The Hot Blog Archive for April, 2014

The Ends & The Means & The Price Of Our Comfort

I am completely comfortable with the end result of today’s NBA actions against Donald Sterling.

I am not comfortable at all with how we got here.

The more I listen to talk radio and television analysis and written arguments, the more uncomfortable I get.

If the logic is that no matter how we got here, we know that Donald Sterling has had racist, ugly thoughts and therefore, he is no longer worthy of due process, the door opens wide to all kinds of things that people do not feel so comfortable cheering about.

Have any of the other 29 NBA owners said racist or otherwise unquestionably offensive things in private? Should we be seeking out all history of this kind of behavior? If it turns out that TMZ or some other organization that seeks out personal gossip can find audio of a private conversation in which a team owner calls a woman “a cunt” or a person of Spanish-speaking heritage “a spic” or a jew “a kike” or a god-fearing person of Christian faith “a Jesus freak” or some similar offense, will they also get the life ban and $2.5 million maximum-allowed fine?

Because I would be willing to bet a significant amount that Donald Sterling was not the only billionaire over 70 who has called black people “niggers” or suggested that they didn’t want someone close to them to be seen socializing with them. People over 70 were adults when there were still Jim Crow laws. Many of the most liberal people I know still talk about “shvatzahs” or “them” or whatever when a black person (even one they know and like) is just out of earshot. They still are often visibly uncomfortable in the presence of hispanics, most severely when tattoos are involved. They still make jokes about Asians that could have been in a black & white Charlie Chan movie.

Do all of these people need to go away? Am I serving evil by not turning them in to the authorities?

Just a week or two ago, a young woman in her 20s who works for a friend made a joke about him not paying for something because “he’s a Jew.” She was, of course, saying this to a jew. Should I be insisting she be fired? Am I a self-hating jew for not doing so?

It’s really easy to applaud the NBA commissioner for putting Donald Sterling, to the degree to which he can, in his place today. It feels right.

And I won’t even hold up the mirror of what may be the real motivation – money – and hold it against the decision. There are clearly tens of millions in hypocrisy dollars in play here. That’s not really the point either.

The court of public opinion is unavoidable. And some bimbo – and if you are a pretty young lady of mixed race having sex with or trying to have sex with a married, unattractive, coarse, racially-insensitive billionaire twice your age or more, you qualify, except in very, very rare exceptions, as a bimbo – releasing a private tape of you being an asshole is not really so shocking in 2014… anymore than Barack Obama using the phrase “clinging to religion and guns” or Mitt Romney talking about “the 47 percent.” Was a law broken? I don’t know. Someday we may know. But “Caveat asshole” and all that.

The difference here is, unlike the Obama and Romney tapes… these ugly words were not spoken in public. Not even in a presumably controlled, but still public environment. Donald Sterling’s words were, clearly, presumed by Donald Sterling to be private… every bit as much as if he had asked his mistress to strap on a dildo, put it in his ass, and pretend she was Samuel L. Jackson, screaming lines at Pulp Fiction at him.

Are YOU proud of everything you have ever said or did in private?

I do not recall of a case in which there was nothing illegal done in which private speech turned into a hangman’s noose of sorts virtually overnight. In sports, the comparisons have been to Marge Schott and Jimmy The Greek. But Jimmy made his comment to a reporter and Schott’s comments were made public because of legal depositions for lawsuits. In this site’s line-up of their 25 most racist comments in sports, every one of them was made publicly.

Personally, I am a bit afraid of a culture in which a truly private utterance, however heinous, can cause such severe action by an institution so quickly.

Would there have been a walkout on tonight’s NBA games? Possibly. Was that the real reason for the draconian sentence coming down this afternoon? Probably.

Regardless, the NBA played judge, jury, and executioner, avoiding the power of the marketplace altogether. The NBA didn’t empower players to make a choice about how they should react to this issue. The NBA did not allow the public to act out on their opinion of this issue. The NBA embarrassed Donald Sterling, but they didn’t really hurt Donald Sterling. They summarily disappeared Donald Sterling. They swept the whole thing under the rug.

“Tell Yao Ming, ‘Ching chong yang, wah, ah soh.'”

“I will fight every nigger here.”

“The biggest thing I don’t like about New York are the foreigners. You can walk an entire block in Times Square and not hear anybody speaking English. Asians and Koreans and Vietnamese and Indians and Russians and Spanish people and everything up there. How the hell did they get in this country?”

“We don’t have any gay guys on the team. They gotta get up outta here if they do. Can’t be with that sweet stuff.”

What will happen the next time a Shaq or a Riley Cooper or a John Rocker or a Chris Culliver says these kinds of things? And these were all in public.

What about the next time there is a domestic battery charge against a player? (Again, a public event.)

I get it. The standard for Donald Sterling is based on him being The Man. Ya.

But now anything he has done for the benefit of people of color is all defined by this tape. He can’t possibly have been sincere in his donations to charitable organizations because he, as we have learned, doesn’t want his girl on the side to cuckold him at Clippers games with black men… especially Magic Johnson. So he must be the modern version of a slave owner, right?

I’m not saying he isn’t an asshole. We knew that from the wife and girlfriend combo platter. Personally, I think the most offensive element of the tape is that he spews out racial bias to his racially mixed “girlfriend.” What kind of man is that lacking in self-awareness or kindness, above and beyond the racism? I don’t know from this tape whether he sees black men as property, but he sure saw his “girlfriend” as such. But then again… she was probably bought and paid for, no?

Mark Cuban had it right. This is a slippery slope. And really, if it isn’t a slippery slope, the NBA and everyone rooting for its action should be ashamed of themselves. If this is the standard for the future, so be it. No one will shed tears for Donald Sterling here. He’s an ass. A really rich ass.

But if this is a one-off, simply meant to placate the players’ union and the media, it is an ugly and dangerous act.

Sadly, in today’s world of the temporary, I expect this to be a temporary act. And that’s the damned shame.

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We Hate Bundling: The Bullshit Meme Of This Decade?

Whoever came up with the concept that people hate bundled content was a genius… and insane.

I’m not sure the question of whom is rhetorical. It was someone who looked at their expensive bill for entertainment coming into their home and decided they wanted to whine about all those channels they don’t care about.

But that person… and a throng on the smartest media reporters on the planet… got sucked into an Alice in Wonderland tea party of absurdity, right up there with people hating Congress while always voting for their incumbent Congressmen.

In the entertainment universe, here is what audiences currently get on an a la carte basis: movies in theaters, post-release film and television they pay for on a per-episode basis or ultimately by seasons on DVD or download, live theater, live music, and… well, that’s pretty much it.

Everything else is in a bundle.

There is the most obvious “bundle”… the one on your TV. You get 250 channels and you watch, maybe, 50 of them more than once a year.

But if Netflix has 10,000 options of movies and tv shows and you watch no more than 200 of them in a year, how much different from cable/satellite is that? Or is it at all?

A broadcast network is a bundle. It bundles many varying ways of generating revenue – ads, affiliates, retransmission, streaming, post-broadcast sales, etc – into every TV show you watch so that it can afford to pay for every TV show you watch… and the ones you do not.

Currently, as far as I know, there are no circumstances in America where cable/satellite subscribers pay more to access any one of the 5 major Broadcast networks than they do ESPN alone… yet less than 30% of the public ever turns into ESPN and almost every subscriber tunes into the Broadcast nets weekly. Even with reduced dominance, the audience for any of the top 4 Broadcast nets is much greater than any cable net.

And yet, the Broadcast nets are paid less in retransmission fees than some “free” cable outlets or the pay outlets. There is a fairness to this because the history of broadcast is that America owns its airwaves and has “given” them to the broadcast nets in return for the public service that TV used to be. I get that. And I am not saying that the Broadcast networks have an inalienable right to the airwaves. The validity of this agreement between the government, the people, and the broadcast nets should be debated in depth. It may be time for the laws to change in this regard.

However, airwave bandwidth is a complicated and not very sexy issue. It’s not directly perceived by the public as a consumer issue… though it is one. It’s easier to focus on The Bundle.

It would also be reasonable to keep in mind that as the media licks Netflix like the last pork chop on earth, Netflix pays for the creation of less than 100 hours of original content a year. The Big Five Broadcast networks generally each broadcast over 30 hours a week of television, somewhere around 1000 hours of new content every year… each. Let’s say the Broadcast nets deliver 3500 hours of newly created programming every year… more than 35x what Netflix does. And the annual retransmission fees for the 5 Broadcast networks combined are about half of what Netflix charges its subscribers each year… and Broadcast is a villain.

Now… Broadcasters run ads. Netflix does not. Obviously. The models are different. The revenue streams are and should be different.

But the two things are not so different. How they get paid is different. How they are perceived is different. But in reality, Broadcast nets bundle together programming, some of which they simply acquire and some of which they create, and use many different ways of paying for it and making a profit. Netflix does the same. And cable/satellite networks do the same.

The paradigm shift for cable is competition. First, from satellite. And now, from streaming. But there is no revolution happening. How your TV is delivered is not something that many consumers care about. They want the picture to look good and the words to be audible. After that, it’s a competition – a relentless one – for which shows will garner the audience’s attention… same as it was when whomever was on against Uncle Miltie was trying to survive, back when there were 2 or 3 channels available, depending on where you lived.

Media and many consumers have already forgotten when satellite was introduced and there was no local TV available on it. If you wanted to be a satellite customer, you had to get your rabbit ears – or better – set up for yourself, to go along with your satellite access. Moreover, if you wanted local HD, you had to have 2 or 3 pieces of equipment. it was work. And it didn’t always work. And it was a pain in the ass.

When DirecTV started offering local channels, they charged $5 a month (as I recall) for access to those channels via your satellite. And people – millions of them – paid it happily for the convenience. Now, because of competition, DirecTV doesn’t charge for local TV access. But people are willing to pay for – and do pay for – all kinds of things that they don’t need, but make life more convenient.

Cable/satellite bundling is one of those things. You may not watch most of the channels you get. But someone does. Or someone requires them to be there as payment for something else. But all in all, the large group of channels creates an ecosystem that thrives and cannot with a significantly smaller audience. This is why Netflix is chasing 80 million+ subscribers… because it is the only way to make the economics work. And the only way to reach that broad a base is to have a lot of programming that only part of that audience wants.

There are a million tolls on the way to having your TV come to life with more than Broadcast television. And a great many connected to Broadcast television alone. It’s all well and good to simplify it. “Okay, now I’ve got a foot… now I want a yard for the same price.” And in many ways, bully for the consumer. Wanting and demanding can be a very effective tool in pushing forward.

But those of us who write about this industry – even some of those who position themselves as stock market analysts – have a responsibility to remember the complicated reality under the simple faced of “I want my MTV” or whatever outlets you want.

In the end, they are all bundling. They are all building programming packages to maximize interest – whether measured in viewership or paid subscriptions – and to do it to create the best financial return possible. There are few true heroes… few true villains.

Finally, people have stopped seriously considering what would happen to an entertainment universe that chases the a la carte dream.

You liked “Breaking Bad” or “Mad Men” or “The Walking Dead”? BZZT! None of these shows would have probably ever been made were it not for AMC embracing the idea that they had to find a differentiator to get audience for drama shows off of networks, pay or broadcast. Before these shows happened, AMC was American Movie Classics, and in an a la carte delivery world would have either been out of business or struggling so much that creating orginal shows would have been financially impossible.

You like “Nip/Tuck” or “Justified” or “Sons of Anarchy”? BZZT! FX exists because Fox had the power to force a new network into the game because of the value of the broadcast network.

Would “The Bible” have been on The History Channel? Would Bravo be the reality show network? Would there be any music television left on music television? Would Lifetime have still been there to steal “Project Runway: for its airwaves? Would we have “Pawn Everything” or “Angry Assholes: The Series”? All much less likely in an a la carte world.

To me, as primarily a movie business guy, the joke is that the same outlets that are wetting their pants over cord cutting have some other writer crowing about how horrible it is that the movie studio business has become so mega-movie oriented. Well, how the hell do you think that the movie studios became such big stakes gamblers? Because selling things a la carte is incredibly difficult, incredibly expensive, and incredibly risky. So – the thinking goes – why make small hits that have no chance of making a fortune when you can take these giant risks and even though the cost is steep when you lose, the wins are so big, it makes up for those losses… and if you have a hot streak, you get to be a golden god.

(No one point out, please, that New Line was shuttered after the Rings series ended or that almost no one who drove the Harry Potter bus is left at Warner Bros, etc, etc, etc)

There is another major paradigm shift or two coming to your TV and various portable devices, make no mistake. And the machine of the industry can be too slow for comfort. But the drive to cord cut… the delusion that bundling is exclusively the provenience of cable and satellite providers… that there is some world in which you can have as much or more access to content than you do now, but at 20% of the cost… is simply insane.

I can only speak for myself, but I don’t want to be the 21st Century equivalent of Burgess Meredith, the only person on earth, with all the books in the world at my disposal, only to see my glasses break.

Virtually everybody, when it comes down to it, wants new content and wants it on a consistent basis. That content needs to be paid for. It needs to be nurtured. It needs an opportunity to find the sunlight.

I don’t think the cable/satellite bundle of today will exist in a decade. I think it will be much more dense, much more consumer-friendly, with cross-over delivery platforms, and be no more than 20% more expensive. But if we burn the town to save the town, it won’t happen. It will force content into much more controlled circumstances. And entertainment will be oppressed by the very people who are so anxious to make it free. History tells us this is how things work out.

The irony is, I think the people most actively pushing the “bundle slave rebellion” are the people who are most comfortable… the ones who can most afford to access whatever they want whenever they want it. They can afford not to think too far down the line. In in some cases, they can afford to steal all they want, so they value nothing. Strange bedfellows indeed.

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Weekend Estimates by The Other Klady Is For Real: The Late Posting Soldier

Weekend Estimates 2014-04-27 at 1.58.57 PM

Apologies for the tardy entry… was out strawberry picking with an Oscar nominee… not a euphemism…

The quick abandonment of The Other Woman (shouldn’t it be The Other Women?) would suggest that the only long legs likely for this film belong to the leads. On the other hand, as noted yesterday, there is nothing else there for women. Or maybe there is. Belle is actually quite exceptional as Jane Austen meets a more deeply layered context than usual. Neighbors features a couple really strong female characters… though the ads don’t seem anxious for you to know that. Heck, even Amazing Spider-Man offers up a woman who can keep up with the web-slinger in most ways. But while Belle should become the next Bridget Jones… but probably won’t until after theatrical, and Neighbors is very funny, but will not be seen as a girls’ night out film… women may feel compelled to check out the apparently not good (I haven’t seen it… but I have heard the same thing from everyone I know who has) The Other Woman, if for nothing else but the two much-liked actresses.

Disney made their last push for Captain America 2, throwing $20 million or so in 4th weekend TV spots at the last pre-Spidey weekend. And they got a 38% drop out of it, which is okay, if not cost-efficient. My guess is that Disney really wants the $700 million worldwide number and Cap had a little over $65 million to go, going in to this weekend.

Heaven remains for real for the filmmakers. The film seems sure now to push past both of the other small-scare God movies of this year and while Noah seems out of reach… if it’s God’s will…

The most interesting thing to me on Heaven Is For Real is that its Jewish producer, Joe Roth, who gets a ton of industry press when he stubs his toe, is not getting a ton for this hit. Moreover, the film ended up getting distributed by Sony, not by Roth’s current “home studio,” Disney… and it does seem that Screen Gems put some cash into the pot. (It’s distributed by the little-used TriStar arm, which will be Tom Rothman’s brand as soon as he starts pushing out movies.)

Rio 2 is not a breakout, but it is tracking along side the original Rio pretty well… about $8 million behind as of this weekend. I imagine that Fox is more than a little frustrated by this result. And I imagine DreamWorks Animation is even more frustrated, as Rio 2 will pass Mr. Peabody & Sherman pretty soon.

There are a lot of really good indies out there, working their butts off to chase the $1m mark in domestic box office. And mostly failing.

Searchlight saw an opportunity and stoked the Grand Budapest fires a bit with some marketing dollars and got a 29% drop. Now it’s looking like the film can push aside the Tenenbaums for the top domestic spot for Wes Anderson films. It already owns the worldwide.

Sony Classics is doing a nice job getting The Lunchbox out there and the elders are starting to buzz more loudly about it. They are being really slow in the expansion, but the numbers look good.

Le Week-end has quietly pushed to $1.8 million, which it deserves. Some beautiful writing and great acting in Roger Michel’s talker.

The big per-screen film of the weekend was Locke, though as noted yesterday, not a really great number in the context of A24’s other films. Still, in a tough arena for small films, it’s something.

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Friday Estimates by The Other Klady

Friday Estimates 2014-04-26 at 10.29.57 AM

The Other Woman opened well. It’s not a super exceptional number. But it’s very good… very good for all the talent involved.

But the most significant thing to my eye is that there has not been a comedy aimed at women since… September 2013. I guess if you wanted to invoke August: Osage County, with its hard Meryl/Julia sell, you could. But I don’t see that as a straight comedy at all. But otherwise you have to go all the way back to September… and the two titles there aren’t really all that comparable. Baggage Claim has a wide release, but was mostly aimed at the “urban” audience and Enough Said never got to as many as 900 screens at any time in its run. Before that, you have to go to The Heat in June, which given Ms. Bullock and Ms. McCarthy, wasn’t really aimed at a female audience as anything less than a broader aim. What To Expect When You’re Expecting, that same month, did try to go there, I guess… though pregnancy would seem to limit the interest, in spite of the tabloid covers. Before that, The Big Wedding, last April? Admission last March? Warm Bodies last February? Really, you have to go back to Pitch Perfect in September 2012 to find a film that really fits the power niche feel of Other Woman.

That’s nuts.

I am as happy as anyone to not see 4 terrible rom-coms a year starring a skinny actress and a hunky male 10 years her senior chasing each other around a desk. But there seems to be some degree of stupidity or blindness on the part of the studios in this regard. Maybe a film like Crazy. Stupid. Love., which was not only a pretty good movie, but grossed $143 million against an alleged $50m budget just isn’t profitable enough for a major studio like Warner Bros. to be bothered. That’s the argument you hear a lot of… the middle movies may be hits and fill the catalog, but the risk/reward just isn’t dramatic enough for the studios anymore. And no doubt, the drop-off in DVD revenue is a part of this. Friends With Benefits was seen as a disappointment in the US, but ended up doing $150m worldwide against an alleged $35m budget. Five years earlier, that would have been a cash cow because the Home Entertainment returns would have been massive. These days, the film was profitable, but was soft enough in the US that the DVD would have been soft and the deal for streaming even softer. Profitable, but not a cash cow.

I would also say that the rom-com game suffered from its success, like most hitmakers do. After some success, budgets creep up for, basically, the same material, and then there is a great deal more risk and very rarely a significant growth in the reward. I used to write about this with comics all the time. When a comic actor gets big, their pay goes up a lot in a hurry… but that isn’t when it gets ugly. It’s when they start to demand much more expensive talent around them, much more expensive production, often because they get grand ideas. When Jim Carrey went “cold,” he was still a bargain at $20m a picture. But he wanted to make more elaborate movies, so every film was suddenly starting at $80 million and going in the mid-100s on proposed budgets. Will Ferrell is still a bargain at $20 million… but only if the overall budget on the movie tops out – with his salary – at $70 million or less. After that, it is a bit of a risky proposition. His biggest worldwide gross, on-camera, is still $220 million for Elf. But $170m worldwide is his real high range… which is about $85m back to the studio these days… and again, with DVD revenues way down. Anchorman 2 was considered a surprise smash last December… but $173m worldwide. Paramount didn’t need to drag their feet as much as they did, but the alleged $50 million budget was about right. $50m + another $70m in worldwide marketing and the film only had to make up about $30 million in post-theatrical before becoming profitable. And it will be profitable. But Transformers 4 will do 8x the gross or better on 4x the budget (and change). That is why “they” want to be in the mega-business.

But the mega-business has its risks… much bigger risks. And when things go cold, fortunes can be lost. Which is why a sane industry continues to chase singles and doubles and hopes for occasional unexpected triples. This is especially true with underserved markets. And while there is plenty of girl power movies out there, from Hunger Games to Divergent, there are no comedies being made for women anymore, it seems. When you have some success and suddenly Gwyneth Paltrow or Kate Hudson costs more than $10m a movie, I understand why things grind to a stop.

One last note on this. The rom-com isn’t completely dead. But it grew a penis in the last few years. And that hasn’t really helped. Maybe it was the Ryan Gosling influence on C.S.L., but Think Like A Man, The Five-Year Engagement, Don Jon, That Awkward Moment, and About Last Night make up a big chunk of the rom-com efforts in the last couple of years and all of them led (marketing-wise, at least) with their dicks. That’s not a smart embrace of the niche, even if Kevin Hart has become superhot right now.

Captain America 2 is the top Marver-made Marvel movie without Robert Downey, Jr. This is a strong 4th weekend. It did not get beat. It’s just playing out its journey.

Brick Mansions is going to be, I guess, Paul Walker’s last non-F&F release. Decent opening. Nothing exciting. Probably better than had he not tragically lost his life… in no small part because the release was probably bigger than it would have been.

The Quiet Ones lived up to its name. Cool poster. Didn’t do the job.

Locke is the big exclusive release of the weekend. Probably about $17k per screen on 4 by the end of the weekend. Worth seeing… a stylish piece, but with a limited audience upside. Tom Hardy is a great actor and here, almost for the first time, plays a pretty regular bloke in a pretty rough situation. I still say it’s the indie version of Noah… a man who must follow principle at all cost, fighting his demons in front of us. This is the eighth release from A24. Heading to top the bottom half of their openings. But it’s hard enough to sell a Tom Hardy movie… tougher with so little Tom Hardy.

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Review: The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (spoiler-free)

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Neither my expectations nor my standards were lowered.

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is a piece of quality filmmaking with actual attention to consistent coherent (and emotionally coherent) storytelling.

It’s a weird thing, comparing movies based on the major comic book heroes (as opposed to some really interesting work inspired by niche-y graphic novels). We have certainly reached the point where there are enough of these films to constitute a standalone genre. When the first Burton Batman came out in 1989, the points of reference were Superman: The Movie (and its offspring), Sam Jones’ Flash Gordon, the Batman TV series, and car wrecks like Supergirl, Sheena, and Howard The Duck (which I like to imagine being made without the baggage today with Patton Oswalt killing it as Howard and geeks loving it). Those first 3 Superman films really told the whole story… serious, mixed serious and campy, and wildly over-the-top hambone comedy. Ultimately, the three Batman variations have also turned out to be similar… mixed serious & campy from Burton, over-the-top hambone from Schumacher, and serious (even more serious than Donner) from Nolan.

Now we have the Marvel-made camp, the individual characters at other studios each with their own voice, and over at WB, DC characters trying to find the answer (yet again). My natural inclination – and perhaps yours – is to compare ASM 2 to the recently released Captain America 2… or even Iron Man 3 or Avengers. But after giving it another thought, I am going to avoid comparisons (although, for the record, Cap 2 can’t carry Peter Parker’s Spider-jock).

Marvel’s homemade content is the current king of the hill, just as WB’s Batman series with Nolan reigned from 2005 until the showdown between Avengers and The Dark Knight Rises in 2012. Before and – in some part – during Nolan, it was Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man trio.

The first $40 million opening in history was for Batman in 1989. The first $50 million opening in history was for Batman Forever in 1995. The first $100 million opening ever was for Spider-Man in 2002. The first $150 million opening in movie history was for The Dark Knight in 2008. The first $200 million opening was for Avengers in 2012.

There are other franchises on other landmarks along the way (Jurassic, Potter, Pirates), but these big-brand comic books have been box office leaders for 25 years now.

Getting back to my original point, the foundational intentions behind a movie like ASM 2 and Cap 2 are undeniably different. Marvel has, in their in-house product, focused on building an identity for the brand more than attempting to make films with a strong, unique voice. As a result, they have hired working film directors who do not bring a strong, dominant sensibility to their films. The top half of the 9-film catalog (Iron Man, Iron Man 3, Captain America, and Avengers) show a better-defined voice that still sticks to the big plan. Robert Downey, Jr, more so than Jon Favreau defined the universal voice as Iron Man. Joe Johnston did a period one-off for Cap’s origin story. And Joss Whedon found colors in the ensemble that were light and fun and especially entertaining.

Marc Webb’s Amazing Spider-Man films are quite unlike any of the major box office comic efforts so far. A lot of the same elements – dead parents, budding romance, identity confusion – are there. But like the old comics, Webb seems to be very interested in exploring what it would be like for an actual teenager to become a superhero. In some ways, Zack Snyder explored this more than any other filmmaker in this genre, with Man of Steel driven by a young Superman torn between the conflicting ideas of his two fathers about how to live in this world as a superhero. But there was almost no time focused on Superman as a person in that film.

Webb is also more interested in the physical properties of flying than any filmmaker since Superman: The Movie made audiences believe a man could fly. Not only does Webb manage – more so than on his first Spidey film – to draw the audience into the experience of flying around New York by web and the awkwardness and style of a skateboarding teen freed from the traditional constraints of gravity, he manages to make it feel so right that you stop being conscious of the oddity of web slinging as you watch him doing it.

Not coincidentally, there is a huge leap in webbing in this film. For the first time – aside from the comical first web experience (then biological webs) in the first Raimi film – audiences have a relationship with the webs. We can sense their weight, speed, stretch, and capability, even anticipating how they will connect and how they will respond under Spider-Man’s control during the film. The technical limitations of super powers, even with constant advances in CG, have always been there, challenging our willingness to believe what was not quite real. I noted this back on Transformers 3, when the technology finally caught up and was able to create transformers that could actually give a performance at a price (still high) that was viable.

But Amazing Spider-Man 2 is not just a technological marvel. It’s still a comic book movie. It embraces this. It never, for a moment, aspires to engage a bigger world issue than the issues of Spider-Man’s “friendly” neighborhood, his love life, his Aunt May, and whatever is going on at Oscorp. But within that world, it is as good a piece of filmmaking as we have seen in this genre and smarter, tougher, and more loyal to the darker traditions of comic books than any film outside of the Nolan trio. And dare I note that the most serious and worldly of the Nolan films. The Dark Knight Rises, was the least well received (at least in my perception).

I don’t want to get into spoilers, but ASM 2 is a movie that takes its time with its more serious side. It does an infinitely better job than any “why I can’t be with you” angle I have seen in any of these films. The inevitable “what a coincidence” moments are pretty much cleared out in the case. (I was really afraid that we were going to have one when Aunt May ended up at a hospital at one point… but it didn’t turn out to be too significant.) And the central relationships felt reasonably real, not just in nice moments, but in the overall story.

I have heard some complaints about “too much story,” but I think those folks have been a little ruined by the truly simplistic A-story, small B-story nature of most of these films. The villains, who have always been a weakness in the genre, particularly in the Spider-Man films, make completely sense to me here. And they aren’t “look at the star doing something we haven’t seen” moments… which makes any comparison to the Schumacher Batman films seem complete specious to me.

Jamie Foxx gives a nice, solid performance as Max Dillon/Electro. Others could have done it, but he does well by it. And unlike most of the villains in these movies, he is not so over the top as to be unbelievable. And there is no mysterious reason why his powers ebb and flow. He makes sense… as much as a human who becomes living electricity can be.

Likewise, Harry Osborn and his eventual evil form, who is named in the credits, but not in the movie. The screenplay for this film not only gives us a truly great sequence with Chris Cooper as Harry’s dad, Norman Osborn, but has both the confidence not to give it a name and to keep it pretty brief. Did I mention how great the scene between Dane DeHaan and Chris Cooper is? Not only well written and well acted, but so beautifully directed and creatively executed… right down to the color of Norman Osborn’s eyes.

Some may feel a little fatigue as the film makes a real effort to connect all the pieces and to explain things like the science behind some ideas. But I loved all of that. The connection between Harry Osborn and Peter Parker is very real – given that it is a movie – and the film doesn’t feel compelled to over-explain. They were very close friends when they were kids under 10. No flashback. Yay. I bought it. The shared science information between Peter and Gwen… terrific… and I bought it without having to make a big leap or feeling stupid.

I am not the world’s biggest fan of Orci & Kurtzman writing these big movies. But this is one of those where I completely went with them and Jeff Pinkner, who helped drive the train on “Fringe.” I don’t know if everything I liked was theirs or not. But the speeches are good. The story is solid. And the characters are really well considered, when it would be so easy for them to be silly. The film feels a bit like it was 20 minutes longer and then pared down to just what they all felt was needed. The movie has about 5 minutes where it drags a little, but there are some big, quiet, lengthy beats that are some of the best things in the film. So, huzzah.

There is another villain, who you’ve surely seen in the ads. I don’t want to spoil his involvement, but I don’t see it as a weight on the “amount of story” in the film at all. His use makes perfect sense. And my unbridled pleasure at seeing Paul Giamatti show up with a Frankenstein-looking head and a wild accent from the start can’t be measured.

Also worth noting at this juncture is a great character performance by Marton Csokas, who has not been lucky since hitting a triple with LOTR: Return of The King, The Bourne Supremacy, and Kingdom of Heaven. Hopefully, this film, Sin City 2, and Denzel/Fuqua’s The Equalizer will bring him back to the top of casting lists.

I kinda loved The Amazing Spider-Man 2. It has the best Times Square action sequence that anyone has done. It has great character performances. I bought the villain sequencing completely. I love Webb’s soft heart and his willingness to let everyone know that family love matters. I think Andrew Garfield, who is really beginning to look his age, makes a great Spider-Man. Emma Stone remains lovely and smart and every bit her super-boyfriend’s equal. (And I can’t wait for her to get back to her real career. Seeing her in this film reminded me that she has true greatness in her reach and we need movie stars. Perhaps Cannes & Crowe will get her right back to speed this very year.)

Speaking of movie stars, I am convinced that Sarah Gadon, in a small role here, is about to blow up… big. I saw her in three different things in the last week and am now looking forward to her in the new Cronenberg at Cannes. But a short time I had interviewing her and her co-star and her director in a film a couple of years ago really convinced me as much as the performances. She has an energy and an intelligence in a room that tells me a lot. it is not unlike some of the energy I felt from Emma Stone in an Easy A sit. Or Jenn Lawrence. It’s not about attraction. It is an energy that a person can push through the camera and to the audience. Gadon has that… even in a tiny role here. Definitely in support in Belle.

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 will not be my favorite film of the year. It probably won’t be my favorite film in May (as Cannes will no doubt offer some true delights.) But as these kinds of films go, there is so much that I like, above and beyond others, that it stands above. The wrinkles in the back of the suit, man. That is what separates this film from all the rest. The wrinkles in the back of the suit.

As Roger Ebert said, no good movie is too long… no bad movie is short enough. I connect to the flavor, the artistry, and the detail of Marc Webb’s vision of Spider-Man. I’ll be happy to go again… and again. Hell, even the Stan Lee cameo didn’t irritate me. And special thanks for not tagging the film with a sneak peek of the next film. It’s a superhero movie that feels and thinks. Excelsior.

47 Comments »

Weekend Estimates by Klady Is for Real

Weekedn Estimates 2014-04-20 at 9.13.29 AM

Not a ton more to say about this weekend after yesterday’s entry.

God’s Not Dead missed joining Heaven Is For Real in the Top 10 by about $500k. Son of God makes its last appearance in the Top 25 in time for Easter, as it looks to close with a flat $60m domestic.

The Grand Budapest Hotel, Under the Skin, and The Lunchbox lead in per-screen for under-1500 screen, over-150 screen runs.

Just noticed that Veronica Mars, which raised over $5 million for production, grossed $3.3 million in theatrical.

The Million Dollar Club for films on under 500 screens this year is (in order of domestic gross):

$5m+ – The Wind Rises

$3m+ – Veronica Mars

$2m+ – The Lunchbox
The Raid 2
Gloria

$1m+ – Le Week-End
Tim’s Vermeer
Jai Ho
Repentance
Under the Skin
Stalingrad

4 from Sony, 2 from Roadside Attractions, and 6 others have 1 film each on the list. Notably, nothing from IFC or Magnolia, which says nothing about the quality of the films these two VOD leaders have distributed or the skill with which they are publicized and marketed… and a ton about the glass ceiling distribution universe being created by a VOD-first marketplace.

32 Comments »

Friday Estimates by Deja Vu Klady

Friday Estimates 2014-04-19 at 9.24.59 AM

7 weekends, 4 God films… $208 million domestic and counting. We’re still over $150m away from The Passion of The Christ, but still, a pretty great run for organized religion. There is no clear trajectory. Two of the three films only ended up doing a little over 2x opening weekend. The third, God’s Not Dead, is doing a striking 5x opening, though perhaps because no one saw it coming. Or perhaps it best fits what Christian audiences wanted. Or maybe that is the max size of audience for these films, unless it is a bigger event, like The Passion, which you could argue was the Burton’s Batman or first Raimi Spider-Man of this genre. (Noah, the highest grosser of the group this year, clearly had more crossover appeal to non-religious people.) If Heaven Is For Real follows the Son of God weekend trajectory, we’re looking at an opening of about $21.5 million, which would be a hot run in any niche genre.

The well-liked (oy) Captain America: The Winter Soldier will pass $200 million tomorrow and Thor 2’s domestic total in the next week. It will gross significantly more than any of the previous Marvel-B-character movies, but it unlikely to get too close to the A group of $300m+ domestic grossers Iron Man and Avengers.

Transcendence is one of those rare films upon which the critics might have had an opening weekend effect. When “everyone” says it’s bad, that is the one circumstances in which I think there is a real impact. But there is also this… it’s bee 5 years since a live-action, fictional Johnny Depp movie has gotten a fresh tomato at Rotten Tomatoes. As you may know, I am not a fan of throwing around RT numbers as proof of anything. But since Public Enemies in 2009 (68% Fresh), it’s been 20% for The Tourist, 51% for Alice in Wonderland, 50% for The Rum Diary, 33% for Pirates 4, 38% for Dark Shadows, 30% for The Lone Ranger, and now a career low of 19% for Transcendence. (The odd man out was a 88% win for Rango… but an animated Johnny Lizard was the star. And his new doc, For No Good Reason, will be fresh… but it’s a doc about Ralph Steadman, not Johnny.)

Depp showed his box office clout as two of those rotten reviewed films did over a billion dollars each. And The Tourist did triple overseas what it did here. But there’s every indication that critics are fed up with Johnny and audiences – especially at home – may be ready to follow. We’re still waiting on word on who will direct Pirates 5… if there is a Pirates 5.

A Haunted House was a hit for Open Road and this sequel will open to about 2/3rds what the first one did. Not thrilling. Not shocking.

Bears is about right for a DisneyNature film. It’s opening about where 2 of the last 3 films did.

Fading Gigolo is the best opener on the indie front. Not a thriller. Not bad.

The Grand Budapest Hotel is now losing screens, as expected, but it still had a very nice hold from last Friday, down only 2% in spite of losing 13% of its screen count. It should pass Moonrise Kingdom to become Anderson’s #2 highest domestic grosser sometime in the next week. It is already the #1 Wes worldwide by over $35 million.

21 Comments »

Tech Review: The Four Questions That Are Set Top Boxes

4boxes_650
Apple TV, Roku, Amazon Fire, Google Chromecast.

Is this worse than Betamax/VHS? Better?

Different. Very different.

This foursome of products, each of which kinda-sorta does the same thing, are not only fighting to become the standard moving forward (for a few years at least), but are also fighting a wide array of other platforms – many already in households with other purposes – to get traction. Comcast and Cablevision and DirecTV and DISH are already working towards making the boxes that customers need to get their services delivered in their homes more flexible, as well as adding online-based services, like Netflix, as added value. Then there are Blu-ray players and game consoles that deliver streaming content. On top of that, there are “Smart” TVs.

Still, at this stage of the game, the four small standalones are the simplest, cleanest route to accessing the streaming universe. The specific variations are too numerous to detail here… details like which ones have access to which content providers via which specific cable or satellite outlets. For instance, HBOGo is available on both Apple TV and Roku, but as a DirecTV subscriber, HBOGo does not work on the Roku while it does on the AppleTV. I am going to stick to the big issues for this exercise.

I also want to clarify going in that I consider the top streaming companies that are most desired by consumers, currently, to be Netflix, HBOGo, Hulu-Plus, Amazon Prime, MLBtv, followed by the Disney networks (ESPN/ABC), YouTube, Pandora, and Crackle. There is a lot of good content after that group of 10, but I will address that as regards each machine. But there is one other major streaming option that doesn’t quite fit as a content streamer, but is a major streaming player, as big as any… iTunes. Apple doesn’t offer free content like the others, but if you buy content, there is a good chance that, at some point, you bought it through iTunes. So it matters. And for that matter, GooglePlay, which is a lot newer, also matters.

Google Chromecast – The child amongst grownups in this equation. This doesn’t mean that it won’t work perfectly for the needs of some. And the price is just $35, about a third of the other three options. But unlike any of the other three machines, Chromecast is not self-contained. Basically, it creates a stream from your smartphone or table or computer to your TV for some content. So you need to have a separate machine that drives the Chromecast, which you pretty much have to dedicate to the Chromecast experience while you are having it. In these days of multi-tasking, that is a downside for some.

To its credit, Chromecast does have 4 of the 5 top providers available – Netflix, Hulu-Plus, HBOGo, and MLBtv – but not Amazon Prime and not iTunes. On the 2nd tier, it offers YouTube access and Pandora. And as a Google product, it not only offers Google Play, but it is the ONLY one of the four machines that offers it. So if you are a committed Chrome person, this may be the product for you. If you are not, I would say that it is not worth the short-term savings of $65.

Amazon Fire – The newest entry in this game (at least until Apple offers whatever variation on the AppleTV it’s been threatening to deliver for years now), the Amazon Fire is clearly the fastest machine in the game. There have been various explanations of this, which I won’t get into, but the bottom line is that you click on things and they start without the delay of 20 seconds or less that we have all become used to with AppleTV and Roku. Also, the remote control experience is more Roku than AppleTV, and that’s a good thing.

The other advantage that Amazon is pushing is that it is also a gaming platform. But to use this, you need to buy another controller. And the quality of the gameplay – not to mention the limited catalog – demands the question about why you would buy this if you are a gamer, as opposed to a game machine.

The first big downside at this point is that the Fire is limited in what it accesses. No HBOGo and no MLBtv. But it has everything from the 2nd tier, including the Disney channels… and more. But of course, no iTunes or Google Play access either. So it is more like the Roku than the AppleTV in some respects, though the interface is not as simple and effective as Roku as you continue to use it. Clearly, there was a lot of thought going into the interface design, but it prioritizes getting you to the places you most recently were, not making it easy to get where you want to go now.

There is one more feature that is a thriller… mostly. You can search by voice. Hold down a button, say what you are looking for, and voila, a list of content connected to that name or person. But here’s the problem… it only searches Amazon and Hulu-Plus. No Netflix. And the interface with the list of material is not well marked to indicate what is “free” with a membership to either content provider or a pay item. Some of the Amazon Prime stuff has a marking in the corner. Some not.

While I’m on the subject, this is a problem through all the graphic design of the Amazon section of the site, as well as the apps, some of which are free and some of which are sold at a price. It’s not life & death, but having to go into any given app to find out what, in anything it costs, is a pain. And some of the games are “free” but have in-app sales… which I hate. I don’t mind spending on some things at some times, but with free by subscription and pay-per-view mixed together, I would prefer clarity.

AppleTV – Apple’s box is simple, sleek, and a bit limited. It can do what none of the others can do… stream video from your iMac, iPhone or iPad to your TV, no muss, no fuss. In this regard, it is a lot like Google’s Chromecast… but for Apple people instead of Google Chrome people. Likewise, as there is no iTunes on Chromecast (or anywhere else but an AppleTV), there is no Google Play on AppleTV… or Amazon Prime, for that matter.

Unlike Chromecast, AppleTV has a set of apps, which include Netflix (the one constant in a universe of variables), HBOGo, Hulu-Plus, and MLBtv. It also has all 5 of the Tier 2 apps. And more.

So what’s the downside of AppleTV? Well, as already noted, no Amazon Prime. And unlike Roku and Amazon Fire, the addition of more apps is controlled by Apple. So unlike Roku, which has been around for a while, there are not dozens and dozens of options for niche programming. There are, as of this writing, 32 non-Apple apps on AppleTV, including 3 additional Disney apps (for family programming, limited to people who have cable/satellite with companies who have done deals with Disney), NBA, NHL, WWE, The Weather Channel, and a number of foreign-language apps. One of Apple’s proprietary apps that I quite like is their trailer app, which makes everything on the Apple Trailer website instantly available for the big TV screen.

Of the 3 remote controls, Apple TV’s is the most simple… which is a double-edged sword. The design and limited apps makes it very easy to navigate. On the other hand, getting from 3 or 4 levels into, say, Netflix, out to the main page, takes 3 or 4 clicks… and then you can start looking for what you want. Both Amazon Fire and Roku have “home” buttons that send you immediately to the start page where you can choose any app to explore.

At this point, I should also note that each of these machines also have rather different navigational quirks within each application. I still find this very surprising. But I guess some things work on some boxes and not on others. I wonder, often, what the best version of the navigation is in the mind of these different companies. For instance, on some Netflix apps, the next episode launches automatically. Others not. Those that do have different mechanisms for doing it. I am particularly aware of this as a parent who might want a show to stop before my kid starts the next episode… or conversely might want him to have easy access to multiple episodes back-to-back without asking me to stop what I am doing to control the remote.)

Roku 3 – I can’t speak to the Roku 1 or 2. Never have used them. But currently, I impulsively think of this as the most complete of the alternate set-tops.

Here is what it is missing… iTunes and Google Play. All of my Top 1o apps are there. (That said, there is some detail work involved. As noted earlier, as a DirecTV customer, the HBOGo, which works on my AppleTV and my “smart” TV, doesn’t work here. If I had TWC or any one of another dozen or so core providers, it would.) And in terms of variety, it far surpasses any other box, both in obscure, seemingly crappy niche channels with very small followings and in some pretty significant new apps, like Warner Archive, Dailymotion, or the new Condé Nast Entertainment channel/app.

And there is a massive number of paid movie channels – some with free content, in part – like Vudu, Popcornflix, Flixter, Snagfilms, IndieFlix, Indie Crush, Cinema Libre, Flixsie, etc, etc, etc. And there are interesting niche plays, like a series of local FOX affiliates or FOX Now or National Geographic Kids. There is some of the same frustration here as on other machines – particularly the Amazon Fire – with the requirements to get an app to work are not all apparent right away. But there is so much available, that the ecosystem is kind of fascinating, as we move forward in all this.

The other unique feature of the Roku is the remote control, which is the largest of the group, but also the only curvy one (and also has a strap), which can make it easier to handle and more difficult to lose. Moreover, it has a headset jack so you can listen to whatever you are watching on the Roku remotely. I can’t say I have actually used this feature in the year or so we have had a Roku, probably because it lives in our living room, not our bedroom… but it’s still cool.

So… The Roku is pretty clearly the most versatile, rangiest $99 spend you can buy as of today. However, there are some potential deal-breakers. If I had the choice of owning only one of these devices, I would probably prioritize HBOGo to a degree that would lead me to the AppleTV. Also, in that case, I can stream from my iPad or iPhone to the TV. I could, if I felt so inclined, still access my Amazon Prime using that AppleTV and my iPad or iPhone, overcoming the biggest hole in the AppleTV game for me personally.

However… I can also access HBOGo AND Amazon Prime via my PS3… so maybe I would prefer having a Roku and then using the PS3 as a workaround for those two streaming apps.

But what if Amazon Fire makes deals with HBO and MLBtv in the next months? Well, then the technical smoothness of that device might make it a frontrunner.

And there is still the threat that Apple will roll out a new, improved AppleTV.

The tricky part is that you don’t really know what you will want/like/NEED until you are already invested in one of these products. If all you want is your Netflix, they all work. But then again, if all you want is your Netflix, a Blu-ray player or video game console or even your “smart” TV may do the job without you having to buy another piece of equipment. (I will say… the streaming speed on my “smart” TV, connected to the same ethernet connection as the other devices, is inferior.)

What we need is one company to deliver all of the Top 10 apps and more with the fastest delivery system possible. but they are all too busy competing for that to happen. This is another good part about the Roku… it is the only one not owned by a company playing the content field, so it is agnostic. There is even a DISH app for international programming at a price, as well as a TWC app, and the aforementioned FOX local apps.

One last note… all of these companies are building products that force consolidation. I will write about it after some more time playing with it, but I recently got Google Glass and that too is invested in the user using all the Google products, from automatic uploads to YouTube to transferring your contacts to Google to interacting with Google+. If you buy an AppleTV, you have a vested interest in buying from iTunes. Amazon Fire, and you’re likely to buy all your movies, TV, and music on Amazon. Chromecast connects to Google Play.

No one is doing better for consumers in this regard than the other. As noted before, Roku is slightly advantaged by being unaffiliated. But if you want to find the gamechanger, it would be the company embracing their competitors and letting the best device win. Interestingly, Apple does it with the iPhone and iPad. Want the app for Amzon’s Kindle or Amazon Prime… no problem. But on the AppleTV, no.

To my eye, this is the biggest issue we face with content moving forward… how all these diverse companies with varying opinions will come together and agree to sell on the same competitive turf, allowing themselves to both serve the consumer better than they ever have before and to be extremely profitable. It’s not as easy as it sounds… even if it doesn’t sound that easy. It worked in the cable era because the world got chopped up by municipalities and regions, making universality in everyone’s interest. With a less well defined barrier to entry on every level, we have to count more weightily on the sanity of all the players. Not easy. But the longer the industry drags its collective heels, the harder it gets.

We are at the very beginning of this journey. And we already have a lot more content access than we’ve ever had. But it will get better. It will not be the panacea of everything for almost no money. But it will get better. In the meantime, buyer beware and enjoy what we’ve got.

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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

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BYOB 41114

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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)

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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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“I was 15 when I first watched Sally Hardesty escape into the back of a pickup truck, covered in blood and cackling like a goddamn witch. All of her friends were dead. She had been kidnapped, tortured and even forced to feed her own blood to her cannibalistic captors’ impossibly shriveled patriarch. Being new to the horror genre, I was sure she was going to die. It had been a few months since I survived a violent sexual assault, where I subsequently ran from my assailant, tripped, fell and fought like hell. I crawled home with bloody knees, makeup-stained cheeks and a new void in both my mind and heart. My sense of safety, my ability to trust others, my willingness to form new relationships and my love of spending time with people I cared about were all taken from me. It wasn’t until I found the original The Texas Chain Saw Massacre that something clicked. It was Sally’s strength, and her resilience. It was watching her survive blows to the head from a hammer. It was watching her break free from her bonds and burst through a glass window. It was watching her get back up after she’d been stabbed. It was watching her crawl into the back of a truck, laughing as it drove away from Leatherface. She was the last one to confront the killer, and live. I remember sitting in front of the TV and thinking, There I am. That’s me.”
~ Lauren Milici On “The Final Girl”

“‘Thriller’ enforced its own reality principle; it was there, part of the every commute, a serenade to every errand, a referent to every purchase, a fact of every life. You didn’t have to like it, you only had to acknowledge it. By July 6, 1984, when the Jacksons played the first show of their ‘Victory’ tour, in Kansas City, Missouri, Jacksonism had produced a system of commodification so complete that whatever and whoever was admitted to it instantly became a new commodity. People were no longer comsuming commodities as such things are conventionally understood (records, videos, posters, books, magazines, key rings, earrings necklaces pins buttons wigs voice-altering devices Pepsis t-shirts underwear hats scarves gloves jackets – and why were there no jeans called Bille Jeans?); they were consuming their own gestures of consumption. That is, they were consuming not a Tayloristic Michael Jackson, or any licensed facsimile, but themselves. Riding a Mobius strip of pure capitalism, that was the transubstantiation.”
~ Greil Marcus On Michael Jackson