Every week, movie studios select candidates to enter the glorious battlefield for your hard-earned dollars. The weekend warriors of April 17, 2015 includes Unfriended, Monkey Kingdom, Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2, and a handful of limited releases. Box Office Battlefield is here to help you decide which movie(s) will take priority over the others and determine who will be victorious. Should you see ’em, skip ’em, or rent ’em? Find out after the break.
Last weekend, Furious 7 drove away with the number one spot again, essentially making it a tour de force to kick off the “summer” movie season. Nicholas Sparks stood no chance, but does a small, indie horror? Or perhaps a Disney animal documentary? We all know Kevin James stands no chance. POKE! This is the Box Office Battlefield:
Unfriended (Levan Gabriadze) Rated R [82 min] – A group of online chat room friends find themselves haunted by a mysterious, supernatural force using the account of their dead friend.Director: Stars: Heather Sossaman, Matthew Bohrer, Courtney Halverson, Shelley Hennig (Watch the trailer)
Rotten Tomatoes Score: Critics – 67% • Audience – 57%
You can go ahead and laugh at the gimmick, many people did when watching the trailer in theaters, but Unfriended is able to execute the concept on its own merits. Sticking to its guns to provide a convincing narrative for its short run time, the movie is able to bring a certain intensity that keeps you engaged the entire time. Despite being a Blumhouse Productions’ film, Unfriended is not in the least bit scary, unless you take it in more of a literal way and fear more for what you post online. Most audiences should be able to relate to the idea that our actions on social media evoke certain consequences. Whether or not they directly come back to us definitely depends on the reach and ugliness of said actions.
And for anyone who asks why don’t they just turn off their computers or walk away, there is enough reasoning behind the framework of this story for it to be believable. However, therein lies a problem, because the writing doesn’t establish ample rules for the supernatural element to understand its limits, or lack thereof. By not defining distinct boundaries for the villain you’re imagination is just left to accept anything thrown at you, which isn’t a very satisfying way to tell a story.
The takeaway is earned and presents cyberbullying in a unique perspective to break through to young audiences who sleep with their mobile devices like a security blanket. The way the film was shot feels organic to those who know how to work a computer, but as a horror it falls flat. For me, the video chat format has only worked best in the V/H/S short, “The Sick Thing That Happened to Emily When She Was Younger.” All of the fresh young actors do a pretty good job at presenting authenticity and their characters are fleshed out well enough that they aren’t just whiny teens. What makes Unfriended run smoothly is that it brings a sense of personality that you don’t get tired of; I just wish it was scarier. RENT IT!
Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2 (Andy Fickman) Rated PG [94 min] – After six years of keeping our malls safe, Paul Blart has earned a well-deserved vacation. He heads to Vegas with his teenage daughter before she heads off to college. But safety never takes a holiday and when duty calls, Blart answers. Starring Kevin James, Raini Rodriguez, Eduardo Verástegui, and Daniella Alonso
Rotten Tomatoes Score: Critics – 0% • Audience – 65%
“This wisp of a plot is just an excuse for James to do his one trick over and over: Bluster, then screw up humiliatingly. Is it never funny? No, it’s not never funny. It’s just not funny nearly often enough.” – Sara Stewart (New York Post)
” James tries hard, very hard, to inject the proceedings with slapstick humor, propelling his large body through endless physical contortions in a fruitless effort for laughs.” – Frank Scheck (Hollywood Reporter)
No. Who asked for this to be made? Honestly? They must have just been trying to fulfill contracts or something. The first Mall Cop did make a butt load of undeserved cash that warrants a sequel, but six years later? This type of physical comedy doesn’t exist anymore, and makes the film look tired. SKIP IT!
Monkey Kingdom (Mark Linfield and Alastair Fothergill) Rated G [81 min] – A nature documentary that follows a newborn monkey and its mother as they struggle to survive within the competitive social hierarchy of the Temple Troop, a dynamic group of monkeys who live in ancient ruins found deep in the storied jungles of South Asia. Narrated by Tina Fey
Rotten Tomatoes Score: Critics – 92% • Audience – 65%
“A populist take on simian society and alpha leadership leads to an entertaining look at caste systems in the animal kingdom.” – Inkoo Kang (The Wrap)
“Everything Monkey Kingdom lacks in scientific rigor, it makes up for in pure entertainment value-and then some.” – Genevieve Koski (The Dissolve)
I’m not a fan of these kind of documentaries, but there are certain audiences who are enthralled by them. I’ll admit that Monkey Kingdom looks beautiful, but the journey that these monkeys go through doesn’t really capture my attention. Seriously, as parents, please take your children to see this instead of Mall Cop 2. If this is the kind of movie that floats your boat SEE IT! otherwise NETFLIX IT!
Child 44 (Daniel Espinosa) Rated R [137 min] – A disgraced member of the military police investigates a series of nasty child murders during the Stalin-era Soviet Union. Starring Tom Hardy, Gary Oldman, Noomi Rapace, and Joel Kinnaman
Rotten Tomatoes Score: Critics – 28% • Audience – 52%
“Child 44 could have been far more compelling had it dug deeper into its political thriller layers and not drifted into yet another story of a diabolical killer on the loose.” – Claudia Puig (USA Today)
“It shouldn’t be possible to make a movie this bad with a cast this good.” – Matt Singer (ScreenCrush)
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, I have a hard time being impressed by period pieces that try to tell a straight story. And a mystery, crime thriller like Child 44 that sets out to tangle us in a web of a complicated investigation only makes it worse. I’m sure build up, which I can only imagine is very uninteresting, will not be worth the time of day once the climax of the case has been revealed. Which is sad based on the cast. SKIP IT!
True Story (Rupert Goold) Rated R [100 min] – When disgraced New York Times reporter Michael Finkel meets accused killer Christian Longo – who has taken on Finkel’s identity – his investigation morphs into a game of cat-and-mouse. Starring James Franco, Jonah Hill, Felicity Jones, and Ethan Suplee
Rotten Tomatoes Score: Critics – 48% • Audience – 60%
“Even with shrewd and honest work by Franco and Hill and a solid supporting turn from under-used Felicity Jones as Finkel’s romantic partner, the film comes to life only sporadically.” – Michael Phillips (Chicago Tribune)
“The film makes a show of judging its subject, Mike Finkel, even while taking his story at face value and paying him for the privilege. It’s bogus moralizing piled atop more bogus moralizing. Great acting though!” – Vince Mancini (FilmDrunk)
Something about True Story reminds me of David Fincher’s Zodiac. It could be the puzzling story Hill’s character receives or the general tone of the mystery behind it all, but I really get a Zodiac vibe here. The reviews are not favorable toward the story itself, but rather the performances from the leading, former Oscar nominees. I’d be intrigued to see how it all unfolds, but not enough to run to the theater. NETFLIX IT!
Alex of Venice (Chris Messina) Rated R [86 min] – A workaholic attorney is forced to reinvent her life after her husband suddenly leaves. Starring Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Chris Messina, Don Johnson, and Derek Luke
Rotten Tomatoes Score: Critics – 85% • Audience – 69%
” Winstead can telegraph more with a head tilt or a flicker of her eyes than most of her generation can do with a wild hand toss and a mess of expositional dialogue.” – Kate Erbland (Film School Rejects)
“While the script might leave many details behind, the performances slightly make up for the film’s ambiguity.” – Casey Cipriani (Movie Mezzanine)
I’m always down for deep-seated dramas about life and moving on from the past; as long as they’re done well and are able to tell the side of the character’s story we haven’t seen before. Alex in Venice looks very progressive for today’s cultural youth. It sure looks like a lot of drama and enough first world problems to stomach, but Mary Elizabeth Winstead I am told is to have a pretty solid performance. MATINEE IT!
Monsters: Dark Continent (Tom Green) Rated R [119 min] – Ten years on from the events of Monsters, and the ‘Infected Zones’ have now spread worldwide. In the Middle East a new insurgency has begun. At the same time there has also been a proliferation of Monsters in that region. The Army decide to draft in more numbers to help deal with this insurgency. Starring Johnny Harris, Sam Keeley, Joe Dempsie, and Sofia Boutella
Rotten Tomatoes Score: Critics – 21% • Audience – 26%
“Plays like a dorm-room answer to modern war films, complete with the constant profanity and masculine hysterics that pass for impact in an immature script.” – Katie Rife (AV Club)
“Monsters: Dark Continent is a sour, tedious, and derivative film that doesn’t just prove disappointing in its own right, it actively makes us resent the first film retroactively for inspiring it.” – Oliver Lyttelton (The Playlist)
I’m not sure how this movie could even amount to a two hour run time or even why it was made, but it seems to be missing the entire reason why fans fell in love with Gareth Edwards’ original. With Edwards moving into bigger and better things with last year’s Godzilla and now the Star Wars spin-off, I guess the studio wanted to continue without him. And the result looks like it could go have gone straight to DVD. Going the complete opposite approach to the subtly haunting Monsters, Dark Continent would prefer to focus on a group of stereotypical looking military types to try and take down the enemy. Ooo-rah… SKIP IT!
With three new movies out this weekend in wide release, it will take a good chunk of coin out of the reigning champion, Furious 7. However, with Blart’s scathing reviews and Monkey Kingdom and Unfriended’s niche demographics, moviegoers are going to be hard-pressed to find a film worth their time. DisneyNature films tend to open at around $4-6 million, while a unique horror like Unfriended should garner about $15 million. The Lazarus Effect opened to $10, but I think Unfriended has more of a hook that general audiences have never seen before.
Furious 7’s narrative may have silly and illogical plot points, but Mall Cop 2 looks plain stupid and UTTERLY HORRENDOUS. The first Mall Cop released six years ago, to a surprisingly big debut, but I think audiences are much wiser now. A Kevin James led film hasn’t opened up to over 20 million since Zookeeper in 2011, and the Dilemma (2011) and Here Comes the Boom (2012) well below that mark. So as it stands, I believe the victor for this weekend will be:
Winner: Furious 7
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