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Weekend Estimates by A Midsummer’s Day Klady

Sunday, June 25th, 2017

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Sorry about that wrong chart…

Nothing much different than yesterday. Every film seems to have had a slightly stronger Saturday than normal. Is that a function of no NBA Finals, MLB All-Stars, and a generally lazy weekend before the holiday? Maybe. Is WB jockeying for position over Disney? Maybe.

Want to see a place when Rotten Tomatoes may have really mattered at the box office? The Beguiled had soft reviews and while audiences showed up at its four screens on Friday, the rest of the weekend was relatively soft. The Big Sick has glowing reviews (and a cast willing to work screenings) and showed up strong on Friday… and got stronger over the weekend. The question, as far as RT goes, is whether this was just a function of the New York Times and LA Times reviews in the two markets where it opened. But I believe that for small films – and really, for big films too – there is a vibe created, that includes reviews and feature stories and RT, and the audiences of these kinds of films pay attention.

It’s also worth noting that The Big Sick is an Amazon movie, bought at Sundance. They choose to work with the traditional windowed model (in this case, in partnership with Lionsgate). And you may notice that Amazon is not the story the media focuses on when it comes to this movie. So the question… Is it better for the company when, as with Netflix, every story about their movies leads with the company and its philosophy? Or is it better when Amazon is in the background as part of a happy success story? I suspect that each company would actively advocate for the benefits of their particular strategy.

This from Team 3D, regarding Transformers – “The highest performing 3D countries internationally include China (99%), Russia (58%), Germany (86%), Hong Kong (41%), and The Netherlands (100%). In the United States, 34% of the film’s $69 million opening came from 3D performances.”

The 3D business isn’t going away. But its scale is now minimized in the domestic market. Transformers 5 still did 67% of its worldwide opening weekend in 3D. A film doing 1/3 of its business in 3D is a solid win now. And in the places where the numbers are over 80%, it is a function of limiting the options of ticket buyers, not choice. Ironically, the most consistent domestic 3D market is kids’ movies… though under 6s are really not mature enough to sit still, leave the glasses on, and enjoy the benefits for which their parents pay extra.

By the way… in the hit indies of summer category, the two big winners so far are A24 with It Comes At Night and Bleecker Street with Megan Levey.

Friday Estimates by The Last Klady (if we are lucky)

Saturday, June 24th, 2017

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Again with the shrinking domestic IP franchise.

This will happen many, many more times in the next 5 years. And eventually, we will all have to act like grown ups and discuss worldwide box office and the post-theatrical market in a serious way from opening day of any movie that costs more than $40 million.

If anyone tries to tell you that Paramount didn’t know this was coming, domestically, they would be spinning you. Transformers 3 did $50 million less than Transformers 2 domestically. Four did $90 million less than Three. And now, Five will do $90m – $120m less than Four.

This is not a complicated trend line.

The Fast & The Furious, on the other hand, is a bit more complex. The original was surprisingly successful. #2 down. #3 further down. Then BLAM! #4 bigger than the original. At the same time, the international gross nearly doubled the previous best. Then the franchise hit the accelerator both domestically and internationally for 3 straight films. The most recent film, #8, was down for the first time since #4, in both categories. So is this the trend moving forward? Or was the rise so high with #7 ($1.5 billion) that it was an anomaly and the franchise will now settle in around the $1 billion mark for a few films?

But Transformers? Domestic is 100% clear. And international is the question. Will it keep growing and get past $950 million international this time? Or will it start to stall?

If you adjust China for limited return to the distributor on the Yuan spent at the box office, the international growth stalled on the last movie already, as China doubled its footprint. Transformers 3 did $165m in China as part of $771 million making the “real” international gross about $690 million. Tr4 did $320 million in China, $858m total… making the “real” number roughly $698 million. So about the same.

More importantly, while China box office expanded, the rest of the non-domestic world contributed $538 million on Tr4, down from $606 million on Tr3.

This time, China could go up to, say, $360 million, but to stay even internationally, the film still needs to do $510 million elsewhere… and the trend suggests that the rest of international will be under $500 million this time, regardless of quality.

And that is how you get a $900 million-plus worldwide grosser feeling like something is wrong.

If China drops instead of rises or the rest of international drops down below $400 million, Transformers 6 is coming right on schedule without a second thought.

Paramount only starts flinching in a real way when, given the China asterisk and the Spielberg cut, the worldwide gets down to $700 million or so, especially if nearly half of that is the Chinese box office. But no Bay Transformers movie has fallen that low. And this is quite unlikely to be the first.

2017. What a racket!

Wonder Woman passes $300 million. Looking good to pass Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice domestically in the next couple weeks as the top DC Extended Universe title. International is less likely. But could happen. As far as the summer goes, Guardians wins by way of the head start that being the summer launch movie gives a film.

On the indie side, The Big Sick is the big per-screen leader, with $26k per screen yesterday and date night ahead of it. Also looking well is The Beguiled, with just under $23k per screen on 4.

Rotten Tomatoes, Movie Openings & Reality

Thursday, June 22nd, 2017

La Tomatina

There have been 131 wide-release summer movies in from 2014 until now.

The film highest-ranked by Rotten Tomatoes (99) opened to $4 million. The one lowest-ranked by Rotten Tomatoes (4) opened to $5 million.

In many ways, we could stop right there in this analysis, because this dichotomy is the reality of pretty much every way I have parsed the Rotten Tomatoes vs Box Office Opening story that has become the Trend of the Month since Baywatch opened so much below expectations.

Let’s start with Baywatch before looking at the bigger picture, since that is the film which became the center of this conversation. Broadly, the film was tracking (a marketing number that is meant to let marketers know what kind of traction the film is getting, not for guessing opening numbers) at around $38 million for the 5-day weekend (as Paramount made Thursday a full day opening, not just late shows, which they had on Wednesday after 7).

Reviews hit on Tuesday morning. And they weren’t pretty. The Rotten Tomatoes number ended up at 20% Fresh, 80% Rotten. Tracking done Tuesday night and Wednesday showed a drop from the $38 million projection (which also took into account what trackers claim was a surprise RT score). And indeed, by the end of the 5-day, they were at $27.7 million.

So the question… did the scathing reviews on Tuesday cause a 29% drop in the opening 5-day gross for Baywatch?

Tracking is often wrong (though studios seem to have a loving, but gauzy memory of a time when it was always right). And there aren’t a ton of examples where the tracking changed so dramatically in such a short period of time. If fact, after talking to a number of the tracking firms about the issue, no one could offer any other films that fit this profile.

This is where it gets tricky. Tracking is not just a straight survey (not that any survey is “straight” as all managed surveys are dependent on the audience that can be reached and the demographic balance that can be created). Tracking companies take everything into account in estimating a gross, including the Rotten Tomatoes score.

Complicating this, tracking has become media fodder in a way it never should have. It is meant to be marketing guidance. But now, marketing departments don’t only have to respond to their bosses when the numbers miss, but they have an onslaught of often-hysterical media attention.

I have said for decades now that the only real influence that critics have on the opening of a wide release movie is when there is nearly-unanimous negativity. I do believe a film can be destroyed. But I do not believe a film that has a strong base for opening in the 30s or better can be “destroyed.”

The consensus – no one who pays close attention to this, and to whom I have spoken, disagrees – is potentially 10% – 15% damage.

And within that potential damage, there is a wide array of categories in which negative RT scores appear to mean absolutely nothing. Specific groups mentioned include African Americans, women (especially under 24), and action movie fans.

And the idea of RT ratings helping a movie is nearly nonexistent. There are experiential call-outs, like Get Out and Wonder Woman… but the examples are rare and seem more about confirmation bias.

In fact, the only group that seems to play close attention to RT scores are white males, 18-45. Surveys suggest that the percentage of men in that demo checking RT before deciding on going to a movie has grown from 26& to 36% in the last couple years. And that seems like a big chunk of the audience.

But then it gets blurry again. How many of those men checking RT are buying tickets? And for what kind of movies? How often?

There are about 27 million people in the U.S. and Canada who go to the movies more than once a month. Cut that in half for the age demo, then in half again for males. So your entire frequent male moviegoer 18-45 potential audience for Baywatch is 6.75 million people.

I have no idea how much of the opening weekend audience for Baywatch was those guys. But if they made up half the opening weekend audience, that is about 20% of the group showing up on opening weekend. Did this movie ever seem like it was strong enough to pull 40% of the demo out to the movies in the first weekend?

Also… The Rock. Big star. Maybe the biggest right now. But in comedies? Not so much. He only had four as the lead before Baywatch. None opened to more than $22 million. Maybe Central Intelligence confused the survey ($36m opening)… but Kevin Hart matters.

Baywatch did $23 million by Sunday night. That seems like the right number… unless you think Zac Efron is equivalent to Kevin Hart. It seems like a positive if you consider that the movie is not well liked (5.8 on imdb user ratings.. another terrible measure but for lack of a better easy example). Bad movie, horribly reviewed, and Dwayne Johnson still delivered his number for a comedy.

Further, the film’s advertising was clearly pushing hard on one quadrant. “Beaches aren’t ready” isn’t going to draw women with a pun on “bitches,” nor are adults likely to be drawn to the film based on The Rock’s wingspan and horny teen jokes about women, plus the film was R-rated (not that teens can’t find a way in when they want to). Worse, neither the ads nor the film took advantage of the nostalgia for the show that exists, however much people are embarrassed to admit that reality.

So, when you have a one-quadrant movie and the one quadrant that pays serious attention to Rotten Tomatoes is the one that is going to deliver most of your opening, yeah, I see what Paramount was feeling on Tuesday after opening.

And of course, the entire thing is more complicated than even this analysis.

Who came up with this idea of a Baywatch movie… who developed it… who greenlit it… who thought The Rock was The Answer… who decided not to have any female nudity… who decided to have multiple dick jokes… who decided not to make the action more in line with The Rock’s hits… who decided to underplay the female storylines… who decided to focus the sell to young men… who determined that an effort to get women interested in this film (aside from the abs of the top two names on the call sheet) was futile… who decided to throw away the family audience… and a thousand other decisions that led to opening day.

I’m down the rabbithole here.

Then there are other measures when looking at the whole summer. Of the 10 summer wide-releases that did 4x opening weekend or better domestically in the last five summers, six are Fresh and four are Rotten. And of the 10 worst multiples (pre-incomplete summer 2017… 1.5x – 2.2x) there are 3 Fresh films. This group includes both $100m+ openers RT90 Captain America: Civil War and RT25 Suicide Squad.

It is easy to drown (again) in a sea of figures. But the bottom line seems clear… better to be well-liked than not. If your film is universally disliked by critics, it will – as it has forever – make a dent… but it may not define your film’s fate if audiences disagree.

There is little, if any, indication that the speed of media or Facebook or Twitter, etc, is changing opening weekends. Friday-to-Saturday-to-Sunday numbers seem to be consistent, within genre lanes, no matter what the RT score.

Rotten Tomatoes, which has become a simple way to think you are getting a critical consensus, is not irrelevant. But it is one piece of the puzzle. There seems to be a pretty clear line to be drawn between the RT numbers and biases that already exist and are then confirmed by the RT number.

Rotten Tomatoes reflects the world it surveys. People only argue that it influences, positive or negative, in extreme moments. And I believe it only influences in even fewer occasions than when it is given credit/blame. Nothing in two weeks of discussing the matter suggests otherwise.

When “everyone” hates your movie, that tends to leak into the whole process. It’s an infection. And you know… in many high profile cases, it just doesn’t matter.

Paramount has another high profile movie opening this week with a nightmarish (or is it Knightmarish?) RT rating. There was a low-70s opening was projected weeks before reviews. It may slide into he mid-60s. And maybe that will be, in part, critical influence. But if you want to make that the story, you have to explain whytwo2 of the previous four Transformers films opened over $100 million domestically with RT scores in the teens.

Everyone wants answers. And everyone wants them NOW.

Sometimes the first stats turn out to be correct. But for the most part, short window determinations are missing a lot of important information. I like my big trend analysis to start with three years/seasons of information. Anything less and you may look like a fool next year.

This doesn’t mean that short-window trend analysis can’t be interesting an valuable. But only in the smallest ways. For instance, the Lord/Miller firing from Young Han seems to directly fly in the face of what happened at WB with Wonder Woman and with what Marvel is doing aggressively in the continued expansion of its universe of films. The trend, which has not had time to play out, has been successful so far. LucasFilm is going to stick to its knitting and to stay on-brand at all costs. This could be a success or a failure regardless of the bigger industry trend.

Nobody knows anything. Love you, Bill Goldman. Stay fresh.

Wanda Wobbling?

Wednesday, June 21st, 2017

Wanda Wobbling? How Might The Ripples Be Felt In H’wd?

WTF? Lord/Miller Latest Disney Victims?

Wednesday, June 21st, 2017

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Every time it begins to look like Disney is about to cross the bridge to figuring out how to avoid a Sophomore Slump in its all-mega-movie universe, another kick in the balls…

Here is what I know about Chris Miller and Phil Lord… they have directed four movies… all but the one sequel was underestimated by its distributor before release… they are four for four… as relatively young veterans in this business (42), they still connect to young people and they have a sense of how to connect with adults as well.

Here is what I know about Disney: they would rather put out pre-chewed mediocrity than to take risks with their extremely valuable IP and have fired a slew of interesting directors to maintain that safety.

Kathy Kennedy is a powerhouse. She has kept many of the biggest, most important, beloved trains on the tracks for decades. She is also 64. She has had her moments of zen. Munich, The Diving Bell & the Butterfly, and Persepolis appear back-to-back-to-back on her page… so she is not just Spielberg and she is not only mainstream. She has more in her game than that. But is she playing not to lose instead of playing to win?

Disney is more important than their box office success right now. Other studios are chasing their model, but they have limited success because there is no better IP than Marvel-Lucasfilm-Pixar-Disney Animation. Universal has been #2 in Magic-IP-Land lately because of Jurassic Park-Illumination. But studios have proven they can live off one great piece of IP for a long time. Sony was driven by Spider-Man for years… Paramount is now Transformers with bouts of Mission: Impossible and Star Trek (and Brad Pitt’s Plan B, the promise of which helped keep Brad Grey in the job for extra years until its recent move to Annapurna)… WB and Potter (which DC is starting to look like it will replace).

When these key pieces of IP end or fade, it is a seismic event and people who seemed invincible lose their jobs. At studios that don’t have the stability of a reliable franchise or two, turmoil always seems to be rising (bosses are like my mother, they’re never satisfied).

This is not to mock the IP urge. It is real. It is not new. And it makes sense for an ongoing business, which, like it or not, studios are.

Disney is the leader in integrating women and people of color into the directing chairs amongst major studios. I have meant to write about this before, in a positive piece about Disney, with shame cast upon other majors.

Patty Jenkins made Wonder Woman after they fired Michelle MacLaren. So WB got there first. But now… Ava Duvernay, Niki Caro, Anna Boden and Jennifer Lee all have movies in 2018 or 2019. Add more diversity with Ryan Coogler and Black Panther. And remember that Disney also puts out one-third to one-half the number of films that other majors release in a year.

So Disney is not The Evil Monolith. They are not completely inflexible. They don’t just hire for mediocrity.

Still… Niki Caro hasn’t made it into production on her Mulan. When she pushes her (appropriate) agenda of equality and sensitivity and female empowerment, we’ll see how that plays. This is the same Disney that is making Aladdin with a director (Guy Ritchie) who tip-toes near the “isn’t that funny” notion of bloke-y racism in all his films.

Anna Boden with her directing partner Ryan Fleck is on Captain Marvel, under protection of Marvel Studios. And though Marvel pushed out Edgar Wright, they did replace him with another iconoclastic director who made a very good, off-brand Marvel film (that still feels a bit like what we would have expected from Edgar, oddly).

Marvel also seems to be pushing the off-brand side movies hard with Thor: Ragnarok, which with Taika Waititi, a Maori Ashkenazi, who seems to be making the first Marvel film bending a core Avengers character into an off-brand story and style. It seems that Marvel also allowed Coogler all the rope he could have asked for in making Black Panther off-brand and distinctive.

Pixar is John Lasseter and will be John Lasseter until John Lasseter leaves… probably on a gurney, decades from now. He is the 9 Old Men of now. A couple of those nine in John is also running Disney Animation.

But Lucasfilm… Two mediocre Star Wars films so far. We all hope and expect that Rian Johnson will raise the bar in December. But as the film is in the Core 9, we should also expect that Rian’s brilliance will show in the margins, more than in the center, where the next director (back to JJ-level mediocrity) has already taken the baton for #9.

Of the two 3.0 Star Wars films that have been released, we already know that Rogue One was “saved” by Tony Gilroy… shot in some part by Tony Gilroy, even though Gareth Edwards was given the full credit.

Thing about Young Han is… Wonder Woman. Guardians of the Galaxy. Dr. Strange. Ant-Man.

IP Machine Shops are figuring out that the way to keep the engine running is to have some bits that aren’t 100% canon. Loosen up, people.

Star Wars is a mature bit of IP. Its power is remarkable. But everything can be killed by misguided, well-intended management.

The laugher of the week was that Book of Henry could get Colin Trevorrow dumped from Star Wars IX. The opposite is true. He knows how to get in line and do what the bosses want, as he did for Frank Marshall (aka Kathy Kennedy’s husband and long-time producing partner) and that is what Kathy Kennedy appears to expect from her Lucasfilm directors.

Unlike others sucked into the Disney machinery, Phil Lord & Chris Miller have other places to be. They are not only good at what they do, they are amongst the leaders of their generation of creative players. As writers, producers and directors, they have risen above the fray in almost everything they have done over the last decade, even when the projects have failed.

Lord & Miller are not Spielberg. They are not the top flight of making visual feasts. But they have an uncanny feeling for the nerve. They are not the first to rise and like everyone else, they will stall at some point. But I would count on them getting back up and working through the problems. Their ego does not demand fealty. They want to collaborate.

This brings me to the people who probably feel the most screwed over this week… the actors that Phil & Chris brought on to Young Han. Alden Ehrenreich has been though a LOT in his young career. And he will be fine. But do you think Donald Glover and Thandie Newton and Phoebe Waller-Bridge came on a movie like this without a lot of faith in what the directors were doing? And Bradford Young, who can (deservedly) write his own ticket these days?

It’s become a big, ugly cliché, but this is why we can’t have nice things.

What the Lucasfilm Team is forgetting is that no matter how off-brand Lord & Miller’s movie would have been – and they shot eighty percent of it already, for cripe’s sakes… how off could it have been? – it was the movie that people under 50 were most looking forward to… and many of us over 50.

It would have to be bad, not non-canon, to disappoint. After all, we have indulged mediocre canon so far in this adventure. Really mediocre. And it hasn’t killed the brand. But a big part of the illusion that we should all stay excited is the idea that there is ambition in these films. And today, that illusion died a little bit more.

R.I.P.

Weekend Estimates by Klady 3

Sunday, June 18th, 2017

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The wide newcomers uniformly are failing to estimate 3X Friday, while the top holdovers (wonderful and wrapped alike) are. Ugly weekend… kind of. The only out and out failure amongst the 4 top new films was Rough Night. Cars 3 is about international and merchandising. All Eyez on Me overperformed expectations, strong vs costs. 47 Meters Down came from a new distributor, meeting ambitions. And… Rough Night.

At this point of the summer last year, there had been eleven $20 million summer openings. This year, eight. Last year by this time, three $50m+ openings. This year, four. Last year, two $100 million openings by now. This year, also two.

What do those numbers mean? Not much. Mostly that the sky isn’t falling. And more subtly, that summer is a marathon, not a sprint.

Another series of numbers: 14, 12, 14, 19, 12, 18, 13, 15, 17, 17. That’s the number of $100 million domestic grossers in each of the last 10 summers (starting in 2016). Clearly there has been a slowing in the number of films hitting that bar.

On the other hand… 36, 46, 61, 32, 49, 55, 41, 36, 26, 35.

Those are the numbers of $100 million international grossers for the entire years in the last decade. And you can see the opposite trend. There are about 45 $100m international films a year in each of the last five years to 39 in the five years before that.

Last year, only three of the 14 $100m domestic summer grossers failed to do $100m internationally (Bad Moms, Central Intelligence, Ghostbusters).

On the flipside, there were eight summer movies that did less than $100m domestic, but did over $100 million internationally… six sequels, as well as Warcraft and Me Before You.

So what’s my point? This summer feels down. It feels like we have been drowning in IP, though the truth is that we have only had four actual sequels to date. (There were 11 sequels last summer and by the end of this summer, there will also be 11.)

Guardians, Vol. 2 is fine, thanks. Overall, it is up about 10% from the first, almost equally from domestic and international.

Alien: Covenant about doubled its domestic gross internationally and is now at about $215 million. China is still to come.

Pirates: Dead Men Tell No Tales is at $650 worldwide and will soon pass the first Pirates. But the billion-dollar hopes (three of the four previous films did over $950m ww) are gone. And China doubled its gross from the last film… but still, China gets the 20% return asterisk, making the overall haul about $70m less impressive.

Cars 3 is too soon to tell… but Cars did $218m internationally, which was less than the domestic gross and Cars 2 did $371m, which was two-thirds of the overall worldwide gross. So, a tale of two very different box office grosses in an evolving worldwide box office standard. 2 was off $50 million from the first… and there is a good chance that 3 will be off as much from 2. What will happen internationally?

The IP films that are perceived domestic bombs are having success internationally. Baywatch is already at $120 million worldwide. King Arthur grabbed $100 million internationally, though the film is still nowhere near black ink… $75 million writedown at the very least. And Tom Cruise’s international juice is giving the finger to Variety and those who want to hang him out to dry. The film is near $300 million worldwide today, $239m international. There is still a good chunk to get before the film is out of the red, but international has protected the studio from a legitimate disaster.

As for the new films? June gloom. It used to be the norm, then there was a run of a few years when the slot offered up Man of Steel, 22 Jump Street, and Jurassic World. But last year in this slot wasn’t pretty and this year, a little worse.

I coincidentally mentioned 22 Jump Street. In the three years since that release – this same weekend in 2014 – the only other $50 million opening that Sony has delivered was for James Bond (Spectre). Paramount has had five $50m+ openings in that same period. Fox has had seven, Warner Bros eight, Universal nine, and the insane run at Disney has acccounted for 17 $50m+ openings in these last three years.

This is why Amy Pascal exited the top movie job at Sony… not e-mail. And now, Tom Rothman is 28 months into his tenure and while much of it can be put on Ms. Pascal’s plate, the studio is still bleeding. Spider-Man is coming… but success will be credited to Marvel (even though word is that Marvel is not happy with Sony/Rothman). The Dark Tower has dark prospects. And the next real light at the end of the tunnel is Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle in December. Baby Driver may overperform. Flatliners could overperform. But these aren’t game-changers for a studio.

For all the complaining about Tom Rothman, he did well for Fox. He had a good run and you can moan all you like, the numbers are the numbers. But the numbers are the numbers at Sony too… and there is not enough movies on the schedule that suggest big hits are coming. What is next summer for Sony? A Will Ferrell comedy. Okay. But Barbie? Slenderman? Next fall is kinda loaded (if the dates are made), but another 16 months is going to be a white knuckle ride if that is the expectation.

About eight months ago, Brad Grey did a presentation that was, essentially, an attempt to convince everyone that he had a vision for the future of Paramount. But it wasn’t very convincing. And he was out (apparently not because he was mortally ill).

Tom Rothman is an enthusiastic film lover. He needs to convince his bosses that he has a vision for the future. And it would probably behoove him to convince the rest of Hollywood. No one wants to go to a studio where your one movie is the thing that is needed to turn the place around. People want to take their most commercial projects to the places where the tide is already high and they can get all the benefits of that… and if magic strikes, be the big hit everyone wants.

Sony should have dumped Rough Night or spent some money to try to fix its inherent big-ticket flaws. I truly believe that they could have turned the corner, cutting the film to the bone and then shooting for three weeks with someone like Paul Feig or Apatow guiding the process. There is near-consensus that the film stops dead when the guy gets killed. So go the full Weekend at Bernie’s or make trying to get rid of the body funny or let them get comfortable with the body as a symbol of their empowerment. SOMETHING! Get some more Demi and Ty Burrell in there. De-pathetic the second act Jillian Bell. Give Scarlett the on-screen make-over. And I’m not even saying that the director couldn’t deliver this. She just needed a much, much stronger third act. This is, mostly, a movie on a stage. Invest another $10 million to make it work well enough to sell or push it to Amazon or Netflix and take your loss. That’s all I’m sayin’.

All Eyez On Me is a hit, given its circumstances. It’s not a huge number. And it will drop a lot next week. But it’s a win. Tupac passed away before the explosion of international… so no idea how it will play there. Maybe France? UK?

47 Meters Down did better than I expected. Entertainment Studios’ first film. They seemed to spend more on publicity than advertising. Smart. I don’t have the numbers, but I can’t believe they expected more.

And The Book of Henry is a classic smash-hit-post-partum present to a director. Focus spent bupkiss on this one and it was probably the right choice. Film Festival opening night in place of a premiere. Etc, etc, etc. A non-event. Looking forward to seeing it on Starz. I bet it’s underrated… and still not a project that was ever going to find an audience as broad as the 569-screen release it got this weekend.

Friday Estimates by Lenpac Shaklady

Saturday, June 17th, 2017

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It’s starting to feel like one of those summers that will only get interesting on the back end.

Transformers, Despicable 3, The House, Spidey, Apes, Dunkirk, Detroit… there’s a lot coming out in the next couple months and Guardians 2, all of six weeks ago, is already ancient history.

Cars is a franchise that the media could not care less about. Reviews are always mixed-to-negative. The grosses are never huge, especially domestically. But it is a merchandising cash machine for Disney, as well as Lasseter’s baby, so on it goes. Only thing interesting (barely) about this opening is that it is almost the same Friday number as the first film in the series.

All Eyez on Me is the niche audience smash of the month. It will be the second biggest musical biopic opening ever, around half of Straight Outta Compton‘s. The Rotten Tomatoes obsession will be dented by the 24 score and the big opening. But the pros know this is a niche moviem and niches don’t pay any attention to RT scores. (I will tackle the whole issue of whether anyone decides based on RT scores in some depth this coming week.)

47 Meters Down is a modest debut success for Byron Allen’s theatrical distribution entity, Entertainment Studios. Mandy Moore is lovely and all, but she’s never opened anything. The distributor spent, but not insanely. And got a result that could not realistically expected to be any better.

Rough Night. ROUGH! Not a surprise. Tracking has not been pretty. But still… ouch. I don’t have a clear idea of how it could have gone any better, considering the movie they released. The film is as disjointed as the advertising. And while, perhaps, you could construct a clear idea with a lot of careful cutting of spots (comparing it to the clearly shaped ideas of The Hangover is insulting to The Hangover), it is a tough assignment when the moments that are fun are the five great actresses riffing. Still… you have to go back almost a decade to find a Scarlett Jo opening quiet this bad. (Zoo was a Christmas eve open… others—not her—in the lead).

I am confused by the Focus dump of The Book of Henry directly after premiering at a film festival. The people at Focus are smart, but this feels like they were looking for cover for the inevitable bomb. Did it need to be an inevitable bomb? In a sane world, it would have been distributed outside of the Universal/Focus family and maybe found a softer berth. As for ramifications… stop it. This movie was, essentially, part of Trevorrow’s pay for Jurassic World and with a $10m budget, would not likely have been made otherwise. Nothing to see here.

In the $10k per-screen exclusive release universe, the doc Hare Krishna! The Mantra, the Movement and the Swami Who Started It All tops the weekend while The Journey, a docudrama about internal conflicts in Northern Ireland politics, will also score.

Review-ish: Rough Night

Thursday, June 15th, 2017

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Rough Night really doesn’t need a review.

The film takes five appealing and funny actors, starts down the road of a very broad (no pun intended) comedy, and then stops dead in its tracks with the absolutely accidental death of a guy who they think is a stripper.

Didn’t put a “Spoiler Alert” there, as the fact that he isn’t the stripper they were expecting is not telegraphed, but sky-written. And that doesn’t get corrected for what seems like forever… which stands in as an example of what is wrong with this movie.

The comparisons to Peter Berg’s directing debut, the much-debated 1998 Very Bad Things (I was not a fan) don’t seem apt to me, as that film was never positioned as a wacky fun comedy… pitch-black in tone from stem to stern. Yeah, dead sex worker.

Rough Night, on the other hand, is very much a “slightly uptight grown-up woman gets her goofy groove back after a weekend with her crazy friends” comedy for the entire first act… and that is when it (mostly) works. It’s a disjointed mess, pushing gags over story, but with these women, it is fun.

Then, as soon as the “stripper” is killed, in an utterly silly, innocent way, it turns into a “how would women behave if they killed a stripper in Miami by mistake, but a couple of the friends had something to lose if they called the police, so they slowly melt down” drama, much more akin to Netflix’s “Bloodline” than Weekend At Bernie’s.

As I sat in the theater, I wondered, “Is this the female identification movie that women want to see and I just don’t get it?” I don’t think anyone needs to see that. I truly love watching these women do comedy. But as soon as you flip the switch to drama, you need great writing and a solid story… and this film has neither.

A couple moments stuck out.

“Stripper” is bleeding heavily from his head and it is about to get on the white carpet that one of the characters mentioned not wanting to stain. So what is the solution? Towels! They make a big deal out of staining the towels for a second, but towels. Perfectly sane choice. And boring. It doesn’t raise the comedy level. It doesn’t raise the drama level. It’s just what you would do. Not good comedy. Not good drama. Just… so what?

Great visual gag in the second act when the ladies decide to move the body away from the house. All they have access to is a Smart Car (or whatever tiny vehicle it is). The car is so small that the corpse is sticking out of the sunroof with his arms out of the windows. Funny image. But it is only that because we don’t get the process of putting him in the car… or the need for all four (the fifth is napping) women to be in the car at once… or on what planet they think a cop wouldn’t pull them over… or anything much more than the visual gag, which also comes in the middle of these women seriously trying to figure out how to rid themselves of the body.

I am willing to eat most of the wacky comedy coincidences in the script, even if they make no sense. It’s not a documentary. When anyone gets control of a bad guy and then tosses the gun away within reach, you know the bad guy is coming back with that gun. Movie Cliche 4369. I can live with that. And the lack of backstory that would enrich the story… unfortunate loss, but I so like these women.

But you need to pick a tone unless changing tone is going to be brilliant. Demme’s Something Wild went to a deep, brutally dark place in the third act after a lot of whimsy and sexy romance. But some of the most memorable moments in cinema (and Ray Liotta’s career) came out of it.

Before I stop, one beat that I liked a lot and thought would have been brilliant if it was played out. In one of the beats, the amazing Ilana Glazer, who plays a character who seems up for pretty much anything (though seriously lesbian), goes from trying to seduce a cop to knocking him out after he feels her up. There is so much going on there. The flip from passivity to aggression. The thought about what she would do if she knew the guy was a stripper, not a cop (again… no need to SPOILER ALERT, as you will see it coming a block away). The power of a small woman being able to knock a large man out with one good shot to the head. A lot of her character is right there in a 15-second bit…if you fill it out a bit. But instead, it was another gag that made little sense, but that you would forgive happily if it made any sense.

In a weird way, Rough Night is like a failed Midnight Run, where the story was complex, often right at the edge of credibility, but just kept on surprising you and within a minute made sense at every turn because the characters were so well-drawn and… well… because it made sense. Take any big gag in Midnight Run, set it aside from that film, and you get a “will the audience believe that?” in a development meeting. Here you have five strong performers with pretty clear characters and they stay on the rails pretty well… until you get to the major event of the film and then it becomes oil and balsamic without a piece of bread to force them to stay together in one place.

I won’t even start on the outsized amount of time put into one relationship that isn’t critical to the movie’s outcome.

This is The Summer of The Missing Producer. Love or hate IP films, there are better ones and worse ones. There is good and bad in Wonder Woman, but the creative producers let that script hold together in a way that made for one of the best films of the summer. But Baywatch? Snatched? King Arthur? Plenty of talent involved… solid foundations (however well worn)… but at some point in each film (some from the casting stage), these ideas are blown into the ether and there is nothing holding things together besides isolated jokes, abs or other body parts, great cinematography, excessive scoring, and the fact that you already paid for your ticket.

Gotta get better… right?

Barry Sonnenfeld, A Series Of Unfortunate Events

Wednesday, June 14th, 2017

Weekend Estimates by Second Weekend Klady

Sunday, June 11th, 2017

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Friday Estimates by Mummy’s Boy Klady

Saturday, June 10th, 2017

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So the question of the week seems to be whether The Mummy will, somehow, be affected by its uniformly lousy reviews. And so far, so minimally off tracking. In other words… not a trend.

What has been unique this summer so far is the unanimity of harsh negativity for so much product. I will be doing a fuller analysis of this next week when I am back at my desktop.

More to come… probably…

Review: The Mummy (spoilers)

Wednesday, June 7th, 2017

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A million ideas… and no Idea.

Universal has gone a long time without a carwreck (and no, I don’t count The Great Wall against their account). So this misfire, which may do some business based on advertising, will not drag the ship down.

But The Mummy is, in so many ways, everything that is wrong with the IP era of film. So much so, that it is a shocking experience.

The film is clear in its intentions to launch a complex reboot of Universal IP, in the shape of no less than The Universal Movie Monster Universe… which gets an entire new logo, Dark Universe (a trivia question by 2025). There is a structure (Prodigium) introduced to act as the fulcrum of the Dark Universe, very much in the way that S.H.I.E.L.D. offers structure for Marvel.

Unfortunately, the monster house is ineptly introduced and then the ineptitude is multiplied by the method offered by the film as Prodigium’s leader, Dr. Jekyll, way of keeping Mr. Hyde at bay. Prodigium is supposed to be the ultimate expert at dealing with violent, powerful, and supernatural beings on earth and yet, the leader, who seems to be subject to personality switching every few hours, can’t come up with a drug delivery system as stable as (for instance) the one that young children us to manage their diabetes in 2017.

I have serious discomfort with how Hyde evolves visually as well. But I will leave that for another day.

Apparently, the overall plan is to roll out Javier Bardem as Frankenstein’s monster in Bride of Frankenstein, then Johnny Depp as The Invisible Man sometime after. I trust Bill Condon to make a solid movie of Bride. But unless the response to The Mummy is much better than I expect, shoving the Prodigium thing into that film will bring nothing but derision. Worse, the fear will be that Johnny Depp will deliver a minor variation on Mortdecai, with invisibility.

But let’s get back to The Mummy. I needed a click counter used at events to count the crowd to keep up with the non-Prodigium mistakes from beginning to end, micro and macro.

To start with, Tom Cruise.

Explaining why he is miscast here requires understanding why the character doesn’t work. On the surface, the story is “rakish thief goes through extreme experience, falls in love, learns to give of himself, becomes the undead and launches a franchise.”

Even that brief version of the story seems a bit much. But worse, the only element that works at all in the film is the “extreme experience.”

Tom Cruise isn’t good at “rakish thief.” He’s not young Harrison Ford. His thing is overly cocky jerk – too sexy to resist even though women know he is trouble – who gets the smirk knocked off his face. Bradley Cooper, who can play cocky with restraint, would have been a lot better as a starting point. There are many other problems with this material, but Cooper would have had a shot. Chris Pine. Ryan Reynolds. Cruise is still good looking and he has spent a lot of time in the gym, but as the guy at the start, now as ever, he lacks a certain warmth.

But then there is the movie. He forces his sidekick into a direct confrontation with dozens of men with machine guns. The duo outruns gunfire in ways beyond the most profound suspension of disbelief. And because this director has no experience with big action sequences, we never – never ever – have a sense of space. Everything is close-ups and singles. So while our “heroes” never stop running, we never know where they are going, where the men with machine guns are, or if any moment is more threatening than another.

After they find the Mummy and he is ordered by his military superior to participate, he – the allegedly clever thief who stays one step ahead of everyone – shoots a rope on what he knows to be a Rube Goldberg-type set-up, with no possible way of knowing what is going to happen. As a movie audience, we know Tom Cruise is not going to have a safe dropped on him. But it is the move of an absolute idiot. Even worse, it is not compelling. Shoulder shrug. And the movie assumes we are idiots by letting him get away with it.

I LOVE crazy action movie sequences. I am thrilled to suspend my disbelief to see something clever and human and delightful. This was not that.

Jump to the best action sequence of the movie… the airplane crash. Mostly well done.

But again… doesn’t make sense. The Mummy’s powers are never defined. She has enough power to summon birds… to suck the life out of men… and to somehow confer life upon Cruise’s character after the plane crash, but on some weird tape delay, where he wakes up in a body bag. How did he get in the body bag?

That is so this movie. He is not a zombie. So why didn’t he just survive the crash? We don’t see his body being recovered…. because if we did, it wouldn’t make any sense.

There are no consistent rules. And audiences will go with virtually any crazy rule you come up with for them. But we need rules (and spacing) so we can anticipate what is coming and then be amazed by how cool what we expected is or to be delighted by being fooled. Hitchcock 101.

There are a hundred twists and turns in this film, but virtually every one feels disconnected from the others.

While they are doing a bad job killing The Mummy (what will actually kill her? how does the process affect her power?), Crowe’s Jekyll passingly mentions that they have to kill Cruise too. It’s played as a joke. It leads up to a fight between Cruise and Hyde that makes absolutely no sense. But worse, between the time Crowe makes the suggestion and the fight, the dialogue might as well be hummina-hummina-hummina because they have to stop making any sense to one another and acting irrationally in order to get to the fight.

Roger Ebert’s old schtick about people being required to do dumb things to make bad horror films work is topped by this movie, which doesn’t even require stupid choices by characters. Major events just keep happening for no apparent reason in the context of the film other than to get to the next “exciting” idea.

And I haven’t even gotten to the horror show that I saw coming the minute I saw an ad for the film with Cruise’s eyes doubling up… it’s the freakin’ Last Samurai all over again.

Throw out all those “empowered women of summer” pieces that include this film. As the story turns, it seems that the forgettable female lead sleeps with Cruise (before the movie begins) to get him to steal her map so he will go find The Mummy. And The Mummy herself is only an elaborate conduit to, inevitably, get Tom Cruise to be The Mummy. Go feminism!

By the way… the issue of the two having sex is another WTF moment that comes up out of seemingly nowhere when it lands. Maybe they cut the sequence of him leaving the room for time or because it didn’t work or something, but you have to tell the story. Truth is, I think the movie thinks she is so unimportant that she didn’t get a full character. A good movie would start with the two seducing each other. Then when they meet again, we, the audience, are vested. Not here.

Back to “Who da Mummy?? He da Mummy!” Once he is The Mummy, what is he as a character? The movie offers no clue, except he can ride a horse and has the power to bring people back to life. Is he a good guy? Will he be the Storm of this team?

I completely understand not committing other characters this early in the UMMU… as Marvel has kept Thanos close to the vest. But who is Cruise’s Mummy? Not giving us a sense of that is inexcusable.

Personally, I hate all the blanket attacks on IP-based films and the assumption of bad will. But then you see The Mummy or Baywatch or the third act of Pirates and you wonder how all those smart, talented people can be so dumb. It’s like they think they audience is a bunch of 4-year-olds who are happy with birthday cake that is all frosting and no cake. (And the frosting flavor is broccoli.)

The Mummy (and Baywatch and Pirates 5) would all be a lot better if they did less with giant effects and more with storytelling. Just look at Wonder Woman, which is overrated but beloved because it just plain works in the most basic ways. I’m all for the lesson of women directing being engaged, but the real story is the simplicity and clarity of the screenplay and filmmaking.

Alex Kurtzman co-wrote the disastrous action films Mission: Impossible III, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (aka The Racist One), and Cowboys and Aliens… all of which could have prepared you for everything that is wrong with The Mummy. What were they meant to be? What is the through-line that gets you through the film? So many cool ideas. Nothing that connects.

Universal made a terrible choice here. Inexperienced director who hasn’t been a writer on a well-liked hit since the Star Trek reboot in 2009. Great TV writer. I really like People Like Us, which is a scale of production that works for him. Tom Cruise was all wrong and can not be anything other than TOM CRUISE. I actually liked Annabelle Wallis in The Brothers Grimsby… thought she was game and funny. Blonde sock puppet here.

And did I mention that Russell Crowe has to do a physical comedy routine more reminiscent of Monty Python than a thriller in order to stay Jekyll?

I want movies like this to be a pleasant surprise. I would settle for “as expected.” It is crushing to keep running into “what were they thinking?” And I don’t recall a run of that quite like this ever before in my 20 years of covering this professionally.

Weekend Estimates by 100 For A Girl Klady

Sunday, June 4th, 2017

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Wonder Woman is estimating just over the $100 million mark, which could end up being a little high or a little low. Either way, a strong debut better than any of the non-Iron Man standalone character Marvel launches. Not as Wonderful, Captain Underpants closed out the DreamWorks Animation run at Fox with their second lowest opener after delivering their second best opener just a few months ago. The two arthouse winners for the weekend were A24’s The Exception and IFC’s Band Aid.

Wonder Woman is estimating at just over $100 million. Might be more. Word of mouth is strong. Media push is strong.

The key stat, to me, is that this is the best launch of a superhero standalone ever. Iron Man was $98.6 million. And Superman and Batman both launched a generation ago. Did women push Wonder Woman over the top here? The Norse god, chemically enhanced human icicle, and guys who hang out with raccoons, people of non-human skin tones, and tree demos clearly didn’t change their games, although audiences proved they wanted to see all of those films.

This is certainly more proof that the female moviegoing demo is more than commercially viable… as Hollywood is already fully aware, given the summer of all buddy comedies being about female buddies. Next serious mission is to have more women work on these films.

On the arthouse side, Band Aid opened this weekend and if you take a gander at the imdb page, you will see a remarkably high percentage of women working behind the camera… choices worth supporting. (A DP/30 with the filmmaker and co-star lands next week.)

Captain Underpants crapped the diaper. Tra-la-la!!!! The end of the Fox distribution deal with DreamWorks Animation ended not with a bang, but a whimper. The 6-12 set LOVE this movie. I have personally spoken to many of them about it and my son was at a Captain U birthday party yesterday where he saw the film a second time. Butt (hee-hee… read the books) the demo didn’t deliver enough to make this a strong play for DWA. I think a TV version for Netflix would be a home run, however… much more so than Turbo (a movie I liked), which had no serious underlying IP. Dav Pikey’s books are not going away. Generations would watch that show.

Pirates drop was okay… based on a weak start domestically. It’s this summer’s, uh, Pirates of the Caribbean.

Baywatch also held okay… based on a weak start domestically.

Alien: Covenant is looking like the last sequel before Alien. International no longer seems likely to save this prequel series.

Everything, Everything is the surprise success of the summer, even with $28 million in the bank. WB spent nothing, nothing (relative to their norm) to push it out and it will be a moneymaker and, it seems, a strong library title.

Besides Band Aid, the other $10, 000 arthouse movie this weekend is The Exception from A24.

Friday Estimates by Wonder Klady

Saturday, June 3rd, 2017

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Wonder Woman isn’t hampered by sexism. Nor does it seem to be buoyed by gender empowerment. It’s opening as one would expect – perhaps a tick or two better – the first standalone non-Batman/Superman DC character film.  Up around the $100 million mark after an effects-heavy campaign that audiences liked.

There will be a lot of debate about the details, and that’s fine. But this opening is what one really wants to see for “female-led films” with “female directors”… parity.

There are moments in Wonder Woman that will thrill female viewers in particular, though I felt that same tingle down the spine that those women probably felt when “Paradise Island’s” warriors went into action en masse against the Germans. For me, it was, in no small part, because it was cool to see women fight like that. And I suppose, when one gets down to it, the rush was fresher, but not dissimilar to the rush one gets when seeing “the good guys” go into a major battle with “the bad guys” in any good movie.

Wonder Woman is a big step for women in film mostly because it is not that big a step cinematically. We were not experiencing the arrival of David Fincher or Christopher Nolan or Brad Bird. In a weird way, it reminds me of the feeling of seeing Ant-Man after all the mess with Edgar Wright leaving and Peyton Reed taking over. Loyalty to Wright made the whole thing seem precarious (and we still love Edgar), but Reed delivered a movie that was not only as good as was expected, but above expectations. I don’t know what Michelle MacLaren would have delivered or how much better it might have been (or about what she and WB conflicted), but Patty Jenkins, who stepped in late in the game, delivered a movie that works well. (For my few objections, see the review.)

Warner Bros will be crowing about how this film will out-open all of the standalone Thor and Captain America films (Civil War being a mini-Avengers film). And they should. They deserve to enjoy the win.

This would be a good time to point out that even though the Zack Snyder DC Universe has been shat upon critically up until now – deservedly so – this opening makes them 4 for 4 with $100 million domestic openings under Snyder’s supervision… a better streak than Marvel. $117m. $166m, $134m, and now, just over the line, but still likely $100m and change. I loved Ant-Man and Doctor Strange and neither opened to $100 million or very close. The real question will be whether Wonder Woman can top Strange’s $677m worldwide.

This weekend’s #2 is in Underpants. (Ewww!) The final Fox release of a DreamWorks Animation film is Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie, which with an opening around $30m will likely be the last epic movie. (We’re in Mr. Peabody & Sherman territory, financially.) It’s a shame. Having read all the “Captain Underpants” books (thanks, kid), I think they made a mistake by sticking close to the origin story and not going as wild as the series goes. On the other hand, I guess that the successful book series has a natural age boundary that will never lead to giant grosses. I hope that Universal and DreamWorks make more films from the series for Netflix at a lower budget. There is a lot of room for creativity.

Meanwhile, Pirates 5 thumbs its nose at you, as it likely passes $600 million worldwide this weekend, with only $100m and change of that gross domestically.

Review: Wonder Woman

Friday, June 2nd, 2017

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Wonder Woman is a very likable movie.

But it was also a very likable movie when Marvel made its kissing cousin, Captain America: The First Avenger in 2011.

Before I get into that, where spoilers live, and the ending, which I found a little tragic, a spoiler-free overview.

Gal Gadot is very pretty. She has a limited range as an actress. This leaves most of the emoting to Chris Pine, who does a nice job. Gadot is at her very best when being funny or posing dramatically. (I also liked her in Keeping Up with the Joneses, although she leaned on a very specific note.)

The movie starts with a semi-animated story set-up.  (Meh.) Then we are into Princess Diana’s childhood, from a scruffy little 7-year-old to a preteen to a woman. It is all well done (CG waterfalls seemed a little cheap at times) and a pleasure to see women fighting and behaving in the ways the movies have shown us men behaving for 100 years.

Of course, how a dark-skinned, deep brown-eyed, raven-haired girl came from the blondest cast in the history of cinema is never explained. (Guesses one might make in the film are never fulfilled.) Perhaps the funniest thing is listening to a range of actors, great and stuntwomen, try to approximate Gal Gadot’s middle-European Israeli accent to mostly comedic effect. People are all over the place. Gadot’s accent never gets much more definitive (seems to be her actual accent), but the cast around her stops trying to match it after the first act, which was blessed relief.

Still… funny accents and all, the time on the island is pleasant. I never bought Connie Nielsen and Robin Wright as sisters. It felt like watching a stunts designed to show that women could do stunts just as well as men. But when the group goes into battle mode, they are as compelling as any period action movie you have seen.

Gadot’s Wonder Woman really comes to life once Steve Trevor arrives. Clever pseudo-innocent sexual banter that was nicely played and written (though I think they went for one penis joke on the island that the audience wasn’t getting – “That tiny thing tells you what to do? ” – shortly after one joke that they did). In many ways, this is the real beginning of the story, the origins on Themyscira Island (later dubbed Paradise Island with no fanfare) playing like a prologue (within establishing bookends).

After arriving in London, Diana Prince does a lot of fish-out-of-water schtick. And it’s pretty terrific. Diana is a walking emancipation proclamation for women and this plays charmingly, not archly. After all, she is 100% right and she is in situations where if a modern woman showed up, these things absolutely should have been said.

Second act, Trevor and his sidekicks (The Howling Commandos gone Euro-variable) go on the big mission.

Third act, the complicated plot merges with Diana’s lingering stuff and the film becomes much more traditional, much less clever, and ultimately, confused. There is strong emotional work by Chris Pine here, as he walks the tightrope between macho and metro skillfully. Never slips.

I will discuss the ending in the Spoiler section… though I will tell you that it didn’t spoil the movie for me.

There is a lot that can be picked apart in this movie. The three or four ideas that would take this from a good movie to a great movie are all attempted and none of them land. It’s not easy. Very few entries in this genre manage to hit even one big idea solidly. So don’t over-read this complaint. But it should be said. It’s also not particularly special as filmmaking. Patty Jenkins delivers by-the-book work, which I would say is every bit as solid as the work now being done by the Russo Bros., who have a big imprint on the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Like the spin-off films of Marvel, the material here is inherently better and less constricted by The Money. Ms. Jenkins’ deification may be a bit overstated (or a lot), but she should see plenty of offers at major studios moving forward.

Best of all, this is a breath of fresh air in the Zack Snyder DC rage oeuvre.

Wonder Woman is a solid character, although it isn’t clear that the charms of this version of the character will appear in Justice League or other modern takes. Maybe she will be as good as this. Maybe not. The character will be, after all, 70 years older… and not frozen in ice for most of it like Captain America.

But basically, it works well. Huzzah.

SPOILER SECTION

There are two major oddities – aside from the accents on the island – in Wonder Woman. The reflection of Captain America: The First Avenger and the very end of the movie in which this iconic natural feminist finds her power not in herself, bit in the emotional connection to a man.

The Cap Connection first…

Obviously, the origins of Diana Prince and Steve Rogers are different. One is naturally gifted with superpowers from royal/godly blood and the other takes a serum that gives him his powers.

One opens in current day with the military finding a frozen Steve Rogers, thawing him out, and telling his origin story. The other opens with Bruce Wayne finding a chilly Diana Prince and giving her a gift that makes her warmly recall her origin story.

One has a villainous Nazi with a normal face that is transformed into a red skull as a result of his madness for more power. The other has a villainous German sith a normal face that is transformed into a glowing, oddity as a result of his madness for more power.

There is also a diminutive evil genius behind the villain. In Cap, it’s Toby Jones. In Wonder Woman, it’s Elana Anaya, one of the great beauties of Almodóvar, for whom she was also partially masked (The Skin I Live In). It’s one of the flaws of this film, albeit not a deadly one, that the clearly intended correlation of a woman who is working for evil vs the first female superhero never comes to fruition or is even discussed.

Both films have a band of sidekicks. Here is it a Mediterranean, a Scotsman, and a Native American far from home. In Cap, it was The Howling Commandos, led by a Irish American and featuring a black man, an Asian, a Frenchman, etc.

Diana Prince and Steve Rogers are both goody two-shoes whose do-right fervor is a bit overstated. Both have a doomed military romance. (Her with Steve and him with Peggy.)

I’m sure there would be more examples if I sat and obsessed on it another few hours. Don’t want to. Feel free to e-mail or tweet me your additional examples.

The second big issue is what I have long called “The Glory Issue.” The brave black men of the military in the film Glory explain that they are fighting for their country, not for the white man. But when do they make the big, heroic, deadly charge up the hill? Right after the white leader dies.

In this film, what allows Diana to access the deep internal power she has been told she has but has not reached throughout the film? The death of Steve Trevor.

She spends most of this movie teaching the men how to be better people, leading the way, high on a horse of moral stringency… and then, it’s the boy who gets her over the hump.

(And let’s not even get into whether they did, as it were, hump. It’s hard to imagine that they first blush of sexual rapture by a women in her late 20s (or so), alone with a man she is in love with, is going to stop with a kill or some dry humping. It’s almost as though the movie was afraid to let her have her sexuality because it would, somehow, diminish her power even further.)

And if you had any doubt about how he fit into her worldview, she quotes him verbatim and sends a note to Bruce Wayne specifically referencing Trevor.

And on top of this, the whole Ares thing is just a flat tire. I assumed, watching much of the movie, that he would turn out to be her parent. But… no. At least, not in this cut. And he isn’t the key to human evil either. So… who cares?

As far as the physical confrontation between the two… zzzzzzzz.

Love David Thewlis. Didn’t care to watch him a second longer… and I could watch an entire series about his “Fargo” character this season. Just another “so what?.” And another man who is somehow defining the emotional life of the ultimate powerful woman.

If you are reading this, I hope you already saw the film. Would love to know if it bothered you too… and if, like me, you still had a good time… just wished it was a better time.

“I used to want to save the world, this beautiful place. But the closer you get, the more you see the great darkness within. I learnt this the hard way, a long, long time ago.”

The Netflix Thing, June 2017 (The Movies, Part 1)

Thursday, June 1st, 2017

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With all the screeching and squealing about Netflix at Cannes, I decided to take a look at what the Netflix “movie” business really looks like this year… not by posturing, but by the detail of what actually exists.

Netflix intends to “release” (meaning on their service, some potentially in a handful of theaters) 50 non-doc feature films in 2017. That total is on the streaming service; ten features are scheduled to be shown at iPic premium theaters around Los Angeles and New York City.

Fifty features. That’s more than double the number of scheduled releases planned by any American theatrical-first wide-release distributor.

Using IMDB, I counted 53 non-doc 2017 “film” titles due from Netflix.

Three are at Cannes (Okja, The Meyerowitz Stories, Rodney King)

Three have a major star (War Machine, Bright, Sandy Wexler)

Two are currently out with notable marketing (Handsome, Berlin Syndrome)

Four may be lingering in your mind (Mudbound/Sundance, Win It All/SXSW, Wet Hot American Summer: 10 Years Later, The Most Hated Woman in America)

Of the other 41, four debuted at Sundance in January and have already been released by Netflix (I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore, Burning Sands, Deidra & Laney Rob a Train, The Discovery). Another three purchased at Sundance are due sometime this year (Fun Mom Dinner, iBoy, To The Bone).

34 movies to go… some of these will be higher profile, some will not… some have well-known actors or directors, some do not… some will turn out to be great, some not… but here is the list:

1922, #REALITYHIGH, 6 Balloons, A Futile & Stupid Gesture, Alias Grace, Amateur, The Babysitter, Bill Nye Saves the World, Blame!, Clinical, Coin Heist, Come Sunday, Death Note, Gerald’s Game, Girlfriend’s Day, Happy Anniversary, Je ne suis pas un homme facile, Juanita, The Land of Steady Habits, Little Evil, Milada, Mute, My Happy Family, Naked, Our Souls at Night, Private Life, Pup Star 2, Sand Castle, Shimmer Lake, Small Crimes, Spivak, Take The 10, What Happened to Monday?, You Get Me.

There is nothing wrong with this list of films. It has high-profile, high art and high ambitions. It also has low-profile, low art and low ambitions. But it is also instantly apparent what this group of films is not… revolutionary.

Amazon is no more revolutionary. Nor HBO. Or Hulu. Or whomever.

Being a big spender is not a revolutionary idea. And the truth is, in terms of making/securing exclusive product for their network that is between 85 minutes and 180 minutes long, Netflix is still not a very big spender.

I would estimate that the ” Netflix films” of 2017 are costing the company around $500 million overall to get to digital air. Contrast that with the billions they are spending on series and acquisitions annually and it seems almost minor. They are investing about half what most majors do annually on “films” and about 20% of the Disney spend.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

But let’s maintain perspective on the whole picture.

In that long list of 34 films, it is likely there are none of which you have yet heard (unless personally connected). But most of these are both content for now and the seeds of the future. Netflix is building a legacy of filmmaker who are happy to have done business with the company and are that much more likely to come back again to do business. Smart. Netflix is not the originator of this idea either.

Amongst these titles you probably haven’t heard of, there are some that have a hook that you will probably connect to along the way. There is a Redford/Fonda movie, a Duncan Jones, a Tamara Jenkins, a McG, a Joshua Marston, a David Wain film about NatLamp’s Doug Kenney and an Alfre Woodard starrer directed by Clark Johnson. I am happy all of those films – even the McG – got a chance to happen. Some of them may well have landed elsewhere, but many might not have.

But the illusion that no one makes this kind of movie or that kind of movie anymore is false. The economics of particular genres have changed. And they continue to shift. As I wrote in a piece about the summer releases, the genre that is missing from this summer is the male buddy comedy… while there are three female buddy comedies. This does not mean the male buddy comedy is over. Things change. Every change is not a revolution.

But with the relentless stream of think-pieces about how major studios are killing cinema, keep in mind that with the exception of a title or two per year, Netflix is not pushing a model that is going after the studio business. Netflix “film” is competing, almost exclusively, with the indies.

And the indie business already has a thriving day-n-date VOD business. Like Netflix “movies,” most of the films released by indies do not get a substantial theatrical airing, if at all.

So why is there so much chit-chat about Netflix disrupting the theatrical model?

Netflix wants distribution freedom for, basically, three movies this year. (Remember… a foreign-language Oscar play for Okja starts with getting South Korea to nominate the film.) Mudbound (a Sundance hero), Bright (a reported $90 million Will Smith/David Ayer movie), and The Meyerowitz Stories (primarily an Oscar candidate for screenplay).

Mudbound could be desirous of Lawless-type numbers, which that film did by opening wide (2888 screens) and generating 94% of its $37m domestic take in the first 4 weekends.

No Noah Baumbach-directed movie has ever been on as many as 800 screens or grossed as much as $8 million domestic, so the release of The Meyerowitz Stories was always likely to be limited, but still, will potentially compete with indies that still release theatrically.

And Bright is a full-out sci-fi-tinged Will Smith action movie. A major would release it into 4,000 theaters on 10,000+ screens on opening weekend. Assuming AMC-Wanda and perhaps Regal are still willing, Netflix can open Bright to about a third the number of screens it needs for what would be considered a proper opening on a very wide release.

Putting aside Suicide Squad and its Bat/Joker-connection, the top opening for Will Smith in the last 5 years was $54 million for Men In Black III. A third of that is $18 million. How much would it cost Netflix to release Bright to $18 million, which is probably a high number. And if more than half of America has Netflix and probably over 90% of those who would see all but the rarest movie on opening weekend, who is going to pay to see Bright in a movie theater the same day it arrives at home?

In many ways, the industry would be well-served by Netflix trying this distribution experiment. If the opening weekend number was, say, $5 million in 1200 venues/3500 screens at a cost of, say, $20 million to advertise, that would slow the day-n-date argument for a while.

Exhibitors would, no doubt, fear that Bright would open to $50 million and make the argument about theatrical being cannibalized by day-n-date appear false, opening the floodgates of theatrical’s decimation.

But here’s the thing. This is R&D for Netflix. It’s worth taking the $20 million hit to see how the film would perform if available on all platforms on the same day. At a traditional studio, that might get someone fired.

What is R&D for Netflix is the entire kettle of fish for most studios. It’s just not as complicated for Netflix, which doesn’t have layers and layers of responsibilities and revenue streams that studios work in for their releases.

Every movie a studio makes is an individual risk-reward scenario. Losses seems to vanish in a strong year for the overall slate, but in may ways, each movie is its own business in the studio world, benefiting from some shared costs. Netflix needs each subscriber to hit about .250 with one strong memory every 3 or 4 months, which represents the three or four times a year when people think about whether they subscription is worth the money. People may complain about being overwhelmed by the amount of content on Netflix, but if you are choking on content, you are feeling that your value consideration is being well fulfilled.

If a studio bats .250 in a year, even with a big hit, the bosses are looking for a new studio chief after they have fired/blamed the head of marketing.

Of course, again, Netflix’s film program, as it stands now, is not producing many movies that are seen as legitimate contenders for significant theatrical launch. In all but a few cases (perhaps only one this year), the ambition level for theatrical would be, at maximum, in the realm of the indies… where day-n-date VOD already exists, with the acceptance of exhibitors, and a history that doesn’t demand R&D.

So the idea that exhibitors should change their position on day-n-date to service what really comes down to a single Netflix film seems like a giant, dubious ask.

COMING TOMORROW
The Movies, Part 2: Profitability and Disrupting The Indies

Rebooting the 80s

Wednesday, May 31st, 2017

I saw a headline, then read a story this last weekend, which snarkily telegraphed that we were running out of 1980s hits to reboot/remake/sequel-ize.

Like so many of these pieces, it left things out to make its point stronger.

To start, six of the top 20 grossers of the 1980s were already sequels, four of which were sequels to originals released in the same decade.

If you look at the 1980s Top 10 (domestic)…

1. E.T. – $359m
2. Star Wars: Jedi -$253m
3. Batman – $251m
4. Beverly Hills Cop – $235m
5. Ghostbusters – $229m
6. Raiders of the Lost Ark – $212m
7. Back To The Future – $211m
8. Star Wars: Empire – $209m
9. Indiana Jones 3 – $197m
10. Indiana Jones 2 – $180m

The only thing that jumps out? Spielberg refused to make a sequel to E.T.

That and Beverly Hills Cop, which was a straight action comedy that did mega-business. The specific comparison in 2010-17 would be The Hangover II ($254m domestic), but I wouldn’t be hard-pressed to make the comparison to Deadpool, which I don’t believe did $363 million as a comic book movie, but as a hard-R comedy about a fish out of water.

Here is the 2010-2017 Top 10.

1. Star Wars: The Force Awakens – $937m
2. Jurassic World – $652m
3. Marvel’s The Avengers – $623m
4. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story – $532m
5. Beauty and the Beast – $501m
6. Finding Dory – $486m
7. Avengers: Age of Ultron – $459m
8. The Dark Knight Rises – $448m
9. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire – $425m
10. Toy Story 3 – $415m

Two Star Wars, two Marvel, two Pixar, a Batman, a Jurassic reboot, a Disney animated remake and a Hunger Games.

Avatar, which opened two weeks before 2010 is not on the list. But unlike E.T., will be sequeled… eventually.

Two Star Wars sequels in both decades.

A Batman in both decades.

I prefer the first two Indiana Jones sequels to the Marvel hits… but they live in the same genre, especially given the evolution of technology.

Pixar and the rise of the animated movie to the top of the box office roster didn’t happen in the 80s. The Little Mermaid, with $84 million domestic, was the top=grossing animated film of the 80s, representing the first life out of Disney in the Katzenberg/Eisner era that would lead to where we are today.

The Jurassic franchise didn’t start until the 90s (also a CG issue) and remains the only traditional sequel Spielberg has directed, as Indiana Jones was meant as a movie serial, not just an homage to serials.

Disney’s Beauty and the Beast didn’t exist in the 80s. And The Hunger Games was a designed series, the first of which just misses the Top 10 for this last 8 yeses with $408m.

When you get to the Second 10 of the 1980s. That is when the difference between then and now starts to show.

11. Tootsie – $177m
12. Top Gun – $177m
13. Crocodile Dundee – $175m
14. Rain Man – $173m
15. 3 Men & A Baby – $168m
16. Roger Rabbit – $156m
17. Fatal Attraction – $157m
18. Beverly Hills Cop II – $154m
19. Rambo 2 – $150m
20. Gremlins – $148m

Tootsie sticks out like a green thumb there. No sequel. No sequel likely. Though there is a Broadway musical on the way.

3 Men & A Baby, which was quickly sequeled, also jumps out. Two TV actors and a B movie actor and boom, a huge hit of its time.

Comedies dropped out of the high end of theatrical in this decade, more so than drama, which didn’t have the same foothold. (And I won’t include The Martian in this category.)

2017 (to date) – Going In Style – $44m
2016 – Central Intelligence – $127m
2015 – Pitch Perfect 2 – $184m
2014 – 22 Jump Street – $192m
2013 – The Heat – $160m
2012 – Ted – $219m
2011 – Bridesmaids – $169m
2010 – Grown Ups – $162m

Only Ted cracked $200 million, when a consistent rise in box office would suggest there should be a few $300 million comedies, and certainly $250m comedies.

There is a legitimate argument that comedies have, on the high end, suffered from not scaling to the CG-driven era, thus not being theatrical must-sees. On the other hand, comedies have been a stable money maker at much lower budgets than CG-mania movies.

But back to the Second 10 discussion… here is the 2010-2017 list:

11. Iron Man 3 – $409m
12. Captain America: Civil War – $408m
13. The Hunger Games – $408m
14. Frozen – $401m
15. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 – $381m
16. The Secret Life of Pets – $368m
17. Despicable Me 2 – $368m
18. The Jungle Book – $364m
19. Deadpool – $363m
20. Inside Out – $357m

Three sequels in the 80s, four sequels in 2010-2017.

Three first-films that will be sequeled in the 80s, six in the 2010s.

Rainman and Fatal Attractions are dramas in the Second 10 in the 1980s. None in the 2010s.

But unlike comedy, the dramas are tracking more to a fitting scale. American Sniper did $350m domestic and Inception did $293m. But if you took away all the films that were heavily CG-reliant (CG animation and superheroes) and limit the franchises to one title each, the 2010-2017 Top 10 feels a lot more like the 1980s.

The Dark Knight Rises
The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
Furious 7
American Sniper
Skyfall
Inception
The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 2
The Hangover Part II
Maleficent
Fast & Furious 6

Not far behind (over $200m domestic), The Martian and a number of films that could have been done without heavy CG (mostly), Ted, The Apes movies, Cinderella and Logan.

I am not arguing that the mix hasn’t changed. It has, a lot. But the assumptions about why and how (exactly) are often wrong and more an emotional reaction than based on fact.

History is a funny thing. Gone With The Wind was initially released as a wildly expensive road show release, charging multiples of what a normal movie cost at the time (making estimates of ticket sales rather iffy). Jaws never was on 1,000 screens. Star Wars, in its initial release, was never on 1,100. Yet these two movies are held up as the parents of wide releasing.

What was the first film to reach 2,000 screens at once? Beverly Hills Cop in 1984. 3,000 screens? Mission: Impossible in 1996.

And in the 21 years since, exhibition has changed drastically, making the screen count in 2017 into a venue count, a count that tells you almost nothing about wide release patterns.

Just lingering on 2010 for a moment, here are the movies that weren’t Top 20 box office titles but would be unsurprising as remakes in 2030: The Other Guys, Salt, Black Swan, The Expendables, Date Night, The Social Network, The Book of Eli, The Fighter, The Town, Unstoppable, Eat Pray Love, Dear John, Knight & Day, Easy A, Dinner for Schmucks, Tooth Fairy and more.

The paranoia is that no one will ever make movies like Easy A or a Date Night or The Fighter — remakes or originals — in the future. But that underestimates the way movies evolve and imitate… as these pictures reflected films and filmmakers long dead.

We are already well into the 2000s in terms of replicating old IP.  The Mummy, Ocean’s 11, Jurassic Park, The Fast & The Furious and Dr. Dolittle are 2001 titles in play for theatrical films this year and next.

The industry is changing. It is always changing. But the tendency to prefer overstated nostalgia for the good ol’ days that were really not that different remains an eternal irritation. Next thing you know, media will be running stories expressing surprise that Cannes will not dominate the Oscar race this year. Oy.

Weekend Estimates by Klady of the Carbs & Beans

Sunday, May 28th, 2017

IMG_0430

Pirates 4 off of Pirates 3 – 27%
Pirates 5 off of Pirates 4 – 31%

The compass is not taking us to what Disney’s heart desires.

But they have a different compass for international.

$349m, $643m, $654m, $805m, $208m and counting…

Holy Johnny Depp’s paycheck!

Friday Estimates by NoWatch of the IP Klady

Saturday, May 27th, 2017

IMG_0428

56, 43, 35, 23. See a pattern here?

Those are the opening days of the first four Pirates movies. The first film had a Wednesday open and a $14m first Friday.

Domestically, Pirates is over at this scale, what with a $40 million star in the lead. Internationally, Disney is hoping not to care what happened domestically.

Paramount had an ugly Baywatch launch, weaker than Dwayne’s (and Wahlberg’s and Bay’s) Pain and Gain. I don’t think it’s just because of the movie’s flaws in filmmaking, but because of the concept, which was well-reflected by the marketing. Do you make a Baywatch movie that embraced the spirit of the show, which includes prurient titillation, but always keeps a lid on it. or do you focus on dick jokes and over-the-top action that doesn’t work as action? They’ll be hoping for international to make the pain go away.

Len typo’d in last week’s opening number in for Alien: Covenant. I believe the correct number is around $3 million and a drop of over 75%. More pain. More looking to international.

I hate “sky is falling” pieces. The sky isn’t falling. But you can be sure that a lot of studios execs are dirtying their Depends as what worked before is not working now. Some of these titles aren’t just off domestically, they are way off domestically. A lot of movies being made by Hollywood driven almost exclusively by international potential. But American moviegoers aren’t taking up the slack when they aren’t interested. There are too many other entertainment options.

What hasn’t changed is that people will go to the movies in huge numbers if they see something  they want, even when the movie is iffy. Sequels are not dead. IP is not dead. But more and more, studios are getting smacked for reaching behind their grasp… when they knew full well they were doing just that in the first place and closing their eyes and hoping for the best. Open your eyes, folks.

Roger Moore Keeps The British End Up No More

Tuesday, May 23rd, 2017

roger_04Roger Moore was my first James Bond.

Live and Let Die was my first Bond film in a movie theater. I don’t recall whether I had seen Goldfinger or Dr No on ABC TV (Bond movies were a broadcast TV event back then). I think I had watched “The Saint” in black & white. But I loved — and love — that movie. Moore… Kotto… Geoffrey Holder… Jane Seymour. Sharks. Literally blowing the bad guy up.

Scaramanga’s Third Nipple and Hervé Villechaize weren’t played for comedy in The Man With The Golden Gun.

But there was something about The Spy Who Loved Me‘s combination of Barbara Bach, who was filthy-sexy in a way that previous Bond girls were not, and Jaws, who was not presented as funny, that somehow became Peak Bond and sent Moonraker into self-satire. Perhaps it was Moore’s age, then 52, and that Lois Chiles – even with the name Holly Goodhead – seemed to be smarter and more inherently capable than Bond. And they set big action in space. And of course, Richard Kiel’s Jaws was played for comedy in that one.

The final three Roger Moore Bond films were dragged along behind the car. Forgettable villains were cast (as casting was so critical). Moore was still a very handsome man and we were so familiar with him that we accepted that we didn’t really believe he was stronger and faster than everyone else. More of the stunts were done behind masking of some kind.

A View To A Kill was the end, with a great Duran Duran song, the amazing Grace Jones (though on the heels of Conan The Destroyer, which made the magic of who she is seem used up), and the first great Christopher Walken hair performance. But Bond seemed ready for retirement.

And Roger Moore, who would work to near the end (he is a voice in Guillermo del Toro’s Netflix series, Trollhunters), never chose to become a man in his 60s or 70s or 80s in front of the camera. Unlike Sean Connery, he seemed to have no urge to prove himself as any more of an actor than his decades of worldwide stardom suggested he was. No dying, no balding, no crying.

And so, he will be forever young, whether as Bond or as The Saint.

Roger Moore is the first James Bond to die. Sean Connery will be 87 this August. Lazenby will be 78. Goldfinger expected Bond to die… but these guys seem to live forever.

May Sir Roger Moore rest in peace.