Tuesday, March 31, 2015

'Home' Blows the Box Office Predictions Out of this World with a Huge Weekend


Scott offers up his thoughts on a weekend that saw the new releases shock the experts by drawing way more people out to the cinemas than expected.

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You can’t win ‘em all, and while I lost out on my prediction of DreamWorks Animation’s Home, Dreamworks won big as they were in desperate need of a financial success. My prediction was lined up with other prognosticators on the interwebs, and it would seem that all of us spent too much time investigating previous statistics, trends, and numbers instead of looking at the drawing power of Rihanna, Jim Parson, and Jennifer Lopez.

Families flocked out to see the film, which is DreamWorks best success since 2012’s Madagascar 3 as it was able to take in $52 million this weekend. Critically it held no real power, but some types of films seem to be critic proof. Home has a Rotten Tomatoes critic’s score of 47%, an audience score of 69%, and an A rating on CinemaScore, which gets a general indication of viewer’s perspective as they leave the theatres. This sort of reception could indicate good things as there is no competition any time soon, meaning continued success should be easily guaranteed.

Also proving successful this weekend at an opening of $33.8 million was the teaming up of Will Ferrell and Kevin Hart in Get Hard. As far as comedies go, there are many worse ones, but also a plethora of better films. My viewing experience was not the most enjoyable, but it is impossible to downplay the fact that the majority of people in the audience laughed through much of the movie. It earned a CinemaScore of B, which could reveal a possible steep drop in grosses next weekend, especially since the year’s first big budget marquee film, Furious 7, makes its appearance. While both Ferrell and Hart have not been able to command huge numbers individually (something that played into my prediction to my detriment), starring opposite each other became very alluring to fans. In the end, I felt like it was so much wasted opportunity as the film aimed for all the base jokes in the book instead of really focusing on the natural charisma and energy that the leads had with each other.

With a sad display of predicting on the major releases, I can now brag about my thoughts on the expansion of It Follows, a critically loved horror film that moved from 34 theatres to just over 1,200. It was able to maintain some of its momentum through the expansion, taking in $3.6 million (only two hundred thousand shy of my $3.8 million prediction), although it represents a large drop in its per theatre average. It landed at $3,129 per theatre down from last weekend’s $10,777 average. It was a great performance for the film, but further expansion generally means exponential declines in average performance. I could see this movie gaining a few more screens, but it would take a huge marketing push and online buzz to see another major expansion.

Monday, March 30, 2015

The Movie Breakdown Podcast Ep. 82: Talking Movies Can Be a Hard Time



This week Scott and I review the latest raunchy comedy in the Will Ferrell and Kevin Hart team up, Get Hard. After that we have a slew of new trailers to discuss including Spectre and Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation. We also give our thoughts on the announcement Transformers will be entering the cinematic universe fad.

As always if you love the show then please spread the word.



Breakdown Outline:

0:00 - 5:05 (The benefits of not having facial hair)
5:05 - 21:40 Get Hard review (discussing the Will Ferrell character, is it offensive?)
21:41 - 32:39 Spectre trailer and history of Bond and how recent movies have hidden goofiness
32:40 - 35:38 Discussing anticipation of Mad Max: Fury Road
35:39 - 40:29 Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation trailer (problem with great opening sequences, quick Terminator: Genysis trailer thoughts)
40:30 - 51:04 Southpaw trailer
51:05 - 52:53 Dope trailer
52:54 - 55:58 Entourage trailer
55:59 - 59:19 Maggie trailer
59:20 - 1:13:03 Do franchises kill an actor's career? (predicting next big stars)
1:13:04 - 1:22:12 The different authors with different views on movies based on source material (Veronica Roth okay with Insurgent movie being drastically different, E.L. James micromanages every detail and scares off director, Gillian Flynn becoming hot thriller writer in Hollywood)
1:22:13 - 1:27:50 Franchise insanity continues (Transformers cinematic universe, Way too many Lego movies)
1:27:51 - Closing (I really had to pee)

Friday, March 27, 2015

Jake Gyllenhaal Proves His Freaky Chameleon-Like Superpowers in 'Southpaw' Trailer


Jake Gyllenhaal was robbed last year from an Oscar nomination for his transformative and riveting performance in Nightcrawler (I'd actually say it was the best of the year). Gyllenhaal has become an incredible character actor that makes major physical changes and completely throws himself into each role where he'll master strikingly different mannerisms and physical ticks for every movie. But he has gone unrecognized by the Academy outside of Brokeback Mountain because from best I can guess, he hasn't starred in Oscar style pictures. His movies are slick, stylized, and disturbing and either mainstream thrillers like Prisoners or bizarre, experimental indies like Enemy. If the actual pictures are the reason Gyllenhaal keeps getting snubbed, then expect another cold shudder over his latest transformation in this summer counter-programming release, Southpaw.



Gyllenhaal once again has thrown himself into a character drastically different than his previous. Last Fall he was the gawky and malnourished-looking Louis Bloom and now this summer he will be the absolutely ripped and chiseled boxing sensation, Billy Hope. It is amazing the lengths this talented actor will go to make his roles authentic and drastically different than his past. There wasn't much here to really get a feel for his performance, but Hope also isn't really designed to be an unforgettable and disturbing character like Bloom. I'm confident the nuance and subtle touch will still be present, because Gyllenhaal seems pretty incapable of a bad showing.

As for the movie, it feels like a grittier and darker take on the classic Rocky tale. This time around he is a superstar boxer already bathing in the spotlight but then a tragic night throws everything apart. A tragic night that seem to follow Director Antoine Fuqua's hobby of casting a talented and big name female that gets written out after only a few scenes (or maybe Rachel McAdams will appear frequently in nightmares and flashbacks). Poor Hope's life falls into a tailspin, and his stakes of rising up increase as he needs to win back the heart of his daughter, prove he can be a father, and smash up the face of the new world champion. All these things can be realized with the help of a crusty but talented trainer, who may have never played the Penguin but was an evil dictator ruling over Uganda.

It feels like a well-worn and travelled path with the expected stops. To be fair, most trailers are designed for the sole purpose of reminding you of other popular and beloved movies in hopes that the warm-fuzzy of nostalgia will draw you out. There is a chance a more complex and deeper movie is hidden in here. 

I'm still eager to see Southpaw, because I'm enamoured with Gyllenhaal and willing to give him a chance in anything he chooses (that isn't called Accidental Love). I also find myself curiously excited every time I see Fuqua attached to direct a picture, despite the fact I've only really liked Training Day, which was released back in 2001.

Fuqua is an action director and isn't about subtleties or complexities, but is heavily stylized and has a feverish pace to his movies. Even with his disappointing movies like The Equalizer, there is a grace and poetry to his action sequences that feel more artful than something made by more blunt and special effects focused directors. I find myself drawn in even if the screenplay or actual story induces eyeball rolling. I'm interested to see how he directs the boxing matches and I can feel bit of personality coming through in the trailer. The boxing sequences could be great considering they have legitimate boxing star Victor Ortiz playing the opposition. This is a hard edged boxing picture with a blaring soundtrack and a visual style that makes it feel edgier and rougher than Rocky or The Fighter.

I can't shake the feeling that this also feels a bit schmaltzy and melodramatic. Tender and touching drama isn't something I really trust Fuqua's sensibility on here. But again, there is a chance the scenes with the daughter are quieter and shorter than it seems like in the trailer. Hopefully, the picture focuses more on the director's strengths or allows Gyllenhaal shine. Considering the screenplay is written by Kurt Sutter who established his name as the showrunner for Sons of Anarchy and a major write for The Shield, it is likely going to be a testosterone fuelled adrenaline rush that splashes sweat and blood at the audience. It will be interesting to see how Sutter adapts to his first movie script and how he settles into a more focused and concise form that demands things feel more epic but also intimate.

It still stands out as something different and more adult amongst the big PG-13 franchise monsters of the summer, so that alone is enough to be intrigued. Forrest Whittaker as a grumpy trainer has potential, and I don't know Naomie Harris' role but she is a great upcoming star that hopefully has a substantial part. I also have a trainwreck-like fascination when talents like 50 Cent seem to be cast against type, and ever since Tyler Perry's eye opening performance in Gone Girl, I won't underestimate anyone before seeing them do their thing. This might not be a knock-out, but I've got hopes it can still win with a decision.

The Box Office will 'Get Hard' and Studios Hope to Take Big Grosses 'Home'


We're in our final weekend of March and that means fast approaching are the studios big guns that will be shooting for massive box office returns. But before then, we have two wide releases looking to win people over that are either hankering for some prison rape laughs or a warm relationship between a young girl and an awkward alien. The theme of the weekend is togetherness. Scott serves up his predictions of how these new releases will fare.

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Sitting down to write the predictions, I had initially thought that I was going to toe the line this week and follow a little more closely with what the common analysis is. For the last two weeks I have made some deviations, some of which paid off, and others which did not. It is a cruel mistress, this predictions game. Many different and reputable sites have both Home and Get Hard poised for a neck and neck battle to place in or around the mid thirty million range. And, once again, when it comes time to put my words where my mouth is, I cannot fully jump aboard.

Before I get into my dissension, I side with popular opinion on the chances for DreamWorks Animation’s Home and its chances for success. It is sad to say that landing over thirty million would be good for the film considering its weighty budget of $135 million. Because of DreamWorks misses in the animation department over the past few years, they have altered their number of projects per year, but it would appear that no note has as of yet been made in regards to the budget. The trailers for this film attempt to boast a sincere fun between a young girl (voiced by Rihanna) and an awkward alien (voiced by Jim Parsons). It looks very bright and fun, and is an attempt at an original property.

Two years ago they were able to hit the mark with The Croods, earning an opening weekend of $43 million before they returned to the late-March slot with Mr. Peabody & Sherman, which had less life and opened just over thirty million. Are the days of DreamWorks Animation’s films being highly anticipated over and done with? There should be no counting anyone out yet, but the fact that this is their only release of this year is not a good sign. There may have been some creative mishaps along the way, but I’m a numbers guy, so I will point to the stats that may indicate part of their struggles.

Since Flushed Away in 2006, every single film they have made has had a budget of over $125 million, and 63% of those being over $145 million. That means that even their cheapest films, would need to roughly take in around $275 million to cover their production budget alone (that’s not counting the millions spent on marketing). Perhaps as they search for ways to keep going they look at how much they are investing per film.

Home Opening Weekend Prediction - $34 Million

And, this is where I pull away from the crowd. There is a very good chance that I could end up looking like an idiot over this, but I am willing to take that chance. Opening opposite the animated DreamWorks feature is the aforementioned Get Hard, which pairs up funny men Will Ferrell and Kevin Hart. I have to admit that ever since seeing the red band trailer I have housed a personal curiosity and interest for this film. It would seem that I am not the only one, as it had 10,222 tweets about it the day before opening. That’s a bad number for a film about brooding teen vampires, but decent for an R-rated comedy. However, what keeps me hesitant around the success of this film is the recent performances of both parties involved.

While Hart had an outstanding opening weekend in Ride Along (at $41 million), it could be that over-saturation is becoming an issue. Think Like a Man Too had an opening frame of $29 million, and The Wedding Ringer was much softer at $20 million. It has not been much better for Ferrell, whose The Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues and The Campaign both opened at $26 million. I think there will be a decent response to Get Hard, but I tend to believe that it will not crest the $30 million mark.

Get Hard Opening Weekend Prediction - $28 Million

And finally there is the horror film It Follows, which is coming off of a successful in limited release and is being expanded to approximately 1,200 theatres. There is much critical love for this flick, and it will now come down to just how much public awareness there is of this terrifying little darling. It averaged $40,000 per theatre in its opening weekend in four theatres, and was bumped to 32 theatres last weekend, averaging $10,000 per theatre. I am predicting that through its expansion it will end up around the $3,000 average.

 It Follows Expansion Weekend Prediction - $3.6 Million

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Get Nostalgic for the 1990s with the Unique 'Dope' Teaser Trailer


Teenage movies about actual teenagers and high school are suddenly a thing again. It is amazing how one hit can suddenly change what studios deem as something worthy for the cinemas. I'm thankful for The Fault in Our Stars success, because it has suddenly made high school pictures a viable genre again and the main reason a movie like The DUFF landed a wide release (just look at fantastic movies like Spectacular Now and The Way Way Back forced into limited release just two years ago to see what would have happened to The Duff without The Fault in Our Stars' success). The really exciting part is when a genre gains some respect and so studios are willing to take a bit of a gamble on the more challenging and quirky pictures within the type. So, I present you with Dope, currently slated for a wide release during the tentpole jammed summer (June 19th to be exact).



Now that is exactly what you should get out of a teaser with a minimum of plot or scenes but a taste of the feel and style of the movie that makes one crave more. It is a very old school feeling teaser that isn't just a shortened version of a trailer, but rather actually "teases" us with wanting much more. I'm now more excited for this coming-of-age dramedy than most of the major summer blockbusters that have already dropped trailers. Obviously, it doesn't give you much about what the picture is actually about, but it has a distinct retro feel and definitely declares that music will be a central part of the story.

Dope debuted at the Sundance Film Festival to great critical acclaim (currently stands at 100% on Rotten Tomatoes) and sparked a bidding war with over six movie studios that ended with Open Road Films acquiring it. They have enough faith with it that it is not only getting a wide release, but right in the heat of the summer with hungry dinosaurs and super spies. Based off Open Road's past track record, I'd say this is probably going to fall under a smaller wide release, but it still is encouraging and impressive that an intimate and character-driven story gets to play at a competitive time. It probably helps it has heavyweight producers on its side like Forrest Whittaker (who is also the pictures narrator), Puff Daddy and Pharrell Williams (who also provided four original songs to the soundtrack).

Based off the synopsis, the picture is set in modern Inglewood, California despite the graphics, music, and video game scenes making it seem like a 1990s period piece. This is likely designed to catapult the viewer into the mind and world of the main character Malcolm who is a high school geek that is obsessed with 1990s rap. The picture looks to balance some provocative and emotional drama with zany shenanigans and off-beat humour. Malcolm lives in a tough neighbourhood filled with gangs and drugs, but has dreams of escaping the life by getting into Harvard. It also contains a wild teen adventures (a must for a coming of age story) when Malcolm and his two friends spend a night at an underground party that causes all kinds of problems but also gives him a chance to finally go from zero to hero -- or rather become real dope.

The title of Dope seems to both be in reference to 1990s slang for being cool but also actual drugs. It seems like illegal substances play a major part in Malcolm's big evening. Based off the little snippets from the trailer, I'd guess there is some delightful romance thrown in as well.

Critics have said this is a break-out role for newcomer Shameik Moore who plays the flat-topped Malcolm. He also has some great support in incredible young talents like Keith Stanfield, (who will play Snoop Dog this summer in Straight Outta Compton and was phenomenal in a nuanced performance in Short Term 12) and Zoe Kravitz who is a superstar in the making with solid performances in blockbusters like the Divergent and X-Men series.

The teaser has a great energy and looks willing to be silly and crazy. It also will tackle the complexities of teenage life (especially when stuck being uncool) mixed in with the trials of living in a tough area that hardens one at too young an age. It is a hard balance but it works when you believe and trust the characters. Usually when someone actually puts work into making a simple thing like a teaser feel special and unique then it bodes well for real creativity and craftsmanship being put into the feature.

I have to confess that I'm not overly familiar with director Rick Famuyiwa's body of work with 1999's The Wood being the only picture that I've seen the trailer and was aware existed. Though he doesn't have a loaded portfolio, it does seem to be a very personal one with very specific things he wants to explore. He also isn't afraid to load on ample doses of comedy amongst his poignant storytelling.

It has probably been several years since a studio has taken a chance on a "teenagers go on an adventurous night out that changes their lives" something that was pretty common fare in the 1980s. It is even rarer now if you eliminate all the type of movies that contain aliens or supernatural creatures. This is a down-to-earth teen flick without needing CGI and explosions that isn't afraid of tougher subject matte but also quickly embrace a sense of fun. Not only can it getting a wide release be credited to The Fault in Our Stars, but I'm sure Empire becoming a massive TV rating phenomenon this year has proven that a picture steeped in rap culture and stars a predominantly Black cast is something audiences are craving (I realize TV and movies are different in how they attract but there has to be some crossover in what appeals).

If you haven't clued in, I'm totally on board with this picture. This along with Straight Outta Compton hopefully delves into rap culture and the hardships of a specific neighbourhood in a way that often gets ignored. This one also seems to have a lot of heart and charm. Unfortunately, it is also pitted on opening weekend against another movie that may have even more heart and charm in Pixar's Inside Out. Though I assume the animated feature will have a lot less references to drugs and MC Hammer's pants.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Jason Segel Joins the Lego Race but will it Get Overwhelmed with Franchise Overkill


Phil Lord and Christopher Miller are long touted as the magical duo that can turn seemingly bad ideas into massive box office and critical hits. I don't think there was anyone that was excited about film adaptations of a barely remembered goofy 1980s police procedural or an adventure based off building blocks. Yet both now are major franchises that their respective studios have high hopes for (even if the directors' end credit mocking of the idea for a continued 21 Jump Street franchise was seemingly mistaken as a road map).

The Lego Movie launched what Warner Brothers clearly has sights for a massive animated franchise with a long shelf-life. So, I think it is sort of fitting that one of the directors and writers for an upcoming spin-off happens to be someone that has a bit of a reputation for reviving franchises or turning dead genres into something fresh. Jason Segel is better known for his acting, but his writing credits include two of the delightful surprises of the past decade Forgetting Sarah Marshall and the 2011 The Muppets.

The Muppets were a pretty lagging property when 2011 came about, but Segel wrote a self-aware and slightly self-deprecating script that also had all the energy, heart, and humour from the classic movies that turned the lovable talking plush toys into hot items again. The movie is a pure pleasure with memorable songs and an incredible charm that turned it into one of the very best movies of 2011. It was so good that the rather delightful follow-up Muppets Most Wanted was a bit of a letdown in comparison.  

Forgetting Sarah Marshall revitalized the tired raunchy romantic comedy genre with something that mixed sly satire with wit and even heart. It is a movie that is equally sweet and hilarious. It also launched a spin-off picture in the almost as good Get Him to the Greek

Though some would consider Sex Tape a major flop, I actually enjoyed it quite a bit. It had moments of authenticity with the struggling but loving marriage, but also had some brilliant moments of insane humour like the sequence at the Rob Lowe character's home. So for me, Segel is on a pretty solid streak as a screenwriter.

It was his skills with the Muppets that has me the most excited about him being attached as both writer and director of The Billion Brick Race. He proved in that picture to be equally skilled at appealing to adults and nostalgia while also making something engaging for kids. He has a solid mind for a fantasy world, and I'd love to see some more musical numbers thrown into Bricksburg. Much like Lord and Miller, he can affectionately mock the world he is in while also offering up some fresh spins.

He'll be teaming up with Iron Man 3 and Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation writer Drew Pearce. Pearce is clearly more proven in action, but his Marvel script is actually filled with tons of self-referential humour and doesn't take itself too seriously (think the Ben Kingsley character for an example). Plus it was actually Pearce's idea for this Lego movie that sold Warner Brothers on greenlighting it. I'm excited that this picture was birthed from actual creativity and ideas rather than just the demands of the studios. There are lots of reasons to be excited about this team up and I think we have a legitimately exciting and fun movie to look forward to watching.

Except there is a huge reason for some eye-rolling and groaning too. Because before this movie makes it to the big screen, we will be overloaded on Lego features. We have Ninjago in 2016, The Lego Batman movie in 2017, and in 2018 we will have Lego Movie 2 (because apparently we didn't just have two movies come out prior to this). Essentially with this year being the only reprieve, Warner Brothers has its eyes on a Lego movie for every year up to 2019, and of course, that is only because the 2020 Duplo movie and the 2021 Lego Harlem Globetrotters haven't been announced yet.

This leaves us with one most aggravating and money grubbing trend by major movie studios. The almost yearly churning out of movies based on a franchise with both sequels and spin-off under the guise of a cinematic universe. There is a chance there is a legitimately good idea and movie behind every single of these Lego movies. Do we really need these many features about building block trotted out in a row?

On top of that, every studio seems to be jumping this craze. I'm eagerly anticipating this year's Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens, but then we have the Star Wars: Rogue One spin-off next year, Episode VIII the preceding year, then another spinoff, and if Disney has their way, it will continue that way every year. I love Star Wars and the universe may be able to handle it, but that is a whole lot of light sabres and there is no proof the market can support a Star Wars every year.

Then of course there is the Marvel Universe that has two a year and soon coming to a theatre near you, it will be three in a single year. They've been really great at creating different pictures, but eventually that starts getting to be a whole slew of guys in capes and armour. On top of that, Warner Brother and DC will be churning out their comic book characters at a yearly pace (sometimes even twice a year). Sony will do whatever it can to have a yearly franchise picture be it Ghostbusters or Robin Hood or whatever they're giddy about in a given week.

Simply put, some of these movies will be great and some will flop. But the important word that studios seem have forgotten is burn-out. Even if every Lego or Star Wars movie is awesome, you can get too much of a good thing. You can tire of seeing a similar movie set in the same world every year. The anticipation and excitement fades when there isn't any wait period between getting movies and countless trailers every year. The market just can't sustain this many franchises churning out a movie a year. Fatigue will set in, and may take longer for the larger cinematic universes, but eventually, all will suffer.

Yearly sequels from numerous franchises really haven't happen at this level at any other time in movie history. Yes, we've always had sequels. But the old Star Wars series was more than a year apart each time. Sequels usually weren't announced until it was clear audience still wanted more. Now, we have an army of movie dates locked up for sequels to movies that haven't even screened yet. There is no proof the world will be clamouring for The Billion Brick Race after already seeing three other Lego inspired movies.

In 5 years, we will probably have a really good idea what effects have been made on the movie industry with this obsession of never-ending series. Some of the series listed here will either be in morgue or have a much longer waiting period due to decreased demand. At this point, I can see why people like Steven Spielberg and George Lucas were warning the movie blockbuster machine was about to explode and the industry will be badly shaken up.

On the positive side, hopefully the constant force feeding of "Big Event" pictures (and how can something be big when there are 5 or more of these a year), will likely leave a major hunger for smaller and more intimate pictures. I have high hopes this will open up the chance for at least one studio to realize there is a demand for forgotten genres like romantic comedies or personal dramas or low-key slice of life features or a competently made thriller. The multiplexes will still be clogged with brands and sequels, but I also think fresh and original pictures on a smaller budget will make a comeback.

All my nay-saying doesn't discount that many of these franchises will deliver some really great entertainment. On the Lego front, at least every movie seems to be aspiring for originality and like Marvel and Star Wars, is better equipped than most to actually be a cinematic universe. While I don't know where my excitement will be with this franchise in even two years, for now I'm pumped for some brick racing with Segel and intrigued to see what happens at the finish line.

Steven Spielberg Entering his Third 'Peter Pan Phase'


There was a period in Steven Spielberg's career that some writers and critics coined as his "Peter Pan Phase". The reference was to the fact that the director was refusing to grow up much like the tight-wearing boy who pranced through the air in Neverland. It was believed Spielberg was making sugary, fantasy adventures that may have had some more complex ideas and emotions that were masked and blurred by stories with child-like wonder and whimsy.

By some this may have been deemed an actual criticism and flaw against Spielberg's work, but I couldn't disagree more. Especially since his first "Peter Pan Phase" would be during the early to mid-1980s that saw him direct classic pictures like Raiders of the Lost Ark, E.T. and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (you could also throw in 1977's Close Encounters of the Third Kind to extend this phase). To increase the notion of dabbling with the mystical and magical, you'd look at his producer credits at the time that include Gremlins, Goonies, and Back to the Future.

For example, E.T. is believed to be Spielberg dealing with the impact of divorce on a child. A heavy theme that gets smothered by the adventure of a children's relationship with a sweet-toothed alien that resembles putty. Spielberg has gone on record in the past saying Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom was his own way of working through a failed relationship he was suffering through at the time.

You could see how he was accused of retreating from real emotions by plunging into fantasy. But again, I personally don't see this as a bad thing nor really even something new amongst creative people. Some of the greatest tales of adventures and fantasy were created with the writer dealing and working through more complex themes that can't necessarily be grasped at first look. Stephen King often admits to many of his horror stories being about something much more than just things that go bump in the night.

I'd much rather go on an epic adventure that may have been initially fueled by feelings of loss or ways to deal with one's actual personal life then just be presented yet another melodramatic story. E.T. and Raiders of the Lost Ark may be pure fantasy, but their also deceptively complex stories that also happen to be two of my all-time favourite movies. I wouldn't change a thing.

Spielberg was seen as growing up in the mid to late 1980s by helming pictures like The Color Purple and Empire of the Sun. If that period is truly deemed as Spielberg growing up, then 1989 to the early 1990s has to be his return to Neverland. He steeps himself in fantasy and wonder again with pictures like Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade and Jurassic Park, and of course, his literal "Peter Pan Phase" with Hook (fittingly about a grown-up Peter Pan). After that with a few exceptions, Spielberg could be seen as abandoning Neverland with much more serious and emotionally complex movies like Schindler's List, Saving Private Ryan, and Munich.

I completely confess I'm simplifying things to make a point here. Spielberg in the last twenty years did make yet another Jones adventure, extensively dabbled in sci-fi, and directed the Tintin feature. He has never fully abandoned that sense of wonder and childhood, but over the past few decades, he is more associated with making 'Oscar-worthy' fare like Lincoln and War Horse. You hear about Spielberg helming a picture now and you automatically think a Best Picture contender and something with some serious weight (even if he has his detractors that think even his dramas are far too light and bubbly).

This fall's Bridge of Spies completely fits into the modern perception of Spielberg. A dramatic thriller that is based on true events set in 1960s and about the Cold War and stars Tom Hanks. It is about a lawyer who is tasked with negotiating with Soviets Russia for the safe return of a pilot who was shot down in their borders. It is one of my most anticipated movies of the year and even though it is months away from being screened has to be considered a major Oscar contender.

Then that all changes after this year, as Spielberg suddenly is ready to chase shooting stars and seek his inner child again. We have an adaptation of Roald Dahl's novel BFG, which is a children's classic about a girl teaming up with a big friendly giant to capture a group of nasty, man-eating giants. It feels like something perfect for early 1980s Spielberg.

It now looks like he won't stop with that children's tale. It was announced today he has signed to direct an adaptation of Ernest Cline's novel Ready Player One. The story is about a teenager jacked into a virtual utopia known as OASIS who goes on an adventure to discover an "Easter Egg" that will allow him to inherit the estate of the deceased creator of the world, but as it always happens, must compete with some less than scrupulous individuals. So basically, another picture that seems to fit perfectly with a Spielberg of another time. A Spielberg that would expertly turn this into a whimsical and wondrous adventure that a young Christopher would excitedly reenact in his backyard (many bike rides in the mid-1980s was my own return to E.T.).

If this truly is a return to Neverland for Spielberg with his same talents and eye for young adventure, then maybe Everett may have a modern movie to open up his imagination and trigger him to recreate in his own backyard. I'm sure this time will also have themes and concepts that he doesn't fully grasp but will still register with him on some level. Spielberg was and will hopefully prove to be the master of capturing childhood adventure on the big screen.

The foray into Neverland may be short as Spielberg is also set to direct a picture potentially starring Jennifer Lawrence based on the memoirs of war photographer Lynsey Addario, It's What I Do: A Photographer's Life of Love and War. So, he won't be away from the Oscar hunt for too long and be back dealing with serious subject matter.

Sometimes the most serious stuff is best dealt with in children's tales and epic adventures. I'm excited with Spielberg's return to movies that are targeted towards kids and families. My son and daughter will have a chance to see one of the truly great directors weave his magic again and witness the heart of a man who has never been afraid to embrace his childhood.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

'The Detainee' Promises a Very Different Dystopian Future


Scott is really excited about a future where older people get shipped off to a desolated island. I'm really glad I'm not his father, because my history with islands isn't good. In this case, it seems like the love more comes from a recently announced movie. He explains more below.

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For those of you that are getting a little tired of the sexy teen dystopian book trilogies turned movies, prepare to get excited. Your dystopian future has just been shaken up by the writing of Grant Pierce Myers (one of the writers who did the screenplay for The Maze Runner) who is signed on to pen the movie adaptation of elderly dystopian book, The Detainee. It is a time when there is a non-stop flow of the same style of film that attempts to sell us on the stories of ‘the chosen one’ or ‘the one person who could unite them,’ all the scenarios contain the hope placed in the hands of hormone injected teens, who, no doubt, have some kind of romantic entanglement.

The Detainee focuses on a future where the elderly have been banished by the youth who see them responsible for the awful conditions of society. It is this demographic protagonist shift that could end up adding a breath of fresh air to the sub-genre as well as shaking things up a bit. Good things can happen when studios take chances on deviating from the established path. When I saw the teen dystopian film The Giver in theatres, I was seated amongst a crowd of older theatre goers who had no doubt been drawn in by the fact that Jeff Bridges and Meryl Streep (who did not get an Oscar nomination for appearing in the film, an oddity from the Academy) were attached.

It is this audience that is commonly neglected by film executives as they plot out their strategic releases. It is also this audience that has proven multiple times over that they can give long legs to quality films. Both Gravity and Gone Girl are glowing recent examples of the hunger that mature crowds have for reasons to get a sitter for the kids and purchase the mammothly inflated costs of butter flavoured theatre popcorn. This year’s unexpected success story has been Kingsman: The Secret Service, which threw onto theatre screens an R-rated film that had both young and old talent, and created curiosity around seeing Colin Firth kicking people’s asses. As one older audience member put it after the film was done, ‘it was cute.’ That’s not the phrase I would have chosen, but I was impressed to see that different demographics were able to groove to such a film.

Who knows if this movie will ever get made, or if it will end up in limited release. It may be an instant flop, and could reinforce the notion that the target audience should always be young people. There is a chance that it could come and go without having any impact on the cinematic landscape, but it also could be the kind of film that instantly alters strategies of competing studios. Regardless of how it all turns out, it is simply an encouraging sign that some people out there see diversity in how stories are told as a good thing and a risk to take.

Monday, March 23, 2015

'Insurgent' Fails to Rise Above 'Divergent' but 'The Gunman' Completely Bombs at the Box Office


Scott looks at a weekend where the wide releases didn't meet the expectations the studios had for them. Though one picture fared far better and could be considered a decent success, while the other might be the signs of the death of an entire genre.

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While it was not able to see a boost over the franchise starter Divergent, Insurgent (seeing a theme with the names?) still was able to have a healthy opening weekend and posted almost the exact same debut take as the first with $54 million. Lionsgate/Summit was not merely hoping for a similar success, but seemed to be banking on a sizeable increase in interest for the franchise. This can be evidenced by the fact that the budget for Insurgent was approximately thirty percent larger than the first film, as well as having an aggressive marketing campaign that highlighted action above everything else. Reaching for the growing franchise can be a bar that is set rather high. Even though The Hunger Games was a success for both audiences and critics, the sophomore attempt only brought an increase of four percent.

The studio was also offering Insurgent in IMAX and 3D, which Divergent did not have, to play off the more ‘epic’ vision of the film the marketing campaign held. In actuality, with the increased ticket prices associated with IMAX and 3D, the fact that this film had the same take as the first one indicates that there were less tickets sold overall. Where this movie really aims to make ground is overseas, where spectacle movies fare better. After its opening weekend, it is already becoming clear that the foreign markets are hungrier for this film. According to Box Office Mojo, Insurgent posted incredible gains over Divergent in France (increasing 71%), the UK (74%) and Brazil (106%).

Before the weekend began, I had a terrible feeling regarding the fate of Sean Penn’s action flick, The Gunman. The genre of older gents picking up guns is a fading sunset, and he arrived too late to the party. With next to no Twitter activity prior to release, The Gunman fell below most expectations and ended up with $5 million. This film should be a tombstone that reminds many others that peril is afoot when believing that it is easy to replicate the success of Taken.

With a rumoured production budget of $40 million, there seems to be no way possible that The Gunman will be able to salvage this situation. The film sits in thirty third spot for worst opening for films opening in over 2,500 theatres and joins the likes of other 2015 releases Blackhat, Mordecai, Unfinished Business, and Strange Magic in the top fifty.

The faith based film Do You Believe? was a very difficult one to predict. These types of movies don’t generally have the same indicators in the build-up. A lot of the success seems to do with the promotion from churches and that sort of word of mouth. Whatever the case, the same level of interest shown in last year’s films God’s Not Dead, Heaven’s For Real, and Son of God could not be found here. Do You Believe? opened to a soft $4 million dollars over 1,320 theatres. It may be the smallest total made from an opening film this week, but it does have the leg up on The Gunman for average money made per theatre, posting a modest $3,030 to Sean Penn’s $1,786.

The Movie Breakdown Ep. 81: Just Can't Get Enough of Dystopias Filled with Pretty People and Ripped Older Men Shooting Baddies


This week on The Movie Breakdown I review the two major new releases in Insurgent and The Gunman. Scott then takes a look at the critically acclaimed 2014 horror picture, The Babadook. After that we discuss some trailers that include Pixels, Insidious Chapter 3, and Infinitely Polar Bear. As always if you love the show then please spread the word.



The Movie Breakdown Outline:

00:00 -  8:30 Usual rabbit-trail packed Introduction (Inability to post links, Scott's fly-down confession, writing erotica, professional wrestling mullets, reprimanding from wife and lack of zippers on pants for three year olds)
08:31 - 20:59 Insurgent review
21:00 - 25:28 The shifting of what studios are creating for teens (state of Divergent series, bragging about predicting The Fault in Our Stars would create a trend, return of high school dramas)
25:29 - 32:35 Paper Towns trailer review
32:36 - 45:30 The Babadook review
45:31 - 53:17 The Gunman review (remembering when Chappie made me fall asleep, time to retire Old Thespian actioners, problem with an action movie taking itself too seriously, Rambo!)
53:18 - 57:05 Scott looking at how successful he was at predicting new releases' box office numbers
57:06 -1:02:17 Pixels trailer review (problem with special effects comedies, Sandler taking chances again)
1:02:18 - 1:05:31 The Transporter Refueled trailer review
1:05:32 - 1:09:08 Insidious Chapter 3 trailer review (how I prefer to see Before I Wake)
1:09:09 - 1:14:35 Infinitely Polar Bear trailer review
1:14:36 - 1:24:04 Studios gravitating towards established names then copy entirely different movie (Verona, 6 Robin Hoods, Franchise burn out for even the big names, lack of anticipation with no waiting periods for sequels)
1:24:05 - Conclusion (Get Hard next week)

Star Rating Recap:
Insurgent *** (CS)
The Babadook **** (SM)
The Gunman ** (CS)


Saturday, March 21, 2015

The Babadook Review: The Gripping Manifestation of Single Parenting's Horrors


The Babadook was a massive critical hit that did something that is rare for horror pictures, which is make many respected film critics' top ten of the year lists. Just in case you need more motivation to check it out, Scott offers up his own glowing review.

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Rating: ****

Starring: Essie Davis, Noah Wiseman, Daniel Henshall, Hayley McElhinney
Director: Jennifer Kent
Screenplay: Jennifer Kent
Genre: Horror, Drama, Thriller
Rated: NR
Release Date: November 28, 2014
Run Time: 93 minutes

When I watched the Australian horror The Babadook, it did not take me long to remember the monsters that inhabited the dark realm under my bed and the closet when I was a child. The fear of having to emerge from the sanctuary of my protective sheets and venture to the bathroom late at night would overcome me, the shadows populated by every insecurity and worry that could run forefront in a young boy. My parents in their sleep were sometimes summoned when the unknown became too much and the courage of the little boy shattered into obscurity. It is this dreadful nocturnal condition that The Babadook taps into, a child needing comfort from the protective parent. But what happens when it is the parent that has allowed the evil to take up residence in the creaks and groans of a house at night?
The film is a horror of basic familiar concept, playing on the haunted house/possession genre and building up to the dread that comes when the sun goes down. It centres on a single mother, Amelia (Essie Davis) who has never allowed any amount of proper grief over the tragic loss of her husband. Her life is filled up by the energetic and misbehaving ways of her son Samuel (Noah Wiseman) who drains her energy, leaving her no form of life that she can call her own. It is when Samuel one night asks her to read the children’s book The Babadook (which had appeared in his room, and one that is enough to scare an adult) that Amelia’s world turns into a vortex of insomnia, paranoia, and horror.

It is hard to watch this film and not see it as allegorical to the dangers of allowing personal demons to exist, such as Amelia does with the grief over her deceased husband. First time feature film director Jennifer Kent, who also penned the film, weaves with crafted excellence with the imagery of denial and the relational problems that it creates with those around you. Was the scary monster in her closet actually there, or was it all in her mind as she emerged at a breaking point with her son under the weight of her pain and agony?

As the film intensifies, it is Amelia who becomes crippled and twisted in the fears with a parental role reversal happening with Samuel. She reverts to youth, hiding under the covers when night arrives in a paralytic state, a message from Kent to the power unaccepted grief can have over an individual. The relationship between mother and son jumps through different phases, and, even in the midst of fist-clenching terror, shows the light of genuine love, commitment, and protection.

Kent asserts her abilities to not only detail a complex relationship and symbolic story, but delivers unsettling scenes better than those who are veterans of the horror game. Some of the set ups to the scares enlist the well-known paces, but the delivery is with a much steadier hand and attention to subtlety. She refuses to believe that simply inserting loud noises will accomplish the task, and instead plays well with varying levels of sound for what is the most appropriate at different stages of the film.

The greatest films are ones that are transcendental to their genres, films that don’t merely exist to add to cinematic canon but have a bolder story to tell. They may appear to be just another film, but have a life separate to the surface and use imagery and paces of a certain genre to enhance a more personal story. The Babadook will not end up getting the same social recognition of movies like Alien, but believe never for a second that it isn’t anywhere near as good. Just be warned - this is a beautiful and personal story, but it is also scary enough to turn an adult into a child.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Focus Features Lands Its Oscar Hopeful in Carey Mulligan and Meryl Streep Starring 'Suffragette'


There was a great deal of frustration over the past Oscars that were mostly a celebration of white men. Selma was the lone Best Picture nominee that wasn't about a white male's problem and conflict. So, there is hope that next year has a much more diverse slate and even more importantly, that studios trot out a greater deal of diversity during the supposed prestige picture months in the fall.

It looks like Focus Feature will try to do their part as they're now the distributors of Suffragette and will be releasing it domestically in the fall. You consider we also have Netflix's upcoming Beasts of No Nation that also is considered a strong Best Picture contender (though in both cases the prognosticating comes from sight completely unseen) and there may be a chance for some actual diversity at next year's Oscars. In both cases, we've got movies if done properly will be thought-provoking and challenging and spark discussions about important issues.

Suffragette, much like Selma, will be a historical drama but through its storytelling will act as a tearing of a Band-Aid off the festering wound of issues that still exist and need to be tackled. Suffragette will be looking at a group of women's major push for the right to vote in the early 20th century Britain and will more specifically look at the militant actions that needed to be taken against the state to push change. As a grander theme, it will likely speak against how society perceives and treats women as second class individuals and have some unfortunate real relevance to today (almost makes me wish Patricia Arquette was cast).  It doesn't seem to be about any specific historic event outside of the broader movements of the time but will have iconic real life people like Emmeline Pankhurst who was the leader of the suffragette movement in Britain.

It will likely be billed as a drama, but the plot of a working class mother being lured into the fight and then the group needing to go underground when the State starts to us force has the makings of a thriller too. Though this obviously is Focus Feature's big hopeful for Oscar contention, I'm hoping it doesn't fit standard biopic or historical drama beats but rather attempts to be closer to a Selma or Lincoln with a tight focus and some diversion from the trusted formula. I'm completely unfamiliar with director Sarah Gavron's past work but writer Abi Morgan has a pretty respectable portfolio that includes the critical hit and the movie that established director Steve McQueen in Shame. Plus it has a pretty amazing cast to back it up.

Actually, even if Suffragette turns out to be a disappointment, it already has locked in at least one Oscar nomination with the casting of Meryl Streep as Pankhurst. Good or bad, the Oscar rule is Streep gets nominated for whatever picture she is in during the fall. August Osage County and Into the Woods may have not quite been at "Oscar Best Picture" caliber but Streep still warranted a nomination largely because she was Streep. Yes, I'm being jaded and cynical here, and I realize she is an icon, but sometimes it feels like she gets the nod for just being willing to be in a movie.

If the material is strong then Streep will likely be awesome. The attention she warrants will be worthwhile because it hopefully will also cast a spotlight on Carey Mulligan who is starring in the movie as the aforementioned mother. Mulligan is a superstar talent that just isn't known enough to be an actual superstar. This picture could be her biggest break for exposure and definitely awards recognition. Her most well-known movie at this point is likely The Great Gatsby, but she has proven her diversity by playing very different characters in great movies like Inside Llewyn Davis, Drive, Never Let Me Go, and An Education. She also is starring in Far from the Madding Crowd this May that has potential to at least be a bit of a sleeper hit if Fox Searchlight is brave enough to make it real counter programming against The Avengers: Age of Ultron.

Suffragette will likely get the slow roll out treatment where it starts out at festivals (might even debut at TIFF), then get a limited release end of September or start of October with eyes of going wide at the end of that month. Considering the demographics that frequent the cinemas now and that it is during the time people want to see prestige pictures, I'd predict this ends up being a pretty solid hit at the box office or at least do better than most of the Best Picture nominees from last year (besides American Sniper).

I'm pretty stoked for this one (would have made my most anticipated of the year if I knew about in January) and intrigued to see what type of slant and direction the crew goes. The material is rich and provocative. The talent is pretty undeniable here, and I didn't even mention the likes of Helena Bonham Carter and the greatly underrated Brendan Gleeson. Consider this one of my early predictions for an Oscar nomination and one to capture all kinds of buzz in the fall.

'Insurgent' Looking to Rise Way Above the 'The Gunman' at the Box Office


For the second straight weekend, the box office will largely be decided by female demographics. And for the second straight weekend, they'll likely make a decent chunk of change for those big studios that may slowly be catching on that making movies for women is a smart business decision. As for the demographic begging for violent "old thespian" actioners, well, their days of pure joy may be wrapping up. This is Scott's show, so I'll let him tell you how he thinks the box office will shake down this weekend.

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With Cinderella making it to the ball and back last week, she will be attempting to keep her magic over the audiences flowing for a second weekend in a row. While she easily took first place on opening weekend, it could be a difficult task to repeat, with Insurgent, the follow-up to last year’s Divergent, springing into theatres. There’s also Sean Penn. Sean Penn throws himself into an action role, reminiscent of Liam Neeson, but we saw exactly how Cinderella deals with those kinds of films. She tosses them to the ground and then grinds them under crystal slippers until there is nothing left.

Many attempts have been made since Twilight to create a franchise based off of young adult novels, and many have taken a fatal tumble that would destroy hopes for a series. Divergent was not the same level of success as The Hunger Games proved to be, but it did what few others have achieved, and that is reason for a second film. Actress Shailene Woodley established her name last year with Divergent and a wonderful performance in the teen tear-jerker The Fault in Our Stars. The cast that surrounds her in this movie is very robust, touting names such as Ansel Elgort, Miles Teller, Kate Winslet, Octavia Spenser, and Naomi Watts. Trust me when I say this, there are many more talented people alongside them in this film as well.

However, the big question is if the rest of the movie will be able to keep up with those charged with delivering the lines. The first film and a Rotten Tomato rating of 41%, and Insurgent is sitting at 34% at the time of writing this. This sort of thing shouldn’t mean that Insurgent will necessarily make less, but it does point to what could be a limitation of the audiences that it could secure. These types of films are not just for the youth, and that is something that The Hunger Games proved. If you take the content and make a great film, you could end up with more customers than you were anticipating. All of that is to say that I do not see this film having a noticeable increase over last year. I do think that The Fault in Our Stars, which highlighted both Woodley and Elgort, has done something to add to the weight of the film, but I find it hard to be thinking that there will be braggable growth. Call me a skeptic, but I am seeing it only matching the opening weekend the inaugural film saw.

Insurgent Opening Weekend Prediction - $55 Million

Opening in 2,800 theatres this weekend (roughly one thousand less than Insurgent) is The Gunman, starring Sean Penn, who, if he is lucky, will follow in the footsteps of last weekend’s Run All Night and make more than ten million. However, I do not think he will be that lucky. The lack of success of Liam Neeson and Ed Harris in Run All Night spells almost certain disaster for the award winning Penn. Even with the recent successes of Neeson’s career, the film could not attract the crowds needed. If we also look at the indicator of Kevin Costner’s actioner attempt last year in 3 Days to Kill (which opened to $12 million) we see a bigger picture view of how things could turn out for The Gunman. Costner is no box-office powerhouse, but has numerous films that have had opening weekends north of ten million dollars. Penn, on the other hand, has only had the lead role in one film that has made it into the double digit millions, and that was ten years ago in The Interpreter. Sean Penn may be a name that many people know, but that cannot erase the fact that he is not a major draw.

There will be some older cinamaholics who have the date written on their calendar, but it is doubtful there will be appeal from the younger audience, evidenced in the measly 565 tweets about the film the day before it opens. Add onto that the 16% Rotten Tomatoes rating, and there is little life in this film.

The Gunman Opening Weekend Prediction - $4.5 Million

Alrighty, now it is time for the third and final wide release (or, I guess we can call it ‘semi-wide’ as it’s only in 1,300 theatres) is the faith based film, Do You Believe? I had never seen the trailer before two minutes ago, and I am not sure what I think. Well, I know what I think. Bad acting, bad cinematography, and bad dialogue. I am also kind of baffled at the fact that the trailer was all white people except for a few African Americans who were criminals, and one who looked like a homeless man dragging a cross around. I’m not insinuating anything at all about the film and the people who created it, it is just more so a baffling fact that even in this day and age there are such racial divides as far as the ‘types of characters’ films try to portray.

I guess I am supposed to now predict how it will do, but I am still rolling over the fact that the racial casting appeared that obvious. There were a number of faith based films last year that made a run at the theatres, with a few such as God’s Not Dead and Heaven is for Real showing that segments of the population will show up for faith based films. However, I have heard very little about this film, and the buzz is seeming to be fairly low. I am guessing that it will have an opening take around thirty percent shy of God’s Not Dead opening nine million.

Do You Believe Opening Weekend Prediction - $6 million

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

'Pixels' Trailer Represents Adam Sandler Hitting the Reset Button


Besides substantiating and over-analyzing every single Star Wars rumour possible, the other great past time of writers on film is bashing Adam Sandler. I'm pretty sure if someone actually tried to praise a mainstream Sandler picture that a fleet of flying monkeys would be ordered to attack that writer's home. I kind of like monkeys and who doesn't appreciate the power of flight, so I try to defend the actor when I can even if his last several years of shooting around paid vacations and advertisements posing as features can make it hard. I have to admit that I have some anticipation for his latest movie, Pixels, and now, we have a look at what will be his final theatrical picture before entering into his four movie Netflix deal.



It is pretty fair to criticize Sandler for churning out almost identical movies in the last few years with either no plots but just set in a warm and beautiful location (that most would love to vacation) or plots that are pretty indistinguishable that revolve around Sandler being a complete ass that at the end turns out to be oh-so lovable. This past year may have brought forth the pretty bad Blended but it also saw him try a few different things in Men, Women and Children and The Cobbler. Sure both of those pictures ended up being critical flops, but the key point is that Sandler at least tried to challenge himself and do something different than just his typical big studios summer comedies.

Pixels seems to usher in a potentially new era where Sandler breaks out of the comfortable mold he formed over the past decade and make pictures that are far more ambitious and more served to justify his ludicrously high budgets (for a comedy). While this is still a comedy, this is Sandler's first real foray into a special effects sci-fi action picture. The other shift is that he may have learned from his Grown-Ups success by sliding towards ensemble cast pictures. Pixels is clearly not just a straight Sandler starring vehicle as he'll be sharing the screen with Kevin James, Peter Dinklage, and Josh Gad. His follow-up picture to this will be the The Ridiculous Six, which is also a genre mash-up of comedy with Western and also an ensemble with assortment of name stars. This may be the direction Sandler takes for the near future as he tries to rehab his career (which I realize is a silly statement since he has enough power to have landed a sweet deal with Netflix but he just isn't the massive box office draw he was a decade ago).

The concept is a great deal of fun and actually the potential so far is way more fun than the actual trailer. The idea is that aliens misinterpreted 1980s video games as a declaration of war (maybe that is where all those E.T.: The Video Game cartridges ended up) and attack Earth in the form of those iconic characters. Just like the world needed oil driller to take out a gigantic meteor, it now needs old-school arcade wizards to whip out their well-exercised thumbs to save humankind. It is a pretty brilliant idea that makes me chuckle every time I hear it and also plays on the nostalgia of the age group that still dares to trek out to the cinemas. Wreck-It Ralph was a lot of fun to see iconic Sega and Nintendo characters interact on the big screen, and there is just as much potential for zany fun with some old-school Atari and ColecoVision character battling it out with some goofballs.

This picture immediately makes me think of Ghostbuster, which is probably the most popular and well-known special effect bedazzled comedy that mixes laughs with action sequences. The truth is that comedy and big special effects almost never work, and Ghostbusters was a shocker to most critics. 1941 is notoriously known as Steven Spielberg's first major flop and lot of that is due to the comedy not blending well with major set-piece and special effects. The action tends to overwhelm the characters that the audience must connect with in order to elicit laughs. Ghostbusters worked largely despite the effects, because Ivan Reitman knew well enough to focus on the characters and allow personalities like Bill Murray to shine through. It is more of a character-driven movie than a big special effects spectacle. The only other really big example of a special-effect sci-fi comedy working is Back to the Future, even then it is more of an intimate character comedy that is just book-ended by some impressive special effects.

Not to shortchange the actors here but they aren't exactly in the league of a Bill Murray, and there is a chance they'll get overshadowed by their 8 bit adversaries. I do think Sandler has a sharp wit and Dinklage has proven to be a lot of fun (he is the best part of the uneven Knights of Badassdom), but there isn't evidence of the personalities coming through. Right now the entire focus seems to be on the fact Pac-Man and Donkey Kong are destroying major cities and there isn't any sign of a focus on the characters or even attempts at comedy.

Of course, the selling point is the gimmick and a trailer isn't a movie. Even though I'm a little flat on what has been shown, this could be all kinds of riotous fun. The references to classic video games will be amusing and the key is allowing some characters besides the video game characters to get a chance to shine. The movie at least crushes the criticism that Sandler is just coasting and isn't trying to do something new.  Put me down as looking forward to reviewing this one and hopefully, finally give Sandler my endorsement for the first time in far too long.


'Before I Wake' Trailer: And Now I Never Want Children Sleeping in My House Again


I have incredibly awesome children and I love them more than I could ever truly describe. My kids are far from perfect, but one of the great things about them is they never channel evil spirits to kill me. If I've learned anything from the Before I Wake trailer (and many other countless horror movies) is that the best way to ensure I avoid death by ghosts is to never ever adopt a child or be a foster parent.



I'm officially declaring that I'll never complain when Everett wakes me up in the middle of the night with his cries from a nightmare, because I'm confident his dreams will never get me killed from a butterfly monster attack. Why can't kids in movies dream about cuddly teddy bears or delicious meatball subs?

Most of the best horror works because it is often grounded in real-life fear that then gets represented in the story through the supernatural or some other violent form. Before I Wake actually tackles three major fears in being a new parent, dealing with the loss of a loved one, and the inability to control dreams. All three of these concepts have been explored extensively in horror cinema for decades with Mama being a strong recent example of the horrors of being a new (and in that case unwanted) parent, the Woman in Black was a great Gothic take of the pain of dealing with death, and you may have heard of a little flick call A Nightmare on Elm Street when it comes to making dreams terrifying and deadly. The first two are broader themes used in many type of movies while Before I Wake takes a rather fresh spin on the "dream are deadly" by making them manifestations that come into the real world rather than being killed in one's sleep.

The other thing that makes Before I Wake fascinating in concept is the fact the child doesn't just have nightmares but also his dreams come into reality that are not only beautiful but fulfill a deep longing for the new parents. Some of my favourite horror stories often are about something desirable, wondrous and beautiful that when opened and delved into can become hideous, dangerous and fatal. The protagonist will fight the allure and enticement in order to avoid disaster, but even with the undeniable dangers, one still plunges in. It is a pretty common theme from some of Stephen King's best work (Louis Creed in Pet Sematary tries to resurrect his wife even after the disastrous results with his son), and this trailer sort of feels like it could have been an adaptation of one of his older short stories (it isn't).

Since the boy can create images of the couple's dead son, I get feelings we might see them potentially exploit that power even though it is clearly evil at the core and will lead to their demise. This conflict is fascinating in the horror genre, because it shows that the downfall could have been avoidable but one's own inner failings brought them down. Horror doesn't often get labelled as tragedy, but many of the best works are. Even if I'm totally off on the story arc here, it is a fresh take on the currently popular possession and haunted-things sub-genre to peak some of my interest.

Unfortunately, the trailer also makes me rather wary of allowing myself to get too excited. It is riddled with some of the most tiresome horror clich├ęs including kid being terrorized in the bedroom and folks who decide to withhold important information that could have prevented lots of problems. The biggest groaner is inclusion of several jump scares that are so well-worn that when used they only elicit laughter and frustration. Of course some demon-thing will grab the mother's shoulder, and it probably happens after only a scene ago the husband did the same. Oh shockers of shockers, there is now something behind the boy that wasn't there before. Horror works best with an unsettling atmosphere and uneasy feeling amplified by a slow-build. The jump scares often hamper the mood and end up making for an unscary and predictable movie.

There is also a chance that this picture isn't a jump-scarefest. Rather this is the work of a marketing department that is trying to sell to the demographic that they believe needs jump scares to have a good time. Maybe even some of these scenes were added in for the sake of a "spooky" trailer that will cause teenage girls hankering for a good scream and squeal to dash out to the cinemas.

I have some hope that the movie may be better than the trailer, because last year, Oculus was the victim of a pretty eye-rolling trailer and turned out to be one of the best horror movies of the year. It just so happens that Before I Wake is directed and co-written by Mike Flanagan and also written by Jeff Howard, which is the exact team that gave us Oculus.

Oculus worked in a large part due to the great direction of Flanagan. He expertly jumped from the past to the present in a way that disoriented the viewer in the exact same way the protagonist would have lost bearings from the haunted mirror. You got unsettled because you couldn't sort out what was present and what was flashback, and also playing with perceptions of reality. The screenplay and acting was also solid, but it really was the effective us of editing that elevated the material and really made things unsettling. It is that style that would also make this concept really work as one tries to sort out dream and reality. It is a concept that plays to Flanagan's strengths, but also different enough to not just feel like a rehashed Oculus. His visual sense is also incredible, and you can see signs of that in the trailer with a fine mix of beautiful and ugly imagery.

Kate Bosworth never turned into the star she was pegged to be, but she has been solid in almost everything she has been in. In the trailer she projects both a strength and vulnerability that is pretty crucial for the storytelling. Thomas Jane may not be my first choice for any movie role (and I still get him confused for Christopher Lambert far too often), but he also stars in one of my favourite horror movies from the past 10 years in Mist.

This picture is currently pegged to go wide, but it also has the unfortunate case of being slotted in the death spot that is the weekend after The Avenger: Age of Ultron. Most studios aren't clamoring to put too movies within shouting distance of what will be one of the juggernauts of the year. There is already a Reese Witherspoon comedy set to be released as well, which makes me think this picture may not end up getting a very wide release.

With some hesitation, I have interest in the picture because the concept it different enough and the director has proven his skill in the genre. The horror genre hasn't been all that exciting at the wide release level in a long time, and most of the really good ones have been independent. This has potential to change things up at the bigger studio level and provide some solid scares at the multiplexes (besides the popcorn prices).

Monday, March 16, 2015

Cinderella Has a Magical Weekend at the Box Office


Scott analyzes the success and failures of the two major new releases at the cinemas this weekend. I definitely think Cinderella's success will add fuel to the "Disney turning their animated features into live-action movies" fire, which is proven by Beauty & the Beast, Jungle Book and Dumbo on the way, but don't be surprised to see The Little Mermaid, Mulan, and Pinocchio shove their way into cinemas too. Anyway, this is Scott's space, so here he is.

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Well, the weekend is over and it is back to work for many people, standing around the water cooler and jibber-jabbering about life and the like. For those in Hollywood there will be some conversation that revolves around two polar opposites; what went right and what went wrong.

Opening this past weekend, and taking first place at the box office, Disney’s Cinderella was an enormous win for the studio. It was able to pull in a very healthy $70 million dollars (and another $62 million in the foreign markets), and is well on its way to making back its $95 million budget. It also claimed rights to being the ninth best spring opening weekend of all time, although I should note to the reader that apparently the ‘spring’ ends at the beginning of May, even though the calendar would have something else to say on the matter.

The movie proved to be a strong hit with both critics and audiences, and has shown that director Kenneth Branagh still has what it takes. It also shows that perhaps his best playground is in dealing with established, classic material as he was able to emphatically nail down Shakespeare adaptations. Most of the times I like to spend the time looking into the more tangible factors that play into the outcome of a film, such as audience breakdown (which was two thirds female, just over half under the age of 25, and two thirds families). However, this weekend I am more interested in what the conversations around this film will be from within the industry. I have no way of knowing for sure, but the tone of them will dictate what we will be seeing as upcoming movies.

One understood element is that there is a recordable success (for the most part) when it comes to live action adaptations of classic properties and fairy tales (we will need to ignore both Jack the Giant Slayer and Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters). The big question will be whether or not they take this as a premise for a blanket of adaptations, or if they look into other specific factors for Cinderella’s success. We may be seeing a whirlwind of rumours and talk about the further expansion of classic stories being remade, which could lead to some mind-numbing possibilities on the horizon. Remember the flurry of board game adaptations that were ‘in the works’ when Battleship was on the horizon? Thank goodness we never saw a live-action tale about extremely famished hippopotamuses.

Coming in second place in theatres, and a dismal outing that fell below expectations and hopes, was Liam Neeson’s Run All Night. The film took in $11 million domestically and $6.6 million overseas. It is a significant drop from the previous efforts of Neeson and director Juame Collet-Serra in last year’s Non-Stop, which was able to score an opening weekend of $28 million.

The fad of older dramatic actors starring in actioners could be in jeopardy now, and it is up to Sean Penn in next weekend’s The Gunman to either bring back some hope or to be the final nail in the coffin. For Neeson it may be back to the drawing board or to march on proudly with the Taken franchise, because, as A Walk Among the Tombstone’s opening weekend of $12 million proved, audiences may be over him as a modern day master of explosions.

The big surprise of the weekend is the staying power that director Matthew Vaughn’s Kingsman: The Secret Service has. It may have only brought in an additional $6.2 million, but it found itself in third place, advancing a spot from previously being in fourth. The film has made a worldwide total of $276 million, and should be a tale to Hollywood executives that sometimes taking a chance with a different style of movie that is directed towards mature audiences not only fills a void in theatres but can also be financially viable.

Ranking 2015 Movies I've Reviewed


2015 can boast a pretty solid start at the cinemas as not only have they've had some box office hits but the quality has been pretty strong during a period that is supposed to be in the doldrums. Hopefully, this speaks well for when we hit the blockbuster insanity of the summer and the supposed prestige picture time of the fall. With all the complaining over franchise overkill and the homogenization of big studios pictures, the last few years have released some really great movies at both the wide and limited release levels. While 2015 hasn't delivered that breath-taking and unforgettable movie yet and hasn't even broken past the three star mark, it has offered up a diverse array of movies and most weeks have delivered something thoroughly entertaining.

Below I've listed the 2015 releases that I've reviewed this year and ranked them from my favourite (movies you need to see) to least (must skip unless you hate yourself) along with the star rating I initially gave it.

1. Focus ***
2. Cinderella ***
3. The DUFF ***
4. Kingsman: The Secret Service ***
5. The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water ***
6.  Run All Night ***
7. Paddington ***
8. The Second Best Marigold Hotel **
9. The Woman in Black: Angel of Death **
10. Strange Magic **
11. Chappie *

I also reviewed three 2014 movies that didn't come out here until 2015, which all were given three stars: American Sniper, The Imitation Game, and Still Alice.

The Movie Breakdown Ep. 80 Podcast: We Could "Run All Night" and Still Have a Ball


Scott and I return to tackle new releases that include Liam Neeson's latest adventures in punching and shooting baddies in Run All Night and the far less violent but much fancier live-action Cinderella. Scott also takes the plunge on Transformers: Age of Extinction because he hates himself. It is a solid hour and half of movie talk and if you love it then please pass on the word.



The Movie Breakdown Outline:

0:00 -  12:15 Introduction (State of movies in 2015, love for Mad Max: Fury Road trailer, Christopher's inability to know names, predicting what Insurgent will be, YA backlash, John Green movies, Sphere in theatres, Timeline vs. Time Machine, Robert De Niro is Paul Walker's dad)
12:16 - 22:24 Run All Night review
22:25 - 33:34 Cinderella review (box office success of Cinderella and Run All Night)
33:35 - 44:04 Transformers: Age of Extinction review (swinging robot balls, guessing which movies Christopher's seen, animals loving TV)
44:05 - 45:09 The Odd Couple TV series premiere review
45:10 - 49:48 Inside Out trailer
49:49 - 53:50 Tomorrowland trailer (remembering Scott's The Incredibles DVD)
53:51 -57:12 Hotel Transylvania trailer (Christopher's inability to properly send links, Iris trailer review)
57:13 - 1:01:51 San Andreas trailer (mourning that disaster pictures are one of the few original big blockbusters)
1:01:52 - 1:16:14 Big studios creating franchises that no one seems to be demanding (Tron 3, live-action Dumbo, Ghostbusters cinematic universe, Leatherface prequel, Zoolander sequel)
1:16:15 - 1:19:45 Scheduling movie sequels years ahead causes spoilers and creative restrictions
1:19:46 - : Conclusion (Scott did make it to the bathroom)

Star Ratings:
Run All Night *** (CS) & **½(SM)
Cinderella *** (CS)
Transformers: Age of Extinction *½ (SM)

Friday, March 13, 2015

The Spicer Family Now Proudly Presents Our Beautiful Newest Member. . .

Danika Lynn Yan-Guang Spicer.


Our beautiful and precious treasure arrived on March 1st at 6:40pm, and it was that very moment that I learned that indeed I do have more than enough love for a second child. Nothing will ever be able to compare to the time that I first held Everett and the thousands of powerful emotions pumped into me that ignited both my instinct to protect and indescribable emotions of elation and celebration. The first child is a special experience that can't ever be repeated or captured again. This time was still spiritual and powerful. The moment I saw Danika there was the pools forming in the eyes and the feeling of being rocketed into the majestic clouds where I could gleefully prance. The gorgeous and darling princess had entered into the Spicer family, and the payoff of whispering into Emily's tummy for 9 months the mantra of "You will be a girl" paid off and I had my wish of a "Daddy's Little Girl."


This delivery wasn't as dramatic as the first, but Danika still aspired to throw some adventure into the mix. Anytime you start off the Sunday morning with your wife "believing" her water broke (partly because we're not really sure when it broke with Everett, so it never has been the signifier that movies make you believe) and then needing to scramble to find ways to Hamilton and have someone look after a bouncing-off-the-wall Everett, you know it won't be all cold beers and football.

Instead we had the captivating action of roaming the hospital hall for several hours because Emily didn't have contractions. Though Emily would have likely preferred that boredom with the baby just popping out at some given time rather than all the pain crescendo instantly while baby's head parks itself right at the entrance for 30 minutes. It was also one of those times that I had wished I followed my husbandly instincts to inform the midwife that despite everything rushing along too quickly that any moaning and declarations of pain from Emily actually means she is ready to start the fun of pushing.


Though it is easy for me to say (though witnessing the woman who refuses to ever admit to pain actually groan is an emotional flogging that turns out to be its own kind of torture), the trauma and pain had a much more paramount reward. At the very least, Emily is now not the lone female surrounded by overly-emotional and dramatic men and has a female warrior to wade through the sappiness and man tears. She also has some confirmation that even if the deliveries are a pain to the lower regions, she had the miraculous skill of striking gold with babies.

We always labelled Everett the jackpot baby. He had a calm demeanour, went to bed with little fuss, ate like a champion, and essentially, a great tool for bragging about our parenting skills as we lacked any horror stories many of our friends rattled off. Of course, our parenting had nothing to do with it (or at least, I will happily surrender any credit), and we just knew the fates gifted us with a child that left nightmares and anxiety in the womb. For the last 9 months, I was working on the assumption that we already got our present and a gremlin would come riding out on a velociraptor. It is impossible to get a fantastically content and easy-going baby twice, right?


Danika would disagree with you, as she is clearly following the footsteps of her brother. Actually, she may be chiller and easier than even her brother, which I assumed was an impossibility. She happily hangs out by herself on the mat and sleep far more than her brother ever did, while also happily gobbling up her milk with little problems. The only moment she isn't bordering on perfect is where she shows off her powerful lungs by loudly protesting during her entire diaper change. As a father, I can live with a daughter who opposes being unclothed.


Unfortunately, Danika also mimicked Everett in the jaundice department, which meant that despite a March 1st birth, we didn't get home until Wednesday. Just because it seems destiny for the Spicer babies, Danika had to return the hospital the next day for her phototherapy session. Since we played this game with Everett, it wasn't anywhere near as traumatic, but rather just an irritation and roadblock of kicking into new family mode.

This is the other downside of the burping, hiccupping and gassy bundle of joy that is my beautiful Danika. The first week is an insane adjustment that was prolonged this time around due to arriving home later. Of course, this time has new challenges as we lost the power of double teaming and now the late nights and constant diaper changing has to be mixed in with looking after a bouncing off the walls 3 year old.


Make that a rather jealous but still very energetic 3 year old. When we were still in the hospital, Everett informed my mom that she isn't Danika's grandma and she would need to get a new one at the store. When we arrived home, I told Everett that he had to wait because I was holding Danika, which Everett let me know that Danika has feet with the implication she should stand while Everett gets some attention.

We've both been rather proactive in trying to give Everett attention and love, and it seems like he is slowly growing fond of the label of big brother. He did at least have fun taunting her with the pizza that she can't eat and is enjoying the perks one gets with being older. He also has been promised he gets to teach her all the important things in life like playing puzzles, drinking hot chocolate and building dragon castles.


Any of the current hassles that come from the newest addition are minor. The joy is still overflowing from having a million dollar family. A term that is used when a couple has one boy and one girl. The real million dollars comes from having an incredible and creative son that has given me hours of pleasure and happiness over the past three years. Now, I have a daughter that will create different but just as spectacular memories.

Actually, the emergence of Danika has made me miss my "Dad's Eye View" columns that allowed me to recount my first year with Everett. I never really kept up with detailing life as a stay-at-home dad as well as I had hoped, but that doesn't mean Everett didn't provided many memorable tales after the columns ended. I've now been inspired to not only detail my life with two marvelous children, but to also trust my memory to regale everyone with some past adventures with Everett. My hope is to try to average a tale about my stay-at-home dad adventures a week along with all the movies columns and opinion pieces I'll be unloading over the months.


Right now the important thing is to introduce to the world Danika Lynn Yan-Guang Spicer. Just like her brother she arrived at 6 pounds and seven ounces. She is the most beautiful and wondrous girl in the world. Along with making me a proud and glowing father, she also has the achievement of being both sides of the family's first granddaughter and niece. She also has been the recipient of countless kisses and hugs.


Danika, you are my precious and gorgeous angel, and I love you and your brother an indescribable amount, which is a hard thing to do for a man who is paid to be overly descriptive. I look forward to seeing you become your own person and what elements will remind me of your brother at each stage and what will be completely your own. Your mom and I have already guessed that you'll be the assertive and brave one that Everett will put up to a bunch of mischief. It is going to be an amazing adventure and I'm going to be here to provide and protect you, but also teach and encourage as you become more independent and confident over the years. Whatever happens, I will always love you.


The best advice I have is the same I gave your brother and you'll likely not follow it either, stop growing up once you hit 3 years of age.