Box Office Predictions May 30-June 1: A Million Ways to Die in the West Gets a Little Maleficent

A Million Ways to Die in the WestMaleficentAs one of the two big films being released this weekend, Seth MacFarlane brings us his follow-up to 2012’s Ted, this time basing this film in 1882 Arizona. This one is called A Million Ways to Die in the West. MacFarlane has quite the fan-base because of his work in television as the creator of Family Guy, American Dad and The Cleveland Show. Since he still seems most comfortable with 22-minute slots, it would be nice to see his newest film not suffer the same pacing issues found in Ted. That film was a major hit at the U.S. Box office, making $54.4 million in its opening and grossing $218.5 million domestically, and going onto a $549.3 million worldwide total. 

I can’t see his latest being as successful, perhaps because of the negative reviews. Films similar to this open at $28.4 million. This might also not go as high as Ted because it’s a Western, and those don’t appeal nearly as much as vulgar teddy bears. This will mark MacFarlane’s first live-action leading role. Westerns still can be popular, if you’re Quentin Tarantino. Django Unchained had a $30 million debut back in 2012, so let’s see if MacFarlane can register numbers around there. I think he has a chance because the cast looks great for A Million Ways. It also includes Liam Neeson, Charlize Theron and Amanda Seyfried, to name a few stars. Anyway, I’m going to predict this film at $33.7 million, because the marketing campaign has been strong. Then again, people might just wait until 22 Jump Street – and since that comes out in just two weeks, it could really prevent this from hitting $100 million. 

The other film coming out this weekend is Maleficent, it stars Angelina Jolie as the titular character, and the film is the tale of Sleeping Beauty told from the villain’s perspective. How awesome does that sound? I for one am excited for it. Though, negative reviews have reduced my ‘very excited’ to a firm ‘excited’. Maybe that’s because it looks like it has a similar visual style to Snow White and the Huntsman, in some ways. I think it could be great. Films similar to this open at $63.6 million. Since this had such a strong advertising campaign, I think this will open between Snow White and the Huntsman ($56 million), and Oz the Great and Powerful ($79 million). This is being released a weekend earlier than SW&H was released two summers ago, and I see it surpassing it. I’m not sure if it has $70 million potential, so I’m going to predict this mildly close at $65.3 million.

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Blended (2014)

BlendedReleased: May 23, 2014. Directed by: Frank Coraci. Starring: Adam Sandler, Drew Barrymore, Wendi McLendon-Covey. Runtime: 117 min.

Adam Sandler and co bring us a rom-com that’s heavy on the romance, light on the comedy. Six or seven good laughs throughout the feature is no impressive feat, but is okay for Sandler’s current streak, considering six laughs is around my personal combined tally for how many times I laughed during That’s My Boy, Jack and JillGrown Ups 2 and You Don’t Mess with the Zohan. You could say the film is funny on occasion. Sandler portrays Jim, a family guy with no wife and three daughters. He goes on an awful blind date with Lauren (Drew Barrymore), as his first attempt at dating since his wife passed. When Lauren’s best friend Jen (Wendi McLendon-Covey) breaks off her relationship with Jim’s boss, Lauren pounces at the opportunity to take her kids to Africa. Jim does too, and the trip is conveniently a getaway just for blended families! 

Blended is pretty much Just Go With It with a twist: the characters hate each other at first, but everyone’s still just bonding on vacation in an exotic place. Writers Ivan Menchell bring so many components of Sandler’s previous films to get Blended, which is a film that just steals from stronger movies. At least Sandler knows what works to still get work. Some of the laughs that hit are amusing song choices, at least when they’re not completely obvious. Before I get onto what jokes do work, I’ll say what doesn’t make this a family-friendly movie. There are so many sex jokes and some of this is just plain gross. Some of it’s even worse than a deer pissing on Sandler’s face in Grown Ups 2. Take this for example: A giraffe’s very long tongue goes down a character’s throat, practically, when a character is going in for the kiss. This abysmal attempt at comedy is cringe-worthy.  

What work best are some cameos and bit roles. Shaquille O’Neal shows up in a not that funny cameo, because his acting is as strong as his free throwing ability. Terry Crews constantly shows up to sing a song about blended families and whatever else is on the caricature’s mind. He is funny at first, but the film gets a bit desperate to use him so many times during the film. It’s somehow amusing on a minor level throughout, even after his signature titty dance. It’s partly due to his energy, and partly due to the fact that the film gets boring and energy is welcome. I’ll keep the most amusing cameo under wraps. 

It seems to me that Sandler is trying to get laughs by channeling aspects of his comedies that have worked in the past. I counted seven occasions where characters channel aspects from his other films. I guess if it works, many people won’t notice – but those who do, it’s going to seem a bit lazy. Sandler brings slapstick humour and adult-oriented jokes that get the bigger laughs, while parents will think “As if this looked family-friendly.” Kevin Nealon portrays one half of a strange Canadian couple. He channels his character from Happy Gilmore at times. His wife is a bimbo named Ginger; a character who doesn’t get one laugh. She shimmies a lot, which makes Lauren’s eldest son Brandon horny. 

He’s a walking joke; as he resembles Frodo, he’s a masturbating fiend, and he calls his mom hot on two occasions – which might be a subconscious reason for his hostility against Jim. I detect an Oedipus complex. Lauren’s other son Tyler is a temperamental kid who might only have few lonely brain cells left, due to the amount of times his mother hits his head on walls in one week’s span. Barrymore can’t save this because she gets only about two laughs. Her chemistry with Sandler is only able to give audiences so much enjoyment because it’s gotten old. It also doesn’t help that they don’t like each other for the first half. Wendi McLendon-Covey is cast in a lame sidekick role where she can’t exhibit much talent, and Joel McHale portrays Lauren’s ex. He’s been largely unfunny in every film I’ve seen him in thus far. I think he’s funny on TV’s Community, but now that it’s been cancelled – he needs to be picking stronger roles to star in, now more than ever. His schtick seems to be asshole characters, but he’s just not funny as them. 

Bella Thorne’s character Hilary is a tomboy who only sportswear and is nicknamed Larry by her father. Can you tell he wanted a boy? She experiences an ugly duckling arc, which isn’t believable because even with that hideous curly bowl cut wig, she’s still mildly pretty. Put some extensions on her and slap on some make-up, and wow, she now has confidence because no one will mistake her for a boy or an ugly lesbian! The song choices for her transformation are obvious and just not that funny. Sandler’s middle daughter Espn (idiotically named after his favourite network ESPN) has a strange arc: She carries on conversations with her dead mom. Emma Fuhrmann’s performance helps it ring true occasionally, and it adds sincerity to the film, but it’s weird throughout. I guess there’s a big problem when the weird girl’s arc is the strongest. 

Elsewhere, there is sporadic sweetness in the film – but the film’s attempt to tackle realities of today’s day and age are forgettable, and the writers stretch it when they attempt to show that even in nature, families are blended. (A tiger and lion proceed to eat a baby hippo.) For Blended, predictable is fiercely boring and all the extraneous crap makes this run at nearly two hours. Films like these just shouldn’t be that long, unless it’s entertaining.

Score: 45/100

Box Office Predictions, May 23-26 – X-Men: Days of Future Past to mute Adam Sandler’s Blended

This weekend, X-Men: Days of Future Past eyes an opening north of $100 million over the Memorial Day frame. Films similar to this open at $84.2 million. A reason I don’t see this being huge, like a $125 million opening, is because X-Men films have generally been on the decline in numbers lately. The opening for X-Men films went the highest with X-Men: The Last Stand at $102 million, then declined to $85 million for X-Men Origins: Wolverine and then took a steep decline to $55 million for X-Men: First Class at $55.1 million, a similar opening to 2000’s X-Men. And then The Wolverine opened at $53 million, and part of these disappointments might be because of Origins‘ generally poor reception. Though, because this film looks so great – blending characters from the present, past and future – this will attract a huge audience this weekend and be the film that brings the franchise out of its minor slump. My prediction for this film is $110 million.

The other major release coming out this weekend is Adam Sandler’s latest film Blended, where he teams up with Drew Barrymore again for the first time since 2004’s 50 First Dates. I see this doing okay this weekend, because family audiences really do like the “safe” comedy option. Films similar to this open at $28.5 million. I think this will do $37 million in the long weekend frame. This is because Just Go With It made $30 million in a three-day frame, and that’s a good enough basis for this because they’re basically the same film.

I think Godzilla will end up in second place this weekend (let’s say a $45 million weekend gross), and I think Neighbors will be in fourth place with $15 million, and The Amazing Spider-Man 2 with $7.5 million, because with the newest super-hero film being released, this is going to get even more over-shadowed. By the way, those three predictions are for the three-day frame. What are you guys seeing this weekend?

Godzilla (2014)

GodzillaReleased: May 16, 2014. Directed by: Gareth Edwards. Starring: Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Elizabeth Olsen, Bryan Cranston. Runtime: 123 min.

Gareth Edwards brings his latest film to life with ambition and a great scope. Edwards previously dabbled in the monster genre with his refreshing low-budget film called Monsters, which was impressive in its effectiveness. This time, Edwards gets a gargantuan budget of $160 million for Godzilla, which only seems right for the King of the monsters. Godzilla thrives in its cinematography, visuals and score. It’s a visually stunning film, but it’s disappointing that there’s only twenty seconds of daylight monster clashes. At least there isn’t as much rain as in Pacific Rim, but it’s a bit disappointing that the monster clashes are basically all at night. It must be less expensive to render the creature effects in a darker setting. 

The plot is that Godzilla has to stop these malevolent creatures who threaten humanity. They gain their strength by absorbing radiation as a food source, and there’s no short amount of that in 2014. The strange creature design makes them look like hybrids of a praying mantis and a pterodactyl covered in some sort-of metal coating. Well, that might be the worst explanation of what they look like, but trust me – they look weird. A team of anthropologists and scientists were experimenting on the radiation beasts to learn about their species. Ken Watanabe is only okay but that’s basically because his character, the boss behind the research in Japan, is so boring. David Strathairn has a role as a military general who orders bombs to be brought into this whole situation. Their interference is how the film suggests that humans only make matters worse. Just let the giant lizard handle it. Why not, right? 

Godzilla is the star of the show, even if his screen time is basically the same amount as Judi Dench in Shakespeare in Love. But when he’s on-screen, the film is an absolute blast. And when fire-breathing is brought into the mix, it’s truly exciting. Director Gareth Edwards is able to orchestrate fine intensity throughout the film. He does it like a master with the film’s phenomenal score. Edwards has Godzilla swim beneath boats, teasing characters like Bruce the Shark of Jaws might. (Edwards is smart to take tension building inspiration from Spielberg’s films.) Since Godzilla has mildly limited screen time, Edwards spaces out four nifty action set pieces with intelligence – the HALO jump is awe-inspiring, made even better being set to the Monolith scene from 2001: A Space Odyssey – teasing us with little tastes of what’s to come before a memorable finale. 

His direction is the film’s saving grace. Godzilla’s most disappointing aspect is that it is phenomenal in so many areas but just awful in so many others. When action isn’t happening, or when Godzilla isn’t on-screen, this is so boring – save a great opening half an hour, because they are emotionally charged and gripping. During those thirty minutes, Bryan Cranston compels as Joe, the film’s strongest character. He delivers the film’s only strong performance. Joe becomes obsessed with a project after a loss (his drive as a character, as well as sacrifice and love) which leads his son Ford (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) to assume that he’s bat sh-t crazy. The strong character development for one person is strange, because this way you’re allowed to expect other characters to be solid as well, but nope – the others are quite poor.

Elizabeth Olsen’s Elle Brody is mediocre. She’s okay for what she is, either a crying or smiling character. She’s only elevated by Olsen’s appealing tenderness as an actress. Aaron Taylor-Johnson’s Ford is a different story. After the death of his mother, he picks the basic human reaction of the latter of the fight or flight concept, while his father goes deep into the former. Ford, a military Lieutenant whose expertise is bombs, initially gets separated from his wife when he is called to Japan to pay his dad’s bail after he is arrested for trespassing on an evacuated radiation site, which is the location of his old home. Ford’s motivations are his family – and that’s the only reason you’ll want him to get home safely and see his lovely movie family again. He’s one of those average guy characters plunged into a greater situation, but he’s so freaking boring. Taylor-Johnson isn’t able to make this character remotely interesting. Where’s his charisma from Kick-Ass? He doesn’t bring any of that to the table, and he’s like a different actor with little charisma. The only strong aspect of his performance is his chemistry with Olsen. 

The boring characters might stem from the film’s grave tone and Gareth Evans’ inability to make his film consistently fun. I haven’t felt this dead inside since August: Osage County. This is like the monster movie equivalent of Man of Steel because it will either be perceived as fun or boring, and if anyone makes a joke, it feels foreign. You will beg for the so-called comic relief character that is usually a point on the modern summer blockbuster checklist. Couldn’t have they broken tone by having a well-known comedian roaring back at Godzilla? That would be welcome as one of his long roars feels empty. Maybe Godzilla could have broken the fourth wall and said something witty. Like this for example: “If I’m monster royalty, I need a stronger Hollywood film for me to headline next time.” 

Score: 58/100

Drinking Buddies (2013)

Drinking BuddiesReleased: July 25, 2013. Directed by: Joe Swanberg. Starring: Olivia Wilde, Jake Johnson, Anna Kendrick. Runtime: 90 min. 

Drinking Buddies is an experimental romantic drama/light comedy directed by Joe Swanberg that follows best buddy brewery workers Luke (Jake Johnson) and Kate (Olivia Wilde) who also like each other, but they both have other romantic interests. This is a film bathed in the idea that beer taints the ability to make good decisions, and you can’t always tell if what you’re doing is right or wrong. It’s like you’re looking at the situation through a glass of beer. This is what helps this film differentiate from other generic romantic drama/comedies, even though this still isn’t good. 

The material at hand just isn’t strong. I learn that the film is entirely improvised, and there wasn’t a script written, only a vague outline of plot and order in which events might take place. This is something that does allow the acting become more believable, but it’s a film that just largely fails. There are just so many other performers who are a lot better at getting laughs from their audience. The actors in this film only get an occasional chuckle. But the cast, also including Anna Kendrick and Ron Livingston, is quite charming. 

The banter between them all is sometimes pretty good. They all have a great chemistry, which saves the film a bit. even when it’s a bit awkward at times. But heck, Kendrick could have good chemistry with a wall. The chemistry between everyone is very sweet. It’s a realistic look at relationships and how picking the person you’ll spend your life with is a hard decision. It’s a look at the confusing times of relationships, too. 

Everything’s a bit frustrating because the viewer probably just wants the two couples to swap partners. The film is sometimes frustrating (this is mostly the third act) and sporadically funny. This finds a strange balance between mildly charming (because of the cast) and mildly boring. The characters are okay, just simplistic. This is just all pretty boring and often frustrating, and it’s just intensely forgettable – and it all feels pretty empty by the end of it all.

Score: 50/100

Box Office Predictions May 16-18: Godzilla has a Million Dollar Arm

 

GodzillaMillion Dollar ArmThe big opener this weekend will be Godzilla from director Gareth Edwards (director of the cool, low-budget flick Monsters). It stars Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Bryan Cranston and Elizabeth Olsen. I’m pretty excited for this one, partly due to a fantastic advertising campaign. It’s debuting at nearly 4000 theatres this weekend, working on a budget of $160 million. Films similar to this open at $51.113 million. Since this film has so much of a “buzz” factor, I see it doing it great numbers – something along the lines of World War Z‘s $66.4 million and not Pacific Rim‘s $37.2 million. Social media tracking also suggests this will do very well, as in an above $60 million debut. I’m going to predict this film at $73.5 million.

Also opening this weekend: Million Dollar Arm from Disney studios. Has anyone else already confused the title for Million Dollar Baby a few times? I’ve noticed a lot of “special screenings” lately; there was on Saturday and I noticed 7PM screenings throughout the week, too. It seems that it has made the word-of-mouth have a good edge, thanks to some TV spots featuring little blurbs from the average movie-goer. That might be more appealing to someone else who is the average movie-goer.  Films similar to this open at $11.7 million. The last sports movie to hit screens was Draft Day which disappointed, making $9.7 million. But the last baseball movie, 42, made a great $27.48 million. I don’t think this will be that big (as 42 went on to gross a bit over $95 million domestically), and it seems to me that the bigger question is if this will break $20 million. The sports dramas released by Disney have gone as low as The Greatest Game Ever Played ($3.6 million at 1080 theatres) and as high as Remember the Titans ($20.9 million). I’m going to predict this at $22.1 million, which is $1M over The Rookie‘s 2002 opening ($16M) adjusted for inflation.

Are you guys seeing any movies this weekend? I’m seeing Godzilla tomorrow and I’m hoping to see Million Dollar Arm on Monday. Have a good long weekend fellow Canadians!

 

The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)

 

The Grand Budapest HotelReleased: March 28, 2014. Directed by: Wes Anderson. Starring: Ralph Fiennes, F. Murray Abraham, Willem Dafoe. Runtime: 100 min.

Wes Anderson’s films are an acquired taste. It is a taste that I am starting to like after two of his films. I think 2012’s Moonrise Kingdom is good, but boring when the laughs weren’t there. This isn’t the case with The Grand Budapest Hotel. It’s a consistently funny film that boasts a phenomenal ensemble cast. The film follows the adventures of a legendary concierge named Gustave H (Ralph Fiennes) at a popular hotel in Eastern Europe called the Grand Budapest Hotel. It also follows closely his relationship with his lobby boy Zero (a funny Tony Revolori, making his film debut), who becomes a trusted friend. 

The comedy at hand might not work for everyone. Some of the comedy might be dry to some, but I think it’s witty. Take for instance: While this film made me laugh at least 20 times, I never once heard the woman sitting in front of me laugh. At points I was almost convinced she fell asleep – but she kept moving. I’m really not sure why she stayed the whole way if she wasn’t laughing very often. Anyway, the reason the film’s comedy works is because of the pure lunacy of everything on-screen. It’s a compelling crime caper with a lot of situational comedy.

Anderson directs the film with his signature signature, which some accuse of being just style over substance. I think the story at hand is engaging, if a bit bizarre – but that’s what is so entertaining about it. Why have a car chase when you can have a sled chase? The vastly different landscapes also make this worthwhile, as the settings are always as beautiful as the exquisite cinematography that captures it. The visual style is also great, and so is the set design. One thing I do not like about the film: A bit of an uninspired animal death to get a laugh or two. Now, this scene did make me laugh, but Anderson takes the situation too far for my tastes.

I like the narration by both Jude Law and F. Abraham Murray. Murray plays an adult Zero, who shares his and Gustave’s experiences to a Young Writer (portrayed by Law), who later writes about the man’s experiences. I like the poignancy of Zero wanting Gustave’s approval. I think they have a great chemistry together, and a realistic relationship. Gustave is a peculiar character but Ralph Fiennes brings him to life so well with a hysterical, energetic and flamboyant portrayal that is beyond charming. I think the fact that he has a palette for older women is weird – he states he’s had women older than the age of 84 – but perhaps he’s only searching for the approval of a grandmother figure; and I think it works into the story’s favour in other ways, by using it as a character device. Due to this it’s not as strange, but little oddities are part of this film’s charm. 

The chemistry shared between Saoirse Ronan (portraying Agatha, who has a “birthmark shaped like Mexico”) and Tony Revolori portraying Zero is lovely. Revolori shows promise in his first outing, and takes to the subtle humour like an expert. Willem Dafoe also has an amusing performance as a maniacal character. Adrien Brody plays his villainous character well, and Anderson makes some good musical decisions when he’s on-screen. Many of Anderson’s favourites have small roles, including Edward Norton as a main investigator. Thanks to great storytelling, and the performers’ fun performances, it will make your stay at The Grand Budapest Hotel enjoyable. I would like to check in again soon.

Score80/100