The Hot Blog Archive for June, 2013
Not a lot more to say since yesterday. Congrats to Man of Steel for getting out of the financial danger zone. Hopefully, you’re next, WWZ. WHD also waiting on international. And two more mega-movies to go.
The Heat has another 12 days to clean up cash before Grownups 2 lands.
Before Midnight and The Bling Ring lead the summer’s arthouse indie, though both films have millions to add before anyone gets too excited.
Sarah Polley’s wonderful Stories We Tell is the top doc, though sadly, the next highest doc grosser is the more traditional (and entertaining) 20 Feet From Stardom at just less than 1/3 the gross of SWT. More people should see both films, but also more docs, like Dirty Wars, We Steal Secrets: The Story of Wikileaks, SOMM and others.
It’s the perfect comedy for an airplane.
The idea is clever. The casting is pretty great. And there are some really funny moments.
But the story structure is wildly inconsistent and it just doesn’t quite gel.
It’s not complicated. Uptight FBI agent gets stuck with a wild card Boston cop, the shit gets deep, unexpected truths are revealed between the women, and in the third act, they team up, somewhat reversing roles, for a big, fun ending.
So, for instance, Melissa McCarthy’s movie family, led by Jane Curtin as her mom, is nearly perfect. But it gets mushy at times. And while Michael Rappaport behaves in ways that make no sense, there never is the great scene with McCarthy & Jane Curtin… as how she came from Curtin’s womb is a great comic premise.
Flipside, Sandra Bullock is Ms. Lonely… but that too is not played on enough or consistently enough (with Marlon Wayans as the threat to be interesting to her). And the fact that McCarthy’s rager has men in every storefront they enter should be really funny. There are plenty of reasons why McCarthy’s no-BS character would be attractive to all kinds of guys, even more than Bullock’s more classic cutie. But it’s almost as though it was there, but they didn’t want to pull the trigger too hard.
Anyway… amusing enough. Not much more than that. It had the potential to be a minor classic. But the film screams for structure that it doesn’t have. And as fun as the many improvised hijinks are, they don’t add up to a complete, clear, comic vision.
The Summer of Surviving Your Hits™ adds another sure hit and another “wait until international” film this weekend, as The Heat got off to a slightly better start than Ms. McCarthy’s Identity Thief and is likely looking at a weekend just over $40 million, pretty much assuring that the Sandra Bullock-shared comedy will become Fox’s #1 in-house (non-DWA, I mean) domestic grosser of the year and potentially bigger than Epic worldwide as well. (Note: DWA’s The Croods got to a surprising $577m worldwide number, making it Top 10 for a first-of-a-franchise animation all-time.)
Flip side, White House Down didn’t find the hook for a wider audience – aka women – and while it could still end up somewhere around $100m domestic, Roland Emmerich’s foreign muscle is going to have to come on strong, even with the White House as a focus being a potential international hindrance. My personal take? You don’t invite the ladies to come, the ladies don’t come. If there were ads somewhere that featured the daughter, Maggie Gyllenhaal, and a balance of talking and action, I didn’t see them.
Monsters University is a monster for Pixar, pacing behind only Toy Story 3. Expect a slowdown when Despicable Me 2 hits the market, but still, huge success for PIxar, even if the sequel business seems crude for the artists of Emeryville.
Then there are the two testosterone specials in the middle of the summer. (Doesn’t Iron Man 3 seem like a lifetime ago?) Neither Man of Steel or World War Z is a world beater, but it’s now clear that WB and their partners will clear the red ink. $300m domestic is possible, though not assured. And international will be over $250m, perhaps as much as $325m. So while they are not likely to be in green in theatrical, most of post-theatrical will be profit. WWZ has a higher bar to hit. The domestic should be close to $200m – almost covering worldwide marketing costs – and then the weight of success is on international, where the hurdle is probably $100m too high to actually work out for the film… but with Brad Pitt and a movie that isn’t wordy, one never knows.
Also in the “just on the edge” category are Star Trek: Into Darkness and Epic. Profitable but still sequally disappointing is The Hangover III (now over $325m worldwide). Now You See Me did surprisingly well domestically, but the budget on the film has it waiting for international numbers to try to make it clearly profitable. After Earth and The Internship are money-losers.
And the clear winners so far are Iron Man 3 ($1.2b), Fast & Furious 6 ($670m), The Great Gatsby ($313m), Man of Steel ($422m) and This Is The End ($68m domestic with low foreign expectations), with The Heat likely to join the group.
Back when Die Hard was just Die Hard, Fall 1988 and the years to come were full of “Die Hard in a…” Die Hard 2, as I recall, like most of the classic’s comedy/thriller’s sequels, started as some other kind of airport-based scenario and became “Die Hard At An Airport” aka Die Hard 2.
And now, 24 years later, Die Hard In The White House, aka White House Down, complete with the hero ending up running around in a wife-beater, arrives in the midst of one of the most literally explosive summers in movie history. They added a precocious little girl, filling in for the ex-wife (who eventually shows up for a mostly irrelevant cameo). And there is a uniquely 21st century Defiant Ones element, as the white guy in the wife-beater teams up with the President of the United States and neither really even acknowledges race as an issue… a choice I really love, actually.
The only thing close to a nod to race—and it barely is a nod—is Jamie Foxx’s President Sawyer choosing basketball shoes to run from the bad guys. And really, the beat has nothing at all to do with race… but if there was nothing there, would they have included it? Going back to Die Hard, it was kind of breakthrough in its depiction of race in 1988, as Reginald VelJohnson and Clarence Gilyard Jr. could, on the surface, just as well have been white, but were not, and got a chance to be heroic, if comedic. They also balanced, subtly, the blondie bad guys of the film.
Believe it or not, this was an unusual move back then. We had Eddie Murphy in leads and we had seen Danny Glover in a co-lead in Lethal Weapon, but there was a dearth of actors of color in top supporting roles. It was more like Ernie Hudson as one of the Ghostbusters, where he was the fourth guy… kind of on the edges. Anyway… this conversation is a bit hair-splitting, but I really remember how refreshing the Die Hard duo were in an era when the joke was always that the guy running the police squad was a black, angry man in 70s TV. (Larry B. Scott was one exception to the rule, appearing in both Revenge of The Nerds and The Karate Kid in 1984 and Space Camp in 1986, in good color-blind character roles.)
Boy did I digress…
Anyway… White House Down is fun.
Is it a GREAT movie? No.
Will it be the best movie of this summer? No.
But I loved going back to the days before John McClane was hanging off the wing of a fighter jet like it was a normal action event in his life. By the time Roland Emmerich managed to have a car chase while never leaving the White House grounds, I was just plain enjoying myself.
I hear that some critics HATE the film. And so it goes. I don’t see anything about this film that earns an emotion as deep as hatred.
What I do see is a team that is just pulling out all the genre stops and delivering classic light summer fare. It’s not going to break records. It’s not going to change the face of cinema. It’s not as good as Die Hard and certainly not as fresh as DH was when it first arrived. But if a bunch of people decided we’d all go to the movies and they chose this… I’d not only go, but I would feel pretty good that no one was going to be aggravated by the choice.
Is shaved ice with syrup on the sidewalk as “good” as a chocolate souffle from a master baker? No. But when the sun is hot and the cold ice and sweet syrup hit your tongue, it makes you smile. Sometimes that’s the best thing of all.
I smiled all the way through White House Down, even as I charted every cliché, potential and avoided, anticipated the gags as they came, and maintaining a sense of déjà vu throughout the running time. I even ended up being surprised by some of the twists.
(And for the record, that is what I am hoping for with Pacific Rim and The Lone Ranger, too. If they are just great Saturday movie serial entertainment, I will be very happy. And if they are more, all the better.)
Monsters University is… expected. Congratulations to everyone involved. It must feel odd when there the only real opportunity on an opening weekend is to be lower than expected, not really higher.
World War Z is, right now, looking a lot like Roland Emmerich’s 2012. The opening is about the same. The pricetag on Zzzzz is a chunk higher. But if Zzzzz can do, as 2012 did, better than 3.5x the domestic gross in international, all will be well. (2012‘s totals—$166m domestic, $604m international = $770 worldwide) Really, breakeven will probably be at $400m international… something like that.
Paramount junior publicist Nikki Finke was kind enough to lay out the studio’s international expectations. I’ll do the math to explain what the studio is hoping it means. They had a $46m international weekend and see that as 30% of the total international market. So if you do the math, that would be something like a $150m opening in all non-domestic markets. That’s about 9% behind 2012‘s actual $165m international opening. So then project an international gross 9% off 2012‘s $603m and you can see that Paramount is hoping for something in the $550m range. Add $175m domestic or so and you have a moneymaker. (2012‘s worldwide total was $770m.) Of course, the big, big variable here is that Sony went after the opening weekend in almost every market, not allowing the word of mouth to become too much of a driver. They scored $230m in the first 3 days or about 30% of their overall total. Also, they leveraged Thanksgiving, which is traditionally a stronger weekend play than July 4. But for Paramount, anything over $450m worldwide is a relief and over $550m is actually leading to profitability. The next few weeks will tell.
Man of Steel must feel good about getting down to a 65% drop, though there is a good chance that the number will creep back up to more like 67% when finals are announced. Even so, MoS already passed the domestic and international grosses of Superman Returns, so Team WB is feeling okay. The film is just about out of harm’s way financially, and if there is much hold internationally at all, they should have a money maker.
On the indie side, nice numbers for Unfinished Song and 20 Feet From Stardom, though the story of the summer remains Mud, which is now over $20m and on its way to more than doubling the gross of any other film in Roadside Attractions history. Expect a serious Oscar push for the film. On top of the summer doc list so far is Sarah Polley’s Stories We Tell, though it will be interesting to see if the Academy Documentary Branch embraces the film as a “pure” doc as the voting begins.
Another weekend, another game of lowered expectations. Paramount used weekend publicist Nikki Finke (And other selected media) to lower expectations of the opening weekend of World War Z (Or World War V, as I’d call it, for Vanilla) to $55 million so that when it hit $60 million, it would still appear to be a hit instead of a miss. But make no mistake, what is probably the most expensive movie of a movie loaded with expensive movies, doesn’t have champagne bottles popping over a $60m domestic launch. What it suggests is that the marketing on the film won’t be covered by domestic box office and the entire financial future of the film will be keyed to whether the rest of the world buys what Americans didn’t much care to buy. On the positive side, Pitt is as strong an actor internationally as there is right now, so there is hope.
Paramount is having “one of those summers.” Two movies that will probably gross around $400 worldwide, but are so expensive that they will barely make enough profit – if any, especially in the case of zzzzzz – to make the studio worth keeping open. Technically, you’d have to say that most of the departments are doing their jobs well… but the risk of being in the $200m+ movie business is that the profitability bar starts so freakin’ high.
We know that Par will make a tidy sum on Paranormal 5, their next movie, in October. November/December looks strong with Scorsese, Payne, Reitman, Ferrell/McKay/Apatow, and the relaunch of Clancy’s Jack Ryan character. But with Marvel and DreamWorks Animation both gone, summer isn’t a terribly happy season on Melrose.
Monsters University is not a great Pixar film, but it does look like it will be the #2 opening for the company in its remarkable history. It’s been about a month since Epic arrived as the only kids animation in the market. But that wasn’t such a hit. That Pixar brand is mighty. And then… a TON of high-profile animated product with Despicable Me 2 in 2 weeks and Turbo 2 weeks after that.
Remember last weekend when people will surprised that Man of Steel reported late Thursday show grosses separately from the Friday opening? Today there is another clear reason why this was smart… and that WM may have seen what was coming. If you included Thursday the Friday-to-Friday drop would have been a stunning 78%. As it is, they are still at a 69%+ drop. Very well played by Warners all around. That said, they’re waiting on international to save the day.
It’s a classic question. The guy has had some real success at WB. But it’s a certain kind of success.
Every studio in town is both stable and in play. This is not meant as disrespect or a pointed finger at any studio chief, but at the moment, nothing is a sure bet.
Fox – Jim Gianopulos hasn’t been on his own long. This is probably the least likely place for Robinov, who has all the negatives that Tom Rothman ever had with none of the penny pinching. Fox just ain’t his kinda town.
Paramount – Does Brad Grey actually want to put the studio back to work, risking large amounts of money on more than a couple big movies a year? Unlikely. The power base on Melrose is pretty solid. No one is giving an inch, at least until Redstone dies.
Sony – Only if there is a new owner. If that were the case, it suddenly becomes a frontrunner to bring Robinov in to make a big noise with a big change. Until then, a company that’s been tightening their belt for over a year isn’t going to make a big gambling change.
Universal – I don’t see it. The team, in all its incarnations, has been together for a long time and unless the rest of the summer tanks hard, why is Comcast anxious to dive into even deeper waters? Comcast may be itchy to make a big move, but it’s not clear that big old WB thinking, which Robinov put a fresh twist on but still left large, would remotely be interesting as that move.
That leaves Disney, which is not in alphabetical order, but is the only studio that has any real chance of bringing Robinov in from the cold with a big title. Right now, they are not in the business he is in and the (fiscal) love affair with Marvel is still going strong. Bruckheimer doesn’t want anyone looking hard over his shoulder. Nor does Kathy Kennedy. So, essentially, Alan Horn and Bob Iger would have to decide that launching, essentially, a new arm of the company, heavy on boy movies, many of them pricey, to somehow balance out a potential overreliance on Marvel and Lucasfilm, is a great idea. It’s very long-shot, but really it’s the only shot Robinov will have without an ownership change somewhere.
One last note: take a look at Robinov’s supporters. Chris Nolan is ready to move onto non-comic-book films again. Worked with Inception, but no one bats .1000. It does not diminish his genius to imagine that his future will not be littered with billion-dollar movies. Ben Affleck is a terrific, still-rising filmmaker… but not a cash machine and showing no signs of being interested in becoming one. Todd Phillips now has to recover from Hangover 3, which will make a bit of money, but is not anywhere near the ballpark of the first and will likely be less profitable than Due Date. I hope Todd has the next big film percolating in his head, but it’s been a while. How much past the $500m ww mark that Man of Steel needs to hopefully break even will it get? Unclear. But The Dark Knight did 2.25x its opening week domestically. That would be $360m dom for MoS, if it has similar word of mouth. Internationally, no Superman film has done $200m overseas. So we shall see.
Look… I haven’t been the biggest Robinov fan… though I did defend him when Nikki Finke first attacked him for being a sexist pig, as his film line-up suggested that WB was then the best major studio in terms of making movies about women. I don’t know the man. I don’t wish him ill in any personal way. But he has a very mixed record and its not clear that he would significantly improve the fate of any of the other 5 majors at this point. He should get used to be being a producer and make a great life of it… or he’ll just be waiting for the next corporation that buys a studio to pick him to run it.
There has been a lot of discussion around Man of Steel lately. Nothing I have read has convinced me that the movie is coherent… not in terms of plot, but in terms of the constant philosophizing it does. Some people have been more dismissive than I about it. Others don’t care.
One reader, in particular, made the effort to speak to my issues with the film as noted in my review. And while I think it is futile to keep arguing over so minor a piece of work, I do want to address the general ideas of how I choose to do the job.
As I turns out, I am quite aware of the history of Superman and the mythology. The Superman Problem is not new. It has been a problem with the entire superhero canon, especially with DC. Once someone is “super,’ how does a film make them vulnerable in a away that makes the film interesting. Marvel has had an easier go of it, as the hook for Stan Lee & Co was superhero vulnerability from the start. However, if you wonder how The Hulk could be so great in Avengers and not have a good full-length film? Well… The Hulk is great for a while, not so great as a main character. So you make a movie about David Banner and then, doing the funny, raging Hulk of Avengers doesn’t fit. He’d be great in an intergalactic road movie with Thor and Tony Stark… which is, really, what Avengers was.
But I digress…
When I walk into movies… all movies… every movie… it is my goal to know as little about what I am going to watch and the hows and whys of why it exists as possible. Not only do I love to be surprised, even by small parts by great character actors and stuff like that, but I desperately want to judge the movie based exclusively on what I see on that screen. Now, of course, there are impediments. And a number after a title assures that there is a history. I pay attention to a lot of what is going on in the world of movies, but avoid early features and script comments and early reviews as much as possible. I don’t want to know, because I want to analyze the movie, not the stuff around it, not the response of others to it, not the things I expected or wanted.
I sometimes fail in trying to see a movie in a pure way. Can’t claim otherwise. But I walk into even the most encumbered movie trying to remove layers of outside influence.
How others do this, they can say for themselves. What they feel is appropriate, they can say for themselves. I speak for myself and only myself.
When a movie begins, I am reading the movie like a book. In that first “chapter,” the movie tells me its intentions. And my take on criticism is that my first responsibility is to understand what the film is trying to do and then, how well it succeeds in doing the job. The best movies almost all state their intention within the first scenes.
There have been 13 wide release movies this summer to date. I have seen 6 of them (Iron Man, Trek, Supes, Gatsby, Hangover, TITE) and I saw the first 10 minutes of F&F6, which, as noted above, told me exactly what kind of ride that movie was going to be… which is to say, much like the last one, though a little broader. Had no interest, really, in Epic, Purge, or the Tyler Perry (and LGF has no interest in me seeing a Tyler Perry movie… ever. So THERE). I was scared away from The Internship and traveling through most of its press reachout. And After Earth… well… kinda wanna… kinda hate the idea of even putting it in my head. It’s one of those movies that I might like more than others. Maybe not. But no one has pushed it on me and time has been tight, so I have focused on the marketing nightmare and not engaged the actual film. Don’t really need something else to complain about and God knows, the film doesn’t need any more piling on.
I’d say that all but The Great Gatsby and This Is The End offered up the clear direction we were heading in those first few scenes. Of course, you never quite know that until the movie has played out. The most surprisingly locked into the early scenes was The Hangover 3, which never achieved the relaxed absurdity of the first film. A giraffe being beheaded while Zach G simmered in his too-familiar character in a not-very-well-shot scene was about where this movie stayed.
Man of Steel opened with a certain Dune-y-ness. Of course, Dune has become a cult classic, so maybe that’s not so bad. How many ways can you do another planet with future and past and all that? Lots of movies refer to other movies and I am not grading down much for that. Noted, but not to distraction. Same with the laughable—and I may have laughed—penis ships and ships with sperm-y tentacles and vaginal shapes. Okay. Funny. But, let that go.
But then what seemed to be a core theme was offered up. The survival of Krypton’s people/species. The council (which just sits around talking but doing nothing according to both Jor-El and Zod) is taken to task, but then has responsibility removed by Jor-El who proclaims that everyone on Krypton is “already dead.” So why are we arguing? The Codex, I guess. And that’s when Man of Steel started to lose this viewer.
The idea of a Codex… of a genetic pool that is already fully created and pre-programmed is fresh and fascinating. I’m interested.
What Man of Steel is now telling me, as a viewer and as a critic, is that it takes its ideas fairly seriously, blowing up Krypton and shooting Kal into space is not enough drama for the filmmakers, and they are interested in offering up some political subtext.
Again, sign me up. I am happy to see a more serious Superman movie with more on its mind.
But it strikes me immediately that even though Jor-El and Zod pretty much have “HERO” and “VILLAIN” stenciled on their costumes, they are no quite as black-and-white as the movie seems to suggest that they are. They both have a plan to keep Kryptonian blood flowing into the future. But While Zod wants to do what he suggests Kryptonians have done before, which is to find a new habitable planet, rebuild, and populate with The Codex, Jor-El wants to send The Codex to an unnamed planet, along with his newborn son, where the sun should result in making genetic Krypronians nearly invulnerable… super.
The self-seriousness is in full bloom when one thinks about this argument. But there is no actually argument. The Villain is wrong… because he is The Villain.
In modern America, the similar argument is how to be a superpower across the globe. Do we invade countries and seek control in order to keep people from doing harm to themselves (in our perspective)? It’s a weighty and complex question on which well-intended people can disagree and argue harshly.
I LOVE the idea of having this level of discourse in the midst of a superhero movie.
But it turns out that The Codex is nothing but a red herring of the worst kind. Not only that, it’s barely discussed in any real way.
Worse, the closest thing to discourse is the argument of these two A-types, one of whom is “just following (genetically encoded) orders” and the other of whom is so arrogant that he thinks that the sun will (literally, kinda) shine out of his son’s ass to the degree that only good is likely to come of him being in control of the future of Krypton. Both are, pretty much, egomaniacal assholes. Neither suggests trust in anyone other than themselves or, in Jor-El’s case, their spawn.
But back to my point… in terms of my critical eye, the movie quite aggressively tells me, as it does every audience member, that this matters. A lot.
The second big issue that it focuses on with Superman-like vision is “What will people do when they find out an alien lives amongst them?”
Again… I didn’t turn this into an issue when it was a minor one in the film. It is relentlessly chewed on by His Two Dads. But instead of having a second act in which the issue is fully explored—which, admittedly, is a more traditional approach—it just skips any confrontation on this issue at all. The closest thing to a representation of humankind’s response is the military’s response and Lois Lane’s… which is a military response and a journalistic response which do not remotely represent regular people. And again, Dad, this time Pa Kent, is a classic, “Your mom and I can know and we love you anyway and aren’t afraid of you… but those people out there… they aren’t ready.” Patronizing, arrogant asshole. I guess he redeems himself by being willing to die for his stupidity, but he gives no real thought to how the loss will effect his son or wife, does he?
There is a lot of other stuff, as people argue about who knows what about Superman. Come on. Is this a movie that cuts to stuff around the planet repeatedly? Yes. Is it unfair for a critic to notice that the only voice in this world crisis is American? No. The destruction of Metropolis. Fine in a movie that is as happily goofy as Avengers. Not so okay as a “matter of fact” here… because the movie keeps claiming to be more thoughtful than that.
There are a million “wrong” things that I can happily swim past while watching a movie… If the movie tells me that is what it wants me to do. You couldn’t watch a James Bond film, certainly before Daniel Craig but even now, without giving up on disbelief. Sussing out “real” is not the critic’s job (except in some documentary criticism). The job, in my opinion, is to judge within context. And even then, in most cases, honorable people can disagree.
A movie like Iron Man 3 asks the audience to take it seriously only in the context of the personal story of Tony Stark. And that is why, in the 3rd act, when it becomes a CG show, it is a bit disappointing. But my standards for that film and Man of Steel was a different as the films themselves. This Is The End is NOT reality… not close. But what I love about it is the way it plays with the meta-reality of these famous actors. It’s not true, but it’s smart.
So that is what I have to say about that. Thanks for your time.