Monday, August 29, 2016

Don't Breathe is #1 at box office

For the weekend of August 26-28, 2016, Don't Breathe let out the final gasp of summer by being an actual decent thriller. Assuming it does the same rapid drop of most horror movies, it should match Lights Out's domestic gross.

Mechanic: Resurrection failed to justify its existence. I can't help but think if Tommy Lee Jones looks at this and Criminal and goes "Where did I go wrong?" At least he also had Jason Bourne.

On fewer screens, Southside with You appeased Obama fans who wanted to see a light romantic movie about his first date with Michelle. Hands of Stone sank; Edgar Ramirez is a good actor but he isn't a star.

Family films that had strong holdovers were Kubo & the Two Strings and Pete's Dragon.

Opens September 2
MORGAN with Kate Mara, Anya Taylor-Joy, Toby Jones and Jennifer Jason Leigh.
THE LIGHT BETWEEN OCEANS with Michael Fassbender and Alicia Vikander.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Hell or High Water - Movie Review

Starring Jeff Bridges, Chris Pine, Ben Foster, Gil Burningham, Kevin Rankin, Marin Ireland and Dale Dickey.
Written by Taylor Sheridan.
Directed by David Mackenzie.


The Wolf of Wall Street. The Big Short. 99 Homes. All inspired by true events, and those events would bleed into Hell or High Water, where rural north Texas feels the weight of poverty and greed.

The movie is about two pairs of men, and both could have their own film, and I'd be happy following either one. It's a credit to the filmmakers that there is no scene wasted.

One one side, there are the cops. Jeff Bridges is the crusty old marshal who's about to retire, and Gil Burningham (Twilight) is his Native-American partner who puts up with all of his race jokes. When a couple small banks are robbed, this is their chance at cracking one last big case.

On the other side are the robbers. Chris Pine and Ben Foster play brothers in dire straits. Their mother has just died and the bank is about to foreclose on her ranch unless they come up with the cash to pay off her reverse mortgage and back taxes by the end of the week.

This isn't a glossy production. This movie feels lived in. The mud caked on their cars feels earned. The small parts and extras look like real people. And the four main characters are all outstanding. I would argue this is Chris Pine's best performance to date.

Don't Breathe - Movie Review

Starring Jane Levy, Dylan Minnette, Stephen Lang and Daniel Zovatto.
Written by Fede Alvarez & Rodo Sayagues.
Directed by Fede Alvarez.


I love the way this movie is set up. We get about fifteen minutes to establish the lives and personalities of the three Detroit burglars. There's Rocky, played by Evil Dead's Jane Levy, who wants to save up enough money to move with her daughter to California. There's her boyfriend Money, played by It Follows' Daniel Zovatto, who wants to go with her but also just loves robbing and breaking stuff. And there's Alex, played by Goosebumps' Dylan Minnette, who has a crush on Rocky.

When they first break into the blind man's house, the camera swoops and swerves all over the layout, pausing on certain spots like "This will be important!" Hm, that's the room where his tools are, and I see a big hammer in the middle. That will come up later. I see the Blind Man (Avatar's Stephen Lang) has a gun strapped under his bed. No way that's staying there the whole movie.

Money releases some kind of sleeping gas in the Blind Man's room so they can move freely through the rest of his house to find where he keeps his cash. They have a lead that he has upwards of $300,000 stashed somewhere. It's a good final score so that this can be the last house they rob.

Ah, but the Blind Man wakes up and gets out of his bedroom before the gas can knock him out. So while the burglars are quiet and try to avoid him, he knows someone's there and he locks his house down like a fortress until he can find them.

The title captures perfectly what this movie is. The tension builds in excruciating fashion as the characters hold their breath and keep still, trying to not to signal to the Blind Man, who naturally has very good hearing, where they might be.

It has twists and turns. (You know there's something in that basement!) It has a couple contrivance problems. (Why would a loner blind man have working lightbulbs in all of his lamps?) It's really a showcase for two of its actors.

Jane Levy, who charmed in Suburgatory, is the sympathetic Final Girl here, and she showed that she should be getting some of the same offers Emma Stone is getting. Stephen Lang, who once upon a time was known for playing schlubs in movies like Manhunter, has really found second life as a buff, angry character actor, but his Blind Man here is no ordinary psycho. His backstory manages to draw some sympathy, even if many of his choices on this day and those leading up to it don't.

It's worth it in the theaters, to be surrounded by fellow movie-goers who are also holding their breath.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Suicide Squad #1 for third week

For the weekend of August 19-21, 2016, Suicide Squad held on again to be the #1 film. It's still on course to break even, but since China's decided to not allow it shown, it probably won't be able to get much more than $675 million worldwide. Profitable, yes. But if it had just been a better movie...

Of the new films, War Dogs came out on top. Despite terrific reviews, Kubo & the Two Strings couldn't find its audience. The most expensive newcomer was Ben-Hur, but without a star on the poster, it never really found a marketing hook to justify its existence.

Hell or High Water expanded and had the best per-screen average in the top 30.

Summer is slowing down and some of the big-budget movies are in trouble. Ghostbusters and Star Trek Beyond have not caught on overseas, and both could still wind up being money-losers. Ice Age: Collision Course, however, is going to break even because of its overseas business, even though it won't get to $65 million domestic.

Opens August 26
DON'T BREATHE with Dylan Minnette, Jane Levy and Stephen Lang.
MECHANIC: RESURRECTION with Jason Statham and Tommy Lee Jones.
HANDS OF STONE with Robert DeNiro, Edgar Ramirez and John Turturro.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Sausage Party - Movie Review

Starring the voices of Seth Rogen, Kristen Wiig, Edward Norton, Salma Hayek, Bill Hader, Michael Cera, Jonah Hill, David Krumholtz, Danny McBride, James Franco, Nick Kroll and Paul Rudd.
Written by Kyle Hunter, Ariel Shaffir, Seth Rogen & Evan Goldberg.
Directed by Greg Tiernan & Conrad Vernon.


Sausage Party is the raunchiest animated movie since South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut. It's a spoof of VeggieTales and the Pixar canon that anthromorphizes everything from toys to cars. Beneath all the subversive humor is a direct attack on religion.

Seth Rogen voices a sausage named Frank who is in love with a bun named named Brenda (Kristen Wiig). They're packaged next to each other on a shelf in a grocery store called Shopwells. Each morning, all of the groceries join in a song that celebrates the Gods, aka the humans that shop there. It is the belief of the food that when they are selected by the Gods, they will go to Great Beyond, aka out the front door, where they will live in an eternity of joy and sexual fulfillment.

But when a jar of honey mustard (Danny McBride) is returned, he comes back with horrible tales. The Gods are monsters who plan to consume them. There is no happiness in the Great Beyond; there is only death.

Frank and Brenda escape their packaging and set out to find the truth, but the longer they search, the more doubtful Frank becomes, and the more fearful Brenda becomes that she is angering the Gods.

The movie is full of stereotypes and has fun with them. Frank and Brenda are joined by a Jewish bagel (Edward Norton) and a Arabic lavash (David Krumholtz), and they bicker about occupied aisle space. The lavash also dreams of being drenched in the Great Beyond in 77 bottles of virgin olive oil. The German sauerkraut screams about exterminating the juice. And so on.

The movie is filled to the brim with dirty jokes, many of which are funny. In fact, it's remarkable how freeing animation is for Rogen's pot-obsessed humor.

As for the atheist argument, let's just say Rogen does it in a funnier, less ham-fisted way than Ricky Gervais or Bill Maher are capable of. The movie winds up being a celebration of hedonism before it ultimately disappears up its own butt.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Suicide Squad Stays #1 at Box Office

For the weekend of August 12-14, 2016, Suicide Squad easily held on to the top spot. After breaking the August opening-weekend box-office record, its 67% drop was to be expected. Its worldwide gross is now past $465 million, and this is before opening in lucrative countries like China, India, Germany and Japan. (For comparison, China alone was responsible for $190 million of Captain America: Civil War's $1.15 billion).

Sausage Party's tracking grew the closer it came, and when the overwhelmingly positive reviews came in, its success was assured. It also only had a $19 million production budget, which just makes me wonder why it took $105 million to make Ice Age 5.

Pete's Dragon opened to okay business, but it'll need good word-of-mouth and strong overseas performance to make a profit, and Disney could use some better news after Alice Through the Looking Glass and The BFG flopped. (Don't weep for them just yet. They also had Zootopia, The Jungle Book, CA:CW, and Finding Dory).

Florence Foster Jenkins joins Ricki & the Flash as an example that late summer Meryl Streep is no longer as bankable as she'd been in years past (with titles like Mamma Mia!, Julie & Julia and Hope Springs).

On fewer screens, Anthropoid wasn't able to garner much interest. It may look like a sci-fi title, but it's about the two men who carried out the assassination of SS Nazi monster Reinhard Heydrich in 1942. It stars Cillian Murphy (Peaky Blinders) and Jamie Dornan (Battlestar Galactica).

Hell or High Water came out of nowhere for the highest per-screen average of over $18,000 on 32 screens for a $592,000 total. It's a modern-day Western starring Jeff Bridges as a sheriff on the trail of two bank robbers (Chris Pine, Ben Foster). Expect it to expand in the next week or so.

Opens August 19
KUBO & THE TWO STRINGS with the voices of Charlize Theron and Matthew McConaughey.
WAR DOGS with Jonah Hill, Miles Teller, Bradley Cooper, Ana de Armas and Shaun Toub.
BEN-HUR with Jack Huston, Morgan Freeman, Toby Kebbell and Ayelet Zurer.

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Suicide Squad - Movie Review

Starring Will Smith, Margot Robbie, Jared Leto, Joel Kinnaman, Viola Davis, Jai Courtney, Jay Hernandez, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Cara Delevinge, Ike Barinholtz, Scott Eastwood, Adam Beach, Karen Fukuhara, David Harbour, Common, Jim Parrack and Ben Affleck.
Written & Directed by David Ayer.


Suicide Squad has so much potential, so many directions you could go with it, and yet this is probably the most frustrating movie of the year.

Let me start with what I liked.

1. Margot Robbie's Harley Quinn. Robbie's a movie star, and she has as much fun as possible as Quinn. The character has expanded leaps and bounds since she was first introduced on Batman: The Animated Series.

2. Jay Hernandez's El Diablo. Not only does he have one of the better archs in the movie, but there's a sad soulfulness to the way Hernandez plays him. Right now he might be best known as the guy from Hostel but this should be a career-booster for him.

3. Jared Leto's Joker. Joker's part isn't as big as one might think from the trailers, and because he's the freakin' JOKER, but I liked Leto's take. Joker's sexier, more gangster, and serpentine. I look forward to seeing more of him in future DC movies. Plus he and Quinn had real chemistry.

4. Viola Davis's Amanda Waller. It's nice to have an actress like Davis in this role, where she can give ten minutes of expository dialogue and have it not bother you. Plus she's as mean as anyone else.

5. The first half hour. We get introduced to these characters through Waller's expository dialogue, with title cards and theme songs that get us right in the mood. Thirty minutes in, I'm going "This is a movie I can really get on board with." And then it slowly slips away.

Honorable mentions to Will Smith's Deadshot and Jai Courtney's Captain Boomerang. I kinda liked Killer Croc too.

So what didn't I like? I'll have to get into some spoilers to explain it.

There are some basic problems with the story that I can't believe weren't halted in development.

1. The main villains. The "Big Bad" the Squad is sent after is not the Joker. And the Joker is not part of the Squad. The Joker is on the edges of the movie, working toward getting Quinn freed while she's engaged in this mission. No, the villains are ancient spirits that can possess people. They are the Enchantress and her brother Incubus. Enchantress happens to possess Dr. June Moone (Cara Delevinge, out of her league), who is the girlfriend of Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman), Waller's right-hand man, and the guy in charge of the Squad while they're on their mission. Incubus barely registers. He's like Apocalypse from the recent X-Men movie, except he has maybe three lines.

Once brother and sister are reunited, Enchantress declares that she is going to build a machine to destroy humanity. Her machine apparently takes all night to build and it involves shooting lightning into the sky while garbage swirls around it. We've seen this too many times in blockbusters lately. Avengers and X-Men: Apocalypse come to mind. Even Ghostbusters had the same kind of sky-portal gigantic chaos type ending.

Enchantress also has the ability to turn people into these oddly-defined CG-creatures that are there for the Squad to kill in various ways. The entire concept of them was a bad idea. They make it feel like we're stuck in a video game, just killing random monsters along the way.

2. Too many characters. Slipknot is barely in the movie. And Katana is such an afterthought they would have been better off cutting her out completely. ("Oh yeah, by the way, her sword stores the souls of everyone she kills." "Huh.") Also, if only the Squad can go on such a dangerous mission, then why does Flag also have about 10 regular soldiers come too, one being Scott Eastwood? Why not send 20 soldiers and don't release these villains? Or just have Flag and the villains because this mission is too dangerous otherwise. This means the most interesting characters don't get enough to do. Courtney's having a lot of fun as Boomerang, but his skill set doesn't seem to come in handy for this mission.

3. The mission. Like I said, after the Squad's assembled, it kicks into video-game mode. They enter the city, they come across the CG foot-soldiers, they go deeper into the city. They kill more. There's a "surprise" rescue mission thrown in there which didn't make any sense when you think about it, and then they finally set their sights on Sky Laser Beacon to go defeat the ancient siblings. The movie's strength is its characters, but rarely in the last two-thirds do these characters get a chance to just stretch their legs and be.

4. Basic logistical choices. The climactic moment for Killer Croc is when he swims beneath the building in order to plant a strategic bomb, but even then he only leads some other swimming soldiers under the building, and one of the soldiers is the one who actually sets the bomb. Why not have Croc do it by himself? As for Diablo, when he takes his final form I thought "So this whole time, he could have done that?" Each Squad member has an explosive implanted in their neck so they can be killed if they try to escape, but apparently Diablo could have left at any time, no problem.

And then there's Enchantress. At one point she takes on four Squad members with two swords, and after some fighting, she just says "Enough!" and uses her powers to disarm them all. So why not start with that? If she's so powerful, why would she ever need to swing a sword?

5. Ham-handed choices. We know that Deadshot loves his daughter. But they go to that well so many times it started to generate groans rather than tug heartstrings. The dialogue every few minutes keeps emphasizing. "We're bad guys!" "Remember, we're the bad guys!" Show, don't tell. Also, they go for slo-mo at the wrong times.

6. The PG-13 rating. This movie felt held back by its rating. It should have been an R-rated crime movie. But before Deadpool, studios understandably thought they couldn't do that with superhero movies. (See the box office receipts of The Punisher.)

7. Death by committee. You can really tell this movie was meddled with by several people. Rewrites and reshoots resulting in an ultimate mess.

So between Batman v. Superman and Suicide Squad, the DC Universe has two financially successful movies that bombed with critics. The next one on their release slate is Wonder Woman. Even more pressure is now put on that movie to be good.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Cafe Society - Movie Review

Starring Jesse Eisenberg, Kristen Stewart, Steve Carell, Blake Lively, Corey Stoll, Parker Posey, Ken Stott and Anna Camp.
Written & Directed by Woody Allen.


Oh look, a movie about a nebbish Jew from New York who's contemplating adultery. Must be a Woody Allen film.

I enjoy the Windsor font of the opening credits playing over an old jazz tune. It tells you right away you're back in that world, no matter what time period. This one takes place in the late 1930's, when Bobby (Jesse Eisenberg) heads to Hollywood to work for his powerful agent uncle Phil (Steve Carell). While there, he falls for Phil's secretary Vonnie (Kristen Stewart). Vonnie has a secret boyfriend, but she enjoys her time with Bobby.

Eventually Bobby moves back to New York to help run a nightclub with his gangster brother Ben (Corey Stoll). Ben has killed many people to get ahead, and that aspect of him is played for droll effect.

There are some other twists and turns, but the plot moves along in haphazard fashion. The tone keeps shifting abruptly, and Allen seems to be aiming for the sweet spot of Crimes & Misdemeanors where he can go back and forth between comedy and drama. I would say Cafe Society was filmed before the script was really ready. There are themes he brings up which he then drops without really exploring them.

As for the cast, the standout was Kristen Stewart. She has a fresh-faced buoyancy to her performance that shows she's really put the Twilight films in her rear-view. With luck, her career will continue this crawl back to credibility.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Lights Out - Movie Review

Starring Teresa Palmer, Gabriel Bateman, Maria Bello, Alexander DiPersia and Billy Burke.
Written by Eric Heisserer.
Directed by David F. Sandberg.


We know most of the tricks of ghost thrillers. You can either try to find new tricks, or just make sure you're using the old ones really well. This one doesn't have any new tricks, but it's surprisingly effective with ones we've seen before.

The movie is pretty short (about 80 minutes) and most of what we saw in the trailer happens in the first act, which is great. This is a movie that understands you don't have to drag out the origin story, which is rarely the best part of any movie. Besides, the characterizations aren't that strong.

There is a deadly apparition named Diana, and we see her kill someone in the first ten minutes, so there's no doubt of her reality. She is somehow tied to Sophie (Maria Bello), a haggard mom who speaks to the shadows, which freaks out her sleep-deprived son Martin (Gabriel Bateman). Martin reaches out to big sister Rebecca (Teresa Palmer), who left home under poor circumstances. Rebecca knows how bad things can get when Sophie's of her meds, so she agrees to take in Martin until their mom can get things under control.

Ah, but Diana isn't confined to a house. When she starts showing up at Rebecca's place, they know they have to get to the bottom of Diana's motivations.

The central trick is that Diana can only exist in shadows, and when the lights are on, she's invisible and powerless. Director David F. Sandberg does a good job of dwelling on dark corners of the room, making us regularly anticipate where Diana might come from next. She's one of those disjointed ghosts, like the poltergeist from Mama.

It delivers on what it sets out to do. It goes "Boo!" repeatedly and sometimes it works.

Bourne #1 in Final Box Office Numbers

For the weekend of July 27-29, 2016, Jason Bourne was the big winner. Matt Damon's return to the franchise was a successful one. It was the second-best opening of the series and a good $20 million more than the Damon-less Bourne Legacy.

Bad Moms also has to be happy with its performance, in this summer where R-rated comedies have been unreliable in their ability to perform. Maybe that helped them.

Nerve was a low budget movie, but surely the filmmakers had hoped to break $10 million opening.

Of the holdovers, any movie that opens over $50 million can expect to drop 50% or more in its second week, but 58.2% is a little steeper than Paramount would like for Star Trek: Beyond.

Opens August 5
SUICIDE SQUAD with Will Smith, Jared Leto, Margot Robbie and Viola Davis.
NINE LIVES with Kevin Spacey, Jennifer Garner and Christopher Walken.