29 August 2016

Summer Jam 2016 Week 16: Britney Owns the Penultimate Weekend

Can you believe it's almost time for Summer to draw to a close? It's been an amazing, wild ride. Well, it certainly happened, that's for sure. We have a few more tracks to get through as we tally up this week and then see what Labour Day has to throw at us. In the interest of getting a lot of late-breaking jams some air time we've totally ignored all songs gaining momentum and instead went with a whole ton of new Fall hotness! Here we go!

Hot Jam of the Week: "Get Right" by Jimmy Eat World

Okay, so I really just wanted to talk about this because it's the kind of song you listen to and think "That was alright. Kind of sucked." And then you hear it was Jimmy Eat World and you go "WHAAA?" How come that is so much worse than "The Middle"? I assume Jimmy Eat World has other songs, too. Probably. I have no idea what they're going for here but it's a whiff. Hot Jams! Comin' through.

Jovial: "I Got You" by Shaggy ft. Jovi Rockwell

I guess I was just in a mood for terrible new songs from big one-hit wonders from the early 2000s this week. Sure, maybe Shaggy has "Mr. Bombastic" and "Angel" to his name, too. Three-hit wonder? But listen to this song. How does Shaggy have a career? He's the kind of patois mumbling. Somehow he turned this into a living. Well, sort of. I mean, when was the last time Shaggy was relevant? Spoiler, he still won't be after this week.

Amazing Amy: "Cool Girl" by Tove Lo

The latest by Tone Loc, or Tove Lo or whatever is somewhat less pop-y than her other Summer Jams, but this is still an engrossing track. I wonder if this could have done some damage had it been released a few months ago and shat all over a decently shatty summer, but I'm glad to get it now. It feels almost a bit more mature, although the beat is kind of blippier than her other work. It's not totally blown up, but I'm curious about its Fall potential.

Two Versions: "Nikes" by Frank Ocean

Channel Orange is still one of my favourite albums ever, and Frank Ocean's underhyped follow-up, Blonde (or is it Blond) exists in a simultaneous state of uncertainty, which is actually an astounding feat. I say underhyped, although it was still actually the third-highest release of 2016, although it seems like people aren't talking about it enough or at least in more niche areas. This is an astounding track and video, though, and although its commercial appeal seems limited (or maybe not, he just sold a shitload of albums, what do I know) and the album seems more experimental than Orange. That's probably not a bad thing, but it hasn't hooked me like his earlier work yet.

One Last (Probably) Time: "Can't Stop the Feeling" by Justin Timberlake

I was still getting traces of this song, including one double-play on two radio stations at the same time. I would almost guarantee this is more a product of my backwards country radio joints being far behind the pop times, but that's still a good picture of most of the country still jamming to this. It's almost a virtual lock for Summer Jam King, although "Cheap Thrills" might pull the upset.

Speaking of Which: "Cheap Thrills" by Sia

What more can I say? It's faded quite a bit from its apex, but it's still so good at sticking in my brain, seven plus months after I first started shooting up This is Acting like a sick junkie. Even though I gave a lot to JT this summer, that 495 million YouTube views should probably count for something. Could my ironclad method of randomly ranking songs I heard on the radio the most each week be flawed? I'll figure this out next week.

Come a Little: "Closer" by The Chainsmokers ft. Halsey

Halsey has a lot of talent and potential among the young people, so for that she gets the nod here. This is like, the ultimate pop song without much else going for it, but that's why it works so well. I do like the hook even if the rest of it is pretty much garbage. But it's the #1 jam right now. Also that kazoo or recorder breakdown or whatever is sublime, actually.

Can You Believe It? "Make Me..." by Britney Spears ft. G-Eazy

Britney has suddenly had a decent week. There's a bit of upsurge with her lately, maybe tied into our sudden love of 90s culture (which I still think will bleed into Early 2000s culture pretty soon, and Early 2000s was when Britney was EVERYTHING). She had this highly touted VMA performance (even though Rihanna sand like, her entire Anti album across three performances). She was also...servicable in her Carpool Karaoke with the gayest straight man on earth, James Corden. I mean, she just never seems into it. Britney's gotten to the point that since she's such an immortal it's tough to get her to do weird human shit. She doesn't loosen up like Adele. But for this week, she's at the top.

Next week...

We won't really stoop to covering the VMAs because they haven't really been interesting since MTV stopped being interesting in general, but for Kanye to make the numbskull move of actually getting on stage and explaining "Famous" for six minutes is totally insane. And to be sure, I've written this piece on his genius. Actually that was like six years ago, that's also probably outdated. Anyway, we got one more week, folks, stay tuned to see who makes the final push!

26 August 2016

Summer 2016 Movie Wrap-Up Part III: All the MEH that's Meh to meh

Welcome again, loyal readers to our final Summer 2016 Wrap-up. We've gone through the clear winners and losers, but there were really a bunch of flicks that fell somewhere in between. These are the fabulous meh movies - the take it or leave it kind of drek that failed to inspire either esteem or pity. Some of these are weird, like those that financially succeeded but were critically reviled. Others were the inverse. Others kind of made their money back and good job, I guess? Let's dive in:


The def posse is such a big chunk of whatevs

Suicide Squad

Budget: $175 million
Domestic Gross: $269 million
Worldwide Gross: $582 million

Right off the bad we ought to be contentious. Suicide Squad could easily slide in the loser category because of how much people tend to hate it, and even though I enjoyed it while sitting there (uhh...sort of), it was ultimately a pretty damn bad film. BUT - it's the #4 highest grossing film of the season and somehow the only film to gross over $200 million but under $300 million. It reset Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)'s August opening weekend record and has an excellent worldwide showing for a relatively unknown group of characters. I mean, its worldwide gross is basically Superman Returns (2006) and Green Lantern (2011) combined, and you may say "Well, those movies are awful, too", hey - the Squad did it! It's really hard to call it a failure, especially since despite all the bad vibes it seems to have staked out its place in pop culture pretty well, too. If the film was any good, we'd be throwing it in the "Winners" post without a second thought.

Star Trek Beyond

Budget: $185 million
Domestic Gross: $$148 million
Worldwide Gross: $234 million

Beyond should maybe fall more into the loser category because of its super high budget, general lack of interest, and the fact that it barely made over half of what Star Trek Into Darkness (2013) did worldwide three years ago. The vibe for this film, though, was so much better than Into Darkness and in some ways better than Star Trek (2009) that it ends up in this territory. It pleased fans more than any other of the modern Trek reboots and still managed to be the #6 movie of summer and currently #10 for the year. That's not quite the failure script, although you could certainly make that argument considering there's no way that holds.

Jason Bourne

Budget: $120 million
Domestic Gross: $143 million
Worldwide Gross: $281 million

The Bourne and Trek one-two punch this July really felt like a whiff, but honestly, Jason Bourne improved on the abysmal Bourne Legacy (2012) both critically and commercially, and worldwide its gross was pretty on par with The Bourne Supremacy (2004). That that film came out twelve years ago is still a rough assessment, and even though it couldn't nearly match The Bourne Ultimatum (2007), it was really in line with what a lot of these films are able to achieve. It was also a mild critical success, in the sense that people didn't revile it. If this all sounds kind of meh to you, well, there's a reason we're talking about this film here.

The Legend of Tarzan

Budget: $180 million
Domestic Gross: $125 million
Worldwide Gross: $352 million

The domestic gross is rough, but Tarzan's impressive worldwide tally and its moderate critical success are what brings it here. I don't know why or how anyone would spend $180 million on a Tarzan update, but whatever. I'm not sure who actually saw Tarzan, either, and it sort of got lost in the shuffle, although I'm not sure what shuffle that was. It wasn't like any big action blockbuster was crushing its way through July. That "fatigue" is becoming a common explanation for failures, but fatigue from what? No one saw Out of the Shadows (2016), Warcraft (2016), and Independence Day: Resurgence (2016)!

The Angry Birds Movie

Budget: $73 million
Domestic Gross: $107 million
Worldwide Gross: $346 million

This was...a thing that happened. That's about all you can say. This really came and went pretty fast and I remember thinking it had a decent opening for what it was ($38 million), and the 2.8 multiplier is actually pretty decent, but $107 million still feels so...not great. Still, it made its budget back in spades worldwide, so is it really a failure? It's all the more impressive it did this in what's looking like the most expansive year for animation ever, from Zootopia (2016) to Kubo and the Two Strings (2016). It dug its own niche, somehow didn't get in the way of other kids' fare and made a mild amount of money. That's so meh, baby!

Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates

Budget: $33 million
Domestic Gross: $45 million
Worldwide Gross: $64 million

This is the same kind of script. I thought that this flick actually had a shot to stand out more than it did, and I'm sure the producers were hoping for a little more return on their investment, but as it stands, its gross is perfectly okay. Its reviews weren't great, but it looked pretty funny. I don't know, I didn't end up seeing the thing so maybe it's all my fault it didn't do that great at the box office. But it did beat POPSTAR: Never Stop Never Stopping (2016), so that's important. What's the breakout comedy of the summer? Sausage Party (2016)? I thought this was going to be the immortal Summer of Comedies, but nope it sucks.

Money Monster

Budget: $27 million
Domestic Gross: $41 million
Worldwide Gross: $93 million

No one really cared about a Julia Roberts / George Clooney film that didn't involve them robbing a casino in 2001. Still, despite seeming really really irrelevant, it somehow tripled its budget worldwide and although it wasn't a monster smash, it still made some money. Monster. Eh?! There we go. As adult fare goes, it held its own in a May swarming with more juvenile entertainment, and although this really felt like it should have been a fall release (my guess is it wasn't because nothing about it really felt Oscar-worthy), it actually proved that you can make a few bucks off adults in a summer drama. Not too much, but it was okay.

The Nice Guys

Budget: $50 million
Domestic Gross: $36 million
Worldwide Gross: $36 million

So before I started writing this I had no idea the budget for The Nice Guys was $50 million. What the hell cost $50 million? Actor salaries? The Man with the Iron Fists (2012) sure as hell didn't cost that much. Was it all trainer fees to get Russel Crowe in shape? Legal fees for his fights around the world? I have no idea, but despite its loss, it was one of the better reviewed films this summer, and although it's not likely to put in for an Oscar or anything, it felt like Shane Black getting back to his bread and butter (although to really do so, one of them probably should have been black), and according to Rotten Tomatoes it was the 8th-best reviewed film this summer. So consider this full circle from Suicide Squad - the great movie that gets no cash.

As for the rest, it's a bit too early to tell the fates of War Dogs, Kubo and the Two Strings, and Florence Foster Jenkins. Those were all the major films we previewed this summer. That and The Darkness, Nine Lives, and The Infiltrator, all of which were pretty significant losers that I don't totally care about.

See you next summer, folks! Bundle up!

25 August 2016

Summer 2016 in Review Part II: LOSERS and Bad Burritos

Earlier this week we discussed all the Winners of Summer 2016, which can be easily summed up as Animated Films, Horror Films, and Captain America: CIVIL WAR (2016). Now for the much more fun part - the losers. And there are quite a few of them. This summer seemed notable for its continuous string of failures. Most of these had a smaller net gross than those on the Winning List, but there's quite a bit of difference when you're budget is $17 million vs. $175 million. Now, many of these films made their budget back, but that's not really the only way we can judge cinematic failure. Some of these just didn't reach the heights of their predecessors (since 9/14 are sequels), or perhaps did well overseas, but just didn't get the spark going domestically. In fact, almost all of these elicit that reaction of "Oh yeah, that came out this year, didn't it?" Well, not only this year, but like three months ago. That's rough.


X-Men: Apocalypse

Budget: $178 Million
Domestic Gross: $155 million
Worldwide Gross: $541 million

Now, it's odd to call $541 million a failure the same way that people weirdly piled on Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016) for grossing $200 million more than Man of Steel (2013). But the real stinger here is how relatively weak this flick was compared to the other X-men films. This was supposed to be the culmination of that universe - finally the biggest of all bads, Apocalypse on the big screen. The issue, of course, is that Thanos (and even Darkseid at this point), has had more of a build-up, Days of Future Past (2014) already felt like both the culmination and a nice bow to the universe, and generally the film sucked. While it's the #3 X-movie worldwide, it came about $200 million short of Days of Future Past, and more importantly, $240 million short of Deadpool (2016). Deadpool! How did this happen.


Budget: $144 million
Domestic Gross: $124 million
Worldwide Gross: $208 million

I think I've finally come around to stop defending this film. I wanted it to be good so bad to shut up the anti-women haters out there, but we need to face facts - this was a monumental bungling. To be fair, it's about right where a Paul Feig film should be, except a budget double that of its most comparable analogue, SPY (2015) is problematic. I might say it's at least made a significant cultural impact, at least due to its completely unwarranted controversy, although it ultimately can't stand on any sort of critical level with the original. Then again, nothing can. Despite what SONY says, its cinematic failure can't be doubted and despite one of the more talented comedic casts in recent memory, it totally comes up short.

Independence Day: Resurgence

Budget: $165 million
Domestic Gross: $102 million
Worldwide Gross: $382 million

I'm not sure I'd even call this a really awful film necessarily, but it is certainly more of the same old shit and considering the original Independence Day has become a cultural landmark, regardless of arguments over its actual quality, and grossed triple what this thing did twenty years ago (and over double worldwide before that was really a thing that people cared about), there's no question that it came up drastically short of expectations. In 1996 this was THE movie to see. In 2016 it felt like just another whatever, crap, explosions, crap at the movie theater. That's less of an issue than people might think, because the marketing made it look cool. It just really was never something people wanted.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows

Budget: $135 million
Domestic Gross: $81 million
Worldwide Gross: $240 million

Speaking of films nobody wanted...here you go! I'll actually respect Out of the Shadows for doubling down on ridiculousness and embracing its inner camp and appeal to weird little boys. I probably would have loved this if it came out 25 years ago. It never caught on, possibly because although the first of these new reinstallments did pretty well financially, no one seems to have swell memories of that abomination. I wouldn't even mind more of the campy side of things, but the once nice thing about all these bombs is that all these franchises may finally be dead. Probably. Probably not, to be honest.

Alice Through the Looking Glass

Budget: $170 million
Domestic Gross: $77 million
Worldwide Gross: $294 million

Here's where we start getting into the "unbelievably bad" section of films. How did Through the Looking Glass gross less than a third of its predecessor? Well, a disinterest in the novelty of 3D is a huge reason. Also, Alice in Wonderland (2010) was a clear aberration, even if its production design is pretty cool. No one has been waiting with baited breath on this one. There is no "Oh, I wonder where that story goes!?" or "I can't wait to see another wacky Johnny Depp whiteface character!" Through the Looking Glass was domestically outgrossed by The Purge: Election Year (2016). Let that settle in you for a bit.

Now You See Me 2

Budget: $85 million
Domestic Gross: $65 million
Worldwide Gross: $320 million

If only this was named Now You Don't. Does anyone remember Now You See Me (2013)? Do you remember how good that cast was? I always remember thinking, why are all these great actors in such a terrible movie. There are like two Academy Award winners and three additional nominees in that cast. What the hell is that? The movie didn't make any sense, though, and adding Harry Potter in a non-flatulence based role doesn't help anything. It actually came close to its predecessor's worldwide total, but the better question might be why a sequel existed for a film that only made $117 million domestically.

Ice Age: Collision Course

Budget: $105 million
Domestic Gross: $61 million
Worldwide Gross: $315 million

Has the Ice Age series finally run its (collision) course? The unbelievably grossed $100 million less than the previous worst-grossing film in the franchise, Continental Drift (2012). At least that one had awkward singing pirates. Usually these shitty films at least do well worldwide, although this was outgrossed by even the original Ice Age (2002), which somehow came out 14 fucking years ago. I've generally been amazed that this franchise has somehow made it to five movies, which is far more than any other major animated theatrical franchise. Is it finally dead? I'd be pretty content with a series of Scrat shorts.

Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising

Budget: $35 million
Domestic Gross: $55 million
Worldwide Gross: $107 million

Alright, so this flick definitely outscored its budget and did pretty well worldwide for a comedy, but for a heavily marketed Seth Rogen comedy that came off the heals of his most successful live action comedy, this didn't do so well. Neighbors (2014) out-grossed this by $100 million domestically, and felt like way more of a thing than this one did. It might be slightly funnier, but Sorority Rising really delivered a pretty good sequel. For whatever reason it didn't connect as well, which is weird, because even though I'm sure no one was super-into a sequel, does it matter for a comedy? It's all about what can make you laugh, right? I think the novelty was diminished here, and even looking back on it, it's not like this was an immortal comedy that changed anyone's life. 22 Jump Street (2014) still holds that distinction.


Budget: $140 million
Domestic Gross: $53 million
Worldwide Gross: $153 million

So now we're getting into really really rough and sad territory. On paper partnering Spielberg and Roald Dahl seems like a great idea. It's a really genuine family film full of whimsy and spectacle that got decent reviews and could have been a great time. Still, doesn't this feel like a November film rather than a July film? I don't think it could get past its CGI creepy uncanny valley awkwardness, as much as it tried, and no matter how good of an actor he is, Mark Rylance just doesn't put butts in seats. It's also not like we're in a Dahl-mania or anything. Outside of Chocolate Factory movies, I think we're over-appraising how popular he is, or at least how much book readers want to see movies, because its gross was actually right in line with other adaptations. This might have done better, at least in the long-term (and for the budget) with a Wes Anderson-style Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009) which married the material with the director really well, and while it also didn't really make its budget back, at least people are still into it seven years later. Maybe it's speaking too soon for The BFG, but how many CGI characters still look good seven years later?


Budget: $160 million
Domestic Gross: $47 million
Worldwide Gross: $433 million

Oh, China. You may have saved Pacific Rim (2013), and the $220 million you gave Warcraft may have saved this franchise, too. Can you really greenlight a sequel to a film that grossed a quarter of its budget in the States, though? It's a tough call for sure. They might do better to produce another film and then just focus on Chinese and worldwide marketing, with a limited US release. In many ways, Warcraft could signal an entirely new era in international filmmaking, one that pushes the International gross even farther than it does now. Or they could say "fuck it" because holy shit what a terrible movie.

Pete's Dragon

Budget: $65 million
Domestic Gross: $45 million
Worldwide Gross: $60 million

Who at Disney biffed this flick's worldwide release? By all accounts Pete's Dragon was actually a pretty great family film, and legions ahead of the atrocious 1977 version, but that never really caught on with audiences. Disney mis-read our love for the old one a bit and probably could have used some more context, or even a flashier title, because no one really remembers what the hell that old crap was. This isn't The Jungle Book (1967), which is pretty adored and well-known. Where is my all-CGI animal Robin Hood (1973) live action reboot?

Free State of Jones

Budget: $50 million
Domestic Gross: $20 million
Worldwide Gross: $20 million

I have a lot of questions about this. Why is Matthew McConaughey in this? Why did it come out in the middle of June against Independence Day and The Shallows (in fact, its stiffer competition was Finding Dory, Central Intelligence, and The Conjuring 2, all of which and the above beat it)? How did it cost $50 million to make? Wait, was it seriously in theaters for only a month? Are we overloading on slavery narratives? What does that mean for Birth of a Nation (2016)? Is that even a thing that can happen?


Budget; $100 million
Domestic Gross: $13 million
Worldwide Gross:$26 million

Now, to be fair, Ben-Hur only came out six days ago, and it'll surely make more money than this. Still, even with a really good hold it's probably looking at that $30-$35 million range domestically, and it's tough to say worldwide, but it's a real possibility it doesn't make back its absurd $100 million budget, without even taking in account marketing and theater costs. Did they really think this could make the $250 mill or so worldwide it would take to clear all its ancillary costs? That's crazy. That's so damn insane. Ben-Hur is probably THE flop of 2016, made even more painful by the fact the truly truly no one gives a shit at all. There's some sting with Independence Day and Ghostbusters tripping. There's really nothing but apathy here.

POPSTAR: Never Stop Never Stopping

Budget: Unknown
Domestic Gross: $9 million
Worldwide Gross: $9 million

So this one isn't making any more money. It did outgross MacGruber (2010)! This is that one that stings. It currently ranks as the 4,458th highest grossing film of all time and the single worst wide opening film of the Summer. Hell, seven films beat it that maxed out in less theaters, some significantly less, like a thousand theaters less. It's really proven how unviable Andy Samberg is at the Box Office, along with his Lonely Island partners and directors Akiva Schaffer and Jorma Taccone. They've had tremendous success on SNL and...their comedy albums I guess, but that's never really translated. I'm not sure how many more chances these idiots will get, and that's a shame, because I, for one, am a huge stupid fan. At least Samberg has Brooklyn Nine-Nine to crawl back to. POPSTAR was bad in a not okay way though. It's amazing to me that he was arguably one of the bigger modern SNL stars to break out, but has tripped so much when given his chance to shine in movies.

Well, folks, we've covered the Winners and Losers. What's that you say? Your favourite summer film wasn't in either of these lists?! Well, stay tuned because there are a ton of films yet to go which aren't really...good or bad. That mystical meh zone where they did kind of okay - that's the most thrilling list of all! Return, loyal readers and behold, our majesty!

24 August 2016

That's a Wrap! A Smelly Terrible Wrap. Summer 2016 in Review Part 1: WINNING

With the abject failure of Ben-Hur (2016) at last upon us, acting as if it's a big surprise, the Summer 2016 Blockbuster Season is finally over. The common story this summer is that we had a major amount of bombs, although there are certainly a lot of success stories. In fact, it seemed as if all the cash was tied up in a few, mostly Disney-hits. And animated films. And quite a bit of both this year. Now, not every film had to gross a billion dollars to be considered a winner this season, but hell, there were a couple that really needed to. So let's make a clean separation between Winners and Losers. Spoiler - there's a shitload more of the latter. So, with our grandest Post #750 ever, let's dive in:


Finding Dory
Gaze into the torrid eyes of Summer.

Budget: $175 million (est)
Domestic Gross: $478 million
Worldwide Gross: $914 million

It's no easy feat to become the #1 movie of the summer and the highest-grossing domestic Pixar film of all time. It's still got $100 million to go to beat Toy Story 3 (2010) on the worldwide chart, but it's still got a shot to do that as well. This is a fearsome bounce back from The Good Dinosaur (2015) and re-cemented the Pixar brand. It's also notable for being a rare sequel success in the Summer of 2016, which shows that sequels still can be viable - if there's actually interest in the original AND something unique enough about the successor.

Captain America: CIVIL WAR

Budget: $250 million
Domestic Gross: $407 million
Worldwide Gross: $1.15 billion

Only CIVIL WAR and Zootopia (2016) have cracked the billion mark this year, and so far CIVIL WAR has the critters beat by about $100 million. Either way, that's a damn good showing by Disney. It's another exception to the rule this summer that sequels were failures, but it's also a genuinely good film, really only losing to its predecessor The Winter Soldier (2014) in the Marvel movie quality index. It wrangled a ton of characters and yeah, Spider-Man was a bit forced, but those are also what made it fit in well with its universe, create the necessary audience investment and put asses in seats.

The Secret Life of Pets

Budget: $75 million
Domestic Gross: $347 million
Worldwide Gross: $674 million

I really don't know why Finding Dory cost $100 million more than The Secret Life of Pets. It's not really there on screen, at least in any way that significant impacts the narrative. I suppose it's all development costs since Finding Dory is quite a few upticks in quality from Pets. But Illumination has a good racket going on - one that worked gangbusters for Dreamworks in years past: churn out shit that kids eat up and roll in the bank. It also gave us the biggest opening weekend for an original property ever. That it sits at #35 overall is kind of nuts. The previous winner, Inside Out (2015) is currently at #52. Our best live action is American Sniper (2014) at #55, although that's technically based off a memoir. Next is AVABAR (2009) if we can count that, at #75. I actually fell into a bit of  rabbit hole with this one - next in line (for live action only, because we were curious here at NMW) we have The Day After Tomorrow (2004) and 2012 (2009), which were both Roland Emmerich films extremely loosely based on books. If we forego those, we wind up with Inception at #122. So, kudos to Pets because that's tough to do.

Central Intelligence

Budget: $50 million
Domestic Gross: $127 million
Worldwide Gross: $210 million

I thought this was going to be a really great summer for comedies, but it turned out to be not really that great for most of them, especially in the early season. Central Intelligence didn't quite hit the heights it probably should have, but it's the #1 live action comedy of the summer and #8 overall domestically. It also turned out to be Kevin Hart's highest grossing film outside of the original Ride Along (2014). This is also the Rock's 6th-highest grossing film, but to be fair, three of those were Fast and Furious films, and one was Get Smart (2008), which people didn't really see to see the Rock. All in all this was a good outing.

The Conjuring 2

Budget: $40 million
Domestic Gross: $102 million
Worldwide Gross: $319 million

The Conjuring (2013) made a decent and surprising splash when it debuted a few summers ago, and the sequel was notable for mostly living up to that standard. It grossed about $30 million shy of its predecessor, but actually made $1.5 million more worldwide. Good job, little buddy! This is a really impressive hold for a horror film, which don't typically increase their worldwide gross as much as a big flashy action sequel would. It's weird that our standards are "meeting the success of its predecessor" but The Conjuring 2 did a nice job of that.

Bad Moms

Budget: $20 million
Domestic Gross: $86 million
Worldwide Gross: $107 million

Did you see Bad Moms? No? I sure as hell didn't. Someone did though - to the tune of $86 million domestic. That's good enough to make it the #3 live action comedy of the Summer, beating Seth Rogen, Zach Efron, Adam DeVine, Ryan Gosling, and Andy Samberg. Fancy that. For a film that a lot of pundits wrote off and didn't have a super stellar opening weekend (opening at #3), it's held on fantastically well. And quintupled its budget. Why don't studios crank out films like these? Who knows. I suppose increased production of small-budget films would clog weekends and limit gross profits due to their low ceiling, but c'mon. This was a better idea than Warcraft (2016).

The Purge: Election Year

Budget: $10 million
Domestic Gross: $79 million
Worldwide Gross: $102 million

Here's another film that works because it made its budget back ten times over. It's also the highest grossing Purge movie stateside, so there really ought to be no shortage of these things for a while. I'm game. I love the whole purge thing and its goal of getting looser and wackier, yet more expansive with each installment. It's hard to argue with a $10 million budget.

Sausage Party

Budget: $19 million
Domestic Gross: $67 million
Worldwide Gross: $73 million

Sausage Party certainly has the chance to make quite a bit more money, but it can already be considered a success. How did this outgross Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising (2016)? It's amazing. This is the most niche, oddball movie idea...probably ever, but these assholes pulled it off, like they seemingly always do. Except for The Night Before (2015) and the aforementioned Sorority Rising. That this film did well at all is bonkers, but here we are.

Lights Out

Budget: $5 million
Domestic Gross: $64 million
Worldwide Gross: $110 million

Are you noticing a pattern here, yet? Three horror films with tiny budgets that all did fucking great this summer. All were actually reviewed and received decently and even though there seemed to be a glut of animation that everyone was talking about (one that really didn't cannibalize itself), there was also a huge glut of horror that did absolutely fine! How did audiences get sick of giant smash 'em thriller blockbusters and doofy man-child comedies but ate up horror flicks all summer? Maybe because they were all pretty different kind of movies. Ghosts, maniacs, sharks. It's a diverse portfolio.

Me Before You

Budget: $20 million
Domestic Gross: $56 million
Worldwide Gross: $196 million

Okay, so you haven't heard of this movie, I haven't heard of this movie. It came out June 3rd where I have an extensive rundown of TMNT Out of the Shadows (2016) and POPSTAR: Never Stop Never Stopping (2016), and relegated the film to this single sentence: "Oh, and also Me Before You (2016), some romantic drama bout Emilia Clarke falling in love with a cripple dude." It ended up #3 that weekend with $18 million and then made about as much money as 21 Jump Street (2012) and Straight Outta Compton (2015) did worldwide. No one's still talking about that. Sure, it's not a huge money winner stateside, but it made its budget back and then crushed it internationally. For some reason.

The Shallows

Budget: $17 million
Domestic Gross: $54 million
Worldwide Gross: $84 million

We finally come full circle with the horror films. The Shallows was a great bit of horror that seemed to drop at the last possible moment. "Hey, what's this Blake Lively shark movie coming out this weekend?" said everyone when standing in line not really wanting to watch Independence Day: Resurgence (2016). It crushed its budget, and even though doing so with low budget horror is a really easy way to make a buck, what's more telling is looking back at this film with more fond memories than Resurgence.

That's it for now. Stay tuned later this week as we'll take on the LOSERS and those films that sorta fall somewhere in the Great Land of Meh. There's a lot of them.

22 August 2016

Summer Jam 2016 Week 15: Love in the Air

Like or not you little monsters Summer is winding down. We're at the fringes of Hot Jams at this point, and while there's some strong cases to be made out of a lot of early front runners, all these late-breaking studs are certainly getting thorny. This week is all about love, baby, so sink your toes in and let it drip up your leg:

Hot Jam of the Week: "Welcome to Your Life" by Grouplove

I love a little Grouplove, who drops a really chill yet engaging jam once every few years. "Tongue Tied" did some nice damage a few years back, and while this track isn't nearly as catchy as that one or their other smash, "Ways to Go", it does its job. It actually seems to start off stronger than it climaxes, which is a little disappointing, but it's a fun casual track for right now.

Second Hot Jam of the Week: "Real Love Baby" by Father John Misty

I couldn't really decide which Hot Jam to slather up with, but here's the latest by the indie pop-folk-rock master Father John Misty. I'm a big fan of his ironic detached folk view of America, and while this jam floats more than some of his more stagnant work, it's nonetheless poignant. Can this really make a case to be a mainstream Summer Jam? What do you want to hear from me? No.

How Low Can You Go? "Cheap Thrills" by Sia

It's got a good beat and you can dance to it! Yes, we've covered this before. "Cheap Thrills" is still out there and although it's #1 on the Billboard Hot 100, its presence isn't nearly as cuttingly fresh as it was a few weeks ago. It's still a really hard track to get sick of, though. I'd be curious if it can parlay its hanging around into a legit run at the Throne. That'd be one spectacular feat.

Down the Well: "Send My Love" by Adele

This is a lot like "Cheap Thrills" - it's novelty has washed away but it's definitely still hanging around and worth talking about. I don't even know what kind of song this is, actually. It's not really a dance song. Well, I suppose you could awkwardly gyrate around, but this ain't really a clubthumper. It's not even really a headphones workout song or a casual party background song. It's really just pure Adele, which is awesome in itself. Same as "Cheap Thrills" again, this jam as proven itself to be a force to be reckoned with and could rack up some serious late summer points.

A Little More Action: "Into You" by Ariana Grande

I can't really figure out Ariana Grande. I'm generally a fan, but she's also so damn awkward. She also doesn't really distinguish her voice above mindless generic pop. Maybe that's why she's reasonably successful - she's become our pop default. At the same time, she's got a ridiculous vocal range and some genuine acting skills, neither of which she tends to display. Whatever. This track is alright and I dig its sexiness when it starts ramping up before it descends into cliché.

It's Britney Bitch: "Make Me..." by Britney Spears ft. G-Eazy

I don't know if we'll ever remember this track as one of Britney's great tracks, but it's certainly made more of an effort to be one than anything else she's put out in years. At least since "Scream and Shout." I've kind of gotten more into this since it dropped last month without a real amount of goodwill or appeal. I think it can surge if it wants to, although I'm still fascinated by Britney's now reliance on that third-verse rap that's more common with peon wannabes than what the Diva used to throw down. Still, G-Eazy's a good choice. You know, when I was covering "I Mean It" years ago I never thought he'd be relevant on Britney songs.

Run the Tap: "Cold Water" by Major Lazer ft. Justin Bieber & MO

Major Lazer is a bit too good of a DJ (read: Diplo, I suppose) to make a beat this generic for the Biebs, but this track seems to be climbing after treading water for weeks after its debut. It's definitely not that great for a Major Lazer track, and even kind of sucks for what Bieber's been dropping lately, but it's here. If it can maintain a high position suddenly it's in the Summer Jam conversation, although that's more how weak these months have been.

Again?! "This Is What You Came For" by Calvin Harris ft. Rihanna

For the second week in a row Calvin Harris and Rihanna are near the top of the List, although this time only one of her jams has made it. It's kind of an unlikely rise, as if she just patiently waited for every other terrible Justin Timberlake song to burn out and then struck when our ears were weak. It's been climbing some charts as well, which is odd, to say the least. I'm not one to believe that its position is sustainable, but for now suddenly it's making its case.

Next week...

I narrowly left the Suicide Squad (2016) anthem "Heathens" off this list, and it's always a possibility it returns. Other than that, honestly "One Dance" and "Can't Fight the Feeling" (or is it "Can't Stop the Feeling"? I still can't remember) are still hanging around and could pop back in next week if the slate is week. We've only got two more weeks, people! Who will be named the King or Queen of Summer 2016?! Keep reading to find out!

19 August 2016

One More for the Summer! War, Hur, and Kubo

This will be the last Road to a Blockbuster post for Summer 2016, although the column never really dies. We just aren't as energized talking about Mechanic: Resurrection (2016) and Sully (2016) as some of the big dogs. Actually, we should definitely discuss Mechanic: Resurrection. What is he resurrected from? Anyway, this weekend shouldn't really could, but it's sort of summer, and these movies are trying to be sort of big, so let's go at it. Like every weekend, we've got three films that are pulling audiences in bonkers directions. Let's start with the first, most obvious franchise non-starter.
Part of the Caribbean Exchange Program.

Ben-Hur (2016) should never really be followed by a "2016" in parentheses. The original is a quintessential timeless classic that won awards more for its exuberance and epicness than any merit, even if that merit is damn significant. Ben-Hur (1959) is a cultural landmark whose influence has echoed across cinema for the past fifty plus years. At the time it was the most expensive movie ever made and somehow went 11/12 at the Academy Awards, a feat matched only decades later by Titanic (1997) who went 11/14, and then by The Return of the King (2003), which stunned, dropping 11/11. This isn't the kid of film you just casually remake with no cast, script, or credentialed director!

So they totally casually remade this with no cast, script, or credentialed director. Generally, when you search google for Ben-Hur and the 1959 one pops up first, that's not a great thing for your new big movie coming out today. Your lead's most notable role so far is that douchey mafia son who woos Rosalyn in American Hustle (2013). Yeah, that dude. That is your Charlton Heston? Director Timur Bekmambetov has had some really interesting films, but none since Wanted (2008). Any good will was summarily erased by Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter (2012) which probably has more to do with the fact that that property was too campy to be adapted (or at least adapted straight, like Bekmambetov attempted). He still feels like a poor man's Zack Snyder which is NEVER something you want to be.

There's also Morgan Freeman. Although Morgan Freeman is almost turning into Sam Jackson the way he pops up in every movie ever. That's not a black thing. Or maybe...it is! Shit! Toby Kebbell is also slowly proving that he's a villainous version of Taylor Kitsch that despite his chops and well-cast roles can't open anything. Anyway you slice it, the late August dumping of a once-revered property is a rough demonstration that the studio is lacking any kind of support for this dumpster trash. There's almost no way this movie makes an impact in our lives other than these three paragraphs. Next.

Let's take on War Dogs (2016), which is an interesting true story telling from Todd Phillips, who by and large despite his choice of subject, is an outstanding director. He actually does a great job of pumping us full of empathy for awful people, with a scathing wit that tends to go for the worst decision in any scenario. This sounds perfect for a crime / drama / war / comedy. It's actually already getting some decent reviews, which is nice to hear.

Miles Teller seems to get a lot of flack because he's supposedly a douchebag, but he's still a damn fine actor. Jonah Hill also seems to have this "tortured artist" persona, although it's really pretty far from the truth. It does seem like perfect casting, though. Throw in Bradley Cooper, who will likely get an Academy Award nomination for this, and there's a pretty likable cast at work here.

So why do I kind of don't care about seeing this? Maybe because it seems to be The Social Network (2010) meets Lord of War (2005). Wait, those are both great movies, why don't I want to see this? I'm not sure, but something's holding me back. It could be a nice late summer hit, and without any other film having much a marketing presence and with Suicide Squad (2016) winding down (tremendously), and not much serious competition from either Sausage Party (2016) or Pete's Dragon (2016), it ought to clear $20 million and win the weekend pretty easily.

But will it stick in our public consicousness? Maybe. It's fairly distinctive. We all remember American Ultra (2015) as that weird stoner-Bourne movie, right? Won't we remember War Dogs as that somewhat silly Iraq War Gun-runner comedy-ish movie? What's that? No one remembers American Ultra? Well, it's got some hope.

Lastly we have Kubo and the Two Strings (2016), which is a kind of oddball claymation movie from oddball claymation studio Laika, which has given us a slew of underrated gems like Coraline (2009), ParaNorman (2012), and The Boxtrolls (2014). Kubo actually looks like the best of this lot, mostly because it eschews the studio's Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)-esque creepy claymation schtick in favor of an entirely new genre of medieval Japanese warriors. Or something.

The voice cast is pretty sublime, including Matthew McConaughey, who for some reason also has a second animated film dropping in a few months, Illumination's SING (2016), which looks all sorts of awkward. But for now he joins Charlize Theron, George Takei, and Rooney Mara on a romp in animated animal Japan-land, which looks original and cool and interesting.

Of course, animation has been the one thing that's really hit this summer, and even though I keep hypothesizing that each new film won't have room to distinguish itself, that hasn't really happened. Except for Ice Age: Collision Course (2016). Even Sausage Party did enough to show it's really its own genre to put some butts in seats. Kubo is certainly its own animal, although I have some doubts as to whether or not it can catch on like a Secret Life of Pets (2016). Okay, so there's no way it's going to do that sort of business, but a lack of cute animals or characters, or an easily deciphered plot is going to be an issue. Who exactly is this movie made for?

I don't suppose Laika is really shooting that high, though. So far they've churned out three films for $60 million a pop which have all pulled in about $50 million domestic and just over $100 worldwide. My guess is Kubo snatches that pretty easily, especially with its international bend. Culturally I can see it earning its place like Coraline or ParaNorman did, which isn't quite at the head of the class, but certainly fond favourites in their own right. Kubo might be even a bit stronger because it seems a little more action-geared. I suppose it's really a true pre-teen sort of movie, which is an interesting audience to target. I hope it does well.

So that's it. See you next Summer! Or at least until the next totally misguided remake of an immortal classic. Sooo...The Magnificent Seven (2016)? Sure, let's set a date for September 23rd, folks.

16 August 2016

First Impressions: Suicide Squad

I was very torn when I finally sat down and took in Suicide Squad (2016) and all its majesty that lies halfway between brilliance and completely misguided idiocy. I came out of the theater pretty jazzed up. While I was watching it there were definitely some significantly apparent flaws, but all in all I was feeling pretty good. It wasn't really until I sat down to write this post and really thought about the mess I just witnessed when I realized just how much of a trainwreck this thing was. Listen, and I'll tell you right here, it's not as bad as everyone says. It at least didn't make me angry. Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016) was unrelentingly stupid. X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009) and The Hangover: Part III (2013) were movies I looked forward to that were so obscenely terrible that I have trouble watching them casually on television today. Suicide Squad doesn't match that fury, but damn there are some issues at work here. Let's have a lengthy, spoiler-filled discussion!
No other superhero team does their shopping at Hot Topic.

The film feels continuously on the edge of being a really great movie. Somewhere in here is a brilliant genre deconstruction that relishes its own spunky attitude and bold character decisions, highlighting its impressive performances and solidifying DC's place in the Superhero conversation. That's all lost somehow. The largest culprit is its clear disjointed editing and scene selection, especially the beginning.

Now, I don't really care about origins or explanations for superheros. I don't need to know where Diablo gets his fire power from. That doesn't matter. I've been reading comics for the better part of 25 years and crazy metahumans pop up all the time. It doesn't matter. What causes the disjoint, though is how some of the Squad get flashbacks and others don't. It's kind of like Inglourious Basterds (2009) except it doesn't have the great movie around it to make this not irritating.

This wouldn't be a huge problem except for the fact that it feels like there are whole other movies going on with each of these characters that we aren't privy to. We might as well get this out of the way now - this is especially apparent with the Joker. There's also no really narrative purpose for him in this movie, to the point where I'm mystified by his inclusion (well, besides the obvious selling point of putting a really famous and well known villain played by an Academy Award winning actor front and center of all marketing). I figured he'd be a nasty thorn in the sides of our other bad guys, or have his own plot or motivation or something, or even be the main villain! All of that was largely absent. It was as if he had his own movie going on that we saw bits and pieces of as it intersected, but were kept at a strong distance.

This is pretty unfortunate. It's not like the film is necessarily hard to follow but there is a lot of set-ups and characters that are picked up and dropped. To be more exact, there are a lot of times where you're expecting a pay off that never comes, or you get one with no set-up. A fair example is the Joker's threats to Ike Barinholtz, which never really materialize. Another involves most of the side characters, who we'll get into more in depth in a bit.

Staying on the Joker for a second, it's an odd interpretation for sure, but not one without precedent. While Nolan and Ledger's take may have drawn from The Killing Joke, Ayer and Leto's seems inspired heavily by Brian Azzarello's Joker, down to the gangster leanings, flashy outfits (alright, nothing in Joker is as gaudy as Leto), and the manic fury rather than the agent of chaos bit. Joker is certainly a great take on the character, and Leto's interpretation seems interesting, but we hardly spend any time with him. I can't emphasize enough how little impact this incredible character has on the narrative. I figured he'd be at least hanging out on the periphery as a constant threat to every other villain, who after all, are generally afraid of him. None of this happens.

This is Suicide Squad in a nutshell. Constant wasted opportunities. Its place is clearly that of a Batman v. Superman / Justice League (2017) bridge movie, and that focus is fairly clear in a handful of scenes. It's more concerned with setting up this world, with little Batman and Flash cameos, plus repeated references to the Death of Superman (spoilers for Dawn of Justice I supposed, but since they've already posted about his suit in Justice League, does it really matter that he died at all? Is it a spoiler if the franchise isn't actually impacted? Deal with it). This all comes in spite of a cast of characters and core story that's honestly very good. Well, it could have been. Let's get into that, and then each character. Well, the ones that we care about. Oh, the ones that we don't care about are even more interesting! Sit tight, people!

See, I really dug the actual core of the movie, which featured a team of super-powered individuals fighting their way across a city. This is actually really interesting and cool and executed well. However, there is no actual reason for them to do so! What is their mission, exactly? They never find out and neither does the audience. They're supposed to stop the evil Witch Siblings, right? Then what are they doing at the top of this building waiting for evac? It doesn't make any sense and the movie isn't as crisp as it could have been. This is a repetitive criticism by now, but it's again all this wasted potential; a really cool idea and good execution that falls flat because it's ultimately inherently meaningless.

This also then devolves pretty quickly. The sidenote bar scene is pitch perfect, but the ending, defeating the giant glowy man and the giant beam of light in the sky is just an amalgamation of design that we've seen in comic book films ad nauseum. Incubus, the evil witch brother, totally resembled the Destroyer from THOR (2011) or the Sentinels from X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014), except he had a conscious mind. Still, that didn't really change his narrative purpose. And that beam of light happens just about everywhere. And what was the Witches' plan, exactly? Defeat the US Army because they play on their phones too much? What the hell? This is emblematic of cinema's worst flaw, which also seemed to be a Dawn of Justice thing - too much happened because it was supposed to happen, or would be cool or convenient if it happened. There's not a lot that happened as a result of what came before it.

So let's get into characters, which are by and large very good. Viola Davis' Amanda Waller was just about a perfect execution of her ruthless Machiavellian stance simultaneously for and against metahumans that you can get. She was actually in this quite a bit more than I thought she'd be, and her contingency upon contingency is damned true to character. Of course, she did weirdly throw this team together to fight a threat that she totally caused herself from unleashing Enchantress. Sure this film is all about exploring personal stakes, but a little bit more ownership may have been worth noting. Moving on, there's actually not really a weak part of this cast, except for maybe Katana and Slipknot. Let's talk about them.

Slipknot was totally bungled. Listen, I know why he's in the movie. He's there so Rick Flag and Waller's threats credible. But he's introduced on the wall of the army meeting room without acknowledgment after they've gone through a description of the entire team without him, then Rick Flag describes him as someone who "can climb anything." What the hell is that? Then his head explodes. We need to feel something about this dude, and the film could have done some incredible things with stakes if we actually spent some time with him!
You really didn't need to mail Viola Davis used
condoms for this.

And there is no real reason at all for Katana to be in this, either. She literally jumps into a helicopter at the last second and Flag says "Katana's here, too. She can cut you." And that's about it. She's another body and very skilled, but there's really not a reason she should be here, have any motivation for what she does, or any reason to have loyalty to these people at all, which is sort of what everyone else develops by the end of the film. It makes no sense.

Squad is continually bogged down by this stuff. Somewhere there is a really good, dark, funny, obscene, and wild movie about a bunch of crooks saving the day. It approaches this when they head to the bar, which feels like a loose left turn. The film could have been full of this kind of stuff, but it's not, really. I think back to the Justice League Unlimited episode "Task Force X" (S2;E4), which did all this stuff more consistently. Don't ya hate it when that happens?

As we move on to the main crew, Jai Courtney's Captain Boomarang is certainly a doofy character, although again I wish we saw a bit more of him. This is the best role Jai Courtney has ever played, people. I would have rather seen things a bit more developed. He's clearly in that tier beneath Waller, Flag, Deadshot, and Harley (maybe even with Joker, honestly), but didn't get the backstory development. To be fair, there really is none for the character, but he's such an oddball that something is worth developing. Or maybe not. I just wish we saw a bit more exploding boomarangs.

Jay Hernandez's Diablo is also a nice character; the only one of these crooks who is remorseful. And you know, that giant fire monster he makes out of himself at the end is totally that "Wait, Gypsy Danger has a sword?!" moment that you wish you saw earlier. Of course he was reluctant, so whatever. His powers are straight up Liz Sherman. I liked how he eventually became the heart of the movie, rallying everyone out of their Enchantress-driven loss-filled stupor and then providing the eponymous Suicide-ness of the film.

Then there's Killer Croc, who doesn't do much, and seems to have a weird big head but is such a step above the awful Lizard from The Amazing Spider-Man (2012) that we don't care. Croc doesn't need a backstory. He's never made any sense. He's a perfect goofy villain to throw in the mix here. I would have liked to see him eat some more people. I did enjoy that summoning this Squad out of prison each time requires at least three or four guard deaths.

Cara Delevingne is serviceable in a bonkers role that doesn't give her all that much to do other than to sway her hips and be a weird cursed archaeologist. There are some big questions, though. What's witch sex like? Her powers seem unlimited and crazy. I'm sure that magic could really fuck up Superman. Also, "June Moone"? I'm not sure they ever actually pair that name together. Her dual-natured Ghost Rider-esque possessed character does some really cool things cinematically, appearing in mirrors or camera pans, but as she becomes the big bad, she gets far less interesting as she loses apparent motivation.

Finally, the big three are Flag, Deadshot, and Harley. This is also the best work that Joel Kinnaman has ever done, and he sort of elevated himself from Garret Hedlund / Charlie Hunnam / Sam Worthington-land. He's at least got some showy scenes and depth of feeling and motivation to show, but again, you sorta wish he was in a better movie. Considering how close this role was to Tom Hardy, then Joel Edgerton or Jon Bernthal, you've got to imagine how drastically different our conversation might be going right now. Although that could have meant that Bernthal wouldn't get to do Daredevil or Edgerton wouldn't get to do Midnight Special (2016), which would have been a shame. Even though Tom Hardy was the best part of The Revenant (2015), which he missed Suicide Squad to shoot, you've got to almost call this film beneath him. At least, as it ended up standing.

This is also the best Will Smith appearance since the first half of Hancock (2009). Besides Winter's Tale (2014), obviously. He actually disappears into the role pretty well, and may be the closest thing we have to a protagonist to follow and relate to throughout the flick. There's this continual battle for his conscience, whether he's a soulless killer, a devoted father, cold-ass mercenary, or loyal team leader. His tiffs with Flag provide some great tension, and his growing bond with Harley is a major reason to stay invested in these characters. Of course that doesn't really pay off, with her leaving to be with the Joker without a second thought.
Aye...the hot pants.

So finally, Margot Robbie's Harley Quinn, who is magnetic whenever she's on screen. Again, since her backstory is so wrapped up in the Joker, it'd be nice if there was something more there. I almost feel like DC was really trusting that the people watching this film understood the characters and the conflict and trusted the audience to be able to dive right in. To some extent that's fair, but it asks us to move pretty damn fast from Harleen Quinzel to Harley Quinn. For the most part we get it and it's fine but there are still these really apparent logic gaps. She's a great presence, though. I do love pairing stars together from previous, completely unrelated films and her bit with Will Smith from Focus (2015) is nicely random. This is a super showy role that also offers the most emotion, silliness, and engagement with the film. It'd be worthwhile to explore her twisted darkness and conflicted emotions a bit more - note the true despair she feels at Joker's (supposed) death when she's alone and her need to mask that pain when she sees the rest of the guys. It's hard enough to really feel for their romance since he's, you know, the damn Joker, and also because there's no reason to ever believe it.

Also, David Harbour, briefly. #StrangerThings.

There's lots of other bits at work here. The soundtrack is very good, but it's also schizophrenic and if not obvious, then at least cliche. It's a clear imitation of Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) and Deadpool (2016), but those worked because they perfectly fit the tone, were surprising choices, and on the part of the former, an instrumental part of the actual narrative. You can see Suicide Squad trying so damn hard to fit in all these bits and pieces of other, more popular superhero films when it's "group of bad guys on a mission through the city" premise would have been so damned good on its own! It's a core reason why DC still seems to be playing catch-up: not only is it a refusal to innovate, but it's a refusal to capitalize or acknowledge that they actually are innovating! It all makes for a decently frustrating flick, all the moreso because it could have been so good.

Also, it almost entirely takes place in Midway City - do I hear a HAWKMAN movie?! Would you believe I knew that off the top of my head. Ugh. Fuck me. It's funny to me that every hero has like, their own little city to patrol, which are all "City" cities. Coast City. Central City. Keystone City. Star City. Also, when a hero ventures out on his own there's an entirely new thing that crops up, like Nightwing patrolling Blüdhaven, which is suddenly right next to Gotham.

Anyway, I think this is worth seeing, despite all my criticism. In many ways it doesn't work as an actual movie at all, but there's enough good character work and fun here to be relevant. Sort of.

15 August 2016

Summer Jam 2016 Week 14: Summertime True Sadness

We're crashing through late August like a freight train full of angry possums here and there's a hole slew of tracks that seemed to crawl up into my eardrums that I've either ignored or haven't heard all summer. This is the do or die time, people. The last ditch effort for any fringe jam to show its worth. That really didn't happen this week, so listen to this crap instead!

Hot Jam of the Week: "Bang Bang" by Green Day

Clearly with all the Blink 182 revival crap, their antecedent (and largely superior) pop punk group needed to launch their own foray into renewed relevance. I actually legit heard this this week and thought to myself, "Which one is this off of? Kerplunk?" Band seem to be getting good at replicating their style, and this isn't really a bad song, it's just totally a Green Day song. Could have used a bit more Nicki Minaj and that eerily wide-mouthed Jessie J if you ask me.

Summertime Blues: "True Sadness" by The Avett Brothers

I've weirdly had a lot of access to pop folk hits this summer, and so when the latest by The Avett Brothers hit my ears I had to rant about it. It's actually not a sad song at all. In fact it's damned upbeat. I'm totally going to look up this week sometime in 2019 and be like "What the hell, Bryan?" Yeah! Let's move on.

Olympic Anthem: "No Limit" by Usher ft. Yung Thug

Doesn't this also sort of feel like an old Usher track? Like something to companion "U Got It Bad"? Or any of his other "U" songs. Usher has so many "U" songs. Maybe that's because that's also the first letter of his name. Anyway, this is a nice track who somehow just got a music video this week. Doesn't it feel like this jam has been crushing it all summer? What are you doing to us, Usher?!

The Real Olympic Anthem: "Rise" by Katy Perry

I thought I might hear this more this week, what with my television turned on to the Olympics for 15 hours a day, but it's actually been largely absent. Maybe that's because it's really uncatchy, difficult to sample quickly, and not really a good pop song in any way, not even internationally. This is sort of a rare whiff from Katy, and the people have responded as well. The video currently sits at 24 million views, which is staggeringly low for a jam that's supposed to be the theme song for a massive International Sports Competition. I mean, "This Is How We Do" has 500 million views for fuck's sake.

Me Three: "Me Too" by Meghan Trainor

I have avoided citing this song, mostly because it's really irritating, but also because it didn't seem to get enough traction this summer. Naturally I highlight a lot of non-starter songs but that's mostly because I just dig them. This beat is crazy hot, actually, but it's pretty ruined by Trainor's complete inability to sing. I'm not really down for her "I never pay for my drinks but don't hit on me" kind of thing and this song is also totally narcissistic. But like I said, that beat, damn girl.

Don't Let Me Clown: "Don't Let Me Down" by The Chainsmokers ft. Daya

Yep. Back again. With a vengeance. This jam has never really gone away, but just hasn't been worthwhile enough to crack our list here. Well, in absence of anything better, here we go. This will probably mean that it actually gets some decent summer jam cred. Actually, even though you can never distinguish this track, doesn't it sound totally like Summer 2016? Totally, dude. Speaking of which...

RiRi #1: "This Is What You Came For" by Calvin Harris ft. Rihanna

Everything we said up there applies to this. Even moreso this week this jam has totally been in the background of every conversation, playing a the bar, on the radio, wherever. It's still not a very good song and I could take it or leave it, but whatever. It's there. It's also a weird spot to feature Rihanna. Isn't this more of a Daya thing?

RiRi #2: "Needed Me" by Rihanna

I was thinking about "Sex With Me", which found a spot with us last week, but "Needed Me" seemed like the go-to jam this time around. And the #1 spot! You'd think we were just giving this shit away for nothing. Well, you'd be very accurate. This kind of crept around everywhere this week and is just hot enough to grab that spot for this exact moment. We probably could have kept rolling with Adele, but this is up-to-the-minute hotness, people. You gotta grab that fire. Rihanna's like, the eighth-most selling music artist of all time for a reason (yes, it's always surprising to hear how much she BURIES Katy, Taylor, GaGa, and Queen Bey).

Next week...

Yeah, probably Adele. I was also curious about Demi Lovato's new jam that's pretty awful and super-late, which is such classic Demi. There are plenty others. "Cheap Thrills" is #1 on the Billboard and "Don't Mind" is still hanging around. We ignored both this week. I was also curious about that Beyonce/Coldplay collabo which feels like it's really under-performed for the talent involved. And that will.i.am / Pia Mia track, which is really only good for Pia Mia, but has been totally off my radar for some reason. Probably lack of airplay and general consumer apathy. See ya next week!

12 August 2016

The Dragon's Sausage Party

We are getting to the end of it, folks. The Summer Blockbuster season has just about concluded. While Suicide Squad (2016) was ostensibly our last major intellectual property adaptation (our new official word for "movie"), there are still a few big blockbuster-y attempts hanging out to close out our August Adventure. As always, our goal here is to attempt to examine the critical, cultural, and commercial potential of each major new release. This week we have three really different, really weird ones dropping, which is rad. Let's get started with Florence Foster Jenkins (2016).

Alright, so this flick doesn't have a lot of company. It's that kind of old person Academy-friendly kind of picture that typically drops in limited release in October or November. It's maybe acceptable as the mid-August release that it is, but with the creep of a lot of major July releases like Star Trek Beyond (2016) and Jason Bourne (2016) still in theaters, where is the room for this one?
What do we call this

Well, there are two things at work here. First is that aforementioned audience who has really been drastically under-served this summer. The closest thing to appease that huge boring section of the population looking for adult films (not that ADULT) is probably Free State of Jones (2016), which also seemed to drop at the wrong time of year. That audience is out there and could come out. It's not four quadrant stuff, but it's there.

The other underlying issue with my judgment is that it's filtered through a pretty jaded blockbuster-loving bro (Not really. This should prove that, but I'm currently between The Lobster [2015] and Summer of Sam [1999] on my Netflix queue). Still, for better or worse, I am hardwired with that sort of "fuck this shit" attitude whenever I see something like Florence Foster Jenkins. Of course, the movie tells an actual bizarre story of the eponymous rich heiress who took up a career in Opera singing despite any sort of obvious talent. Meryl Streep is apparently a revelation (what is that, nomination #58? 59?), but what else is new? It's an interesting enough story, but if I didn't go out of my way to cover this shit every week I'd also have no idea this was coming out this week. And my television has been on for 114 straight hours watching Olympic coverage.

I'd call its commercial prospects minuscule to the point of parody, but it could have some cultural weight if Meryl gets a nomination. It's already a decent critical success, but I also feel like we've seen this film quite a bit before. It really depends on if its actual tangible quality can elevate it beyond the typical biopic (subject matter says it should), and if it can find its niche. I'm tempted to say the release date is too early for even that, but weirder shit has happened at the Oscars.

So we move on now to what should look like the weekend's winner, although it's not nearly sexy enough to take down Suicide Squad. Pete's Dragon (2016) is the latest effort by Disney to bring back one of its old properties in a live action remake, although the original from 1977 was a hybrid live action / animation anyway, so does it really fall in that category? It's more like a straight re-make.
Yeah that's pretty sick.

This isn't exactly like The Jungle Book (2016) or Alice in Wonderland (2010) or any of the other dozens of live action remakes Disney has in the works, though, because frankly, the original Pete's Dragon (1977) wasn't all that good. It's not really a beloved classic or anything. It's that kind of film that sounds a little familiar; like you think "oh yeah, Pete's Dragon!" then you think and you're like "wait, what the hell is Pete's Dragon?" then you look it up and think "Oh, that's not what I was thinking of." For the record, I was totally thinking of this motherfucker. Pete's Dragon was not familiar to me at all.

This all makes it a sort of weird choice for a remake, although to be honest, it has a crisp $65 million budget and a cherry 102-minute runtime. It probably has to clear at least $50 million to beat Suicide Squad (maybe $45 mill, apparently its decline is looking awfully steep), which seems unfeasible, but with a $30 million opening and a solid all-clear run through August with good critical word-of-mouth and suddenly it has its budget back, even if the lack of overt spectacle likely handicaps it in the global market.

And apparently it is pretty good. This is certainly a distinguishing feature from the original. It's amazing that that's really all we need. As much flack as this summer should get for the onslaught of truly terrible films, it should get some damned good credit for Captain America: Civil War (2016), The Legend of Tarzan (2016), and Star Trek Beyond (2016). Only the former really did great at the box office, but each one at least attempted to be an actual good movie. I'm all about good movies. I don't really care about the inspiration or intellectual property or anything. The only thing that matters is if the film is good or not. Pete's Dragon is a case where I could less than a shit about the source material, but I'm down to watch a good film that dares to be more Iron Giant (1999) than Age of Extinction (2014).

This again presents a lot of weird things to consider. It's apparently got a solid dose of Iron Giant (although this is only by staying close to the original - so who's ripping off whom?) with a mix of Tarzan, and other "wild kid" movies like, I don't know. Jungle 2 Jungle (1997)? Most importantly, though, it's actually a family film, which seems really rare these days. This distinguishes it from a child's film or an animated film (which, as we'll see in a few paragraphs, are decidedly NOT the same). That's also a decently under-served market this summer, and it could break out if people are feeling it.

That's the big question, though - because no one is really feeling it. We're all pretty exhausted. As for the cultural reverb, I don't really see it breaking out. It's got to really up its cool factor. It needs some kind of iconic scene or moment, which I'm not sure it has. There hasn't been a ton of compelling reasons to put this in our lives. The dragon (whose total dragon-like name is "Elliot") looks pretty cool, so there's that, even though he hasn't really been revealed that much. Sure that's a nice bit of mystery, but at some point you also need to make sure people actually watch your movie.

So at the end of the day we're left with Sausage Party (2016). There's really never been a film like this ever made before. Which is cool. I feel like I've been hearing about this thing forever, and it largely looks pretty damn stupid, although that could be in part because according to co-director Seth Rogen, there's not many clips they can actually show. Suddenly the fact that they've literally only ever shown that potato-peeling scene makes a lot of sense.
Gotta be better than Your Highness (2011), right?

This is apparently the raunchiest movie ever, and it comes disguised as a Pixar film. That's actually a fairly brilliant deconstruction of the "secret world of inanimate objects" bullshit that Pixar does in just about all of their films. Rogen and company are pretty reliable even if they're decently unproven in the animated business.

Commercially I can't see this doing well at all. Then again, most non-Neighbors 2 (2016) Rogen films somehow do pretty well. It's almost as if the more out-there the premise and more hardcore R he pushes it, the more success they have. What an amazing proposition...giving directors and stars creative control to make the original films they want... I saw this most with This Is The End (2013) which seemed so over-the-top and weirdly specific to its own meta-world but somehow banked $101 million at the box office. Then again...Sausage Party is really really out there. I don't have a clue how it'll do, but I'd guess it comes in behind Suicide Squad and Pete's Dragon.

Or maybe it rides the college crowd which STILL hasn't really latched on to any specific comedy this summer outside of Central Intelligence (2016) and makes it the late August smash in the vein of Knocked Up (2007) nine years ago. Knocked Up was nine years ago! Shit! I can see this going either way. It's also apparently very funny and inexplicably doing well with the critics.

That leaves its cultural hole, which I can see being pretty significant. It's already developing a reputation for its ribald humour and distinctive nature. It does fill that perfect gap of a really good natural idea for parody that's largely untapped. I might say it stays around for a while.

So that's that. We've got one more week of Summer analysis to take on...Ben-Hur (2016), Kubo and the Two Strings (2016), and War Dogs (2016)? What the fuck? Yeah, we better kill this after that. What are you seeing this weekend?

09 August 2016

Summer Jam 2016 Week 13: Heathen Squad Rolls in Late

So we're a day late. We're bad guys. Stuff comes up. I know you're all waiting patiently for the hottest jams to drop each week, so apologies all around for that. But for real, let's get down to the gritty shit of the jam as we close out the first week of August and rally towards the Final Month of Summer!

Hot Jam of the Week: "Heathens" by twenty one pilots

Twenty one pilots seem to have a single dropping every other week this summer and after "Ride" and "Stressed Out" have become the Imagine Dragons of the modern day with a nice blend of punk pop rock to assault our ears. This track to Suicide Squad (2016) dropped a bit ago, but we pretty much ignored it. Even though the flick got a critical drumming, everyone everywhere went to see it, and the jam is pretty unique and haunting, even if it took me a second to recall what that weird "friends are heathens" song was I kept hearing this week. I bet this could bounce around for the next week or so.

Twice a Day: "Toothbrush" by DNCE

Speaking of pop rock...or maybe this is just pop? DNCE follows up "Cake by the Ocean" with this harmless track about shacking up and moving to that relationship stage where you leave a toothbrush at your lover's domicile. They really remind me of like a 2016-version of Vampire Weekend, except without any of the talent. Don't get me wrong, "Cake by the Ocean" is exceptional, but this is kind of whatever.

Rihanna At it Again: "Sex With Me" by Rihanna

Ah, Track 16 off ANTI, the clincher bonus jam to close out RiRi's fantasmic album. Rihanna's the only artist who has dropped more singles than twenty one pilots this summer, and although none has really caught on, none are as pop-y as "Work," which is kind of the whole point of ANTI. Still, I heard this jam quite a bit this week, and it could gain some steam these last few weeks. It does have an actual hook and thumping hypnotic beat that makes it damned interesting, if not necessarily radio-friendly.

Be Wary: "Dangerous Woman" by Ariana Grande

This is another track that's just sort of hung around for a while and although it's no where near 2014's "Problems," it's a true show that Ariana has got some talent. I don't really think this is the kind of song we're going to have nostaligic callbacks for come 2019, but it does a nice job for now swaying between sultry verses and a rising bridge that crescendos to a really epic chorus.

Cheap Date: "Cheap Thrills" by Sia

This is still my favourite song on the Winner's List, although it wasn't quite as ubiquitous as it once was all those last week ago. It's still made a nice run and any jam that can rule the #1 spot for a bit while also being #1 in my heart has proven itself relevant to the Summer Throne conversation.

Time to Have Sex! "All In My Head (Flex)" by Fifth Harmony ft. Fetty Wap

Fetty's incoherent rap-ramblings have really put this jam over "Work" in my book, as has the bizarre and quasi-non-sexual but also totally sexual lyrics. I like the idea of flexing, impressing, and then getting your hump on, but it's all in their head or something? It's vague enough to invite a lot of airplay while subliminally appealing to our sex-addled brain boxes. The island beat makes it perfect for summer.

She Tellin' Me That: "Don't Mind" by Kent Jones

Once your jam is lip synced by Jimmy Fallon, you know you've made it. This is a huge rise for Kent Jones who has risen from no where-land to this, the highest of peaks. Well, the second highest. It was a close call this week, but it's not totally the Hottest Jam in the Land. Somehow spitting out a ton of different languages and geographic shout-outs still works. This is MIMS all over again.

Down the Well: "Send My Love (To Your New Lover)" by Adele

Adele finally takes over this week as her track has started to gain some significant momentum. I wouldn't call her the end-all of all Summer Digs right now, but it's worth it. The video is hot, the track is hot, and there's no doubt her impressive star and pipes power. I'd call her position pretty tenuous, though, and especially after leaving off the former two dueling powerhouses, JT and Drake this week, if Adele makes a late season run, the game is hers.

Next week...

I've been snubbing the Chainsmokers and Calvin Harris for like four straight weeks. Is it time to just admit they don't really have a shot here, despite being perennial 9 and 10s? I'm into a bit of new Avett Brothers and with the Summer O's in full swing, Katy's "Rise" is starting to creep everywhere. Keep an ear out!

05 August 2016

The Nine Lives of the Suicide Squad

We're really winding down, folks. This is ultimately the last big weekend that we'll care about monster blockbuster releases, although truth be told there'll be some hangover for the next few weeks that we'll continue to cover. Let us try to predict the cultural, commercial, and critical potential of the two nationwide releases this week, Nine Lives (2016) and Suicide Squad (2016). I'll give you a spoiler warning - only one of these films is going to be something anyone cares about. Guess which one! We'll start with the crap:
Oh no! He's a cat now!

Believe it or not, I first learned about Nine Lives from a huge terrible cat display in a movie theater. That's not a great sign when you're a dude who writes about movies every week. It stars Kevin Spacey who finds himself inside the body of a cat! It's kind of unbelievable that this film is coming out in 2016. Aren't we better than this tired, overused, and never-loved trope?

I am literally sitting here in disbelief that this is a thing that's happening. Did Kevin Spacey really need the money? There's no way. Is it a favour to his agent? Why does this exist? Has Hollywood learned nothing from The Shaggy Dog (2006)? It really feels like a hackneyed premise that's almost a throwback to cheeky 90s family films rather than something that would actually be interesting in the current cinematic climate, child film or not. On that note, it's also dropping amidst a tremendous amount of childrens' animated films that have done really well this summer (indeed, they're just about the only ones). There's simply not a lot of room for a goofy "Kevin Spacey becomes a cat" story.

Commercially and culturally the prospects are dire. There's almost no way this movie hits big. We're not going to be discussing Nine Lives as a cult hit or sleeper. Its saving grace may be that it's technically a French film production, and director Barry Sonnenfeld has had at least as many hits as duds. So maybe it goes big over in Europe, but no one in America will care. I can't emphasize the futility of this films' existence enough. So let's move on.

It was sort of a bizarre move for Warner Bros' still fledgling DC Cinematic Universe to go with Suicide Squad as their third film. It's like as if Marvel threw up Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) after The Incredible Hulk (2008). Suicide Squad might be slightly less obscure (the presence of the Joker at least gives it a decently high profile), but it's still a strange way to cement the base for a new shared universe. Sure it gives them a chance to feature a lot of characters all at once, but out of all the DC stories, is this really appropriate?

If you begin to take the fact that Batman is really well-established (if not just in their shared universe), The Flash has proven to be a successful TV series, and we've all still got a bad taste of Green Lantern (2011) in our mouths, maybe it makes more sense. Wonder Woman is really the more natural extension, and since she's getting her own film next year, which by all rights appears to be awesome-looking, we can let that slide a bit. But for now, it's all Suicide Squad, which could be the most hotly anticipated DC film since The Dark Knight Rises (2012).
This is kid friendly, right? Like every girl will be Harley Quinn
and every boy will be Killer Croc this Halloween?

It's more interesting in the wake of SONY's now-failed Sinister Six movie (at one point that had a November 11, 2016 scheduled date - think about that a bit), that we're still getting the supervillain team-up flick we've always imagined could happen. 2016 has already proved to be a decent superhero film deconstruction year with Deadpool (2016), and Suicide Squad, if it keeps things weird and fun like it promises, ought to deliver a similarly refreshing spin on the tired genre.

With nearly no expectations just about any box office haul ought to do the trick. The bar to clear this summer is about $60 million to keep with Star Trek Beyond (2016) and Jason Bourne (2016), but considering the comparative hype level, I might actually be inclined to believe Suicide Squad banks quite a bit more than that. Seriously - who out there really needed another Star Trek or Bourne film? Exactly. Now, who out there is up for the raucous distinctive glow of Suicide Squad, whose hype machine has been in full gear for the better part of a year?

The whole thing is a pretty clear attempt to ape the marketing from Guardians. The classic rock song (even more precisely timed, though), the off-beat, energized advertising, and random anti-heroes assembled in an ad-hock team is all pretty Guardians-esque. It's all presented with a much sharper edge, though, and that aforementioned trailer was one of the best in recent memory.

Also, almost everyone involved in this is guaranteed to become a break-out star. Cara Delevingne looks...enchanting. Jai Courtney seems like he's actually having some charismatic fun (ghastly!). Will Smith could get back on top, even if it's almost bizarre that this doesn't feel like a Will Smith movie at all (it's a character that's out of his wheelhouse both in his anti-hero persona and side character nature). Jared Leto is apparently insane. Most of all though, is Margot Robbie, who is ready to explode based on the marketing alone. That's a lot better than what The Legend of Tarzan (2016) did for her career.

The one variable is the critical reaction. This seems to have plenty of cultural and commercial potential, and the general Internet conversation surrounding the picture is pretty positive. There is some fear of questionable re-shoots supposedly to make the film funnier in the wake of the Deadpool vs. Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016) fiasco. Then again, every film ever has re-shoots and it's never really anything to be worried about. It's also worthwhile to note that Deadpool only beat BvS by $30 million domestically, and the latter cranked out about $90 million more worldwide. The counter-counter-argument to that is of course, "Shouldn't a film that featured the two most well known superheroes of all time gross MORE than fucking Deadpool?" Again, it's more a matter of actually making a film that audiences want - which Suicide Squad seems to be in spades. Of course, hopefully there's still some genre left to deconstruct, if Squad does it at all. Still, the diverse cast, intriguing premise, and stellar attitude ought to work in its favor.

So there you go. Will you roll with the Squad this weekend or commit suicide after watching Nine Lives? Only you can decide!
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