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Review-ish: Transcendence

transendence


I don’t really want to review this movie.

I like Wally Pfister and I believe in his talent and it’s going to be a lot harder to get another studio film made for him after this… unless it does extraordinarily well overseas. He can make a movie. But he needs a producer who will force him to cut some of what he loves out and he needs a script that really works. Neither is in evidence here.

The movie is kind of a mish-mosh of all kinds of genre films, from King Kong to Body Snatchers to T2 and on and on. Early on, I realized that Pfister had made his entire first film to condemn the move from film/analog to digital. The “I’m really not a Luddite… but they happen to be right this time” of it all was a little easy after a while.

It struck me at a later point that this film would have been a really good Roger Corman film… where you just give up on caring about the details because you’re having a good time and screw it. But because this film is so very expensive – and it’s on screen – and has no sense of humor whatsoever about itself (something I have always felt to be the opposite of Mr. Pfister’s personality), it’s hard to forgive as it goes so far off the rails.

The film’s casting – after Depp – tells you everything you need to know about why it doesn’t work. And even Depp becomes the example of the problem… because he is playing the straightest role he has played in a long, long time. And he is a very handsome bore. Rebecca Hall is not the beauty who kills the beast. She is an attractive woman, more sexy than traditionally beautiful, but while she is stuck in a role that is very much The Girl, she is playing a scientist (who never really explores anything) with the grim visage that assures that we take her seriously and don’t understand what she is to both her husband (alive and dead and digital) and the close family friend who seems to be in waiting for her focus. Speaking of the friend… Paul Bettany gives a pitch perfect performance, but keeps getting left hanging.

In fact, one of the worst things about the film is that as it goes from genre to genre, spending much of the third act as a kind of Transformers movie, you get that thing where the 5 famous actors in the film all need to be in the same place, even though it could not make less sense. Morgan Freeman is wasted… and so is Kate Mara and her varying hair color.

Thing is… it starts out kinda promising. But you know something is wrong and start praying that it will be all right in the first few scenes, when there is a dramatic device used to shock, then delay a central event of the movie. And by the time the delaying tactic is left over and you don’t really care… it’s kinda game over for the movie. It never recovers… no matter how pretty or how many actors we like (hi, Clifton Collins, Jr.)… over.

It doesn’t help to be using the same four-block desert dust town from Thor‘s big fights, leaving us waiting for a giant whatever that was to come smashing down the block that was so frickin’ ridiculous in that movie. You can CG a million solar panels out there, Wally, we’re still only looking at the 4 blocks of backlot.

Not bad enough to be good that way. Not good enough to be good the more traditional way. And oh, so handsome the entire way.

It’s hardly the worst movie you’ll see this year. But if you miss it, you won’t have to put yourself through forgetting it.

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BYOB 41614

byobpaywall

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Weekend Estimates by Cap 2 2 Klady

Weekend Estimates 2014-04-13 at 10.13.07 AM

So… Captain America 2 dropped off about the expected amount, but Rio 2 did not. The first Rio had a 68% bump on its first Saturday… this one 28% (according to Mojo). Fox, which is now releasing DreamWorks Animation, also saw a 78% Saturday bump in the first Peabody weekend. So what happened? Well, the educated guess would be that Rio (which, for he record, opened a little better than its sequel) was a tweener, never really getting as hot as you might have expected with the younger audience that runs to the multiplex for animated movies in huge numbers. There may also be some general softness in the marketplace for animation with 3 titles in the last 2 months an a week… not to mention an underperforming Muppets movie. The only one to really excel was The Lego Movie and a big part of that gross was a non-traditional (stoned) adult animation audience. Interestingly, there have been more animated releases in these last 10 weeks than we will have all summer long.

One other note on Rio… where was the talent on this one? I saw Tracy Morgan on some show, mentioning that he was selling this movie for a second or two (the new norm on the Jimmy circuit… and for that matter, on Stewart and Colbert, as he was). I guess Anne Hathaway has been in hiding and when she stuck her nose out, the only story was that she was sticking her nose out. But never heard a peep from Jesse Eisenberg, Jamie Foxx or Leslie Mann. I know the later two have movies in the next 3 weeks to promote and perhaps Jesse is not allowed to appear intentionally in public while bald, but Rio was not the kind of hit that suggested that the second film could sell itself. And it really didn’t… even though the outdoor was fantastic.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier will pass the total domestic gross of Captain America by next Saturday, maybe even Friday. Still a bit to go, worldwide, to come up to the post-Avengers Marvel standard of $650m and above (2 films and counting) and has a reasonable shot at getting there from its current $477 million. It’s running slightly ahead of Thor 2 domestically, though Thor 2 was leading into the riches of Thanksgiving weekend, and is well ahead of Thor 2 internationally at this point in the run, though Cap 2 was released much more aggressively. I haven’t done a territory by territory breakdown, but Cap probably has another $70 million and change in him domestically and would then only need another $75m from international to make the $650m mark worldwide.

Oculus did what horror usually does… dies by the end of the weekend. But with a $5 million budget and tight marketing, $20m and change domestically and ancillaries makes for a profitable piece of business.

Draft Day did okay. Smells like mostly female-driven ticket buying. Will the guys, especially over 35s, show up in the next couple weeks before the actual NFL draft based on word-of-mouth?

Is The Raid 2 suffering from indie glass ceiling? The expansion worked out film this weekend, but it was softer going into the expansion. Sony Classics is playing the release plan a bit differently this time and will be hoping that this weekend – the biggest grossing weekend of either of the 2 Raid films – will lead to strong word-of-mouth and a bit of a hold. Last time, they dropped 38% of their screens the week after their widest expansion. If they hope to beat the gross of the first Raid, they can’t do that this time… but audiences need to show up. As one of the few companies in this arena that doesn’t do VOD on top of theatrical, films like this, that Magnolia or IFC would VOD a week before opening theatrically, add interesting case studies that studios, like big Sony, will examine as they consider day-n-date options for smaller releases moving forward.

300: Rise of an Empire hopes to get to 1/2 the domestic gross of 300 by next weekend so they can quit. But the international crowd showed up, nearly matching the gross of 300 overseas and suggesting that there may be a little more blood that can be squeezed out of this stone, albeit at a lower price with direct-to-Netflix or DVD or some such thing likely for domestic consumption.

Under The Skin did some decent numbers, considering the challenging content. The Lunchbox and Le Week-End are both solid adult audience movies that deserve more of an audience, but are getting nice support in sticking around by their distributors.

Only Lovers Left Alive and The Railway Man were the per-screen leaders of the weekend, with both on just 4 screens, proving the love for Jim Jarmusch and Colin Firth out there. Also nice numbers for Finding Vivian Meier. Joe, a strong film from David Gordon Green, starring Nic Cage, is out there looking like no one outside of media knows its out there. Likewise, Dom Hemingway. As noted regarding Raid 2, it’s very hard out there for the bigger indie distributors to get theatrical going these days now that indie audiences have become used to the VOD option on every film.

Would we really expect the duo of Nymphomaniac films to do under $1.5m combined in years past? Volume II opened to less than half what V1 did domestically. Meanwhile, the film will be profitable against a $5m cost of production, thanks for $9.5 million in theatrical overseas for the first film alone. But what are the VOD numbers? And how do the VOD numbers cannibalize the theatrical? Clearly, this system works for companies working on tighter margins, like Magnolia and IFC. But are the Sony Classics and Fox Searchlights going to be squeezed into either playing the VOD game or getting out of the business of the “smaller” titles and the theatrical market for these films gets weaker and weaker?

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Friday Estimates by Klady 2: The Lost Soldier

Friday Estimates 2014-04-12 at 10.06.11 AM

Amazingly, 64% off on the 2nd Friday for a big opening like Captain America: The Winter Soldier is pretty good. Opening Friday represents the strongest must-see interest, so as that group has been sated, the demand for matinees on Friday drop significantly. Iron Man 2 was off 70.5% on Friday 2 and Thor 2 was off 67% on F2 and they ended up off 59% and 57% for the weekend, respectively. Look for Cap2 to end up being off about 57% for the weekend, around $42 million.

That said, Cap should still be beaten by Rio 2, though by a tighter margin than you would usually expect when you see an animated film win a Friday, even by a slight margin. But such is the nature of the box office. Fox and DreamWorks Animation will be watching numbers extra closely today.

With the two other newcomers, Oculus and Draft Day, things get more interesting, as you have a horror film, a genre that tends to fall off over an opening weekend, and an adult comedy/dramedy that will likely get stronger with word of mouth… just not this weekend. I like Oculus to beat Draft Day this weekend, but Draft Day to end up with the higher domestic gross when all is said and done.

The Grand Budapest Hotel reached its tipping point last weekend with the expansion to 1263 screens. They added another 203 this weekend, but we’re now in the diminishing returns period for the (great) film and the screens will likely start to drop away next weekend. Still, Anderson’s #2 all-time and most recent previous film, Moonrise Kingdom, is still in range and will probably be passed by Budapest domestically. And the really big news for Team Anderson is that Budapest has more than DOUBLED any previous Wes Anderson movie internationally, the previous top being Fantastic Mr. Fox… which makes for a pun, as the newfound success overseas is likely due to the strength of Fox’s international team, which is now every bit Warner Bros’ equal, if not the top team in the industry. It looks like the Budapest worldwide number will be at least 40% better than Anderson’s previous best, The Royal Tenenbaums. And I would expect Fox Searchlight to remain Wes & Scott Rudin’s first choice of studio for Wes’ films moving forward.

Three veteran domestic grosses in this weekend’s Top Ten stand out as somewhat disappointing… for Divergent, Noah, and Mr. Sherman & Peabody. Divergent will be pressed to hit $130m domestic and its international has barely started. Clearly, Summitsgate anticipates strong numbers or it wouldn’t be expanding to a 4-film series. Noah is unlikely to see $100m domestic and the vaunted international numbers are still a little less buoyant than expected. Mr. Peabody & Sherman has the strongest international at this point, but it’s still chasing Turbo for a worldwide gross, and Turbo was seen as a big disappointment. There won’t be a lot written about these films, but all three are worth keeping an eye on.

The arthouse hit of the weekend is Jim Jarmusch’s delightfully psychotic and elegant Only Lovers Left Alive, which debuted almost a year ago at Cannes to some critical snottiness (now – thankfully – forgotten). It should be in the $19k per-screen range for the 3 day, on 4 screens, which is solid, but still not indicative of a national phenom in the making. Great movie though, if you are a film geek. See it on screen while you can.

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17 Weeks Of Summer: Episode One – The Studios

summer2014_651_17wks

There are 30 wide-release films due to be released by the 6 major studios in these 17 weeks of summer (May 2-August 24).And the majors haven’t done anything to change the popular media tune about an ongoing obsession with big, expensive movies.

MEGA MOVIES dominate the summer. 7 of the 30 studio releases are in this category, each with production budgets of over $150 million.

5/2/14 – Sony – The Amazing Spider-Man 2
5/16/14 – WB – Godzilla
5/23/14 – Fox – X-Men: Days of Future Past
5/30/14 – Disney – Maleficent
6/27/14 – Par – Transformers: Age of Extinction
7/18/14 – WB – Jupiter Ascending
8/1/14 – Disney – Guardians of the Galaxy

Each of these films will be looking for $200 million domestic at minimum. Coincidentally, there are no instances of seven $200 million-grossing movies in any one summer. However, there have been six such films in each of the last two summers.

Of course, in the 2014 marketplace, these films could underperform domestically and make up for it overseas. So don’t make the mistake of just writing any of these films off just because they look like they might land in the low 100s domestically. Under $100 million domestic and you can start shoveling dirt, though even then at the risk of being shocked by a 3x or 4X multiple overseas… which still might just get to breakeven, but not a writedown.

As you can see from the listing, the month of May is very, very competitive, while later mega-entries have a lot less direct mega-competition to fight off.

BIG MOVIES are also in play – five of them – looking to score some big numbers as well. What’s a Big Movie, as opposed to a Mega-movie? Budgets of $100-150 million. There are five of these, though to be completely fair, one of them – Luc Besson’s Lucy, starring Scarlett Johansson – may be a bit under the $100 million mark.

The Big Movies are:
6/6/14 – WB – Edge of Tomorrow
7/11/14 -Fox – Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
7/25/14 – Par – Hercules
8/8/14 – U – Lucy
8/8/14 – Par – Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

As you can see, none of these films are going after the mega-game. The first of these films is Tom Cruise, waiting until after Memorial Day Weekend. And it’s more than a full month between that crapshoot until the second film in this category, the Apes sequel, which is 2 weeks clear of Transformers 4, and a week before the new film from The Wachowskis, which no one is overly afraid of at this point. The other three are sitting things out until the last push of the summer, just before and into August.

These films are all looking for a minimum of $100 million domestic to break even. Except for Ninja Turtles, which is a bit of an unknown, these films are all built for strong international returns. The first Apes movie did $480m worldwide. Cruise and The Rock are both very popular in action overseas. Lucy is actually made by Europeans and Johansson has Avengers cred.

COMEDIES are the second largest category.

There were six last summer. There are seven this summer, with two studios (Disney, Paramount) staying out of the category.

5/9/14 – U – Neighbors
5/23/14 – WB – Blended
5/30/14 – U – A Million Ways to Die in the West
6/13/14 – Sony – 22 Jump Street
7/2/14 – WB – Tammy
7/25/14 – Sony – Sex Tape
8/13/14 – Fox – Let’s Be Cops

Five of the six comedies from last summer did over $100 million domestic. So there is no reason to assume that this year is in any way overcrowded with comedies.

Though they have not all been rated yet, it’s safe to say that at least five of the seven will be rated R. Blended, the Sandler/Barrymore family comedy is PG-13 and we’ll see what Let’s Be Cops is. But this was true of last year’s line-up too. The only 2 PG-13 films were the Sandler and The Internship, which was really the only major studio comedy flop last summer.

As you can see, they are pretty well spread out. The only slotting without at least 2 weeks of space are Sandler vs McFarlane, though Memorial Day Weekend is the cause of this conflict and the two films are targeting very different demographics.

FAMILY FILMS are a bit thin this summer.

People have long associated summer with family films doing big business. But this summer, there are “only” two animated films and two small family films on either end of the season.

5/16/14 – Dis – Million Dollar Arm
6/13/14 – Fox – How to Train Your Dragon 2
7/18/14 – Dis – Planes: Fire and Rescue
8/8/14 – Dis – The Hundred-Foot Journey

Last summer, this category was good for just under $1 billion domestic. This summer, it would be a small miracle if this foursome delivers half of that.

The big hole is from Pixar, which decided to skip this summer fairly late in the game… which in animation leaves little room to shift for competitors. Nothing from Blue Sky either, though they are not expected every single summer.

But when people are writing their summer wrap-ups in August, expect a lot of scowls about the missed opportunity with the family audience.

WOMEN’S FILMS is a category that may draw some nasty tweets, just for its name. But what can you do?

And the fact that there are only two films that qualify for the category this summer? Even worse. Oh… and both films were directed by guys.

It’s Shailene Woodley vs Chloë Grace Moretz, just in case you were worried that there would be some new faces leading the way this summer. I’m sure both will be pretty good. I am a bit more excited for the August film because it’s been directed by an established doc director, RJ Cutler, making his fictional feature debut.

6/6/14 – Fox – The Fault in our Stars
8/22/14 – WB – If I Stay

OTHER is a place to put a couple high profile films, a couple low-profile films and one somewhere in the middle.

Do you know that there is a Clint Eastwood movie coming this summer? You probably would if you were working in the film business. His adaptation of the stage sensation, Jersey Boys, lands in June. WB won’t let you forget this… once they get past Godzilla.

Universal rolls out its sequel to a big success of a low-budget horror film with The Purge: Anarchy.

The middle movie is a biopic of James Brown, Get On Up, starring Chadwick Boseman and directed by Tate Taylor. That may sound better as, “the star of 42 and the director of The Help.” Who knows? Maybe it will be a surprise late summer shocker.

Into The Storm – “A group of high school students document the events and aftermath of a devastating tornado.” (That’s from imdb._ The biggest stars are Sarah Wayne Callies and Matt Walsh (“The Walking Dead” and “Veep”).

And finally, As Above, So Below… a Legendary-funded movie that doesn’t even have actors listed on the imdb page. So… we’ll see. I’m not mocking… just don’t know… maybe we’ll see it in the spring of 2015.

OTHER
WB – Jersey Boys 6/20/14
U – The Purge: Anarchy 7/18/14
U – Get On Up 8/1/14
WB – Into The Storm 8/8/14
U – As Above, So Below 8/15/14

So what does all this mean?

Well, that’s another column, isn’t it?

Meanwhile, here is another way at looking at the summer… in simple order of date of release…

MAY
5/2/14
The Amazing Spider-Man 2
5/9/14
Neighbors
5/16/14
Godzilla
Million Dollar Arm
5/23/14
X-Men: Days of Future Past
Blended
5/30/14
Maleficent
A Million Ways to Die in the West

JUNE
6/6/14
Edge of Tomorrow
The Fault in our Stars
6/13/14
How to Train Your Dragon 2
22 Jump Street
6/20/14
Jersey Boys
6/27/14
Transformers: Age of Extinction

JULY
7/2/14
Tammy
7/11/14
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
7/18/14
Jupiter Ascending
Planes: Fire and Rescue
The Purge: Anarchy
7/25/14
Sex Tape
Hercules

AUGUST
8/1/14
Guardians of the Galaxy
Get On Up
8/8/14
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
Lucy
The Hundred-Foot Journey
Into The Storm
8/13/14
Let’s Be Cops
8/15/14
As Above, So Below
8/22/14
If I Stay

40 Comments »

BYOB 41114

byobvalentines

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In Case You Were Wondering How Chick Tracts Felt About “Noah”

Testimony from a faithful tract user regarding the “NOAH” film.

“While NOAH was one of the worst movies I’ve ever seen, it has made it real easy to hand out Gospel tracts relating to Noah. Sunday night I was handing out Jack Chick’s ‘Killer Storm’ and I could hardly give them out fast enough. The last time that happened was when we were outside ‘The Exorcist.’ People going into the theater were throwing the tracts on the ground. People coming out were picking them up OFF the ground.” - Tim Berends (www.jesusandtim.org)

Screen Shot 2014-04-09 at 3.19.01 PM

Share this tract with your Sunday school kids or give to teenagers and young adults. Pass them out to people waiting in line to see the movie (or coming out of the movie). Most of them don’t know the REAL story… and they’re certainly not going to get it from this movie!

Screen Shot 2014-04-09 at 3.19.10 PM
(click here to read the tract online)

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Top 10 Hot Button Rules of Thumb

I just ran into this list, posted somewhere 8 years ago.

There is really only one specific change. In item #2, the DVD market has changed and international has become a much more significant force. I would still say that $150m domestic is still not a blockbuster, but often the start of a road to more than $300 million in returns to the distributor and/or funders. These days, a blockbuster starts anywhere between $200m – $250 domestic, depending on expected international results. There were 11 films over $200m domestic in 2012 and 13 in 2013. And in most cases, production costs of the films in that range have gone up substantially as well.

TOP TEN HOT BUTTON RULES OF THUMB

1. Great Media Outlets’ Standards Are Less Stringent When The Subject Is Entertainment And That Sucks.

2. $150 Million Is No Longer A Blockbuster In Theatrical… But Right Now Represents The Start Of A Road To More Than $200 Million In Returns to The Studio In Most Cases Thanks To The New DVD Market And Expanded International Theatrical Market.

3. Successful Movie Advertising Sells One Idea At A Time… And There Actually Has To Be An Idea Worth Selling.

4. The Story Of The Moment Is Almost Never The Real Story.

5. There Are Very Few Journalists In Entertainment Journalism.

6. Talent Is Your Friend Until It’s Time For Talent Not To Be Your Friend.

7. Reviewing Scripts Or Test Screenings Is Selfish And Immoral… You Do Not Know What Effect Sticking Your Nose Into Process Will Have And More Often Than Not It Is Negative.

8. Opening Weekend Is Never About The Quality Of The Movie.

9. There Are Things I Know And Things I Don’t Know And Sometimes They Change.

10. Love What You Do And Do What You Love Or Get The Fuck Out.

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Weekend Estimates by Klady: The Winter Box Office Analyst

Wekeend Estimates 2014-04-06 at 9.20.06 AM

Not a really interesting weekend.

The successful opening of Captain America: The Winter Soldier is not unprecedented, but it is very solid. Avengers has lifted all Marvel boats since 2 summers ago, with Iron Man 3 out-opening any film in that trio by $75 million, Thor: The Dark World out-opening the first Thor by $20 million, and now, Cap 2 out-opening its first film by $30 million. Ultimately, IM3 was #1 for that character by just under $600 million worldwide, a breathtaking leap nearly doubling the previous high. Thor 2 was up just under $200 million. And it seems likely that we will see the same for Cap 2.

These are all positive things. But it’s also very easy to overstate how positive. Yes, Cap 2 beats Fast Five‘s April opening record by about $10 million. And Fast & Furious 6 beat this Cap 2 opening (based on the estimates today) by about a million. What does that mean? It’s not 100% clear. But it is not insignificant as context.

The business model for Marvel is all $150m+ movies… and they are ramping up to 2 a year now and talking about moving up to 3 a year. That means every film they make needs to gross $350m – $450m worldwide to get to breakeven, considering all the ancillaries, including merchandising. Even with the great run Marvel is having, they have to keep it up. That challenge is not quite as easy as some suggest. It’s possible. Anything is possible. But if they start succeeding 2/3 of the time… or failing 1/3 of the time, if you will… the numbers could look very different in a hurry. Time will tell.

After Cap, a lot of nothing. After opening to $43 million, Noah will still get to $100 million domestic… but not soon. (Of course, as noted here from the start, the money is overseas on that one.) Divergent isn’t going to make it to $150m domestic, with international not really kicking in yet. Muppets Most Wanted is doing okay, but will forever be seen as a disappointment.

Holding well this weekend were God’s Not Dead, which looks like it will end up at about the same domestic number as Son of God… about $60m.

The Grand Budapest Hotel remains a serious contender to become Wes Anderson’s biggest domestic grosser.

The Raid 2 and Finding Vivian Maier are doing well in limited release. And the weekend best for per-screen is Under The Skin, which will do about $35k on each of 4 screens.

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Friday Estimates by Captain Klady 2

Friday Estimates 2014-04-05 at 9.45.17 AM

Another big April opening with Captain America 2: The Winter Soldier. The film did about 5% better on Friday than Fast Five did a few years ago, though it cost about 40% more. International will have a hard time matching Fast Five‘s $400 million. But all this is a negative take on what will be a profitable film in the Marvel Universe. But that is the hard part of the route Marvel and Disney are traveling. If Cap 2 was a $300m worldwide grosser instead of a $400m+ one, they’d be looking at taking a loss on the film. On the other hand, Thor 2 did double overseas what it did domestically… that is the model at which Marvel is aiming its mighty hammer.

Not much else out there to talk about. 62% off for Noah is no surprise, especially with a new superhero in town. Nice hold for The Grand Budapest Hotel. Mr Peabody & Sherman will hit a disappointing $100m domestic today or tomorrow.

And in limited release, a strong start for the challenging but beautiful Under The Skin for A24. The number lands right in the middle of A24′s release history, behind Spring Breakers, The Spectacular Now, and The Bling Ring, but ahead of Ginger & Rosa, Enemy, and Charles Swan III. I’m not sure that opening on top of another Scarlett movie was the smartest movie… maybe could have waited a week.

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Review: Is HBO Unleashing The Best 2 Hours On Television?

hbo-2-hours-650
We don’t really think of program blocks anymore. Thanks to DVRs and other tools, we tend to watch in pieces.

I grew up on the “All In The Family”-”M*A*S*H*”-”Mary Tyler Moore”-_Bob Newhart” block (followed by the also-great “Carol Burnett Show”) in the 70s, back when networks could have a powerhouse Saturday night line-up.

Others will have different “Must See TV” preferences, but for me, the best 2 hours was Cosby, “Family Ties,” “Cheers,” and “Night Court,” followed by “Hill Street Blues,” though in Year 4 when the comedies came together… not the strongest “Hill Street” year.

And now, from HBO, the finest 2-hour block I can recall in recent years. It’s flipped from the norm, though this may not mean much, given the way we watch these days. An hour of “Game of Thrones,” followed by Mike Judge’s “Silicon Valley,” followed by the 3rd season of “Veep.”

For me, this is the best two hours of TV since that 1970′s block on CBS.

“Game of Thrones” remains “Game of Thrones.” It’s big, brassy pulp television. Could you fill the hour part of this great 2 hours with “True Detective” or “Boardwalk Empire” (which had its best season last season) or even “True Blood”? Sure. Pairing two great half-hour sitcoms is a tougher trick to pull off.

The only other comedy in the history of HBO on the level of “Veep” was “The Larry Sanders Show.” There are people who love “Entourage” or “Sex & The City” or “Eastbound & Down” or “Mr. Show.” But there is fun and then there is greatness.

I was a “Veep “guy from the first time I saw an episode. But this season of the show takes the next step. The manic edge, which is an Iannucci trademark, but didn’t fit Julia Louis-Dreyfus perfectly, has been filed off to be a perfect fit. There seem to be just as many storylines going on at the same time, but everything feels a little slower, a little clearer, a little cleaner.

Big storyline changes within the primary cast are really dangerous, potential caricatures instead of characters. But at the same time Iannucci and his writing team are opening up much broader comic potential, the show is going more classic.

For instance, old-school writers making fun of over-the-top blogs and bloggers is the stuff of potentially terrible junk TV. But just when you think it could be going someplace bad, the writers reel it in and tether it all to earthy reality.

Louis-Dreyfus, who took home the Emmy for this role for the last two years, is better than she’s been as Selena Meyer. You never see her working this season… she just is. And it’s not like she wasn’t already excellent. But while her instinct sometimes had her chasing the laugh in the last two seasons, she’s just playing the truth this year and she is perfection. In a weird way, it was as though she was, in the first two seasons, worried about being “The Mary” (the central character who wacky characters revolve around while she lets them get most of the laughs, named after Mary Tyler Moore) and has now embraced being in that role, while Iannucci and Co give her enough edgy material from that slot so she gets in as many razor-sharp lines as anyone.

The supporting cast remains impeccable. The staff, instead of being somewhat inert, defending their leader from ignoble irrelevance, get to be proactive for the first time.

They finally figure out where to take Jonah, besides being a target for brutal one-liners. Kevin Dunn and Gary Cole really shine with more prominent roles. Anna Chlumsky & Reid Scott get to compete more directly, but while both have to pretend not to be competing. And Emmy-winner Tony Hale is given a little more prominence this season.

The other half-hour is Mike Judge’s “Silicon Valley,” which walks a tightrope between very broad geek comedy and desert dryness. At first, the show feels uncomfortably familiar. We saw “competitive geeks in a house” in The Social Network. We’ve seen comedy versions of Steve Jobs and other Northern Californians going back as far as Serial in 1980 (probably earlier). We’ve done “lost in the bubble” before.

But as each episode comes to life before you, the show finds itself. By the time you get to Episode 3, opening with a Silicon Valley lawyer explaining a life-changing business deal as though it was ordering at a drive-thru and the glories of the toga party and the breathtaking work of Christopher Evan Welch as Peter Gregory and you realize you are watching as much of a forever comedy for the thinking set as you will find. It’s everything smart you felt about Mike Judge’s earlier stuff, but couldn’t quite verbalize.

You may pick up a theme here… as Mike Judge simply isn’t trying so hard to get the laugh. He is letting it come to him in a way that feels mature and complete and iconic.

Then Episode 4 comes along, mixing high and low, smart smart and stupid smart, the love and contempt for technology, and a glorious subtext-driven confrontation between the show’s two competing billionaires. The death of Christopher Evan Welch, who I do not really recognize from work before this show, becomes a devastating blow to what would have surely been the start of a great, long comedy career. All this and a great sidebar on the contemporary art scene to boot.

“Silicon Valley” is a GREAT show.

If you are wondering why I am not pulling great quotes and telling you about specific beats and character moments from these shows, it is because I don’t want you to have even the tiniest bit less pleasure of discovering these moments than I did. Truth is, I will probably laugh as hard or harder the second time around. But you can never have another first time.

Lots of great stuff on TV these days and on HBO over the years. But has there been a better two hours to just plop down in front of your TV and let 3 shows take you on a wild, diverse, challenging, smart, funny journey? Like I said… not in a few decades. Not for me, at least.

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Happy April Fool’s Day from Sidd Finch

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Questions for Kevin Tsujihara

I’m kinda sick of ragging on Brooks Barnes.

The clear answer to any questions about his skill/insight covering this beat is that the New York Times doesn’t give a flying flip about whether their coverage of the film and TV industry is any good, so long as they keep selling ads and getting cross-promotional opportunities from the studios.

So I wasn’t looking forward to reading his Kevin Tsujihara piece over the weekend, but it was really quite shocking. And I have been further surprised by how many people noticed how much it read like a long press release, not the result of 90 minutes with one of the 2 or 3 most powerful people in Hollywood.

Instead of ripping Brooks apart… again (like shooting fish in a barrel, after a while the gunman begins to feel like a troll)… I thought I would just offer a few useful questions that a paper as powerful as the New York Times might have bothered to ask when they are given truly unique access.

For instance… if WB is so bullish on theatrical, what do they see as the best ongoing model for funding films? Will there ever be another Harry Potter-type series, in which the studio takes the total risk on a franchise play to the tune of a $300 million investment or more in the launch film (production and P&A)? Does the studio intend on solo funding the next round of Potter-related films now being touted?

How does Tsujihara see the balance of revenues looking now, in the 5 years, and in 10 years? What percentage from domestic theatrical? What percentage from international theatrical? How much purchased post-theatrical? How much post-theatrical revenue coming from aggregators like Netflix, HBO, Amazon, etc?

Time-Warner/WB owns Flixster, which they have used – in part – as their frontman on streaming. How many years are we away from an in-house streaming website being able to make a significant amount of revenue, perhaps more than be made by selling to aggregators? How is the Warner Archive experiment working?

Disney has made a deal with Netflix that hasn’t launched yet which crosses the TV and film lines. As one of the industry’s most prolific TV producers, does Tsujihara anticipate that streaming deals will be made through the networks distributing the shows on broadcast/cable or will WB start to retain those rights for their own uses moving forward? Is there any kind of rough timeline about when the value of holding onto those rights might equal or surpass the opportunity costs of not allowing the b’cast/cable network distributors to have them as part of the initial distribution deals?

WB is bullish on theatrical, but what is the mix of large and small that Tsujihara finds attractive? Are there too many films in the marketplace? Does he see niche increasing and 4-quadrant decreasing?

Anyway… this is just a starter list… and not even a particularly aggressive one.

There are few things more aggravating than wasted journalistic opportunities. But more and more, even with 90 minutes to do an interview, journalists are accepting themselves as extensions of press offices, more proud of the get than of the work done in the room with the subject. Damned shame.

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Review-ish – Captain America: The Winter Soldier (spoiler-free)

cap-winter-650
I’m not saying that Captain America: The Winter Soldier is crap. But I don’t really understand how anyone can claim that it is much better than a Very Special Episode of “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.”

I can’t quite claim that this movie is the beginning of the end of the Marvel dominance of the last couple of years… but for me, it was the first sign of the problem with Marvel trying to flex its muscles annually two or three times a year. I can’t think of a single original or memorable moment in this entire film… with the possible exception of the appearance of one character in their old age.

I have no idea at all what the actual budget for this film is, but it feels to me like the cheapest—by a significant margin—of all of the Marvel-produced movies. It certainly has size. But it’s a lot of bullets, a bunch of car stunts, and a touch of big picture CG (the most expensive element of most Marvel films). It also felt to me like the most talk-y of all the Marvel movies, but with almost nothing to say.

Speaking of which, the top special effect in the film—aside from the ability of light to be seen between Ms. Johansson’s thighs (and don’t blame me for noting a lingering shot in the film to highlight this only)—is getting Robert Redford to make the film. It feels as though he felt he was slumming less by saying more, more slowly. But for me, it is the least convincing performance of Redford’s career, as the words are so weak. All i got was “Robert Redford is talking.” But the demand of the role, that this character somehow stand for all things truth, justice, and the American Way, is not Robert Redford to me and nothing here changes that for me. It’s a role you can imagine Gregory Peck or Henry Fonda or Jimmy Stewart making interesting. But Redford was always more complex than those men on screen (with the exception of a handful of roles played by those men).

Does the movie add to the Marvel Universe idea? I suppose there are a few seeds planted for future films. But there is also that weird, lingering “because of what happened in New York” thing that suggests that people who work at Marvel think that what happened to New York in Avengers is particularly memorable or not just Standard Comic Book Movie Procedure. Ironically, Man of Steel, with which I had big problems, had more impact with its destruction of a city because there was real emotion attached to the fight between Superman & Zod. In Avengers, which was infinitely better as an entertainment, the fight in New York was just a chance to blow stuff (and bad guys) up.

But I kept feeling, with almost every action sequence, that I had seen it before… mostly in Marvel movies. The glory of comic books themselves is that our imaginations bring the details to life. Whether it is how the look and sound of fights or the details of escapes or how Captain America’s shield bounces, hits villains, and returns to The Cap.

Also… the threat in this film, not giving anything away, suggests no less than the end of freedom on earth…. yet in a Marvel Universe in which Iron Man is not only nearby but built one of the mechanisms that might enslave earth’s free will… and Hulk is a good guy… and Thor swings his mighty hammer all over the place, the end of the world as we know it comes down to non-supers Captain America, Black Widow, and the not-always-skillful Falcon. No one even reaches out to Tony Stark to ask for help to sabotage the machinery he contributed? How does that make any sense at all?

So here is what you get… a B/B+ level shoot ‘em, drive ‘em, fight ‘em flick with a guy in a suit and some massive hovercrafts. There is, literally, not a gag in the film that I haven’t seen before in other films, better for having been fresh. Like 30 machine guns put to a guy’s head leading to everyone holding one being killed or knocked out by that guy? Got it. Repeatedly. 20 guys in an elevator getting their ass kicked by one guy? Obviously. Big twists that are either so movie familiar or so obvious they are inevitable? Got it. The best sequence, the first, taking a boat, not only has been done before, but looks like they shot it on the same boat that closes Iron Man 3 in the extra week of location rental.

I liked the cast. All the cast, really. I thought Redford was trying real hard, but was left more afloat on his own than in All Is Lost. Chris Evans deserves better, but is game, his sphincter crushing everything in sight. You don’t quite believe that Scarlett Johansson really can move like that, but her comic timing is deft and she remains a great screen beauty. Sam Jackson IS Sam Jackson… almost always better than the material. Anthony Mackie brings all the excitement to his role here that Falcon would have swooping through the air to grab a check that will pay him as much as he has earned in the last 5 years of acting (and I don’t mean that in a bad way). Cobie Smulders has more to do here than in the other films so far… which is still not nearly enough.

There was one performance that I really think is worth pointing out. Toby Jones has a great bit mid-movie. It was really the only time where I felt the movie’s rhetoric and its pleasure were close to equal.

You can’t really call the movie “horrible.” But “get on with it already” came to mind often while sitting through the bloated 2:16 running time.

Finally, I used the word “I” a lot in this review… because it really is about how I felt. There are a lot of objective complaints to make about the film, but these movies are a subjective experience and 90something percent at Rotten Tomatoes, while a little shocking to me, is interesting. Do I think that some of the critics are grading on a curve, in that the film suggests that it has a political message worthy of serious consideration and has Robert Redford mouthing platitudes? Yeah. Will any of them think about this film again… ever? Not likely. But so it goes.

I just kept waited for it to become interesting. The first film was quite interesting… until it threw away its ending to accommodate an unused connection to Avengers. The last Iron Man was quite interesting… until they made the last 20 minutes all about blowing stuff up. This one… everything about it was trying so hard to matter and in the end, it really means nothing except another box-office success for Marvel. That will be quite enough for quite a lot of people.

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Weekend Estimates by Lenoah Klady

Wknd Estimates 2014-03-30 at 9.02.57 AM

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“I wanted to make you love a murderer. There’s no way of redeeming him. He’s a drunk and a killer. He killed at least seven people (that we know of). But there were reasons he was a bad guy. He was surrounded by evil in those days. A lot of people were killed building modern Florida—modern everywhere. Watson had plenty of opportunities to see how rough those guys were playing and he thought he could do it too. At least he rationalized it that way. He had the devil beaten out of him and became a very dangerous guy. And he couldn’t handle his liquor, which is one of the worst aspects of him. And he went crazy. Understanding how that happened is useful, I think. There’s no reason any one of us couldn’t be Edgar Watson.”
~ Peter Mathiessen On Writing “Killing Mister Watson”

 

“Objects and their manufacture are inseparable, you understand a product if you understand how it’s made.”
~ Jony Ive