Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Star Wars: Episode VII cast announced!

After almost a year of speculation, the cast of the highly anticipated Star Wars: Episode VII was announced today. Yesterday, I posted that Oscar Isaac and Zac Efron were being considered for a role and rumors have floated around for months that actors like Lupita Nyong'o, Jennifer Lawrence and Chiwetel Ejiofor were being considered for a role. Well, we found out the truth today. Here's the casting breakdown.

-Mark Hamill as Luke Skywalker
-Harrison Ford as Han Solo
-Carrie Fisher as Leia Skywalker
-Anthony Daniels as C3PO
-Peter Mayhew as Chewbacca
-Kenny Baker as R2D2
-Adam Driver
-Oscar Isaac
-Domnhall Gleeson
-Andy Serkis
-Max Von Sydow
-John Boyega
-Daisy Ridley

That's quite the cast and according to The Wrap, JJ Abrams and company may have a few more surprises up their sleeve. However, I'll settle for just this right now. My anticipation for this movie has tripled with the announcement of some of the names in this cast. Adam Driver is a captivating young talent and I loved his performances in Frances Ha and Inside Llewyn Davis. Oscar Isaac is fantastic as well and was brilliant as the title character in Inside Llewyn Davis. Andy Serkis is the king of motion capture. Von Sydow is a screen legend. Gleeson and Boyega are rising stars.

All in all, this is a great cast with rising stars and great actors alike. I'm excited to see what Abrams does with this cast and I can't wait to see this movie. If there's even more names thrown out there in the future, I'll be even more excited.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Efron, Isaac rumored for "Episode VII," as Star Wars holiday announcement approaches

As soon as Disney announced Star Wars: Episode VII, fans have gone into a frenzy over who will possibly star in the film and its possible sequels. Names like Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael B. Jordan, Lupita Nyong'o, Zac Efron and Adam Driver have been thrown around over the last year and it only looks like it will get more crazy from there. Today, Deadline reports that Oscar Isaac is being eyed for a major role in Episode VII, which I think is a great idea. The major industry website is also reporting that the big May 4 (Star Wars Day) announcement is that Harrison Ford will have a major role as Han Solo in the upcoming film. That's a start, but I still believe that more is coming.

In addition to the earlier rumor about Oscar Isaac, Comic Book Movie also has a video interview between Zac Efron and a British news outlet for his upcoming film Neighbors. In the interview, Efron appears to hint that he has a role in the upcoming film and I sincerely believe that he will be cast in the film. He's fantastic in Neighbors and I do think that it would be a smart move for the studio. 

All of these Star Wars rumors are promising. It's clear that producer Kathleen Kennedy, JJ Abrams and Disney's CEO Bob Iger want the best possible actors for these roles. I'm betting that the final cast ends up including Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Harrison Ford, Saoirse Ronan, Zac Efron, Oscar Isaac and Adam Driver. That's just a start and actors like Jesse Plemons and Nyong'o could show up as well. All of it is extremely interesting and I'm intrigued to see how it plays out. 

Sunday, April 27, 2014

The trailer for Richard Linklater's "Boyhood" will blow you away

Amid all the action-packed extravaganzas and raunchy studio comedies hitting theaters this summer, there are also a few smaller films that I'm really looking forward to. One of them is Jon Favreau's Chef, which received solid reviews out of South by Southwest. The film looks like a nice, summery diversion and it has a strong cast led by Favreau, Sofia Vergara, Dustin Hoffman, Scarlett Johannson and Robert Downey Jr. Another small film that I'm looking forward to is Begin Again, which stars Mark Ruffalo and Keira Knightley as failing musicians who unite together. It looks pretty great. Snowpiercer and The Rover are also films that I'm looking forward to. They look darker than your usual summer action flick and were made by acclaimed directors. However, there's one film that I'm looking forward to more than any of those. That film is Richard Linklater's Boyhood. IFC Films released the trailer a few days ago. Check it out:

This film looks astonishing. There are not enough adjectives to describe how I felt when I watched this trailer. This movie doesn't come out for over two months and I already feel an emotional connection to it. For those of you who don't know the story, Boyhood was made over a span of twelve years. Richard Linklater cast Patricia Arquette, Ethan Hawke and newcomer Ellar Coltrane in 2002 and watched them grow over a span of twelve years. This film has been critically acclaimed and critics have said that it's a unique masterpiece that pretty much puts real life on the screen. The fact that a trailer can connect me to a film so much tells me that this movie will be great. I seriously can't wait to see this movie. Boyhood will hit theaters on July 11.

"The Other Woman" defies expectations, tops "Captain America 2" at weekend box office

Well, it's the weekend before the summer movie season and on paper, the three new releases this weekend don't sound that spectacular. However, Fox's The Other Woman managed to surprise, pulling in $24.7 million and a first place finish. That's a solid finish for the comedy, which cost around $40 million to produce. The film received a "B+" Cinemascore, which is solid, but not spectacular. With no direct competition next week, expect The Other Woman to continue going strong. The combined star power of Cameron Diaz, Leslie Mann and Kate Upton had to have drawn in a lot of female crowds. 

In second place was Captain America: The Winter Soldier. After three weekends in first place, Captain America was finally bumped off its pedestal. However, the film still took in $16 million, which is only a 37% drop from last weekend. So far, The Winter Soldier has brought in $224.8 million in the US and a total of $645.1 million worldwide. A total around $800-$850 million worldwide and $270 domestic sounds reasonable at this point. TriStar's Heaven is for Real finished in third place with $13.8 million, a 39% drop from last weekend. The low-budget hit has now grossed $51.9 million, which is quite amazing. Look for Heaven is for Real to stay strong throughout the coming month. 

Rio 2 finished in fourth place with $13.6 million, just behind Heaven is for Real. The animated comedy will face a little bit of competition with Legends of Oz in the coming weeks, but with a small 38% drop from last weekend, this film looks like it will keep going strong. Rio 2 has now grossed $96.1 million. In fifth place was Brick Mansions, which features one of Paul Walker's final performances. The action flick finished with $9.6 million, which is pretty solid. Brick Mansions also pulled in a "B+" Cinemascore, which is decent. However, with The Amazing Spider-Man 2 next weekend, I doubt that Brick Mansions will hold on for much longer. 

Transcendence plummeted 62% to sixth place this weekend, finishing with $4.1 million. The massive flop has now grossed $18.4 million. It's a terrible movie and I'm really not surprised that it has flopped. Summit's The Quiet Ones also disappointed this weekend, finishing in seventh place with $4 million. That's a lackluster total and the "C+" Cinemascore isn't much better. However, Lionsgate and Summit are quick to point out that it was just an acquisition and won't cost the studio any money. 

Disneynature's Bears took a small plunge this weekend, finishing in eighth place with $3.6 million. The nature documentary missed the top ten last weekend, but managed to keep a stronger hold than some of its competition. The film has now grossed $11.1 million. Divergent also stayed strong this weekend, finishing in ninth place with $3.6 million. The YA hit has now grossed $139.4 million. A total around $150 million seems likely at this point. And finally, A Haunted House 2 rounded out the top ten with $3.2 million. The comedy has now grossed $14.2 million.

Next weekend sees the release of The Amazing Spider-Man 2. Here are my predictions: 

1. The Amazing Spider-Man 2- $91.5 million
2. The Other Woman- $14.2 million
3. Captain America: The Winter Soldier- $9.1 million
4. Heaven is for Real- $8.6 million
5. Rio 2- $7.4 million
6. Brick Mansions- $5.6 million
7. Bears- $3.1 million
8. Transcendence- $1.7 million
9. The Quiet Ones- $1.6 million
10. Divergent- $1.5 million

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Summer 2014 Box Office Predictions- Part 1

After an extremely strong winter and spring, the 2014 box office is now pacing ahead of 2013, 2011, and 2009. With huge hits like Ride Along, The LEGO Movie, Divergent and Captain America: The Winter Soldier, it's really no surprise that the business has been doing so well. And with a lot of potentially huge movies ahead, this year is far from over. With this post, I'll be making my predictions for the first part of the summer box office (May and June). There are many films that could end up being megahits, so this will be very interesting. Here we go.


Opening Weekend Prediction- $91.3 million
Total Gross Prediction- $250.7 million

After the lukewarm reception to the first film, I really don't see this becoming a massive hit, especially with stiff competition from Godzilla and X-Men: Days of Future Past later in the month. In addition to that, the reviews have been middling thus far and the film may just be trying to do too much. It will still be a worldwide smash, but The Amazing Spider Man 2 might have trouble getting to $250 million in the US.


Opening Weekend Prediction- $42.5 million
Total Gross Prediction- $155 million

Neighbors is going to be a huge hit in the US. The story of a prank war between a suburban family and a fraternity is absolutely hilarious and one of the most hysterical movies I've seen in a while. With a stellar supporting cast led by Zac Efron and Dave Franco, Neighbors delivers the laughs in droves. And people are going to love this movie when they finally see it. I think that this could end up being Rogen's highest grossing film yet.


Opening Weekend Prediction- $5.4 million
Total Gross Prediction- $12 million

This movie looks absolutely awful and I seriously doubt that anyone will actually see it. However, it does star Lea Michele, Dan Aykroyd and Patrick Stewart, which could draw in some parents. Other than star power, this movie has nothing going for it. The animation looks awful and all of the jokes in the trailers fall flat. This is going to be a huge flop.

CHEF- May 9

Opening Weekend Prediction- $200,000 (limited release)
Total Gross Prediction- $9 million

Jon Favreau's Chef looks like a good movie and will probably work as counter-programming in a crowded summer. There are a lot of big-name cast members like Robert Downey Jr., Sofia Vergara, Dustin Hoffman and Scarlett Johannson and the premise looks pretty fun. Look for Chef to be a modest hit this summer. Personally, I'm looking forward to it.


Opening Weekend Prediction- $93 million
Total Gross Prediction- $270 million

In the world of internet film criticism, there is probably no blockbuster that is more anticipated this summer than Godzilla. The latest incarnation of the famous Japanese monster series looks pretty spectacular with a dead serious tone and a cast that includes Bryan Cranston and David Strathairn. The buzz has been deafening and I just can't wait to see what director Gareth Edwards has cooked up here. If it's good, a total of over $250 million is almost guaranteed for Godzilla.


Opening Weekend Prediction- $14.2 million
Total Gross Prediction- $65 million

Million Dollar Arm is a sports movie from Disney that tells the story of an agent who goes to India to find cricket players to play baseball. That's an intriguing premise, but what's even more intriguing is that Disney's studio chief said that this movie tested better than any other film they've ever made. That's pretty great and I believe that word of mouth will be stellar. Look for this film to make solid money throughout the summer.


Opening Weekend Prediction- $106 million (3-day), $127 million (4-day)
Total Gross Prediction- $325 million

Although this film is in some trouble at this point because of director Bryan Singer's sexual abuse lawsuit, the latest X-Men movie will certainly be one of the biggest hits of the summer. The epic storyline combines both the cast from X-Men: First Class and the original trilogy for a motion picture event that includes killer robots, dystopian futures and more. I can't wait for this film and I believe that audiences will be drawn to seeing all of these characters together for one movie.


Opening Weekend Prediction- $31 million (3-day), $40 million (4-day)
Total Gross Prediction- $97.5 million

Reuniting Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore for a comedy set in Africa sounds like a great idea on paper, but when he's not doing another Grown Ups film, Sandler hasn't exactly been dynamite at the box office. However,  Blended is a PG-13 comedy, which is rare and will likely work as counterprogramming to Days of Future Past on Memorial Day weekend. A finish just short of $100 million is likely.


Opening Weekend Prediction- $82 million
Total Gross Prediction- $240 million

Maleficent is another risky fantasy film for Disney, but this time, Angelina Jolie is the star. She hasn't done a movie in a while and will likely be the major draw for this film. In addition to that, the special effects look great and the dark tone could bring in some adults in addition to the built in family audience. Oz, The Great and Powerful opened to $79 million on its way to $234 million. Maleficent should at least match that.


Opening Weekend Prediction- $41 million
Total Gross Prediction- $120 million

Seth MacFarlane saw great success in 2012 with Ted, the raunchy R-rated comedy about a teddy bear that becomes a living creature. A Million Ways to Die in the West is a Western, which will likely be a harder sell to mainstream audiences and it's opening right between Neighbors and 22 Jump Street, both of which will be huge. However, it has a strong cast and the red band trailer makes the film seem pretty funny. A total around $120 million should be expected for this one.


Opening Weekend Prediction- $51 million
Total Gross Prediction- $160 million

I'm predicting big things for this movie for many reasons. The dark cancer drama probably doesn't seem like it would fit on the summer movie schedule, but the fanbase for this book is massive and from what I can tell, they're already excited about this movie. In addition, Shailene Woodley is now a household name because of Divergent. Finally, there's literally no competition for this film throughout the whole summer. That means that The Fault in Our Stars will have all summer to do whatever it wants at the box office. If everything goes well, this is going to be a huge hit.


Opening Weekend Prediction- $35.5 million
Total Gross Prediction- $101 million

Edge of Tomorrow is a high-concept sci-fi film starring Tom Cruise. That's one negative right there. This film actually does look good, but the box office prospects aren't super high for this one. Edge of Tomorrow's success or failure will hinge on reviews and word of mouth. That's what it's going to come down to. If reviews are good, Edge of Tomorrow could be a solid hit.

22 JUMP STREET- June 13

Opening Weekend Prediction- $56.5 million
Total Gross Prediction- $165 million

21 Jump Street was a massive surprise back in 2012, opening to $36.3 million on its way to nearly $140 million. With a prime summer release date, odds are that 22 Jump Street will make much more money. Tatum and Hill are much bigger stars now and the first film was well received. I think that a total around $165 million is reasonable at this point.


Opening Weekend Prediction- $115 million
Total Gross Prediction- $380 million

The first film in the How To Train Your Dragon franchise was a massive hit, grossing $217.5 million back in 2010. The sequel's advantage is that there is literally no other animated film coming out this Summer. The film's strongest competition is Planes: Fire and Rescue. A massive total of $300 million+ is almost guaranteed at this point.


Opening Weekend Prediction- $37 million
Total Gross Prediction- $94 million

Think Like A Man was a surprise success back in 2012 and Kevin Hart's stock has grown exponentially since that first film was released. Now, the sequel is here and it should end up making more than its predecessor. The film doesn't look great but it should end up being a success. It should finish around the same mark that its predecessor did.


Opening Weekend Prediction- $25.6 million
Total Gross Prediction- $115 million

Jersey Boys has been a musical success for years on Broadway and now, Clint Eastwood will adapt the play to the big screen. Movie musicals have been pretty tough to crack over the years. Les Miserables was a big hit, but Rock of Ages flopped. However, the first trailer for Jersey Boys was good and with an R-rating, it's clear that Warner Bros. is going for an adult audience. I'm betting that this film ends up being a midsummer hit for the underestimated adult crowd.


Opening Weekend Prediction- $110 million
Total Gross Prediction- $300 million

The Transformers franchise isn't quite what it used to be. The fourth film in the saga that started with 2007's Transformers has a fresh new cast led by Mark Wahlberg and Nicola Peltz and what looks to be a darker tone. However, in a crowded summer, I'm not sure that Age of Extinction can quite be the hit that the previous films were. Still, this will be one of the biggest worldwide hits of the year.

Those are my predictions for May and June. It looks like there are quite a few sure things and some films that might have tough time. Come back later for my predictions for July and August (hint: there will be a lot more flops.)

"Captain America" in front for third straight weekend, "Heaven is for Real" surprises, "Transcendence" bombs at box office

After a win by the smallest of margins last weekend, Captain America: the Winter Soldier topped the box office again with a $26.6 million weekend. That's a 36% drop from last weekend, which is a pretty solid hold. Word of mouth has obviously been good for this film, which has now grossed $201.5 million in the US. Worldwide, The Winter Soldier has now amassed $586.6 million and by the end of its run, Captain America will probably have about $750 million. It should pass Thor: The Dark World's total in the US by Tuesday or Wednesday. In second place was another holdover from last weekend, Fox's Rio 2. The animated sequel grossed $22.5 million this weekend which is a 43% drop from last weekend. That's a decent hold for the film, but with no direct competition, Fox has to be slightly disappointed. Through two weekends, the film has grossed a solid $75.3 million and will surely finish with $100 million or more.

The biggest surprise of the weekend was Sony's Heaven is for Real, which grossed $21.5 million in third place. The religious drama, which opened on Wednesday, received an "A" Cinemascore from audiences. And with Easter today, I wouldn't be surprised to see this estimate go up when the actuals come out tomorrow. Heaven is for Real cost $12 million to make and has now made $28.5 million. That's pretty impressive and with the success of God's Not Dead and Son of God earlier this year, I see no reason why the religious films won't stop being produced. 

Although The Legend of Hercules, I,Frankenstein and Pompeii flopped earlier this year, Transcendence became the year's first mega-budget failure, finishing in fourth place this weekend with $11.1 million. That's a horrible total for the film, which was tracking to make at least $25 million. Word of mouth certainly didn't help. Transcendence received a "C+" Cinemascore and reviews were awful on Rotten Tomatoes. I hated the film as well and I'm still baffled that it was so bad. The storyline seems so smart and interesting on paper, but it's just so muddled and confusing on film. 

A Haunted House 2 also had a pretty rough weekend, finishing in fifth place with $9.1 million. That's roughly half of what the first film made, which is pretty disappointing. Audiences didn't like it (the film received a "B-" Cinemascore) and critics weren't kind either. However, the film cost $4 million to make, so A Haunted House 3 can't be far behind. Draft Day had a decent hold this weekend, placing in sixth place with $5.9 million. After a lackluster start, Draft Day dropped only 40%. The film has now grossed $19.5 million, although no budget has been reported by Summit.

Divergent finished in seventh place with $5.7 million. The YA adaptation has now grossed $133.9 million, which is slightly disappointing given the rabid fanbase. We'll see if the sequel, Insurgent, can do a little bit better. Oculus dropped 57% to eighth place this weekend and grossed $5.2 million. The horror film has now grossed $21.1 million. Noah finished in ninth place with $5 million. Due to the religious holidays this weekend, Noah probably saw a small bump. The film has now grossed $93.2 million and will likely crawl to $100 million. And finally, God's Not Dead rounded out the top ten with $4.8 million. The low budget hit has now grossed $48.3 million. 

Also, Disney's Bears grossed $4.7 million in eleventh place. That's the worst start for a Disneynature film so far, but the film did receive a promising "A" Cinemascore. I really did enjoy the movie and I encourage you to check it out if it interests you. 

Next weekend sees the release of The Other Woman, The Quiet Ones and Brick Mansions. Here are my early predictions: 

1. Captain America: The Winter Soldier- $17.1 million
2. The Other Woman- $15.3 million
3. Rio 2- $14.5 million
4. Heaven is for Real- $14 million
5. The Quiet Ones- $13.6 million
6. Brick Mansions- $10.1 million
7. Transcendence- $5.2 million
8. A Haunted House 2- $3.9 million
9. Draft Day- $3.8 million
10. Divergent- $3.6 million

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Transcendence review

Sometimes, having expectations for a film can be a killer. As I thought about Wally Pfister's new sci-fi thriller Transcendence, I wondered if my inflated expectations for the film had caused me to be disappointed or if the movie was just flat-out bad. I've settled on the latter option. Transcendence is a dull, boring movie with little to offer the audience but a bunch of scientific talk spoken between lifeless characters and a borderline incomprehensible plot. It's one of 2014's first disasters. Transcendence is a film that promises so much, but delivers so little. None of the actors give much of a performance and the script is a mess. This movie never grips you in the beginning and never really does throughout the entire runtime. The film takes a strong anti-technology stance. What's ironic about that is that the movie feels like it was made by a computer.

Transcendence is the story of Will and Evelyn Caster (Johnny Depp and Rebecca Hall), two acclaimed scientists who also happen to be husband and wife. After giving a speech about artificial intelligence at a conference, Will is confronted by a man who shoots at him before taking his own life. Eventually, we learn that an anti-tech group called RIFT conducted a series of attacks against AI labs and only Will, Evelyn and their friends Joseph (Morgan Freeman) and Max (Paul Bettany) survived. Will was only grazed by the bullet, but it contained polonium, which will give Will radiation poisoning and cause him to die. Distraught when she learns that her husband will die, Evelyn remembers a study conducted and decides to upload Will's brain onto a computer. The experiment works and Will becomes a sentient, intelligent being on a computer program. However, he eventually begins to amass more power and builds an army which threatens all of humanity.

Transcendence is a movie with so much potential, but it never delivers on any of it. I've read a lot of reviews for this movie and I agreed with pretty much everything that other critics said. Transcendence is a lifeless movie with tedious characters, awful pacing and a dull, uninteresting storyline. Some people have said that the movie gets by on its ideas alone. I disagree wholeheartedly with that statement. The film has interesting ideas and intriguing themes, but there's no way that you'll be interested in these themes while you're being bored half to death by this movie. The pacing and the directing is awful, the acting is dull and the film never really has anything going on.

The first problem with Transcendence is the pacing. This movie has long stretches where nothing goes on, followed by a brief moment of excitement, followed by another long stretch of nothing. For long periods of time, this movie is so boring. Every once in a while, there would be a moment where I thought "Hey, that looked cool!" or "Hey, that's something that Chris Nolan would have done!" but the simple problem was that they were few and far between.

Another problem that Transcendence runs into involves the acting and the characters. Look, I'm not saying that Inception or some of the other Nolan have the most developed characters in the world, but every time I watch Inception, I'm invested in Cobb's story. In Transcendence, I never cared about a single one of the characters. Johnny Depp is pretty bland, Rebecca Hall is okay, and although a lot of people have been praising Paul Bettany's performance, I didn't think he was great. The supporting cast delivers some interesting performances, but the characters are terribly written. Cillian Murphy's character is so criminally underdeveloped and Morgan Freeman isn't given much to do (although I did enjoy his performance). Kate Mara is decent (her character actually has some kind of backstory) and Clifton Collins Jr. gives a solid performance in his limited role. In general, the acting is sufficient. But the main problem is that this film is dull and the characters are both dull AND poorly written. You never cared about them. However, that wouldn't have been a huge problem for me if the rest of the movie had been more thrilling or at least have made sense.

The biggest problem this movie runs into is that the script sucks. Actually, I don't know if the script sucks. According to a lot of people, the script was on the blacklist for years and the original script was fantastic. However, the script that was put on the screen sucks. It really really sucks. It's just stupid. There are things that happen that are never explained in addition to underdeveloped characters and poor pacing. The second half of this movie is ridiculous because it explains nothing. Let's go into that some more.

For years, I've listened to people say that Inception is a confusing movie because it's complicated. And for years, I have said to those people that the movie is not confusing and that you just have to pay attention. On the other hand, Transcendence IS a confusing movie. This movie makes so little sense that it's breathtaking. There are so many things that are so stupid and ridiculous that it frustrated the heck out of me. The film all of a sudden jumps ahead three years at one point in the movie and Will goes: "Hey, we just invented new nano-technology!" Suddenly, the movie becomes a mess of flying particles, reconstructed bodies and indestructible superhumans. And none of it is explained. None of it is explained logically by the plot and don't even get me started on the ending. This movie pulls a Peter Jackson and never ends. There are so many places where this movie could end, but it just goes on and on and on and on and on and on. And the final scene just made me mad.

In the end, Transcendence is terrible. It's a boring, nearly incomprehensible mess with weak characters, bad pacing, and a script that explains nothing. This movie has good ideas and moments of entertainment and it does look cool sometimes. Some of the action scenes were alright. However, that doesn't mean that it's good. This movie is a disastrous slog at times with an ending that tries to be mysterious and interesting, but just ends up falling flat because the previous two hours were awful. All I can really say at this point is that you shouldn't see this movie. It's the most boring, dull movie that I've seen in theaters all year and that's saying something. Hopefully Nolan's next directorial feature, Interstellar, is much better.

THE FINAL GRADE:  D                                              (4.2/10)

Friday, April 18, 2014

Why R-rated comedies will rule Summer 2014 at the box office

In past summers, major blockbusters with insane amounts of action and carnage have ruled the summer box office. And odds are, the same will be said for Summer 2014. The top films will probably end up being X-Men: Days of Future Past, Transformers: Age of Extinction, Godzilla, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, and possibly Guardians of the Galaxy and Maleficent. The only surefire megahit that isn't an action film is How to Train Your Dragon 2. However, the problem is that for every successful big-budget tentpole, there's one that doesn't do so hot. Edge of Tomorrow is already looking like a risky bet and Jupiter Ascending could spell trouble as well. Last summer, The Lone Ranger, After Earth, White House Down and (to a lesser degree) Pacific Rim all disappointed at the box office. Despite all of these $100 million+ flops, there's one low risk genre that consistently makes money: comedies. For years now, comedies have made a killing at the summer box office, providing us with some of the biggest smash hits in recent memory. Recently, the more specific genre of R-rated comedies has brought us films like The Hangover ($277 million), Bridesmaids ($169 million), Ted ($218 million), We're the Millers ($150 million) and The Heat ($159 million). All of those films made more than $150 million at the box office. And none of them cost more than $50 million.

Summer 2014 looks to be the strongest summer yet for R-rated comedies with five R-rated comedies that have the potential to do strong business. First up is Neighbors, the hilarious new Seth Rogen comedy that sees his character face off against a fraternity led by Teddy (Zac Efron). Having already seen the film, I can tell you that it's raunchy, crude and absolutely hilarious. With no competition for two or three weeks, this film will make a killing at the box office. A total of over $150 million is almost a given at this point in my opinion. Last summer, Rogen and friends teamed up for This is the End, which made $101 million domestically. Neighbors will make much more than that.

After that, Universal will release another comedy, A Million Ways To Die In The West, on May 30. This is the latest film from Seth MacFarlane who directed Ted. A Million Ways is probably a harder sell, but it has a great cast led by MacFarlane, Charlize Theron, Amanda Seyfried, Liam Neeson and Neil Patrick Harris and it looks pretty funny. A total above $130 million wouldn't be surprising, but if this film ends up being good, I wouldn't be shocked to see it make more.

The next R-rated comedy will come in June with 22 Jump Street. Its predecessor, 21 Jump Street, made $138 million and with a prime summer release spot, 22 Jump Street is poised to make even more. The film looks pretty funny and a lot of people who saw the first one are going to want to see this one. Critically, the first film was a success as well, and if this one can get good reviews again, 22 Jump Street could end up being the biggest R-rated comedy of the summer. In addition, Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum are both bigger draws now than they were when 21 Jump Street came out. In the end, this movie is going to make a boatload of money.

The biggest July 4th release this year is Tammy, also an R-rated comedy. This Warner Bros. Melissa McCarthy vehicle is sure to be a hit, simply because McCarthy is starring. Her last two films made more than $130 million at the box office and she is pretty much a household name at this point. In Tammy, she plays a fast-food worker who goes on a road trip with her foul-mouthed mother. The first trailer was comedy gold and I'm really looking forward to seeing what McCarthy and her husband, director Ben Falcone, cooked up with this one. Look for this to be a huge hit as well.

The final R-rated comedy of the summer is Sony's Sex Tape, which probably will end up being the smallest hit of the bunch. Sex Tape stars Cameron Diaz and Jason Segel as a married couple who make a sex tape which ends up going to the cloud. They have to embark on a journey to get back all of the iPads that they gave out for Christmas which the video was uploaded onto. This film probably best compares to Bad Teacher, which still grossed $100 million back in 2011. The film looks funny, but I'm still not sure how it will end up doing at the box office. Keep an eye on this one.

All in all, you're going to have a lot of smaller films making shocking amounts of money this summer. The Fault in Our Stars is going to be a huge hit, Jersey Boys and Get On Up could end up being good counter-programming and Deliver Us From Evil will be this year's version of The Conjuring. Hollywood might not get the highest grossing summer of all time, but they sure will make a lot of money.

Bears review

Back in 2008, when Disney announced that they were starting the Disneynature franchise, I was very excited. And while I haven't necessarily kept up with the recent Disneynature films, I decided to check out Bears simply because I love bears. That's pretty much the only reason why I wanted to see this movie. And I did end up enjoying this movie. Bears is a pretty standard nature film, but there's beautiful cinematography and an interesting storyline. John C. Reilly's narration is slightly overbearing at times, but it's a really great-looking film and the filmmaking is breathtakingly good.

Bears tells the story of a bear family in Alaska. Sky is a new mother who is now raising her children, shy Amber and adventurous Scout, in the wilderness. The bears need food and yet, it's a very long trek to get to the salmon that they desperately need. In addition, Sky and her cubs must endure wolves, avalanches and two male bears who pose a direct threat to the cubs including the leader of the domain, a bear named Magnus. Basically, this film depicts the journey of Sky, Amber and Scout to get food and survive the harsh wilderness.

This is going to be a pretty short review since there really isn't much for me to judge about this film. In general, I enjoyed this film. Bears is a nature documentary and if you don't like nature documentaries, you won't like this film. The film can be a little slow at times and there are parts where there are a lot of walking montages with not much going on. But in the end, this is a movie that I enjoyed especially because of the cinematography and the way that the filmmakers captured the story of this family and the way that they interact. 

The first thing that most people have said about this movie is how great the cinematography and I will have to agree. The cinematography on Bears is absolutely breathtaking and captures the Alaskan wilderness and the life of the bears with spectacular clarity and detail. This is a well-made movie and I loved how the credits showed how the directors made the film. Co-directors Keith Scholey and Alastair Fothergill got up close and personal with the bears and it shows. The film is beautiful and detailed and I really loved how this movie looked. 

The narration is a bit of a problem at times. John C. Reilly narrates this film and he actually does a pretty good job. However, there are times where Reilly tries to add dialogue into the film and it really doesn't work. There were times in which the narration became slightly overbearing and it just annoyed me. In the end, Reilly does a good job, but it just ends up being a problem every once in a while. 

The story is good, and while some critics have claimed that it was "Disney-fied", I strongly disagreed. The story was natural, interesting and engrossing and I was never sure which way this film would go. The peril of the film is around every corner and I was in suspense at times. 

In the end, there really isn't that much to say about Bears. It's short at 78 minutes long and it's a typical nature documentary. It's breathtaking at times, slow at others but entertaining when it comes down to it. Families will enjoy this film and animal lovers will probably enjoy it even more. The bears are cute so maybe this film will appeal to an even broader audience. All in all, I really did end up enjoying this film. It was cool, engrossing documentary. 

THE FINAL GRADE:  B                                                  (7/10)

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Neighbors review

Over the last few years, there hasn't been a more powerful comedic force in Hollywood than Seth Rogen. After starting his career with small roles in Judd Apatow productions like Anchorman and The 40 Year Old Virgin, Rogen eventually became a star in his own right, headlining films like Pineapple Express and The Green Hornet while also writing Superbad and directing This is the End with partner Evan Goldberg. Over the years, Rogen and friends Jonah Hill, James Franco, Jay Baruchel, and writer Nicholas Stoller have expanded their horizons a bit. They're tackled animated comedies, The Muppets and Hill has even picked up some Oscar nominations along the way. However, Rogen's latest film, Neighbors (out on May 9), definitely takes them back to R-rated territory. Directed by Nicholas Stoller, Neighbors plays as both a raunchy modern version of Animal House and a war movie where a suburban family and a fraternity do their best to destroy each other. With stellar performances from Zac Efron, Rose Byrne and Dave Franco, Neighbors is undoubtedly one of the funniest movies I have ever seen. It's hilarious from beginning to end and one of the best comedies in recent years.

Neighbors focuses on Mac and Kelly Radner (Rogen and Rose Byrne), a nice suburban family who are trying to adjust to life with their new baby. They miss their old days of partying, but they seem content at the same time. However, when a fraternity moves in next door, Mac and Kelly see an opportunity to prove their coolness to the frat. They go over and introduce themselves to Teddy (Zac Efron) and Pete (Dave Franco) and end up partying with them all night long. The party ends and the couple goes home, but then Teddy and Pete throw another giant party the next night. Mac ends up calling the cops and a war between the fraternity and Mac's family begins. Madness, drinking, partying and mass chaos ensues.

Neighbors is very much a Seth Rogen comedy. It's raunchy, there's a lot of marijuana use and the profanity is extremely consistent. However, Rogen and director Nicholas Stoller definitely stepped up their game here delivering a movie that feels out of control, yet meticulously mapped out at the same time. Just like the frat classic Animal House, Neighbors is a bit too messy and mostly plays out as a series of parties and pranks. But you can tell that Rogen didn't want to just do that. As many critics have already said, there are some really interesting themes in here about moving on past your young life and so on. However, you'll probably miss some of those underlying themes just from laughing so hard. By far, the best part about this movie is that it's funny and that's really all that matters. The characters and story are extremely interesting and funny and Rogen and Stoller do everything they can to make you laugh out loud at every scene. Neighbors is an absolute blast.

Comedy never works if the performers aren't up to the task. In Neighbors, all of the actors play an integral part in making this film so hilarious. Rogen is good as usual, but he definitely has moments of pure genius. Rose Byrne is really funny as well and does a great job of playing a character who is really evil at times. Efron was the stand out for me. He fits in really well with this style of comedy and is a great fit for the part. The supporting cast is also unusually strong. Dave Franco does a pretty good job, but I don't remember a ton of funny moments with him. Ike Barinholtz does a great job as Mac and Kelly's friend Jimmy. His character has some great moments.

The plot is pretty thin in terms of story, but the characters do change over the course of the film. All of these characters grow up a little bit because of what they do in this film. Plot-wise, this film is essentially a war movie between a group of immature fraternity brothers and a group of immature adults. However, just like Animal House, an elaborate plot isn't really integral to the film. Neighbors contains a bunch of small subplots that take place during this "war" that the film depicts. All of the subplots are either interesting or absolutely hilarious and they make the film better.

The script for Neighbors was written by Andrew J. Cohen and Brendan O'Brien. Neither one has ever written a script before. Heck, Cohen and O'Brien's most prominent credit is that they were co-producers on Funny People and assistant producers on The 40 Year Old Virgin. That's very little experience, but they kill it with this script. You can definitely feel Rogen and Stoller's touch on the script, but credit is due to Cohen and O'Brien as well. The characters are well-developed and their motivations are clear. But most importantly, this script never ceases to amaze with more and more outrageous jokes and features so much non-stop hilarity, that you'll probably be tired by the end of this movie.

Nicholas Stoller directed Forgetting Sarah Marshll, Get Him To The Greek and The Five Year Engagement before directing Neighbors. He also wrote the fantastic reboot The Muppets and its awful sequel Muppets Most Wanted. All in all, Stoller has had a mixed track record critically, but the energy his direction brings to this film is amazing. This film never slows down and Stoller has crafted some of the most elaborately outlandish and hilariously insane party sequences ever. This film almost never stops and Stoller captures everything so well.

When it comes to comedies, the thing that I consider to be most important is how much I laughed. I practically couldn't stop laughing in Neighbors. There are so many funny jokes sprinkled throughout this movie and the manic energy makes it all the more enjoyable. I seriously think that this is one of the funniest movies that I've ever seen. Whether it was Rogen and Efron dance fighting or the absolutely insane party at the end or the airbag scenes, this movie was making me laugh.

Neighbors is exactly what you'd expect from Rogen and his team: vulgar, crude and insanely funny. Do Stoller and Rogen take a couple jokes too far every once in a while? Definitely. Is the story a little weak at times and does the movie have a few scenes that just don't quite fit? Yes, also. However, none of that will matter to you when you're watching this movie and laughing your butt off. It's pure comic insanity from beginning to end and a great start to what is sure to be one of the best summers for R-rated comedies in recent memory.

THE FINAL GRADE:  A                                                  (9/10)

Sunday, April 13, 2014

MTV Movie Awards Live Blog

The MTV Movie Awards are probably not what first comes to mind when you think about awards shows. However, they're actually pretty funny and entertaining and I've been enjoying them so far this evening so I decided to bring out the live blog. Here we go:

-Conan O'Brien is doing a good job as a host. The product placement gag was brilliant.

-Jared Leto wins Best Transformation for Dallas Buyers Club.

-Does Jared Leto have to give a long speech about the importance of Dallas Buyers Club every time he wins an award?

-That Taco Bell commercial that's been running lately is absolutely hilarious.

-And we're back with Amanda Seyfried and Seth MacFarlane, the stars of A Million Ways to Die in the West.

-Jonah Hill wins for Best Comedic Performance at the MTV Movie Awards for The Wolf of Wall Street.

-After watching this show for about twenty minutes, I've realized that the MTV Movie Awards are essentially one big promotional item.

-Interesting performance by 21 Pilots. Never really heard of the band before, but it was still pretty compelling to watch.

-Leto is pretty annoying at this point. Best Villain is up next.

-Fassbender should totally win this, but Cumberbatch will take it. He deserves it too.

-And the award goes to.....Mila Kunis?

-Seriously, I forgot that Oz even came out this year.

-YouTube sponsors stuff now? That's weird.

-Conan is now introducing Rita Ora and Jessica Alba. With a muscle suit on. This show just keeps getting more bizarre.

-And now we have Best Shirtless Performance. Wow. This just gets more ridiculous every second.

-Zac Efron wins Best Shirtless Performance for a movie that nobody saw. And they basically forced the shirt off of him.

-Ellen Page with a large bit of product placement for X-Men: Days of Future Past in the background. This just further solidifies this show as one large marketing showcase.

-That was pretty cool. Well-edited and well-directed. Very excited for Days of Future Past.

-So many movie commercials. It's one big marketing push. However, it's still pretty entertaining. Channing Tatum is now getting the Trailblazer award. With more ads for his summer movies.

-Tatum's gonna have a huge summer if Jupiter Ascending is a success.

-This show is really dragging. Eminem and Rihanna are performing "The Monster" right now.

-Good performance, but this show is extremely tedious. The stars of Neighbors (which I'm seeing this week) are coming on stage now.

-Best Kiss is up next. It'd be great if J-Law and Amy Adams won.

-Why are all the acceptance speeches at this show so awkward?

-Since nothing remotely interesting has happened at this show in the last thirty minutes, I think that I'm going to cut the live blog off here. I'll be back later this week with reviews of Draft Day, Neighbors and more. I'll probably keep posting on Twitter, so stay posted there.

"Captain America: The Winter Soldier" tops "Rio 2" in closest race of the year at weekend box office

In a tough race at the box office, Marvel's Captain America: The Winter Soldier came out on top over Fox's animated comedy Rio 2. The Winter Soldier debuted to a spectacular $95 million last weekend and dropped around 56% for a $41.4 million weekend finish. That's a pretty decent hold for Captain America 2 and with $159 million in the bank so far, it's now ahead Thor: The Dark World at the same point in its run. In addition, Captain America 2 has made a spectacular $317.7 million overseas for a worldwide total of $476.7 million. That's higher than both the original Thor and Captain America films and The Winter Soldier could end up passing the first two Iron Man films and The Dark World in the next few weeks.

Rio 2 finished in second place this weekend with a decent $39 million. That's pretty much on par with the original film, which isn't a bad thing. In addition, the film received an "A" Cinemascore and with a lot of kids on spring break this week, look for Rio 2 to end up holding especially well. It did come into a competitive marketplace with both Mr. Peabody and Sherman and Muppets Most Wanted competing for the family dollar. Look for Rio 2 to finish with around $130 million. Relativity's horror flick Oculus finished in third this weekend with $12 million. The low budget acquisition from Tiff received a "C" Cinemascore from audiences, which indicates that nobody really liked this movie. I don't see it holding on too well, even with weak competition in the horror marketplace.

The biggest disappointment of the weekend by far was Summit's Draft Day which grossed $9.7 million in fourth place. The Kevin Costner-starred sports drama received a solid marketing push from Summit, with a Super Bowl spot and tons of advance screenings for fans. However, the film just couldn't compete in the marketplace and ended up disappointing big time. No word on what the budget is, but the "B+" Cinemascore isn't really going to help the film. I'll be seeing it tomorrow, so I'll let you know soon if it's actually worth checking out.

Divergent finished in fifth place this weekend with $7.5 million. The action drama has now grossed $124.8 million. It hasn't fared quite as well overseas, but this franchise isn't going anywhere with three sequels (!) on the way from Summit. Noah finished in sixth place this weekend with $7.4 million which is a pretty steep drop from last weekend. The action blockbuster has obviously suffered from weak word of mouth and will probably crawl its way to $100 million. The film's total domestic gross currently stands at $84.8 million. However, with strong foreign grosses, Noah's total stands at $246.8 million worldwide. Not too bad.

Indie smash God's Not Dead finished in seventh place this weekend with $5.4 million. The small hit has now grossed a stellar $40.7 million, which is pretty impressive considering that nobody knew what this movie was a few weeks ago. Another indie hit, The Grand Budapest Hotel, finished in eighth this weekend with $4 million. The Wes Anderson film has now grossed $39.4 million and will likely finish with around $50 million. Muppets Most Wanted finished in ninth place with $2.1 million, which was enough to raise the film's total to $45.6 million. I love the Muppets, but I can't say that I'm sad to see this movie tank. It's just terrible. Mr. Peabody and Sherman rounded out the top ten this weekend with $1.8 million. The animated film has now grossed $105.2 million.

The Raid 2 also had a solid showing, grossing $1 million in eleventh place. In addition, Frozen is now the eighth highest grossing movie of all time at the worldwide box office and will probably pass The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King and Transformers: Dark of the Moon in the coming weeks.

Next week sees the release of Heaven is for Real on Wednesday and Bears, Transcendence and A Haunted House 2 on Friday. Here are my predictions:

1. Transcendence- $26.7 million
2. Rio 2- $25 million
3. Captain America: The Winter Soldier- $21.4 million
4. Heaven is for Real- $19.1 million ($26.3 million Five-Day weekend)
5. A Haunted House 2- $14.2 million
6. Oculus- $5.9 million
7. Bears- $5.8 million
8. Draft Day- $5.3 million
9. Divergent- $5.1 million
10. Noah- $4.6 million

Muppets Most Wanted review

Very rarely do I hate a movie even more after I've seen it, but as I rewatched 2011's The Muppets last night, I couldn't help but despise the lackluster Muppets Most Wanted at a whole new level. After all that Jason Segel, Nicholas Stoller and James Bobin did to bring this franchise back from the dead in 2011 with The Muppets (one of my favorite films of that year), the latter two destroy it with Muppets Most Wanted, a boring, unfunny, misguided sequel that makes all the wrong moves. The inspired humor is gone, the emotion isn't there and the Muppets take a back seat to the human characters, played by actors who think that they're doing a good job just because of the "funny" accent that they're doing. As much as it pains me to say this, Muppets Most Wanted has probably killed this franchise. It's a cheap-looking, uninspired, mistake-ridden sequel with not much to offer to anyone.

Muppets Most Wanted continues the story of Kermit, Fozzie, Gonzo, Miss Piggy and all the Muppets. The film picks up right where the last one left off with a hilarious number titled "We're Doing a Sequel!" that pretty much exactly predicts how terrible this movie will be with lines like "and everybody knows the sequel's never quite as good." After that one bit of inspired humor, we head off to a cafe where the Muppets are meeting with Dominic Badguy (Ricky Gervais) who is offering to take the Muppets on a world tour. Kermit reluctantly accepts and the gang heads to Berlin for their first show. However, it turns out that Dominic is a bad guy working for the evil frog Constantine, who looks exactly like Kermit with the exception of a small mole. While Kermit is walking through the streets of Berlin, he runs into Constantine, who slaps a mole on his face and runs off. Kermit is arrested by Russian prison chief Nadya (Tina Fey) and sent to Siberia while Constantine pretends to be Kermit for a while. Meanwhile, Sam Eagle and an INTERPOL agent (Ty Burrell) also have a subplot about tracking down Constantine.

That's far from a bad premise, but it's one that relies too heavily on the boring human characters and not enough on the Muppets. Tina Fey and Ty Burrell are flat-out bad in this movie at times (especially Fey) and Gervais looks bored out of his mind. I didn't mind the human characters in the last film because they were developed and added to the plot in some way. In this film, the three main human characters are so criminally underdeveloped that you don't care about them at all. Fey and Burrell's characters seem to have one trait (a funny accent) and Gervais seems to always be stealing stuff. You get no backstory for them, there's no emotional connection, they're just there.

The biggest problem this movie encounters is that it isn't that funny. Heck, I wouldn't even say that it's that entertaining. There's no emotional investment in the plot and the new characters are all extremely annoying. Especially Constantine, who is the lead villain of the film. Whoever came up with that idea needs to not work on the next movie (if there is one). Constantine is boring and such an inherently bad idea. There's nothing remotely funny about him. In fact, there's barely anything remotely funny about this movie. While the first film featured clever humor and inspired gags, this one features extreme overacting and ridiculous accents. The songs are by far the best aspect of this movie and even they pale in comparison with the first film.

This film also looks extremely cheap. There are so many ridiculously noticeable mistakes thrown throughout this movie that it distracts from the overall product. There are times where Tina Fey or Ricky Gervais will be singing and you can obviously tell that they're lip-syncing. It doesn't even look like they're singing. The CGI looks cheap, the locations look ridiculous and the green-screen is awful at times. It just looks cheap. There's no other way to put it.

The one good thing about this movie is the music. Music supervisor Bret McKenzie does a great job again here crafting songs that really fit the tone of the film and are actually pretty funny. "We're Doing a Sequel," was a favorite of mine, but I also enjoyed Burrell and Sam Eagle's "Interrogation Song," and I even mildly enjoyed Fey's rendition of "The Big House." Now, the songs are not nearly as memorable as they were in the first film, but they still provide a spark of life in a lifeless film.

In the end, I was so disappointing by this movie and even slightly mad. After such a brilliant opening chapter, Disney, Stoller and Bobin could have gone anywhere with this franchise, so it pains me to see them go in such a boring, unfunny direction. Characters like Walter and Fozzie, who were so integral to the first film are barely in this one. It was such a huge mistake not to focus on some of the Muppets who are much more entertaining than the humans.  If there is a third film (which I doubt there will be), I can only hope that it will be a whole lot better than this disastrous mess.

THE FINAL GRADE:  D+                                            (4.5/10)

Monday, April 7, 2014

Hollywood legend Mickey Rooney dies at 93

Some very sad news today as the story broke that legendary actor Mickey Rooney had died at age 93. The star died of natural causes over the weekend. Rooney had a long spanning career in Hollywood that began in the year 1926 with various short films before evolving into a large, successful movie career. Some of the highlights of Rooney's career include Disney's The Fox and the Hound, National Velvet, Breakfast at Tiffany's, and more recently, films like Night at the Museum and The Muppets. Rooney began as a child actor and eventually became a star who appealed to many generations.

I remember Rooney best as the villainous Gus in Night at the Museum. I saw that movie when I was pretty young and Rooney, along with Dick Van Dyke and Bill Cobbs, stole the show for me. His character was hilarious and tough as nails and I loved him throughout that whole movie. It was a terrific performance by the star and one that appealed to a whole new generation. In addition, Rooney also appeared in The Muppets, if only for a brief cameo. I remember that one as well. All in all, today is a very sad day for the movie industry. Mickey Rooney was truly a legend. 

"Captain America 3" to face off against "Batman vs. Superman" on May 6, 2016

Although the odds of these two movies actually opening on the same day is near 0%, it's still going to be interesting to see which studio blinks. Marvel has now officially set Captain America 3 for May 6, 2016 with Anthony and Joe Russo slated to return to direct the third installment. That means that it will face off against Batman vs. Superman for now. Obviously, one of these films will move, but the intriguing part is who will move.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier was a huge success this weekend for Marvel, opening to nearly $95 million at the box office and receiving rave reviews from critics. Obviously, Marvel is a powerhouse now and any time that they put a new film on the calender, it's going to be a big deal. Now, is Guardians of the Galaxy an assured hit at this point? Not necessarily. But it's got a much better chance of being a huge success than say, Jupiter Ascending, just because Marvel's name is on it. Other studios are definitely watching Marvel and are probably cowering in fear. If word of mouth for Captain America: The Winter Soldier is good, I see Warner Bros. strongly considering moving Batman vs. Superman to sometime in June.

All in all, this is going to be very interesting. Captain America 3 is a movie that I'm really looking forward to and Batman vs. Superman is a film that I'm curious about. The big thing is that if Warner Bros. moves Batman/Superman, it permanently solidifies both Marvel as a studio and Captain America as a franchise. And if Captain America 3 moves, it will prove that Warner Bros. still does have some clout in Hollywood after a few disasters. I'm sure we'll find out in the near future.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Captain America: The Winter Soldier review

Marvel's Phase One was a spectacular experiment that paid off in every way possible. Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, Thor and Captain America were all set up incredibly well and it helped make The Avengers a smash hit. In addition, Marvel managed to make all six Phase One films incredibly well choosing actors who really could embody their characters. After The Avengers, Marvel went back to making solo films and that's when my problems began. Not that I had a problem with Marvel making more solo films, I just wanted them to be good ones. And while Iron Man 3 and Thor: The Dark World were solidly entertaining films that offered some nice diversion, they essentially followed the same basic storyline that previous films had done. Both rank near the bottom of the Marvel barrel. However, Marvel really had a chance to knock it out of the park with their next film, Captain America: The Winter Soldier. The film was said to have a greater impact on Avengers 2 and would feel more like a paranoia thriller from the 1970's. All of that pre-release chatter created extreme excitement among fans and wow: The Winter Soldier lived up to the hype.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier continues the story of Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans) as he becomes accustomed to modern society after being frozen for 70 years. Rogers is also running missions for S.H.I.E.L.D with Natasha "Black Widow" Romanoff (Scarlett Johannson) and a team of agents. When Cap and his men are on a mission to retrieve a boat from a group of pirates, led by French mercenary Batroc (Georges St-Pierre), Rogers discovers that he and his men were actually sent onto the boat to retrieve data for S.H.I.E.L.D. 

Rogers is uncomfortable with their tactics and takes it up with Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson). Fury and S.H.I.E.L.D executive Alexander Pierce (Robert Redford) tell Cap that the world needs to be a better safer place through the top secret "Project Insight" and that everything will be great after that. Soon, Captain America and Black Widow are being hunted and must uncover a dark secret that will change everything. Also, there's an extremely powerful assassin known as The Winter Soldier who's going around killing people. So yeah, that's a problem. 

The first thing that many people might notice about Captain America: The Winter Soldier is that it's much darker than anything that Marvel has ever done before. The action is extremely intense and visceral and much more realistic than previous Marvel films. This film also explores some really dark themes about security and trust. All of this makes The Winter Soldier a much different and much better Marvel film. This is probably the best Marvel movie yet. It's definitely in my top three. It's so brilliantly executed and there are so many twists and turns that make the movie unpredictable. The actors are more invested in their characters, the plot is very intriguing, and the action will blow you away. This isn't just a great Marvel movie. This is a great action movie. 

The great thing about the Captain America franchise is that it already had a strong foundation with The First Avenger. That was probably my favorite Marvel film before this one. Its mixture of period detail with swashbuckling, serial-esque action really made me love that film. As I previously said, The Winter Soldier goes darker and this film is definitely more of a political thriller with some really explosive action. However, it still maintains the spirit of Captain America and the spirit of the franchise. 

Once again, Marvel succeeds by putting the right people in the right roles and letting them develop the characters. At this point, Chris Evans knows who Captain America is and he's able to explore Cap's ideas and values even more in this movie. Same goes for Scarlett Johannson. Her character has been limited to covert operations and spy stuff before, but in this movie, she really gets to be funny. Now, don't get me wrong, she's still an awesome and dangerous character, but there's a funny, romantic side to her in this one as well. Samuel L. Jackson isn't given quite as much to do, but he's still impressive. 

The new characters are also introduced well and most of them fit into the story. Robert Redford does a good job as Alexander Pierce playing a S.H.I.E.L.D executive with questionable motives. Anthony Mackie is also good as Sam Wilson, a former military officer who becomes fast friends with Steve. Emily VanCamp plays Agent 13 and she fits in well. She doesn't have a large part, but it's sure to be important in future films. An actor whose name I will not spoil plays The Winter Soldier and he does a good job. The character is not in the film very often, but he's a menacing presence throughout the whole film. Frank Grillo was one of the standouts for me as Brock Rumlow. He's another menacing presence in the film and delivers a good performance. 

There's really not much that I can say about the plot here without spoiling it, so let's focus on the writing. Christopher Marcus and Stephen McFeely make this script tense and frightening throughout and there's a good sense of paranoia throughout the whole film. You really feel like you can trust no one. For me, this is the best script Marvel has written so far. While it isn't on par with the real world grit of Nolan's Dark Knight trilogy, it's still far and beyond the best that Marvel has done so far. I thought that there were a few times where the pacing was a little off and it takes a few minutes to get its feet set, but in general, this is a Marvel script that avoids cliches and makes some really gutsy decisions. 

The action is also on a whole different level. This film has more in common with Bond and Bourne than it does with Iron Man and Thor. There are a lot of gunfights, a lot of hand to hand combat and a ton of tense chases. The film is an incredibly taut thriller and the political themes about fear and protection add to that even more. This movie questions everything that our government is doing right now and definitely has a strong opinion on it. For me, that made the movie even better. 

In the end, I really can't do a long review for this film simply in fear of spoiling it. But it really is a great action movie that is going to be the bar for Marvel films to come. It has a good amount of humor, some gripping action and a great plot. I absolutely loved this film and I can't wait for the next installment in the Captain America franchise. If Marvel continues to raise the bar with films like this, we're going to be in good shape.

THE FINAL GRADE:  A                                              (9.5/10)

"Captain America: The Winter Soldier" breaks April record with $96.2 million at weekend box office

Back in 2012, Marvel officially became a box office powerhouse when The Avengers opened at $207.4 million on its way to $623.3 million domestically and over $1.5 billion worldwide. However, one of the big questions after The Avengers was how the future solo outings would perform. So far, they've been doing pretty good. Iron Man 3 grossed nearly $100 million more in the US than its predecessors and Thor: The Dark World had a strong outing as well. All eyes directly went to Captain America: The Winter Soldier and wow, did Marvel knock this one out of the park. Not only is Captain America: The Winter Soldier a great movie (review coming soon), it grossed a stellar $96.2 million in its debut frame. That's a 48% improvement over Captain America: The First Avenger and an April opening weekend record. The Winter Soldier also received an "A" Cinemascore, which indicates that fans dug it. With the strongest competition being Transcendence, look for The Winter Soldier to steamroll through April for a finish close to $300 million. Captain America has also grossed $207.1 million overseas for a worldwide total of $303.3 million. 

In second place was Paramount's Noah, which fell 60% to $17 million in its second weekend. The Biblical epic has received poor word of mouth and will probably fall off in a big way next weekend. The film has grossed $72.3 million so far and will likely finish with around $100 million. Divergent finished in third place with $13 million. While it's far from the next Twilight or Hunger Games, Divergent has had a solid run. The film has now grossed $114 million. Sleeper hit God's Not Dead dropped only 12% this weekend for a fourth place finish with $7.7 million. The film has continued to impress at the box office and it's total stands at $32.5 million. Pretty good for the low budget film. 

The Grand Budapest Hotel also continued its stellar run this weekend with $6.3 million in fifth place. The Wes Anderson hit has now grossed $33.3 million and has a shot at crossing $50 million. After a strong second weekend, Muppets Most Wanted fell a little bit harder this weekend. The film finished in sixth place with $6.2 million, which was enough to raise the film's total to $42.1 million. That's a weak total for the film and it looks like a sequel will not be in the cards for Disney. Mr. Peabody and Sherman also took a bit of a hit this weekend, finishing in seventh place with $5.3 million. The film has now grossed $102.2 million, but with Rio 2 next weekend, there's direct competition coming very soon. 

Sabotage finished in eighth place this weekend with a disappointing $1.9 million after an awful first weekend. The Arnold Schwarzenegger flop has now grossed $8.7 million. Need for Speed finished in ninth place this weekend with $1.8 million to raise its total to $40.8 million. While the domestic grosses have been lackluster, Need for Speed has made a killing overseas ($143.7 million international), so a sequel could still be in the cards. And finally, Non-Stop rounded out the top ten with $1.8 million. The Liam Neeson thriller has now grossed $88.1 million. 

Next weekend sees the release of Draft Day, Oculus, Rio 2, and the expansion of The Raid 2. Here are my predictions. 

1. Captain America: The Winter Soldier- $46.1 million
2. Rio 2- $36.5 million
3. Draft Day- $21.4 million
4. Oculus- $11.5 million
5. Noah- $9.1 million
6. Divergent- $8 million
7. God's Not Dead- $7.1 million
8. The Grand Budapest Hotel- $6 million
9. Muppets Most Wanted- $4.5 million
10. The Raid 2- $4 million

Chiwetel Ejiofor is the front-runner to play a villain in next Bond film

This is one of the most exciting bits of news I've heard in a long, long time. Casting rumors for the new Batman film and Star Wars VII have floated around for months, with actors like Jesse Plemons and Lupita Nyong'o being announced as potential contenders for roles in the new films. However, this recent tidbit of casting news is the first to really pique my interest. Skyfall was one of my favorite films of 2012. It was a breath of fresh air for the action genre and it was most certainly the best Bond film ever. I was hoping that Sam Mendes and Daniel Craig would start production on another Bond film in time for 2014, but that didn't happen. Now, Bond 24 will be released in 2015, with Daniel Craig and Ben Whishaw officially signed on to return (other cast members like Ralph Fiennes and Naomi Harris will also presumably return). Now, the producers have to look for a villain. And it looks like they might have found the right actor to play him in Chiwetel Ejiofor.

The Oscar-nominated actor delivered a soul-crushing, emotional performance in 12 Years A Slave. It was hands-down the best performance of the year and an integral part of the Best Picture-winning film. So the fact that he's even being considered for a role in the new Bond film is exciting. According to The Wrap, Ejiofor is at the top of the producers list. There have been no formal talks, but he's under consideration.

I really hope that this happens. Ejiofor is a marvelous up-and-coming actor and his performance in 12 Years A Slave was one for the ages. I can't help but think that he'd make a great Bond villain and I love that Sam Mendes keeps bringing in big-name actors to play charismatic and frightening villains. Obviously, I can't wait for this film and I'm very excited about the possibility of seeing Ejiofor in the film as well.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

"Noah" leads with strong $43.7 million, "Sabotage" flops at weekend box office

With films like Divergent and Noah hitting theaters over the past few weeks, it's clear that summer is just around the corner. And so far, the grosses have been pretty solid. Despite weeks of controversy, Noah topped the box office this weekend with a strong haul of $43.7 million. That's a rather solid opening weekend for the film, which has garnered controversy for straying too far from the Bible. Obviously, some viewers weren't fans, as Noah received a "C" Cinemascore. However, as some have pointed out, The Wolf of Wall Street also received that dreaded rating and still went out to make a lot of money. Look for Noah to finish with around $130 million.

Summit's Divergent held pretty well in its second weekend with $25.6 million for a second place finish. That's only a 53% drop from its opening weekend, which indicates that word of mouth is strong. The film has now grossed $94.3 million and will probably finish with around $140 million. Muppets Most Wanted also had a great hold, finishing in third place with $11.2 million. That was enough to raise the film's total to $33.1 million. I still haven't seen the film, but I'm hoping to remedy that in the near future. Mr. Peabody and Sherman also had a great weekend, finishing in fourth place with $9 million. That's only a 23% drop from last weekend. Mr. Peabody and Sherman has now grossed $94.4 million.

Christian breakout hit God's Not Dead finished in fifth this weekend with $8.7 million, which is a slight disappointment considering that the film expanded into an additional 398 theaters. The film dropped only 4.5% this weekend and has now grossed $21.7 million. In sixth place was March's other breakout, The Grand Budapest Hotel. The film grossed $8.5 million in its widest release yet. It's an absolutely brilliant film and I hope everyone can check it out at some point. The Grand Budapest Hotel has now grossed $24.1 million.

The other wide release of the weekend was Open Road's Sabotage, which finished in seventh place with a lackluster $5.2 million. That's an awful opening for the Arnold Schwarzenegger-starred thriller, which was destroyed by critics for its awful script and disturbingly over-the-top violence. With a "B" Cinemascore, it's doubtful that Sabotage ends up finishing with more than $10 million.

Need for Speed finished in eighth place this weekend with $4.2 million. The car racing actioner has now grossed $37.6 million, but with strong grosses overseas, the possibility of a sequel is still there. 300: Rise of an Empire finished in ninth place this weekend with $4.2 million. The violent epic became the third 2014 film to gross $100 million this year. Rise of an Empire's total now stands at $101 million. And finally, Non-Stop rounded out the top ten with $4 million. The exceptional action film has now grossed $85 million and the possibility of hit the magic $100 million mark is still there.

Also, Cesar Chavez grossed $2.8 million in limited release this weekend. That's a solid start for the film which debuted in 664 theaters. The Raid 2 also debuted in limited release this weekend, grossing $165,292 in seven theaters. The Raid 2 expands nationwide on April 11.

Next weekend sees the release of Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Here are my predictions:

1. Captain America: The Winter Soldier- $97.6 million
2. Noah- $26.4 million
3. Divergent- $14.1 million
4. Muppets Most Wanted- $7.2 million
5. The Grand Budapest Hotel- $7 million
6. God's Not Dead- $6.7 million
7. Mr. Peabody and Sherman- $6.5 million
8. Need for Speed- $2.4 million
9. Non-Stop- $2.3 million
10. Sabotage- $2 million