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20 Years And Counting…

Wednesday, July 5th, 2017

Today is the 20th anniversary of my father’s passing.

Sid Poland was a good man. He was from a different world, born in Baltimore in 1917, before television, commercial aviation, consumer refrigerators, direct dial, serious nationalized efforts towards racial or gender equality. Don’t even get started on cell phones, the internet or blogs… those all happened since his death.

It’s almost impossible for me to imagine the world in which he grew up. Ancient Egypt seems closer than 1920s Baltimore. But the stories of he and his City College buddies buying a Model A, which had to be hand cranked to start, and their adventures around town sound a lot like college or high school buddies traipsing around today… or in the 50s in Diner… or like so many young people in so many places and so many times.

I recently found a kids book about a man who sells hats. Bought it to read it to my 7-year-old as it had been read to me. But the line had blurred for me, from nearly 5 decades ago, about whether my father had actually sold hats in his early years or not.

I remember more clearly a story about him selling early refrigerators in Baltimore that required that the customer put a quarter in every day to keep it going… pay as you go… and going to pick them up while the customers screamed about the food that was ruined when they missed a day’s payment.

By the time I came into my father’s world, things were changing fast. Jack Kennedy had been shot 11 months before I was born. The civil rights movement was powerful. Women could vote and I don’t remember much before the Equal Rights Amendment was being fought about across the country. And there was The Pill.

Israel, which was so very important to my father, was in a state of constant brinkmanship with the countries surrounding them and after The Six Day War happened, he was one of those who desperately wanted to kiss the ground in East Jerusalem. And he did.

I was not a child of the 60s, when the Baby Boomers really came of age. I was just a baby. And I was not really Gen X. I was – and am – a tweener. Like so many around my age, I saw the great movies of the 1970s in revival houses and TV (especially early HBO). I remember the day that Nixon resigned, but Watergate wasn’t my fight. Ford and Carter didn’t change the world. And Reagan took us backwards into our imagination of what we thought we were after WWII while in actuality, Reagan set us back decades in terms of understanding gender, race, and how a nation cares for its least fortunate. The schizophrenia of the Reagan years really defined my tween generation. Clinton was better… but he also lied a lot… and while waving a finger in a nation’s face.

My dad missed that. And I feel good about that.

Jimmy Stewart died 3 days before my dad. Somehow that was comforting.

The freedom and the responsibility that comes with the loss of a parent is unexpected.

I’m not sure that if he was alive that there would be a Hot Button or a Hot Blog or a Movie City News.

I’m not sure if his wealth hadn’t weighed him down after a brief period in which it set him free (before he lost most of it) that I wouldn’t be more focused on financial success.

I’m not sure what my life might have been had he and my mother not adopted me at birth.

I am, like my father, a softie. This always feels odd coming out of my mouth (or fingers) as there seem to be so many people who want to tell me what a mean person I am. And I certainly have been mean at times. But I tend to believe that by “mean” what is really being expressed is that I hit a tender spot with my words and left a mark.

There was a time when I was more reckless with this skill. In those early years of The Hot Button, I just hit “publish” and kept working. I was amused by my ability to cause an emotional response (good or bad) from people more powerful than I. As time passed, I came to understand – finally – that we are (mostly) all vulnerable in similar ways.

No one would be more influential on me in this regard than Nikki Finke. She made me look like a pussycat. She never showed an ounce of compassion for anyone other than herself, except when pretending to have compassion for long enough to manipulate someone. Our relationship (now over for many years), started over a story she got wrong. Like our current president, she never would admit her mistake. She doubled, tripled, and quadrupled down on the error. And she raged at me for pointing to the facts.

I’ve been fortunate to have a good grasp on power from an early age. But Nikki, always a bigger personality than me, showed me a reflection of part of myself that I did not like.

Nikki, without knowing it, convinced me to be much, much more careful with the weaponry I have. I got out of the business of reporting on misery… jobs lost… companies failing, etc. The failures of others are not a form of amusement. I found that kicking a filmmaker when they failed was not fun or funny.

Of course, this didn’t preclude some people and/or studios from having insanely thin skin. If you are playing in the big stadium, you have to be able to take the shots you have coming.

The same is true of journalists. Much of the anger held towards me comes from headlines in the early days of Movie City News. I could be brutally direct. And 17 years later, it still comes up.

But the age of Finke-ian entertainment journalism and the support of it by non-journalists like Jay Penske has led to an era of all-suck-up or all-rage coverage.

And again, I am a tweener.

I believe in people. I believe in forgiveness. I believe in the inherent kindness of which we are all capable.

I also believe in facts. I learned early on that a person who cheats will invariably cheat again… that a lie told to the advantage of “my team” will eventually lead to a lie told to the disadvantage of “my team”… that facts almost never tell the whole story, but that the avoidance of facts tells you a ton… and that things never change quite as quickly or as completely as people want to believe.

My father was a man who believed in his own magic. This became quite destructive when he was in situations where he didn’t really understand the trick that was needed to make things come together.

I don’t always understand how to use the tools I have. There are people who I have hurt over these 20 years and try as I might, I can never un-hurt them. I wish love was as sticky as hate.

We are in a time when some people, who I really like and respect, feel compelled to take a posture that is so extreme and unyielding that there is no room for anything but the same posture. And nothing enrages these people so much as facts. It is, really, my greatest disappointment in this moment in our history of discourse.

I believe that you can be righteous and completely honest and transparent about facts. And if you can’t stand the transparency, you are probably not as righteous as you think. I am sympathetic to the fear of people who have been marginalized for decades and longer. But if you want to build, you can’t build on the same kind of sand that was used against you to keep you from rising for so long.

Still, I learn new things all the time… and I don’t mean facts. I mean ideas… philosophies… the range of human emotion.

This is why I do DP/30 and why it matters so much to me. Most of the time, I get out of the chair and see the world a little differently.

I never asked my father the questions I really should have asked him. I was too young. I didn’t understand enough. I was too afraid of the answers.

And maybe I am better off wishing I had than actually having the opportunity. There are things in his life that he experienced that I am sure, even in my 50s, I could not begin to comprehend in a real way.

I know that he could never express in words the love he would have had for my son, Cameron, had he ever had a chance to meet him. But I know how much joy Cam would have brought him, just as, without all the words, I know how much love he had for me and my siblings and their children.

Twenty years into this part of my journey… twenty years after I lost my father… it is all still being digested… every day.

I miss the old man.

I am the old man.

Review: The House

Sunday, July 2nd, 2017

the house pic 5

The House doesn’t suck.

The House is funny. I laughed a lot.

The House is short. It has one of those closing credit sequences that go in slow motion to hope to get the movie to 90 minutes. They clearly came up short of the target.

The House would have been a good mean-as-hell comedy if there were a third act that worked. That is where the movie stalls: the third act turn. Jeremy Renner is good in his role… but he was there for a day, maybe two, and the movie suffers from his character not being a big part of the third act.

First Act: Goofy parents anticipating being empty-nesters are excited that their daughter got into the college of her choice… but then find they can’t afford it.

Second Act: They open the casino with a ne’er-do-well neighbor and insanity ensues. By far the strongest part.

Third Act: The strongest villain character in the piece, the Renner character, is not there for long. So they rely on local goofballs and a kinda lame, not convincing, nonsensical turn.

I don’t want to say “this is what they should have done,” because there are a million answers, but as the movie played out, I was really looking forward to the super-clever way that the bad guy mob guy (Renner) would become part of the crazy family.

As I thought about it later, the Midnight Run structure occurred to me. Dennis Farina as the mob guy and Yaphet Kotto as the cop. The genius of that screenplay is that it knows that it is repeating the same gag over and over, but mixes it enough each time that the audience is both actively anticipating and surprised repeatedly… and not by overly broad or silly twists. It all makes sense, in the context of a movie. Just as the audience is thinking, “just get him on an airplane.” the script explains why that won’t work. “Just gag him and tie him up and drive back”… the script makes that impossible to happen in a way that feels truthful.

The House would have been a lot more interesting if Renner’s guy took Ferrell’s “The Butcher” into his crew and that acceptance of him as a tough guy brought him to the realization that he wanted the simplicity of his old life. A cliché, but better. Of course, the movie could have been something else even better and execution means a lot… but what we get instead is just endless shifting of moods, which Ferrell and Poehler make work beyond reason, but still comes up short.

If, in the end, the mob and the family both won over the other villainous forces, this would have been a better movie. And it would fit the aesthetic, which was so smartly laid out by Tony Scott in his review here.

Still… I laughed a lot. Violence between two people who are equally wrong about something can be very funny. Myopia can be very funny. This wild casino operating in unrealistic silence on a residential street of a small town is very funny. This cast is very funny… and I loved watching the President of the United States from ‘VEEP’ getting her suburban bitch on.

And the young woman who plays Ferrell & Poehler’s daughter, Ryan Simpkins, is surprisingly solid. She stuck out to me, even with those two mugging on either side of her. I didn’t recognize her from Arcadia, a tiny indie in which she kept up with the great John Hawkes. Anyway… not sure why she stuck out for me, but she did. WE can hope this is the early day of a long career.

Anyway… when you catch this one on HBO some day, you will be surprised how much you laugh. It could actually become one of those cult-y pieces. I’m not anxious to pay $17 for it again, but I would watch it again without having my arm twisted. Just wish they had figured out the third act.

Weekend Estimates by Despicapointing Klady

Sunday, July 2nd, 2017

Friday Estimates 2017-07-02 at 9.17.11 AM copy

In the very rare Tuesday 4th of July window, Despicable Me 3 had a softer 3-day than would be expected and will come up short of the $100m 5-day. Don’t cry too hard for the Minions, who will still generate more than $700m worldwide. Baby Driver, on the flip side, overperformed its Friday with over $20m. The House rolled double 8s… but $8.8m, not $88m. The Beguiled is also estimating more than 3x Friday’s gross for the 3-day. The Little Hours leads in per-screen on 2, but the expansion to 71 screens for The Big Sick is still close.

So… Despicable Me 3‘s 3-day is worse than my low estimate in the low 80s. What does it mean?

Well, I’m still not done waiting for more evidence. The Tuesday holiday is so odd that we really don’t know how it affected the weekend. Of course, Minions still had a $116 million opening 3-day without any unique circumstances. When people are desperate to go, they go whenever you release the movie. But we are in an odd space when a $75 million 3-day is seen in any way as disappointing. This opening is a lot closer to Despicable Me 2 than to Despicable 1 and the huge launch of Minions, in perspective, suggests that the clarity of the spin-off (broad physical comedy, not a story movie, safe for little ones) may just be a stronger play.

Even if international dipped to $500 million, domestic is still going to be over $200 million (very conservatively). I’m not ready to start mourning films that gross over $700 million worldwide. (Still shake my head every time someone blithely refers to the $700m+ grossing Amazing Spider-Man 2 as a “disaster.”)

And there is every chance that Despicable Me 3 will be over $800m worldwide, which would make it the #1 animated movie of 2017 by hundreds of millions of dollars.

Also worth mentioning… Universal’s claim of under-$100m costs on the Illumination movies is true… but not 100% true. Unlike Pixar, Disney and DreamWorks Animation, that number does not reflect studio overhead that is built into everyone else’s cost estimates. What the details of Illumination’s deal with Universal are is unknown… but likely includes overhead costs at the studio that are not reflecting in the “cost of the film.” Don’t be surprised if DWA’s “costs per film” drops by a lot – half or more – as their films start being released by Universal, as a function of accounting, not the complete picture.

2017 “only” has two billion-dollar worldwide grossers so far. Star Wars VII will surely join that pair. A fourth seems unlikely at this time.

The problem is, media perception is now like the stock market… the window of information tends to be very short. We may, indeed, be over on the other side of Peak IP. We may be seeing so many franchises making 4th and 5th and 6th movies (or more) that are exhausting their once-enthusiastic audiences. This only makes sense.

How does one describe the box office of Guardians of the Galaxy 2, which will land between $850 million and $900 million worldwide? It’s a big success. A hit, obviously. But it didn’t accelerate into the next strata. So is Disney and Marvel disappointed? You betcha. But are they unhappy? No way. Same with smaller-grossing Dr. Strange and Ant-Man. They would have loved a few hundred million more on those well-liked movies… but you can’t weep over with grosses over $500 million and over $650 million respectively.

Anyway… in happier news, Baby Driver is estimated to overperform its Friday gross, as it tries to build a smaller, but exciting haul for a relatively low-budget film. $20 million is an important bar for a genre opening. (And Sony could be overestimating.) Regardless of the detail work, this is a big enough audience sampling that what is presumed to be positive word of mouth can really rev things up.

Not much to be said about WB’s dump of The House. Bad for everyone. And that RT score is, in part, a reflection of how the studio positioned the film. It basically screamed, “We hate this movie and you will too.”

Focus took The Beguiled to 674 screens… to good, but not overwhelming effect. The best comp may be Focus’ very own Nocturnal Animals from last year. They took that film wider faster and got pretty much the same number, though Nocturnal was already $3 million into its run when it expanded to 1262 screens. So the answer is… we’ll see. No doubt, there will be another expansion next week or the week after. And the audience will speak. But $10 million is a fair expectation and more than $15 million seems unlikely, given the current numbers.

The Big Sick held strong in its expansion to 71 screens. But like Beguiled, hard to know what is coming with any precision. But expect the teens.

The other per-screen hero this weekend was The Little Hours, the horny, stoned nun comedy from Aubrey Plaza, her husband, and the parade of talented friends who made the trip to the European countryside to improvise this comedy.

Friday Estimates by The Very Late (But Still Alive & Kicking) Klady

Saturday, July 1st, 2017

friday estimates

All 3 Despicable Me films have been launched in a different way. The first opened the weekend after the July 4 holiday. The second, on a Wednesday, the day before a Thursday July 4. And now, a Friday opening on what is July 4 weekend, but July 4 isn’t until Tuesday. (Minions opened, like the first Despicable, on the Friday after July 4 and is the biggest opener of the franchise by far.)

So… Despicable Me 3‘s Friday is behind the Minions opening day of $46 million and impossible to compare fairly to the rest… but could well lead to a $100m 3-day…. or come up short on its own… or perhaps families will wait to take advantage of the holiday… which not everyone is getting.

Despicable Me 2 had a $145 million 5-day, but the calendar was unique. In fact, no July 4 opening that has been over $60 million has ever had July 4 fall on a Tuesday. The last time July 4 fell on a Tuesday was 2006, when the top film was Superman Returns. Warner opened the film a week earlier, on June 27 and siphoned off $32 million before opening weekend. The 3-day had a slightly stronger Sunday than normal and the Monday was the fourth best day of the 5 days and Tuesday the 4th, the weakest of the 5. The 3-day did $52 million and they ended the 7-day launch with $108 million.

So… Despicable is a family movie, but has never played that way, with Saturdays not showing a big bump on any of the three prior films. In fact, no bump. Actually… a small drop in all three cases. That would suggest a low 80s 3-day and a 5-day in the 100-teens.

This should not be part of any trend pieces about franchise fatigue… but it may be anyway. Too many writers want a trend story instead of reality.

The Baby Driver opening is also good news. It’s not explosive. It’s not a sign of any trend. But it is a strong enough sample to get word-of-mouth going into the second weekend. It’s definitely not a flop. It’s by far Edgar Wright’s biggest opening. But hyper-enthusiasm in the media could also lead to overly generous box office analysis.

The House was dumped by Warner Bros and audiences treated it like #2. The only movie in Will Ferrell’s career as a leading man that got a wide release and might be as low a number as this was Night At The Roxbury in 1998.

And did you know that Amy Poehler doesn’t even have her own Box Office Mojo page? That’s f-ed up. Ansel Elgort has one. Amy Poehler should have one. Anyway… this opening sucks for her, too.

The Beguiled expanded to 674 screens and… nice but not thrilling numbers. Around $4200 per screen. Suggests the film may find its way into the teens at the box office. Focus is going a little slower with this than with Nocturnal Animals… hard to tell if that will work or not.

Biggest winner in exclusive release is The Little Hours, Aubrey Plaza’s filthy nun comedy. Feels more European than improvised, if that makes any sense. Funny.

Review: Spider-Man: Homecoming (spoiler-free)

Thursday, June 29th, 2017

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There are many things about Spider-Man: Homecoming that are right. The cast is right. The director did fine. The idea of keeping the film grounded in working-class, culturally mixed Queens is smart.

But the movie quickly informs us that this is not a Spider-Man movie… it’s a Marvel Cinematic Universe movie in which Spider-Man is going to be a loser, however charming he is. He will do heroic things… but from beginning to pretty much the end, the joke is on Peter Parker.

I have already encountered the “it’s appropriate to the MCU” and the “well, Tony Stark is the adult and Peter Parker is a kid” arguments. So… okay. Yeah. I hear you.

But what keeps me from signing on is… every other MCU side character movie. Marvel hasn’t done this to any other character in their introduction. And anyone who understands the long history, including but beyond Marvel, of hero movies, must intuitively understand that the journey of the young hero is filled with pratfalls and missteps, but a successful hero must being imbued with some real dignity.

Peter Parker is on such a short leash in this film… and the leash is held mostly by Jon Favreau, not Robert Downey, Jr, whose priorities are – again, intuitively – shown by the three days he worked on this movie.

Starting again… Peter Parker is on such a short leash that he is never really given agency. How many times can you do the “waiting for him to return my text” gag before it stops being a clever side gag and starts to define Peter Parker?

There is a potentially great twist at one point in the film – not going to spoil it – and I was actually excited by the possibilities… really a set up for a great William Goldman-esque turn in the film. And sure enough… all roads lead to the same place in this movie. It’s not about Spider-Man. He is just a spin-off character in the MCU here.

Don’t get me wrong. I still really like Tom Holland as the new Spider-Man. I love the idea of him really being a teen. But there just isn’t any difference between Peter Parker’s impulsive behavior in the first act and the third act… except for more serious music.

I should have know trouble was afoot when my favorite piece of new movie music recently – Mike Giacchino’s symphonic version of the old Spider-Man theme – is played over an expanded Marvel stamp at the front of the film, not in the movie.

And my issues are not just with Peter Parker.

This is the most racially mixed major movie you might ever see. But by the end credits, the three-POC-in-top-10-cast-list standard set by CAA this week is not met… even though there are a lot of well-known actors of color. They are, mostly, wasted. Laura Harrier is good and beautiful and should be considered one of the film’s five leads. Jacob Batalon is Filipino-American and also Top 5. After that… not so much.

Anyone who watched FX should be horrified to see Bokeem Woodbine playing Vulture’s #3 stooge and Donald Glover playing a laconic drug dealer (I think that was the illegal activity he was participating in…. not 100% clear). Complete waste of two great actors playing two-bit criminals.

Tony Revolori plays the high school asshole, Flash. Okay. Choosing to be color-blind or color-ful. Hannibal Buress as the basketball coach? Oy. Wasted… regardless of gender. Martin Starr gets more to do… but not a lot.

I like the idea of an urban color spread that matches the reality of the city. But since race doesn’t really exist in this film (except as a distraction), it feels calculated when it should not.

Zendaya gets some good laughs. But she is definitively a secondary character. And how many times can you make the joke that every man in the neighborhood wants to pull off Aunt May’s granny glasses and get into her high-waisted pants before it becomes gross?

But it’s often entertaining. Tom Holland is very likeable. His sidekick, Batalon, is extremely likable. But Spider-Man’s great power changes in practically every scene. He is a lightweight at the start. He is a lightweight at the end. He is not protecting anyone he loves… except in one section, where he is the one who puts people he cares about in direct danger, not any bad guy.

Spider-Man is not a teen taking great responsibility in the face of great power in this film. He is – and this really is ironic – a super-contractor. He saves, to various degrees, a boat, an elevator and an airplane.

This movie does what you never, ever do with a hero… it makes mock of him, his skills, and (mostly) his intentions. Not once or twice to soften him up and to get him pointed in the right direction… constantly. If you find yourself wondering why there is a car chase with Spider-Man driving, in the middle of a Spider-Man movie… it was so they could get off a good joke about Spider-Man in suburbia a few minutes earlier. That is what this movie is. An overly broad comedy that is not as smart or insightful about being young/growing up as a Lord/Miller or an Apatow film… with a cool suit and a bunch of actors we really, really like.

All the way back in 2002, Spider-Man changed the face of comic book movies forever. First $100m opening. Highest domestic grosser of all-time at the time. And most importantly, the first true CG-driven comic book movie that made the unbelievable feel believable.

Sony, who had something to gain from allowing Spider-Man to be part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, just allowed Marvel to make their superstar into a supporting player.

Even the bit at the end of the credits… no Spider-Man. And it’s a meta-joke, not an advancement of either Spidey’s story or the MCU.

Joking about your franchise usually the first sign of a dying franchise. But more importantly, they gave more agency to the Guardians… to Ant-Man… to Dr. Strange… all of whom got knocked down before they came to their 3rd act heroics.

I don’t know whether this movie will do more business than the $707 million worldwide that Amazing Spider-Man 2 did. It could. Lots of Iron Man and Captain America being sold by Sony right now. And maybe the character will go somewhere interesting in his next movies, Avengers 3 and 4. And then Sony will get to make another Spider-Man movie… and they will hope to do as well as Thor: Ragnarok.

A piece of business.

Suckers.

Weekend Estimates by A Midsummer’s Day Klady

Sunday, June 25th, 2017

Screen Shot 2017-06-25 at 9AM

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

Friday Estimates 2017-06-24 at 9.51.42 AM copy

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

Wknd Est corr 2017-06-04 at 9.13.21 AM copy

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

friday estimates 060317 651

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

diana wrists
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.”