The Hot Blog Archive for July, 2017

Review: Dunkirk (spoiler-free)

Christopher-Nolans-Dunkirk-IMAX-poster-croppedIt was the best of films… it was the worst of films…

Dunkirk is the ultimate film critic Christmas present sitting at the base of the tree on the most beautiful of Christmas mornings with all of the relatives you loved back from the dead (in a nice way) and there to enjoy every moment of your cinematic pleasure.

And… Dunkirk is an overly-refined ticking-clock movie without a clock or any significant insight into the power of what happened on that beach in seven days in May 77 years ago.

How can Dunkirk be both these things?

It takes a genius. And Christopher Nolan is a genius filmmaker. It is impossible to imagine that he won’t, finally, get his first Oscar nomination for directing this… because it as directed a film as you can really imagine. The images are big and bold and every frame is a picture of skill and elegance. The IMAX experience is different than the 70mm experience – one feels like uncharted territory and the other just gorgeous – but either way, it is a visual feast.

It also takes the myopia of genius to make a movie about 300,000 people, reduce it to 12 of them and not worry about the scale of the human experience. I am not unaware of or unsympathetic to the idea of reducing something of massive scale down to a handful of people who stand as symbols. And Dunkirk tips its hat to that… but only kinda. It’s a movie that shows you massive numbers of men in landscape view, rarely harking back to massiveness of the effort… never even suggesting for a moment that 700 small boats came to the rescue. (I would estimate that the largest group of boats we saw numbered 20 or less.) And in a movie so full of starkness and imagery, you may be too busy to notice that you are being Forrest Gump-ed by the lead character.

By the end of the movie, a character has to tell us what was meant to happen on that beach and what actually happened on that beach or we would not know. (And don’t even get me started on the failure to explain what “The Mole” is until late in the film and then only in passing. It’s the pier.)

There is nothing inherently wrong with the film focusing on a young grunt trying to survive the week. But handsome as he is – and this is a movie of handsome men – he is a blank canvas that Nolan uses to tour the audience through a variety of stories that I assume really happened to someone on that beach. The audience never knows what our protagonist knows or even what he wants, aside from survival.

The problem with that is that even though the movie is a beautiful book of images from that period, meticulously and magically brought to life, I don’t know what Christopher Nolan feels about this whole enterprise. The film is not devoid of feelings or comment. Almost all of the emotion there is comes from Mark Rylance’s character, whose motives and ideas of the world become clear.

There is a major point about/in the film that is also a major spoiler, so I will hold off for now. But I do feel like this event and the meaning behind it for Nolan is a major part of the conversation about this movie. It has to be deliberate choice by Nolan to make it so singular an event in a film in which death in around every corner. But… later.

The movie comprises three distinct parts; Land, Air, and Sea, each of which has characters associated with it and through all of which the lead character wanders. Branagh is mostly there to look stoic and to be Basil Exposition. Hardy is one of two pilots who are fully committed to doing all they can do to protect the men hoping to escape the beach. (His mumbling covered by a mask seems almost like self-homage at points.) And there is Rylance, who captains one of the private ships and has a teen son and a teen family friend on board. The Rylance segment is where almost all the emotion – aside from being threatened by bullets, fire, or drowning – exists in this film. And there is the central character, the silent thread, that someone manages to have every possible experience of The Dunkirk Miracle in two days.

I recommend that anyone who loves movies see Dunkirk and if you can find a way to see it in IMAX, spend the time and money to do that. You should have this experience. And you should take from it what you instinctively take. Don’t listen to critics, pro or con. Just go have the experience.

That said, Dunkirk falls well short of a masterpiece because I was watching a filmmaker do something beautiful, but I was not filled with the spirit of Dunkirk. In a very intensive 106 minutes, I think I got hit emotionally four or five times. None of it sustained.

Near the end of a second viewing, I was struck with a comparison to Chariots of Fire, of all things. In that film, Hugh Hudson balanced the dryness of the British temperament with deep passions of two runners, one who ran for respect and the other who ran for God. I later thought about how unique the imagery of the track racing was at the time, and even how the Vangelis score (which became a cliché  in an instant) was unique at that time. Among the things that makes Chariots work better than Dunkirk for me, is the emotion the lies in the choices that confront both runners and moments of insight and emotion like Sam Mussabini punching through his hat, alone in a room where he is hiding, when he finds out his charge has won. One of the few memorable emotional beats in Dunkirk is a simple line from an old man who understands better than young men what is of value. Not quite grand emotion… but the closest to even subtle celebration we will get here.

Still, only the Rylance character (and for a moment, his son) gets to confront morality in a real way in the film. (There is a moment with the boys that comes close, but circumstance keeps morality from being resolved in a real way.)

I can’t agree with many critics that this is a great war film. It’s not really about war. It is about one element of war, commitment. The war and those 299,888 men are really a backdrop. No one is making choices about this war and their role in it, except at the most micro level. Even when choices come up, the die is really cast.

All the great war films are steeped in choice, often from the first frame to the last. And indeed, the most emotional moment of the film surrounds the rare character who makes a choice of a sweet whim and suffers from fate, not war.

Dunkirk also puts me in mind of The Revenant, which I had very different issues with, but which was also a remarkable piece of filmmaking. My issues with the movie aside, Iñárritu devoted a lot of the film to the deep emotional drives of those characters.

Less of Dunkirk would have served the movie’s ambitions better. The movie is tightly cut… not what I am saying. I don’t agree with Todd McCarthy’s conclusion, but “Dunkirk is an impressionist masterpiece” is right on line with the truth. It’s an impressionist piece. So the concessions it makes to traditional filmmaking don’t serve that well. I would prefer a 100% commitment to impressionism. Of course, the financing might go away. So I get why the film swings back and forth between pure, you-figure-it-out-audience art and a Movie. As a reslut, I was left surprisingly hungry leaving the theater.

I had no expectations walking into the theater. And seeing it a second time disabused me of any notions that might lingered. I am happy Christopher Nolan got to make the film he wanted to make. I am glad Dunkirk exists. But I don’t think much of it will stick, outside of cinema studies class and great moving image packages. I still want to see it again in IMAX. It is absolutely beautiful. I can’t say often enough, do go.

It’s just… I wanted to walk out of Dunkirk with my heart beating. And I walked out with my brain humming. Frustrating for me. Not for everyone.

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RIP Martin Landau

8northbynorthwest-jamesmason

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BYOFear: RIP George A. Romero

16092009365_d9edb4fbd8_o
(Image © Ray Pride.)
DAY OF THE DEAD

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Weekend Estimates by War For The Box Office Klady

Weekend Estimates 2017-07-16 at 11.38.51 AM

Apes: Volume 2 – Episode 3, as described yesterday, followed the pattern of a new box office niche. Establish a decent-sized domestic audience, maintain that audience, never grow much past that audience. Some of these audiences are bigger, obviously. Harry Potter, Twilight, and Rings all lived up in the $300 million neighborhood domestically before adding big international numbers. Then you have series like Divergent and Percy Jackson that are of a lower order. In the middle, Apes.

One of the new tricks attempt an uptick in stable franchises is to create a closer for the series. This trick has been connected, in the upper echelons, to the two-part closer, which is riskier now (though even with a downtick, the 50 Shades franchise seems sure to make a profit even on its third film).

So perhaps this is what Fox was thinking when it pushed the “This is the END” agenda on Apes 3: War.

Didn’t work.

At the risk of a spoiler, I would have suggested a pivot to the new idea out there, the franchise makeover. Ground the franchise to the series, but change the crew and the tone to get the next wave. This film could have been sold as “Apes: The Caesar Saga – The Finale.” I don’t think it would significantly changed the profile of this movie financially (or to shorten… wouldn’t have worked). But I do want to see the kinda-sorta-remake of Planet of the Apes that is the natural next step, unless they want to do a very political, chatty, human-free version of The Founding Of Ape-merica.

The industry is still figuring out how to effectively manage IP, while being distracted with the details of each individual film and its financial profile. The same is true of Netflix and content, though we are even earlier in the maturity of on-demand subscription based future… though the individual project distraction is cloaked by financial and result secrecy.

Marvel (shocker!) has the most success in building off center-brand, then bringing side brands into the big brand. One of the tools they are big on now is adding center-brand characters to slightly-off-brand movies as secondary leads. Hulk in the upcoming Thor. Iron Man in Spider-Man. Iron Man and then Ant-Man and Spider-Man in the third Captain America. Of course, most franchise plays don’t have this kind of range of characters to work with.

We have found, with two films, that off-center Star Wars films make management nervous.

Warner Bros has had a great success with its first non-Bat/Supes off-shoot, which followed the Marvel history closely, as Wonder Woman mirrors the first Captain America closely. At the same time, as they work to roll out individual JLA characters, they will be coming off the the JLA film, not the other way around, as Marvel has done.

There is a lot of talk about Tom Rothman doing a bunch of cheap superhero movies at Sony, spun off the Spider-Man rights. Anyone who is in this business should be applauding this move, as it could be a working model for others. And if it fails, only Tom gets hurt. Why would you care? Ideally, the cheaper model would allow for more aesthetic freedom and more interesting director choices.

One has to wonder what the meetings are like at Fox, where they have the X-Men and Fantastic Four in line for reboots and Deadpool all blown up. There really needs to be a 5-year-plan and a $2 billion commitment (inc P&A) to at least 7 films in this mini-universe and that should bring on IBS for any executive who is determining their heroism or death by 7 severe cuts in greenlighting it all. Worst/Best of all, the right choice is to create their own signature angle on this, not to just imitate what Marvel once did… because Marvel has already made those adjustments.

Would you pay to see a movie in which Wolverine, The Thing, Deadpool, Storm, Sabertooth, Mystique, and The Human Torch do a Magnificent Seven, directed by James Mangold? I sure would.

What would a romcom with Reed Richards courting Sue Storm look like?

What would an Alien movie look like with earth-bond superheroes, who can’t breathe in space, be, sharp claws and laser eyes on the Nostromo being a problem?

Obviously, there are thousands of variations. This is the experience of being a comic book fan. (At least it was for me.) Virtually anything was possible in any new run of books.

Hell, they could do their own Civil War and kill almost every Marvel character they control… then restart again. There is a small part of the ticket-buying world that cares about The Universe. Most of them want to see that really cool thing that the trailer showed them. And then the next one. Then the next one.

So… War for the Planet of the Apes did okay. The number wasn’t shocking in either direction. And now, we wait to see if international is stronger or weaker than the last time.

Spider-Man: Homecoming, off 61%… not so good. 50% is about the optimal number on a big Marvel opening. The film is still ahead of Wonder Woman‘s clip at 10 days, but that should flip (putting WW ahead permanently) this next week. Still, the celebration of one film’s gross and the diminishment of the other isn’t about the math. Both films are amongst 46 in film history to crack $200 million in 10 days or less. For the record, this “homecoming” is just over $60m ahead of Amazing Spidey 2 after 10 days. International, which was laid out rather oddly in comparison on ASM2, feels like it is running about the same, which is to say, pointed towards $500m+, but not $700m.

Some readers of this space seem to want a full paragraph Wonder Woman shout-out every week… a testimonial to the film’s success. Another great hold. And it should pass Guardians Vol. 2 for top summer slot next weekend. Wonder Woman has certainly become the best liked large-scale movie of this summer.

Also holding strong, on a whole different scale, is Baby Driver. Did anyone really expect Baby Driver, with no opening star, to be at $73 million domestic in 19 days? That’s $8 million behind Passengers, which had the Christmas week advantage. It’s $37 million behind Ghostbusters, which is Sony’s #1 domestic non-Spidey grosser of the last 2 years, but the two films at the 19-day mark are heading in opposite box office directions. Could Baby Driver pass that $128m domestic landmark? It would be a huge stretch, finding part of the audience that hasn’t landed yet.

Coming in a couple weeks, in a similar vein, Atomic Blonde is coming and big Universal has taken over much of the marketing/publicity of the film from Focus, apparently in the effort to mine the opportunity on the studio scale. It’s interesting to wonder whether Baby Driver‘s success increased fire under this title. The film doesn’t have the Rotten Tomato 100% advantage that Baby Driver had and which Sony worked hard (though they claim otherwise). But it’s one of those odd cases where 4 “rotten” reviews are killing their number (currently 78%). Variety reviewed out of SXSW and I would expect Universal to be pushing for a re-review by Debruge. The other three are Erik Childress (for The Playlist), William Bibbiani (for Crave Online), and Meredith Borders (for Birth.Death.Movies.). Nothing against those individuals, but the madness of the whole obsession with RT scores is exposed when you see the ability for a campaign to be derailed (U will work around it, obviously) by a few website freelancers. Big Comic-Con push this next weekend with a branded (funded?) EW Hall H appearance by Charlize.

Despicable Me 3 has “only” done $187 million in 17 days. That’s well off of DM2. No one is crying. That’s because of $431 million international. That’s #3 for the summer so far. No one is crying for the #1 international grosser of the summer to date either… Pirates 5… $750 million and counting. Boo hoo.

Wish Upon is actually Broad Green’s #3 opener ever. But that doesn’t make it good. The film is destined to gross its reported $12m production budget domestically. (Which means they get half back before paying for marketing.)

The Big Sick is another happy box office story. As noted yesterday, the expansion is a solid double, not a home run… mostly meaning that these numbers don’t scream that there is another gear up, just nice holds as it plays theatrically through August. Nothing at all to be unhappy about. The film is well on the way to being profitable for Amazon and the 30s or 40s are ahead.

Speaking of big per-screen, De Pere en Flic 2… ya feelin’ me? And in English, Lady Macbeth and Endless Poetry.

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Friday Estimates by Primate Klady

Friday Est 651w 2017-07-15 at 8.25.00 AM

Déjà monkey.

War for the Planet of the Apes is a perfect example of a pretty new classic… the franchise that does well enough at home to keep going, but grows internationally to make it worth continuing. This is, thankfully, the well-reviewed version of this phenomenon. I am glad we have these films and Matt Reeves has delivered another strong episode, albeit one in so small a world space that it doesn’t feel like a wrap-up to the series at all.

The first two films in the new series did $177m and $209m respectively domestically. (If you are whining about this opening, you are a box office ignoramus.) The second of the two, Dawn, did $502 million internationally, compared to $301m for Rise. If the franchise grow internationally again, expect not only a #4, but a #5.

If they continue, it appears that this film is meant to be the end of the Caesar era. If there is a #4, I would expect it to push a generation into the future, to just before the Charlton Heston version, when the people who are left have been turned into what apes once were. But is Caesar himself the Robert Downey, Jr. Iron Man of this series? These three films have been unique in their willingness to kill off cast and move along without worrying about giving the audience familiar humans in multiple films. Would the next be an entirely new start? Is that the answer to IP in 2017?

Not a definitive day for Spider-Man: Homecoming. It’s running ahead of Wonder Woman. Weekdays were strong. But it is off the number for the second Friday. The weekend will tell more. $400m+ worldwide is for sure this weekend, but $450m is possible.

Baby Driver is still revving its engines, heading past $70 million domestic this weekend, already Edgar Wright’s biggest film worldwide.

The Big Sick goes wide – 2597 screens – and does well. It is significant that Lionsgate (and Amazon Studios) are taking a very different tack than last year with Best Picture nominees Hell or High Water or Hacksaw Ridge or Manchester by the Sea (Amazon via Roadside). Hacksaw started wide and neither Hell or Manchester ever got to a screen count like the 2597 of Sick this weekend.

The closest thing comp in the last couple of years is St Vincent, a couple years ago, with Bill Murray and Melissa McCarthy. They went wide in the third weekend, while this is Sick‘s fifty. They had a $7.7m weekend, which Sick won’t likely reach this weekend, but close. But they held well and had seven $1m weekends before starting to fall off with over $40 million in the bank. $40 million would be a big number for a Kumail Nanjiani dramedy.

Take a look a Box Office Mojo’s respect for Kumail’s box office power…
Screen Shot 2017-07-15 at 9.23.19 AM

You can’t fault Lionsgate and Amazon for hitting the gas here. The ambition to get well past $20 million is honorable and word-of-mouth suggests that passing $30 million is not a pipe dream. And $40 million would not be a miracle… just magical.

Wish Upon is a niche release with a even nichier opening.

Lady Macbeth is the arthouse hero of the weekend, with over $11k per screen for the 3-day.

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BYOSheet

Ghosting

 

Scary stuff! Talk about A Ghost Story (mark spoilers where necessary)? There’s both hate and love out there for David Lowery’s life-looping melancholy.

What have you seen in the past year that rattled the windows, whether new or something you’ve watched for the first time? (Not including the 3pm, 5pm, 7pm and 10pm headline news drops.)

The Wailing? It Comes At Night? The Bad Batch? And is there such a thing as Post-Horror?

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Really Simple Perspective On The Film Business (Summer 2017)

We are at that time of the year when there isn’t a lot of news… so otherwise professional people start mouthing off like a bunch of nattering nabobs of negativity.

In 20 years of doing this, I have had maybe four or five years total in which I didn’t hear “It’s worse than it’s ever been!” Hollywood is always shutting down. It’s always over for theatrical. The Next Big Thing is forever running this town.

Then it shifts.

So on this sunny mid-July morning, let’s look at some numbers… really, really simplified, stupidly simplified numbers. And then, you can make up your mind.

Worldwide Theatrical for US studio-based movies
$30 billion.
Returns on those grosses to the distributor
$15 billion.

Post-Theatrical Revenues for US studio-based movies (no licensing)
$14 billion
Returns on those grosses to the distributor
$9 billion

So… for all the effort of releasing movies into the world, US studios are looking at a big pot of about $24 billion a year.

$8.5 billion into production
$7.5 billion into marketing

Again, super broad-figures, but that leaves $9 billion for overhead and profit.

Netflix is a most excellent company and has been a boon to the studios, even after they stopped spending on licensing already-released theatrical films for streaming.

How much is Netflix spending each year on what they categorize as films? About $500 million.

And Amazon, which does theatricals? About $350 million.

Absolutely no disrespect to either streamer… but they are the tail, not the dog. They are not close to the size of any major, in terms of output. They are close to – and Amazon is often in business with – Lionsgate… but without the library value Lionsgate has.

But media is again caught up in the charming fantasy of change. There is no denying that Netflix, in particular, has been a pioneer and change-maker. They have shifted – first with DVD rentals, then with streaming – the preferences of the end user. Streaming, which was inevitable, is happening at least a decade before slow-moving studios were ready to make the switch. That is Netflix’s first mover advantage.

The idea, however, that the entire film industry needs to change what it is doing to accommodate Netflix throwing $275 million at Scorsese, Pitt, and Will Smith is, simply, insane.

The question of how to expand revenues again after DVD crashed – in part because of Netflix and streaming, but in part because of greed and short-sightedness in the management of the format – is completely legitimate. But studios have to remember where their money is. Most of it is tied up in theatrical and the too-expensive marketing push to break new product into the market.

Perhaps a good moment to bring up China. Huge new market. Could become as big as the U. S. and Canada for the majors. But right now, it’s worth about 14% of the domestic market. Roughly $2.7 billion a year in grosses for U.S. movies, but with half the return (or worse) as other international markets.

Yet, in the last few years, we have all seen a gold rush attitude toward China, as well as the massively expanded international market overall. And that has changed the way films are chosen and made.

Look back at 2006. There were 100 films that grossed $50 million or more worldwide. 49.7% of the gross was international. Last year, 102 films grossed $50 million or more worldwide. 59.5% of the gross was international. That 10% change, in a low-margin business, changes everything. If we were still seeing the DVD revenues of that mid-2000s moment, you would be seeing star salaries in the $40m range for at least 10 actors and $400 million production budgets. And we’d have the same complaints, but there would be so much cash, everyone would be dumb & (metaphorically) fat.

Ten years further back… 1996. Pre-DVD. Only 38 films grossed $50 million or more worldwide that year. And 53.7% of the grosses were coming from international.

Netflix is not an unimportant factor. China is not an unimportant factor. But the industry, settling in to the horror of having lost the Home Entertainment business as it was, is endlessly searching for the Next Big Thing.

Bob Iger, after two previous attempts at resetting the Disney business, found gold in Big IP. Twenty years from now, we will no doubt be discussing how Disney fell apart under the weight of that Big IP machine. But for now, it is the platinum standard. It has worked because of the IP itself, no half-hearted buys. And it has worked because o fLasseter and Feige and Kathleen Kennedy. And it has worked at least in part by the rise of CG as an expensive, yet reliable storytelling tool.

1978, You will believe a man can fly. 2002, You will believe a teen can swing through the streets of New York. 2006, You will believe that you are seeing an actor acting with his face covered by a digital squid. 2011, You will believe a Transformer can act.

Now… here is the big problem. The future of post-theatrical is not going to get richer. It will grow incrementally over time. And there will be breakthroughs in countries like China, in which the massive population will pay $2 US a month for channels like Netflix and even though it is frustratingly cheap, it could mean a $4 billion a year (or $2 billion or $8 billion) bump for those companies who intend to make that happen.

But aside from the obvious, and the long future hopes… the post-theatrical market is static. Since studios are not building their own Netflixes effectively, not only are they losing a lot of short-window revenue, but their libraries – even fairly recent ones – are relatively fallow.

“Doing Disney” is just not an option for anyone else. Universal has done, by far, the best job of finding middle ground, even with the disastrous Mummy launch this summer. They build on what they have. They try to make thoughtful additions (Amblin, DreamWorks Animation), but they aren’t breaking the bank to chase the IP monster. Universal is minding their knitting on lower-budget and mid-budget movies that deliver for them.

And the truth of the future is, again, that it can become stable… but it is unlikely to provide significant growth. A hundred million households in the US will only grow in number incrementally and the $90 or so the average household spends on having entertainment piped into the house can only grow incrementally.

ESPN is the current big victim of the new reality. When cable/satellite became the norm, ESPN was a must-carry. In 2017, the idea of must-carry is at death’s door. A couple years ago, in a system built across two decades, ESPN was in more than 100 million households and had gross revenue from that alone of $6.9 billion. Fastforward to the coming future. say 20 million households “need” ESPN. Say they charge $15 a month and get it. That’s $3.6 billion. And that would be a massive (unrealistic) success in the coming future.

Disney, as a unit, can, I believe, get 98% household saturation in the future. But not for a single arm of Disney. For all of Disney’s post-first-release product, including ESPN, ABC, etc., that’s only $18 billion a year. And there will be room only for seven or so such $15-a-month entities.

We are really early in this process. But I believe it to be inevitable. Digital walls are too thin. They must be rebuilt into the next standard, which can then survive the next 50 years

That is why theatrical release — the one true one-ticket-per-customer opportunity for film moving forward — will become the dominant focus for growth. Not because I love the church of cinema (and I do), but because of money… greed… human nature.

If studios can’t go back, and they won’t invest deeply in going forward, what choice do they have? You could try to prune and increase the yield. Thus, the suicidal idea of day-n-date, for which Premium VOD is a Trojan horse.

If reading all this makes your head hurt, go back to the big, oversimplified numbers at the top of the piece. If the concept of the scale of the industry vs the endlessly hyped “agents of change” concept, the one that the media is forever in love with, but refuses to do the math on, is the only fact you take away, it was worth the effort.

8 Comments »

Postering Charlie Sheen’s 9/11 Drama With Whoopi Goldberg

Charlie
For those who have hungered all summer for “adult” entertainment, your wait is over on September 8, for Charlie Sheen’s labor of love, 9/11. (Press release, CHARLIE SHEEN’S “9/11” ACQUIRED BY ATLAS DISTRIBUTION, here.)

9 Comments »

Review: Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets (spoiler-free)

Valerian-Comic-Book-Luc-Besson

Relentless
adjective re·lent·less \-ləs\
:showing or promising no abatement of severity, intensity, strength, or pace:

If you want a one-word review of Valerian… that’s it.

That is both a virtue and a flaw.

I was entertained every minute of this movie. Honest. There was no room to get bored or not be surprised by what happened, what was happening and what was about to happen.

But at the end, I was emptier than I would have expected. I think this is because of the breathlessness of the storytelling, Luc Besson is, undoubtably, a master filmmaker. His voice is strong. Of all the CG-heavy action films in the last couple of years, Besson’s voice, James Gunn’s voice, Scott Derrickson’s voice, and the guys who did the deeply flawed Pirates movie (Joachim Rønning & Espen Sandberg) come through clearest. If I were Disney, I would be chasing Besson all day long.

You feel Besson’s excitement in every loaded-to-the-gills frame. Sensational opening sequence that manages to explain the idea of The City of 1000 Planets with clarity (and beauty) in three minutes. If I were STX, I’d be pushing that onto the web for audiences to get a head start. After they watch it, they will want to see it on a big screen.

But trying to figure why I wasn’t ready to say this was one of the greatest of the new millennium, I went through the list. Cast? You can’t watch the film without wondering whether it would have been better with young Leo DiCaprio and a young Milla Jovovich. But alas, they are not young anymore. I like the kink of Dane DeHaan. And for the first time, honestly, I liked Cara Delevingne. She delivered. Pitt & Jolie? Colin Farrell & Charlize Theron? All too old now. Bur as the movie progressed, the two of them grew on me. I don’t know. There is something just a little too-little-there and that can’t explain it. DeHaan was less dangerous than I wanted and she was less painful to watch prance around for a man in lust. Maybe that’s it. Just one more turn of the notch.

I thought about The Fifth Element, which I love. There was something about a mainstream, balding hero like Bruce Willis, against all the Besson visual insanity, that made movie magic. He grounded the movie so flights of fancy were free to seduce the audience.

The emotional core of this movie is a species of beautiful, very tall, glowing, peaceful beings who are drawn into the ugliness of the rest of the universe, led by Elizabeth Debicki, who needs some more work as a human being. They offer a similar kind of unexpected, overwhelming humanity and beauty, like the opera alien in The Fifth Element.

Some cameos are better than others. Not a fan of Herbie Hancock acting. He’s no Tiny Lister. Loved Ethan Hawke. Such a joy to see him to comedy. John Goodman’s vocal performance is terrific. Rihanna is not an actor. But she is a performer and did well, even when tasked with big emotional beats.

It is shocking when it seems that Besson has the balls for Chip Zien to voice a duck-billed group of characters… but he didn’t. Sigh.

Valerian was an endless Christmas of packages to open and open and open and open. Something keeps it from being Raiders of the Lost Ark. Wish I knew exactly what that was. (I am going to see it again this week.) The only thing I found eye-rolling was the inevitable exposure of a big baddie. Saw that a mile away. But pretty much everything else was fresh and cool and didn’t feel like obviously derivative of the much-worn alien universe trail.

Trying to offer you a glimpse the storyline would be foolish. It’s not a story movie. Valerian and Laureline need to save the universe… and flirt. You will meet more aliens than you can possible remember. And you will find all of Besson’s optimism about species, however lost they may be, finding their way back to love.

I feel awkward being so Pete about it, but this is the best big movie of the summer. It is original. It is a masterclass in visual filmmaking. And it is like nothing else you have seen.

There are people who will hate it. Too Besson-y for them. I don’t think they are idiots for feeling that way. Individual taste is individual taste. Some will pick at the leads. Some, like me, will just sense that missing element that is just beyond clarity.

But I would send anyone who likes showy Besson (which Guardians owes to) and just wants to have a good time. You don’t even have to turn off your brain. There are some true big ideas here. But mostly, it’s a two-hour-plus non-stop all-downhill rollercoaster ride.

I haven’t seen another summer film a second time this year. I look forward to seeing Baby Driver again in a theater. And Valerian.

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Weekend Estimates by Automated Suit Klady

Weekend Estimatest 2017-07-09 at 10.24.40 AM

Spider-Man Homecoming‘s opening turned out to be… predictable, but in a not-so-great way. The opening 3-day comes in just above the original, then-record-setting, Spider-Man opening. Technically, it opened better than either Amazing Spider-Man movie, but I would argue that the first ASM opened stronger.

Of the three $100m+ openers this summer, Guardians 2 did 2.6x opening day, Wonder Woman did 2.7x opening day, and Spider-Man: Homecoming, 2.3x Friday.

What is tricky in discussing this is that a $100 million opening is always good. Obviously. But in discussing a class of film — which is more limited than media seems to believe — a realistic perspective requires you check overall reality and that analyze in the context of that class.

For instance, Man of Steel had a better opening weekend (if you count its Thursday night) than this Spider-Man did, and was run out of town, as Amazing Spider-Man was. This opening is well behind Suicide Squad or Deadpool.

What is a reasonable expectation for a third reboot of Spider-Man with Iron Man by his side, especially in advertising? And how much will come in from the rest of the world? (It started with a reported – by Sony – $140m international this weekend.)

I thought the movie was entertaining, as most people seem to. But is it sticky? And what happens moving forward? The two Avengers: Infinity War movies are due in 2018 and 2019, with a 2nd New Spidey due later in the summer of 2019 as of this writing. Will it move? The mega-success of The Avengers led to the next Iron Man movie doubling its worldwide gross. How will it affect the box office of the next Spidey?

There is no question of this version of Spider-Man failing. It’s a win. But the idea of Marvel coming and waving fairy dust over the franchise and muscling it up significantly is not looking as clear as was hoped.

Could this be the Batman Begins that leads to The Dark Knight, to use another franchise rebooting history? That is the hope. Spider-Man, in theory, should be a billion dollar character. Consistently over $850 million will be good enough. But that has not been an easy bar for Marvel without the collective of Avengers (inc. the Civil War Avengers movie that used a Cap title) or Iron Man. Guardians 2 is the new high bar, with $857m worldwide and more to come.

Sony has experience with a situation like this… Bond. When they got distribution rights for Casino Royale, the franchise leapt 39%. It fell back with Quantum of Solace. Then, BOOM, Skyfall generated $500 million more than any other Bond film. Then down a little, though still 2nd best ever Bond gross by almost $300m. Broccoli and Wilson really control the franchise, which Sony pays for and distributes. MGM remains a partner, like Marvel on Spidey.

Spidey: Homecoming isn’t going to improve 39% over ASM2. No one is going to be sent home because they can’t stop crying though. And the real hope remains that BOOM. Look for it in 2019 or 2021. And then we can judge the success of this arraigned marriage.

Wonder Woman should pass Guardians 2 for top summer film next weekend with the strongest legs so far.

The Big Sick had a great weekend expansion, indicating that it could break out beyond the teens. $11k per on 326 is a nice number. Turning my head in terms of Oscar potential.

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Friday Estimates by Klady’s Reboot Fever Dream

friday estimates 070817 651w

Okay… At the end of the opening weekend of The Amazing Spider-Man, it had grossed $137 million. Spider-Man: Homecoming is figuring to gross about the same, little more, little less.

Yes, ASM had six days rather than three, opening on July 3. But when the audience knows it has all those days, it tends to wait for the “right” day.

My research indicates that there are only two examples of a non-Friday opening that resulted in a 3-day weekend of $100m or better… and none since 2009. (Those would be Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith and Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, aka #2.)

This comes from a time in theatrical when studios and exhibitors were looking to create a release valve for overcrowded $100m opening weekends, when there were longs lines and many sell-outs. The system of accordion-ing the actual screen count (a multiplex putting an anticipated huge opener on a lot of screens then reducing the screens as it loses steam) took hold after that and reached the pinnacle – for now – with the 2015 Force Awakens $258 million 3-day, which would have been functionally impossible in the early/mid 2000s.

Problem was, you had movies like Spider-Man 2, the sequel to the first $100m opening of all time, which opened to a $152 million 5-day… but not a $100m 3-day. Sony could explain to journalists how great the 5-day was, but on the books, not a $100m opening. (And as I think of it, in other research, making complete $100m opening lists, I am also guilty of that misstep.)

In the current synergy between “journalism” and movie studios, opening a movie at 7pm on a Thursday is now considered, without asterisk or any mention, as part of the 3-day opening. The con is on.

This is a side note, as Spidey 2 opened on a Wednesday because of July 4 weekend, but… I was a little shocked by how few Wednesday wide-release openings there are now. Two or three or four a year. And almost all of those are functions of July 4, Thanksgiving, and Christmas and those odd holiday weeks. I found only 11 studio titles that in the last decades that opened on a Wednesday without the holiday issue… and only five since 2010. A Transformers and a Hobbit, each opening a week before the holiday, and Anchorman 2, We’re The Millers, and This is The End, three comedies from three different studios.

Anyway… I think Homecoming will have longer legs than Amazing 1. But for transformational numbers, $600 million overseas is the minimum. That would still only be a $150m improvement over Amazing Spider-Man, but enough to make it look like something. Anything less and there should be some real soul-searching at Sony. There’s nothing wrong with an $800m grossing movie. But there was hysteria in the ranks about a $760m and $710m for the ASM movies. So context is everything.

Nice modest drops for Baby Driver and Wonder Woman.

Nice little launch for A Ghost Story, which will do about $25k per screen on four.

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20 Years And Counting…

Today is the 20th anniversary of my father’s passing.

Sid Poland was a good man. He was from a different world, born in Baltimore in 1917, before television, commercial aviation, consumer refrigerators, direct dial, serious nationalized efforts towards racial or gender equality. Don’t even get started on cell phones, the internet or blogs… those all happened since his death.

It’s almost impossible for me to imagine the world in which he grew up. Ancient Egypt seems closer than 1920s Baltimore. But the stories of he and his City College buddies buying a Model A, which had to be hand cranked to start, and their adventures around town sound a lot like college or high school buddies traipsing around today… or in the 50s in Diner… or like so many young people in so many places and so many times.

I recently found a kids book about a man who sells hats. Bought it to read it to my 7-year-old as it had been read to me. But the line had blurred for me, from nearly 5 decades ago, about whether my father had actually sold hats in his early years or not.

I remember more clearly a story about him selling early refrigerators in Baltimore that required that the customer put a quarter in every day to keep it going… pay as you go… and going to pick them up while the customers screamed about the food that was ruined when they missed a day’s payment.

By the time I came into my father’s world, things were changing fast. Jack Kennedy had been shot 11 months before I was born. The civil rights movement was powerful. Women could vote and I don’t remember much before the Equal Rights Amendment was being fought about across the country. And there was The Pill.

Israel, which was so very important to my father, was in a state of constant brinkmanship with the countries surrounding them and after The Six Day War happened, he was one of those who desperately wanted to kiss the ground in East Jerusalem. And he did.

I was not a child of the 60s, when the Baby Boomers really came of age. I was just a baby. And I was not really Gen X. I was – and am – a tweener. Like so many around my age, I saw the great movies of the 1970s in revival houses and TV (especially early HBO). I remember the day that Nixon resigned, but Watergate wasn’t my fight. Ford and Carter didn’t change the world. And Reagan took us backwards into our imagination of what we thought we were after WWII while in actuality, Reagan set us back decades in terms of understanding gender, race, and how a nation cares for its least fortunate. The schizophrenia of the Reagan years really defined my tween generation. Clinton was better… but he also lied a lot… and while waving a finger in a nation’s face.

My dad missed that. And I feel good about that.

Jimmy Stewart died 3 days before my dad. Somehow that was comforting.

The freedom and the responsibility that comes with the loss of a parent is unexpected.

I’m not sure that if he was alive that there would be a Hot Button or a Hot Blog or a Movie City News.

I’m not sure if his wealth hadn’t weighed him down after a brief period in which it set him free (before he lost most of it) that I wouldn’t be more focused on financial success.

I’m not sure what my life might have been had he and my mother not adopted me at birth.

I am, like my father, a softie. This always feels odd coming out of my mouth (or fingers) as there seem to be so many people who want to tell me what a mean person I am. And I certainly have been mean at times. But I tend to believe that by “mean” what is really being expressed is that I hit a tender spot with my words and left a mark.

There was a time when I was more reckless with this skill. In those early years of The Hot Button, I just hit “publish” and kept working. I was amused by my ability to cause an emotional response (good or bad) from people more powerful than I. As time passed, I came to understand – finally – that we are (mostly) all vulnerable in similar ways.

No one would be more influential on me in this regard than Nikki Finke. She made me look like a pussycat. She never showed an ounce of compassion for anyone other than herself, except when pretending to have compassion for long enough to manipulate someone. Our relationship (now over for many years), started over a story she got wrong. Like our current president, she never would admit her mistake. She doubled, tripled, and quadrupled down on the error. And she raged at me for pointing to the facts.

I’ve been fortunate to have a good grasp on power from an early age. But Nikki, always a bigger personality than me, showed me a reflection of part of myself that I did not like.

Nikki, without knowing it, convinced me to be much, much more careful with the weaponry I have. I got out of the business of reporting on misery… jobs lost… companies failing, etc. The failures of others are not a form of amusement. I found that kicking a filmmaker when they failed was not fun or funny.

Of course, this didn’t preclude some people and/or studios from having insanely thin skin. If you are playing in the big stadium, you have to be able to take the shots you have coming.

The same is true of journalists. Much of the anger held towards me comes from headlines in the early days of Movie City News. I could be brutally direct. And 17 years later, it still comes up.

But the age of Finke-ian entertainment journalism and the support of it by non-journalists like Jay Penske has led to an era of all-suck-up or all-rage coverage.

And again, I am a tweener.

I believe in people. I believe in forgiveness. I believe in the inherent kindness of which we are all capable.

I also believe in facts. I learned early on that a person who cheats will invariably cheat again… that a lie told to the advantage of “my team” will eventually lead to a lie told to the disadvantage of “my team”… that facts almost never tell the whole story, but that the avoidance of facts tells you a ton… and that things never change quite as quickly or as completely as people want to believe.

My father was a man who believed in his own magic. This became quite destructive when he was in situations where he didn’t really understand the trick that was needed to make things come together.

I don’t always understand how to use the tools I have. There are people who I have hurt over these 20 years and try as I might, I can never un-hurt them. I wish love was as sticky as hate.

We are in a time when some people, who I really like and respect, feel compelled to take a posture that is so extreme and unyielding that there is no room for anything but the same posture. And nothing enrages these people so much as facts. It is, really, my greatest disappointment in this moment in our history of discourse.

I believe that you can be righteous and completely honest and transparent about facts. And if you can’t stand the transparency, you are probably not as righteous as you think. I am sympathetic to the fear of people who have been marginalized for decades and longer. But if you want to build, you can’t build on the same kind of sand that was used against you to keep you from rising for so long.

Still, I learn new things all the time… and I don’t mean facts. I mean ideas… philosophies… the range of human emotion.

This is why I do DP/30 and why it matters so much to me. Most of the time, I get out of the chair and see the world a little differently.

I never asked my father the questions I really should have asked him. I was too young. I didn’t understand enough. I was too afraid of the answers.

And maybe I am better off wishing I had than actually having the opportunity. There are things in his life that he experienced that I am sure, even in my 50s, I could not begin to comprehend in a real way.

I know that he could never express in words the love he would have had for my son, Cameron, had he ever had a chance to meet him. But I know how much joy Cam would have brought him, just as, without all the words, I know how much love he had for me and my siblings and their children.

Twenty years into this part of my journey… twenty years after I lost my father… it is all still being digested… every day.

I miss the old man.

I am the old man.

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Review: The House

the house pic 5

The House doesn’t suck.

The House is funny. I laughed a lot.

The House is short. It has one of those closing credit sequences that go in slow motion to hope to get the movie to 90 minutes. They clearly came up short of the target.

The House would have been a good mean-as-hell comedy if there were a third act that worked. That is where the movie stalls: the third act turn. Jeremy Renner is good in his role… but he was there for a day, maybe two, and the movie suffers from his character not being a big part of the third act.

First Act: Goofy parents anticipating being empty-nesters are excited that their daughter got into the college of her choice… but then find they can’t afford it.

Second Act: They open the casino with a ne’er-do-well neighbor and insanity ensues. By far the strongest part.

Third Act: The strongest villain character in the piece, the Renner character, is not there for long. So they rely on local goofballs and a kinda lame, not convincing, nonsensical turn.

I don’t want to say “this is what they should have done,” because there are a million answers, but as the movie played out, I was really looking forward to the super-clever way that the bad guy mob guy (Renner) would become part of the crazy family.

As I thought about it later, the Midnight Run structure occurred to me. Dennis Farina as the mob guy and Yaphet Kotto as the cop. The genius of that screenplay is that it knows that it is repeating the same gag over and over, but mixes it enough each time that the audience is both actively anticipating and surprised repeatedly… and not by overly broad or silly twists. It all makes sense, in the context of a movie. Just as the audience is thinking, “just get him on an airplane.” the script explains why that won’t work. “Just gag him and tie him up and drive back”… the script makes that impossible to happen in a way that feels truthful.

The House would have been a lot more interesting if Renner’s guy took Ferrell’s “The Butcher” into his crew and that acceptance of him as a tough guy brought him to the realization that he wanted the simplicity of his old life. A cliché, but better. Of course, the movie could have been something else even better and execution means a lot… but what we get instead is just endless shifting of moods, which Ferrell and Poehler make work beyond reason, but still comes up short.

If, in the end, the mob and the family both won over the other villainous forces, this would have been a better movie. And it would fit the aesthetic, which was so smartly laid out by Tony Scott in his review here.

Still… I laughed a lot. Violence between two people who are equally wrong about something can be very funny. Myopia can be very funny. This wild casino operating in unrealistic silence on a residential street of a small town is very funny. This cast is very funny… and I loved watching the President of the United States from ‘VEEP’ getting her suburban bitch on.

And the young woman who plays Ferrell & Poehler’s daughter, Ryan Simpkins, is surprisingly solid. She stuck out to me, even with those two mugging on either side of her. I didn’t recognize her from Arcadia, a tiny indie in which she kept up with the great John Hawkes. Anyway… not sure why she stuck out for me, but she did. WE can hope this is the early day of a long career.

Anyway… when you catch this one on HBO some day, you will be surprised how much you laugh. It could actually become one of those cult-y pieces. I’m not anxious to pay $17 for it again, but I would watch it again without having my arm twisted. Just wish they had figured out the third act.

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Weekend Estimates by Despicapointing Klady

Friday Estimates 2017-07-02 at 9.17.11 AM copy

In the very rare Tuesday 4th of July window, Despicable Me 3 had a softer 3-day than would be expected and will come up short of the $100m 5-day. Don’t cry too hard for the Minions, who will still generate more than $700m worldwide. Baby Driver, on the flip side, overperformed its Friday with over $20m. The House rolled double 8s… but $8.8m, not $88m. The Beguiled is also estimating more than 3x Friday’s gross for the 3-day. The Little Hours leads in per-screen on 2, but the expansion to 71 screens for The Big Sick is still close.

So… Despicable Me 3‘s 3-day is worse than my low estimate in the low 80s. What does it mean?

Well, I’m still not done waiting for more evidence. The Tuesday holiday is so odd that we really don’t know how it affected the weekend. Of course, Minions still had a $116 million opening 3-day without any unique circumstances. When people are desperate to go, they go whenever you release the movie. But we are in an odd space when a $75 million 3-day is seen in any way as disappointing. This opening is a lot closer to Despicable Me 2 than to Despicable 1 and the huge launch of Minions, in perspective, suggests that the clarity of the spin-off (broad physical comedy, not a story movie, safe for little ones) may just be a stronger play.

Even if international dipped to $500 million, domestic is still going to be over $200 million (very conservatively). I’m not ready to start mourning films that gross over $700 million worldwide. (Still shake my head every time someone blithely refers to the $700m+ grossing Amazing Spider-Man 2 as a “disaster.”)

And there is every chance that Despicable Me 3 will be over $800m worldwide, which would make it the #1 animated movie of 2017 by hundreds of millions of dollars.

Also worth mentioning… Universal’s claim of under-$100m costs on the Illumination movies is true… but not 100% true. Unlike Pixar, Disney and DreamWorks Animation, that number does not reflect studio overhead that is built into everyone else’s cost estimates. What the details of Illumination’s deal with Universal are is unknown… but likely includes overhead costs at the studio that are not reflecting in the “cost of the film.” Don’t be surprised if DWA’s “costs per film” drops by a lot – half or more – as their films start being released by Universal, as a function of accounting, not the complete picture.

2017 “only” has two billion-dollar worldwide grossers so far. Star Wars VII will surely join that pair. A fourth seems unlikely at this time.

The problem is, media perception is now like the stock market… the window of information tends to be very short. We may, indeed, be over on the other side of Peak IP. We may be seeing so many franchises making 4th and 5th and 6th movies (or more) that are exhausting their once-enthusiastic audiences. This only makes sense.

How does one describe the box office of Guardians of the Galaxy 2, which will land between $850 million and $900 million worldwide? It’s a big success. A hit, obviously. But it didn’t accelerate into the next strata. So is Disney and Marvel disappointed? You betcha. But are they unhappy? No way. Same with smaller-grossing Dr. Strange and Ant-Man. They would have loved a few hundred million more on those well-liked movies… but you can’t weep over with grosses over $500 million and over $650 million respectively.

Anyway… in happier news, Baby Driver is estimated to overperform its Friday gross, as it tries to build a smaller, but exciting haul for a relatively low-budget film. $20 million is an important bar for a genre opening. (And Sony could be overestimating.) Regardless of the detail work, this is a big enough audience sampling that what is presumed to be positive word of mouth can really rev things up.

Not much to be said about WB’s dump of The House. Bad for everyone. And that RT score is, in part, a reflection of how the studio positioned the film. It basically screamed, “We hate this movie and you will too.”

Focus took The Beguiled to 674 screens… to good, but not overwhelming effect. The best comp may be Focus’ very own Nocturnal Animals from last year. They took that film wider faster and got pretty much the same number, though Nocturnal was already $3 million into its run when it expanded to 1262 screens. So the answer is… we’ll see. No doubt, there will be another expansion next week or the week after. And the audience will speak. But $10 million is a fair expectation and more than $15 million seems unlikely, given the current numbers.

The Big Sick held strong in its expansion to 71 screens. But like Beguiled, hard to know what is coming with any precision. But expect the teens.

The other per-screen hero this weekend was The Little Hours, the horny, stoned nun comedy from Aubrey Plaza, her husband, and the parade of talented friends who made the trip to the European countryside to improvise this comedy.

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The Hot Blog

Quote Unquotesee all »

What are we doing wrong?
“Well, first of all, by “we” I assume you mean the public, the public approach or the public discourse, which means the discourse that takes place in the media. And for the purposes of this discussion, let us imagine that the media is white and thus approaches the topic of race as if they (the white people) were the answer and them (the black people) were the question. And so, in the interest of fairness, they take their turn (having first, of course, given it to themselves) and then invite comment by some different white people and some similar black people. They give what purports to be simply their point of view and then everyone else gives their beside-the-point of view.

“The customary way for white people to think about the topic of race—and it is only a topic to white people—is to ask, How would it be if I were black? But you can’t separate the “I” from being white. The “I” is so informed by the experience of being white that it is its very creation—it is this “I” in this context that is, in fact, the white man’s burden. People who think of themselves as well intentioned—which is, let’s face it, how people think of themselves—believe that the best, most compassionate, most American way to understand another person is to walk a mile in their shoes. And I think that’s conventionally the way this thing is approached. And that’s why the conversation never gets anywhere and that’s why the answers always come back wrong and the situation stays static—and worse than static.”
~ Fran Lebowitz, 1997

“If one could examine his DNA, it would read ACTOR. He embraced every role with fire and fierce dedication. Playing Bela Lugosi in Tim Burton’s Ed Wood was his loving tribute to all actors and garnered him a well-deserved Academy Award. His work was his joy and his legacy.”
~ Barbara Bain On Martin Landau