Every week, movie studios select candidates to enter the glorious battlefield for your hard-earned dollars. The weekend warriors of August 21, 2015 includes American Ultra, Sinister 2, and Hitman: Agent 47, along with a batch 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 below!
Last weekend, Straight Outta Compton brought gangster rap back into the forefront of the pop culture conversation. Its debut earned a lot of attention and is quite the reigning champ to dethrone. With three wide releases vying for the top spot, can the boys from NWA keep rolling on their high? This is the Box Office Battlefield:
American Ultra (Nima Nourizadeh) Rated R [95 min] – A stoner – who is in fact a government agent – is marked as a liability and targeted for extermination. But he’s too well-trained and too high for them to handle. Starring Jesse Eisenberg, Kristen Stewart, Connie Britton, Topher Grace and John Leguizamo
Rotten Tomatoes Score: Critics – 47% • Audience – 56%
Ultimately, American Ultra will be a weird throwaway film at the end of the day that no one will remember. It has a solid concept that both Eisenberg and Stewart execute well with great chemistry, but there’s hardly anything memorable about the film. It’s mostly boring, all of the other characters involved are asinine aside from Britton, and the Topher Grace is the most horribly cartoonish villain I’ve seen in a long time. The action is engaging and fun, and the relationship between Eisenberg and Stewart has a refreshing dynamic, but American Ultra doesn’t quite work as well as it thinks it does. NETFLIX IT!
Sinister 2 (Ciarán Foy) Rated R [97 min] – A young mother and her twin sons move into a rural house that’s marked for death. Starring James Ransone, Shannyn Sossamon, Robert Daniel Sloan, and Dartanian Sloan
Rotten Tomatoes Score: Critics – 12% • Audience – 37%
To be completely honest, I kept nodding off and took a few power naps while watching this film. I would say I digested at least 85% of the film, and from what I saw it wasn’t hard to guess where the movie was going or how it would end. Sinister 2 is boring. The characters are underwritten, their motivations and personalities are terribly weak. Being a sequel, I expected the home movies to be far more creative and disturbing, but they were really subpar and hardly imaginative. Sinister 2 continues the odd tonal balance of humor and horror that kept me from liking the original, which didn’t need a sequel to begin with. The first 15 seconds of the first film is all you need to see. SKIP IT!
Hitman: Agent 47 (Aleksander Bach) Rated R [96 min] – An assassin teams up with a woman to help her find her father and uncover the mysteries of her ancestry. Starring Rupert Friend, Hannah Ware, Zachary Quinto, and Ciarán Hinds
Rotten Tomatoes Score: Critics – 8% • Audience – 52%
“Comes to life during the action scenes, if only slightly.” – Scott Weinberg (Nerdist)
“Hitman: Agent 47 is a second missed opportunity to translate one of the more adaptable video games into a satisfying movie experience.” – Kofi Outlaw (ScreenRant)
I picture a goblin named Franklin held captive in a cage at 20th Century Fox that the execs call on for when nothing original has sparked their interest. And Franklin has been beaten down so much, it mustered up its last bit of energy to softly whisper the idea of a Hitman sequel before his untimely demise. Because honestly, who asked for a Hitman sequel? There aren’t even enough gamers in the world who keep up with the series to even justify the creation of another flop of a movie. The action may be choreographed by the folks who helped on John Wick, but that looks like all Hitman: Agent 47 has going for it. Coming from screenwriter Skip Woods, who brought us X-Men: Origins – Wolverine, I expect a similar outcome. RIP Franklin. SKIP IT!
Grandma (Paul Weitz) [Limited] Rated R [79 min] – Self-described misanthrope Elle Reid has her protective bubble burst when her 18-year-old granddaughter, Sage, shows up needing help. The two of them go on a day-long journey that causes Elle to come to terms with her past and Sage to confront her future. Starring Lily Tomlin, Julia Garner, Marcia Gay Harden, and Judy Greer
Rotten Tomatoes Score: Critics – 93% • Audience – 80%
“This is Tomlin’s first leading role in a film in 27 years, and even though she is sharing the screen with multiple generations of fine actors, nearly every moment in this movie is all hers.” – Richard Roeper (Chicago Sun-Times)
“Weitz strips everything down for efficiency in “Grandma.” The writing is relentlessly on point, and often lacks breathing room, but some films settle for being workable showcases for their interpreters.” – Michael Phillips (Chicago Tribune)
Grandma looks like a quirky romp of a film that wants to be hip and cool, but checks off all the indie tropes you could possibly imagine. Critics have positively lauded this film, and I’ll give it a chance, but there isn’t anything within the trailer that stands out to me as something fresh or original. RENT IT!
6 Years (Hannah Fidell) [Limited] Unrated [85 min] – A young couple bound by a seemingly ideal love, begins to unravel as unexpected opportunities spin them down a volatile and violent path and threaten the future they had always imagined. Starring Taissa Farmiga, Ben Rosenfield, Lindsay Burdge, and Joshua Leonard
Rotten Tomatoes Score: Critics – 50% • Audience – 38%
“[The two leads’] heartbreaking performances imbue this familiar Austin-set narrative with a fiery edge.” – Eric Kohn (indieWIRE)
“[6 Years] too often veers toward melodramatic overstatement, inspiring little empathy or understanding despite the committed performances of promising young leads Taissa Farmiga and Ben Rosenfield.” – Justin Chang (Variety)
While watching the trailer for 6 Years I felt a few similarities to Like Crazy. I like that film to a certain extent, but it didn’t have a strong voice or opinion to get behind. And when the credits roll, you’re sitting there in a melancholy state feeling empty. I have an itch that’s telling me this is how 6 Years will end up making me feel. NETFLIX IT!
Digging for Fire (Joe Swanberg) [Limited] Rated R [85 min] – The discovery of a bone and a gun send a husband and wife on separate adventures over the course of a weekend. Starring Jake Johnson, Rosemarie DeWitt, Orlando Bloom, Anna Kendrick, Jenny Slate, and Brie Larson
Rotten Tomatoes Score: Critics – 67% • Audience – 52%
“A happy couple’s submerged tensions come to the surface in Joe Swanberg’s tender, wildly imaginative comic drama.” – Richard Brody (The New Yorker)
“With all the pretty, vapid Los Angeles navel-gazers lounging by swimming pools and engaging in pointless (and seemingly endless) conversations, the results feel like a sub-par Henry Jaglom movie, conceived on the quick after a location became available.” – Alonso Duralde (TheWrap)
Swanberg has been on a hot streak for me lately, from the works I have seen. Drinking Buddies and Happy Christmas I quite enjoyed – I haven’t seen 24 Exposures – but Digging for Fire seems a little more aimless than his typical mumblecore films. It has a stellar cast that I’d love to see in this kind of setting, but again DFF it looks a little too loose to keep my attention. And from those who have seen it seem to be a bit iffy. NETFLIX IT!
She’s Funny That Way (Peter Bogdanovich) [Limited] Rated R [93 min] – On the set of a playwright’s new project, a love triangle forms between his wife, her ex-lover, and the call girl-turned-actress cast in the production. Starring Imogen Poots, Owen Wilson, Jennifer Aniston, and Kathryn Hahn
Rotten Tomatoes Score: Critics – 38% • Audience – 40%
“Broad, occasionally clunky, sometimes funny, scattered with poignant grace notes, and, in its own peculiar way, endearing.” – Ignatiy Vishnevetsky (AV Club)
“Even the cinematography is ill-advised, since it’s literally off-color; warm tones meant to evoke romantic feelings come off as a jaundiced homage to Woody Allen, from whom many of this film’s tropes have been not-so-piquantly purloined.” – Joe Morgenstern (Wall Street Journal)
I’m not the biggest fan when it comes to interconnected stories, but when executed well the tool can really heighten the experience and enjoyment of a film. She’s Funny That Way looks like it is trying too hard. Everything in the trailer looks uncomfortably forced and as if the actors are just phoning this one in for the paycheck. SKIP IT!
Learning to Drive (Isabel Coixet) [Limited] Rated R [90 min] – As her marriage dissolves, a Manhattan writer takes driving lessons from a Sikh instructor with marriage troubles of his own. In each other’s company they find the courage to get back on the road and the strength to take the wheel. Starring Patricia Clarkson, Ben Kingsley, Grace Gummer, and Samantha Bee
Rotten Tomatoes Score: Critics –64% • Audience – 64%
“Learning to Drive is a richly observed, crosscultural character study that coasts along pleasurably on the strengths of its virtuoso leads.” – Michael Rechtshaffen (Los Angeles Time)
“The film seems to take its method entirely from Darwan’s quiet, methodical patter about how to move safely across lanes and through intersections. It’s good advice for driving, but less helpful for drama.” – Mark Jenkins (NPR)
I think Learning to Drive looks like a paint by numbers Oscar film that would have been recognized as an indie darling 30 years ago. NETFLIX IT!
Some Kind Of Beautiful (Tom Vaughan) [Limited] Rated R [100 min] – A drama about a Cambridge poetry professor who begins to re-evaluate his life of Byronic excess. Starring Pierce Brosnan, Salma Hayek, Jessica Alba, and Malcolm McDowell
Rotten Tomatoes Score: Critics – 0% • Audience – 39%
“The problem, however, is that the script by Matthew Newman doesn’t do enough to make [Richard] either lovable or reprehensible.” Chris Knight (National Post)
“Hayek swings for the fences, but none of the gags she’s tasked with delivering are funny, not even when she desperately pantomimes various breathless expressions men make when they orgasm.” – Simon Abrams (Village Voice)
The three new options this weekend are so niche and poorly reviewed that I would find it hard to believe that anyone is going to go see them. They each have such a small targeted demographic that movie goers will be spread out all over the place this weekend. Straight Outta Compton had such rave reviews and positive word of mouth that it makes a strong case to keep its competition at bay. So as it stands, I believe the victor for this weekend will be:
Winner: Straight Outta Compton
Movie synopses courtesy of IMDb.com and Tomatometer Scores from Rotten Tomatoes