Monday, September 30, 2013

Rush review

Ron Howard has had one of the most dynamic, interesting and layered career in Hollywood history as both a director and an actor. He's acted in TV shows such as Happy Days and Arrested Development, has starred in movies such as American Graffiti, and has directed a wide variety of films. He's directed some pretty good films (A Beautiful Mind, Apollo 13) through the years and some films that haven't quite been as popular with critics. Now, Howard's back with an F1 racing drama called Rush. It stars up and comers Chris Hemsworth (Thor, The Avengers) and Daniel Bruhl (Inglourious Basters, The Bourne Ultimatum) as rival race car drivers who will do anything to beat the other. With Rush, Howard has delivered a film that has all the makings of an instant classic. It's got good performances, a great score, fast pacing, thrilling action and a well executed story. It's the kind of movie that I wish more people saw these days. Without a doubt, Rush is one of the finest films of the year.

Rush follows the story of James Hunt (Hemsworth) and Niki Lauda (Bruhl). Hunt is the party guy; a loose carefree personality who loves the booze, sex and drugs that he gets from being a part of the sport. Lauda is the cold, calculating jerk who essentially bought his way into the sport. However, Lauda knows his way around making a car and essentially adds his way up into being a race car legend. The two start out as F3 racers but both manage to join the F1 lineup after a fateful encounter at an F3 race. Soon, the two drivers will become consumed by their rivalry; Lauda and Hunt will stop at nothing to best the other person. However, this is a story of how the men came to respect each other through fateful accidents, competition and a love of the sport.

No movie is without flaws. Rush has a few minor ones. It feels slightly condensed. At times it seems like Howard is trying to pace the movie a bit too fast. With an extra ten or fifteen minutes of high quality scenes, Rush might just be perfect. However, that remains a flaw. And the film gets a little scattered between all the race scenes in its second act. And that's just about it. Other than that, Ron Howard has made a thrilling, offbeat, fantastic film that's destined to be around come awards season. It mixes spectacular film-making, purely interesting storytelling with fantastic pacing and entertainment value for an all around spectacular theater experience.

Chris Hemsworth proves that he can act with this role. His James Hunt is incredibly charismatic and funny, but there's also a dark side to him that you can visibly see. He's scared for his life every time he gets in a car and that's why he vomits before every race. That's why he obsessively clicks his lighter. Hunt is a daredevil who is scared of what he does. Daniel Bruhl also brings a multi-dimensional performance to the table. He wants to be the cold, calculating racing mastermind, but he's also human. And that is all shown during one scene with his wife. All of these character traits are made possible by the incredible script written by Peter Morgan and the performances of Hunt and Bruhl. You probably won't notice this instantly in the theater, but you certainly will once you start discussing the film. It's very interesting to delve underneath the surface of this, because it is certainly more than just a sports drama, which on the outside, is what it may seem to be.

And yet it is a sports drama. As much as Rush is a character study of two men driven to insane measures by a competitive spirit and by each other, it's also a really entertaining race car drama. Rush is entertaining to start to finish. It's a compelling and interesting, while at the same time is something that I could watch at any time. That's rare for a sports drama. The only ones that I think of on the same level of Rush are Moneyball and Hoosiers. Rush also works as a thrilling action movie. It's packed with thrills from beginning to end, and while I wasn't on the edge of my seat during the quiet scenes, I certainly was during the racing ones. The first race scene is quite spectacular actually. It throws you off guard immediately. The engines roar through the theater. The rubble burns. And I instantly knew that this was going to be one of the best movies of the year.

In a lot of ways for me, Rush represents the kind of movie that we just don't see enough of these days. It's that kind of compelling action drama that delves into characters and into people, but is also thrillingly entertaining. Howard has done it twice before in different genres with A Beautiful Mind and Apollo 13, and he does it again with Rush. It's a movie that instantly belongs in the same category as those films, because it's got everything at the highest level technically and dramatically.

Rush is a movie of the highest caliber in every way. It's a different kind of sports movie, it's spectacular entertainment, it's thrilling and well-written drama and it has edge of your seat action. So why did it make $10 million this weekend? With Rush, I see everything wrong with the American cinematic landscape. People don't think they want to see a movie about F1 and so they go see garbage like Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2. My hope is that through people like me, you will go out to see Rush. But I doubt it. It's a sad tragedy, because I know that twenty years ago, this film would have been a major hit. I've got nothing against blockbuster movies, because a lot of them are tons of fun and actually quite good. It just saddens me to see a film so great be so neglected.

In the end, Rush is the first must see movie of the fall. It's got everything that you could possibly desire. No heroes, no villains, and a spectacular focus on its two main characters. Most of the other characters actually don't get much screentime. It is rated R for four scenes involving nudity and sex, some truly disturbing medical images, brief drug use and some language peppered throughout. It's fine for most mature teenagers, but don't think that this is a feel-good, bring the kids sports drama. Because it's not. It's compelling drama that amounts to an instant classic, but it's not for children.

I beg of you all, go see Rush, simply because I know that you will love it. It's spectacularly shot, ridiculously entertaining and is an interesting portrait of two men driven to insane measures to win. It's an action drama of the highest caliber. A true adrenaline rush.

THE FINAL GRADE:   A+                                           (10/10)




Sunday, September 29, 2013

"Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2" strong, "Rush", "Don Jon", "Baggage Claim" weak at the weekend box office

The Oscar season is about to go full steam ahead, which doesn't quite equal box office grosses. Despite a strong film in 1st place, the rest of the box office was rather flat this weekend, amounting to only $107 million. However, there was good news for Sony Pictures. After a dismal summer that included one underperformer (Elysium) and two outright bombs (White House Down and After Earth), Columbia Pictures is looking to regain some ground. They finally did this weekend with their animation division's Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2. The lackluster animated film took in $35 million this weekend, which is good, but slightly disappointing. It was a stronger opening that it's predecessor, but not as strong as last year's Hotel Transylvania. It received an "A-" Cinemascore from audiences however, and I see no reason that Cloudy 2 won't pass $100 million with no competition in the coming months.

In second place this weekend was last week's #1, Prisoners. The kidnapping drama, starring Hugh Jackman and Jake Gyllenhaal took in another $11.2 million. That's enough for a total of $38.9 million after a 46% drop from last weekend. The Oscar contender could keep the word of mouth strong going into the October month and come out with as much as $75 million. Sadly, Ron Howard's Rush finished in third place this weekend with a disappointing $10.3 million. The film did receive an "A-" Cinemascore, which indicates that it could hold strong in the future, but I know that Universal had higher hopes. I absolutely loved the movie, and will post a review soon. 

Fourth place belonged to Fox Searchlight's Baggage Claim, a critically panned romantic comedy from director David Talbert starring Paula Patton. The film, targeted at African-American audiences, took in a total of $9.3 million, along with an "A-" Cinemascore. That's a solid start for what I assume was a modestly budgeted film. In fifth place was without a doubt, the most disappointing and most unsurprising opening of the weekend, the $9 million grossed by Don Jon. That's not a terrible start for the directorial debut of Joseph Gordon-Levitt. But what is truly terrible is the "C+" Cinemascore that audiences gave the film. Don Jon is a dramedy about porn that was marketed as a romcom. Now it will pay the price. 

Farther down the line was Insidious-Chapter 2 in sixth place. The horror film grossed $6.7 million, raising its total to $69.5 million. The Family also held strong with $3.6 million in seventh place for a total of $31.6 million. Instructions Not Included became the highest grossing Spanish language film ever in the US with a $3.3 million weekend in eighth place for a total of $38.5 million. We're the Millers took in another $2.8 million in ninth place to raise its impressive total to $142.4 million. And finally, Lee Daniels' The Butler grabbed another $2.4 million in tenth place to raise its total to $110.2 million. Also the James Gandolfini-starred Enough Said grossed $2.1 million in a limited expansion and Metallica Through the Never grossed $1.6 million on IMAX screens before an expansion next weekend. 

Next weekend sees the expansion of Metallica Through the Never, Runner Runner and the highly anticipated Gravity. Here are my predictions:

1. Gravity- $46.5 million
2. Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2- $20 million
3. Runner Runner- $14.7 million
4. Rush- $7.2 million
5. Prisoners- $7.1 million
6. Metallica Through the Never- $6.5 million
7. Baggage Claim- $6 million
8. Don Jon- $4.9 million
9. Insidious Chapter 2- $4.1 million
10. The Family- $2.5 million


Wednesday, September 25, 2013

"The Wolf of Wall Street" won't be ready for November 15, "Jack Ryan" could be delayed to January

I always struggle during the dumping ground months of the year. There's movies that I want to see, but I never actually want to go to the theater to see them. Thankfully, summer and fall come around, and I get back in the movie-going mood. But man, in April and September, it's rough.

Anyways, two of my most anticipated films of the fall season, The Wolf of Wall Street and Jack Ryan: Shadow One, hit a speed-bump today. The Wolf of Wall Street, according to THR and Hitfix, is going to be moved to either a Christmas release or 2014. If it's the former, that would require Jack Ryan: Shadow One to move to January 17 for the "lucrative", to quote The Hollywood Reporter, Martin Luther King Weekend. All this adds up to bad news in my mind. Let's break it down. 

Currently, Paramount has a pretty stacked fall slate. They have Jackass Present Bad Grandpa on October 25, The Wolf of Wall Street on November 15, Nebraska on November 15, Anchorman 2 on December 20, Jack Ryan: Shadow One on Christmas Day and Labor Day in limited release on Christmas Day. That's a pretty stacked lineup. Add to that, the Christmas season also currently features 47 Ronin, Saving Mr. Banks, The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug, August: Osage County, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, and The Monuments Men. That's a massive amount of films for one holiday to handle. And Jack Ryan is neither an established franchise, by the new generation's standards, or an Oscar contender. That's the first problem. 

Second problem is that The Wolf of Wall Street was just screened for Paramount execs this weekend. There's nothing inherently bad about that, besides the fact that a little advanced word came out about the movie. The source for THR and Hitfix said that not only was the film a whopping 180 minutes long (3 hours), but that it also had some content that was sure to receive an NC-17 rating from the MPAA. That's a big no-no for Paramount. Reports are now saying that Scorsese is busy cutting the film down from its current length while also cutting down on some content. In other words, he's hard at work, but there's no way that it makes the November 15 date. So, depending on how fast Scorsese works, The Wolf of Wall Street could be released on Christmas day, or sometime in first quarter 2014. The former option leaves room for an Oscar run. 

Now, let's say that Scorsese manages to cut twenty minutes from the film and gets a hard R. Paramount dates the film for Christmas Day. That's just too many movies for Paramount in a short span. So, what they plan to do in that case is to move Jack Ryan. Not to March. Not to May. Not to April. But to January. I know that was a series of awful sentences, but I had to get a point across. Paramount is planning to move Jack Ryan to January in the case that The Wolf of Wall Street is released in the Christmas time period. The weekend of January 17 to be exact. That's a killer for one of my most anticipated for the year. But hey, life is full of disappointments. This is a very interesting situation and I'm really curious to see how it turns out. 


Sunday, September 22, 2013

"Prisoners" starts off Fall movie season right, "Battle of the Year" bombs at weekend box office

This week was the official start of the fall movie season with the season's first big Oscar favorite, Prisoners, being released. The dark and disturbing R-rated drama started the season right with a $21.4 million weekend in first place. That's a solid start for such a dark and depressing drama. Clearly, Warner Bros. positioned the film well for the start of the fall movie season. The film received a "B+" Cinemascore, which hints at a slight audience rejection. However, the word of mouth out of Toronto and Telluride, along with any possible Oscar buzz could be enough to put this film in the range of $75-$80 million.

After that, the box office becomes slightly more dour. Insidious-Chapter 2 placed in second place with a $14.5 million weekend. That's a 64% drop for the horror film, which I likely won't see in theaters. Sorry, I just don't know what it is, but I can't watch horror movies in theaters. The PG-13 horror hit has grossed $60.8 million so far. The Family took the standard 50% drop to third place this weekend with a $7 million three-day gross. I almost forget about that film, but obviously there's an audience somewhere. The Family has grossed $25.6 million.

Instructions Not Included added 45 theaters and jumped 17% for a $5.7 million weekend. The Spanish-language comedy placed in fourth and has now grossed $34.2 million. That's a great start for a film that I had no idea existed about a month ago. Now, in fifth place, was the weekend's turkey, Battle of the Year. The 3D dance drama was essentially a B movie that no one was really interested in. It took in $5 million this weekend. That's a disappointing start, but the movie did receive an "A-" Cinemascore.

We're the Millers continued to rake in money at the box office with a sixth place finish this weekend. The comedy hit grossed $4.67 million this weekend, which was enough to raise its total to $138.1 million. Lee Daniels' The Butler has seen a fall of sorts after its strong first few weeks. The PG-13 drama finished in seventh place with $4.3 million. That's a relatively light drop, but the film now has no chance of catching fellow drama The Help. Also, in eighth place was Vin Diesel's Riddick. The sci-fi thriller took in $3.6 million, which was enough to raise its total to $37.1 million.

In ninth place this weekend was one of the big success stories, the rerelease of The Wizard of Oz in IMAX 3D. The restoration took in $3 million, ahead of Top Gun and Raiders of the Lost Ark, which both were re-released in IMAX previously. I considered going to see the film, but my local theater charges a whopping $17 dollars for an IMAX ticket, so I opted out. And finally, in tenth place, we have Planes which grossed $2.8 million. The animated comedy has grossed $86.5 million so far.

Also, in limited release, James Gandolfini's final performance in Enough Said raked in $240,000 in four theaters and Ron Howard's Rush grossed $200,000 in five theaters.

Next week sees the release of Metallica Through the Never in IMAX, along with Baggage Claim, Don Jon, Rush, and Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2, which I already saw, and can't recommend beyond the animation. Good for kids, not for adults. However, it should still win the weekend handily. Here are some early predictions:

1. Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2- $44.5 million
2. Rush- $15.6 million
3. Don Jon- $12.1 million
4. Prisoners- $11.9 million
5. Baggage Claim- $7.8 million
6. Insidious- Chapter 2- $6.7 million
7. Instructions Not Included- $5.1 million
8. The Family- $3.6 million
9. We're the Millers- $3.5 million
10. Lee Daniels' The Butler- $3.1 million



Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2 review

2009's Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs is an inventive, original, cool animated film that also contains a heart. It's also very entertaining. So, it's not surprising that after a fun trailer, I was really looking forward to Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2, the sequel to that film. This one focuses on the island of Swallow Falls after the food machine started going berserk. The machine is now turning all the food into this kind of food/animal hybrid which makes for chaos. It's a crazy, madcap premise, one that seems almost perfect for the Cloudy franchise. However, a lack of focus, an extreme case of ADD, and major story problems, prevent this movie from being anywhere nearly as good as the first one. In fact, I wouldn't even say that Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2 is a good movie in its own right. It's a lackluster animated film that's trying way too hard to entertain. It's funny, it's cute, and the kids are sure to love it, but this is not an animated film that has any potential beyond its target group.

Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2 continues the story of Flint Lockwood (Bill Hader), the miraculous inventor of the food machine that provided food from the sky to the people of Swallow Falls. However, after the machine went out of control, the island was abandoned and the food machine left to rot. It didn't. The food machine kept making food, but this time, turning it into a food/animal hybrid, making creatures like the Watermelephants and the Tacodiles. When a fellow inventor (Will Forte) tells Flint that the food animals are trying to take over the world, Flint assembles his meteorologist girlfriend Sam (Anna Faris), his dad Tim (James Caan), his town's former idol Brent (Andy Samberg), his pet monkey Steve (Neil Patrick Harris), the cameraman Manny (Ben Bratt) and a police officer (Terry Crews) to go back to Swallow Falls. Madness and food puns ensues.

Let's start off with the good things. The animation is splendid. Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2 actually seems like a movie that is tailor made for me. I love colorful, fun animated films and this looked like one of them. Too bad it suffers from a lack of focus. Also, the movie is very funny. There were a couple things that I actually laughed out loud at and it actually keeps a manic, funny tone throughout. There's also some solid work from the voice cast. However, beyond all of this positive design and a good sense of humor, I thought that Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2 was a mess.

The film begins with a montage of the events of the first film. Not a good sign. It goes on to pick up immediately after the ending of Cloudy except this time, it highlights the arrival of Chester V, an idol of Flint. He tells him to work for his company. There's a brief tour and then it jumps ahead six months, before finally hopping to Swallow Falls. It's a quick paced, dazzlingly fast start and it's slightly disorienting for people that prefer a bit more story building. Overall, a rough start, but not outright bad.

The second act takes place entirely on Swallow Falls. It's when the movie turns to mush. It's lackluster, frenetic entertainment. The second act of the film seems to consist entirely of vague plotting, hints at the villain's motivation, and a barrage of food puns. It just throws things at you repeatedly until you are completely numb. Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2 also attempts to throw in some heart, with nice messages about friendship, honesty, trust and being happy with the people around you. In the end, it's a film that parents will adore for their children. It's got everything that they could want in a nice, harmless, poop and pee joke kids movie (nothing wrong with that, actually it can be quite funny). But in the end, Cloudy 2 makes all the wrong moves when it comes to plot points, focus and characters. Let's elaborate on that slightly.

The villain of the film has a goal. He wants to achieve something. For the sake of people who want to see the movie, I won't spoil it here. But instead of giving us real information about the villain's intentions, Cloudy 2 chooses to throw us hints. They point out that something sinister is going on with one of the characters, but they never elaborate until it's absolutely necessary. That disappointed me and left me confused and un-involved with the plot.

Second, as I've already stressed, this movie is purely made for kids, while I feel like the original had crossover appeal for adults as well. It's a big mess at times, with ten minute stretches seeming to be a massive montage of food puns and chase sequences between the characters and creatures like the Tacodile. It's appealing for young children, but it never does anything for adults. I feel like that's a general disconnect in animated films these days. There's great animation for the kiddies and it's colorful as all get out, but it never truly amounts to being an interesting story. Even Dreamworks has fallen victim to that lately (The Croods had a good heart though, this film doesn't).

I saw this at an advanced screening in 3D. The 3D is actually mildly impressive, but I got great seats and I know that the studio attempts to make the 3D look great at the public advanced screenings. The kids in the audiences were attentive to the film, which makes me wholeheartedly recommend this film for young children. The film actually saves itself from outright failure in the third act, but it doesn't quite make it a good movie. It's still a mess through two acts. I think that there's a lot of potential for this franchise, but they're going to need a much stronger story next time to make this a memorable film.

THE FINAL GRADE:  C                                            (5.5/10)


Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Oscar Rankings: Post-Festival rearrangement

Telluride wrapped up over a week ago. Venice wrapped up last weekend. Toronto is about ready to close for the year. It's time to go back to the drawing board, as the Oscar season has officially begun!

BEST PICTURE

1. American Hustle
2. 12 Years a Slave
3. Gravity
4. The Wolf of Wall Street
5. Dallas Buyers Club
6. Inside Llewyn Davis
7. The Secret Life of Walter Mitty
8. Her
9. Captain Phillips
10. Rush

There has been a pretty big shakeup when it comes to the Best Picture category. I really am convinced that there will be ten nominees this year, as there are a ton of great movies coming our way. However, nothing out of the festivals convinced me that American Hustle won't still take the prize. 12 Years A Slave definitely garnered a lot of buzz, and received an "A+" from both Rope of Silicon and Indiewire, but both reviews highlighted how tough of a watch the film is, which I think is off putting for the older folks in the academy. Gravity has a legit shot, but I'm keeping that in third as I think that it could be a bit too odd. Dropping off the list were Labor Day (divisive reactions), Prisoners (not enough raves), and The Monuments Men (I've heard things about a more commercial approach). The New York film festival could clear up the race a little more, and the AFI fest certainly will.

BEST DIRECTOR

1. David O. Russell, American Hustle
2. Alfonso Cuaron, Gravity
3. Steve McQueen, 12 Years A Slave
4. Martin Scorsese, The Wolf of Wall Street
5. Spike Jonze, Her

I think that this category is becoming very interesting, as it seems that the academy is taking a lot more chances. They seem to be awarding director less on the film, and more on the chances that they took, and the innovation. That's why I think that Alfonso Cuaron has a legitimate shot at winning the director prize. The film seems to be shot in a lot of long takes and that is something that the academy is certainly going to look at. Russell is in first place, as I think that his time has come, but Cuaron is knocking on the door.

BEST ACTOR

1. Chiwetel Ejiofor, 12 Years A Slave
2. Matthew McConaughey, Dallas Buyers Club
3. Leonardo DiCaprio, The Wolf of Wall Street
4. Oscar Isaac, Inside Llewyn Davis
5. Christian Bale, American Hustle

This is the category that saw the most shakeup. Mostly due to the fact that two performances out of Tiff have been commended to death. Everyone is raving about Matthew McConaughey in Dallas Buyers Club as the homophobic AIDS patient, but in the end I think that the Oscar race is over in this category. While I still believe that the academy will be reluctant to award the best picture prize to 12 Years A Slave, they will have no problem giving Ejiofor the award. I haven't seen the film, but everyone who has seen the film gives Ejiofor a ton of the credit. Look for the award to go to him.

BEST ACTRESS

1. Judi Dench, Philomena
2. Emma Thompson, Saving Mr. Banks
3. Cate Blanchett, Blue Jasmine
4. Nicole Kidman, Grace of Monaco
5. Meryl Streep, August: Osage County

When I hear people who just rave about Cate Blanchett's performance, and say that no one will possibly top her, I laugh. Not because the performance isn't good, I still need to see the film and am sure that it is a magnificent performance. But because it shows a lack of knowledge as to how the academy works. It is a series of games, and Judi Dench is going to win. She's a magnificent actress, and has been around in Hollywood for several years. Plus, her performance in Philomena is supposedly magnificent and a crowd-pleaser. She's going to win, I'm almost sure of it.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

1. Jennifer Lawrence, American Hustle
2. Cameron Diaz, The Counselor
3. Oprah Winfrey, Lee Daniels' The Butler
4. Lupita Nyong'o, 12 Years A Slave
5. Margo Martindale, August: Osage County

I don't think that we have seen many powerful supporting performances, but that will soon change. Right now, Oprah is my heavyweight, but I think that Diaz and Lawrence are knocking on the door, and as soon as people see those films, everything will explode. I see Lawrence as the favorite. After watching that trailer, I really got a lot out of her character and I think that someone has to win for a David O. Russell film. It'll be a back-to-back for Lawrence.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

1. Michael Fassbender, 12 Years A Slave
2. Tom Hanks, Saving Mr. Banks
3. Mark Ruffalo, Foxcatcher
4. Javier Bardem, The Counselor
5. Jeremy Renner, American Hustle

I had completely wiped Foxcatcher off the map last time, but now that it's dated for December 20, I'm willing to give it a shot. However, I think that Fassbender is the favorite at this time. It looks like a powerful performance, and he has received raves. However, there seem to be a ton of strong male supporting performances this year, and if Steve Carell goes supporting for Foxcatcher, it could be a problem. But for now, I've got Fassbender in the lead.

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY

1. 12 Years A Slave
2. Captain Phillips
3. The Wolf of Wall Street
4. The Monuments Men
5. The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

The fact that I had to actually look for adapted screenplay nominees means that we're getting somewhere in Hollywood. For now, I've got 12 Years in the lead. I think that The Wolf of Wall Street has a legitimate shot, but I want to get some buzz on the film first.

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY

1. American Hustle
2. Inside Llewyn Davis
3. Gravity
4. All is Lost
5. Her

American Hustle seems to be the favorite right now. Russell's scripts are always favorites, and this one seems to be no exception. But I don't think that we should count out Llewyn Davis. I think that film made a mistake by premiering at Cannes, but we'll see by how it plays.

BEST ANIMATED FEATURE

1. Frozen
2. Monsters University
3. Despicable Me 2
4. Turbo
5. The Croods

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY

1. Prisoners
2. Captain Phillips
3. The Monuments Men
4. The Wolf of Wall Street
5. 12 Years a Slave

Well, that's it for now. I'll be back after New York.

Monday, September 9, 2013

"Riddick" leads, "The Butler" falls to second after three-week lead

After a three week hiatus, I'm back with another box office report. This past weekend was the quietest of the entire year so far, with the total gross at $83 million. That's about as much as Monsters University made opening weekend. Sad to think that. However, there was only wide one release last weekend and it was Riddick. The Vin Diesel sci-fi thriller took in a lukewarm $18.6 million, which is a tad below expectations. Universal claims that the film met its expectations but with Diesel's star power, I can only see this as a disappointment. However, there were several warning signs involved. The film is R-rated, which is never good, and the franchise isn't one that a lot of people are familiar with today. That being said, Riddick should go on to gross $50 million.

In second place was Lee Daniels' The Butler, which grossed another $8.9 million this weekend, enough to raise its cumulative total to $91.9 million. The historical drama, which has proven to be a late summer hit, will reach $100 million by next weekend and could go as high as $120 million. Instructions Not Included took third place this weekend with another $8.1 million in a nationwide expansion. The Spanish-language breakout hit has grossed a grand total of $20.3 million, but look for that to increase. We're The Millers continued its impressive run in fourth place with another $7.9 million, enough to raise its total to $123.8 million. The comedy smash could fly as high as $145 million.

After that, the grosses pretty much drop off. In fifth place, Planes added another $4.2 in its fifth weekend, to raise its total to $79.2 million. Planes should keep going strong, but won't reach $100 million with school starting back up. One Direction: This is Us added a paltry $4.1 million in its second weekend, highlighting an insane 74% drop. The concert flick placed sixth this weekend, and has grossed $23.9 million so far. Elysium finished in seventh with a $3.1 million weekend. The Matt Damon sci-fi flick has now grossed $85 million.

And to round out the top ten, Blue Jasmine continued to go strong with $2.6 million in eighth place. At this point, the film has a legitimate shot of topping Midnight in Paris, Woody Allen's biggest hit. Blue Jasmine has grossed $25.4 million so far. In ninth place, Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters added $2.5 million, raising its total to $59.8 million. And in tenth place, The World's End added $2.3 million, to raise its total to $21.7 million. More people should see that movie. It's kind of depressing. Also, Salinger impressed with $91K in limited release.

Next weekend sees the release of The Family and Insidious- Chapter 2. Here are my predictions:

1. Insidious-Chapter 2- $38.5 million
2. The Family- $14.3 million
3. Riddick- $8.9 million
4. Lee Daniels' The Butler- $6.9 million
5. Instructions Not Included- $6 million
6. Planes- $2.7 million
7. Elysium- $2.1 million
8. One Direction: This is Us- $1.9 million
9. Blue Jasmine- $1.5 million
10. The World's End- $1.45 million




Sunday, September 8, 2013

Fall Box Office Predictions- Part 2

After Part 1 last week, I now present you with Part 2 of my fall box office predictions.

ENDER'S GAME- November 1

Opening Weekend Prediction- $37 million
Total Gross Prediction- $91 million

Is it the next big YA phenomenon or the next big YA flop? Ender's Game is a film that I see falling into the latter category but not without trouble. The film has become the subject of much hatred due to the radical views of its homophobic author Orson Scott Card. However, I don't see that being a major factor in the box office productivity of the film. It's got male appeal, which means a likely hit. 

FREE BIRDS- November 1

Opening Weekend Prediction- $14 million
Total Gross Prediction- $50 million

Free Birds is a great concept that could go nowhere thanks to the small marketing budget that Relativity Media has. It's got a pair of appealing stars in Owen Wilson and Woody Harrelson but it also looks exceedingly stupid and lacking in any sort of heart or charm. However, it will be the first family film in a month so parents and kids will turn out anyways. 

LAST VEGAS- November 1

Opening Weekend Prediction- $22 million
Total Gross Prediction- $70 million

Word of mouth will probably be good on this one, as it has a bunch of stars that have major appeal to older audiences. Last Vegas could also be a hit with teenagers who are looking for a good PG-13 comedy to go to. However, unless this film is really funny, I don't see a breakout hit like The Hangover in the cards. But solid grosses nonetheless. 

ABOUT TIME- November 8

Opening Weekend Prediction- $17 million
Total Gross Prediction- $65 million

This is a film that actually looks really, really good. It's got this kind of low key, British charm to it that makes me want to see it. And, it's a romantic film and there don't seem to be many of those these days. However, About Time doesn't have enough star power to become a major hit and it isn't based on a Nicolas Sparks novel, which sets it back quite a bit. 

THOR: THE DARK WORLD- November 8

Opening Weekend Prediction- $90 million
Total Gross Prediction- $285 million

The so called "Avengers Boost" will certainly come into play with Thor: The Dark World as the sequel to the 2011 hit will look to capitalize on the success of 2012's The Avengers. However, there is a chance that this is Marvel's first bad film as it has had a lot of bad press, director changes and a completely unclear narrative. At the least, the opening weekend will be big. 

THE BEST MAN HOLIDAY- November 15

Opening Weekend Prediction- $16.5 million
Total Gross Prediction- $50 million

This is another one of those sequels that I'm not sure anyone cares about, but somehow, it will still make money. The Best Man Holiday is also Christmas themed, which gives it legs and an advantage in a season defunct of many winter films. However, the film's audience isn't big enough to carry this one much further than $50 million. 

THE BOOK THIEF- November 15

Opening Weekend Prediction- $12 million
Total Gross Prediction- $45 million

The Book Thief is one of those films that I see getting lost in the Oscar shuffle. It looks fine, and it's completely begging for Oscar attention, but I'm not sure that it contains that great performance or that extra flash that is necessary for it to get nominations. Commercially, I don't see much of it and without any major stars, this Holocaust drama could get lost in the busy season. 

THE WOLF OF WALL STREET- November 15

Opening Weekend Prediction- $49 million
Total Gross Prediction- $210 million

The Wolf of Wall Street looks like a perfect cross between commercial viability and Oscar success. The Wolf of Wall Street has a great cast led by Leonardo DiCaprio, Matthew McConaughey, and Jonah Hill and has a spectacular first trailer. Plus, it's almost guaranteed to get awards season attention, and it's directed by the legendary Martin Scorsese. I see nothing but a smash hit from this one. 

DELIVERY MAN- November 22

Opening Weekend Prediction- $15 million
Total Gross Prediction- $45 million

I went very high on The Internship back in my Summer Box Office Predictions article, and I'm not going to be on Vince Vaughn again. In this film, he stars a man who donated to a sperm bank and by mistake becomes the biological father of 533 children. Somehow, this movie is PG-13. In a busy season, people might want a comedy, but I don't see many people going to this one. 

THE HUNGER GAMES: CATCHING FIRE- November 22

Opening Weekend Prediction- $190 million
Total Gross Prediction- $450 million

The Hunger Games was a massive hit back in 2012, when the popularity of the series had reached a fever pitch. The audience is still there for a sequel to this film and it's going to be massive. With a more action-packed story, and more star power, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire has the potential to be a much bigger success than the original. I think that it will be. 

BLACK NATIVITY- November 27

Five-Day Opening Weekend Prediction- $17 million
Total Gross Prediction- $39 million

With so many great films coming out in the second half of this year, some of them are guaranteed to get lost in the shuffle. I already said that The Book Thief would and I would add Black Nativity to that list. It's got an all-star cast of African-American actors and a nice premise but I don't really see it going anywhere. This one is going to be a small, middle of the road success. 

OLDBOY- November 27

Five-Day Opening Weekend Prediction- $24 million
Total Gross Prediction- $60 million

A dark and nasty revenge thriller on Thanksgiving might not sound like a great idea, but there is a passionate following for Chan Park-Wook's original thriller and a remake is something that people will surely be interested in. But it is very dark and very violent, so we'll see if that turns people off to the film. There's a decent sized following of Lee and the original to carry part the $50 million mark, however. 

FROZEN- November 27

Five-Day Opening Weekend Prediction- $70 million
Total Gross Prediction- $220 million

This is something that will be playing until February. It's the only animated film this holiday season and it's the latest from Disney animation, who have been on a hot streak lately with Tangled and Wreck-It Ralph. It looks like Disney will give Frozen a similar marketing push and that alone is enough to carry this film pretty far. The fact that it actually looks good will also give it some clout. 

MANDELA: LONG WALK TO FREEDOM- November 29

Opening Weekend Prediction- $9 million
Total Gross Prediction- $60 million

I have no idea when this film is going to go wide, so for now, I'm assuming that this film will come out wide. It looks good, but it doesn't have a great cast or a mainly recognizable actor at the center. Reviews out of Tiff will be the key. If Mandela ends up being a legitimate Oscar contender, then the grosses for this film will only end up higher. 

OUT OF THE FURNACE- December 6

Opening Weekend Prediction- $20 million
Total Gross Prediction- $80 million

Another week, another Oscar contender. This time, it's an On The Waterfront-esque crime drama starring Christian Bale, Casey Affleck and Woody Harrelson in a villainous role. This movie is going to be good. I'm not sure how big its appeal is commercially but I think that the star power is enough to keep this movie going full steam ahead into the Oscar race. 

TYLER PERRY'S A MADEA CHRISTMAS- December 13

Opening Weekend Prediction- $20 million
Total Gross Prediction- $50 million

There's nothing new or groundbreaking here and the box office grosses will stay steady. There's an audience for this film and they keep these films afloat. I think that the Christmas theme will also help slightly but not enough to expand on Madea's loyal audience. 

THE HOBBIT: DESOLATION OF SMAUG- December 13

Opening Weekend Prediction- $73 million
Total Gross Prediction- $295 million

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey was not especially well-received when it came out in 2012 but I'm not sure that it's going to stop people from seeing the second installment. If the reviews are better on this film, then I think that Desolation will end up close to the total of the first film. But if it's still as drawn out and boring as An Unexpected Journey, then Desolation of Smaug better get ready for dipping grosses.

THE MONUMENTS MEN- December 18

Five-Day Opening Weekend Prediction- $35 million
Total Gross Prediction- $120 million

A true crowd-pleaser from the looks of it, The Monuments Men is a film that could experience success both commercially and critically. While there was mass concern back in August when a rumor leaked about Columbia opting not to launch an Oscar campaign, The Monuments Men still looks like a very good film that should match the business of last year's Argo.

WALKING WITH DINOSAURS- December 20

Opening Weekend Prediction- $9 million
Total Gross Prediction- $30 million

This looks like a really bad film and one that I am pretty sure will get lost in the Christmas shuffle. It seems to be a documentary-esque dinosaur family film that recreates certain events in the dinosaur period, but it doesn't have much dialogue. I don't see the demographic for this film and Fox better hope that they didn't spend much money on this.

INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS- December 20

Opening Weekend Prediction- $9.5 million
Total Gross Prediction- $115 million

For a comparison on Inside Llewyn Davis, I looked to last year's Silver Linings Playbook. On the first weekend in which it played in wide release, the film took in $10 million. I don't see Inside Llewyn Davis being as commercially viable, but I think that this is a major awards season heavyweight and it certainly will build off of word of mouth to eventually become a major hit.

SAVING MR. BANKS- December 20

Opening Weekend Prediction- $27 million
Total Gross Prediction- $130 million

This is a great move by Disney to release this film near Christmas, as this is exactly the kind of film that people will eat up at this time of year. Saving Mr. Banks is sure to get a ton of Oscar buzz for its two lead performances from Tom Hanks and Emma Thompson and it has a crowd-pleasing factor that will eventually lead to a long and healthy run.

ANCHORMAN 2: THE LEGEND CONTINUES- December 20

Opening Weekend Prediction- $47 million
Total Gross Prediction- $210 million

This is certainly going to be the biggest comedy of the year. Anchorman has built a steady fanbase over the years, to the point where it has a real chance at commercial viability. The first film made $84 million and I believe that during the nine years between films, the fanbase has grown enough to be a massive worldwide franchise.

GRUDGE MATCH- December 25

Five- Day Opening Weekend Prediction- $16 million
Total Gross Prediction- $40 million

With a bounty of films coming out on Christmas day, one is bound to get lost in the shuffle. That film is Grudge Match. Starring Sylvester Stallone and Robert De Niro as elderly boxers, this is a film that should be released in January-March, but for some reason, isn't. Originally, Warner Bros. set this film up for a January release, but moved it. Maybe they see something I don't.

AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY- December 25

Five-Day Opening Weekend Prediction- $20 million
Total Gross Prediction- $80 million

Let's assume that this film is opening in wide release. August: Osage County is really depending on its Tiff premiere this week for its shot at a box office outbreak. The general consensus on the internet is currently negative, but I think that the cast, led by Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts and Ewan McGregor, will certainly get some box office returns.

47 RONIN- December 25

Five-Day Opening Weekend Prediction- $32 million
Total Gross Prediction- $75 million

Universal knows that 47 Ronin has no chance of winning this Christmas weekend. It just needs to release this film. It has been constantly delayed, bad press has built up worse than my homework load, and it's budget is massive. That said, it's likely to suffer from the glut of films being released. However, it could make some coin if The Hobbit really disappoints. Still, this is a title with mostly international appeal.

THE SECRET LIFE OF WALTER MITTY- December 25

Five-Day Opening Weekend Prediction- $35 million
Total Gross Prediction- $140 million

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is this year's Life of Pi, plain and simple. It's an odd, big budget, PG drama, that is loaded with Oscar potential. I'm a bit more bullish on Walter Mitty because of its star power, but it's still in about the same league as its other films. For families and people looking for something a bit different, Walter Mitty is sure to be their go-to film.

AMERICAN HUSTLE- December 25

Five- Day Opening Weekend Prediction- $45 million
Total Gross Prediction- $150 million

Maybe you think that releasing a sexed-up, 1970's set Oscar contender on Christmas day is an odd choice. Look at Django Unchained and come back. This year's Oscar favorite, American Hustle is a film that will have major commercial appeal. Jennifer Lawrence is now a huge star, and all the other cast members have found major successes of their own. Look for a major commercial and critical hit.

JACK RYAN: SHADOW ONE- December 25

Five-Day Opening Weekend Prediction- $60 million
Total Gross Prediction- $170 million

Jack Ryan: Shadow One is the last big action film of 2013 and it's got a lot of potential. It's directed by Kenneth Branagh, who has proven his blockbuster chops with Thor, and it stars Chris Pine, Keira Knightley, Kevin Costner and Branagh himself. This is a film that has appeal with multiple demographics and could wind up as one of our next great franchises.

NOTE: Her, Labor Day, and Lone Survivor have not been included thanks to the fact that they don't go wide until January.

So that's it for my fall box office predictions. We'll see how I do. 

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Lee Daniels' The Butler review

2013 has been a really good year for movies in my opinion. We've seen two great films (Fast and Furious 6, The World's End) and several films that were very good (Room 237, Elysium, Iron Man 3). But, most of the good films that we have seen this year have been action films, popcorn blockbusters that deliver on their promise of being a good time, but sometimes rise above it thanks to terrific pacing, good acting, spectacular script, etc. Not to knock popcorn movies, but eventually, you will probably want a little more. Enter Lee Daniels' The Butler. It's an Oscar bait movie in the middle of August, so one could presume that it isn't very good. Plus, it had a lackluster trailer that practically bathed in sentimentality and made the movie look extremely generic. Somehow, Lee Daniels' The Butler rises above that, and becomes a well made, well acted and entertaining biopic that doubles as a character study and a Forrest Gump-esque look at history. It's one of the year's best films.

Lee Daniels' The Butler tells the story of Cecil Gaines (Forest Whitaker). The story begins with him as a young man on a cotton farm and quickly breezes over the details of his younger years. His father was killed by the cruel owner of a cotton farm, and Cecil eventually became a butler. He worked his way up to the DC area where he was a butler at a ritzy hotel before landing a gig at the White House in the late 1950's. Eventually, Gaines ends up serving seven presidents: Eisenhower (Robin Williams), JFK (James Marsden), Johnson (Liev Schrieber), Nixon (John Cusack), Ford, Carter and Reagan (Alan Rickman). Gaines and his wife Gloria (Oprah Winfrey) are happy about his gig at the White House, but their son Louis (David Oyelowo) is upset about the racial climate of America. Throughout the movie, you see the two conflicting ideologies of father and son: one who wants to blend in and the other who wants to stand out. 

I had this film (I'm just going to call it The Butler for the rest of this review) at #10 on my most anticipated for the rest of the year, but lately my anticipation had faded. I don't know what it was, but I just wasn't sure that this film would be anything but a sentimental mess. The Butler begins with a sucker punch. Within the first five minutes, you see two lynched bodies and the execution of a black man. It told me right away that it wouldn't be the mess I thought that it would. The Butler doesn't pull any punches in terms of showing the horrors of a segregated America. While The Butler has a lack of focus, there are still a lot of missteps that Daniels avoids with this film. 

First off, I found a lot of the performances to be very good. Whitaker is a little bland in the lead role. This film has obvious inspirations from Forrest Gump in terms of setup, but it's protagonist is nowhere near as entertaining as the one in that film, and sometimes you can't tell if the film wants you to root for him. Oprah is pretty spectacular. She carries a lot of scenes and she isn't stunt casting. This is a role that fits her. The supporting butlers, played by Cuba Gooding Jr. and Lenny Kravitz were also worthy additions to the plot and the two actors gave good performances. The presidents were all fine, but most of them did appear to be stunt casting. The standout performance in this film comes from David Oyelowo, who should be getting some serious talk for best supporting actor. He is the emotional center of the film and the character that drives the plot. And he's terrific. 

If I have painted The Butler as a weighty and intense look at the Civil Rights era, I apologize, because it's most certainly not. The Butler is a lot of fun and while it certainly has more than its share of weighty moments, it's a spectacularly entertaining film. It's well-paced, well-acted, and keeps you engaged with the characters and the constant parade of historical events. I lost myself in this movie for a while before realizing some major flaws in the film. 

The main problem with The Butler is that the main character is uninteresting. Cecil Gaines is essentially a less entertaining Forrest Gump as he sees all this stuff going on around him, but doesn't really impact it at all. Because of that, the film turns to Louis for its emotional center. And by doing that, the film becomes less about "The Butler" and becomes more and more about Louis. I can see that being a problem for some people. Cecil essentially doesn't care about the civil rights movement and wants to keep his job and serve. However, you have to look closer. 

Eventually, The Butler becomes two parallel stories, as I said. By doing this, Daniels shows the civil rights movement from two African-American perspectives and they both are interesting to look at. Cecil wants to blend in with the white people by just being a good friendly guy, and a nice butler. Louis wants to take his rights by force. You see their parallel journeys. It's cool once you figure it out. But at first, I wasn't sure what to make of it, since Cecil isn't exactly your traditional civil rights hero. However, he still broke barriers in his own way. 

The script by Danny Strong does struggle with a lack of focus, but is otherwise extremely sound. It doesn't shy away from racist language, which adds to the realism and never sugar-coats anything. The best part about this film is that Daniels and Strong realize that you don't need to soak your film in sentimentality to get peoples emotions going. My only problem is that I didn't care enough about Cecil. He doesn't operate as someone we need to root for. He's got a nice house, a nice life and he's a butler for the most powerful men on Earth. Cecil essentially operates as a guide for us as we see the movement. There are some nice bits where you see changes in his character, but I think that most of the emotion belongs to the side characters. 

The Butler makes some questionable choices, but I think that they add to the story. Overall, this is a film that I think a lot of people will enjoy. It's a great drama and one that is infinitely watchable. It's got a great look to it and it has several Oscar worthy performances in it. Besides the problems I had with the main character, The Butler is an extremely well crafted film and one that we definitely be talking about come Oscar season. It's definitely a step up from 42, the other civil rights film. It's got a better and more interesting narrative than that one. The Butler is definitely more than a straight biopic. I think that it's a film worth examining for what it says about the civil rights movement and the different people that were a part of it. 

THE FINAL GRADE:  B+                                             (8/10)