Sunday, July 23, 2017

Review: Dunkirk

            As the end credits rolled on Dunkirk, I sat there in shock & had to hold back tears.  I’ve cried in movies before but this time felt different.  Tears came not because I was attached to the characters & their journey ending like with Return of the King or Toy Story 3.  Nor did I cry tears of joy because what just transpired onscreen was so magical like the Define Dancing sequence in Wall•E or Spotlight as a whole.  Instead, it was profound sadness that I didn’t feel the joy & the awe the rest of the audience felt as they left.  Not even close.
            On the shores of Dunkirk, we meet Tommy (Whitehead), a British private who survives shooting in the streets of town, & the mysterious Gibson (Barnard) in their desperate attempt to escape the beach.  On the sea, we follow Mr. Dawson (Rylance), his son Peter (Glynn-Carney) and their young crewman George (Keoghan) aboard Moonstone on their journey to Dunkirk to assist in the rescue effort.  In the air, three RAF pilots, led by Farrier (Hardy), are in charge of providing air cover for the retreating Allied forces.
            As I walked out of the theatre into the lobby & finally to my car, I staggered, tripping over the carpet, dazed.  I honestly couldn’t believe what I had just watched.  Essentially, I watched Christopher Nolan, who has made such wonderful works as The Prestige & Inception, try to create his own version of Alfonzo Cuaron’s Gravity.  Instead of one grand character to root for, Nolan - who also wrote the screenplay- has created almost a dozen minor characters with no discernible characteristics or full names.  For instance, the two soldiers on the ground spend most of the movie running from boat to boat, trying to escape only to have every single ship blow up in their faces.  After the third different boat explodes without a discussion as to who these soldiers are, one might check out.
            The movie also intercuts scenes of the crew of the Moonstone sailing.  Then sailing some more.  Then picking up Shivering Sailor (that is literally his name in the end credits) before sailing towards Dunkirk some more, against Shivering’s objections.  During these scenes, Sailor does exactly one thing of that can be considered a relevant action that is so despicable towards another character that you feel zero sympathy for him, despite the fact that he is supposed to represent the thousands of shell shocked soldiers of Dunkirk.  But the worst of this subplot occurs at the end when Nolan allows Shivering to get away with it without consequence.
            There are two characters that have the ability to hold the interest of the audience.  The first is Farrier, who you feel actually believes in his mission, in the soldiers on the shore & in his fellow pilots.  The second appears in one scene in the final five minutes that is so heartbreakingly beautiful that I don’t dare spoil it here.
            But what I will spoil is the defining moment where I knew for absolute certain that Dunkirk was Nolan making his own, simpler version of Gravity.  At the end of the movie, one of the leads is reading Churchill’s We Shall Fight on the Beaches speech from the newspaper as a closing voiceover.  During the speech, we see Farrier attempting to land the plane on a now-deserted Dunkirk beach as he runs out of fuel. (Oh…SPOILER ALERT: most of the soldiers are rescued.  Sorry about that.) During this, the plane’s landing gear fails to deploy, forcing Farrier to manually pump the wheels out before he loses altitude.  This final scene shows that Nolan wasn’t looking to make any sort of deep movie about the fragility of man or the despair of war.  He wanted to make a simple, crowdpleasing thriller that played ticketbuyers’ eyes & ears instead of their hearts & minds.
            In the real Miracle of Dunkirk, the British Navy, along with hundreds of private seacrafts, evacuated almost 350 thousand soldiers over an eight day stretch after the Allies were defeated in an early battle in World War II.  In the newest feature from acclaimed filmmaker Christopher Nolan, he uses the events of Dunkirk to create a dazzlingly empty suspense picture that features set piece after set piece with occasionally grand visuals, spectacular noise that one might call sound effects & bland, literally nameless characters.  It was a miracle I didn’t cry.


*

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Review: Gifted

            Frank Adler (Evans) is dedicated to a simple life as a freelance boat repairman.  He lives is a community of tiny shacks outside of Tampa with his seven-year-old, math genius niece Mary (Grace).  They have a nice friendship with their neighbor Roberta (Spencer), who babysits Mary when Frank goes to his favorite lakeside bar.  He gets quite friendly with Mary’s first grade teacher, Miss Stevenson (Slate).  Life is fine until Frank’s mother Evelyn (Duncan) barges in & tries to get the courts to bring her granddaughter, who she has never met, to Boston for a “proper”, advanced education.
            Gifted is the best movie about parenting this side of Ron Howard’s Parenthood a quarter-century ago.  Gifted is not about young Mary.  She is the match that lights the fire that ignites the movie.  This is a movie about the fragility of childrearing.  Every choice you make as a parent, from which school they attend to the type of ketchup they eat, will have long-term ramifications.  We all know someone whose child is that outstanding citizen or that one who doesn’t quite make it.  Gifted is the perfect examination of the latter.  Evelyn Adler is, without mincing words, a terrible person.  Screenwriter Tom Flynn (first theatrical credit since 1993’s Watch It) walks the fine line between cartoonish evil & humanly evil but the script has its feet firmly planted on the latter’s side.  We all know person who takes “helicopter parenting” a little too far and Evelyn fits that definition to a T and Duncan excels in the role.  It is pretty obvious that Frank is trying his best but you can see in some of the smaller moments that he didn’t sign up for this but he must give it 110% and Frank is game for trying.
            Gifted relies way too much on the courtroom in the second act.  Most of the drama here is expository & Flynn uses the court system as a crutch.  Luckily, director Marc Webb (free from the constraints of studio interference of The Amazing Spider-Man) makes sure the courtroom doesn’t overtake the genuine family drama here.  Outside the courtroom, Gifted works as a heart-tugger until the exceptional third act reveal rips it out & dangles it in front of you.  Additionally, there is a hospital waiting room scene that will test your tear ducts.
            Chris Evans shows he is more than just Captain America here.  But if you’ve been watching him for nearly 20 years, you know that already.  Octavia Spencer could play Roberta in her sleep but is still solid in the role.  Jenny Slate is given too little to do outside the first act but has enough charisma that she doesn’t litter the background the few times she is on-screen  McKenna Grace as Mary is the rare young actor who outshines every adult.  She has to be that talented in order to make us believe that she is naturally writing all those equations & throwing out all that mathematical jargon.  Her emotional scenes with Evans will lower your purse’s tissue inventory.
            Gifted is kind of movie that could have been a lazy, Saturday night Lifetime movie.  Instead, what Webb puts together with a mostly solid script & an exceptional cast is more than admirable.  It’s thought-provoking & genuinely touching.


****

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Review: Power Rangers

I do not own the above image. Copyright Saban Entertainment. All Rights Reserved.

            An afternoon children’s institution for almost a quarter century, the Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers have returned to the big screen after two decades and they are wiping the slate clean.  Five teenagers in Angel Grove become defenders of the universe against the evil Rita Repulsa under the guidance of Zordon, a former Ranger stuck inside the Grid of the home ship.  As cheesy & goofy the show was back in the day, this new iteration tries to combine some the fun of the original show with a few more gritty elements of the modern world.  But Power Rangers is nothing more than Millennial Nostalgia Syndrome run amok.
            Dean Israelite (Project Almanac) directs this like it’s his entry in the “So You Wanna Direct Transformers?” contest.  Every shot is either an extreme close-up or a wide shot with a Dutch angle.  You could count with one hand the number of times the camera stood still for a majority of the shot.  The camera spun so fast in a travelling car in the opening that I needed to close my eyes to keep from getting motion sickness.  The final battle features too many shots of CGI creatures on the side of the frame.  It always fascinates me when $105 million was spent on a movie and the filmmakers don’t want to show what they spent it on.  Israelite & cinematographer Matthew J Lloyd (Netflix’s Daredevil) create an atmosphere that keeps Power Rangers from being coherent.  Too much of the film, especially early on, is shot at night & is poorly lit, making much of the movie (literally) unwatchable.
            The design of all the supposedly-iconic costumes & vehicles is hideous.  Everything has the same basic color scheme: dark gray on black.  The ship looks like if a 1950s alien designed the Batcave.  It’s worst feature is Zordon himself, who looks like a giant Pin Art 3D attached to the wall like a flat screen television.  That sounds cool but he’s filmed with camera up his nose and your focus is on the individual pin closest to the camera & not the whole face.  The suits & the Zords share the same fatal flaw: the primary color of the Ranger character is not of the primary color of their costume.  In the scene where the Rangers do their clich├ęd, slo-mo, introductory walk towards the camera in the ship, you cannot tell which Ranger is which.  The same thing happens when the Rangers or their mechanical creatures fly across the screen in the fight scene.  The reason is that the majority of each suit is dark grey instead of the primary color of each Ranger.  In addition, each Ranger’s primary color appears to be faded or mixed with black.  If you're colorblind, you're f*cked.  Combine that with the poorly designed henchmen called Puddies, the hand-to-hand fight is a mammoth mess with the light gray fighting dark gray on black rock.
            As for the teenage Rangers, we have Jason Scott (Montgomery), the disgraced star quarterback, Kimberly Hart (Scott), a pariah cheerleader, Billy Cranston (Cyler) an African-American genius on the autism spectrum and Zack (Lin) & Trini (Becky G), two social & ethnical outsiders.  Within five seconds of meeting Kim & Billy, we fall for them as interesting characters thanks to the actors.  Naomi Scott has the kind of face the camera loves and she has the chops to love it back.  If there is anyone of the main five who will breakout, it’s RJ Cyler who plays Billy with the perfect blend of intelligence & awkwardness that adds the slightest bit of reality to the proceedings.  Dacre Montgomery is given the meaty, lead role that has the complexity to him but the young actor lacks the portfolio of facial expressions to convey the necessary emotions.  This actor was obviously cast not because of his talent but for his resemblance to Zac Efron.
            By the time we get a chance to know the final two Power Rangers, the movie has already ran about 40 minutes so they, a young Asian man & a young Latina, are kept in the background.  We do learn that Zack comes from a broken home & has a sick mother and is somewhat developed.  As far as Trini goes, we know she’s an outcast at school & home because she may or may not be a lesbian and…that’s about it.  We don’t even know her name until the 50 minute mark.  Ludi Lin is fine as Zack but Becky G should stick to her day job as a singer.  Every line she says is rushed & in one bland tone as if she wants to get away from the camera as quickly as possible.
            But the bad characters don’t end there.  Rita Repulsa takes way too long developing into her & her creature’s final form that there’s nothing we discover about her outside of her desire to get revenge & take over the world.  Elizabeth Banks is usually very reliable but Meryl Streep circa 1984 couldn’t make Rita work.  Zordon should have been a mystical teacher for the team but, to be brutally honest, he’s an asshole.  Zordon hates the idea of being the spirit in the wall so he devises a plan to come back as one of the Rangers.  And he almost gets away with it but has a moment of unearned humility & accepts his destiny.
            There is also an element of the third act that belongs in the Product Placement Hall of Shame next to the McDonald’s scene in Mac & Me.  Never in the history of cinema or mankind has the location of a Krispy Kreme been so integral to human existence.  It’s moments like that that destroy anything the script that screenwriter John Gatins (Real Steel, Kong: Skull Island) was trying to accomplish in between the callbacks to the TV series.  It’s an aggressively silly moment that makes it appear that the whole movie wants to be a joke but with all the teen angst thrown about in the first two acts, the tone is out of control.
            Power Rangers is Michael Bay-lite, which is still too much of a bad thing.  It’s a movie that is too loud, too frenetic, too confused, too effects-heavy and too nostalgia-focused to be anything worth your attention.  Sure, there are three heroes that are engaging enough but their two ethnic minority counterparts are left in the background and a villain on another planet.  Power Rangers is nothing more than a giant Krispy Kreme doughnut: filling & full of sugar enough for a small burst of energy but full of regret in retrospect.


*

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Review: Kong: Skull Island

I do not own the above image.  Copyright Warner Brothers Pictures.

            It’s 1973.  Nixon has just negotiated peace with the Vietnamese, starting the end of the Vietnam War.  Meanwhile in Washington, Bill Randa (Goodman), head of secret government agency Monarch, has just received approval to explore an uninhabited island in the South Pacific.  Randa compiles his team with ex-British Special Officer James Conrad (Hiddleston), war photographer Mason Weaver (Larson) and a platoon fresh from the War led by Lt. Col. Preston Parker (Jackson).  Before long, the group invades Skull Island and comes face to face with its primary inhabitant, Kong.
            Kong: Skull Island, at its best, has a goofy quality to it.  The first action shot of a palm tree crashing into a helicopter gives the movie the pro wrestling fighting-style & tone that allows the proceedings & audience to let loose.  The multiple fight sequences one-up each other as the 117 minute runtime moves along.  The fights include such ridiculous shots as Kong shaking soldiers out of a helicopter, Tom Hiddleston with a gas mask & a samurai sword and a climatic battle with many moments that need to be seen to be believed.
            The visual effects are quite impressive.  Kong looks like a practical effect most of the time.  The visuals are at their most impressive when Kong has a mini battle with a creature with an absurd number of tentacles.  The only shot that isn’t convincing is the one time Kong is touched by a human being.
            What keeps Kong: Skull Island from being more than a guilty pleasure is the characters created by screenwriters Dan Gilroy (Nightcrawler) , Max Borenstein (2014 Godzilla) and Derek Connolly (Safety Not Guaranteed & Jurassic World).  Only two characters are worthy of being in a major motion picture.  John C. Reilly’s Hank Marlow, a WWII vet stuck on Skull Island for 28 years, is the most developed character & we don’t really meet him until halfway through the movie.  He knows the island as well as Kong does.  The best part of Marlow is he isn’t as crazy as the trailers make him out to be and is not relegated to the comic relief.  Most importantly (and detrimentally), as each scene with him goes by with him, you begin to sympathize with Marlow more than every other character in the movie combined.  The only other character of note is Lt. Col. Parker, the most extreme militarist possible once on the island.  Parker slowly begins to lose his sanity as he realizes that this is his chance to “win” a war and Jackson smartly plays it as straight as possible, keeping the movie partially grounded.
            Everyone else is either a near-caricature or an empty pillowcase.  Bill Randa exists solely to get the engine started and is disposed of in the background about 70 minutes in without any fanfare.  Randa hired an outside corporation, whose employees are introduced but are quickly forgotten until each one of them gets a bigger death than Randa himself.  It’s as if there’s 15 minutes of material sitting on a hard drive in a Warner Brothers editing room of their concerns & hijinks.  As I sit here typing this review, I still have no idea the purpose of Hiddleston’s James Conrad.  Outside of his introductory scene & the fight I mentioned earlier, I can’t remember a single word or thing Conrad says or does.  As for photographer Mason Weaver, she exists solely to have the occasional philosophical line (not speeches, single lines of monologue) or gesture and to have a camera bag hang over Brie Larson’s sternum to accentuate her breasts.  The soldiers under Parker’s command range from the scared, young private to the quiet, stealthy guy to the two wise-cracking, interracial best friends.  Not exactly the most inspiring bunch. 
            Director Jordan Vogt-Roberts (The Kings of Summer) does make an inspired choice or two.  The second introduction to Kong is a beautiful shot of him against the sun as the helicopters fly in.  It gets quite obvious real quick that Vogt-Roberts likes Apocalypse Now as much as Gareth Edwards liked Jaws from Godzilla.  Each of action sequences is shot competently without the extreme close-ups that usually plague these effects-driven extravaganzas.
            Kong: Skull Island is one of the few “Turn off your brain” movies that kinda works.  There are enough big action scenes to thrill that crowd but lacks any subtle signs of depth and the characters just aren’t there.  It’s big, loud, dumb and I had way too much fun for my own good.


***

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Review: Fifty Shades Darker

I do not own the above image.  Copyright Universal Pictures.

            On this blog & on Movie Rehab, a site I contribute to, I try to call to attention to movies about women for women that deserve it.  In the past, I’ve praised Bridget Jones’ Baby, boosted a portion of How to Be Single and roundly criticized The Other Woman & The Boss as lowest common denominator cesspools that lower the integrity of their protagonists.  As bad as those latter two movies are, Fifty Shades Darker is the closest I’ve come to suggesting women who care about film & themselves as a gender to revolt against cinema.
            When we last left you, Anastasia Steele (Johnson) had left Christian Grey (Dornan) & his Red Room behind.  She has a new job with a great boss, an apartment to die for and friends & roommates that adore her.  Soon enough, however, Grey with his fancy bank account and whips & chains comes crawling back.  Will Ana take him back or will she save herself from…herself?
            Within 10 minutes, we know the answer and it’s not good for anyone.  On their first date back together, Ana does show some restraint & playfulness by flirting with Christian while making dinner.  This kind of ingenuity is short-lived as they hop into bed together to have bland sex.  This early scene highlights yet again that Anastasia, no matter how hard Dakota Johnson tries, is a passive & weak character.  In scene after scene, in life changing decision after decision, Steele meekly goes through this movie like lost puppy.
            Let’s be honest with ourselves: Christian Grey is a creep.  Even on the surface, he’s shady, wealthy character with his lack of normal friendships and a family that either is completely unaware of his lifestyle or totally fine with his “masochistic” side.  Add that to the fact that Grey has dossiers of potential submissives compiled by private investigators.  How did Ana not run directly to court to file a restraining order?  If Brad Pitt in his prime (or even now) tried this, his career goes down the toilet.  What makes Grey any different from Jim Preston in Passengers, who also obsessively researched his object of affection for weeks before ultimately waking her up to woo her?  I guess it’s because Grey owns a penthouse & a helicopter and is a character in a bad Twilight fan-fiction romance novel.
            Every time I blinked, Ana was topless.  I’ve seen Dakota Johnson naked more times this week than my wife.  On the other side of the ledger, models for skiing equipment show more skin that Dornan does in four of the five love scenes.  Even in the two that take place in the shower, Grey is only shown from the belly button up.  Does Dornan, with his plastic abs &pecs and his stiff acting, have no genitalia to complete the Ken Doll ensemble?
            In every regard, Fifty Shades Darker is worse than its predecessor.  When you want steamy love story, wouldn’t you call the guy who adapted Glengarry Glen Ross to the screen?  James Foley shoots this movie like a music video.  There are multiple montages where the camera moves at breakneck speed with blaring pop music, including one where Ana steers Christian’s boat.  That sequence is played out as if Steele was Ricky Bobby returning to the racetrack.  The most egregious sins occur during the love scenes where Foley decides to blast bad R&B while the two go at it.  The worst of these occurs when Ana is fingered in a crowded elevator.  The music is originally that muzak that you hear in every elevator everywhere, but once they start fooling around, we are treated to a Top 40 song that will sound great on the faux-edgy, housewife-approved soundtrack.  Any sexiness still left in the room as the two lifeless central characters had immediately disappeared as that outside music distracts from the already bleak proceedings.
            Foley & screenwriter Niall Leonard (E.L. James’ husband) also fill the 111 minutes runtime with an opening scene of young Christian hiding from his abusive father, implying that his sexual desires stem from those beatings.  How sexy!  There’s a subplot involving one of Christian’s former jilted, suicidal submissives that is resolved in a way too quick & easy manner that leads to a fight that only lasts one of those aforementioned montages where Ana walks around the entire city of Seattle.  There’s also an unintentionally funny sequence where Grey is involved in a helicopter accident and is missing for a few hours until the television coverage announces that he’s found alive & well milliseconds before the elevator door to his apartment opens to Grey walking in with injuries consistent with tripping on the sidewalk instead of crashing into a dense forest of Southern Washington.  Additionally, there’s a cliffhanger ending involving Ana’s sexual assaulter former boss and Christian’s first former lover separately plotting revenge.  Oh…wait…sorry, SPOILER ALERT!
            Fifty Shades Darker is as sexy & well made as a tampon commercial.  During those ads, those women at least get to visit a water park, play goalkeeper on the school’s soccer team or get to dance the night away.  Here, our protagonist is stuck in a loveless relationship with a monstrous bore, filmed & written by two guys who couldn’t fill the screen with sex appeal or drama if they were given Super Soakers full of it at point blank range.  Anastasia deserves better and so do the starving women over 25 demographic.


Zero stars

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Review: The Birth of a Nation

I do not own the above image. Copyright Fox Searchlight Pictures.  All Rights Reserved.

            In 15 years of going to the movies, I’ve had a single dream: watching a movie in a theatre by myself.  I’ve come close many times usually with an elderly couple coming in during the previews.  It finally happened this week but never in a million years would I have thought it would have happened during an opening night showing.  And fulfilling that dream wasn’t the most exciting thing to happen me in that theatre that night.  It turns out the movie I saw all by myself was absolutely marvelous.
            Nate Parker (star, director & co-writer) decides right off the bat to make THE BIRTH OF A NATION a personal, artistic motion picture.  The emphasis is not on Nat Turner’s unsuccessful slave rebellion but on our hero and the birth of his rebellion.  This is an up-close look at one slave & his experience as a pawn pastor for the white man and his reaction after reaching his breaking point.  Nat has to appear with multiple dimensions and not just motivated by his faith & treatment as a slave.  Nat finds inspiration through love found in the slave trade.  His love for Cherry is beautifully chronicled in both short-ish montages & conversations.  Two of their scenes together stand out: Their first, full true encounter in the plantation’s front yard is like a scene out of the best romantic movies yet is so natural here.  But their real powerhouse scene is their conclusion.  I won’t spoil it but their final scene is one of those magical emotionally & cinematically perfect moments that don’t come around often enough.
            Nat’s faith journey is just as emotional.  Taught to read by his master’s wife, he is taken from plantation to plantation to preach.  His “ah-ha” moment when we see his face as he tells his fellows slaves that being obedient to their owners will get them to the promised land hits you in the gut.  Nat’s breaking point, in which he talks back to his young master by quoting the Bible, and its aftermath perfectly summarizes the theme of the movie: Religion is a weapon of hope & fear and the vicious hypocrisy between the classes & races use of it is forever evident.  Never before has a movie like this been so timely.  There are also a few “tribal” scenes that take place in the woods that convey that Nat is some sort of spiritual figure, successfully turning him into the chosen savior of his people.
            Nate Parker knows his way around a camera considering this is his directorial debut.  There are sprawling shots of the pre-Civil War American South that creates a “prisoner in paradise” atmosphere, as if the movie needed to be more torturous.  His selective use of extreme close-ups gives each of them the appropriate emotional kick.  There are a few scenes of slave brutality, just enough to get the idea of what they went through.  But TBOAN is far from being the torture & misery porn that 12 YEARS A SLAVE was three years ago.  His direction of the mostly non-household name actors worked like a charm.  Everyone from the never better Armie Hammer as his owner to virtually unknown Aja Naomi King as Cherry to the reliably sinister Jackie Earle Haley as the leader of the slave patrol brought their A-game to the set.
            THE BIRTH OF A NATION is the African-American version of BRAVEHEART.  Some will see this as an insult.  Why?!  Both are emotional tragically heartwarming stories of oppression & resistance, war & love, despair & hope with a little more faith & artistry thrown in the newer feature.  Nate Parker, despite his checkered past, has created something that should be cherished & celebrated.


*****

Sunday, September 18, 2016

The State of My Cinematic Journey

            After the miserable summer I’ve had going to the movies, one thing has become abundantly clear: I am quickly falling out of the key demographic for movie studios.  I’m still a white guy with a fairly good paying day job.  I turned 31 earlier this month.  I have other priorities.  My wife is going back to school to finish her degree.  We want to get a house.  We want to start a family.  I need a new car.  I’m finally beginning to feel great about my poker skills.
            And I hoped my passion since I was 15 would stay with me.  In general, it has.  I still get giddy at the ticket counter.  When the usher rips my ticket, points me in the director of my theatre & says “Enjoy the show!”, I still smile & say “Thanks!” every time.  I love walking in to take my seat & see with whom I get to share this experience.  The hairs on the back of my neck still stand up as the lights dim.  I love the quiet moments I get to reflect as the end credits roll & the lights fade up.  But recently, I’ve noticed something odd.  I’m not enjoying as many movies as I used to.  Also, the audiences I’ve watched these movies with have gotten less & less enjoyable to be around.
            So what can I attribute that to?  Am I at that age where I need to move on?  Do I leave my passion behind?  My answer: I’m not going anywhere.  I still love movies.  I loved travelling with fugitives as they take one’s son towards his destiny.  I loved following teenagers find freedom & joy through music.  I fell in love with a college freshman & his baseball teammates as he assimilates to his new surroundings.  I found joy in a panda finally living out a prophesy put forward years ago.
            So where am I going with this?  Well, I have come to the conclusion that I need to change my movie-going habits.  From this day forth, I will no longer make comic book “movies” a priority in my theatrical journey.  If there is a CBM that I want to watch in a theatre, I won’t be buying a ticket for until the third Monday of release at the earliest.  I will spending 17 days on the outside as yet another visual effects extravaganza makes a billion dollars in worldwide box office receipts.  In addition, I won’t waste my time reviewing them nor will I be getting in arguments with people online over them.  They aren’t worth the time or energy.  I’ll throw out a tweet or two immediately after watching said spectacle but will only barely acknowledge its existence after that.
            I’m sure you noticed that I put quotation marks around the word “movie” in the above paragraph.  That is because I believe that recent theatrically released comic book adaptations are not movies, motion pictures, films, whatever term you want to use.  A movie is a series of pictures strung together to create a compelling story with a beginning, middle & end with interesting characters, spectacular action sequences with high stakes & expertly crafted visuals and great actors well-written dialogue.  Many recent comic book adaptations don’t have endings; they stop.  They take this “sequel culture” that we live in to the extreme and leave more open endings than closed ones after every installment.  Recent super villains have been quite dull.  I get a kick out of seeing Daniel Bruhl on screen but his Helmut Zemo in Civil War could have been eons more conniving.  Even as technology improves and visual effects get better, the over-reliance by these creations is really distracting.  And while studios open their bank accounts to get the best looking & most talented actors, studios don’t seem to care who they hire to write these creations.

            I guess you could say I’m a grump, an old fart, stubborn, a snob.  And I won’t deny being any of those things.  I did not grow up on comic books.  I only remotely started paying attention to them after I saw Spider-Man in 2002; even then, I still didn’t read them.  I showed up in theatres from time to time when more comic book “movies” were released.  I’ve raved about a few over the years.  X-Men 2, Spider-Man 2, The Avengers, Days of Future Past: each one great.  But now, especially this year, these seem like experiences that only readers or devotees can appreciate.  I’m not one of them and if I haven’t become a fanboy by now, I never will.

Friday, April 29, 2016

Fantasy Box Office: April 29 - May 1

THE JUNGLE BOOK
Cost: 804 FML Bucks
Estimate: $35.077 million
After another huge weekend, TJB is poised to win its third weekend in a row before a Civil War hits theatres.  But how big will it be?  I can't see a non-animated Disney movie to hold over 60%, even without any new competition.

KEANU
Cost: 346 FML Bucks
Estimate: $17.15 million
A hilarious comedy from the stars/creators of Key & Peele that will sure to test just how powerful television stars can be on the silver screen.  It is 'R'-rated and unabashedly so.  Could go anywhere in the teens or even low 20s.

MOTHER’S DAY
Cost: 309 FML Bucks
Estimate: $12.31 million
Another Garry Marshall "Day" movie for everyone to ignore again.  That cast could open any other movie in the universe.  But that trailer is as bad as the price is high.

THE HUNTSMAN: WINTER’S WAR
Cost: 172 FML Bucks
Estimate: $7.972 million
A sub-$20 million weekend with bad buzz and 'B+' Cinemascore spells doom for this unwanted sequel.

RATCHET & CLANK
Cost: 129 FML Bucks
Estimate: $6 million
If an animated movie opens, but a film buff like me only saw a commerical twice, does anyone else know it exists?

BARBERSHOP: THE NEXT CUT
Cost: 110 FML Bucks
Estimate: $5.575 million
WARNING: ONLY IN 379 THEATRES!  AVOID AT ALL COSTS!!!

ZOOTOPIA
Cost: 94 FML Bucks
Estimate: $4.835 million
This movie is just going through the motions until it disappears from theatres with its capes between its legs.

GREEN ROOM
Cost: 72 FML Bucks
Estimate: $1.775 million
The first of two movies expanding this week that are overpriced due to not expanding as much as expected.  AVOID AT ALL COSTS!

THE BOSS
Cost: 71 FML Bucks
Estimate: $3.731 million
A bad comedy with a competition coming from both the R-rated comedy side (KEANU) and the female-centric side (MOTHER’S DAY).  Could still be a force considering the cost.

BATMAN V SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE
Cost: 57 FML Bucks
Estimate: $2.751 million
Final weekend of relevence before it disappears into the great beyond of the Target bargin bin.

CRIMINAL
Cost: 32 FML Bucks
Estimate: $1.246 million
A moderate drop after a horrible opening weekend.  Theatre count is everything this weekend.

A HOLOGRAM FOR THE KING
Cost: 27 FML Bucks
Estimate: $1.043 million
A smaller than expected expansion this weekend (523 screens instead of 600+) makes this a little too expensive to consider, even as 8th screen filler.

MY BIG FAT GREEK WEDDING 2
Cost: 24 FML Bucks
Estimate: $1.044 million
Faces direct competition for the first time this weekend.  Not a huge drop is expected but enough to be unplayable.

COMPADRES
Cost: 15 FML Bucks
Estimate: $0.6985 million
The slam dunk Bonus pick last weekend is anything but this weekend.  A 7th & 8th screen filler?  Maybe.

EYE IN THE SKY
Cost: 15 FML Bucks
Estimate: $0.5418 million
Too few screens to be a player, especially with the same price as the movie above it.

My Cineplex
           I have no confidence in my projections because of many unanswerable questions.  How much will THE JUNGLE BOOK fall in the "calm before the storm" weekend?  Will Key & Peele's huge fanbase show up?  Does anyone know RATCHET & CLANK exists?  My "safe" lineup:

KEANU, BARBERSHOP: THE NEXT CUT, ZOOTOPIA x5, THE BOSS
Total Cost: 997 FML Bucks
Estimate After Bonus: $85.15 million

As always,

Good Luck & Buy a Winning Ticket!

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Fantasy Box Office: April 22-24

THE JUNGLE BOOK
Cost: 804 FML Bucks
Estimate: $56.728 million
Where does a movie go after a $102+ million opening weekend with a 90%+ on RT & an ‘A’ Cinemascore?  Back to the top of the box office.  The question is how high it will go.  I’m going the conservative route with my prediction but a $60 million weekend won’t surprise me.

THE HUNTSMAN: WINTER’S WAR
Cost: 324 FML Bucks
Estimate: $25.5 million
A Kristin Stewart-less pre-sequel to the 2012 Stewart hit.  With the interest in this movie low & the Tomatometer even lower, how much can the starpower of Theron/Hemsworth/Blunt/Chastain take in at the cinema this week?  I think I’m on the high side, but you never know.

BARBERSHOP: THE NEXT CUT
Cost: 134 FML Bucks
Estimate: $10.1 million
A big disappointment for those of us who went all out with it last weekend.  The rule of thumb with well-received minority-centric movie falls as close to 50% as possible.  But can this threequel drop just 45% & win the Bonus?  Maybe.

ZOOTOPIA
Cost: 67 FML Bucks
Estimate: $4.8852 million
Competition from TJB finally knocked this animated film down a few pegs but still had a respectable weekend and should have another one this weekend.

THE BOSS
Cost: 64 FML Bucks
Estimate: $4.4811 million
As expected, this fell 57%+ last weekend.  This is a real wild card this weekend.  A sub-50% drop might make this a playable option.  But I doubt it.

ELVIS & NIXON
Cost: 62 FML Bucks
Estimate: $1.6 million
WARNING: ONLY IN 379 THEATRES!  AVOID AT ALL COSTS!!!

BATMAN V SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE
Cost: 48 FML Bucks
Estimate: $4.514 million
This movie is just going through the motions until it disappears from theatres with its capes between its legs.

CRIMINAL
Cost: 35 FML Bucks
Estimate: $2.3068 million
A complete flop that isn’t worth even speaking its title, let alone consider playing in this game.  Just keep reading.

MY BIG FAT GREEK WEDDING 2
Cost: 32 FML Bucks
Estimate: $1.69416 million
A moderately successful mom-com (a comedy only your mother could love) that has been on my radar just about every week thus far.  This week is slightly different.  Not chance to play this week.

MIRACLES FROM HEAVEN
Cost: 13 FML Bucks
Estimate: $0.93 million
Finally fell like a regular movie last weekend.  This weekend may be its last stand but not worth it.

EYE IN THE SKY
Cost: 12 FML Bucks
Estimate: $0.777 million
One last week for Alan Rickman to be in the spotlight but not in your lineup.  Sad…

GOD’S NOT DEAD 2
Cost: 11 FML Bucks
Estimate: $0.7508 million
Can this hateful movie just go away already?!

COMPADRES
Cost: 10 FML Bucks
Estimate: $1.05 million
A Mexican film that is showing up in 350ish theatres this weekend.  Is its price enough to coax me & you into playing it?  Maybe…

MILES AHEAD
Cost: 10 FML Bucks
Estimate: $0.731 million
Don Cheadle’s directorial debut is this Miles Davis biopic that expands enough to be in the game this week.  Just not enough to be useful in the game.

THE DIVERGENT SERIES: ALLEGIANT
Cost: 9 FML Bucks
Estimate: $0.6165 million
The third part of a YA series that has made half the money as the first one did two years ago.  Not worth shifting your lineup to have one.

My Cineplex
            I am going against my own figures a little this week.  I should go with HUNTSMAN but I have little to no confidence in my own calculations.  Maybe I should change my method to my madness.  Anyhoo, my “safe” play this weekend:

THE JUNGLE BOOK, BARBERSHOP: THE NEXT CUT, COMPADRES x6
Total Cost: 998 FML Bucks
Estimate After Bonus: $85.15 million

As always,

Good Luck & Buy a Winning Ticket!

Friday, April 15, 2016

Fantasy Box Office: April 15-17

THE JUNGLE BOOK
Cost: 748 FML Bucks
Estimate: $78.7 million
Another new live-action remake of a classic Disney animated film.  This time, we get Jon Favreau’s take on the Rudland Kipling novel with CGI everything except Mowgli.  The 94% on the Tomatometer (at writing) might help this hit $80 million plus but I’ll stay a little cautious.  Will win the Bonus if the next movie underperforms.

BARBERSHOP: THE NEXT CUT
Cost: 202 FML Bucks
Estimate: $24.35 million
A threequel to one of the most successful African-American franchises.  More importantly, this is the first minority-centric, non-spoof comedy in almost three months.  Look for this to possibly dominate the Bonus race.

THE BOSS
Cost: 143 FML Bucks
Estimate: $10.6137 million
A shocking victory in overall box office & in the FML Bonus contest.  Can McCarthy repeat?  After a ‘C+’ Cinemascore, not a chance.

BATMAN V SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE
Cost: 116 FML Bucks
Estimate: $11.6815 million
After a shocking loss last week & three weeks of underperforming, BvS should fall a normal amount this weekend.  Right?  I mean, not enough to win the Bonus but enough to look respectable now.  Right?!

ZOOTOPIA
Cost: 93 FML Bucks
Estimate: $9.324 million
Now it it’s 7th weekend, this overachieving Disney animated film finally has competition in THE JUNGLE BOOK.  Regardless, should have a respectable, “might be playable” weekend.

CRIMINAL
Cost: 90 FML Bucks
Estimate: $7 million
A poorly reviewed, under-marketed action movie with Costner & Reynolds.  Avoid at all costs.

MY BIG FAT GREEK WEDDING 2
Cost: 39 FML Bucks
Estimate: $3.368 million
This crowd-pleasing but critically reviled (including by yours truly) rom-com sequel continues to do well relative to its budget.  Another sub-50% drop this weekend & in contention as a screen filler.

MIRACLES FROM HEAVEN
Cost: 31 FML Bucks
Estimate: $3.059 million
The Christian-themed movie that won’t go away.  This is a very solid play as a screen filler.

HARCORE HENRY
Cost: 27 FML Bucks
Estimate: $2.043 million
Tainted as a failure by both box office prognosticators & FML’ers, stay away from this.

GOD’S NOT DEAD 2
Cost: 24 FML Bucks
Estimate: $2.027 million
Mean-spirited religious movie that got rejected this time around.  FML’ers should reject this too.

THE DIVERGENT SERIES: ALLEGIANT
Cost: 21 FML Bucks
Estimate: $2.1108 million
About 50% behind the pace of the first movie two years ago.  Too expensive for consideration this week.

EYE IN THE SKY
Cost: 20 FML Bucks
Estimate: $1.8824 million
Doing fairly well for a movie I’ve heard very little about.  Still not worth playing.

10 CLOVERFIELD LANE
Cost: 20 FML Bucks
Estimate: $1.888 million
Can this become the first movie to be part of the Perfect Cineplex for the fourth straight weekend?  Probably too expensive this week.  Too bad.

DEADPOOL
Cost: 13 FML Bucks
Estimate: $1.355 million
This is the last weekend this will torture me with its presence.  Good riddance!

HELLO, MY NAME IS DORIS
Cost: 11 FML Bucks
Estimate: $0.966 million
A decent little film gets one more weekend in the spotlight.  Not worth playing though.

My Cineplex
            One projection that I have above most other players is BARBERSHOP hitting well over $21 million.  Again, the target audience has been waiting for a movie like this.  After maxing out on that, there’s about 190 bucks to divide among four screens, to be filled by one mid-range option & three low-end screens, which leads me to a lineup of:



BARBERSHOP: THE NEXT CUT x4, BATMAN V SUPERMAN, MIRACLE FROM HEAVEN x2, DEADPOOL
Total Cost: 999 FML Bucks
Estimate After Bonus: $124.554 million

As always,

Good Luck & Buy a Winning Ticket!