Wednesday, July 31, 2013

The Godfather review

So much anticipation. When I sat down to watch Francis Ford Coppola's classic, The Godfather, I thought that I knew what to expect. I had seen bits and pieces of the famous mob moves on TV (GoodFellas, Scarface, The Departed) and I really expected The Godfather to be just a mob movie, but a great one. And I must say that after watching the film in all three hours of its glory, I was surprised. Surprised, because The Godfather was completely, totally different from anything that I expected. It was unlike anything I had ever seen. It's definitely a gangster movie in some aspects, but anyone going into this movie expecting a bunch of brutal violence is not going to get it. In a lot of ways, The Godfather is a small family drama played out on an epic scale. I'm not quite sure the film met my sky-high expectations, but in a lot of ways, The Godfather is the best, most complete, dynamic story ever put on celluloid. Watching Michael Corleone's evolution from beginning to end is just amazing.

The Godfather is the story of a Mafia family called the Corleones. They are led by their patriarch, Don Vito Corleone (Marlon Brando). It's the wedding of his daughter (Talia Shire) and we are introduced to all the characters. Michael (Al Pacino) is the war hero who wants no part in the family business. Tom Hagen (Robert Duvall) is the family's adopted son and lawyer who does a lot of the legal work for Vito. Sonny (James Caan) is the family hot-head, and Vito's right-hand man (and son). Kay Adams (Diane Keaton) is Michael's girlfriend who is shocked by the way that the Corleone family does business. When Vito denies a narcotics dealer, a gangland war erupts and prompts the rise of a new Don, a powerful, evil force to be reckoned with in the Corleone family: Michael. 

The Godfather is pure and simple, one of the most epic sagas I have ever seen. While it doesn't feel epic in scope necessarily: the gangland war is mostly twists and turns; the way that the film spans eight years and how the arcs of multiple characters feel complete is what makes the film epic. It's a three hour film that flies by pretty fast and a lot of the times with pure tension or intrigue. 

The performances are all stellar. Standouts for me are Al Pacino and Marlon Brando. Pacino's performance comes through better in Part II, where he has fully encompassed his evil character, but he shines in this one too through the evolution of Michael Corleone. However, there is a reason that Brando's performances is considered one of the best of all time. You can't look away when he's on screen and it's method acting at its best. 

While The Godfather is an extremely well-written, well-made saga of epic proportions that is one of the most complete stories ever made, I'm not going to say that my expectations didn't get in the way of my full enjoyment of this film. I had the highest of expectations and there is no way that this film could have ever in a million years, met them on first watch. It's story time. As many of you devout readers know, I went on a bit of a classic movie binge in early 2012. During that time, I watched Casablanca. On first watch, I thought that it was good, but nothing overly special. How wrong I was. Casablanca, after numerous rewatches, is now my favorite film. True story. 

However, the pacing in The Godfather was a bit slow at times. Part of me thought that it was a good thing, but part of me thought that it was painfully slow at times. It builds the story up nicely and does its job well but there could have been a bit more excitement. However, after taking a break, I watched the last two hours in complete succession and didn't want to stop. It was excellent. 

The Godfather is a must-watch for anyone who wants to be a true cinephile. While I can't say that it's a perfect film, it sure is a great story. Plus, there are some really well-edited sequences (see: the killings at the end of the film). I was completely blind-sided by The Godfather. It was so different and it was an odd mix of several genres and styles that I had seen before. However, there is no denying its originality and brilliance and I look forward to watching this again and again for years to come. 

THE FINAL GRADE:  A-

Sunday, July 28, 2013

"The Wolverine" underwhelms, "The Conjuring" holds strong, "Fruitvale Station" impresses

Going into this weekend, the talk of the town was how Fox's The Wolverine would finally save the blockbuster season after a string of big-budget underperformers (Pacific Rim) and straight-up flops (R.I.P.D.). Variety had written a piece about how The Wolverine would open to around $75-$80 million. In last week's box office report, I predicted the film would open to $92 million. And reviews were very strong for the film, at 68% on Rotten Tomatoes. Then something happened that made the film just fall on its face. A lot of people are saying that The Wolverine's weekend box office was just a tad underwhelming. I think that it's a huge miss by Fox. While they certainly are building momentum for what is sure to be an event picture in next year's X-Men: Days of Future Past, Fox suffered a major misstep with The Wolverine. This is a film led by the most famous mutant in Fox's catalog, with a major star in Hugh Jackman, and Fox just screwed up. The Wolverine opened to $55 million this weekend, which is a solid start, but is nearly $30 million less than 2009's X-Men: Origins- Wolverine and the exact same total as 2011's X-Men: First Class, which was a prequel with no recognizable stars.

I think that Fox over-estimated how popular the character was. I saw little television marketing for the film beyond a TV spot and some Red Robin commercials. While the film received an "A-" Cinemascore, I have a feeling that this film will gross no higher than $140 million when all is said and done. It has pretty direct competition for two weeks. Plus, I haven't recommended the film to anyone as I believe that it is by far the worst film in the X-Men franchise (read my review here). I think that word-of-mouth might screw this one up, especially if 2 Guns and Elysium break out. Fox better cross their fingers that Days of Future Past is a hit, otherwise, they might just be better off selling the mutants back to Marvel. 

In second place was horror breakout The Conjuring (I still haven't seen the film, partially because I'm too scared to), with a fantastic 47% drop for a $22.1 million weekend. That brings the film up to a total gross of $83.8 million, which means that it will have no trouble flying to $120 million or higher. Warner Bros. and New Line really have something with this franchise. Despicable Me 2 continued its impressive run in third place with another $16 million. This weekend, the film crossed $300 million, a milestone that only five other animated films have managed to reach. Despicable Me 2 has grossed $306 million in the US so far. 

Turbo also managed to hold strong this weekend with a fourth place finish and $13.3 million. The $135 million budgeted animated film has grossed $55.7 million so far and despite a 37% drop this weekend, it will still struggle to reach $100 million. Grown Ups 2 held strong once again with a fifth place finish and another $11.5 million weekend. That's a solid 42% drop for the comedy that has now grossed $101 million. Red 2 also held strong in sixth place with a $9.4 million weekend. The action comedy has grossed $35 million so far. I don't think that we'll be seeing a Red 3 unless the international grosses are extremely strong. 

Pacific Rim continued to plummet at the box office as it finished in seventh place this weekend with another $7.5 million weekend and a 52% drop. The mega-budget film has grossed $84 million in the US. The Heat finished in eighth place this weekend with another $6.8 million. The comedy smash has now grossed $141 million. And rounding out the top ten, we had R.I.P.D. in ninth place with another $5.8 million for a $24 million total and Fruitvale Station in tenth with an impressive $4.6 million in wide release. 

Next week sees the release of 2 Guns and The Smurfs 2. Here are some early predictions for the box office:

1. 2 Guns- $42.2 million
2. The Wolverine- $27.4 million
3. The Smurfs 2- $25.3 million ($41.2 million 5-day)
4. The Conjuring- $13.4 million
5. Despicable Me 2- $10.7 million
6. Turbo- $8.1 million
7. Grown Ups 2- $6.9 million
8. Red 2- $6.1 million
9. Pacific Rim- $4.5 million
10. The Heat- $4.2 million


Friday, July 26, 2013

The Wolverine review

The most inconsistent franchise in the movie world, the X-Men have brought us some gems (2011''s X-Men: First Class, one of my favorite films) and some lesser works (2000's X-Men, 2006's X-Men: The Last Stand). So when there's a new X-Men movie in town, you never know what you're going to get. I went into this week's The Wolverine with optimism, as someone who likes the character, and as someone who actually liked X-Men: Origins- Wolverine. Plus, I enjoy movies set in Japan typically. The trailers for James Mangold's superhero flick have promised the film that will FINALLY fully delve into the psyche of a man that is immortal. A film that will push him to the limits of his ability and strength. A movie that would take away his immortality. Well, I'm here to tell you that The Wolverine is not about that. At all.

The real story of The Wolverine has elements of the story hinted at in the trailers, but never goes through with it. After the events of X-Men: The Last Stand, Logan (Hugh Jackman) is hiding out in the Canadian woods, having nightmares about how he murdered his old love, Jean Gray (Famke Janssen) and only returning to civilization when he has to. However, Logan is soon approached by Yukio (Rila Fukushima), the adopted daughter of Yashida (Hal Yamanouchi), a man that Logan saved during WWII. Yashida wants to repay Logan for saving him before he dies so he offers to get rid of his immortality. He also appoints Logan as the protector of his daughter, Mariko (Tao Okamato). Soon Logan's flesh becomes weak and he goes on the run, stopping at nothing to protect Mariko and find out what happened to his body.

And that's just the half of it. While many websites have proclaimed this film "The Wolverine movie you've been waiting for!", it's not. Honestly, this movie is more about the character of Mariko than it is Logan. The whole plot of this movie is setting up a relationship between the two characters, which is fine. It's perfectly fine, and often interesting, if a comic book film focuses on relationships. The Spider-Man films prove that they can be very entertaining. But The Wolverine is the textbook example of how focusing on relationships over plot can be really, really bad. There is no need for Mariko to be in this movie. There is no need for all the villains and plot baggage she carries along with her. She is a completely useless character.

However, besides plot, it isn't all bad. The style of the film is really spectacular. The Wolverine is set in Japan and features lots of stunning shots that look right out of The Last Samurai. It's spectacular cinematography and I love movies that are set in Japan and look like that. Just a weird thing of mine. Secondly, the action is really good. The first few action scenes in Tokyo, when I still cared what was going on in the movie, are really great. The third act has some impressive action, but once again, like Man of Steel, if your plotting and story lose me, I really don't care about your film's action. Take notice directors of Hollywood.

In addition, the performances are solid. Hugh Jackman is solid as usual, but in the climax of the film, I really felt worn down by his character. I was just tired of the screaming, the grunting, the yelling. Jackman is a great actor and I hated to see him reduced to that. He has some great lines and some great character moments, but the Wolverine's welcome has worn down a bit. I hope X-Men: Days of Future Past can do something good with the character. However, there were two other performances I wish to point out. Rila Fukushima is great. She's very entertaining and if the movie had just focused on her and Logan traveling through Japan, it would have been much better. Also, while he is barely in the movie, Hiroyuki Sanada has great screen presence and I really wish that he was in more films.

Also, I was very engaged by the first forty five minutes or so. When it was Logan, and Yukio, and Yashida himself, I was very engaged. The first few action scenes were very exciting. Then I saw where the movie was going with its plot and just sunk into my theater seat in frustration. Wolverine is now some protector? I thought this movie was about him, not some Japanese lady?

But when you look past the technical material, The Wolverine starts to fall apart. I plan on posting a spoiler review later in the week to delve deep into the story and point out how stupid it is, but for now, I will just say that it's so muddled, so full of characters, that it is borderline incomprehensible. Other people may not feel that way, but I was just so riddled with frustration. And the movie makes you ask so many questions, and never seems to give the answers. That doesn't make it more interesting, that makes it stupid. The producers tried to take a simple plot and add a love interest (because it's not a superhero without a love interest!) and made a bad film. It's as simple as that.

In addition, The Wolverine screws itself over by adding a bunch of characters who are explained in one word sentences. Literally. Logan asks Yukio at least six times: "Who's that?". And she replies: "That's blah blah blah." And we're supposed to remember them. Yeah, right. Plus, there could have been good villains in this movie, but they chose to put in a guy with a bow and arrow and Viper. Seriously, Viper is the worst villain in comic-book movie history. The absolute worst. There's no method to her madness.

When The Wolverine is focuses solely on the character of Wolverine/Logan, it's good. When it gets into the meat of the plot, it is bad. I don't know how else to put it. As I said, I was very much into this movie for the first hour. I could see where it was going, and I liked where it was going. However, there were a few tidbits that hinted at a plot that would be much less entertaining. And of course, the film just has to go the route of being boring. It just has to. Whoever wrote this film needs to be fired. Because there is so much good stuff going on. There is so much to like about this movie. The actors have charisma. Hugh Jackman is great. Rila Fukushima is great. The action is stunning. The setting is perfect. The style is great. Everything is good about this movie expect one thing. Unfortunately, that thing matters above all else. Story. The story in The Wolverine is muddled as all get-out. There were times when I wasn't even sure why anything was happening. I'm not sure if it was from shock, that the film hadn't gone the route I expected, or if it was just a poorly told story. It was just baffling. A total miscalculation by screenwriters Mark Bomback and Scott Frank.

Another issue that is pervasive throughout all the X-Men films is that they pack the films with so many different character threads that you can't always keep up. But, they're fast paced fun, so it's easy to get wrapped up in the plot. But in The Wolverine, the middle act is so slow and that's when all the confusion comes in. That's where the bad part comes in. And it just kills this movie.

That's what The Wolverine is. A total miscalculation. What should have been a cool, simple story told with visual flair and action packed fun, is ruined by a dumb love interest and muddy plotting with a bunch of characters none of us give a crap about. Just bad. But, hey, the fanboys in my theater seemed to love it, so the movie has that going for it. But still, skip this one. You can live without it. See something else. The Wolverine isn't a movie I will actively stop people from seeing as I think that the action is good, but it doesn't get a recommendation and it's easily forgettable.

THE FINAL GRADE:  C-                                           (4.9/10)


Thursday, July 25, 2013

The Way, Way Back review

The coming-of-age movie, it seems, was most popular in the 1980's, when director John Hughes was around making classics like Sixteen Candles and The Breakfast Club. After Hughes death, very few directors seemed to want to make movies about the teenage experience. But, starting in 2011, that all seemed to change. It took a long time, but with JJ Abrams' Super 8, the genre started to creep back into the mainstream. In 2012, Steven Chbosky's The Perks of Being A Wallflower became the first film to truly bring back the coming-of-age movie. And now, in 2013, there are three films from Sundance that feel like they could have been made by the master himself: The Kings of Summer, The Way, Way Back, and The Spectacular Now. One of those films, The Way, Way Back, was directed by Nat Faxon and Jim Rash, who wrote Alexander Payne's The Descendants, one of my favorite films. They have an uncanny ability to blend the dark and light together and make a film that is so uncomfortably fun to watch. So it's safe to say that I was really excited for The Way, Way Back.

The Way, Way Back tells the story of Duncan (Liam James), a fourteen year-old introvert who is forced by his mother (Toni Collette) to take a trip with her and her boyfriend Trent (Steve Carell) to a small beach town. Duncan hates Trent and can't stand any of his drunken, pot-smoking friends (Allison Janney, Rob Coddry, Amanda Peet) either. However, Duncan grows out of his shell when he meets Owen (Sam Rockwell) and starts to hang out at the waterpark Owen operates. Soon, Duncan is falling in love with Susanna (AnnaSophia Robb) and becoming himself in way that he never has before all thanks to Owen. 

I love Faxon and Rash's The Descendants (they wrote it), as I previously said. I think that it's tragic, funny and sweet, all at the same time. It's so genius in its mixing of tropical paradise and crushing despair that you just can't help but be hooked. In The Way, Way Back, Faxon and Rash attempt to find a similar tone and sometimes do achieve their goal. But you just can't help but think that they did it much better in The Descendants. The Way, Way Back is a comedy with a dark final 30 minutes. The Descendants is a dramedy. There is the fundamental difference between these two films. Faxon and Rash, while charismatic on screen, just don't add that same blend of drama and comedy to their directorial debut as they did to their Oscar-winning screenplay. 

I'm sorry, this might get a little old, but I will keep comparing this to The Descendants because I know what these two guys can do and this movie really let me down. It's still entertaining and passably fun, but it's not the same kind of achievement that the 2011 film was. 

In addition to tonal issues, The Way, Way Back has some major script problems. The romantic angle between Duncan and Susanna is way underdeveloped. I mean, it's just crazy underdeveloped. I really think that it would have helped if Faxon and Rash had just shaved that entire sub-plot off the film. There's no need for it to be there, and it didn't enhance the story at all. There's the problem. This movie has a lot of stuff that doesn't enhance the story at all. For the first hour, every adult in the film is completely wasted. It's funny at first but it gets tedious after a while. There's no need for it to be there. It would have been more fun if all the adults put down the kids all the time. Steve Carell's Trent is the closest to entertaining of all the adults in the film because he's just a jerk. The others are just drunk, which isn't entertaining. 

However, in addition to a slow start, those are the only real problems with The Way, Way Back. They're big problems (if script and tone don't bother you, you'll love this), but they're still the only problems that the film has. The acting is spot-on. Sam Rockwell is the best thing about this entire film, followed closely by Steve Carell. Liam James is the centerpiece of the entire movie and he is good, but a little too mopey at times. Toni Collete gives surprising depth to her character and Faxon and Rash themselves are good in their roles. 

In addition, all the stuff at the waterpark is great. It's a lot of fun to watch Duncan come out of his shell and the character of Owen is really entertaining. Another problem I had is that we don't know a ton about the characters. I thought that some were very interesting and it was a shame that I didn't learn more about them. However, it was nice to just let the relationships develop and not worry about back-story so much. The central characters of the film are very entertaining and you do care about them in the end. 

The film also has a very subtle way of making you care about its characters. I liked Duncan, and I liked Owen, but I didn't know that I cared about what happened to them until the spectacular end of the film. The film is subtle and doesn't go too over-the-top in trying to make you care about everyone involved. 

However, despite a lot of good stuff, I just wasn't all that engaged by The Way, Way Back. It's a Sundance comedy through and through. It has cute characters and a cute setting and it's fun. That's about the best I can say about it. I'm not saying that every film has to have a hard edge to it, but The Way, Way Back wants to have one, but doesn't have one. It wants to mix drama and comedy, but despite being the best part about the film, the dramatic edge isn't all that interesting. It's too formulaic and doesn't have enough compelling, unique things in it for me to be really wowed by it. It's too similar to almost any coming-of-age movie before it. 

The Way, Way Back is a fun little movie that you won't remember a week from now as it's too soft, too cute and not as memorable as any other dramedy of the last few years. I know that this might have been a standard too high for The Way, Way Back to meet but I know what Faxon and Rash are capable of. I know that they can mix the two genres together with awkward ease. And in The Way, Way Back, they kind of dropped the ball on that. 

THE FINAL GRADE:  C+                                          (6.4/10)


Wednesday, July 24, 2013

New Trailers: "Gravity" terrifies, "47 Ronin" impresses

I figured that I would post these two trailers as I am very much looking forward to both of these movies. Gravity is my most anticipated for the rest of the year and 47 Ronin could really be a good action film with a distinctive, fun style. Here are the trailers for Gravity (Warner Bros. released two):







I loved the second clip. Loved it. These really aren't trailers, they're clips. The second clip is everything I was hoping for in these movie. The intensity. The horror. The frighteningly shrill music. I loved it. The first thing that crossed my mind was 2001: A Space Odyssey. That's great company for any film to be in. The first trailer is impressive from a technical perspective, but it gets one thing wrong. To quote Roger Ebert, the beauty in 2001: A Space Odyssey, a film which Gravity will inevitably be compared to in my mind, is that the music exists outside of the film. It enhances it. That's why I thought that the second trailer really worked. The first trailer tries to make it thrilling, when it already is on its own. However, the second trailer had me really excited and I think that there is still more to come.

Now, here's the trailer for Keanu Reeves' 47 Ronin:


I liked it. I liked the look and the style. It looks fun. However, I'm just not sure if it isn't too weird for audiences. It looked a little too weird for me. Universal better market the heck out of this thing, because apparently it cost $200 million.

Let's hope that both succeed for the sake of big-budget sci-fi/fantasy!

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Toronto International Film Festival 2013 announces amazing lineup

Unfortunately, I will not be attending the Toronto International Film Festival this year. But with the absolutely amazing list of titles that have been announced today, which festival director Cameron Bailey is only 1/4 of the lineup, I really wish I was there. Last year had a great group of title including Looper, Argo, Silver Linings Playbook, The Master, Anna Karenina, Cloud Atlas, The Place Beyond The Pines, The Sessions and many more. But this year's line-up could be considered more impressive. Here are a list of the highlights of the lineup in the categories Tiff has put them in.

OPENING NIGHT FILM- September 5

THE FIFTH ESTATE- dir. Bill Condon

Benedict Cumberbatch, Daniel Bruhl, Stanley Tucci

GALA PREMIERES

MANDELA: LONG WALK TO FREEDOM- dir. Justin Chadwick

Idris Elba, Naomie Harris

AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY- dir. John Wells

Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts, Benedict Cumberbatch, Ewan McGregor, Abigail Breslin

RUSH- dir. Ron Howard

Chris Hemsworth, Daniel Bruhl, Olivia Wilde

KILL YOUR DARLINGS- dir. John Krokidas

Daniel Radcliffe, Michael C. Hall, Dane DeHaan, Elizabeth Olsen, David Cross


SPECIAL PRESENTATIONS

12 YEARS A SLAVE- dir. Steve McQueen

Chiwetel Ejiofor, Brad Pitt, Paul Dano, Michael Fassbender, Benedict Cumberbatch

DALLAS BUYERS CLUB- dir. Jean-Marc Vallee

Matthew McConaughey, Jennifer Garner, Jared Leto

GRAVITY- dir. Alfonso Cuaron

George Clooney, Sandra Bullock

PRISONERS- dir. Denis Villaneuve

Hugh Jackman, Jake Gyllenhaal, Paul Dano, Viola Davis, Terrence Howard

LABOR DAY- dir. Jason Reitman

Kate Winslet, Josh Brolin, Tobey Maguire, Clark Gregg

DON JON- dir. Joseph Gordon-Levitt

Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Scarlett Johannson

THE PAST- dir. Asgar Farsadi

Berenice Bejo

In addition to that spectacular list of titles were smaller films like the Palme d'Or winner Blue is the Warmest Color, Keanu Reeves' Man of Tai Chi, David Gordon Green's Joe, and Atom Egoyan's The Devil's Knot.

It's a crazy list of titles and it's just a quarter of what's to come. Look for a lot more in the coming weeks.


Sunday, July 21, 2013

"The Conjuring" leads, "R.I.P.D.", "Turbo" flop hard

In a surprisingly strong weekend at the box office, we had four newcomers along with three films in expanded limited release, and the total box office ended up at $194 million. That's down from last year, but that was the same weekend that The Dark Knight Rises opened and did huge business so it's really not that surprising. The #1 film this weekend was James Wan's new horror film The Conjuring. I was planning on seeing it this weekend, but I didn't get to it. It's been a mess on my end and I'm really behind on films that I need to see. I will get you reviews of The Conjuring, The Way, Way Back, The Wolverine and possibly something else over the next week. I'll get it done. There are just too many films to see. Anyways, The Conjuring took in $41.5 million this weekend. That's the highest opening of all-time for an original supernatural horror flick. In addition, The Conjuring received an "A-" Cinemascore from audiences which means they liked it. Now there's talk of turning the film into a franchise and making lots of sub-par sequels. Woo-hoo!

Second place belonged to Universal's Despicable Me 2, which is still going strong at the box office. It took in another $25 million which means that it's total gross is $276 million. That's a lot of cash. And Universal is going to need it after R.I.P.D. But we'll get to that in a minute. In addition to all the money that Despicable Me 2 has made in America, they're also making a lot overseas with a total worldwide gross of $584.5 million. Crazy. 

In third place, Turbo continued to prove that the family dollar rules the box office, but it also proved that it only stretches so far. Turbo opened on Wednesday and through five days, the film has made $31 million, including $21.5 million over the weekend. It did receive an "A" Cinemascore, but they better hope that that film gets good word of mouth, because if it doesn't, Dreamworks Animation is in real trouble. They have to stop making $135 million dollar films. With an unsurprisingly good hold, Grown Ups 2 finished in fourth place with $20 million. That's a solid 50% drop, but the film has so far made $79.5 million. That film will have no troubles crossing $100 million. 

Red 2 debuted in fifth place this weekend with $18.5 million. That's a weak debut for an $85 million film, but the "B+" Cinemascore promises decent word-of-mouth. However, unless the film does really well overseas, it could possibly lose money. Pacific Rim held steady with a $15.9 million total gross over the weekend in sixth place. The mega-budgeted actioner has now grossed $68 million in the US and $178 million worldwide. It's going to lose money, but it will be more like Cowboys and Aliens than John Carter. 

Speaking of flops, the biggest one of the year hit theaters this weekend in the form of R.I.P.D. The Men in Black rip-off grossed only $12.7 million, which is stunningly low for a $130 million film. Even worse, R.I.P.D. has only grossed $19 million worldwide. Luckily, Universal has Fast and Furious 6 and Despicable Me 2 to back them up. Otherwise, they'd be in big trouble. I typically go to all the big-budget extravaganza's and even I didn't check out R.I.P.D. so that's saying something. 

And to round out the top ten, we had The Heat in 8th place with $9.3 million to raise its total to $129 million. World War Z was in 9th place with $5.2 million to raise its total to $186 million. And Monsters University was in tenth place with $2 million to raise its total to $248.9 million. 

Now for next weekend: The Wolverine is the big wide release but The Way, Way Back is expanding and so is Fruitvale Station. The To-Do List is also hitting several theaters. Here are my early predictions:

1. The Wolverine- $92.3 million
2. The Conjuring- $23 million
3. Despicable Me 2- $16 million
4. Turbo- $14.6 million
5. Grown Ups 2- $11 million
6. Red 2- $10 million
7. The Way, Way Back- $8.7 million
8. Pacific Rim- $8.1 million
9. The Heat- $6.1 million
10. The To-Do List- $5.9 million


Saturday, July 20, 2013

DC Bombshell: Batman/Superman in 2015, Flash in 2016, Justice League in 2017

With a dismal set of movies in theaters right now and not much more hitting theaters before the end of summer (The Wolverine and Elysium are highlights), all eyes are on San Diego Comic-Con to see what's coming next in the world of geek cinema. It's been uneventful over the last few days with the panel highlights through Friday were Sony's The Amazing Spider-Man 2 presentation and Summit/Lionsgate's Divergent and Ender's Game. But that all changed Saturday with the Warner Bros. panel.

This was reported earlier today but everyone was waiting for an official announcement from Warner Bros. and Zack Snyder themselves. After presentations from Gravity, Godzilla, The Seventh Son, The Lego Movie, and 300: Rise of An Empire, Warner Bros. sent Zack Snyder on stage to announce something.

That something was a Superman/Batman team-up.

Snyder first read this quote: "I want you to remember Clark in all the years to come. In all your private moments. In all the years to come, my hand at your throat. I want you to remember, this one man who beat you. " Apparently, that's a line from Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns. Immediately, fans knew what was going down and then this popped up on screen.


BATMAN/SUPERMAN TEAM-UP IN 2015!!!!!!!!

Sorry, I geeked out a little bit. As someone who is in the minority in not liking Man of Steel, I'm much more excited for this than I should be. But, my problem in Man of Steel was not character related. My problem was useless, stylistic destruction. I will watch Man of Steel again eventually and I probably will like it more if I watch as a comic-book fan. However, as a movie from a critic's perspective, Man of Steel is not impressive.

But still, I love Batman. I love Superman. I want this movie to be good. I want this movie to be great. I hope we can get it.

BUT WAIT, THERE'S MORE!!!

According to the Hollywood Reporter, Warner Bros. also has plans for a Flash movie in 2016 and a Justice League film in 2017. Nice. No official reports however, so I don't want to get too excited.

The Way, Way Back: A Screening Story

I know that earlier today in my review schedule, I said that I could possibly see The Way, Way Back today and review it. I decided that I would check it out today, and I headed over to my local art house theater to watch it. It was a 2:00 PM showing and I got there just in time. The previews started and in the top right corner of the screen was a yellow box that was blurring out the top right corner of the screen. It ran through Regal's little roller-coaster introduction and through the first preview for Baggage Claim. Eventually the manager came in and said that he would go see what was going on and that it would be fixed in six or seven minutes. Yeah, right.

Six or seven minutes passed and the film popped back on (at the beginning of course). So we go through Regal's roller coaster thing again and guess what! The box was still there! So the screen fades to black again. By this time, it was 2:15 and the movie was supposed to begin at 2:00. I waited patiently. I was fine waiting, I just wanted to see the movie. After another seven, eight minutes, the movie started back up again. It started pretty good. There wasn't much in terms of yellow popping up on the screen, but it was better. Of course, it went through all the previews again. The manager eventually came in and said that he would be handing out free passes and that you could either stay and watch the movie or leave and either way you would get a refund. He said that the projector needed to "warm up" and that he recommended staying through the previews because a technician was coming. We did. Nobody in the theater left. All the previews finished and the movie started.

The movie still had the yellow box on the side. There were still flashes of blue. I didn't care at that point, I just wanted to see the movie. But then the screen turned off again. The technician had arrived and had to fix the problem from the beginning. And so, I left. I did not have the energy to sit through four boring previews again. We got our free tickets and left.

I've gotta give the theater credit for handling the situation well and informing us what was going on, but I went with another person and for both people, they only gave one ticket. Basically, they gave us a refund and nothing for our inconvenience of having to sit there with a broken projector. Thanks, Regal. I'll be filling out one of their surveys this time around. I should have gotten at least two pairs of tickets. But, hey, whatever.
Everyone at the theater was very nice and the manager did a great job informing us. I just bet that giving out one free ticket is one of Regal's policies.

I'll be seeing The Way, Way Back next Friday or Saturday so just bear with me. I could have reviews of The Lone Ranger and RIPD for you tomorrow.

Updated July Review Schedule

I got a few out on time, but I'm still working on cranking out reviews.

THE WAY, WAY BACK- July 20 OR July 27



THE CONJURING- July 21



TURBO- July 22, 23, 24, or 25



THE WOLVERINE- July 26



R.I.P.D.- July 26



TBA REVIEWS

FRUTIVALE STATION




Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Previewing Summer 2014: After a summer of big-budget successes and failures, will it be a return to normalcy in 2014?

This article was written in response to The Hollywood Reporter's July 17 article: "Too Many Tentpoles: Hollywood's Homegrown Summer Movie Crisis"

The summer is usually the season for executives to be happy. They put out a ton of big-budget tentpoles, typically three or four per studio, and they all make hundreds of millions of dollars worldwide. Summer 2013 has been no different. Disney's Iron Man 3 ($1.2 billion) and Monsters University ($475 million), Universal's Fast and Furious 6 ($704 million) and Despicable Me 2 ($477 million and counting), Warner Bros.' Man of Steel ($619 million), The Hangover Part III ($347 million) and The Great Gatsby ($326 million), and Paramount's Star Trek Into Darkness ($447 million) and World War Z ($424 million) have all been huge successes for their respective studios. Would you be surprised if I told you that those films made up less than half of the nationally released summer films so far? Because it's the truth.

The market has really been thriving this summer season. Along with those big-budget tentpoles that I just listed, there have been a ton of smaller hits like Summit's Now You See Me ($186 million), Universal's The Purge ($76 million), Sony's This is The End ($97 million), and Fox's The Heat ($130 million). So with all of those smaller films raking in cash, and the tentpoles destroying the box office worldwide, what could possibly be going wrong in a summer like this? Well, there are just too many tentpoles.

The Hollywood Reporter just did something like this earlier today, so this is sort of my response to that. Here's the link to that article. There are too many films in the marketplace, and too many of them are expensive. The tentpoles I listed in the paragraph above were mostly guaranteed hits and two of them that were not will certainly become franchises (WWZ and Man of Steel). However, with all that franchise power, and some smaller films that work effectively as counterprogramming, where is the room for original films at the multiplex? There isn't. After Earth was the first major bomb of the summer with only $214 million worldwide and a big budget, but even that wasn't the worst. White House Down effectively became the second bomb for Sony (After Earth's studio) and has only made a paltry $83.4 million worldwide. Would you be shocked if I told you that $83.4 million on a $150 million budget wasn't the worst to come? Yeah, you probably would, but it happened with Disney's The Lone Ranger which has made $120 million on a $250 million budget. Now, Pacific Rim is struggling and R.I.P.D. and Turbo are looking to be in trouble, and insiders are wondering: with all the success and failure of this summer, where are we going next?

Well, before I delve into next summer's slate, I'll put some predictions out there for what lessons the studios will have learned after this massive summer

- One tentpole a week

As Warner Bros. learned with The Hangover Part III and Disney learned with The Lone Ranger, when you are going up against an established franchise film that is aiming at the same demographic, move your sorry butt to another weekend when you can make more money. I'm telling you people, this three-tentpole a week system is never going to work again. One a week, please. On a side note, this week sees four major releases.

-Original films get a maximum budget of $125 million, unless you're a superhero reboot

Look, White House Down would still be a flop if Columbia had dropped the budget and The Lone Ranger would still lose money. But Pacific Rim? If they could make that for $125 million instead of $200 million, who knows, maybe there's a Pacific Rim 2? But seriously Hollywood, leave the $250 million budgets to Nolan, Harry Potter and The Avengers.

- Spread out your tentpoles over different months and seasons

Look, if The Hunger Games proved one thing, it's that you can still have a massive franchise released in a season other than the summer and winter. Hollywood needs to take that and embrace that. If The Lone Ranger comes out in August, maybe it does better. Look, we need to stop looking at August as the dumping ground for crappy films and start looking at it as a place where legitimate summer tentpoles can be released. If Bourne and Rise of the Planet of the Apes can do it, why can't an original property thrive.

-Counter-programming is the key to success

Look, Hollywood needs to start appealing to people other than males in the summer. Everyone has said it. Women and thinking adults want to go to movies in the summer as well. There's nothing wrong with a good summer blockbuster. I'm not saying that (I love Fast and Furious 6, World War Z, Iron Man 3, and liked Star Trek Into Darkness), but eventually it becomes time for something else. Something a bit more substantial. That's why I'm excited to see The Way, Way Back. That's why I can't wait for Fruitvale Station. And the same thing can be said for the fall months, just the other way around. Why do all the movies have to be Oscar contenders?

We need more things like This is the End, The Purge, The Great Gatsby, The Heat, etc. That's why The Conjuring is going to succeed and R.I.P.D. is going to flop. It's simple people. You can't eat junk food all day without wanting something that tastes a little fresher.

- Star power is gone

Look, there's no denying that Brad Pitt helped get World War Z to the top of the box office. But was he the only reason that the movie was big? No, people like zombies. However, Johnny Depp certainly didn't help The Lone Ranger all that much. Stars just don't drive people anymore.

Now, people have been saying those things that I just listed forever. And Hollywood doesn't seem to listen. Summer 2013 has been the most crowded summer in history, and even I've missed some of the films that have been released. Now, the full schedule isn't set yet, but I want to look at summer 2014 to see if Hollywood is going to learn by next summer. Look, there were a lot of experiments this summer. Some of them worked, some of them didn't. It's that simple. It's still been a successful summer. Hollywood just needs to tweak a lot.

Looking at 2014:

It's obvious that Hollywood is finally embracing the fact that they can release big movies in seasons other than the summer. Divergent is being released in March, and so is Paramount's Noah, Warner Bros.' 300: Rise of An Empire, Disney's Muppets Most Wanted, and Dreamworks' Mr. Peabody and Sherman. Obviously, Hollywood is catching on to the fact that you can release big budget movies during March and it has slowly become the essential start of the blockbuster season.

Even more surprising however, is Hollywood's realization that April can bring successful movies as well. Disney's Captain America: The Winter Soldier is released on April 4, 2014. That really is a big step forward for Hollywood because if they realize that they can have a superhero movie open outside of summer or fall, the floodgates have been opened. And in a good way. In addition, there's Wally Pfister's directorial debut Transcendence and Fox's Rio 2. The month of April is going to become a hot spot for if those two action films can be hits. I already know that Rio 2 will do well.

May 2013 was rather balanced but I think that it even got a little crowded towards the end. May 2014 is smooth. The Amazing Spider-Man 2 starts the summer off and then the next week is a Tyler Perry movie and a Jon Favreau indie. That's a great way to counter-program the big blockbuster. Then on May 16, there's Godzilla, which is a toss-up. It's got name-brand recognition and a great cast behind it, and I personally think that it will be great, but it could be a disaster if not marketed well. The next week is X-Men: Days of Future Past, which is going to probably be one of the biggest films of the summer. The final weekend in May sees the release of The Good Dinosaur, a new Pixar movie, and Seth MacFarlane's A Million Ways to Die in the West. Boom. That's genius right there. There is absolutely no crossing over between the two films, and they both have a built in fanbase, and built in demand. May 2014 is going to be a really good month, even if it doesn't match up to 2013.

June 2013 was a smash. The most successful ever. June 2014 has the potential to match that month's total. It's like the studios never released that June could have successful movies until this year. June 2014 has Ninja Turtles, which I think will flop and Edge of Tomorrow, a Tom Cruise sci-fi vehicle, both in the first weekend of the month. If Hollywood doesn't move one, they haven't learned anything. They cross right over each other and will likely cancel each other out. The next weekend has 22 Jump Street, which fits perfectly into the summer schedule. The following weekend of June 20-22 has How To Train Your Dragon 2 and Think Like A Man Too, which both fit perfectly on one weekend. And the last weekend of June has Transformers 4. Look, if Hollywood keeps the schedule that way, they finally understand how counter-programming works.

July 2014 has a lot of tentpoles. Maleficent, Fast and Furious 7, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, Hercules: The Thracian Wars, and Jupiter Ascending. That's a lot of films. But all have their own weekend. All can make money on their own. They have room to breathe. Same with the schedule in August 2014.

The problem is, despite the more balanced scheduling of Summer 2014, it still won't gross as high as Summer 2013. There could be better films and there could be better scheduling, but Hollywood is going to need to find some other way, a balance between making a ton of money off big tentpoles and scheduling them so that they don't consume each other. It's going to be a tight-wire act, but I believe that the answer lies in Summer 2015. But that's for another day.

Sources: Box Office Mojo, Box Office, Hollywood Reporter

Note: I used italics for the first time in this post. I forgot that you were supposed to do that in the first place, so with box office posts, I'm starting to do it.



Monday, July 15, 2013

The Movie Guru's Fifteen most anticipated movies for July-December

While it has been a great blockbuster season with a lot of films that I just can't wait to buy on Blu-Ray, I think that it is time to look ahead to the rest of the year. I am getting a little worn down by the constant stream of excess in the movie world right now, but it has been a much more consistent summer than last year's dismal group of blockbusters (excluding The Avengers and The Dark Knight Rises). I just posted my best of the year so far on the site and I would say that I have four films that I will buy on Blu-Ray with two or three that I would pick up on sale out of the 18 films I have watched this year, which is a much better total than last year. But, the end of the summer season is near with only two or three big movies left and soon it will be time to head on over to the Fall season when the awards are in full swing. Here are my fifteen most anticipated films for the rest of the year:

15. NEBRASKA- November 22

Buzz on this was decent out of the Cannes Film Festival, but it's a film by Alexander Payne, the guy who made The Descendants, one of the best films of 2011 that should have won best picture. So after that long, grammatically incorrect sentence, I tell you that I am quite excited for Nebraska even if the buzz is middling.

14. CLOUDY WITH A CHANCE OF MEATBALLS 2- September 27

The first one was good, an oddly quirky animated film. With the trailer just released for the second one, I know that it will be right up my alley. Bright, colorful animation, cool concepts and just an overall sense of fun. That's why I go to animated movies and that's why I'll be going to this one.

13. THOR: THE DARK WORLD- November 8

Thor: The Dark World is the first Marvel sequel to a film other than Iron Man so it will be interesting to see how they handle it. I go see whatever Marvel does, so there is the main reason for my excitement on this one.

12. THE WORLD'S END- August 23

I have not seen any of the films in Edgar Wright's Blood and Ice Cream trilogy, but the latest trailer had me literally laughing out loud. I love Simon Pegg from Mission: Impossible and Star Trek and I think that he can really deliver a great performance. The supporting cast is fantastic as well, and the original sci-fi concept mixed with comedy has me really stoked. "Don't be daft Steve, the bible was written by Jesus!" Hilarious.

11. THE CONJURING- July 19

It's about a week from now that I'll be seeing this film and I'm already scared as all get out. The trailers are just terrifying and I know that this is the kind of horror film that I will love and one that will truly scare me. Some of my favorite films are horrors (Halloween, The Shining) and I can't wait to add another classic to that list. Clap clap.

10. THE BUTLER- August 16

I love biopics and I don't mind a really sentimental one every once in a while. Plus, The Butler feels like Forrest Gump (one of my favorite films) with a great cast. What's not exciting about that?

9. PRISONERS- September 20

Prisoners is one of those films that I had no idea existed at the beginning of the year or even the beginning of the summer, but now, is one that I'm really exited for. It looks Kubrickian in style, the plot sounds really solid and we could get another Oscar-worthy performance from Hugh Jackman.

8. SAVING MR. BANKS- December 13 (limited), December 20 (wide)

A biopic about Walt Disney, one of my favorite historical figures, telling the relationship between him and PL Travers. Just sounds like a great idea. It's a Hollywood story. I love those. It's a biopic. I love those. It's Disney. I love Disney. What could truly go wrong. Sure, it looks sappy, but that's kind of the point.

7. THE MONUMENTS MEN- December 18

The Monuments Men stars a huge cast including Matt Damon and John Goodman, is produced by the guys who made Argo, and is directed by George Clooney. Can anyone tell me what is not to like about this movie???

6. JACK RYAN- December 25

All of the good spy thrillers seem to come out around Christmas nowadays (Skyfall, Mission: Impossible- Ghost Protocol) and with that in mind, along with the great cast led by the charismatic Chris Pine, Keira Knightley, Kevin Costner, and Kenneth Branagh, there's a lot to be excited about with this film, which also happens to be directed by Branagh.

5. CAPTAIN PHILLIPS- October 11

This is the exact same time that Argo debuted last year and the awards buzz on this one is just as strong. It looks more like it will be in the vein of Zero Dark Thirty, which fits director Paul Greengrass' style better. Tom Hanks could definitely win an Oscar for his take on the title character. In addition, the trailer is stunning.

4. AMERICAN HUSTLE- December 13 (limited), December 25 (wide)

David O. Russell has become one of those directors who I see their movies no matter what. American Hustle will be no exception. It's the story of Abscam, a political scandal in the '70s and stars Bradley Cooper, Christian Bale, Jennifer Lawrence, Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Robert De Niro and more. Yeah, I'll be there.

3. INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS- December 6

The Coen brothers have made a lot of great films in the last twenty years and if the buzz out of Cannes means something, Inside Llewyn Davis will be no exception. It looks like a pitch perfect blend of mood, style and great acting and storytelling. I'm hoping for a great one with this film.

2. ANCHORMAN: THE LEGEND CONTINUES- December 20

Anchorman is one of the funniest movies of all time and hopefully the sequel can live up to the standard that the original set. However, as Arrested Development proved, sometimes you can only catch lightning in a bottle once.

1. GRAVITY- October 4

This movie could go very wrong but I'm going risky on this one. Although I didn't like Prisoner of Azkaban as much as the rest of the Harry Potter series, there is no doubt that Alfonso Cuaron is visionary director and I think that his film will suit him well. It could very well be a masterpiece. It's been getting comparisons to 2001: A Space Odyssey, which makes me really excited.

So that's it. There were a lot of films that just got cut that I'm excited for, but in the end, these are the movies that I am looking forward to the most.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

"Despicable Me 2" leads weekend, "Grown Ups 2" in second, "Pacific Rim" barely gets a pass

It was another crowded weekend at the box office with around $197 million in total grosses. And once again, Despicable Me 2 led the pack with $44.8 million, which is a 46% drop from last weekend. The animated comedy proved to have good word of mouth and has already crossed $229 million in the US. It'll be interesting to see what happens next weekend as Turbo opens on Wednesday. That film is tracking poorly in the US, and it'll be interesting to see if families go for Turbo or another round of Despicable Me 2. 

Close behind DM2 in second place was Grown Ups 2. The Adam Sandler "comedy" grossed more than the original on its opening weekend with a $42.5 million opening. That is a decent opening and enough to consider the film a success. However, audiences seemed to concur with critics on this one as Grown Ups 2 only received a "B" Cinemascore. Nonetheless, Grown Ups 2 will seem to have no problem crossing $100 million. 

In third place, after a great late showing on Thursday, Pacific Rim couldn't maintain the momentum throughout the weekend and placed in third with a solid, but unspectacular $38.3 million. The $190 million monster action flick probably needed a number closer to $50 million to be deemed a success, but this is not a flop. The day-and-date opening weekend overseas was $53 million which adds up to a $91 million opening and with an "A-" Cinemascore in the US and a lot of big markets overseas with more appeal, Pacific Rim should just barely break even. 

The Heat placed fourth this weekend with another $14 million, which was enough to cross the $100 million mark. The comedy has stayed strong through several weeks at the box office, and will likely continue to do so throughout the rest of summer. Obviously, word of mouth, and lack of female driven pictures, has benefited The Heat. In fifth place this weekend, The Lone Ranger dropped a whopping 62% and grossed another $11.1 million. The Johnny Depp-starred megaflop has grossed $71.1 million in the US so far and has not fared much better overseas. The good news for Disney lied in sixth place with Monsters University. It took in another $10.6 million this weekend to raise its total to $237 million. The animated smash should be able to hit $275 million if it stays strong. 

World War Z has slowly become the surprise hit of the summer with another $9.4 million in grosses this weekend. The zombie flick has grossed $177 million so far and should now have no problem flying past $200 million. While WWZ continued its impressive run this weekend, White House Down continued its dismal one with another $6.1 million in eighth place. The actioner has grossed $62 million so far. And rounding out the top ten were Kevin Hart: Let Me Explain in ninth with $5 million to raise its total to $26.3 and Man of Steel in tenth with $4.8 million to raise its total to $280 million. The film could inch its way to $300 million. 

Expect more strong grosses next weekend with four new wide releases and several holdovers doing good business. Here's how I think that it will play out. 

1. The Conjuring- $42.3 million
2. Turbo- $27.4 million (3-day), $45 million (5-day)
3. Despicable Me 2- $26.9 million
4. Red 2- $24 million
5. Pacific Rim- $21.8 million
6. Grown Ups 2- $21.5 million
7. R.I.P.D.- $15 million
8. The Heat- $9.7 million
9. Monsters University- $7.7 million
10. World War Z- $6.5 million


Friday, July 12, 2013

Best and Worst of 2013 so far

Alright, so with over half of 2013 done, it is time to look back over what we've seen that was great, what we've seen that was good and what we've seen that was downright awful. I have seen eighteen films this year and I'll rank them from best to worst. This is not based on the grades that I gave the films. A film that I gave an A- is far down the list simply because I didn't find it all that memorable. But it is completely out of order so don't expect a by the numbers list. Here we go:

1. FAST AND FURIOUS 6

Probably the most fun I've had in a movie theater this year, Fast and Furious 6 is a joy to watch. Beautifully choreographed action sequences, actors that are practically their characters by now and some nice touches of humor. The best of the franchise and the bar that all action has been measured up to this year.

% chance I buy it on Blu-Ray- 80%

2. ROOM 237

An extremely well-crafted documentary about one of our horror classics, Room 237 is a film that is so dense with intriguing information that you love every second of the ride. The mix of movie clips is especially well done.

% chance I buy it on Blu-Ray- 25%

3. IRON MAN 3

The best superhero film this summer, Iron Man 3 made me happy for one reason: in a lot of ways, it is entirely different from every superhero film ever made. It still has slick action scenes and a sense of character and plot, but it plays like a superhero mystery.

% chance I buy it on Blu-Ray- 95%

4. DESPICABLE ME 2

One and a half hours of pure animated delight, Despicable Me 2 is just bright, bubbly and colorful animation at its best. Add in a solid love story, those little minions and the characters you know and love and you have a thoroughly enjoyable Despicable Me sequel.

% chance I buy it on Blu-Ray: 99%

5. PACIFIC RIM

Not without its share of problems, Pacific Rim is still one of the most purely memorable films of the summer just by the fact that it has memorable characters, great action and splendid visual effects. A film that I would watch again in an instant. And will. You'll have more thoughts from me on my second go around with no expectations.

% chance I buy it on Blu-Ray- 80%

6. WORLD WAR Z

Brad Pitt's zombie drama lags in the middle but it's still a rollicking thriller that delivers on the action and on the suspense, which is something few films can balance. Good performance by him and a franchise in the making.

% chance I buy it on Blu-Ray- 75%

7. NOW YOU SEE ME

A fast-paced thriller that I'm certain would not hold up on multiple viewings is still as really terrific thriller with colorful performances and stunning suspense along with a crazy twist you don't see coming.

% chance I buy it on Blu-Ray- 30%

8. STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS

A big disappointment in my book as it was my #2 most anticipated film of the year, Star Trek Into Darkness still succeeds on the basis that it has good action sequences, fun characters and great special effects despite some villain and plot issues.

% chance I buy it on Blu-Ray- 75%

9. NO

A nice little slice of history told well by its director. The cast has good chemistry and the advertising parts are extremely entertaining. However, the lead character is a big problem: he's boring.

% chance I buy it on Blu-Ray- 1%

10. MONSTERS UNIVERSITY

Lightly fun, but a little boring at times. The animation doesn't feel as bright as it should, the characters not as funny and until the last half hour, it doesn't even feel like a Pixar movie. However, it is still entertaining enough to warrant a pass.

% chance I buy it on Blu-Ray- 60%

11. G.I. JOE: RETALIATION

It's fun. But absolutely nothing more with no sense of character development.

% chance I buy it on Blu-Ray- 10%

12. OZ, THE GREAT AND POWERFUL

Rewatches have not been kind to this film, a beautiful, visually stunning feast that has absolutely no substance beyond snooze-fest dialogue and poor melodrama.

% chance I buy it on Blu-Ray- I already have it

13. MAN OF STEEL

The biggest disappointment of my professional career as a film critic. Man of Steel promised to be the superhero movie of my dreams and it was nothing more but a titanic bore of incomprehensible action and boring exposition. One 20-minute segment saved it from a D.

% chance I buy it on Blu-Ray- 15%

14. THE CROODS

A movie that frustrated me with its mediocrity, its second half shows the greatness it could have been, but sadly, wasn't.

% chance I buy it on Blu-Ray- 3%

15. THE INCREDIBLE BURT WONDERSTONE

Just not funny. At all. The Incredible Burt Wonderstone is so terrible that there is approximately two gags that I remember. Steve Carell and Jim Carrey give career-worst performances in a film that should have been dominated by their side characters.

% chance I buy it on Blu-Ray- 0%

16. WARM BODIES

So tonally jacked-up and boring that I can't really understand why anyone liked it. One minute it's trying to be funny, one minute it's supposed to be an action film, and at some points it wants to be Twilight. Snooze-fest.

% chance I buy it on Blu-Ray- 0%

17. UPSTREAM COLOR

I have nothing to say about this movie except that it is one of those movies that wants to think that it's high-art by throwing a bunch of crap on the screen in disheveled order and expecting you to respect its "craft". A big pile of garbage.

% chance I buy it on Blu-Ray- 0%

18. THE GREAT GATSBY

Nothing memorable. Nothing entertaining. Nothing redeeming. Just a lot of crap on the screen with no emphasis on story, characters or anything but visual effects. That kind of stuff works in some blockbusters but the experiment of seeing a lot of razzle-dazzle in a 3D drama didn't work. It failed miserably.

% chance I buy it on Blu-Ray- 0%


So there you have it. My wrap-up of the first half of 2013. I have to say, I'm getting a little worn-out by all the blockbusters and am about ready for Oscar season. However, it's been a good blockbusters season, and like all, will get better with repeat viewings. But I am still waiting for that great film to come along and just blow me away.

Pacific Rim review

Whenever an auteur director does a big blockbuster film, it comes with big expectations. When a studio executive has enough confidence in the vision of a director that they give him $150- $300 million dollars to make a film, people notice. Look at James Cameron's Avatar. Look at Christopher Nolan's Inception. Some of the most successful films of the last few years were original, sci-fi action blockbusters that surprised people due to the vision of the director and the quality of the film (I beg to differ on Avatar, but that's for another time). Now, Pacific Rim (out today), is the latest film to have a massive budget and an original action property from a director who is well known in the art house world: Guillermo del Toro. While Pacific Rim doesn't quite reach the heights of Inception, it is a great bit of summer action fun and a much better film than Avatar, the other film I would draw comparisons with. It's storytelling ability is weak at times and the first half of the film really drags, but del Toro's vision completely immerses you in the story and the action scenes are the best ever done. But did it live up to my sky-high expectations?

Pacific Rim tells the story of what is essentially, World War III. While most assumed that alien life would come from the stars, in far out galaxies, they really came from the Pacific ocean, in a portal. These giant kaiju ravage cities and completely destroy the populations. As our hero says, it took multiple days and millions of lives to take down one in San Francisco. However, it didn't stop there. They kept coming and destroying more cities. So the governments of the world united to create the Jaeger program, in which we create giant robots to fight giant monsters. Flash forward several years to the final days of the war in which the Jaeger program is in turmoil. Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba) must rely on his four remaining Jaegers and pilots from Russia, China, Australia and hot-shots from America, Raleigh Becket (Charlie Hunnam) and Mako (Rinko Kikuchi) to fight the monsters that are at our doors and CANCEL THE APOCALYPSE!

That's only a basic summary as there are several more characters and several more little touches that make Pacific Rim better. I will say this: the first hour of Pacific Rim is mediocre. There's little tension and a lot of it feels like useless exposition. But it does have it's moments. And those moments are spectacular. Whether it's a sparring match between Raleigh and Mako or just the great performance from Idris Elba or the hilarity of Charlie Day and Burn Gorman as Kaiju scientists, when the first half is good, it is great. And also, the set design and visual effects are probably the best ever. They are so beautifully created, so luscious, so cool to watch, that you can't help but be in awe at some of the shots.

However, the fact that there are some great moments and really great supporting characters doesn't mean that the first act doesn't have problems. It does suffer from the Man of Steel problem of rushing to its conclusion (despite its conclusion being MUCH superior to the superhero "epic") and it does suffer from a bit of narrative boredom. The first hour is mostly boring. I was fretting, I was worried that it wasn't living up to my expectations. But everything that is good in the first hour. The fist-pumping, awesome music score. The action scenes. The really good performances. The colorful, lush set design and occasional lightness. All of that is amplified by ten once the films reaches its stunning conclusion. My only complaint in the second half of the film is that the final battle isn't as good as the one before it.

Now for some comments on the action, which is probably the reason why you're interested in Pacific Rim. It's pretty stunning. The Hong Kong battle will probably go down as one of the greatest film battles of all time and the underwater one after that isn't too shabby either, it's just more of a conclusion than it is a jaw-dropping, awe-inspiring sequence. The design of the Kaiju and Jaegers are great. You can tell that a lot of time went in to make them look that great. The set design is stunning, the robots are stunning, the monsters are stunning, everything in those final battles is stunning. It's all really cool. And epic. Those final battles made me really happy and I think that they work for everyone. When a Jaeger hits a Kaiju with a battleship, you can feel a shockwave of happiness ride through the theater.

I was actually pleasantly surprised by the quality of the performances in the film. Charlie Hunnam is a serviceable lead but there isn't much depth to the character. Rinko Kikuchi, I felt was a much better addition. There was a decent love story between the characters, but once again, her character is slightly under-developed. Idris Elba gives the best performance in the film. He's rock-solid in his role and has a bit of interest and depth that none of the other characters have. In addition, he's just a commanding screen presence. Charlie Day and Burn Gorman also give great performances. They're quirky, and funny and make for a great team on screen. Ron Perlman is charismatic as usual.

Travis Beacham, the film's screenwriter, also wrote Clash of the Titans. No, not the one from 1981. The one from 2010. The one that was one of the most awful films ever made. With Pacific Rim, he proves that he can make an interesting film with characters that are funny and likable and deliver action that is distinguishable from other action scenes. And he also creates a lush and stunning world that can stand on its own. But he's still lacking in story and delivering a first act that isn't so full of exposition. However, it is a sort of necessity for a film this beautifully complex.

Pacific Rim is the sort of equivalent of a cinematic drug. It's entertaining, it's beautiful, it's fun to watch and you instantly want to be transported back to the world the film creates. Anyone who calls Pacific Rim a perfect film is out of their mind. It's got some major problems but I would see it again in a heartbeat and I just might, this time maybe in IMAX 3D. I just love the world that del Toro and Beacham have created here and can't wait to return to it.

THE FINAL GRADE:  B                                            (7.4/10)



Monday, July 8, 2013

Despicable Me 2 review

There are two kinds of movies that I love. I'm not talking about genres here, I'm talking about movies overall. I love movies that live up to my expectations. There is almost nothing better than a movie that is just as good as you hoped it would be. It's rare when that happens and when it does, it is a delight. I also love movies that you have absolutely no expectations for, and that blow you out of the water. That has already happened once this year with the twisty, entertaining caper Now You See Me and it happened two years ago for a different movie: Despicable Me. I'll set the scene. I'm on a two week "vacation" and I really have nothing to do. I wasn't intending on going to the movies, but I go, because it's better than being in a hotel room. I choose to see Despicable Me. It's a practically empty theater. The movie comes on and I just love it. It's a stunningly good animated film with imagination, creativity and heart. Now, three years later, comes the sequel to the 2010 film. With expectations in the way now, can Despicable Me 2 meet them?

Despicable Me 2 meets up with Gru (Steve Carell), his three girls (Miranda Cosgrove, Dana Gaier, and Elsie Fisher) and his minions after some unknown amount of time has passed from the first film. Gru has become this single dad that, instead of building shrink rays to steal the moon, is now building a line of jams and jellies and playing fairy princess with his girls. But his quiet life doesn't last long as Agent Lucy Wilde (Kristen Wiig) of the Anti-Villain League recruits Gru to find a villain who is using an evil serum to create indestructible weapons. Gru must find the villain who committed the crimes before its too late, while getting a bit romantic in the process. 

Illumination Entertainment is an animation house that I really like for one big reason: their animation is breathtakingly cool. Whether it's a bunch of purple minions or a giant palace devoted to Mexican heritage, their animation is colorful, bright and pops off the screen, no 3D required. I think that the Despicable Me franchise could possibly take them to the top of the animation world, but with this film, I'm beginning to think that the original Despicable Me was a fluke. The sequel is a really entertaining bit of animated filmmaking. It's is at certain times suspenseful, compelling and a lot of fun. But it doesn't pack that emotional punch that the first one did, nor does it contain the fully cohesive storyline. It's still good, it's just not great. 

Three things have been transferred over successfully from the first film to the sequel: the childlike sense of wonder that the bright visuals bring, the animation and the score from chart-topper Pharrell. He makes the film feel really modern and gives a nice hip-hop style touch to appeal to the teen audiences. I've already commented on the great animation, and I'm still remembering the style of the visuals now. It is just really cool animation and along with the fact that it looks great, it appeals to me because it makes me feel like I'm six years old again. Both Despicable Me films bring that sense of wonder to the table. 

In addition, Despicable Me 2 is equally enjoyable for grown ups as it is for kids. There are nice little bits of humor and I did laugh at some things (even though no one else was laughing, which made me incredible awkward). The storyline is interesting as well at times. It's kind of a spy film, which I think is part of the appeal of the Despicable Me franchise that makes it accessible for all ages. But most of what makes Despicable Me 2 inferior to the original is its storyline and how it is handled. 

The first Despicable Me is a very straight narrative. It's a good one as well. It has a beginning, middle and end and clear character development throughout. Despicable Me 2 sort of follows that frameworks, but it sorta doesn't. Gru does undertake some changes but they're have less impact on the story and Gru's life. In addition, I felt that it didn't quite have a clear narrative path. It starts out well enough and it's pretty good through it's second act. But at the end of the second act, like Monsters University, it kind of solves its narrative questions, but it doesn't. I would say that it is better than that film, just in terms of heart, craft and entertainment but they both suffer from similar problems. They're better when they feel like the original films in their respective franchise.

Gru, Lucy and the minions are great characters. Gru and Lucy are voiced to perfection by Carell and Wiig and the minions are funny, but not hilarious. However, three of the most interesting characters from the last film, the girls, take a back seat to the minions as the supporting characters. Dr. Nefario (Russell Brand) has some interesting bits. Despite how much I liked Wiig as Lucy, the standout new characters is El Macho (Benjamin Bratt). He brings the most colorful patches of animation and has some of the more entertaining bits of the film.

While writing this review, I realized how much I liked this movie. It's not great as a whole but I think that it is great in sections and the beautiful animation puts it a cut above the rest. I like where they are going with this franchise and I hope to see more from it in the future. 

THE FINAL GRADE:  B                                            (7.3/10)


Post Note: Next year sees the release of Minions in December. While I do receive amusement from the little yellow gremlins, I'm not certain that they can carry a full film. They're funny in a short film for, but I'm not certain that a whole plot centered around the minions would be good. But in some ways I think that they will be served well by a full film for themselves. It will allow Renaud and Coffin to focus fully on them instead of trying to focus on two separate stories (which DM2 does rather well). 

Sunday, July 7, 2013

"Despicable Me 2" crushes expectations, "The Lone Ranger" becomes fourth flop of 2013

Ah, Fourth of July. You never disappointment at the box office. Unless, you're The Lone Ranger, of course. This weekend was one of the most anticipated box office wise for the whole year, because we would finally get to see how much people loved the first Despicable Me and we would get to see how much people love Johnny Depp. I now have the answers to both of those questions. 

In first place this long, five-day weekend was Universal's Despicable Me 2. The $76 million animated film was projected to at least get over $100 million. It far surpassed that. The animated comedy debuted in first place with $82.5 million over three days for a $142.1 million cume over five days. That's far beyond expectations and with no competition until Turbo and an "A" Cinemascore, Despicable Me 2 should have no trouble passing $350 million, which would make it a very successful film. Add that to the fact that it is pacing around Toy Story 3-level overseas and Universal may just have a billion dollar film on their hands. Universal's going to need all the help they can get from Fast 6 and Despicable Me because they have two films that could flop badly in the upcoming months: R.I.P.D. and 47 Ronin. Both are expensive and neither is going to be a huge success. But with the success of Despicable Me 2, Fast 6 and Identity Thief, Universal is still going to come out on top. 

Now that I've given the good news, let's move onto the bad. The Lone Ranger rode alone this weekend as barely anyone went to go see it. It made $29.4 million over the 3-day weekend and it made a total over $48.9 million over five days. That's way below Disney's low ball $65 million prediction but it could reach $100 million with its "B+" Cinemascore. So at least it's not John Carter. At this point, I don't know if Disney can start up a franchise anymore. They marketed the heck out of The Lone Ranger and I'm not sure if it was bad reviews or a sense of tiredness that prevented people from seeing it, but I'm almost positive that the relationship between Gore Verbinski and Disney is about to end. Even with another $200 million overseas, this film is still not breaking even. And international audiences don't respond to Westerns unless they're made by Tarantino. So look for a Disney write-down in the coming weeks. 

In third place was Fox's The Heat. The female buddy-cop comedy grossed another $25 million over the 3-day period raising its total to $86.3 million, which is really good. That's a 36% drop for the film which indicates strong word of mouth and means that the film will eventually hit a total as high as $150 million. Monsters University took its first real hit this weekend with a 57% drop to $19.5 million in fourth place. Disney/Pixar's animated comedy has grossed $216 million so far, but with Despicable Me 2 now in the marketplace, it is going to have a really hard time getting people to head out to it. 

Fifth and sixth place belonged to the action films this weekend with World War Z in the former with another $18.2 million. That's a really solid hold and with a lack of any action film that is tearing up the marketplace and a $158.7 million total thus far, it's looking like $200 million is in sight for WWZ. That total is not in sight for White House Down which finished in the latter position with another $13.5 million. The word of mouth was not as strong as expected as the film received a good "A-" Cinemascore last week. WHD has now grossed $50 million. 

Man of Steel finished in seventh place with $11.4 million. The superhero film is nearing the end of its run and it seems that at this point, $300 million is not in view despite that strong opening. Man of Steel has grossed $271.2 million so far. However, the biggest surprise of the weekend actually lies in 8th place with Kevin Hart: Let Me Explain. The stand-up documentary grossed $10.1 million over the 3-day period after opening on Wednesday. Through five days, it has grossed a really solid $17.4 million, and with an "A" Cinemascore, look for this to keep going strong through the rest of the month. And rounding out the top ten were This is the End in ninth with $5.8 million to raise its total to $85.5 million and Now You See Me in tenth with another $2.7 million to raise its total to $110 million.

Next weekend sees the release of Pacific Rim and Grown Ups 2. Who will come out on top? Here are my predictions: 

1. Despicable Me 2- $58.4 million
2. Pacific Rim- $53.3 million
3. Grown Ups 2- $40 million
4. The Heat- $17 million
5. The Lone Ranger- $15.1 million
6. Monsters University- $12 million
7. World War Z- $10 million
8. White House Down- $7 million
9. Man of Steel- $6.9 million
10. Kevin Hart: Let Me Explain- $6.4 million


Saturday, July 6, 2013

July review schedule

First off, before I begin my list of when you'll be seeing reviews from me in July, let me apologize for the lack of theatrical reviews in the last two weeks. I don't know why, but I haven't gone to the theater and I must take responsibility for that. In the next week, you will get reviews of the films that I have missed including Despicable Me 2, The Lone Ranger, and White House Down. There may be a couple of smaller releases that I get to as well, but I'm not promising anything there. So anyways, I hope you can understand, I'm still working on being disciplined in the field of getting reviews out on time and I will improve in the future. Now, on with the show:


DESPICABLE ME 2- July 9



WHITE HOUSE DOWN- July 10


THE LONE RANGER- July 10


PACIFIC RIM- July 12

TURBO- July 17

RED 2- July 19


R.I.P.D.- July 19


THE CONJURING- July 20


THE WAY, WAY BACK- July 21

THE WOLVERINE- July 26



TBA Reviews

FRUITVALE STATION

MUD

THE EAST

Friday, July 5, 2013

X-Men Franchise in review- Part 1: The trilogy

One of Hollywood's most enduring franchises since 2000, Fox has churned out an X-Men film every two or three years. This year sees the release of The Wolverine, a stand-alone feature directed by James Mangold telling the story of Logan's  (Hugh Jackman) quest for death in Japan after the events of The Last Stand. And then next year sees the release of X-Men: Days of Future Past, which continues the story of First Class. So with all this X-Men hitting theaters in the near future, I figured that I would look back at the previous films in the X-Men franchise. Here we go, starting with X-Men (2000):

X-MEN

Year: 2000
Cast: Hugh Jackman, Halle Berry, Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen, Anna Paquin, Famke Janssen, James Marsden, Tyler Mane, Bruce Davison, Rebecca Romijn, Ray Park
Director: Bryan Singer
Worldwide Box Office Gross: $296 million

This is the one that started it all. X-Men was not only the first film to put the mutants on screen, but it also rejuvenated the superhero genre after it fell to the Joel Schumacher Batman films. However, looking at X-Men today is not the same as looking at X-Men back in 2000. The film has not aged very well, and not only that, it's just a messy film. There is a lot of exposition, a lot of setting up that takes place over the first hour and then it makes the jarring switch to the final battle. It's the weakest of the X-Men films, but it will still provide you with some mild entertainment. 

X-Men tells the story of how Logan (Hugh Jackman) and Rogue (Anna Paquin) ended up at the Xavier school for mutants. It also sets up a lot of political turmoil as the public is just learning about these special mutants. Add that to the fact that Magneto (Ian McKellen) wishes to stop the humans from imposing any special rules on mutants and you've got yourself a battle. 

X-Men is a messy film. There is a lot of boring exposition and plenty of setting up the plot. It pays off well in the superior sequels, but in this film, it can be kind of boring. Add that up with a LOT of different plot strands going on at once, and there's a really messy film waiting for you. But if you can not think too much, X-Men is enjoyable. It kind of represents an age when superhero blockbusters didn't use so many special effects and relied solely on practical action and good actors who fit perfectly into the roles that they play. But still, the messiness of the whole film and the boredom of the set-up, in addition to the jarring switch of tone and plot halfway through the film, is just too much to be ignored. 

THE FINAL GRADE:  C+

X2: X-MEN UNITED

Year: 2003
Cast: Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen, Halle Berry, Famke Janssen, James Marsden, Anna Paquin, Rebecca Romijn, Brian Cox, Alan Cumming, Bruce Davison, Aaron Stanford, Shawn Ashmore
Director: Bryan Singer
Worldwide Box Office: $407 million

Sometimes, I just love sequels. I know that the general consensus on the internet sometimes is that sequels are bad and that they are annoying with the overabundance and the fact that they have completely taken over the multiplex. But sometimes, every once in a while, can right the wrongs of the original and make a better, more superior film. X2 is one of those sequels. It's not a great film. Far from it. But it is a much better film than X-Men and it's cleaner and has a better goal. It still has the general Bryan Singer flaws that are practically in all of his movies, but it is much more focused than X-Men. 

X2: X-Men United follows the reaction of society after an attack on the White House by a mutant named Nightcrawler (Alan Cumming). The President hires William Stryker (Brian Cox) to deal with the mutant "problem". When the school comes under attack, the X-Men-led by Logan, Jean and Storm have to go on a journey to stop Stryker on his quest to destroy all mutant-kind. 

Writing this review, I realize that this is without a doubt the best film of the first X-Men trilogy. Once again, it has the Bryan Singer problem of putting in too many plot threads in the whole thing, but it is much more clear and much more focused than the first film. The action is bigger, the plot is more entertaining and the film is better. It's the first really good superhero movie and despite being bland and generic in its style, it is a good film and one that you certainly won't regret watching. 

THE FINAL GRADE:  B+



X-MEN: THE LAST STAND

Year: 2006
Cast: Hugh Jackman, Famke Janssen, Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen, Halle Berry, Rebecca Romijn, Ellen Page, Anna Paquin, Kelsey Grammar, James Marsden, Aaron Stanford, Shawn Ashmore, Vinnie Jones
Director: Brett Ratner
Worldwide Box Office: $459 million

This is it. The third film. It's what makes or breaks a trilogy. The great ones cap off their trilogy with style and ferocity, putting the trilogy among the greatest of all time. Think about Toy Story 3, Return of the King, or The Dark Knight Rises. Then think about the failures. None come to mind for me personally, but I know that Spider-Man 3 is one that a lot of fanboys hate. And so is X-Men: The Last Stand. I will say this: it doesn't reach the heights of the best of the trilogy (X2), but it is the most epic of the three films and despite being a little too bland at times in style, is a worthy end to the trilogy.

X-Men: The Last Stand tells the final chapter in the saga of the united mutants. With the discovery of a cure to the mutant X gene that gives the mutants their powers, the world sees the mutants divided. The war suggested in the first two films is finally coming to fruition. Now it's down to Xavier (Patrick Stewart), Logan (Hugh Jackman) and the rest of the X-Men to stop Magneto (Ian McKellen) and the Brotherhood of mutants from destroying the humans and stop a force even more powerful than Magneto and his army.

Although not everything makes sense in The Last Stand (why exactly are the mutants trying to stop Magneto when they too are against the cure), it still is a satisfying and gutsy finale to the trilogy that I suspect may not be over. The Last Stand suffers from the typical X-Men problems. Too many plot threads, too many characters, no clear villain, plot holes. However, I thought that it was the most entertaining movie of the whole trilogy despite X2 being the far superior title. The Last Stand is epic in scope and in the stakes and unlike most blockbusters, isn't afraid to kill off characters. X-Men: The Last Stand isn't perfect and neither is the trilogy as a whole, but it still is a satisfying blockbusters that brings the action goods and goes in some messy, yet interesting directions.

THE FINAL GRADE:  B



That concludes part one of the X-Men franchise in review: check out part two: the prequels and spinoffs, closer to the July 26 release date of The Wolverine. And read the review from The Movie Guru's blog on July 26.