The Hot Blog Archive for March, 2014
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.
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.
Noah is likely to crack the Top 5 for opening weekends of 2014 so far… but not only is it early in the year, but Paramount has long known that the story of this film will not be told in the US, but overseas. This film has a legitimate shot at $100 million domestic, but it could also break Aronofsky’s worldwide best – $330 million – in foreign alone. Even if it doesn’t manage that number internationally, it will surely become his biggest worldwide.
Divergent has a solid drop considering the number last Friday. Going into its 2nd weekend, it is falling a little further off the pace of Twilight than it was last weekend. Looking like it will land in the mid-140m area domestically. The series will go on, though budget will be a big issue unless international shows up more strongly than domestic.
The Muppets Most Wanted story isn’t getting much better. It’s a reasonable drop, but certainly no indication that there will be especially long legs on this frog. Disney has done two very different kinds of Muppet films in the last few years. But they still haven’t found the trick that will turn it into a $100m+ domestic franchise. Maybe an action movie with Kermit America, Iron Piggy, Fozz, and Gonzo Widow will be the next attempt.
Fox Searchlight is the place you want to be if you have a movie with “Hotel” in the title. The expansion of The Grand Budapest Hotel continues, looking not dissimilar to the expansion route of The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. (The Marigold sequel just wrapped last week, btw.) Marigold went 25, 78, 354, 1233. Budapest has gone 4, 66, 304, 977. Budapest is ahead going into the over-350 screen expansion weekend… but the number for the expansion weekend (Marigold did $6.4m) looks pretty similar. Budapest will probably be $500kor so higher. Will this weekend be the peak for Budapest? Who knows? I suspect that Searchlight will have one more expansion of a few hundred screens and see what happens. But Wes Anderson’s $52.4m domestic best gross (Tennenbaums) is still the target… so another expansion with some success will be needed to get there. Otherwise, Budapest will likely land in Anderson’s #2 or #3 spot, just behind or just passing Moonrise Kingdom‘s $45.5 million.
God’s Not Dead held well… but so what? Noah passes its 2-week cume today. The film is a great success in the micro view… for the filmmakers and for Freestyle. But on the big radar, nothing but a blip.
Sabotage didn’t happen. After being on the upswing through 3 films, David Ayer is taking a box office step backwards. A big one. I can’t speak to Open Road’s spend, but my impression was that there wasn’t a lot of money and the only message was, come see Arnold… which obviously didn’t blow the theater doors off. This is Ah-nuld’s 3rd film back from being The Governator and he hasn’t opened to $10 million yet. If he plans on continuing, he probably needs to find a better strategy… as he did when he shifted to comedies.
300: Rise of an Empire will hit $100m domestic tomorrow or Monday. But it’s done about double domestic overseas, which makes it a borderline success. Of course, the numbers match up pretty closely with the first rebooted Clash of The Titans, which then had a 50% jump in international for the sequel. So don’t be surprised to find WB ramp up another 300 movie, even if this one closes out with 50% less in worldwide gross than Zack Snyder’s original. Sometimes it works… sometimes it doesn’t. But in a franchise-mad moment in movie history, the temptation is often too strong to say, “no, thanks” when they should.
Let us be sad for Cesar Chavez.
The Raid 2: Berandal is open on 7 screens. Last time, Sony Classics started on 14. So the per-screen will be significantly better this time and the gross will be about 35% lower. Strategy. But i like this sequel to do better than the original, though not to break out massively. Maybe $6 million domestic? Still a really good number for a movie that is very much a masterwork of its genre.
The Rock said it best. He said it by mistake, but still said it best. He called CinemaCom, “ComicCon.”
You see, like ComicCon, there are now two CinemaCons going on at the same time. There is the event for the geeks (in this case, theater owners) and the event for the media. The media skips the geek stuff… for instance, the convention trade floor. This year, the convention floor was pretty illuminating.
The big push on the floor this year was different. Less a fresh coat of paint on the familiar and more pushing to the next generation of equipment. Theater seats are not all about cupholders anymore. The seats that were on the floor were cutting-edge seats with electric reclining mechanisms, electric footrests, and most popularly, the “4-D” experience. There were at least 5 different competing seat companies selling moving seats to add another dimension to the theatrical experience. Will it catch on? I personally hope not. But it is being pushed hard.
The most aggressive sales pitch was for new projectors and lamps for them. The new push is for laser, which increases the light throw to the screen, which improves the 3D experience.
And back in the Caesar’s Palace Colosseum Theater, the push was for – taa dah! – the 3D agenda, as 3D and the associated revenues are clearly dropping off here in the US. Will making 3D better help? Will cool chairs that add a 4th D help?
The Colosseum is also where the big Studio shows are. This is a big change from the past. In the first 30something years of the event, the drill was to have lunch and dinner for 1,500 or so of NATO’s closest friends in a massive ballroom. Then, there was a big dais and 3 or 4 large screens hung around the room. The host of each meal was a studio. And after saying “hello,” guests would eat lunch while watching some combination of executives and talent before an after-meal presentation of the studio reel.
There would be occasional off-site events scheduled, either in other theaters on the strip or off (indies presented at The Rio for a few years) or tents or in the case of DreamWorks one year, a massive videogame emporium.
I harbor great memories of both kinds of venues over the years. Disney’s presentation of The Lion King, followed by a live show not unlike what would become the Broadway version of the film, up and down the aisles of the theater, may be my most memorable experience in the history of the event. It was followed by a massive party in a tent, where there were many live animals around, including some with which you could get your picture taken.
Almost as memorable, the wrong way, was Fox’s Anastasia skating rink fiasco a few years later. But that wasn’t nearly as shocking to conventiongoers as New Line’s school lunch gambit in the same year, as they pushed out Austin Powers: International Man Of Mystery.
Anyway… scratch all that. This year, every studio presented at the 11-year-old, $95 million theater, The Colosseum, whose day job is as the venue for Celine Dion, Cher, Elton John, etc, but at CinemaCon becomes a big movie theater with Dolby Atmos sound. The maximum seating is 4,100, though most CinemaCon events seem to accommodate about half that number.
The advent of the theater setting changed the tone considerably. While some studios still choose to bring in a lot of filmmaking talent, that is no longer the big show. Getting the maximum number of actors and known directors to show up was the standard by which studio events used to be judged. No longer. Now it really is a clip show. This year, for instance, Universal did a morning clip show with talent and then rolled out a showing of Neighbors, which the studio also showed at SXSW a few weeks ago. The big talk of the morning reel was Angelina Jolie presenting some footage from her second film as a director, the Christmas release, Unbroken (which has had The Coen Bros, Richard LaGravenese, and William Nicholson as screenwriters along the way). But they also rolled out footage from A Million Ways To Die In The West, Fast & Furious 7, Fifty Shades of Grey, Dumb and Dumber To, and Lucy without any talent showing up to push the ball uphill.
Paramount offered up The Rock (Hercules) and Mark Wahlberg (Transformers: Age of Ultr… uh, Extinction)… but no Michael Bay – responsible for 3 of their next 7 releases – and no new footage of note, as the Transformers 4 scene they showed has (mostly) been seen before. They did have a Christopher Nolan event scheduled for Wednesday, sponsored by The Hollywood Reporter… where he said almost nothing.
Warner Bros rolled out Clint Eastwood, Johnny Depp, Morgan Freeman, Drew Barrymore, Adam Sandler, Melissa McCarthy, Channing Tatum, and Mila Kunis… which was the biggest star show, but only a fraction of the talent roll-out they used to do every single year at ShoWest. No Tom Cruise, no Emily Blunt, no Aaron Johnson, Elizabeth Olsen. or Bryan Cranston. Extended footage of Jersey Boys, which is opening in June.
Disney did a pitch, though with almost nothing but new trailers or tiny clips of footage and a screening of May 16 release, Million Dollar Arm, along with an appearance by its lead, Jon Hamm.
Sony went talentless, though they showed slightly more footage than the others, but most centrally, 30 minutes of The Amazing Spider-Man 2, which had already been shown to geek press a couple weeks ago.
So to sum up… CinemaCon offered – with the distinct exception of the material from Unbroken – footage that will roll out and movies that will land in theaters within the next 60 days. Most of the new trailers are already online.
Not that there’s anything wrong with that… But the event, which used to be a place that really rolled out the next year of movies in a comprehensive way, with a certain flair, is not what it was. It is a well-conceived, well put-together event. But it does seem to be another event that has been eaten by the media’s now unquenchable need for more material. So the experience has been cleaned up… significantly.
Another event that has limited interest for much of the press that now attends this “new footage event” is the NATO/MPAA State of The Industry press availability. Even the press that was there really didn’t have many questions to throw at NATO topper John Fithian and MPAA topper Christopher Dodd. There were a couple questions each from the two classic trade magazines, a few from 3 international outlets, and me mouthing off. But when I used to come to this event annually, back in the Valenti era, mouthing off was the norm… we in the media with an interest in how the giant cash machine that keeps the entertainment flowing was working had a conversation with the key reps of the two leading organizations of the theaters and the studios. Any issue could come up, from very detailed discussion of revenues to the ratings system and so on.
This gathering felt like a bunch of people waiting to reprint the details of the annual MPAA survey… just as soon as the digital version was made available. The only story that came out of it was a situation that John Fithian dropped, probably out of boredom, in answering a follow-up by Sperling Reich to a question I had asked for a second time, still seeking a real answer. That item was the testing of a weekly national movie discount day. And suddenly, a few more questions… trying to get Fithian to give details he made very clear he was not yet in a position to release. Why didn’t I like that? Because it was like they were trying to badger or trick him into blurting out a detail for their amusement rather than seriously consider what was already in front of them.
It’s not that I love the old days so much. It’s that we, as the entertainment media, are now somehow in the business of reporting marketing as news and not seeing much value in the news and what it means. I’m not accusing every reporter of this. Not the case. But so much time and energy is spent on the goose chase that I just read much considered news anymore. Not from the new kids. Not from the veterans. We’ve all become so agendized that really thinking is a distraction. And there was something more thoughtful about the way it used to be… because there wasn’t the fear of having to control every strand every minute… because it wasn’t just all a publicity play… it was a community.
And so it goes…
I am on Team Aronofsky. I like where he goes. He is daring, thoughtful, passionate, and very smart.
But watching Noah was painful for me. It was the first time an Aronofsky film, for me, completely failed to connect story and artistic aesthetic ambitions. First of all, a number of the more interesting ideas were just plain in a different movie than the rest of the film. But in something I have never thought Aronofsky capable, you can see story-structuring devices from miles away.
I was fine with the establishment of where we were in the Bible story. But shortly after we get to adult Noah (played earnestly by Russell Crowe), his first encounter with “bad guys” has him taking out three of them with a bo staff like he was in a Bruce Lee movie. I am happy to go with the movie on the idea that he’s a tough guy, but good gosh a mighty, are we really expected to be invested in a raw, intimate, more human version of the Noah tale when he’s kicking ass?
Aronofsky, as a writer, seems a bit trapped into a corner with the idea that if “the city dwellers” – who represent the expanding evil of Cain that is forcing God’s hand to destroy mankind – meet with Noah’s small group, the inevitable result will be the murder or attempted murder (and rape, etc) of Noah’s vegetarian God-obeyers. So we never really get to spend more time than it takes to be a threat with the “city dwellers.” Or maybe there is another explanation for a basic lack of establishing the story of the people who are going to be wiped from God’s earth. There is a lot of talk. A lot. And very little insight into the world Noah and his family are leaving.
This turns every effort to discuss angles off of the main story into near-comedic cliches. The eldest son, who looks like TV Jesus, has almost nothing to do in the film, and gets to empty his seed into a barren hot chick who joined the family on the run when she was of a single-digit age.
The middle son, Ham, realizes that once Noah decides that bringing him a bride to the ark from “the city” isn’t going to work out, every day on the boat is going to be palm Sunday0. And he is so unhappy that he is driven to unspeakable evil acts threatening his entire family. (It’s kind of the anti-Spiderman, where Peter, after one too many lectures, sets up Uncle Ben to be killed and Aunt Mae to be raped by the thief he stopped from robbing the wrestling arena.)
Where is the story – that seems pretty real to me – that the younger son is jealous of his older brother, who got the girl they grew up with and has left him with no one to love/have sex with? There even seems to be a string from that when she – Ila, played by Emma Watson – is the one to go chase Ham down when he runs away from Ark. (Of course, that’s really a set-up to get Ila alone with Methuselah so an oblique threat from earlier in the film can be paid off… even if it never quite pays off beyond the magic trick of making her fertile.) But before we get into “that’s the movie YOU wanted, David,” it doesn’t have to be that story for me to feel better about the film… not the point. The point is, any layer of that kind of reality is missing.
So Ham, who Ila does not catch up with, goes to “the city” himself, putting himself and potentially his family in jeopardy, and then has the most horrible meet cute I think I have ever seen in any movie… in a pit of wrapped corpses. He falls in. She is already there, kinda hiding. He gives her food. She decides to trust him enough to eat it. And then he says something to the effect of, “I’ll just hang around here with you for a little while… if that’s okay with you.” Leap to them running back to the ark together, slightly ahead of the rain-turning-to-flood and the massive crowd of “city people” who are anxious to steal the ark… and she gets caught in an animal trap that was left behind in early Act Two. Noah, running the wrong direction, towards the city, endangering the entire mission God has sent him on, finds them and forces his son to come back to the ark, leaving the girl in the trap.
It is completely clear in the film that if they tried for another moment to save the girl that the ark would be overrun by “city dwellers” and the entire family would be murdered or worse. But the brooding teen is so upset about losing his conquest – whom he had met minutes earlier – that he gets a chip on his shoulder big enough to murder his own father and, in doing so, likely seeing his entire family killed or enslaved.
Maybe there is something interesting in there, in spite of all the Irwin Allen-level drama. Is Ham having doubts in God or his father? In the movie, as it is, his father. God is not really an issue. In fact, no one but Noah has a significant relationship with the deity. They are all following a man, not God. Another big problem. No one else has any well formulated ideas about God? Really?
Personally, in spite of having been brought up around Jewish Orthodoxy, I have no problem with artists being “unfaithful” to the text. I went into the theater wanting to embrace whatever points Darren was interested in making. I wasn’t there to take notes about what changes from traditional notions he had made or what “problematic” subtexts there were.
Having seen the film, I think the nitpickers are off their rockers. There is nothing anti-religious in the film… at least that I picked up on. Is it really an environmental or pro-vegetarian screed? I wouldn’t go that far. Noah believes that humans do not need to eat other living creatures. So his family is vegetarian. Not exactly a diatribe. When animals are eaten by “the bad guys,” it’s always something disgusting, whether it’s a living lizard or human flesh nearly right off of the bone. But I didn’t feel like the film was telling me that enjoying a t-bone was going to lead to me eating my neighbors. And as environmentalism goes, if you don’t think nature is precious and powerful, you are an idiot. That doesn’t mean we can’t argue over whether environmentalism must always win over technology… but the movie doesn’t go there. If anything, God appears to be fracking to ramp up the waterworks for the flood.
I didn’t even mind the animals coming to the boat and Mrs. Noah having some sort of drug that makes them sleep for many, many months. I’m all about giving a film its premise. Why nitpick that?
But… not an interesting discussion of religious faith, at least for me. Not an interesting discussion of family dynamics placed over a background of a cataclysmic religious and earth-altering event.
And then you get to the many problems with basic storytelling. How do you get past the idea of Noah and his three sons, adopted daughter, and wife building this massive ark by themselves? They need help. And it comes from half-a-dozen (or so) fallen angels turned rock people. The story of these angels falling from grace by allowing Adam & Eve to fall from grace, then being encumbered by rocks and earth, was cool. But there were a couple big problems. First, we saw these characters – not necessarily from the same background – in The Hobbit. And they are kissing cousins of the live-action Transformers. Great actors voiced them… but there are not-as-great but equally high toned actors doing the voices in Transformers.
And once again, as with so much of the film, when push comes to shove, these characters become minor in the overall discussion of the film, basically appearing, 1. to be a threat, 2. to be an ally, 3. to tell their beautifully realized story of how they came to be, 4. to rationalize how all that work got done, though you barely see them working, and 5. to be bouncers for Noah and his family and in the process, to be redeemed. Two of those five purposes, I feel, were well fulfilled. But the others were overtly expositional to the point of distraction.
I, obviously, was not in meetings on this movie. But you can practically reconstruct key questions: Why don’t the bad guys attack while they are building the ark? How can Noah and his family possible hold them off? How can that small group build this giant ark? Once the bad guys decide to attack how can Noah & Co keep them off the ark?
So Darren & Co. came up with a supernatural answer… rock men who were fallen angels. But for me, these characters were so little a part of the story when they were not at the center of the action, fulfilling their movie duties, that they seemed like an ace that was pulled out of the back pocket on demand. Magic bullets.
Tough guys with problem pasts who end up sacrificing themselves in the third act for the good people to get away is as old a movie gimmick as there is. And I don’t blame Aronofsky for using them for that. But they need to have their moments of vulnerability/humanity in order to give their willingness to self-sacrifice some resonance. And those beats aren’t in the movie. In fact, once the first rock man is killed by the bad guys and comes back as an angel of light, the others seem pretty happy to sacrifice themselves in order to become angels again themselves… which emasculates the heroic moment of self-sacrifice.
And then there is the third act… which is where things get really messy.
Noah has decided – without any input from God – that man is meant to end as a species because God has caused the flood to happen with no childbearing women on the ark (thought Jennifer Connelly looks young enough and vitalenough to knock out another brood upon demand). But it turns out there is one childbearing woman on board. So Noah, who is now looking for a sign that he shouldn’t kill the baby, if it is female, threatens to kill his grandchild.
This was a big problem for me, in that the movie itself shows us Noah receiving signs to take action. There is no sign telling him that God intends to end the human species. And why is Noah requiring a “do not kill” sign instead of a “kill them” sign?
And this is a moment where Aronofsky and co-writer Ari Handel could have made a fabulously offensive statement about organized religion… organizations which – at least in my view – often use the word of God (let’s not argue that point) to extrapolate and set some very harsh and judgmental rules about living. But, no. It just gets woven into the film as storyline, a point from which other characters act and emote quite powerfully, but never question in any way the legitimacy of Noah’s declaration of his absolute alleged insight into God’s will.
But it gets worse. The villain of the piece – whose dialogue sure sounds like it was written for Mickey Rourke – somehow manages to get to the side of the ark with a crushed leg, cut his way into the side of the ark, survive, and then seduce an angry Ham to keep his existence secret for 8-9 months as he plots the death of Noah (and as any smart person would surmise, the subjugation of the other good people – all of Ham’s family – on the ark).
Then, 8 or 9 months later, a boat appears in a kind of in-ark launching dock that you would see on a cruise ship or luxury boat over 50′, so that the eldest, most pretty son and his very pregnant wife can leave, so their child will not be murdered by its grandfather. How that happened without Noah already discussing it/fighting about it in great depth is unclear. And the dock itself is a little bizarre. As is the boat. But putting that aside…
Everything just happens to come to a head on that one day in the third act… villain healthy enough to fight… pregnant woman and husband ready to leave with no hopes of finding land… then the burning of the getaway boat by Noah (oy)… then the fight with the bad guy… then the boat hits a rock, which suggests that they are near land, even though the bird just came back without finding land… followed by the birth of the TWINS!… followed by Noah heading towards them to murder them in the name of God even though God never told him directly to do so (unlike Abraham… whose phone line was clear enough to not only get the call to sacrifice his son, but to call it off last minute)… followed by Noah deciding he can’t do what he has held over his family’s head for 8 or 9 months…
I have to spend some real time trying to think if there are any movies I think are good that have that many events that have been percolating over that long a period come together at the same moment in the third act.
And the problem for Noah is not only the number of things that come together at the same moment, but that in handling the story that way excludes the opportunity to really consider the issues that are at hand. I know that the goal of a dramatist is to show, not explain, but it’s The Bible, darn it!
The world is coming to an end for all of humanity… except for 6 people. This is a rather enormous idea. And for me, Noah never really engages the issues.
And if you want to argue that it’s a movie about one man’s experience, from the title, down through the film, I don’t think the film succeeds on that level either. In part, it’s because there is no real conflict built into his personal drama… meaning that no one in the film ever challenges his faith and the decisions that spring from it on a level above a personal, selfish one.
There is a great moment in the film – one of a number of them – when Noah realizes his own self-interest and the self-interest of each of his family members… that they are not above those who will die, just in a different situation. That is the kind of insight missing from the vast majority of the movie.
Instead, we get cartoons. We get one-note bad guys, an unrealistically rageful teen (who also goes off on his own in the end… when there is no one and no place to go… which may be in the bible, but never referenced), rock angels, eating the head off live things, cannibalism, glowing snake skin.
I cannot say that I have the answer in my imagination of how to make Noah a great, compelling, thoughtful movie for adults. And I am sure that Darren thought he did or he wouldn’t have made it.
Maybe there is a better movie that we aren’t getting to see. I guess that’s possible. The difference of the release version of Kingdom on Heaven vs the Director’s Cut is remarkable with just a few extra minutes offering all kinds of layering that the release version seemed to be lacking.
But Noah lost me early and kept kicking dirt on itself for me. Nothing was quite a shocking to me as the meet-cute in the pit of corpses. I mean… God.
I was hoping for some good blasphemy. I would have settled for a straight pitch with some beautiful images (which this film like all Aronofsky’s has). But I almost never felt challenged… which is shocking for a filmmaker who had challenged us in film after film to keep up with where he was running at full steam.
Every time he repeated the snake coming out of his skin, jumpcut to: the apple/pomegranate writhing, all I could think of was another jump cut to Roy Scheider looking in the mirror opening his jazz hands and saying, “It’s showtime, folks.”
Divergent is fine. Will its stars build a much bigger audience than there seems to be for this first film? That is the question Summitsgate is asking itself this weekend. The answer is, “probably not.” So look for tight spending on the 2nd film and a wait & see attitude. But there is plenty of gas in this tank to make all three movies… maybe not enough to stretch #3 in to #3 and #4.
Muppets Most Wanted is the kind of product you tend to get from a studio that is no longer in the business of making movies or selling anything that isn’t a franchise picture. And Disney isn’t. Wrong cast for the purpose of selling a movie, wrong marketing, wrong publicity, really wrong date. A mess. I don’t know whether the movie is good or not… didn’t go. (And being a big Muppets fan, that choice by this individual was probably a bad sign for the film’s opening.) But the perceived quality of the film isn’t relevant to opening weekend box office. And I haven’t heard anything to suggest that it was a “must avoid” on any level.
Disney had a modest success with The Muppets and decided to go another direction this time out. I get that. Jason Segal singing is nothing something that sells Gonzo dolls at the theme park. But they cast the movie with two incredibly talented former hosts of The Golden Globes who are TV stars and not movie openers (to date) and the incredibly talented Ty Burell, adult star of Modern Family… which continued some of the Segal movie tone. But they made a more traditional Muppet movie, the design of which was to mix the biggest stars with Muppets, creating a built-in irony and a great twist when the combination brought real emotion. Orson Welles was the shocker in The Muppet Movie. But they also had Bob Hope, Milton Berle, James Coburn, Steve Martin, Richard Pryor, Madeline Kahn… a murderer’s row of hot and venerated talent from that time (1979). The current version would have Charlize Theron and Sandra Bullock (both mothers of young kids) fighting over the frog, Matthew McConaughey hanging with the band, Lena Dunham talking Piggy’s ear off, and Robert Downey Jr as the bad guy. That movie this was clearly not.
Anyway… throwing this film up against Divergent, knocking most of the girls out of considering buying a ticket this weekend, and publicity like Ms. Piggy mixing cocktails on that Bravo talk show… I mean, really funny idea, but not good publicity for the film they made.
God’s Not Dead. Well, he certainly can draw a crowd. Remember a few of weekends ago when a $25.6 million opening for Son of God was “disappointing?” No one was paying attention to GND this weekend, so its a positive surprise at 1/3 of SoG’s opening gross. And so it goes…
The Grand Budapest Hotel and Bad Words are the two strong screen expanders this weekend. With $22.2k per on 304 screens, Budapest is pretty much going according to best hopes. With $5747 on each of 87 screens, Bad Words is likely in a fight to get to $10m domestic. The hope is always in word-of-mouth in these expansion plays… so time will tell.
The Monuments Men was not an Oscar movie… but it is not only Clooney’s biggest success as a director, it looks to nearly double both the domestic and international gross of any other film he has directed. Notably, it will outgross 12 Years A Slave domestically… which says something about something. (It will do significantly less than 12 Years internationally, which, especially given the not-so-keen-on-Blacks-in-cinema realities of international box office, says something else about something else.)
Speaking of 12 Years A Slave, it is having, by far, the biggest post-Oscar “bump,” but the bump will only be about $6 million domestically. The number is similar to Argo… but Argo was already on DVD when it won Best Picture. The King’s Speech, The Artist, Slumdog Milionaire, and non-winner Silver Linings Playbook all had significant post-Oscar bumps in recent years. Notably, three of those were Weinstein movies and the release patterns were designed to accelerate off of Oscar. Slumdog was a great entertainment that seems to have needed to be legitimized by Oscar (including one of the most memorable and infectious music appearances on the Oscar telecast in years) to find a more mainstream audience. 12 Years grossed more than Artist and less than King’s Speech… so make of all of this what you will. I take the perspective that Americans treated 12 Years almost like a foreign film and certainly not as an entertainment with which they wanted to go out and celebrate. And that is probably as it should be, really.
Veronica Mars off 77%. Not a surprise. $3.5 million in theatrical (which they’ll probably get to) is about what you would expect from a VOD movie of this ilk.. a success, really.
Lars von Trier showed you his balls and no one much cared. Modest response to endless media hype for Nymphomaniac. The sad part of the indie weekend is that the completely enchanting, commercially viable The Lunchbox is doing well, but really hasn’t gotten the kind of media love it deserves, helping push it along to even higher numbers.
Not a very interesting weekend. Divergent is looking like $50m minimum, but likely more like $60m. Feels like old news already.
Muppets Most Wanted, after a lot of publicity and a good amount of marketing $s spent, starts flat with every girl over 7 having other plans this weekend. Not only is a weak Friday, but if you look back at The Muppets, which opened on a Wednesday ($6.5m), dipped a little on Thursday ($5.8m), before a strong Friday ($12.1m)… all of which are better days that this new film’s opening day. And keep in mind, in the end, The Muppets only did $88.6 million domestic.
Why on God’s green earth did Disney open a movie looking for a family audience against Divergent, which was guaranteed to take out a significant segment of their demo? Moreover, why didn’t Open Road open the David Ayers movie (read: hard R) against the youth-skewing, female skewing, mega-movie, giving the testosteroned members of the family somewhere to hide at the multiplex?
None of the holdovers had a happy Friday against the new champ, with a drop off 42% being the best they could muster in the Top 10… except for The Grand Budapest Hotel, which expanded by 460% screens and added 70% at the box office. Actually, those stats are quite good. They represent a different strategy by Steve Gilula on this Wes Anderson release, faster than Moonrise Kingdom (4 weeks before expanding to 385 screens), but not as fast as Fantastic Mr. Fox (from 4 screens to over 2,000 in the 3rd week)… and has Grand Budapest running stronger than either film. It will be another month or so before we really know where Budapest will land amongst the Anderson titles. There is a big chasm in Wes Anderson films between $25 million and $45 million (two above 45, the rest below 25). It took 10 full weeks for Moonrise to get to $40 million. It looks like Budapest will be in the higher group, but only time will really tell.
Meanwhile, for all the hand (it is hand, right?) wringing by critics over Nymphomaniac Volume 1, the film is opening on more screens than Melancholia and threatens to do half the opening weekend gross, pretty much guaranteed to do less than half by per-screen measure. Two factors in my view here. First, the VOD Ceiling continues to neuter indie theatrical. Second, it’s a dirty movie and those films rarely do strong theatrical business here. All that said, Nymph1 will open stronger than Blue Is The Warmest Color, which was widely regarded with great esteem, except in the New York Times, which campaigned against the film with multiple stories before the actual rave review by AO Scott that ran on opening weekend. Nymph1 has not been attacked or as strongly praised, by the New York Times or anywhere else. It has gotten a few raves and a few attacks, but mostly soft slightly-positive shrugs. But even if the film doubles Blue Is The Warmest Color‘s numbers, still meh… though that would still be better than Melancholia‘s eventual domestic total of $3 million.
Brutal 3-day for Need For Speed. 2.7x Friday is not good and suggests that as weak as the launch was, it represented much of the demand for the film that existed in the marketplace.
Also frontloaded was Veronica Mars, which is in no way a real Warner Bros motion pictures release. It’s a Home Entertainment stunt. And $6,873 per-screen for that, with a tiny marketing spend, is okay. It’s not a game-changer, but it’s pretty good for the VOD-in-theatrical market these days. But after a $1 million estimate on Friday, a $2m for the total weekend is a little disappointing. This film has the same problem as most VOD product… it’s a very limited market and there isn’t going to be a marketing spend to break it beyond the core audience. This will be a profitable venture, especially with production costs largely covered by the fans. But no real news here.
I got into Tyler Perry’s The Single Mom’s Club yesterday. Not a lot more to say. Worst TP opening ever. Series to come on OWN.
The Grand Budapest Hotel has another strong weekend in limited. $55m domestic, $80m worldwide, here we come!!! The good news about that, joking aside, is that it will keep an auteur working without many constraints, within a reasonable budget size. Hooray for good movies and great, ambitious filmmakers.
12 Years A Slave hits $55m domestic and $160m worldwide.
Need For Speed doesn’t feel like a videogame movie. It feels like a very expensive Roger Corman movie. And that could have been great fun. But it’s only modest fun. And that’s why $20 million, while possible, is not a sure bet this weekend. Could the film have been a savior for DreamWorks? Not really. It would have had to have been a $600 million movie for it to really impact the studio’s long-term prospects.
I’m writing a piece on DreamWorks, so I will get into the machinations of it all there, but Need For Speed will likely become a historic landmark for the company as unfairly as The Peacemaker was. The limited number of films being made by DreamWorks makes NFS seem like a tipping point when it is not… not at all. It’s been clear that DreamWorks would be out of Disney since over a year ago. And Reliance has not been as hands-off as originally promised. In fact, I think NFS is the first DW film with a Reliance logo in the opening credits.
The sad part, for me, is that I would have loved to have seen DreamWorks go out with a bang… a fun, director-driven joyride. Instead, for all the great stunts, the film is too serious for its own good and the director is just not very good at letting the camera work for him when he is shooting actors, not cars. So the film sinks to the bottom of the sea… along with, it would seem, the company.
Tyler Perry has had a worse Friday. The problem is, Tyler Perry’s Daddy’s Little Girls opened on that Wednesday. So the Tyler Perry base had already poured $5.7 million into the till before a Friday gross of $3 million. Tyler Perry’s The Single Mom’s Club opened yesterday to just $3.2 million, so the film is $5.5 million behind going into Sat/Sun. And it may rebound a bit today. It could be a $10m weekend. Maybe even slightly above. But it will still be the worst Tyler Perry opening ever. And right after Lionsgate broke up with him.
There are two distinct Tyler Perry businesses. One has him in drag. No Madea film has ever grossed less than $52m domestic. Even the most recent one, Madea/Christmas, got there after what seemed to be a very slow start. But when he takes off the boobs, it’s a little hit-and-miss. He’s had 3 non-Madea films do over $50m (Why Married & its sequel, Marriage Counselor, and I Can Do Bad) and 5 do under $38 million. In the middle is 1 film, Meet The Browns, which did $42m. I would argue that the $15 million or so between the “hits” and the “misses” (Perry’s consistency, even with this, is pretty stunning) is where the profits are for Lionsgate. Perry’s deal is so much to his advantage – which he has earned – that the low-end movies can’t make much, if anything, for the studio. And the high-end movies have a glass ceiling under $100 million, particularly because there is no theatrical audience overseas for Perry’s films. Add to that Tyler being the 3000-pound bull in the room with each film’s release, wanting Lionsgate to try to cross him over more, wanting bigger marketing spends, expecting to have Oprah status… and it’s not a sensational business for a company that now – with the marriage to Summit – sees itself as a franchise machine.
The problem for Perry, in finding the next home, is to find a place with deep enough pockets and a copacetic marketing department that understand the “urban” market as well as Lionsgate does. If I were Relativity, still struggling to find some consistency in the domestic market, I would be all over this… even though the company has always been a foreign-money-first company. The new Focus is aiming higher, but would not be poorly served by a few years of consistent home cooking. The personalities at Screen Gems don’t suggest them as a landing place… but possible. Of course, the key to any of these deals is Perry. If he is trying to get out of the dress, he has a lot less leverage… and this new release doesn’t help. If he comes in expected to be treated as though he was still as hot as he was for a little bit, he will have to rethink it. And if he is really leaving LA forever, he can just fund his films himself and get a good marketing company like Roadside or maybe even Fox (where Marc Weinstock, who had a lot of success with Screen Gems is now) to do his bidding with a straight output deal.
It will be interesting.
Also opening… Veronica Mars, which managed about a .14 rating in the 18-49 demo and will probably do about a .45 rating in the Live +2 numbers by the end of the weekend. Translated out of television ratings-ese, a little over 100,000 people saw the film yesterday and somewhere between 250,000 and 350,000 people will see it by the end of the weekend. This might lead to as much as a $10 million domestic gross for the film. VOD has a good chance of matching that gross. And then there will be foreign TV sales. So this film could be quite profitable for the filmmakers and the division of WB that owns a big chunk of it, Warner Bros Home Video. One of the reasons that there is virtually no chance of anyone under 25 or over 50 will see this film in a theater – or any other pay-per-viewing situation – is that WB has spent almost nothing on marketing. They’ve done a lot of publicity, which has succeeded in letting the core viewership know that the film is now in theaters. But that’s about it. If you are not pre-sold, no one is really trying to sell you.
The big opening in the exclusive market is Bad Words, the Jason Bateman as writer/director/star vehicle that actually has a strong shot with adult audiences, given the rest of the new product coming into the marketplace. $18k per-screen on 6 is a sign of reasonable interest in NY and LA. But the word-of-mouth from those 10,000 people will have to work awfully hard to help the film break wider with limited marketing thrown at TV, etc.
I’m going to keep these brief, as that’s what the films deserve.
1. Need For Speed – Great idea. Fun to see live car stunts. Screenplay broods for too long. Villain is weak. Director doesn’t really know how to bring the character work that he is trying for to life on camera. Aaron Paul proves that he can be a leading man in films. Dominic Cooper, a really fine, underrated actor, is mostly wasted… doesn’t even get to do serious crazy. Imogen Poots is very likeable, but not unforgettable. And Dakota Johnson once again reminds us of how much sex appeal can be mustered in mere seconds… though makes her current magazine spread all the more shocking for how forgettable it is. But basically, a not-painful high-budget Corman film that isn’t nearly as fun as it should have been and seems like a massively wasted opportunity.
2. Bad Words – Jason Bateman is a funny guy. This is a funny movie. But it is clearly from a first-time director and the screenplay is missing a strong punch. Very comparable in quality to Don Jon, which was more profane on the face of it and lost track of the idea somewhere in the 2nd act. Like Need For Speed, the set-up is stronger than the punch. Also suggests promise for Bateman as a director. But this one is not a lost classic. It’s a movie you would be very happy to find in a weekend afternoon for a few laughs… on cable/satellite. (You won’t see it on Netflix because it’s a studio-distributed film and you wouldn’t be that thrilled to have paid for it on Amazon or iTunes.) Also has one the best “missing scenes over credits that failed to materialize” ever… Kathryn Hahn’s character’s performance in the church basement.
3. Le Week-end – I watched this movie on a plane… and watched it a second time. Really love the performances here. It’s a slow burn, but a smart burn. Can’t imagine anyone under 40 being able to watch more than 10 minutes of it. Jeff Goldblum, in a small role, is a perfect match with Hanif Kureishi’s dialogue… mesmerizing. I would pretty much watch Broadbent and Lindsey Duncan read phone books. This one, in terms of fit with other films, reminds me a lot of Muchael Tolkin’s The New Age… a movie I loved and have watched many, many times, but which virtually no one saw in theaters. It also connects, for me, to the Michael Lindsay-Hogg film, The Object of Beauty. This is the October-of-their-years entry, as compared the others’ late July. But all three are chatty, filled with great actors doing great work with smart dialogue and a sense of maturity in the films. I really can’t suggest that everyone reading this will like it, much less love it. Even I took a full act to warm to the film as it takes its time before showing itself. But I really look forward to seeing this again and again. Roger Michell is one of those directors whose work will be better remembered over time.
I have a couple legal copies of Frozen in my home… and I don’t even have a daughter. But this morning, Time magazine (basically stealing a story reported by TorrentFreak) featured a web-based program (not an “app” in the traditional sense, as it is not available on wireless platforms via Apple, Google or whomever) called Popcorn Time. I won’t link to it, but it isn’t hard to find. Still, I feel compelled to write about it, as it is an open-source, free program that simplifies the theft of filmed content for pretty much anyone.
And within 5 minutes of reading about this thing, via Time magazine, was illegally watching Frozen in perfect HD form.
The content… what is and isn’t there… is interesting. According to the TorrentFreak story, the feed to Popcorn Time is from a site called YTS and searching that site, it seems that the only 2014 movies are direct-to-dvd releases. In fact, it appears that everything there is already on DVD or about to go onto DVD. The post-theatrical market is the one being attacked in this case, not really theatrical.
American Hustle won’t be released on DVD until next week and it is available. But all the December movies from major studios that are torrents streaming on the website (give or take a week) are movies already out on DVD. No Wolf, no Philomena, no Her, amongst Oscar nominees. No Hobbit 2, no Walter Mitty, no Anchorman 2, no Lone Survivor, etc.
A little research turned up that the top source of early releases are leaks within DVD production houses, so the films available, it seems, are those within a few weeks of – or in – DVD release. Did the interest in films that were videotaped off movie theater screens, or “cams,” end? Did tracking mechanisms on theatrical prints end the practice?
Seeking answers, I put in a call to CreativeFuture, the new coalition of content-creating and distribution companies that has been tasked with finding solutions to piracy for the film/tv industry moving forward. The organization confirmed that films videotaped in movie theaters are still out there and an issue, but that the piracy universe is now dominated by post-theatrical theft. In other words, pristine quality, hi-def streaming that takes dollars out of DVD/Blu-ray sales & rentals, but also devalues ongoing deals with pay-TV, Netflix, and other ongoing post-theatrical revenue opportunities.
There is a notion that Popcorn Time, created by “Sebastian, a designer from Buenos Aires, Argentina” is only offering the highest quality torrents so that they can equate themselves with Netflix… a comparison that is made in every media story I have seen. In other words, even though the site is now free and claims that it always will be free and without advertising, they are behaving like an organization staking out a place at the table. According to the Digital Citizens Alliance, “content theft websites” took in $227 million in advertising last year. There’s a lot of money to be made on selling what other companies paid millions to create.
Is Popcorn Time the Napster of movies? Is this the beginning of the end for copyright respect?
I don’t think so. And anyone who has read me much knows that I believe the industry will move to a subscription-based, everything/everywhere/on-demand future within the next decade. I don’t see another way that it all works. Fifteen hundred dollars a year or so for access to pretty much everything in post-theatrical. Times 100 million households. That’s $150 billion a year in revenue, before theatrical, specialty variations at a price, and other ancillaries. How it gets spread around is the question that slows the whole evolution down.
But until that happens, there will be theft. Technology, slow lawmaking, international apathy, and human nature guarantee it.
It doesn’t make it right. It doesn’t make people who do it any less guilty of taking money out of the pockets not just of corporations they don’t care about, but working people they should care about. But we need to be conscious of reality on every side of this, not just whatever side best serves our personal interests.