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RIP Michael Parks

Michael Parks sings! On “The Johnny Cash Show,” March 25, 1970.

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Review: Snatched (minimal spoilers)

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Snatched is the movie that people feared Trainwreck might be. In Amy Schumer’s first feature, we were fortunate to get a coherent, quirky narrative with charming sidebars. Not so lucky here.

The premise is not unfamiliar. It’s a fish-out-of-water wacky international romp with the added twist of it being daughter/mother instead of a mismatched romance.

Colin Higgins was the master of this form, and sure enough, he and this style of filmmaking were a big part of Goldie Hawn’s ascension to movie star with Foul Play in 1978. Michael Ritchie was another often-great director who worked this wire, as he did with Ms. Hawn in Wildcats. And perhaps another inspiration here was Hawn’s turn in Private Benjamin, directed by Howard Zieff.

But Snatched isn’t a straight play on the form. It has the good, and the bad, of Amy Schumer’s comic ideas and ambitions. I have no idea whether Katie Dippold was driving this screenplay, although she was on set through most of the production. One gets the feeling, watching this, that the script was followed and then they did a few for Amy, trying to find the topper that wasn’t on the page.

The first disastrous choice on this was hiring Goldie Hawn to play the straight man to Schumer’s comic character. It’s not what she does. She can play comedy or drama. She can even play “The Girl” when she likes. Watching Hawn play the stick in the mud while Schumer mugs for the camera is frustrating. But in this broad, active comedy, the Goldie Hawn we know and love shows up for a brief moment in the third act. Too little, too late.

A similar, though smaller mistake, is made by the utter waste of one of the great comic actresses of her generation, Joan Cusack. I guess the idea of her playing a woman who can’t speak because she cut out her tongue is, uh, amusing. And some of the best laughs in the film are from her character (stunt doubled) doing unexpected physical things. But she – and her partner character, Wanda Sykes – are never allowed the space to make the mark that they are more than capable of making. They aren’t allowed to be Stan & Ollie, because while Cusack is silently in the background, Sykes is talking, and she is very funny. But it never works as a duo act inside the body of this other film. (And of course, we all know that they biggest laugh from the silent character comes when they finally speak… which can’t happen after a throwaway joke about cutting out her own tongue.)

But the biggest problem is that Schumer is playing dumb… perhaps stupid. And she takes it to a level that doesn’t serve her well. It’s kind of like, “If you loved Amy in Trainwreck as a smart but insecure late-20s/early 30s woman with a fear of commitment who finally gets it together, you’ll REALLY LOVE Amy as a self-indulgent woman/child with a clinging, enabling mother who really learns nothing through the course of the movie and keeps us from seeing her mother fully blossom because she is taking up all the screen time.”

I had a hard time recovering from the “your boob is out” joke that happens around the end of the first act, but not just because it wasn’t very funny. And not because Ms. Shumer’s breast is anything less than lovely. But because it reeked of desperation in a way that make me cringe. I am not a fan of the few instances of male comics whipping out their penises either. However, when Jason Segel rolls it out, it isn’t just a sight gag, even though it always starts as a shock gag. There is a storytelling value to the choice (for better or worse). And in a movie like There’s Something About Mary, the show of scrotum is part of an entire gag. And the shock comedy boobs in that movie are Madga’s, whose breasts are hanging below her waist. That is a broad joke. Not, “Hey I showed my boob.” Even if the gag here was that they were dancing and the camera pulled back and she had one boob out, it would feel like a part of the storytelling, not a spit take.

So much of the movie feels like it is working a clear, fairly familiar idea, only to be sidetracked by someone trying really hard to be funny instead of trusting the storytelling. The side characters, including Cusack & Sykes, Chris Meloni, Ike Barinholtz and Bashir Salahuddin all deliver, but are not given enough room to be as memorable as they should be. Only Randall Park, at the top of the film, gets to complete his mission.

I am willing to take broad leaps with a film, particularly with a comedy, when it comes to structure and narrative flow. I am certainly willing to suspend disbelief. But I need a little flow. I want something more than a series of gags – even if some make me laugh – unless you are doing something drop-dead funny (see: Borat).

Pretty much every big laugh in this film, except for the opening, is one-off.

I am a fan of Jonathan Levine, going back to All The Boys Love Mandy Lane, which I saw in Toronto and thought was funny back then. He works hard to make the movie look good and to keep it flowing.

We never knowsthe power structure on a film unless we were there. So I don’t know who to blame. I just know that it was not good. And that is a shame, given the talent involved.

I probably should have known from the title… because I am pretty sure it is meant to be hysterically raunchy. I’m sure there is some context in which I would find that funny. But not this one.

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After The Tease For The Trailer After The Teaser And The Full-On Trailer, Here’s Four BLADE RUNNER: 2049 Stills

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Lay the odds. Can it be good? Can Roger Deakins get an Oscar?

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Weekend Estimates by I Am Klady, Vol 2

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Analysis to come… around 11a pdt

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Review-ish: Alien Covenant (spoiler-free)

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The third act of a movie is a magical thing. A story can drag through two acts, but if that third act really pops and the audience leaves the theater excited, the not-so-exciting journey to get to the end is forgotten and the buzz remains. But the reverse is also true. This phenomenon is as true for most film critics as it is for “the great unwashed.”

And that is the great challenge for Alien Covenant. If Alien was a haunted house movie and Aliens was a war movie, Covenant is the franchise’s take on “Heart of Darkness.” For 2 acts or so, it cooks. For a well-worn franchise, Ridley Scott comes up with all kinds of new stuff. It’s familiar, but he finds original ideas and images that feel organic.

No doubt, Scott responds to some of the critical complaints about Prometheus, however indirectly. People who HATED the map guys getting lost and characters making dumb choices around the eggs… your anger has been addressed and the answers work well.

Fassbender does nothing to disprove that he is one of our greatest actors. Simply explaining what kind of work he does here is a spoiler, so I won’t. But let’s say that he and Scott found an opportunity for him to top the tremendous work he did on Prometheus.

The rest of the cast harkens back to the original Alien. The actors are familiar, but not movie stars. The audience legitimately can believe, from the start to near the end, that virtually anything could happen to any one of the characters. I was rooting for one more massive twist, but… no. Still, every one of these actors delivers something different.

The leads are uniformly good. But beyond that, Danny McBride, Carmen Ejogo, Callie Hernandez and Amy Seimetz all overdelivered my expectations in this context. There is one “unexpected” performance that I assume was meant to be clever… but it plays flat and I wish wasn’t there. But you will have to pick that out for yourself.

There are even unexpected moments that are utterly genre gratuitous… but I loved that. Sex, Hysteria, Boobs, Cowardice, Bad Hair. I was excited by the surprises inside the surprises.

And this is what makes the final 20 minutes or so of the movie so very frustrating. It just isn’t the same movie as what came before. It’s beautifully executed and well acted and all. But it stops being its own thing and become part of a franchise in a variety of ways, all of which cooled my blood considerably.

As we left the theater, a journalist friend pointed out this film’s place on the franchise timeline… and yeah, it made complete sense.

It’s not just that, to be honest. The disconnect starts with a “what happened off camera” theatrical device that just never works. It could have. It doesn’t. But it is so obvious that you spend time wondering when the twist is coming and what it means if there isn’t a twist, distracting you from just being in the still very busy action movie.

I don’t know if there more scenes were shot. I don’t know if there were 30 passes at the editing of those last 20 minutes, trying to get it just right. I don’t know if Mr. Scott, who is one of our very best audience-thrilling filmmakers, thinks it works as it is.

There is so much right about Alien Covenant that what is wrong at the end is an incredible frustration. There are so few movies that do what the film does well. And I want to be all about the parts I truly enjoyed. But when it comes at the end of the movie, it’s the October 28 James Comey letter… even when it gets corrected, it’s too late to get the bad taste out of your mouth.

I will see Alien Covenant again… because of all the good, all the joyous horror thriller fun. And I will look forward to the next film(s) in the franchise, though it clearly evolves here from the original, unique franchise idea of changing up the genre each time out to doing variations on the same idea, movie after movie. Run. Scream. Rinse. Repeat.

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Friday Estimates by Klady Raccoon

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My instinct on movies like Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol 2 is to shut down the overanalysis. It is so easy, covering box office, to get stuck in the weeds.

It will be the 44th $100 million opening of all-time. There were EIGHT last year.

It will be the second $100 million opening of this year. There were three before the summer last year.

It will be the fifth biggest summer opener for the Marvel-Made MCU in the last 6 years. (The non-MCU opener was Sony’s Amazing Spider-Man 2, which launched to “only” $91 million in 2014.)

Gv2 cost about $50 million (25%) more than the first of the series (Disney copping to $30m), but will open to about 50% more domestically.

Guardians is very successful, but internationally, the first film was at the bottom of the list (next to Thor 2) of the post-Avengers MCU. Disney will be looking to smash the bar of 60% of total gross coming from international.

Kurt Russell is a great choice for his role in Gv2 for so many Disney-esque reasons, but Disney folks will be wondering if they should have spent the extra dollars on Kevin Costner about now.

Anyone who whines about a $140-$155m opening is a bit of an idiot. But is the measuring stick reality or the MCU? Marvel is launching into its most risky run of new characters (the re-tooled Thor franchise with Thor: Ragnarok followed by Black Panther) and starting next year, three movies a year – spring, summer, holiday – presumably for the rest of our natural lives.

That means a billion-dollar (plus) spend every year chasing theatrical of $2.5 billion and up for Marvel alone. Every studio would take that bet right now. But understand, the spend on just those three movies a year is about the same (a little more/a little less) than the other studios are risking on their entire 12+ slate of films.

But if the 2018 gross is more like $2 billion, fewer studios would line up for that honor, And if the trio grosses $1.8 billion, studios would remain interested, but look for partners to take on some of the risk. The fear would be that if the trio of films grossed $1.2 billion at some point, the slate would lose money, hard as that is to imagine.

Personally, I am excited for Marvel, more so than ever before. They are not standing pat. They are making bold creative choices on film after film (then getting a bit conservative about the Avengers machine). More and more I see them as a true indie studio that just happens to work with very expensive materials. With due respect to their directors, Marvel is unlikely to unleash the next Spielberg or Lucas or Fincher or even Brad Bird from that stable. That is not to say that the group of directors they have brought in – especially these days – won’t represent an important class of commercial filmmakers in Hollywood for decades to come. But the renegades in the group are made stronger by the boundaries and the conventional filmmakers in the group are made stronger by the expansive vision. Making all of this work is no small success.

As for the rest of the weekend, counterprogramming (which is really, in this case, just being in the path of the hurricane with product that works for younger kids and women) is showing solid holds. The only $10k release in limited/exclusive looks like The Lovers, which should play well into the summer if handled carefully as it becomes a big hit with the over-50 set.

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Me, Ranking The Marvel Movies

Here’s an exercise I never felt any urge to do before…

We are only 13 movies into the history of Marvel-produced Marvel Cinematic Universe movies. But here we are… and since I really liked some of the recent films, I got curious about how I would rank them.

I would probably put today’s Guardians 2 release right between the 2nd & 3rd Cap. It’s my second favorite true sequel, but it is so overloaded with ideas and so anxious to get the same laughs it got the first time, but 4x this time out, it stuck me as overload. And one of the big ideas just doesn’t work. They tried hard, but couldn’t make it work the right way.

Doctor Strange – The most spun spin-off of the M-pMCU. It’s derivative of Nolan in ways, but has the most effective use of CG —aside from the bending buildings— in the entire MCU, including non-Marvel-produced films. The effects felt naturalistic, or at least as naturalistic as effects can feel. It rarely felt like an effect wasn’t fully attached to an idea. Nor did it feel (a little in the third act) like someone told Scott Derrickson that he needed something more showy. This is a kinky, wild movie and that made it feel great.

Ant-Man – Also off-brand in most ways. It felt like what it really was by the time they made it, a character comedy that happened to have effects. I still have no idea why Edgar Wright left (jumped or pushed) because the film does have some of his comic energy. But it is also clearly Peyton Reed’s movie. The effects here are often brilliant, but taken as a whole, there is a real 1980’s pre-CG effects feel to a lot of it, which I loved and which I assume was intentional. Not as kinky as Dr. Strange, but a strong #2 for me.

Iron Man 3 – Until the cop-out ending, I enjoyed this very Shane Black piece. It felt like the effects and all were already worked out and that was someone else’s job and all Black had to do was to focus on telling his variation on the Iron Man story. Less encumbered with the weight of all things Marvel or fanboy obsessions, it was just a good story, well told… until that ending… oy.

Guardians of the Galaxy – I think it’s overrated, but there is no denying the joy of James Gunn doing his own thing on the first of the M-pMCU’s spin-off movies. I can pick this thing apart from today to next Thursday – the sequel is much better technically and as filmmaking, but has story problem, way too complicated for its own good – but there is pleasure in Groot and Rocket and Drax and Gamorah and Star Lord. And equally as much is the array of side characters, villainous and kind, who are along for the ride. For me, it’s a turn-off-your-brain pleasure, but a pleasure nonetheless.

Captain America: The First Avenger – In some way, this Joe Johnston set-up film for The Avengers is as much spin-off as part of the central Avengers story. I like the WWII element. The villainy was not as powerful as I’d like. Red Skull is pretty much impossible to bring to life without making him either a joke or a bore. Somehow a kid’s imagination reading a comic makes him much more powerful. Same problem with Dr. Doom so far, by the way. As with Iron Man III, the ending was screwed up to get to the next movie. But I enjoyed the rest, so I forgive it (and always mention it).

Marvel’s The Avengers – Overrated for me… but still, enjoyable. It was a fresh take on the material. Delivered the best Hulk stuff ever. Nimble. Funny. It would have been much better for me had the ending delivered something other than target practice. The stakes just seemed minor… another movie with the world coming to an end. But enjoyable, charming and better not to think about it too much.

Iron Man – The movie that defined the MCU culture under Feige. I personally hated that a guy who kills Arabs as a business, then kills Arabs to save himself, and then goes back to kill Arabs for our amusement. I wanted an emotional arc. I get the idea of him as a selfish prick. Downey is a blast. But for me, he doesn’t become a man in this film. I know that it led to him and Captain America dancing… but it could have worked and been a better piece of writing.

Captain America: Civil War – Perhaps the most mature (perhaps overripe) Marvel movie. No one dies in this Civil War. The positions of the two sides aren’t intensely political. Got to roll out new characters or test out the solo viability of others. The whole thing felt like a holding pattern. The tarmac fight may be the best single action sequence in the entire 13 films. But… not enough for me to really like the film.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier – The most highly respected MCU film that I simply don’t connect with in the way that others do. It felt cheap (thought it wasn’t) with more car chases and bullets flying than any of the other films. It felt wildly melodramatic. And I have zero interest in Cap’s relationship with Bucky. I am over that. I was over that the minute it started. Leaves me 100% cold.

Thor – The pleasures of Asgard aside… this was a couple good jokes repeated 4 times each. Didn’t buy the relationship. Didn’t care for the monsters. Not enough use of the side characters. Waste of Natalie Portman. The fully thing is, I really like Chris Hemsworth as an actor. But as Thor… a bore. They should have stayed in Asgard. And I look forward to the upcoming Thor, which looks like an acid trip of a good time.

Avengers: Age of Ultron – Just a terrible sequel, aside from the addition of Paul Bettany as The Vision. Ultron had his moments, though it got schticky too often. Love both Elizabeth Olsen and Aaron Taylor-Johnson as actors – seriously a fan of the work of both and the human beings in real life – but both are disappointments in this film… just minor as could be. And what was so great about the Hulk in the first A movie was less so here. Cap and Iron Man as bickering parents bored me. Jeremy Renner is great, but he is not a super, and it felt like a retirement party for his character (which they didn’t have the guts to finalize). I mean, there is a lot of entertainment value that cannot be avoided in any movie this big… but if it never existed, no great loss for me.

The Incredible Hulk – This feels like a part of the past, though it is on the Marvel books. I like the Ang Lee Hulk more than most do. I thought this one just felt like a B-movie with some big effects. Cast is all good, but they can’t be bigger than the screenplay. Felt like there were some big ideas there that just never got room to take off.

Thor: The Dark World – This one just lost me in pretty much every way possible. The stakes in the relationship didn’t feel real. The stakes for Asgard didn’t feel real. It really felt like a sequel with nothing much to say on its own.

Iron Man 2 – The worst MCU film. Every mistake a sequel can make, starting with being even more arrogant than the arrogant lead character. They even wasted Mickey Rourke. I will avoid watching this any time it comes across my screens.

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“Twin Peaks: Familiar Faces 25 Years Later”

David Lynch is about to unleash an 18-hour serial on the world. What are the chances of it being great?

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Weekend Estim…zzzzzzzzz

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With the wide release of a Latino-targeted comedy, a 434-screen roadshow-priced Hindi sequel, and a Tom Hanks/Emma Watson thriller that couldn’t find a way to inspire audiences, The Fate of The Furious held the top spot, even as it struggles to keep the domestic grosses in line with international, which has it over the $1 billion mark worldwide. And the new Jason Blum releasing company ironically could not beat Weekend 10 of the Jason Blum production, Get Out. The only films with per-screens over $10k this weekend were in languages other than English.

This weekend’s box office is interesting on the foreign language front… and boring as hell otherwise.

The #2/#3 punch of How To Be A Latin Lover and Baahubali 2: The Conclusion seems like history being made. I don’t have the energy to spend a day going through every weekend over the last few decades to be sure, but I don’t recall a weekend on which two of the three top grossers on a weekend were foreign language.

It occurs to me that all of those news segment shout-outs to the Top 3 at the weekend box office will sound as they never have before and that I hope there is as much hype for these two films as there would be if The Circle and Boss Baby were #2 and #3.

There are, of course, odd angles to the 2/3 finish. Very weak release weekend. Only one strong holdover film. This is the only weekend of the year to date in which $11.8m would equate as a #2 finish. (Note: I hate the horse race absurdity so much… but it is how the numbers are promoted and perceived and I acknowledge it.) Also, in the case of B2, there are ticket prices for this new-era roadshow, which includes a lot of IMAX screens, up and over the $20 threshold. A film grossing $10 million on opening weekend would usually signal about a million tickets sold. But with these extreme ticket prices, it is possible that the actual audience for B2 was between 250,000-300,000 this weekend. Still impressive for a Hindi sequel, but a variation. (The same could be said, btw, about the first release of Gone With The Wind, which launched with a hugely-expensive-for-the-period roadshow.)

Lionsgate has been in the Eugenio Derbez business since 2011’s No Eres Tu, Soy Yo (It’s Not You, It’s Me) and it continues to grow the already well-established Mexican star. This is his fourth US release as star and it is the widest and highest-grossing opening. The Spanish-language market in the US has been wildly under-serviced (more so than any other minority group, given its outsized ticket buying) and Lionsgate, Fox, and others have been trying to find a way to mainstream it. If How To Be A Latin Lover outdoes Instructions Not Included by grossing, say, $60 million US, it will turn a lot more heads.

Now… on to the boredom. There isn’t a lot more to say about The Furious, their fate, or how fast they gross.

In said boredom, I looked at the influence of Chinese box office on the very biggest films of the last 2 years, 4 months.

There have been 11 billion-dollar grossers in this period. Only two would not be counted as billion-dollar earners if you discounted the Chinese box office to be consistent with returns everywhere else in the world. Last year’s Zootopia, which did $235 million in China, would now be a $906m grosser. And The Fate of the Furious, which would still be at $901 million worldwide, bringing in $319 million so far in China.

Overall, there would be only minor movement in the overall rankings for these mega-hits if we asterisked China. The F&F movies are, by far, the biggest Chinese grossers in these last 3 calendar years. But a new Transformers is coming, so that could be a new record coming as well. The last Transformers movie is another case of a billion-dollar grosser being brought under the billion mark by The Chinese Asterisk. $320m gross, worth roughly half of the half international usually returns… so instead of $1.1 billion worldwide, it would be $945 million. Nothing to sneeze at, but while we are comparing pixie-dust dream numbers, relevant.

Meanwhile, Finding Dory and Rogue One, which each cracked a billion, but not $1.1 billion, would not be dragged under a billion because they performed weakly in China, losing only $19m and $35m respectively to The Chinese Asterisk. Similarly, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, the third $2b movie ever, would still be a $2 billion even with a $62 million Chinese Asterisk haircut.

Perhaps most importantly to Hollywood… every single film that grossed $800 million or more worldwide has gotten a Chinese release. So whatever cherry-picking is still going on by Chinese authorities, they are letting the popular stuff through into their still-evolving, but undeniably massive market.

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Friday Estimates by Are We There Yet? Klady

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This weekend’s dismal box office is a result of majors clearing out two weeks of space after The Fate of the Furious combined with a couple of weak WB releases just before Fate that will each be under $3m this weekend.

Even had Fate performed as expected/feared domestically, there would still be plenty of room for other films in the weeks before and after. The exhibition business is structured for it. Would it have made sense for a movie like King Arthur to try to take advantage of the space between Fate and Guardians instead of hammocking between Guardians and Alien: Covenant? I think so. Would Amityville: The Awakening been better served in this slot than the intensely crowded July 4 pre-week? You betcha.

Ironic that the Wall Street Journal just did a piece about how wide open distribution has become in the non-Summer window while we were in a month with only one serious major studio release.

Last year, the widest and highest-grossing opening for a non-English market domestic release was No Manches Frida with $3.7 million on 362 screens. The biggest Indian film was a $3.2m launch on 331 screens for Dangal. There is solid business in these markets, playing to diverse audiences in North America in limited release. Dangal was not only the high mark for these films with $12.4 million, never going wider than 338 screens, but the high grosser for all films that never went wider than 500.

Baahubali 2: The Conclusion is not only about to blow away the opening record for these films with its 434-screen opening, but will likely outgross Dangal‘s US run in one weekend.

Right after that is Lionsgate’s latest experiment in the Spanish-speaking market, How To Be A Latin Lover, starring Mexican star Eugenio Derbez, doubling the opening day of their last effort with Derbez, Instructions Not Included. That film played strong for a month. Will this fast opening make for a shorter run?

This makes it all the more painful for STX, unable to open The Circle, starring the lead of a billion-dollar grosser this year and Tom Hanks, to as much as $10 million.

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Summer 2017: Here We Go (Wide)!

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The summer movie season will be 35 movies deep (first weekend of May through the 2nd weekend of August). It’s not out of the norm, although last summer saw an unusually dense August (which went three weekends deep with studio activity).

9 Wide releases in May
13 Wide Releases in June
9 Wide Releases in July
4 Wide Releases in the 1st 2 weekends of August.

Of summer 2017 films, twenty-four come from The Majors. The other 11 wide openings offer the launch of Annapurna as self-distributor; the first film to be released by Europa via STX; the rare equivalent of a retro Paramount Vantage release; another that seems to represent the idea of “The New” Focus Features; the second release from a new self-distribution by a hugely successful producer (Blumhouse Tilt, first release today), a new indie distributor (Entertainment Studio), three horror films from established indies (A24, TWC, Broad Green), and one each from Lionsgate and Open Road.

What does history tell us about what is coming?

Disney has has two of the Top 3 domestic grossers in each of the last three summers. In some ways, Summer 2017 is Peak Disney (at least for now). No messing around trying to release anything other than blockbuster sequels. Guardians, Pirates, Cars. Done.

The two times in the past four summers in which the “opening day” film wasn’t in the domestic top 3 were Marvel characters – Thor and Spider-Man. But in the summer when Amazing Spider-Man 2 was soft, Marvel’s August release, Guardians of the Galaxy, “won” the summer. So it’s probably a good bet that Guardians 2 will be on top or at least Top 3 this summer, domestically. But there is also a good chance that Pirates 5 and Cars 3, which both dropped significantly domestically last time around, will not make the Top 3 of the summer. (Cars, as Disney likes to point out, sells a massive amount of licensed product.)

That summer of Guardians, three years ago, is significant to this summer because not only is Spidey also coming back, but so is Transformers (that summer’s #2), and Apes (that summer’s #5). That’s 4 of Summer 2014’s Top 6 domestic grossers cycling through with sequels in the same summer. Left out are the Disney live action reboot of an animated film (Maleficent back then) and an X-Men movie… both of which were already released (Beauty & The Beast and Logan). Godzilla was #7 that summer… and we have already had Legendary’s big animal movie for this year, Kong: Skull Island.

So when someone tells you that Hollywood is obsessed with repeating itself… you have a good argument. Next summer also looks like a 3-year reunion… sequels from summer 2015’s #1 Jurassic World 2, #2 Avengers 3, #5 Mission: Impossible 6, and #7 Ant Man 2. Pixar doesn’t have a sequel to Inside Out (#3), but it does have The Incredibles 2. Minions (#4) has the next in its family this summer, Despicable Me 3. And #6 from Summer 2015, Pitch Perfect has its second sequel coming early… this Christmas.

But wait! Next summer is even more steeped in self-reflection. Star Wars joins the summer with Lord & Miller’s Han Solo prequel. Deadpool 2. Ocean’s 8 (couldn’t find 11 women in Hollywood… ha ha). Another Purge. Another Hotel Transylvania. A reboot of Predator. A reboot of Scarface. And I am suspecting we will be spared Barbie: The Motion Picture and another “Untitled Disney Live Action Fairy-Tale”… neither of which may not be ready to shoot soon enough to make it?

But let’s look at this summer. If I was forced, with a gun to my head, to predict how this summer will work out domestically, I’d say (in order of guessed domestic gross):

OVER $300m
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
Transformers: The Last Knight

OVER $200m
Spider-Man: Homecoming
Despicable Me 3
War for the Planet of the Apes

OVER $150m
Cars 3
Dunkirk
Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales
The Mummy
Wonder Woman
Alien: Covenant

OVER $100m
Annabelle: Creation

$50m – $100m
Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets
Captain Underpants
Detroit
The Dark Tower
The House
Baywatch
The Emoji Movie
Rough Night
Girls Trip
Snatched

UP TO $50m
Atomic Blonde
Midnight Sun
Baby Driver
Amityville: The Awakening
All Eyez on Me
Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul
King Arthur: Legend of the Sword
It Comes At Night
Wish Upon
47 Meters Down
An Inconvenient Sequel
Everything, Everything
Lowriders

Of course, the BIG question is worldwide box office, not just domestic. Again, the gun pressed against my temple, the worldwide grosses over $400m:

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 – $1.25 billion
Transformers: The Last Knight – $1.1 billion
Despicable Me 3 – $1 billion
Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales – $975 million
Spider-Man: Homecoming – $850 million
War for the Planet of the Apes – $750 million
The Mummy – $725 million
Alien: Covenant – $650 million
Wonder Woman – $580 million
Cars 3 – $525 million
Dunkirk – $500 million
Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets – $475 million

It’s worth noting that the only two films in this group of 12 (and the domestic top 17) are, in any real way, “movie star-driven,” and they are Pirates of the Caribbean and The Mummy, so an iffy proposition. Does Depp make Pirates or did Pirates make Depp? How much of the Mummy gross will be Cruise and how much will be the familiar concept?

As for esthetics, we don’t know… yet.

What I do know is that there are at least 14 movies that I am really, really looking forward to seeing. If most of those are worth the time, it’s a pretty great summer.

Obviously, Detroit and Dunkirk are the wide-release adults in the room. Two great filmmakers. And I am thrilled by Nolan doing a project about real life. To see his brain work within those boundaries could lead to the best work of his career.

Ridley Scott is still a master… seeming to get closer to the original Alien. Win.

I love Luc Besson. I don’t know if people will buy Valerian, but sign me up twice. So much so that I bought a subscription to a pay-streaming service to watch some of the old French cartoons.

I don’t hear great things about Pirates, but it was made by indie artists, so I’m very curious.

The Apes films are underrated, even as well-reviewed hits.

I hope Rough Night kills. Baywatch looks gloriously stupid. And Edgar Wright is always a happy screening to add to the calendar.

So I am looking forward to these months… which hasn’t been true for me for a few years.

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RIP Jonathan Demme

demme

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Review: Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 (spoiler-free)

Guardians 1 2Guardians 2 is the epitome of a sequel to an unexpected smash hit.

James Gunn brought an esthetic to the first film that is widely accepted as key to the film’s success. He even shared credit for the screenplay (with Nicole Perlman).

And so, with the sequel, Gunn gets the room to run. An extra million here or there? Great. An even more complicated storyline than the original? Hell, audiences loved that convoluted ride… not going to argue much. Etcetera. Elements that audiences loved in the original? Pile ’em on!

Of course, any sequel (particularly those not planned as sequels before the original was produced) suffers from familiarity. The excitement of the new, especially unexpected the good kind of new, is a huge benefit that few sequels can find. The Alien movies were unique, for instance, as Aliens had a wildly different tone and style than the original. Likewise, Cameron benefited from major technological advances and a budget many times the size of the original in going from The Terminator to T2: Judgment Day.

In the case of Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2, there is all the stuff you loved the last time… times five. Baby Groot is relentlessly cute and Grooty. Rocket has a bigger role here and seems to have been improved technically. (Nothing wrong with Rocket the last time, but the CG work seems able to relax and make him feel even more just another character.) Remember how funny it was when Drax laughed hard at something in the last time? His sense of humor has developed so that we get a big barrel-chested laugh every 15 minutes or so.

Gamora has lost some of her edge, as she has become more of a reflection in Quill’s eyes than a fully formed character. And Quill is… pretty much the same, though they have upped the ante on his tools a bit… or at least it felt that way.

Holding over from the first film in more significant roles are Yondu and Nebula.

And then they added three more major characters: Pom Klementieff as Mantis, Kurt Russell as Ego, and Elizabeth Debicki as Ayesha. If you are like me, you might think that Ayesha is being played by Masters’ wife from “Masters of Sex,” but I was wrong.

guaridan masters

Also… Stallone in about three minutes of screentime (leading to Guardians 3). Fun to see him. Not doing much here.

Avoiding spoilers, the reason why most of these non-Guardian characters are in the film is the same… to continue the theme of family. More family. And of course, as the major sub-theme of the original was Star Lord’s mommy, in this film, the major sub-theme is…

Mostly, it is still fun and the excesses are pretty harmless. I LOVE Mantis as a character and wish she had more active screen time and dialogue. Full-on Groot should be back for the next movie. I am always happy to spend movie time with Michael Rooker.

The significant problem is, surprise, another kind of overreach. You see, there are things that play really well in comic books that are almost impossible to pull off in a live-action feature film. And Mr. Gunn proves that here. It’s not that it’s HORRIBLE. It’s not. Not even terrible. But one of the big ideas in this film just doesn’t work. It never becomes clear and clean enough to work.

You’ll know when it happens.

This idea is really, really cool – triply if you are stoned – but whatever takes something from a cool thing that you imagine in your head when you read (or look at comic) just doesn’t come together.

Aside from that, the action gets muddled, though there are a couple of exceptionally good action gags. But weirdly, there are also a few that seem clear and obvious but get muddled up.

There are cases where I prefer the second, more indulgent movie. Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom comes to mind. Mad Max. Magnum Force. T2. Empire. Wolverine. (Godfather II is not on the table.)

But Guardians V2 isn’t Bad Boys 2 or Ghostbusters 2, either. It’s more in line with Beverly Hills Cop II or Die Hard II. Familiar… some good new (bigger) jokes… but just not fun the way the originals were.

Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol 2 isn’t a clunker. That would be way too harsh. When this review tomatoes, it should be Fresh… because there isn’t a rating for “still looks good, but is a bit softer than you like your tomatoes so maybe you’ll just mix it in a salad or make a sauce of it.”

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Weekend Estimates by Waiting For Guardians Klady

Weekend Estimstes 2017-04-23 at 9.11.27 AM

The Fate of the Furious holds onto the top spot with no competition of significance arriving. DisneyNature’s Born in China plays like a family film and is the top newcomer with a projected $5 million. Warner Bros.’ Going in Style is holding better than expected while Unforgettable escapes and the studio waits for Wonder Woman. What are the odds that a second movie with “Forgot” in the title would open on a single weekend? Not good. Like Phoenix Forgotten‘s box office draw. The Promise opens to $4.1 million, which is actually above extremely low expectations. A24 tries out the 1,000-screen opening turf and finds it unfriendly as Free Fire can’t crack $1,000 per-screen.

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Friday Estimates by Still Fate Less Furious Klady

Friday Estimates 651w 2017-04-22 at 9.21.02 AM copy

 

A blah weekend as we head into the Guardians explosion, which will be the second $100 million-plus opening of the year after Furious Fate opened to only $98.8m.

Speaking of The Fate of the Furious, it is now on track to land between the grosses of Fast 5 and Furious 6, nowhere near 7. The weekend drop will be closer to 60%, which isn’t embarrassing for such a big opener.

Beauty is in a space without comparisons. Already past a billion worldwide, where it finally lands is coming closer, but has a lot of give. Regardless, Beast.

The newcomers didn’t land.

I have spent no effort trying to figure out why Unforgettable outdoor had no WB markings. But it escaped more than it was released.

The Promise is one of those horrible cases of a lot of talent with a ton of good intentions making a terrible, unsellable movie. The Armenian genocide is a worthy subject for a great film. But it has yet to happen.

The latest in Disney’s now sidebarred nature series opened to almost exactly what the last film in the series grossed on its opening Friday.

On the indie side, not pretty. The two most hopeful releases, Forgotten Phoenix (trying the Paranormal angle but without building up enough heat) and Free Fire, which is the second widest launch in A24’s history and will generate one-eighth of the opening of the widest release, The Witch.

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“The purpose of film isn’t to present the kindness of the world.”
~ Isabelle Huppert

The Promised Land steers into the fact that the United States can mean whatever people want it to mean. You may not be able to be Elvis, but you can sure as shit impersonate him for a living. America, like its current President (at least as of this article’s publication), is so dangerous precisely because it’s a blank canvas on which anyone can project their dreams. Whatever it is that you see for yourself, there’s someone you can pay for the pleasure of believing that it’s possible. In his view, the pursuit of happiness is the ultimate con, a delusion that prevents us from seeing our circumstances for what they are.

“Forget the Matrix, it’s the invention of happiness that blinded us to the truth. The rich got richer and the poor help them do it. Jarecki doesn’t argue that the American Dream is dead; he argues that it was never alive in the first place — that we were all lobsters in a pot full of water that was boiling too slowly for any of us to notice. And now it’s time for dinner. Donald J. Trump is the President of the United States. Elvis has left the building.”
~ David Ehrlich