BOX OFFICE: “Upside” hits $19.6, “Dog’s Way” wags to $11, “Replicas” repli-can’t

A decent Thursday and big Friday were enough to give STX its first-ever weekend win at the box office.

The studio best known for the “Bad Moms” movies, and “Second Act” and “Molly’s Game” (their lone “upmarket” title, before this) and “The Happytime Murders” bought “The Upside” from the smoldering remains of The Weinstein Co.

And it earned $19.590 million. Not bad for a Kevin Hart vehicle opening in the middle of a Kevin Hart homophobia storm.

That comfortably slipped it past the fourth weekend of Warners’ “Aquaman,” which managed another $17.

“A Dog’s Way Home,” from the guy who wrote “A Dog’s Purpose” and “A Dog’s Journey,” garnered $11 million+ in ticket sales.

Keanu Reeves’ name wasn’t enough to get “Replicas,” a shiny but dim-witted sci-fi thriller, into the black. It didn’t even crack the top ten.

There’s not a lot of dishonor in that, as “If Beale Street Could Talk” opened wider and still couldn’t find an audience, “Green Book” added 176 screens and didn’t get a Golden Globes bounce and “Bohemian Rhapsody” didn’t quite catch “A Star is Born” at the domestic box office off its own Golden Globes bounce. Still $5 million behind Bradley Cooper’s Oscar favorite.

“On the Basis of Sex,” an under-rated under-buzzed Awards Bait contender, opened wide and managed over $6 million.

“Free Solo” added a lot of screens pre-Oscar nominations, and is doing OK in the second 20, as are “The Favourite” and “Mary Queen of Scots.”

“Into the Spider-Verse” added $9 million this weekend as well.

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Preview, a terrorist attack is remembered at the “Hotel Mumbai”

Dev Patel, Armie Hammer, Jason Issacs, Nazanin Boniadi,
Anupam Kher and Natasha Liu Bordizzo star in this Mar.22 release, a nail-biting thriller built around the terrorist takeover of the Taj Mahal Hotel in November of 2008, part of a series of Pakistani backed assaults on Mumbai.

Of course, it’s a Bleecker St. release, so few will see it.

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Movie Nation goes to Mecum, the “World’s Largest Collector Car Auction”

Slated to cross the block at Mecum’s annual auction of thousands of collectible cars in Kissimmeee, Fla. Sunday. I do car shows and auctions for fun, and ran across this one movie fans might appreciate. It’s expected to go for $1 million. I have owned collector cars, and usually drive roadsters on a daily basis. My regular car mechanic has an ambulance used in many films, including “The Spirit of St. Louis.” So if you ever wonder why I pay particular attention to what the hero or villain is driving in a review of a movie, now ya know.
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Next Screening: “The Kid who Would be King”

It’s the first 2019 movie to be widely previewed for critics pre release. So Fox figures it has a winner on its hands. “Kid” who pulls the sword out of the stone in Brexit Britain features Patrick Stewart and opens Jan. 25th. Fingers crossed.

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BOX OFFICE: Kevin Hart dries off “Aquaman,” “Upside” wins weekend

hart.jpgIt started life as a Weinstein Co. holiday season project, and premiered at Toronto in 2017.

And we all know what happened to the Weinstein Co., and the Weinstein who ran it.

But no matter. STX picked up “The Upside” in the “Harvey’s Going to Jail Fire Sale” and damned if this Kevin Hart/Bryan Cranston remake of “Les Intouchables” (“The Intouchables”), a French film based on a true story, didn’t win the box office on its opening weekend.

A decent Thursday “preview” night and big Friday are pointing towards a $19-20 million weekend for “The Upside.” 

Reviews weren’t dazzling, and perhaps we’re seeing the impact of Kevin Hart’s homophobic jokes/tweets, that Oscar host blowback and marathon of apologizing he’s been subjected to (with varying degrees of sincerity). So it isn’t a big opening number by Kevin Hart standards.

That’s enough to dethrone Warners’ “Aquaman,” after Jason Momoa and James Wan’s blockbuster has dominated weekends for a solid month. “Aquaman” won’t clear $16.

“A Dog’s Way Home,” a film from the author of “A Dog’s Purpose” and the upcoming “A Dog’s Journey,” the Nicholas Sparks of We Love Dogs weepers, that Sony smuggled into theaters, will clear $11 million for third place.

The other wide release is “Replicas,” and it didn’t do the trick for Keanu Reeves. A critically-trashed piece of trash sci-fi poppycock, it didn’t even make the top ten — $2.4 million.

“On the Basis of Sex” may not have Oscar buzz, but it is safely within the Top Ten on its first weekend of truly wide release — a $6 million weekend.

“Green Book” is on a lot more theaters this weekend, thanks to its Golden Globes wins — picture, supporting actor and screenplay.

It isn’t making a lot more money, nor is Annapurna’s wide release of “If Beale Street Could Talk.” Both are Oscar contenders, neither came close to cracking the top ten, this weekend. At least “Green Book” made a healthy return back in the fall when it first opened.

“Bohemian Rhapsody” closed the gap with “A Star is Born,” box office bucks-wise, with a decent week and wider release this weekend — another $3 million, putting it on the cusp of $200 million.


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Movie Review: Accept no substitute, even though Keanu likes to make “Replicas”


It’s never too early in the year for the first seriously silly sci-fi poppycock to crawl out of Hollywood.

“Replicas” takes that title this year, a banal, thinly-scripted thriller about an amoral scientist (Keanu Reeves) who loses his family in a car wreck, but “brings them back” because he has the technology at his disposal, some of the know-how, dealing with neural pathways and transferring the contents of one brain to another — and an easily-bullied colleague (Thomas Middleditch, best known as a TV pitchman these days) who is a master of cloning.

Virtually everything about this is ridiculous, from its setting — high tech Puerto Rico, which has suffered no debilitating hurricane or criminally inadequate federal response — to the “Let’s skip over that” nature of much of the beyond-cutting-edge science, to the way Reeves and Middleditch try not to crack each other up as they cash gullible Entertainment Studios’ checks and never quite figure out of if they’re playing this as cult comedy — “We’re going STRAIGHT to Hell!” — or straight up B-movie.

All that good that Reeves did his rep with the “John Wick” movies unravels in a performance that requires him to order “Proceed,” and “Do you concur?” to subordinates, as if this is the way humans actually talk, even in a no-safety-procedures privately-funded cloning and human mind transference lab run by the shady Bionyne Ltd — no doubt with lots of tax incentives money to help.

Reeves plays William Foster, who can’t quite make this business of mapping, recording and then transferring the contents of the human brain to a “synthetic”robot work.

He’s obsessed with it, and not just because his not-scary-enough boss (John Ortiz) is running out of patience and budget.

“Would you like a nice reference letter?”

Foster’s wife, Mona (Alice Eve) is a doctor who relocated with him and their three kids to hurricane-proof Puerto Rico, and she’s worried that he’s losing his ability to tell right from wrong. Playing God does that to a scientist — makes him a Mad Scientist.

He insists we’re all just “chemistry” and “neural pathways.” She’s talking about “the soul.”

Sure enough, a car accident tests her thesis and his ability to end his string of failures, as he meekly strong-arms his cloning lab pal Ed (Middleditch) into hiding the accident, disposing of the bodies and setting up a lab where they can clone and then mind-transfer that lost family.


Reeves has to play the “Sophie’s Choice” moment of this sequence — there are not enough “pods” to clone his entire family. It is not a pretty moment, on the script page or in Keanu’s clumsy hands. Much of the movie has him using a VR helmet as a computer interface, waving his hands about as he cuts and pastes and “maps.”

Middleditch aims to be comic relief with his line readings. How’s the 17 day cloning operation coming.

“They’re a foot taller!”

“Hey, let’s pump the brakes on the crazy talk, here.”

A lot of stuff aside from the science — selectively erasing memory is also touched on — is sort of skimmed-over here. Covering up the death of your family is a complicated thing, fraught with ways you can be found out, as any given week’s “Dateline NBC” will tell you.

You may bring the lovely Alice Eve, still totally “Out of Your League,” back to life. But will she be a Stepford Wife?

A review is, by nature, a collection of evaluations of what a writer, director and actors have done right and ways you’d wished they’d done better. But “Replicas” leaves one at a loss as to possible “fixes.”

It opens with what’s supposed to be shocking and scary, and moves to what should play at tragic, sympathetic, dire and emotional. And Chad St. John’s script, Jeffrey Nachamoff’s direction and Reeves’ performance just don’t deliver.

The movie is like Bill Foster’s mad experiment, a dry technical exercise with a functioning heart, but no soul whatsoever.


MPAA Rating: PG-13 for thematic material, violence, disturbing images, some nudity and sexual references

Cast: Keanu Reeves, Alice Eve, Thomas Middleditch, John Ortiz

Credits: Jeffrey Nachmanoff, script by Chad St. John. An Entertainment Studios release.

Running time: 1:47

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Movie Review: “A Dog’s Way Home”

2333242 - A Dog's Way Home

All kids need to know about “A Dog’s Way Home” is that it’s about cute puppies and kitties and a digital cougar.

I mean, there’s a reason “America’s Funniest Home Videos” has stayed on the air for decades and that cute critter videos — especially cats and dogs — dominate the Internet.

It’s got a dog experiencing her first snowfall — “Ice cream is FALLING from the sky!”

And it’s about a dog getting separated from her person and faithfully making her way from New Mexico back to Greater Denver, over a period of years, because “Go home” is the only command a dog absolutely needs to learn.

Parents need to know the story was written by the author of “A Dog’s Purpose” and this May’s “A Dog’s Journey.” And that they’re in the hands of director Charles Martin Smith of “A Dolphin’s Tale.” He would never direct anything that would harm kids.

So even though there’s not a lot of wit or joy to this picture, at least it leans on sentiment and mostly gets away with it. The power of “puppy love,” dogs’ loyalty and therapeutic value to people who are depressed (especially traumatized veterans) have to suffice.

And there is a healthy helping of “peril” as they say in the movie ratings trade. Bella, the mutt (labeled a pit bull by the City of Denver) and voice over narrated by Bryce Dallas Howard, is menaced by a corrupt dog catcher, evil developer, a pack of coyotes and many a roaming dog’s doom — traffic.

As in real life, death crosses Bella’s path.

These scenes have some serious fright to them, but they’re teachable moments and as Walt Disney knew, children can withstand a little scare, here and there, as they develop empathy.

Bella meets good people — a caring gay couple, a depressed homeless vet played by Edward James Olmos, strangers who stop their car on a freeway rather than hit a dog — and bad on her way back to VA employee Lucas (Jonah Hauer-King) and his veteran mom (Ashley Judd).

Bella is stereotyped — she only has to “look like a pit bull” to be banned in Denver (“That’s like racism for dogs!” complains Olivia (Alexandra Shipp), another VA employee who is sweet on Lucas.

“Dog’s Way Home” is aimed at the very young, so don’t expect anything challenging. It moves along but felt limp and kind of lifeless, for all the sentimentality Smith & Co. serve up.

Will Bella make it? Well, what’s the title tell you?


MPAA Rating:  PG for thematic elements, some peril and language

Cast: Ashley Judd, Bryce Dallas Howard, Edward James Olmos, Wes Studi

Credits: Directed by Charles Martin Smith, script by W. Bruce Cameron and Cathryn Michon, based on Cameron’s novel. A Sony/Columbia release

Running time: 1:36

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Next screening? “A Dog’s Way Home”

Bryce Dallas Howard voices the doggy in this “Incredible Journey” knockoff.

The author of “A Dog’s Purpose” wrote it, and reliable kids-and-animals director Charles Martin Smith (“A Dolphin’s Tale”) is behind the camera.

Yeah, the trailer seems a tad insipid, but I’m still not sure why Sony shied away from previewing this one. Must be marketing on Nickelodeon and The Disney Channel.

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Movie Review: JCVD (Van Damme) is “The Bouncer”


There’s something comforting in the way the ageing action star Jean-Claude Van Damme is wearing his years. He’s letting the mileage show, and not losing a lot of sleep about the fact that his punches aren’t what they once seemed to be, his kicks not quite the fight-ending footwork they used to be.

The “Muscles from Brussels” is well-cast as “The Bouncer,” a Belgian thriller (in French, Flemish and English) tailor-made for a world weary man of violence. The thriller, about a nightclub bouncer with a mysterious past caught between the local mobster he works for and blackmailing cops who want a piece of that hoodlum, isn’t all that. But Van Damme’s screen presence carries it as far as it goes, even if that isn’t all the way to a satisfying finish line.

“Lukas” (the film’s title in the rest of the world) is living in his native Belgium, a single dad raising a young daughter (Alice Verset) on a the salary he earns at a local nightbclub.

He spends his evenings breaking up fights, picking up ODs, defending waitresses and generally cleaning up the mayhem in the maelstrom of thumping techno in a club illuminated in flashes of blue and grey.

He injures a guy who was shoving a waitress around and loses his job. But his younger got-your-back boss (the rapper Kaaris, an arresting presence) knows of “this strip club in Ixelles.” Lukas has, at least an interview.

Here’s the first JCVD moment in “Bouncer.” Lukas shows up at the Funny Pony, is led to the basement where there are many other candidates for the job.

“It’s simple,” the boss (Kevin Janssens) growls. “The last man standing gets the job.”

Lukas is bloodied and dropped in the brawl that follows. But never count out the Muscles from Brussels.

Things turn complicated when the cops want to ask him questions about losing that previous job. Charges have been filed, and the police notice this Lukas is a man without a past, whose daughter is in private school under a false name.

“Who are you hiding from?

It’s OK, the EU agent (Sami Bouajila) assures him. Inexplicably, based on the accident that happened to the punk in the club, the EU special police want Lukas on their team and are willing to blackmail him — get the charges dropped — to get him to agree to it.

They want to know what the ruthless, mob-connected club owner (Sam Louwyck) is up to.

And Jan, that club owner, has his own questions of his new employee.

“Where are you from? Nobody knows you. You have one number in your phone.”

He, too, is instantly impressed with Lukas, entrusting him to guard the valuable Italian blonde (Sveva Alviti, given too little to do), bringing Lukas along for the hard jobs — kidnapping the expert drug cooker, etc.


The plot is strictly hash, with coincidences, obvious clues and twists we see coming, with a couple of half-speed fights and half-hearted shootouts and car chases tossed in for variety.

The director gave the world “The Assault” and “The Crew” and the screenwriter scripted “The Night Eats the World.” So as we say in English, not Flemish or French, “It is what it is.”

But Van Damme, wearing a hoodie over a hoodie in most scenes, eyes cast down, staying on task, is a mesmerizing presence at the heart of it all. He’s not just playing a guy who has seen it all before, fought his way through this sort of thing too many times to count.

That’s sort of who he is now, a grizzled, melancholy tough guy — at least in the movies.

He was never Mr. One-Liner, never quite Stallone or Statham or the rest, even as they all aged into action heroes who relied on prop guns instead of fight choreography to get by.

And unlike the rest, he’s letting the years and miles show even if the movies shrink to fit his diminished screen profile as he does.


MPAA Rating:  R for violence, language and brief nudity/sexuality

Cast: Jean-Claude Van Damme, Sami Bouajila, Sveva Alviti, Alice Verset, Kaaris, Kevin Janssens

Credits: Directed by Julien Leclercq, written by Jérémie Guez. A Blue Fox release.

Running time: 1:34



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Preview, Netflix reunited Jake Gyllenhaal and Rene Russo for a horrific spoof of the art biz — “Velvet Buzzsaw”

What’s great, worth going to see and buying? What’s hot in the art world, worth investing in?

Whatever we tell you is, darling.

“Velvet Buzzsaw” is a satiric thriller from Dan Gilroy (“Nightcrawler”) about a new “discovery,” already dead and thus valuable to art dealers and collectors, whose paintings and other works exert a murderous influence over those who come into contact with them.

“We’re trending on Instagram!”

Love Gyllenhaal’s eyesight-challenged taste-setter in this, and yes — he’s re-teamed with Rene Russo, his “Nightcrawler” object of desire, for it.

Toni Collette and John Malkovich also star in the film, in Netflix and select theaters on Feb. 1.


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