “First Class” in theaters are likely to have seen it on DVD or cable in the three years since it’s release.
There’s little question that the combination of known stars with the popularity of the comic book characters is what’s going to be a driving force for a big opening weekend over Memorial Day. Hugh Jackman carries a lot of the star power load, but he has a lot more support here than he did with The Wolverine. First of all, Jennifer Lawrence is a much bigger star now than when “First Class” came out, having starred in two hugely successful “The Hunger Games” movies, both which grossed over $400 million domestically. Besides that, she also won an Oscar for Silver Linings Playbook early last year and then was nominated for another Oscar for American Hustle this year, raising her profile and her status to that of an A-list box office draw.
Fassbender has also gained many fans from his turns in movies like Prometheus and his Oscar-nominated role in 12 Years a Slave, and he should also give the ladies added incentive to see the movie if Hugh Jackman wasn’t incentive enough. There’s also Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart, both well-liked among the geek audience from their variety of roles that include the “Lord of the Rings” and “The Hobbit” movies as well as Stewart’s turn on “Star Trek: The Next Generation.”
We’re looking at a big opening weekend for “Days of Future Past,” probably over $100 million in its first three days (including Thursday) and over $120 million for the four-day weekend, and while it’s likely to be very frontloaded to the holiday weekend, it should be able to easily best the $234 million domestic gross of X-Men: The Last Stand.
Offering very little competition and not much in terms of counter-programming, the once infallible box office star that was Adam Sandler reunites with his “Audrey Hepburn” Drew Barrymore for their third romantic comedy Blended (Warner Bros.), which has the misfortune of trying to open in a weekend where comedies have generally done well though not quite as well as the big budget action and FX blockbusters. In this one, they play two single parents who go on a date that goes very badly and are then thrown together when they each take their families to Africa.
It’s a shame, because the last two Sandler-Barrymore movies, The Wedding Singer and 50 First Dates, were generally well-received movies that wisely opened over the Valentine’s and President’s Day weekend in 1998 and 2004, respectively. The Wedding Singer was a particularly strong milestone for Sandler since it was his first big hit as a movie star, opening with just $19 million but grossing $80 million overall. Later that year, The Waterboy would open with $39 million followed six months later with an even bigger opening for Big Daddy, both of them grossing over $160 million. (To date, only Grown Ups has matched that amount.) Sandler’s reunion with Barrymore for 50 First Dates had a huge $45 million opening over the four-day President’s Day weekend and it grossed $121 million, but since then, Sandler’s career seemed to take a slight tumble, especially in 2012 when That’s My Boy became one of his biggest bombs since Little Nicky–and no, we’re not counting his attempts at more serious roles like Punch Drunk Love, Spanglish or Judd Apatow’s Funny People. He recovered later that year with the animated Hotel Transylvania then reunited with his buddies for the generally successful Grown Ups 2 last summer.
Barrymore? Other than 2009’s He’s Just Not That Into You (and providing a voice in Beverly Hills Chihuahua) she really hasn’t had much in the way of hits and has generally been off most people’s radars for years. Fortunately, she still has a lot of people who like her thanks to her days as a child actor in movies like Steven Spielberg’s ET the Extra-Terrestrial and her semi-successful reinvention as an action star with the “Charlie’s Angels” movies and a rom-com star in other films since then.
On paper, it makes perfect sense that bringing the two stars back together would offer just the right romantic nostalgia factor that might appeal not only to Sandler’s juvenile male fanbase but also to women who’ve enjoyed his and Barrymore’s forays into romantic comedies. Blended also marks the reunion of Sandler with Frank Coraci, who directed The Wedding Singer, The Waterboy and Click. (Unfortunately, he also directed the abomination that was Kevin James’ Zookeeper.)
For whatever reason, Warner Bros. is trying to sell a PG-13 Adam Sandler movie as a family film, similar to how Sony successfully marketed the Grown-Ups movies as something to take the kids to go see, even though we imagine there is racier humor in Blended than the moronic physical and gross-out humor we see in the trailers.
Even so, we highly doubt Blended will return Sandler to the heyday of the $40 million openings he used to enjoy, especially opening against the much stronger “X-Men” movie. He still has his fans though and those who might avoid “Days of Future Past” for whatever reason (even if it’s one as silly as the allegations against Singer) should guarantee that Blended makes at least as much as Jack and Jill did its opening weekend with a boost due to the Memorial Day holiday on Monday. With that in mind, think $25 to 30 million for the weekend and probably $75 million totalas usual, it will be a fairly review-proof movie for Sandler.
Mini-Review: It’s hard not to go into an Adam Sandler movie without certain expectations, and if you’re a film critic, they’re likely to be low, but at least with “Blended” you have the added benefit of him reteaming with his best leading lady to date, Drew Barrymore. Here, Sandler tries to make a sensitive chick flick that half works but only when it’s not going for his usual offensive sense of humor.
It starts with a blind date between Sandler’s Jim and Barrymore’s Lauren, both single parents with multiple kids, one that goes so badly, they swear to never see each other again. Before you can say “The Brady Bunch,” they’re all in Africa together enjoying a last-minute vacation along with their brood, and that’s basically all the set-up you need.
In fact, the amount of time the movie spends actually setting up what should be a fairly simple premise could very well be its undoing since it is that time when Sandler really tests the audience’s limits. He won’t be winning a GLAAD award anytime soon with his inappropriate jokes about lesbians, but he also takes low blows at the mentally challenged and that’s even before the story shifts to Africa and starts playing with African stereotypes.
That alone could have made the second half intolerable, but surprisingly, this is when the movie starts revealing some of its better intentions, despite the excruciating appearances by Terry Crews fronting what sounds like Ladysmith Black Mambazo attempting to be the Jonathan Richman musical narrator singing about “blended” families. (For those who don’t know, the title of the movie refers to families with new parents, stepmoms, stepdads, etc, and everyone in Africa for this holiday is just such a blended family.)
Barrymore is more than tolerable in the movie, not because her acting is particularly terrific but because she seems to be game for anything while also keeping Sandler in check. Sandler on the other hand doesn’t even seem to be trying, but why does he even need to since he’s essentially playing the same “every man” he plays in every movie – the one who seems to draw hot women despite having little charm and not much in the way of looks. At least he’s not playing one of his “zany characters” in this one.
For the most part, there really isn’t anything particularly original in the movie, even for a Sandler film, as you can find elements taken from his previous movies with Barrymore, as well as “Just Go With It” and others.
Usually, the kids in Sandler movies are there just to be annoying, but between all the low-brow jokes, they somehow manage to create a number of strong if somewhat unnecessary subplots for them. The best of them is the ongoing one about Sandler’s eldest teen daughter Hilary (Bella Thorne) trying to get past the tomboyish image her father fully supports. It’s a surprisingly intuitive look at female image issues that still delivers on the laughs.
As per normal, the cast is filled with comedy ringers like Kevin Nealon and Wendy McLendon-Covey, the former playing one half of an overly-amorous couple along with Jessica Lowe, offering a couple chuckles, but that’s about it. Joel McHale once again shows no fear of being typecast by playing Barrymore’s *sshole ex.
To his credit, director Frank Coraci finds a way of making all these disparate ideas work together without losing the sight of the comedy and offering enough decent character moments to make up for the eye-rolling Sandlerisms, but still, the movie goes on way too long.
Ultimately, “Blended” isn’t truly awful or unwatchable, but it’s also not particularly groundbreaking, even by Sandler’s standards.
It’s pretty ironic that this week sees the release of Words and Pictures (Roadside Attractions), a movie I keep getting confused with the Drew Barrymore rom-com Music and Words, because at least on the surface, this is another “meet cute” romantic comedy ala Blended, but one with a little more meat on its bones.
This is the new movie from Australian filmmaker Fred Schepisi (Roxanne), whose previous movie The Eye of the Storm I really wasn’t into, but who has generally made some decent movies in his time. Granted, it does star one of my favorite actors in Clive Owen and he’s paired with Juliette Binoche, one of France’s finest, no doubt, but one whose foreign films I’ve generally been mixed on.
The premise revolves around a battle of wills between two very different teachers at a prep school, English teacher Jack Marcus, a former author whose tenure has grown tentative due to his drinking, and the new art teacher Dina Delsanto, a respected artist who was cut down by arthritis that made it hard to do her art.
As one might expect, the movie is set up like the typical meet-cute romantic comedy we’ve seen far too many times before with the undercurrents of them battling over the importance of words vs. picturessomething we’re arguing about all the time here at ComingSoon.net, as a matter of fact. (Okay, sure cosplay pictures wouldn’t be quite as exciting if they were described in words, unless they allow me to get real close to make sure I can describe every detail.)
Actually, I wasn’t even really into the movie during the first half, which focused as much on the kids in Marcus’ classroom with dialogue-intense scenes so similar to the ones in the French Oscar nominee “The Class” that I was dozing off. A lot of attention was also put on a subplot about a talented Asian artist who is constantly being hit upon and harassed by one of her classmates, but that’s not nearly as interesting as the relationship between Marcus and Delsanto. The film gets infinitely better once it moves on from trying to make more out of the subplots surrounding the students.
What really makes the movie work so well is that Clive Owen, whether you love him or hate him, exudes such a charm that even when his character starts drinking and screwing everything up, you’re still completely on board. As much as I’m a little hot/cold on Binoche, she’s exceptional in this film as an artist who has lost her ability to function and create art. Its a movie that genuinely wins you over as it goes along because Owen and Binoches chemistry, both positive and negative, goes a long way towards making some of the more noticeable rom-com cliches seem palatable.
There are a lot of interesting ideas in Schepisi’s film, not just about the relationships between male and female co-workers as they’re pulled together with some great arguments about the worth of word over picture and vice versa. But really, what makes the movie special is the casting of Owen and Binoche, who really bring so much both to their characters and the story as a whole that it’s hard not to be won over once it gets past the rom-com cliches we’ve seen so many times before.
Words and Pictures opens in select cities on Friday.
Last year, Memorial Day saw the release of two sequels to new installments of hugely successful blockbuster franchises, as well as an animated movie for the families. As we’ve seen before, there was only really room for one to do well and that prize went to Fast & Furious 6 (Universal), once again starring Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Dwayne Johnson, Jordana Brewster, Michelle Rodriguez, Tyrese Gibson, Sung Kang, Gal Gadot and Chris “Ludacris” Bridges with a new villain played by Luke Evans. It took in a massive $38.7 million its opening day and ended up grossing $117 million over the four-day holiday weekend, making it the fourth-biggest Memorial Day opener. Meanwhile, Todd Phillips’ R-rated comedy The Hangover Part III (Warner Bros.), also reuniting the popular cast of Bradley Cooper, Zack Galifianakis, Ed Helms and Ken Jeong, failed to find the success of its predecessor over Memorial Day two years earlier. It tried opening a day earlier to avoid the “Fast and Furious” but only made $11.8 million that Thursday and then took in $50 million over the four-day weekend, less than half the amount of the second chapter. Lastly, 20th Century Fox opened their latest animated movie, the family-friendly fantasy Epic (20th Century Fox), but it settled for fourth place behind Star Trek Into Darkness with $42.8 million in 3,882 theaters (more than the other two movies). Last year’s Top 10 made just under $250 million over the four-day holiday weekend and we think this year’s Memorial Day box office will be on par with that amount.
This Week’s Updated Predictions –
(The below are all four-day predictions for the weekend.)
1. X-Men: Days of Future Past (20th Century Fox) – $125.4 million N/A (down .8 million)
2. Godzilla (Legendary/Warner Bros.) – $51.5 million -45%
3. Blended (Warner Bros.) – $28.8 million N/A
4. Neighbors (Universal) – $19 million -22% (down 1 million)
5. The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (Sony Pictures) – $11 million -35%
6. Million Dollar Arm (Walt Disney) – $8.5 million -19%
7. The Other Woman (20th Century Fox) – $4.3 million -32% (down .2 million)
8. Heaven is for Real (Sony/TriStar Pictures) – $3.0 million -32% (down .5 million)
9. Rio 2 (20th Century Fox) – $3 million -20%
10. Captain America: The Winter Soldier (Marvel Studios/Disney) – $2.5 million -32% (down .3 million)
This Week’s Limited Releases:
Pierce Brosnan and Emma Thompson star in Joel (Last Chance Harvey) Hopkins’ The Love Punch (Ketchup Entertainment) as divorced couple Richard and Kate who plot to get their money back from a corrupt businessman, who has run his company into the ground leaving them bankrupt. They travel together to the South of France to crash his wedding to a supermodel in order to steal a priceless $10 million jewel he’s given her as a wedding present. It opens in select cities.
Mini-Review: Trying to insure that “Blended” isn’t the worst travelogue rom-com of the weekend, director Joel Hopkins squanders the good will he earned with “Last Chance Harvey” to follow it with an unbalanced heist comedy with one of the most ridiculous premises you’re likely to hear all year.
From the second we meet Pierce Brosnan’s Richard and Emma Thompson’s Kate at a wedding, it’s pretty easy to figure out what we can expect from their relationship. They’ve been divorced for a number of years and they don’t get along at all, but anyone who has seen this kind of movie will immediately realize that there’s enough of a spark so that we’ll spend the entire movie thinking “will they, won’t they?” After all, Richard’s just broken up with his latest far-younger girlfriend and Kate’s been dating, having started up an online encounter with a Frenchman. As bad luck would have it, Richard’s company was just bought by a French businessman who has driven it into the ground, so he travels to Paris to try to get his money back. For whatever reason, he brings Kate along to help him. After being thrown out by his security, they immediately hatch a plan to crash the businessman’s wedding to steal a priceless jewel to make up for their financial losses.
That’s the general plot for what ends up being a completely illogical attempt at infusing rom-com cliches into a heist comedy. It’s a shame, because Emma Thompson tends to be so wonderful most of the time and she’s far easier to tolerate here than Brosnan – in the first five minutes of the movie he even makes a half-hearted effort to sing, having learned nothing from “Mama Mia.” It feels like Thompson is just going along with whatever Hopkins throws her way and her better dramatic moments are marred by the weak attempts to get laughs.
Even though the very idea of these people trying to pull a heist is just unfathomable, the movie just goes for the most predictable cliches one minute and then goes off the edge with something ridiculous the next. Like the moment when Brosnan, Thompson and their similarly middle-aged friends, played by Tim Spall and Celia Imrie, try to sneak into the wedding by scuba diving then climbing up a rock wall.
The whole thing is just very predictable where it’s going and it always feels like Hopkins is trying too hard for laughs, most of which fall as hard as some of Thompson’s pratfalls. Frankly, I’d expect better from a filmmaker like Hopkins than to go for such easy bathroom humor at times.
Although the Brosnan/Thompson relationship does eventually grown on you, by that time you’ve spent so much time rolling your eyes at their shenanigans that it’s too late and ultimately neither the Brosnan charm nor the Thompson pedigree can save a movie that’s embarrassing to all involved.
Robin Williams is Henry Altman, supposedly The Angriest Man in Brooklyn (Lionsgate), in Phil Alden Robinson’s dark comedy about a man who learns he has a brain aneurysm from Mila Kunis’ Dr. Sharon Gill, who only gives him 90 minutes to live because she’s having a bad day. So he does what anyone else would do and he calls up Tom Hardy’s character in Locke and talks to him on the phone for 90 minutes. No, not really but he ends up running around New York trying to tie up loose ends before his time runs out.
One would think another performance-driven vehicle for Robin Williams ala “One Hour Photo” or “World’s Greatest Dad” would be exactly what the actor needs to make people forget his embarrassing return to television, but this attempt at a directorial comeback from the man behind “Sneakers” and “Field of Dreams” is so awful in every possible way it makes you wonder how movies like this get funded.
Most people will know someone like Williams’ Henry Altman, a man who just has to rant and rage about everything, however big or small, and he’s having a particularly bad day already when he visits his doctor (who is unavailable) and another doctor (played by Mila Kunis) tells him he only has 90 minutes to live. As you can guess, he decides to use his little bit of time to make amends with family and friends, particularly his estranged son, something we’ve seen many times before but never handled in quite such a lazy fashion.
The movie’s problems start, as they do with most bad movies, at the script stage, with a screenwriter who thinks that inserting the F-word into everything anyone says automatically makes it more intense or funny. Wrong!
Even going beyond the script, the movie essentially fails at every level, since it’s rarely funny and its attempts to tug on the heartstrings feels forced at best. Much of that can be blamed on Williams’ performance, which is all over the place–he’s ranting one second then trying to be sympathetic and sentimental the next. Mila Kunis is never believable in any capacity as a doctor of any kind, and it’s a shame how weak her performance is compared to her dramatic turn in Paul Haggis’ “Third Person.” Other actors make brief appearances like Richard Kind as Henry’s one friend who turns up at his “going away” party, but even that scene falls flat.
Robinson doesn’t try too hard to make New York City a particularly interesting place to tell this story either, another sign of the laziness inherent in the making of a movie that always seems to be trying too hard except when it really matters.
Tonally, the movie is all over the place, but that’s probably to be expected with such an awfully banal script and a mind-numbingly annoying performance by Williams, possibly a career worst and that’s saying something. If that weren’t bad enough, the entire thing is narrated by Williams and Kunis in an illogical dueling banjoes way that makes very little sense to the storytelling, just making it all that much more aggravating.
Literally, there’s almost nothing to recommend about this movie except to say that anyone paying to see it in Brooklyn or anywhere else for that matter will probably leave the theater angrier than the film’s title character.
Action, Thrillers and Horror:
Stakeland director Jim Mickle returns with Cold in July (IFC Films), an adaptation of Joe R. Lansdale’s novel in which “Dexter” star Michael C. Hall plays Richard Dane, a family man who shoots and kills a home invader only to have his family targeted by the dead man’s vengeful ex-con father, played by Sam Shepard. But both men learn there’s more to what happened then they think. Co-starring Don Johnson, the film opens in select cities on Friday.
Interview with Michael C. Hall and Jim Mickle (Later this week!)
Sam Fleischman’s Stand Clear of the Closing Doors (Oscilloscope Laboratories) is about a 13-year-old immigrant named Ricky who gets involved in the underground of the oceanside neighborhood of Rockaway, Queens just before Hurricane Sandy threatens the city as his mother desperately tries to find him.
Foreign Films of Interest:
French filmmaker Nicolas (Sous le soleil) Mercier’s drama Grand Depart (Rialto Pictures) is the story of two brothers trying to deal with their father’s health problems, focusing on nearing 30-year-old Romain (Pio Marmai) dealing with a domineering older brother and a similarly impossible-to-handle father, so he decides to step up and face them like an adult.
Documentaries of Note:
The final years of the outspoken writer and politician Gore Vidal is captured in Nicholas Wrathall’s Gore Vidal: The United States of Amnesia (IFC Films) featuring interviews conducted on his return to America in 2005 before his death in 2012, commenting on the state of the country in the 21st Century. It opens in New York and Los Angeles on Friday.
Next week, the month of May comes to a finale with two very different movies, Walt Disney Pictures’ fairy tale reinvention Maleficent, starring Angelina Jolie, and Seth MacFarlane’s R-rated Western A Million Ways to Die in the West (Universal Pictures), co-starring Charlize Theron, Liam Neeson and more.
Copyright 2014 Edward Douglas