The Hot Blog Archive for March, 2016
What cultural icon’s passing has hit you hardest in the deadly first three months of 2016?
Batman v Opening Weekend Box Office has almost always been won by the bat. In 27 years, there have been 8 Batman movies. Four Batman films broke the domestic opening weekend record when they were released. One was the #2 opening of all time when it opened and another the #7 opening of all time on its release. The only Batman film that did open to record or near-record numbers was Batman Begins, which followed the steep-dropping dog Batman & Robin which had a then-unproven director, in commercial terms, at the helm.
Batman v Superman shows, once again, that whatever the box office moment, no matter how bad the review, people want to see Batman. And they did. Our estimate for the weekend is a little lower than Warner Bros, the exclusive significance of which is that Potter 7a opening a million or so better and by estimating high, WB can say this is its best opening in studio history.
Anyway… these are simple facts. The judgment of what this opening means is… it opened well. There is no sane dismissal of this opening. It is, in fact, only the fourth best opening of the last year. But that is unkind on some level. There have only been seven openings of this size in movie history and you have to give the devil his due. It’s not $200 million… but shut up.
The question will be the legs and the international number. International had a very strong start too, though only TDK Rises has really been a Batman movie in the era of the wildly expanding international gross. No Batman movie has ever failed to gross at least 2.5x opening. On the other hand, 3 of the 6 other all-time top openers failed to get to 2.5x opening. So take the side you think is more significant in the over/under on $400 million domestic for BvS.
My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 counterprogrammed BvS as the parents and grandparents drop the kids off at the multiplex. It did okay. The Friday numbers were strong enough to make Sat/Sun a little disappointing. But this opening is solid. High 40s or low 60s, this one will be a pale shadow of the original, which was the last vestige of an exhibition era that encouraged long runs. That original film did a lot of international business ($127m), so given that there is an audience for this material and there is more worldwide exhibition, it could make a killing (relative to domestic) there.
WB had the #2 per-screen hit of the weekend too… Jeff Nichols’ Midnight Special, starring BvS cameo Michael Shannon. The real question for this movie will be expansion. There are surely 20 more markets that will be hot for this film… but beyond that, it’s not so clear. But WB has to feel pretty good about getting this one started on the right track.
Heading out the door for a children’s birthday party this morning. We’re taking all the 6/7-year-olds to go see Batman v Superman.
Haha. Stop calling Child Protective Services. Rollerskating.
Big opening # for BvS. Fourth best of the last year. But last year was a big year for big movies. So fair enough. Batman opens. We knew that. What will be the hold? The Dark Knight Rises is the only Batman film other than Batman & Robin to do better overseas than domestically. Where will that trendline go with this film? All questions waiting to be answered. No one’s dream of BvS dropping dead into the ocean is happening. No one’s fantasy of it being the next step up for DC is happening, either. Like Man of Steel, it will make a reasonable amount of money, but not a killing.
My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 opened to what the original – which never appeared on half the screens of this opening – did in the first 6 weeks/weekends. Should get to $20m (little more/little less) this weekend, which has to be counted as a win.
It’s hard to know where to start with a film like Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.
I am not a Zack Snyder fan. But I have appreciated the skills he has shown and I have understood, even when repulsed by them, his storytelling instincts. I was trying hard to keep an open mind when he popped on screen with a “please-no-spoilers” request to the media before the screening I attended (note: always a good idea to screen a movie in IMAX in which a full third of the fully-booked room has horrible, too-close seats) and he referred to his movie as “Batman vee Superman,” my stomach sunk. I mean, it is literally what the film is named. But it’s an abbreviation of versus… unless he thinks it’s something more clever than that… who knows what that would be… so maybe it’s a kitschy insider way of talking about his own movie… and even so, be aware of your audience.
Now this is the moment when some people will accuse me of being overly critical or nitpicky and going in with a bad attitude. This “vee” moment was more a pet peeve-like thing than anything else. But it is, like it or not, instructive. As for a bad attitude, I am a little bit guilty. This thing smelled like trouble from a distance. The murky, overly arty outdoor campaign continued that. I think the WB pivot to the action between Superman and Batman was the right commercial pivot, but I could never have imagined how false an impression of the actual movie those ads turned out to offer. But honest… I was as open as I could be as the movie started. And this review is going to get a lot more critical and nit-picky, if that is how you want to see it.
So the movie begins…
Zack Snyder still shoots everything in close-up or wide shots. Everything else seems to challenge him beyond his skill set (or style, if you must). There is no possible way to follow any of the major action in this film. It is big. It is loud. It is violent. But it is a crappy CG blur interrupted by close-ups of this one or that one taking/making an impact or landing.
The dialogue has the feel of high school Shakespeare… which is to say, that if you are familiar with Shakespeare, you know what the words are meant to mean, but the people saying them really don’t understand them, so it feels like a foreign language, making little sense. In this case, it is the words and directorial context that are at fault and no matter how hard everyone (especially the actors) try, it comes out like pretentious teenage verbal masturbation.
Of course, that lets off the storytelling too easily, blaming the marble-mouthed dialogue. The ideas are terrible from start to finish. Does Superman have a single serious, considered thought why he’s so pissed off at Batman? Has Batman made any effort at all to consider – as the world seems to have, though the film doesn’t bother offering that context – that there might be a reason why Superman failed to protect Metropolis instead of being a participant in the killing of thousands? And as importantly, if not more, do either consider their own flaws or are they just two megalomaniacs with mommy issues, now joined by Lex, working out his daddy problems?
My critical brethren seem to have landed on the idea that this film is nothing but an ad for Justice League and I can’t argue that… but I do feel that it was meant to be more than that. (And as ads go, it is horrible.) There is a great idea in this. Two icons of great meaning and power who have come to believe that they have to fight in order for the world to be safe. Should be something great. Think about talking with friends about the ideas late at night and how many really smart takes might come up. And then, watch this movie and wonder whether anyone realized just how low this film really aims.
The Donald Trump/Ted Cruz comparison is a comical meme on the web, but it is shocking how much more interesting the real life conflicts are than the ones in this movie. Why does Trump have a constituency? Why does Cruz? Why is Trump such a threat to the Republican Party? Why do they all hate Cruz? Answer those four questions – and that’s just tapping the surface – in a 2 hour movie and you will have a vastly superior one than BvS:DoJ.
Imagine, if you will, that Hillary Clinton was really a mortal threat to the nation… and was likely to win. Think of the tension in the idea that these two people who are so opposite and so opposed to one another must come together, somehow, in order to save the nation. Serious drama. And what, for the sake of argument, if Wonder Woman was the only person who could break through their arrogance to unify them.
Of course, the argument that Hillary Clinton would be terrible for America is absurd and 80% of America knows it, even if many of them don’t love the candidate. Be clear on that. But as a dramatic idea, dynamite.
Instead, in BvS, you have a Lex Luthor, amusing at times, but who believes nothing. He’s a climber, not an ideologue. And yeah, a good writer could make that work too. It would be funny, as the Hackman version was in the first Superman, just working a real estate angle. But Zack Snyder has no sense of humor (or self-awareness, it seems). Nor a vision.
Now that I think about it, a mega-problem with this film is that every major male character is wrong in deep and profound ways, but never learns anything… except that they may need others to preserve themselves more than they need to kill them… because none of them are about anything more than their specific mistaken ideas of the facts. There is nothing for us to care about.
Snyder tries to create an intense, adult intimacy between Superman and Lois Lane, even doing a bathtub scene. But her passion for him is as shallow as the dialogue, like we should know why she loves him from some other movie. Is it the greatest (or most complicated) sex ever? Don’t know. Is she trying to fix him? Don’t know. Is he really that nice? Don’t know. We know that he will save her because he thinks he loves her.. but we don’t know why and because of that, we don’t care.
I don’t feel The Dark Knight worked as well as many did, though I still think it is a terrific piece of filmmaking. Specifically, the stakes that The Joker creates for Batman, choosing between his love and a large number of lives, challenges how Batman sees himself. The payoff on it just wasn’t satisfying to me. However, it was a really smart, complex idea inside a comic book movie.
In this movie, Lex pushing against Superman’s vulnerabilities means nothing more than playing him for a sucker in a bigger game. This is an example of how Snyder is a simple thinker and Nolan is a deeply ambitious one. (Success in ambition is not the best measure of the ambition, but that’s a whole different discussion.)
But let’s put aside the movie this could have/should have/might have been. Let’s get back to what it is.
Here is a list (without any overt spoilers) of things I disliked in this film:
The only non-celebrity black people in the film as villains/victims
Superman/Zod fight as 9/11 metaphor
Batman shooting people
Batman origin story… again… adding NOTHING!
Referencing John Boorman as though this director could carry his jock
The great Jeremy Irons cashing a check in really nice clothes (except the hazmat suit by Gautier, which is absurd)
Amy Adams’ boobs bobbing in a tub in a hacky stab at intimacy
Referencing Stanley Kubrick as though it wouldn’t make Kubrick vomit
Parental advice that sounds like it came out of the world’s largest fortune cookie
55-year-old junior Senator who heads a committee and speaks unilaterally for the US government.
Every woman other than the four with more than a few lines of dialogue is objectified
The wrong iconic assholic character with problem hair from the last movie gets a dialogue chunk.
No one seems to have been able to decide whether this Batman was Frank Miller’s 55-year-old Dark Knight (shamelessly and endlessly ripped off by Snyder to inferior effect) or the 40-year-old that the math of the film (parents killed in 1982) suggests. He is thick and a bit limited like the elder Batman, but a workout warrior and played by a 41-year-old Ben Affleck, whose righty curmudgeonliness never quite makes sense. (Affleck seems to be playing Clooney half the time, who would have made a lot more sense in this film, really, not that Affleck doesn’t do fine.)
Referencing Cole Porter in a way only someone with no wit at all would do
Upskirt of Gal Godot long enough to show a cleft where her thigh meets her groin
Major dramatic events created exclusively by characters not communicating
Previews of additional characters only to set up the next film. The movie actually stops to have these mini-trailers, watched by a character downloading files
More terrorism references that don’t earn the choice
Dream sequences that are good enough for ads, but not to be taken seriously by the screenwriters in the film proper.
“Clever” shift from all the daddy issues of Man of Steel to mommy issues.
Horrible jerk-off use of a coincidence of decades-past character naming.
Batman vs Superman not being enough for this film
Fake-outs so obvious that the audience is 30 minutes ahead
I was shocked. I have come to expect murky action and overripe dialogue and flat characters and bad ideas from Zack Snyder, but I didn’t expect to be listening to endless dialogue sequences that seem to be written by a teenager trying to be Strindberg nor to have the whole thing hinge on errors of judgment or filmmaker tricks nor to find these iconic characters so lost and uninteresting from start to finish. This is a movie that a mediocrity could have done much, much better. This film could only be this bad because the filmmaker was truly ambitious and truly not up the fulfillment of any small percentage of those ambitions.
It may seem oxymoronic to say that you should be able to feel the joy of a filmmaker who is trying to make a serious story that includes action. But you must. Or it is going to be terrible.
For everything that failed about Green Lantern, for instance, at least you could feel that the team, from director Martin Campbell to credited writers Greg Berlanti, Michael Green, Marc Guggenheim and Michael Goldenberg were trying to do something interesting and it just didn’t come together. There was comedy. There was a crazy interesting performance by Peter Sarsgaard. There were wild aliens. But there was comic book seriousness that looked like shit (literally at times) and it didn’t work. But I felt the joy in there.
I don’t demand perfection. Not by a long shot. Great genre filmmaking makes you feel, not intellectualize… not analyze the minutiae. You can drive a truck through the holes in many of my favorite genre films. Don’t care. Don’t want to real lists of errors. Joy.
In Batman vee Superman, I feel a movie desperately trying to prove its intelligence while doing everything on screen that it can to prove that it’s not half as smart as it thinks. It will try anything to be important. But movie audiences see through this every time.
I have made the comparison to Star Wars: The Force Awakens. JJ Abrams, while a great guy and a clear talent in many aspects, may not have an original idea in his head. But he is as good as they come at putting the Silly Putty on a great piece of original art, transferring the framework, and coloring it in to make it look like a really good minor variation on the original. He always entertains, even if he never challenges an audience.
Zack Snyder might be a greater artist than JJ Abrams. But we will never know that until he stops trying to prove it. So he keeps revving the engine of the world’s biggest franchise, like the noise is what matters.
In the words of Frankie Goes To Hollywood…
“Relax don’t do it
When you want to go to it
Relax don’t do it
When you want to make Batman v Superman a pretentious crap show.”
Any reaction to early reviews?
A pretty basic box office weekend.
Disney’s Zootopia is driving the train with strong holds for a movie that’s playing well to all ages: smart, funny, and with legitimate emotion and insight.
Summitsgate has to be in agony over the third Divergent film, Insurgent, opening to just better than half of the first two films… meaning that the committed audience is abandoning the series. Scary stuff with one more on the way. This is 10 million reasons for someone to be fired… but who? (Who’s left?)
Blah opening for religious parable Miracles From Heaven. We are seeing this year that you just can’t throw this stuff at the wall and see what sticks… unless you budgets are low enough. (Who’s your Kirk Cameron noooooooowwwwww?)
The only really happy story on the indie scene is Midnight Special, which will be over $30k per on five screens. But what is WB spending and will they be able to build an indie? History tells us no, but they don’t have much to do over there – heh heh – so I’m sure it’s a high priority.
February 26, 2017 is just around the corner, right?
What can one say about a record-breaking $72.9 million opening for a Disney cartoon in March, the year after two $90 million-plus openings in animation, as well as a $132 million opening of an R-rated comic book movie in February of this year? Great. Well done. Honest. No mocking meant. But it would have been the 9th biggest opening of last year and will probably be the 11th biggest opening of this year (and third best animated launch) and opening record fatigue has set in… at least with this honey badger.
And not to take anything away from the film, which I like, but Disney’s historical method of releasing films exclusively, then going wide mid-week before the official opening weekend has a lot to do with this being a record. For instance, Frozen had $27 million in the bank before its official 3-day wide opening weekend, which took the edge off (to say the least).
In any case, it is an original film, which is also great. Kids love animals and parents feel safe with them, which led to a giant Saturday leap. And as I noted, the movie is very good. It’s simplistic compared to the best of Pixar, but there is plenty to be proud of here and plenty of toys to be sold. (For me, the most memorable character is Jenny Slate’s lamb… the film’s John Kasich.)
London Has Fallen fell 29% from the original’s opening. (Insert disinterest here.)
Whiskey Tango Foxtrot… Opening political satire is hard… which is why the ads kind of leaned on Ms. Fey’s love life, I suppose. The repeated joke in the ads, about women driving, just wasn’t that funny. I can’t say that I know a way to sell this movie that would have been more effective. There may not have been a way. If you go more political, no one wants to see it. And my guess is that they pushed away from the “comparisons to Margot Robbie” angle because Tina’s fan didn’t want to see her be endlessly self-deprecating. Maybe one of the twists involving the Alfred Molina character would have played in ads, but it would have given up a big story turn. I loved that first trailer. I didn’t much like the outdoor, featuring Tina Fey only, but with her face covered. TV ads were mixed. When selling a movie like The Big Short as something it really isn’t, but gets them in the theaters and then the film satisfies the audience, it’s a win for everyone. On a movie like this, I imagine it would feel better to go down swinging with having sold the actual film and not just a sliver of it… because it was probably never going to do a bigger number. But hindsight is 20/20 and studios put their best foot forward and are the ones who have to make the choices and suffer the consequences.
Surprising Star Wars Update: It’s still the #3 movie all-time worldwide, despite being the biggest domestic hit ever by $170 million, still $134 million being Titanic, if you include its re-release. And a reminder that Empire was 30% off the original Star Wars back when we were just measuring their original theatrical releases only. $1.4 billion for SW8: Rian’s Song won’t exactly be a crushing defeat. And history has been pretty worthless in box office analysis lately. But…
Spotlight, which was pretty much out of theaters when it won Best Picture, expanded to 1227 screens and did $1.8 million this weekend, even with the DVD landing this week. Around a 5% bump to its total gross, which is nice, if not overwhelming. The Revenant fell just 16% and Room only 24% as the Best Acting winners got audience attention. But for Brooklyn and The Big Short, back to business as usual… 48%/49% drops.
In today’s film market, blame who you —100% distribution’s intent, IMO—two months from the end of the year to The Oscars renders Oscar nearly moot in terms of audiences seeing movies, especially in theaters. Just the way it is. The Oscar season – Phase II, nominations to show – needs to be shorter. The self-indulgence of lingering for two months is not where the world is in 2016.
Strong start for Terrence Malick’s Knight of Cups, the latest from upstart Broad Green. But when it goes beyond four screens, it will be a lot harder to make happen. Trapped, which had a huge Friday on 3 screens, dropped off a lot as the weekend progressed, though $6300 per-screen is pretty good for a Sundance abortion rights doc.
There were only 11 2015 releases of 300 screens or less to gross $3 million or more. Six of them were specialty Indian product (Bajrangi Bhaijaan did $8.2 million). Top of the non-specialty list was I’ll See You In My Dreams, which did $7.4m domestic. Then 45 Years, which is still going with $3.9m in the domestic bank. NZ horror mockumentary What We Do In the Shadows is next, with $3.5 million. Post-WWII drama Phoenix did $3.2m for IFC. And SPC’s Wild Tales, one of last year’s Foreign Language Oscar nominees, did $3.1 million. 
As of this writing, this year’s Oscar winner, Son of Saul, does not seem to be on a trajectory to $3 million domestic.
I’ve seen estimates of Zootopia at over $70 million for the weekend, which compares the film not to other traditional animated openings, but to the adult-skewing The Lego Movie and the extremely young-skewing The Lorax. It could happen. We’ll find out today. It’s a very good, quirky, strong message movie about inclusion.
London Has Fallen is trying really hard to be Olympus Has Fallen 2, but won’t do White House Down business. Still, if the film was close to the original’s budget and flips the domestic gross ($98m) with the international ($98m) this time, it will still be a decent piece of business.
Deadpool has passed $300m domestic.
Whiskey Tango Foxtrot is a well-intended, enjoyable enough film… should have been better… was probably never going to do much box office. Ficarra & Requa are among our most interesting rising directors right now, but their taste for the extreme without the pandering hasn’t found its home run yet, with Crazy. Stupid. Love. being a solid triple that felt like it could have gotten out of the park. Focus actually did the most business, but also felt like there was a bigger movie in there. It’s odd. WTF will be their lowest grosser since their barely released debut, I Love You, Phillip Morris. But you just know that with one of their movies, they will hit a $400 million grosser comedy with romance and meaning and once in that groove with be the Hal Ashby/Paul Mazursky they seek to be (not that those guys often had massive box office success, either).
The Revenant benefited from its Oscar showing last weekend, in spite of missing the big award, with just a 9% drop this Friday. We’ll see how the expansion of Best Picture winner Spotlight will do this weekend, though it appears that the gross will be under $2 million.
We have TWO $10,000 per-screen indies this weekend in Malick’s Knight of Cups (on four) and Trapped, a doc about abortion rights in America, on one.