The Hot Blog Archive for June, 2017

WTF? Lord/Miller Latest Disney Victims?

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Every time it begins to look like Disney is about to cross the bridge to figuring out how to avoid a Sophomore Slump in its all-mega-movie universe, another kick in the balls…

Here is what I know about Chris Miller and Phil Lord… they have directed four movies… all but the one sequel was underestimated by its distributor before release… they are four for four… as relatively young veterans in this business (42), they still connect to young people and they have a sense of how to connect with adults as well.

Here is what I know about Disney… they would rather put out pre-chewed mediocrity than to take risks with their extremely valuable IP and have fired a slew of interesting directors to maintain that safety.

Kathy Kennedy is a powerhouse. She has kept many of the biggest, most important, beloved trains on the tracks for decades. She is also 64. She has had her moments of zen. Munich, The Diving Bell & the Butterfly, and Persepolis appear back-to-back-to-back on her page… so she is not just Spielberg and she is not only mainstream. She has more in her game than that. But is she playing not to lose instead of playing to win?

Disney is more important than their box office success right now. Other studios are chasing their model, but they have limited success because there is no better IP than Marvel/LucasFilm/Pixar/Disney Animation. Universal has been #2 in Magic-IP-Land lately because of Jurassic Park/Illumination. But studios can live off one great piece of IP for a long time. Sony was driven by Spider-Man for years… Paramount is now Transformers with bouts of Mission: Impossible and Star Trek (and Brad Pitt’s Plan B, the promise of which helped keep Brad Grey in the job for extr years)… WB and Potter (which DC is beginning to look like it will replace).

When these key pieces of IP end or fade, it is a seismic event and people who seemed invincible do lose their jobs. At studios that don’t have the stability of a reliable franchise or two, turmoil always seems to be rising (bosses are like my mother, they’re never satisfied).

I am not mocking the IP urge. It is real. It is not new. And it makes sense for an ongoing business, which, like it or not, studios are.

Disney is the leader in integrating women and people of color into the directing chairs amongst major studios. I have meant to write about this before, in a positive piece about Disney, with shame cast upon other majors.

Patty Jenkins made Wonder Woman after they fired Michelle MacLaren. So WB got there first. But now… Ava Duvernay, Niki Caro, Anna Boden and Jennifer Lee all have movies in 2018 or 2019. Add more diversity with Ryan Coogler doing Black Panther. And remember that Disney also puts out one-third to one-half the number of films that other majors release in a year.

So Disney is not The Evil Monolith. They are not completely inflexible. They don’t just hire for mediocrity.

However… Niki Caro hasn’t made it into production on her Mulan. When she pushes her (appropriate) agenda of equality and sensitivity and female empowerment, we’ll see how that plays. This is the same Disney that is making Aladdin with a director (Guy Ritchie) who tip-toes near the “isn’t that funny” notion of bloke-y racism in all his films.

Anna Boden with her directing partner Ryan Fleck is on Captain Marvel, under protection of Marvel Studios. And though Marvel pushed out Edgar Wright, they did replace him with another iconoclastic director who made a very good, off-brand Marvel film (that still feels a bit like what we would have expected from Edgar, oddly).

Marvel also seems to be pushing the off-brand side movies hard with Thor: Ragnarok, which with Taika Waititi, a Maori Ashkenazi, who seems to be making the first Marvel film bending a core Avengers character into an off-brand story and style. It seems that Marvel also allowed Coogler all the rope he could have asked for in making Black Panther off-brand and distinctive.

Pixar is John Lasseter and will be John Lasseter until John Lasseter leaves… probably on a gurney, decades from now. He is the 9 Old Men of now. A couple of those nine in John is also running Disney Animation.

But Lucasfilm… Two mediocre Star Wars films so far. We all hope and expect that Rian Johnson will raise the bar in December. But as the film is in the Core 9, we should also expect that Rian’s brilliance will show in the margins, more than in the center, where the next director (back to JJ-level mediocrity) has already taken the baton for #9.

Of the two 3.0 Star Wars films that have been released, we already know that Rogue One was “saved” by Tony Gilroy… shot in some part by Tony Gilroy, even though Gareth Edwards was given the full credit.

Thing about Young Han is… Wonder Woman. Guardians of the Galaxy. Dr. Strange. Ant-Man.

IP Machine Shops are figuring out that the way to keep the engine running is to have some bits that aren’t 100% canon. Loosen up, people.

Star Wars is a mature bit of IP. Its power is remarkable. But everything can be killed by misguided, well-intended management.

The laugher of the week was that Book of Henry could get Colin Trevorrow dumped from Star Wars IX. The opposite is true. He knows how to get in line and do what the bosses want, as he did for Frank Marshall (aka Kathy Kennedy’s husband and long-time producing partner) and that is what Kathy Kennedy seems to expect from her LucasFilm directors.

Unlike others sucked into the Disney machinery, Phil Lord & Chris Miller have other places to be. They are not only good at what they do, they are amongst the top leaders of their generation of creative players. Writers, producers and directors, they have risen above the fray in almost everything they have done over the last decade, even when the projects have failed.

Lord & Miller are not Spielberg. They are not the top flight of making visual feasts. But they have an uncanny feeling for the nerve. They are not the first to rise and like everyone else, they will stall at some point. But I would count on them getting back up and working through the problems. Their ego does not demand fealty. They want to collaborate.

This brings me to the people who probably feel the most screwed over this week… the actors that Phil & Chris brought on to Young Han. Alden Ehrenreich has been though a LOT in his young career. And he will be fine. But do you think Donald Glover and Thandie Newton and Phoebe Waller-Bridge came on a movie like this without a lot of faith in what the directors were doing? And Bradford Young, who can (deservedly) write his own ticket these days?

It’s become a big, ugly cliche but this is why we can’t have nice things.

What The LucasFilm Team is forgetting is that no matter how off-brand Lord & Miller’s movie would have been – and they shot 4/5 of it for cripe’s sakes… how off could it have been? – it was the movie that people under 50 were most looking forward to… and many of us over 50.

It would have to be bad, not non-canon, to disappoint. After all, we have indulged mediocre canon so far in this adventure. Really mediocre. And it hasn’t killed the brand. But a big part of the illusion that we should all stay excited is the idea that there is ambition in these films. And today, that illusion died a little bit more.

R.I.P.

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Bring Your Own Surmise: Young Han Solo

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Any good guesses what just happened?

“The untitled Han Solo film will move forward with a directorial change.

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Weekend Estimates by Klady 3

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The wide newcomers uniformly are failing to estimate 3X Friday, while the top holdovers (wonderful and wrapped alike) are. Ugly weekend… kind of. The only out and out failure amongst the 4 top new films was Rough Night. Cars 3 is about international and merchandising. All Eyez on Me overperformed expectations, strong vs costs. 47 Meters Down came from a new distributor, meeting ambitions. And… Rough Night.

At this point of the summer last year, there had been eleven $20 million summer openings. This year, eight. Last year by this time, three $50m+ openings. This year, four. Last year, two $100 million openings by now. This year, also two.

What do those numbers mean? Not much. Mostly that the sky isn’t falling. And more subtly, that summer is a marathon, not a sprint.

Another series of numbers: 14, 12, 14, 19, 12, 18, 13, 15, 17, 17. That’s the number of $100 million domestic grossers in each of the last 10 summers (starting in 2016). Clearly there has been a slowing in the number of films hitting that bar.

On the other hand… 36, 46, 61, 32, 49, 55, 41, 36, 26, 35.

Those are the numbers of $100 million international grossers for the entire years in the last decade. And you can see the opposite trend. There are about 45 $100m international films a year in each of the last five years to 39 in the five years before that.

Last year, only three of the 14 $100m domestic summer grossers failed to do $100m internationally (Bad Moms, Central Intelligence, Ghostbusters).

On the flipside, there were eight summer movies that did less than $100m domestic, but did over $100 million internationally… six sequels, as well as Warcraft and Me Before You.

So what’s my point? This summer feels down. It feels like we have been drowning in IP, though the truth is that we have only had four actual sequels to date. (There were 11 sequels last summer and by the end of this summer, there will also be 11.)

Guardians, Vol. 2 is fine, thanks. Overall, it is up about 10% from the first, almost equally from domestic and international.

Alien: Covenant about doubled its domestic gross internationally and is now at about $215 million. China is still to come.

Pirates: Dead Men Tell No Tales is at $650 worldwide and will soon pass the first Pirates. But the billion-dollar hopes (three of the four previous films did over $950m ww) are gone. And China doubled its gross from the last film… but still, China gets the 20% return asterisk, making the overall haul about $70m less impressive.

Cars 3 is too soon to tell… but Cars did $218m internationally, which was less than the domestic gross and Cars 2 did $371m, which was two-thirds of the overall worldwide gross. So, a tale of two very different box office grosses in an evolving worldwide box office standard. 2 was off $50 million from the first… and there is a good chance that 3 will be off as much from 2. What will happen internationally?

The IP films that are perceived domestic bombs are having success internationally. Baywatch is already at $120 million worldwide. King Arthur grabbed $100 million internationally, though the film is still nowhere near black ink… $75 million writedown at the very least. And Tom Cruise’s international juice is giving the finger to Variety and those who want to hang him out to dry. The film is near $300 million worldwide today, $239m international. There is still a good chunk to get before the film is out of the red, but international has protected the studio from a legitimate disaster.

As for the new films? June gloom. It used to be the norm, then there was a run of a few years when the slot offered up Man of Steel, 22 Jump Street, and Jurassic World. But last year in this slot wasn’t pretty and this year, a little worse.

I coincidentally mentioned 22 Jump Street. In the three years since that release – this same weekend in 2014 – the only other $50 million opening that Sony has delivered was for James Bond (Spectre). Paramount has had five $50m+ openings in that same period. Fox has had seven, Warner Bros eight, Universal nine, and the insane run at Disney has acccounted for 17 $50m+ openings in these last three years.

This is why Amy Pascal exited the top movie job at Sony… not e-mail. And now, Tom Rothman is 28 months into his tenure and while much of it can be put on Ms. Pascal’s plate, the studio is still bleeding. Spider-Man is coming… but success will be credited to Marvel (even though word is that Marvel is not happy with Sony/Rothman). The Dark Tower has dark prospects. And the next real light at the end of the tunnel is Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle in December. Baby Driver may overperform. Flatliners could overperform. But these aren’t game-changers for a studio.

For all the complaining about Tom Rothman, he did well for Fox. He had a good run and you can moan all you like, the numbers are the numbers. But the numbers are the numbers at Sony too… and there is not enough movies on the schedule that suggest big hits are coming. What is next summer for Sony? A Will Ferrell comedy. Okay. But Barbie? Slenderman? Next fall is kinda loaded (if the dates are made), but another 16 months is going to be a white knuckle ride if that is the expectation.

About eight months ago, Brad Grey did a presentation that was, essentially, an attempt to convince everyone that he had a vision for the future of Paramount. But it wasn’t very convincing. And he was out (apparently not because he was mortally ill).

Tom Rothman is an enthusiastic film lover. He needs to convince his bosses that he has a vision for the future. And it would probably behoove him to convince the rest of Hollywood. No one wants to go to a studio where your one movie is the thing that is needed to turn the place around. People want to take their most commercial projects to the places where the tide is already high and they can get all the benefits of that… and if magic strikes, be the big hit everyone wants.

Sony should have dumped Rough Night or spent some money to try to fix its inherent big-ticket flaws. I truly believe that they could have turned the corner, cutting the film to the bone and then shooting for three weeks with someone like Paul Feig or Apatow guiding the process. There is near-consensus that the film stops dead when the guy gets killed. So go the full Weekend at Bernie’s or make trying to get rid of the body funny or let them get comfortable with the body as a symbol of their empowerment. SOMETHING! Get some more Demi and Ty Burrell in there. De-pathetic the second act Jillian Bell. Give Scarlett the on-screen make-over. And I’m not even saying that the director couldn’t deliver this. She just needed a much, much stronger third act. This is, mostly, a movie on a stage. Invest another $10 million to make it work well enough to sell or push it to Amazon or Netflix and take your loss. That’s all I’m sayin’.

All Eyez On Me is a hit, given its circumstances. It’s not a huge number. And it will drop a lot next week. But it’s a win. Tupac passed away before the explosion of international… so no idea how it will play there. Maybe France? UK?

47 Meters Down did better than I expected. Entertainment Studios’ first film. They seemed to spend more on publicity than advertising. Smart. I don’t have the numbers, but I can’t believe they expected more.

And The Book of Henry is a classic smash-hit-post-partum present to a director. Focus spent bupkiss on this one and it was probably the right choice. Film Festival opening night in place of a premiere. Etc, etc, etc. A non-event. Looking forward to seeing it on Starz. I bet it’s underrated… and still not a project that was ever going to find an audience as broad as the 569-screen release it got this weekend.

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Friday Estimates by Lenpac Shaklady

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It’s starting to feel like one of those summers that will only get interesting on the back end.

Transformers, Despicable 3, The House, Spidey, Apes, Dunkirk, Detroit… there’s a lot coming out in the next couple months and Guardians 2, all of six weeks ago, is already ancient history.

Cars is a franchise that the media could not care less about. Reviews are always mixed-to-negative. The grosses are never huge, especially domestically. But it is a merchandising cash machine for Disney, as well as Lasseter’s baby, so on it goes. Only thing interesting (barely) about this opening is that it is almost the same Friday number as the first film in the series.

All Eyez on Me is the niche audience smash of the month. It will be the second biggest musical biopic opening ever, around half of Straight Outta Compton‘s. The Rotten Tomatoes obsession will be dented by the 24 score and the big opening. But the pros know this is a niche moviem and niches don’t pay any attention to RT scores. (I will tackle the whole issue of whether anyone decides based on RT scores in some depth this coming week.)

47 Meters Down is a modest debut success for Byron Allen’s theatrical distribution entity, Entertainment Studios. Mandy Moore is lovely and all, but she’s never opened anything. The distributor spent, but not insanely. And got a result that could not realistically expected to be any better.

Rough Night. ROUGH! Not a surprise. Tracking has not been pretty. But still… ouch. I don’t have a clear idea of how it could have gone any better, considering the movie they released. The film is as disjointed as the advertising. And while, perhaps, you could construct a clear idea with a lot of careful cutting of spots (comparing it to the clearly shaped ideas of The Hangover is insulting to The Hangover), it is a tough assignment when the moments that are fun are the five great actresses riffing. Still… you have to go back almost a decade to find a Scarlett Jo opening quiet this bad. (Zoo was a Christmas eve open… others—not her—in the lead).

I am confused by the Focus dump of The Book of Henry directly after premiering at a film festival. The people at Focus are smart, but this feels like they were looking for cover for the inevitable bomb. Did it need to be an inevitable bomb? In a sane world, it would have been distributed outside of the Universal/Focus family and maybe found a softer berth. As for ramifications… stop it. This movie was, essentially, part of Trevorrow’s pay for Jurassic World and with a $10m budget, would not likely have been made otherwise. Nothing to see here.

In the $10k per-screen exclusive release universe, the doc Hare Krishna! The Mantra, the Movement and the Swami Who Started It All tops the weekend while The Journey, a docudrama about internal conflicts in Northern Ireland politics, will also score.

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What Did John J. Avildsen Movies Mean To You?

First reactions online (especially on Twitter) to the passing of the director of The Karate Kid, Lean on Me and Rocky have been emotional. What did his movies mean to you, from childhood, later?
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Review-ish: Rough Night

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Rough Night really doesn’t need a review.

The film takes five appealing and funny actors, starts down the road of a very broad (no pun intended) comedy, and then stops dead in its tracks with the absolutely accidental death of a guy who they think is a stripper.

Didn’t put a “Spoiler Alert” there, as the fact that he isn’t the stripper they were expecting is not telegraphed, but sky-written. And that doesn’t get corrected for what seems like forever… which stands in as an example of what is wrong with this movie.

The comparisons to Peter Berg’s directing debut, the much-debated 1998 Very Bad Things (I was not a fan) don’t seem apt to me, as that film was never positioned as a wacky fun comedy… pitch-black in tone from stem to stern. Yeah, dead sex worker.

Rough Night, on the other hand, is very much a “slightly uptight grown-up woman gets her goofy groove back after a weekend with her crazy friends” comedy for the entire first act… and that is when it (mostly) works. It’s a disjointed mess, pushing gags over story, but with these women, it is fun.

Then, as soon as the “stripper” is killed, in an utterly silly, innocent way, it turns into a “how would women behave if they killed a stripper in Miami by mistake, but a couple of the friends had something to lose if they called the police, so they slowly melt down” drama, much more akin to Netflix’s “Bloodline” than Weekend At Bernie’s.

As I sat in the theater, I wondered, “Is this the female identification movie that women want to see and I just don’t get it?” I don’t think anyone needs to see that. I truly love watching these women do comedy. But as soon as you flip the switch to drama, you need great writing and a solid story… and this film has neither.

A couple moments stuck out.

“Stripper” is bleeding heavily from his head and it is about to get on the white carpet that one of the characters mentioned not wanting to stain. So what is the solution? Towels! They make a big deal out of staining the towels for a second, but towels. Perfectly sane choice. And boring. It doesn’t raise the comedy level. It doesn’t raise the drama level. It’s just what you would do. Not good comedy. Not good drama. Just… so what?

Great visual gag in the second act when the ladies decide to move the body away from the house. All they have access to is a Smart Car (or whatever tiny vehicle it is). The car is so small that the corpse is sticking out of the sunroof with his arms out of the windows. Funny image. But it is only that because we don’t get the process of putting him in the car… or the need for all four (the fifth is napping) women to be in the car at once… or on what planet they think a cop wouldn’t pull them over… or anything much more than the visual gag, which also comes in the middle of these women seriously trying to figure out how to rid themselves of the body.

I am willing to eat most of the wacky comedy coincidences in the script, even if they make no sense. It’s not a documentary. When anyone gets control of a bad guy and then tosses the gun away within reach, you know the bad guy is coming back with that gun. Movie Cliche 4369. I can live with that. And the lack of backstory that would enrich the story… unfortunate loss, but I so like these women.

But you need to pick a tone unless changing tone is going to be brilliant. Demme’s Something Wild went to a deep, brutally dark place in the third act after a lot of whimsy and sexy romance. But some of the most memorable moments in cinema (and Ray Liotta’s career) came out of it.

Before I stop, one beat that I liked a lot and thought would have been brilliant if it was played out. In one of the beats, the amazing Ilana Glazer, who plays a character who seems up for pretty much anything (though seriously lesbian), goes from trying to seduce a cop to knocking him out after he feels her up. There is so much going on there. The flip from passivity to aggression. The thought about what she would do if she knew the guy was a stripper, not a cop (again… no need to SPOILER ALERT, as you will see it coming a block away). The power of a small woman being able to knock a large man out with one good shot to the head. A lot of her character is right there in a 15-second bit…if you fill it out a bit. But instead, it was another gag that made little sense, but that you would forgive happily if it made any sense.

In a weird way, Rough Night is like a failed Midnight Run, where the story was complex, often right at the edge of credibility, but just kept on surprising you and within a minute made sense at every turn because the characters were so well-drawn and… well… because it made sense. Take any big gag in Midnight Run, set it aside from that film, and you get a “will the audience believe that?” in a development meeting. Here you have five strong performers with pretty clear characters and they stay on the rails pretty well… until you get to the major event of the film and then it becomes oil and balsamic without a piece of bread to force them to stay together in one place.

I won’t even start on the outsized amount of time put into one relationship that isn’t critical to the movie’s outcome.

This is The Summer of The Missing Producer. Love or hate IP films, there are better ones and worse ones. There is good and bad in Wonder Woman, but the creative producers let that script hold together in a way that made for one of the best films of the summer. But Baywatch? Snatched? King Arthur? Plenty of talent involved… solid foundations (however well worn)… but at some point in each film (some from the casting stage), these ideas are blown into the ether and there is nothing holding things together besides isolated jokes, abs or other body parts, great cinematography, excessive scoring, and the fact that you already paid for your ticket.

Gotta get better… right?

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“Twin Peaks” SPOILER Zone

Anyone reading write-ups of the episodes now that six of eighteen episodes are out in the world? What are the best theories? What are the things that should never get explained? Elements of Eraserhead, pieces of Lynch’s never-produced “Ronnie Rocket” screenplay and outtakes from Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me have echoed into the unfurling narrative. Does Lynch’s one-minute Lumière tribute short, Premonitions Following an Evil Deed, tell us anything?

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Weekend Estimates by Second Weekend Klady

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Remembering Adam West

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(From a 1962 episode of “Perry Mason.”)

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Friday Estimates by Mummy’s Boy Klady

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So the question of the week seems to be whether The Mummy will, somehow, be affected by its uniformly lousy reviews. And so far, so minimally off tracking. In other words… not a trend.

What has been unique this summer so far is the unanimity of harsh negativity for so much product. I will be doing a fuller analysis of this next week when I am back at my desktop.

More to come… probably…

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Review: The Mummy (spoilers)

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A million ideas… and no Idea.

Universal has gone a long time without a carwreck (and no, I don’t count The Great Wall against their account). So this misfire, which may do some business based on advertising, will not drag the ship down.

But The Mummy is, in so many ways, everything that is wrong with the IP era of film. So much so, that it is a shocking experience.

The film is clear in its intentions to launch a complex reboot of Universal IP, in the shape of no less than The Universal Movie Monster Universe… which gets an entire new logo, Dark Universe (a trivia question by 2025). There is a structure (Prodigium) introduced to act as the fulcrum of the Dark Universe, very much in the way that S.H.I.E.L.D. offers structure for Marvel.

Unfortunately, the monster house is ineptly introduced and then the ineptitude is multiplied by the method offered by the film as Prodigium’s leader, Dr. Jekyll, way of keeping Mr. Hyde at bay. Prodigium is supposed to be the ultimate expert at dealing with violent, powerful, and supernatural beings on earth and yet, the leader, who seems to be subject to personality switching every few hours, can’t come up with a drug delivery system as stable as (for instance) the one that young children us to manage their diabetes in 2017.

I have serious discomfort with how Hyde evolves visually as well. But I will leave that for another day.

Apparently, the overall plan is to roll out Javier Bardem as Frankenstein’s monster in Bride of Frankenstein, then Johnny Depp as The Invisible Man sometime after. I trust Bill Condon to make a solid movie of Bride. But unless the response to The Mummy is much better than I expect, shoving the Prodigium thing into that film will bring nothing but derision. Worse, the fear will be that Johnny Depp will deliver a minor variation on Mortdecai, with invisibility.

But let’s get back to The Mummy. I needed a click counter used at events to count the crowd to keep up with the non-Prodigium mistakes from beginning to end, micro and macro.

To start with, Tom Cruise.

Explaining why he is miscast here requires understanding why the character doesn’t work. On the surface, the story is “rakish thief goes through extreme experience, falls in love, learns to give of himself, becomes the undead and launches a franchise.”

Even that brief version of the story seems a bit much. But worse, the only element that works at all in the film is the “extreme experience.”

Tom Cruise isn’t good at “rakish thief.” He’s not young Harrison Ford. His thing is overly cocky jerk – too sexy to resist even though women know he is trouble – who gets the smirk knocked off his face. Bradley Cooper, who can play cocky with restraint, would have been a lot better as a starting point. There are many other problems with this material, but Cooper would have had a shot. Chris Pine. Ryan Reynolds. Cruise is still good looking and he has spent a lot of time in the gym, but as the guy at the start, now as ever, he lacks a certain warmth.

But then there is the movie. He forces his sidekick into a direct confrontation with dozens of men with machine guns. The duo outruns gunfire in ways beyond the most profound suspension of disbelief. And because this director has no experience with big action sequences, we never – never ever – have a sense of space. Everything is close-ups and singles. So while our “heroes” never stop running, we never know where they are going, where the men with machine guns are, or if any moment is more threatening than another.

After they find the Mummy and he is ordered by his military superior to participate, he – the allegedly clever thief who stays one step ahead of everyone – shoots a rope on what he knows to be a Rube Goldberg-type set-up, with no possible way of knowing what is going to happen. As a movie audience, we know Tom Cruise is not going to have a safe dropped on him. But it is the move of an absolute idiot. Even worse, it is not compelling. Shoulder shrug. And the movie assumes we are idiots by letting him get away with it.

I LOVE crazy action movie sequences. I am thrilled to suspend my disbelief to see something clever and human and delightful. This was not that.

Jump to the best action sequence of the movie… the airplane crash. Mostly well done.

But again… doesn’t make sense. The Mummy’s powers are never defined. She has enough power to summon birds… to suck the life out of men… and to somehow confer life upon Cruise’s character after the plane crash, but on some weird tape delay, where he wakes up in a body bag. How did he get in the body bag?

That is so this movie. He is not a zombie. So why didn’t he just survive the crash? We don’t see his body being recovered…. because if we did, it wouldn’t make any sense.

There are no consistent rules. And audiences will go with virtually any crazy rule you come up with for them. But we need rules (and spacing) so we can anticipate what is coming and then be amazed by how cool what we expected is or to be delighted by being fooled. Hitchcock 101.

There are a hundred twists and turns in this film, but virtually every one feels disconnected from the others.

While they are doing a bad job killing The Mummy (what will actually kill her? how does the process affect her power?), Crowe’s Jekyll passingly mentions that they have to kill Cruise too. It’s played as a joke. It leads up to a fight between Cruise and Hyde that makes absolutely no sense. But worse, between the time Crowe makes the suggestion and the fight, the dialogue might as well be hummina-hummina-hummina because they have to stop making any sense to one another and acting irrationally in order to get to the fight.

Roger Ebert’s old schtick about people being required to do dumb things to make bad horror films work is topped by this movie, which doesn’t even require stupid choices by characters. Major events just keep happening for no apparent reason in the context of the film other than to get to the next “exciting” idea.

And I haven’t even gotten to the horror show that I saw coming the minute I saw an ad for the film with Cruise’s eyes doubling up… it’s the freakin’ Last Samurai all over again.

Throw out all those “empowered women of summer” pieces that include this film. As the story turns, it seems that the forgettable female lead sleeps with Cruise (before the movie begins) to get him to steal her map so he will go find The Mummy. And The Mummy herself is only an elaborate conduit to, inevitably, get Tom Cruise to be The Mummy. Go feminism!

By the way… the issue of the two having sex is another WTF moment that comes up out of seemingly nowhere when it lands. Maybe they cut the sequence of him leaving the room for time or because it didn’t work or something, but you have to tell the story. Truth is, I think the movie thinks she is so unimportant that she didn’t get a full character. A good movie would start with the two seducing each other. Then when they meet again, we, the audience, are vested. Not here.

Back to “Who da Mummy?? He da Mummy!” Once he is The Mummy, what is he as a character? The movie offers no clue, except he can ride a horse and has the power to bring people back to life. Is he a good guy? Will he be the Storm of this team?

I completely understand not committing other characters this early in the UMMU… as Marvel has kept Thanos close to the vest. But who is Cruise’s Mummy? Not giving us a sense of that is inexcusable.

Personally, I hate all the blanket attacks on IP-based films and the assumption of bad will. But then you see The Mummy or Baywatch or the third act of Pirates and you wonder how all those smart, talented people can be so dumb. It’s like they think they audience is a bunch of 4-year-olds who are happy with birthday cake that is all frosting and no cake. (And the frosting flavor is broccoli.)

The Mummy (and Baywatch and Pirates 5) would all be a lot better if they did less with giant effects and more with storytelling. Just look at Wonder Woman, which is overrated but beloved because it just plain works in the most basic ways. I’m all for the lesson of women directing being engaged, but the real story is the simplicity and clarity of the screenplay and filmmaking.

Alex Kurtzman co-wrote the disastrous action films Mission: Impossible III, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (aka The Racist One), and Cowboys and Aliens… all of which could have prepared you for everything that is wrong with The Mummy. What were they meant to be? What is the through-line that gets you through the film? So many cool ideas. Nothing that connects.

Universal made a terrible choice here. Inexperienced director who hasn’t been a writer on a well-liked hit since the Star Trek reboot in 2009. Great TV writer. I really like People Like Us, which is a scale of production that works for him. Tom Cruise was all wrong and can not be anything other than TOM CRUISE. I actually liked Annabelle Wallis in The Brothers Grimsby… thought she was game and funny. Blonde sock puppet here.

And did I mention that Russell Crowe has to do a physical comedy routine more reminiscent of Monty Python than a thriller in order to stay Jekyll?

I want movies like this to be a pleasant surprise. I would settle for “as expected.” It is crushing to keep running into “what were they thinking?” And I don’t recall a run of that quite like this ever before in my 20 years of covering this professionally.

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Weekend Estimates by 100 For A Girl Klady

Wknd Est corr 2017-06-04 at 9.13.21 AM copy

Wonder Woman is estimating just over the $100 million mark, which could end up being a little high or a little low. Either way, a strong debut better than any of the non-Iron Man standalone character Marvel launches. Not as Wonderful, Captain Underpants closed out the DreamWorks Animation run at Fox with their second lowest opener after delivering their second best opener just a few months ago. The two arthouse winners for the weekend were A24’s The Exception and IFC’s Band Aid.

Wonder Woman is estimating at just over $100 million. Might be more. Word of mouth is strong. Media push is strong.

The key stat, to me, is that this is the best launch of a superhero standalone ever. Iron Man was $98.6 million. And Superman and Batman both launched a generation ago. Did women push Wonder Woman over the top here? The Norse god, chemically enhanced human icicle, and guys who hang out with raccoons, people of non-human skin tones, and tree demos clearly didn’t change their games, although audiences proved they wanted to see all of those films.

This is certainly more proof that the female moviegoing demo is more than commercially viable… as Hollywood is already fully aware, given the summer of all buddy comedies being about female buddies. Next serious mission is to have more women work on these films.

On the arthouse side, Band Aid opened this weekend and if you take a gander at the imdb page, you will see a remarkably high percentage of women working behind the camera… choices worth supporting. (A DP/30 with the filmmaker and co-star lands next week.)

Captain Underpants crapped the diaper. Tra-la-la!!!! The end of the Fox distribution deal with DreamWorks Animation ended not with a bang, but a whimper. The 6-12 set LOVE this movie. I have personally spoken to many of them about it and my son was at a Captain U birthday party yesterday where he saw the film a second time. Butt (hee-hee… read the books) the demo didn’t deliver enough to make this a strong play for DWA. I think a TV version for Netflix would be a home run, however… much more so than Turbo (a movie I liked), which had no serious underlying IP. Dav Pikey’s books are not going away. Generations would watch that show.

Pirates drop was okay… based on a weak start domestically. It’s this summer’s, uh, Pirates of the Caribbean.

Baywatch also held okay… based on a weak start domestically.

Alien: Covenant is looking like the last sequel before Alien. International no longer seems likely to save this prequel series.

Everything, Everything is the surprise success of the summer, even with $28 million in the bank. WB spent nothing, nothing (relative to their norm) to push it out and it will be a moneymaker and, it seems, a strong library title.

Besides Band Aid, the other $10, 000 arthouse movie this weekend is The Exception from A24.

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Friday Estimates by Wonder Klady

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Wonder Woman isn’t hampered by sexism. Nor does it seem to be buoyed by gender empowerment. It’s opening as one would expect – perhaps a tick or two better – the first standalone non-Batman/Superman DC character film.  Up around the $100 million mark after an effects-heavy campaign that audiences liked.

There will be a lot of debate about the details, and that’s fine. But this opening is what one really wants to see for “female-led films” with “female directors”… parity.

There are moments in Wonder Woman that will thrill female viewers in particular, though I felt that same tingle down the spine that those women probably felt when “Paradise Island’s” warriors went into action en masse against the Germans. For me, it was, in no small part, because it was cool to see women fight like that. And I suppose, when one gets down to it, the rush was fresher, but not dissimilar to the rush one gets when seeing “the good guys” go into a major battle with “the bad guys” in any good movie.

Wonder Woman is a big step for women in film mostly because it is not that big a step cinematically. We were not experiencing the arrival of David Fincher or Christopher Nolan or Brad Bird. In a weird way, it reminds me of the feeling of seeing Ant-Man after all the mess with Edgar Wright leaving and Peyton Reed taking over. Loyalty to Wright made the whole thing seem precarious (and we still love Edgar), but Reed delivered a movie that was not only as good as was expected, but above expectations. I don’t know what Michelle MacLaren would have delivered or how much better it might have been (or about what she and WB conflicted), but Patty Jenkins, who stepped in late in the game, delivered a movie that works well. (For my few objections, see the review.)

Warner Bros will be crowing about how this film will out-open all of the standalone Thor and Captain America films (Civil War being a mini-Avengers film). And they should. They deserve to enjoy the win.

This would be a good time to point out that even though the Zack Snyder DC Universe has been shat upon critically up until now – deservedly so – this opening makes them 4 for 4 with $100 million domestic openings under Snyder’s supervision… a better streak than Marvel. $117m. $166m, $134m, and now, just over the line, but still likely $100m and change. I loved Ant-Man and Doctor Strange and neither opened to $100 million or very close. The real question will be whether Wonder Woman can top Strange’s $677m worldwide.

This weekend’s #2 is in Underpants. (Ewww!) The final Fox release of a DreamWorks Animation film is Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie, which with an opening around $30m will likely be the last epic movie. (We’re in Mr. Peabody & Sherman territory, financially.) It’s a shame. Having read all the “Captain Underpants” books (thanks, kid), I think they made a mistake by sticking close to the origin story and not going as wild as the series goes. On the other hand, I guess that the successful book series has a natural age boundary that will never lead to giant grosses. I hope that Universal and DreamWorks make more films from the series for Netflix at a lower budget. There is a lot of room for creativity.

Meanwhile, Pirates 5 thumbs its nose at you, as it likely passes $600 million worldwide this weekend, with only $100m and change of that gross domestically.

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Review: Wonder Woman

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Wonder Woman is a very likable movie.

But it was also a very likable movie when Marvel made its kissing cousin, Captain America: The First Avenger in 2011.

Before I get into that, where spoilers live, and the ending, which I found a little tragic, a spoiler-free overview.

Gal Gadot is very pretty. She has a limited range as an actress. This leaves most of the emoting to Chris Pine, who does a nice job. Gadot is at her very best when being funny or posing dramatically. (I also liked her in Keeping Up with the Joneses, although she leaned on a very specific note.)

The movie starts with a semi-animated story set-up.  (Meh.) Then we are into Princess Diana’s childhood, from a scruffy little 7-year-old to a preteen to a woman. It is all well done (CG waterfalls seemed a little cheap at times) and a pleasure to see women fighting and behaving in the ways the movies have shown us men behaving for 100 years.

Of course, how a dark-skinned, deep brown-eyed, raven-haired girl came from the blondest cast in the history of cinema is never explained. (Guesses one might make in the film are never fulfilled.) Perhaps the funniest thing is listening to a range of actors, great and stuntwomen, try to approximate Gal Gadot’s middle-European Israeli accent to mostly comedic effect. People are all over the place. Gadot’s accent never gets much more definitive (seems to be her actual accent), but the cast around her stops trying to match it after the first act, which was blessed relief.

Still… funny accents and all, the time on the island is pleasant. I never bought Connie Nielsen and Robin Wright as sisters. It felt like watching a stunts designed to show that women could do stunts just as well as men. But when the group goes into battle mode, they are as compelling as any period action movie you have seen.

Gadot’s Wonder Woman really comes to life once Steve Trevor arrives. Clever pseudo-innocent sexual banter that was nicely played and written (though I think they went for one penis joke on the island that the audience wasn’t getting – “That tiny thing tells you what to do? ” – shortly after one joke that they did). In many ways, this is the real beginning of the story, the origins on Themyscira Island (later dubbed Paradise Island with no fanfare) playing like a prologue (within establishing bookends).

After arriving in London, Diana Prince does a lot of fish-out-of-water schtick. And it’s pretty terrific. Diana is a walking emancipation proclamation for women and this plays charmingly, not archly. After all, she is 100% right and she is in situations where if a modern woman showed up, these things absolutely should have been said.

Second act, Trevor and his sidekicks (The Howling Commandos gone Euro-variable) go on the big mission.

Third act, the complicated plot merges with Diana’s lingering stuff and the film becomes much more traditional, much less clever, and ultimately, confused. There is strong emotional work by Chris Pine here, as he walks the tightrope between macho and metro skillfully. Never slips.

I will discuss the ending in the Spoiler section… though I will tell you that it didn’t spoil the movie for me.

There is a lot that can be picked apart in this movie. The three or four ideas that would take this from a good movie to a great movie are all attempted and none of them land. It’s not easy. Very few entries in this genre manage to hit even one big idea solidly. So don’t over-read this complaint. But it should be said. It’s also not particularly special as filmmaking. Patty Jenkins delivers by-the-book work, which I would say is every bit as solid as the work now being done by the Russo Bros., who have a big imprint on the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Like the spin-off films of Marvel, the material here is inherently better and less constricted by The Money. Ms. Jenkins’ deification may be a bit overstated (or a lot), but she should see plenty of offers at major studios moving forward.

Best of all, this is a breath of fresh air in the Zack Snyder DC rage oeuvre.

Wonder Woman is a solid character, although it isn’t clear that the charms of this version of the character will appear in Justice League or other modern takes. Maybe she will be as good as this. Maybe not. The character will be, after all, 70 years older… and not frozen in ice for most of it like Captain America.

But basically, it works well. Huzzah.

SPOILER SECTION

There are two major oddities – aside from the accents on the island – in Wonder Woman. The reflection of Captain America: The First Avenger and the very end of the movie in which this iconic natural feminist finds her power not in herself, bit in the emotional connection to a man.

The Cap Connection first…

Obviously, the origins of Diana Prince and Steve Rogers are different. One is naturally gifted with superpowers from royal/godly blood and the other takes a serum that gives him his powers.

One opens in current day with the military finding a frozen Steve Rogers, thawing him out, and telling his origin story. The other opens with Bruce Wayne finding a chilly Diana Prince and giving her a gift that makes her warmly recall her origin story.

One has a villainous Nazi with a normal face that is transformed into a red skull as a result of his madness for more power. The other has a villainous German sith a normal face that is transformed into a glowing, oddity as a result of his madness for more power.

There is also a diminutive evil genius behind the villain. In Cap, it’s Toby Jones. In Wonder Woman, it’s Elana Anaya, one of the great beauties of Almodóvar, for whom she was also partially masked (The Skin I Live In). It’s one of the flaws of this film, albeit not a deadly one, that the clearly intended correlation of a woman who is working for evil vs the first female superhero never comes to fruition or is even discussed.

Both films have a band of sidekicks. Here is it a Mediterranean, a Scotsman, and a Native American far from home. In Cap, it was The Howling Commandos, led by a Irish American and featuring a black man, an Asian, a Frenchman, etc.

Diana Prince and Steve Rogers are both goody two-shoes whose do-right fervor is a bit overstated. Both have a doomed military romance. (Her with Steve and him with Peggy.)

I’m sure there would be more examples if I sat and obsessed on it another few hours. Don’t want to. Feel free to e-mail or tweet me your additional examples.

The second big issue is what I have long called “The Glory Issue.” The brave black men of the military in the film Glory explain that they are fighting for their country, not for the white man. But when do they make the big, heroic, deadly charge up the hill? Right after the white leader dies.

In this film, what allows Diana to access the deep internal power she has been told she has but has not reached throughout the film? The death of Steve Trevor.

She spends most of this movie teaching the men how to be better people, leading the way, high on a horse of moral stringency… and then, it’s the boy who gets her over the hump.

(And let’s not even get into whether they did, as it were, hump. It’s hard to imagine that they first blush of sexual rapture by a women in her late 20s (or so), alone with a man she is in love with, is going to stop with a kill or some dry humping. It’s almost as though the movie was afraid to let her have her sexuality because it would, somehow, diminish her power even further.)

And if you had any doubt about how he fit into her worldview, she quotes him verbatim and sends a note to Bruce Wayne specifically referencing Trevor.

And on top of this, the whole Ares thing is just a flat tire. I assumed, watching much of the movie, that he would turn out to be her parent. But… no. At least, not in this cut. And he isn’t the key to human evil either. So… who cares?

As far as the physical confrontation between the two… zzzzzzzz.

Love David Thewlis. Didn’t care to watch him a second longer… and I could watch an entire series about his “Fargo” character this season. Just another “so what?.” And another man who is somehow defining the emotional life of the ultimate powerful woman.

If you are reading this, I hope you already saw the film. Would love to know if it bothered you too… and if, like me, you still had a good time… just wished it was a better time.

“I used to want to save the world, this beautiful place. But the closer you get, the more you see the great darkness within. I learnt this the hard way, a long, long time ago.”

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The Hot Blog

Quote Unquotesee all »

“When Bay keeps these absurd plot-gears spinning, he’s displaying his skill as a slick, professional entertainer. But then there are the images of motion—I hesitate to say, of things in motion, because it’s not clear how many things there are in the movie, instead of mere digital simulations of things. It doesn’t matter. What matters is that there’s a car chase through London, seen from the level of tires, that could have gone on for an hour, um, tirelessly. What matters is that the defenestrated Cade saves himself by leaping from drone to drone in midair like a frog skipping among lotus pads; that he and Vivian slide along the colossal, polished expanses of sharply tilting age-old fields of metal like luge Olympians. What matters is that, when this heroic duo find themselves thrust out into the void of inner space from a collapsing planet, it has a terrifyingly vast emptiness that Bay doesn’t dare hold for more than an instant lest he become the nightmare-master. What matters is that the enormous thing hurtling toward Earth is composed in a fanatical detail that would repay slow-motion viewing with near-geological patience. Bay has an authentic sense of the gigantic; beside the playful enormity of his Transformerized universe, the ostensibly heroic dimensions of Ridley Scott’s and Christopher Nolan’s massive visions seem like petulant vanities.”
~ Michael Bay Gives Richard Brody A Tingle

How do you see film evolving in this age of Netflix?

I thought the swing would be quicker and more violent. There have been two landmark moments in the history of French film. First in 1946, with the creation of the CNC under the aegis of Malraux. He saved French cinema by establishing the advance on receipts and support fund mechanisms. We’re all children of this political invention. Americans think that the State gives money to French films, but they’re wrong. Through this system, films fund themselves!

The other great turning point came by the hand of Jack Lang in the 1980s, after the creation of Canal+. While television was getting ready to become the nemesis of film, he created the decoder, and a specific broadcasting space between film and television, using new investments for film. That once again saved French film.

These political decisions are important. We’re once again facing big change. If our political masters don’t take control of the situation and new stakeholders like Netflix, Google and Amazon, we’re headed for disaster. We need to create obligations for Internet service providers. They can’t always be against film. They used to allow piracy, but now that they’ve become producers themselves, they’re starting to see things in a different light. This is a moment of transition, a strong political act needs to be put forward. And it can’t just be at national level, it has to happen at European level.

Filmmaker Cédric Klapisch