An Arena Grand Era Ends

For those who haven’t figured it out yet, I’m an incurable movie buff. When I look back nearly 250 blog posts later, my very first blog post talked about that feeling of sitting in a movie theater when the lights dim and the excitement that goes along with the feeling that you’re about to see something new. Oh, don’t get me wrong. You might be disappointed. You might be underwhelmed. However, there’s always that possibility. And that’s just one reason I love movies.

Over the past decade, a number of those moments have happened at the Arena Grand Movie Theater in the Arena District of Columbus, Ohio. And on Monday, the theater ceased to exist when it was bought out by a company that specializes in a dining-movie screening experience, similar to the Movie Tavern in Hilliard. I personally have nothing major against this move and I wish the new company well. Frankly, I’m thrilled the location will still be a movie theater.

That is not without some reservations. While I admire the Movie Tavern and have had some good experiences there, I generally am not a huge fan of the format. Why? Well, probably because I’m such a movie buff. I want to watch the movie with as little distraction as possible. I don’t want to think about whether to order chicken fingers or the mini-burgers or the loaded nachos. I’m not really concerned with what beers are on tap. And I especially don’t want a waiter coming up to me every 15 minutes while I’m trying to follow plot points asking if everything is “OK”. The answer is yes – I’m watching the movie.

The Arena Grand Theater was a quality theater in a great location, but I will admit that in the last decade I’ve seen more films at the AMC Lennox. I’m curious to check out the new theater that will operate in Arena Grand’s former location, but I will always hold the following memories of the Arena Grand:

– barely being able to contain myself from very loud laughter at certain points during Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy. I would’ve loved to see the sequel there.

– leaving work a little early on a sunny Friday afternoon with a coworker to watch Tom Cruise battle through an alien invasion in War of the Worlds.

– going with one of my best friends on a Friday night to watch The Departed on opening night and going next door to the local bar afterwards to discuss how amazing it was.

– having the entire balcony to myself to watch Woman in Black, a nice horror supernatural flick with Daniel Radcliffe that I still think is underrated.

– watching the final act of The Avengers with my jaw dropped for most of it.

– trying to see Ted with one of my best friends at the AMC Lennox and it was too crowded. We made it to Arena Grand just in time to grab seats in a packed theater… right next to two of my other greatest friends who we didn’t know were going to be there.

– going to see Django Unchained the day after Christmas after driving back from Fremont and keeping my absolute adoration of Quentin Tarantino’s movies intact.

And those are just seven of several examples. Arena Grand was a wonderful theater and I’ll miss it. I hope I can make some more good memories in that same location… even while I tell the waiter that “I’m still fine, thanks again.”

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Todd’s Box Office Predictions: My Blog History So Far…

***UPDATED: With this particular blog post, I will updating it every week to reflect how I continue to perform with each weekend’s new release. So that means you can pretty much ignore the next paragraph talking about After Earth and Now You See Me opening. Simply scroll down to the main list below to see how I’m doin’ with the predictin’:

With this weekend’s debuts of After Earth and Now You See Me, they will mark the 69th and 70th films I’ve made opening weekend predictions for. This is since I started doing box office projections on the blog starting during the second weekend of November when Skyfall debuted.

Based on a suggestion from a reader, it got me thinking. How have I done so far? I am grateful and pleased that my box office predictions posts have been the most-viewed items on my little blog, so it feels time to take inventory on my successes… and failures.

Before I give you the facts, it’s important to note that the bigger a picture opens, the easier it is to be off by more. Pretty simple concept… if I think a movie will open at $6 million, the chances of it doing $4M or $8M is very likely. This means I’m only off $2 million. If a movie is expected to open around $80 million, the chances of it doing $70M or $90M increase, meaning I’m ten million off.

With that said, I’ve broken down categories by how much I was off. You can judge yourself on how I’ve done up to this juncture. From now on, I will give a monthly report on the blog assessing my prognosticating performances for that time frame.

Predictions Within $2 million

Playing for Keeps

Prediction: $7M. Actual Gross: $5.8M. Difference: $1.2M

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

Prediction: $84.8M. Actual Gross: $84.6M. Difference: $182K.

Jack Reacher

Prediction: $17.6M. Actual Gross: $15.6M. Difference: $2M.

The Impossible

Prediction: $2.6M. Actual Gross: $2.8M. Difference: $268K.

Promised Land

Prediction: $4.2M. Actual Gross: $4M. Difference: $150K.

Parker

Prediction: $6.1M. Actual Gross: $7M. Difference: $908K.

Movie 43

Prediction: $5.8M. Actual Gross: $4.8M. Difference: $994K.

Warm Bodies

Prediction: $20.5M. Actual Gross: $20.4M. Difference: $146K.

Stand Up Guys

Prediction: $1.2M. Actual Gross: $1.5M. Difference: $286K.

Safe Haven

Prediction: $32.3M. Actual Gross: $33.3M. Difference: $1M

Snitch

Prediction: $13.3M. Actual Gross: $13.2M. Difference: $132K.

Phantom

Prediction: $2.3M. Actual Gross: $470K. Difference: $1.7M.

Jack the Giant Slayer

Prediction: $25.4M. Actual Gross: $27.2M. Difference: $1.8M.

G.I. Joe: Retaliation

Prediction: $49.5M. Actual Gross: $51M. Difference: $1.5M.

Dead Man Down

Prediction: $5.9M. Actual Gross: $5.3M. Difference: $554K.

Spring Breakers

Prediction: $6.8M. Actual Gross: $4.9M. Difference: $1.9M.

The Croods

Prediction: $44.3M. Actual Gross: $43.6M. Difference: $660K.

Admission

Prediction: $7.6M. Actual Gross: $6.2M. Difference: $1.4M.

Iron Man 3

Prediction: $172.4M. Actual Gross: $174.1M. Difference: $1.7M.

Summing up this group, that makes 19 out of 68 (28%) that I got within two million dollars of opening weekend gross. I must admit my feather in the cap moments would be The Hobbit, The Croods, Iron Man 3, Warm Bodies, Snitch, and G.I. Joe. The Rock’s Snitch is my best to date with a difference of $132,000.

Predictions within $2.1-$4 million

Lincoln

Prediction: $18.1M. Actual Gross: $21M. Difference: $2.9M.

Killing Them Softly

Prediction: $9.6M. Actual Gross: $6.8M. Difference: $2.8M.

Gangster Squad

Prediction: $20.7M. Actual Gross: $17.1M. Difference: $3.6M.

Bullet to the Head

Prediction: $8M. Actual Gross: $4.5M. Difference: $3.4M.

Side Effects

Prediction: $11.5M. Actual Gross: $9.3M. Difference: $2.1M.

Dark Skies

Prediction: $10.6M. Actual Gross: $8.2M. Difference: $2.4M.

The Last Exorcism II

Prediction: $10.6M. Actual Gross: $7.7M. Difference: $2.8M.

Olympus Has Fallen

Prediction: $27.8M. Actual Gross: $30.4M. Difference: $2.5M.

Tyler Perry’s Temptation: Confessions of a Marriage Counselor

Prediction: $19.2M. Actual Gross: $21.6M. Difference: $2.4M.

42

Prediction: $24.7M. Actual Gross: $27.5M. Difference: $2.7M.

Pain and Gain

Prediction: $23.8M. Actual Gross: $20M. Difference: $3.8M.

The Big Wedding

Prediction: $11.2M. Actual Gross: $7.5M. Difference: $3.6M.

Epic

Prediction: $45.5M. Actual Gross: $42.8M. Difference: $2.6M.

The Internship

Prediction: $20.7M. Actual Gross: $17.3M. Difference: $3.3M.

This category represents 13 out of 68 entries or 19%. I was happy with my Olympus Has Fallen and 42 predictions. I guessed higher than many others on both titles. Both made more than my projection, but I was in the correct ballpark.

Predictions within $4.1-$7 million

Skyfall

Prediction: $82.3M. Actual Gross: $88.4M. Difference: $6.1M.

Life of Pi

Prediction: $24.4M. Actual Gross: $30.6M. Difference: $6.1M.

This Is 40

Prediction: $15.7M. Actual Gross: $11.6M. Difference: $4.1M.

The Guilt Trip

Prediction: $11.6M. Actual Gross: $7.3M. Difference: $4.2M.

Zero Dark Thirty

Prediction: $29.1M. Actual Gross: $24.4M. Difference: $4.7M.

Texas Chainsaw 3D

Prediction: $16.1M. Actual Gross: $21.7M. Difference: $5.6M.

The Last Stand

Prediction: $14M. Actual Gross: $7.2M. Difference: $6.7M.

Broken City

Prediction: $15.3M. Actual Gross: $9M. Difference: $5.7M.

Hansel&Gretel: Witch Hunters

Prediction: $13M. Actual Gross: $19.7M. Difference: $6.6M.

Escape from Planet Earth

Prediction: $14.2M. Actual Gross: $21.1M. Difference: $6.9M.

The Incredible Burt Wonderstone

Prediction: $16.3M. Actual Gross: $10.2M. Difference: $6.1M.

The Host

Prediction: $15.7M. Actual Gross: $10.6M. Difference: $5M.

Jurassic Park 3D

Prediction: $12.8M. Actual Gross: $18.6M. Difference: $5.8M.

Evil Dead

Prediction: $19.8M. Actual Gross: $25.8M. Difference: $5.9M.

Oblivion

Prediction: $32.8M. Actual Gross: $38.2M. Difference: $5.4M.

Observations: I gave way too much credit for Arnold Schwarzenegger’s comeback vehicle The Last Stand, as well as comedies This Is 40 and The Guilt Trip. I underestimated Leatherface, Evil Dead, and Hansel and Gretel doing their witch huntin’. This group of films is 15 out of the 68 predictions… 22%. By the way, if you’re reading these and thinking my math doesn’t add up in certain situations, it actually does when factoring in the full number. I’m not listing the exact dollar amount – just to the closet one hundred thousandth.

Predictions within $7.1-$10M

Red Dawn

Prediction: $14M. Actual Gross: $21.7M. Difference: $7.7M.

Monsters Inc. 3D

Prediction: $16.2M. Actual Gross: $6.3M. Difference: $9.9M.

A Haunted House

Prediction: $10.8M. Actual Gross: $18.1M. Difference: $7.3M.

A Good Day to Die Hard

Prediction: $45.6M. Actual Gross: $36.9M. Difference: $8.7M.

Beautiful Creatures

Prediction: $19.4M. Actual Gross: $11.5M. Difference: $7.9M.

21 and Over

Prediction: $18 million. Actual Gross: $8.8M. Difference: $9.2M.

Oz the Great and Powerful

Prediction: $87.4M. Actual Gross: $79.1M. Difference: $8.2M.

The Call

Prediction: $9.2M. Actual Gross: $17.1M. Difference: $7.9M.

Scary Movie 5

Prediction: $22.6M. Actual Gross: $14.2M. Difference: $8.4M.

The Great Gatsby

Prediction: $41.3M. Actual Gross: $50.1M. Difference: $8.7M.

The Purge

Prediction: $24.9M. Actual Gross: $34M. Difference: $9.1M.

Definitely didn’t give Halle Berry’s The Call or A Haunted House with Marlon Wayans enough credit at all. Gave the sputtering Die Hard franchise too much credit. And while I was $8M off on Oz the Great and Powerful, I was actually pretty pleased with that projection. This group is 10 out of the 68 predictions, or 15%.

Predictions within $10.1-$15 million

The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 2

Prediction: $153.8M. Actual Gross: $141.1M. Difference: $12.7M.

Parental Guidance

Prediction: $17.7M. Actual Gross: $29.6M. Difference: $11.9M.

Mama

Prediction: $18.2M. Actual Gross: $32.1M. Difference: $13.9M.

Identity Thief

Prediction: $22.1M. Actual Gross: $34.6M. Difference: $12.4M.

Tyler Perry Presents Peeples

Prediction: $18.5M. Actual Gross: $4.6M. Difference: $13.8M.

Fast&Furious 6

Prediction: $106.8M. Actual Gross: $117M. Difference: $10.2M.

After Earth

Prediction: $39.1M. Actual Gross: $27.5M. Difference: $11.5M.

Clearly, Identity Thief and Mama hit bigger than I thought they would. And I was simply way off with Peeples, which I figured would have a nice opening due to Tyler Perry’s name in the title. Wrong. This group is 6 out of the 68 titles – 9%.

Predictions within $15.1-$20 million

Django Unchained

Prediction: $44.6M. Actual Gross: $64M. Difference: $19.4M.

The Hangover Part III

Prediction: $77.4M. Actual Gross: $62M. Difference: $15.3M.

Now You See Me

Prediction: $14.2M. Actual Gross: $29.3M. Difference: $15.1M.

Two titles here – or 3%. I failed the Christmas box office predictions and went way under. This is what screwed my Django projection. And The Wolf Pack were even softer than I expected.

Predictions off by over $20 million

Rise of the Guardians

Prediction: $53.8M. Actual Gross: $32.3M. Difference: $21.5M.

Les Miserables

Prediction: $47.1M. Actual Gross: $67.4M. Difference: $20.3M.

Star Trek Into Darkness

Prediction: $106.2. Actual Gross: $83.7M. Difference: $22.4M.

So the return of Kirk and Spock marks my most inaccurate prediction so far, but I don’t even feel bad about it because everyone went way over on this one. Les Miserables, like Django, is an example of underestimating a Xmas opener. And Rise of the Guardians flat out didn’t reach the levels of most animated titles, though it did hold up well in subsequent weekends. Three of 68 in this final category – 4%.

This means that of the 68 opening weekend predictions, I got 47% within $4 million or less of the actual gross. Within $7 million – the number is 69%. Within $10 million – I’m at 84%.

So there you have it. Draw your own conclusions. And if you’ve made it all the way through lengthy post, allow me to plug http://www.boxofficeace.com – a site I happily participate on where you (yes YOU) can make your own predictions!

Box Office Predictions: May 31-June 2

The post Memorial Day box office weekend sees the release of two new titles, the Will/Jaden Smith sci-fi pic After Earth and the caper film Now You See Me. Earlier this week, I wrote posts predicting both openings:

https://toddmthatcher.wordpress.com/2013/05/27/after-earth-box-office-prediction/

https://toddmthatcher.wordpress.com/2013/05/28/now-you-see-me-box-office-prediction/

My After Earth prediction of $39.1 million raises the following question: will it open #1 this weekend? Last holiday weekend saw the massive debut of Fast&Furious 6. Depending on how big it drops, it could retain the top spot. The previous five entries in the franchise all dipped a consistent 59-63% in their sophomore frames. It stands to reason that FF6 would experience a similar decline and may drop a tad more because it opened so huge.

The Hangover Part III had a very disappointing opening and its second weekend shouldn’t be too great either. The franchise has clearly run out of steam. The animated Epic had a solid opening last weekend and should experience the smallest decline of any title. And, finally, Star Trek Into Darkness will probably lose about half its audience in its third weekend.

With that, my predictions for this weekend’s top five:

1. After Earth

Predicted Gross: $39.1 million

2. Fast&Furious 6

Predicted Gross: $36 million (representing a drop of 65%)

3. Star Trek Into Darkness

Predicted Gross: $18.5 million (representing a drop of 50%)

4. Epic

Predicted Gross: $17.7 million (representing a drop of 47%)

5. The Hangover Part III

Predicted Gross: $17.1 million (representing a drop of 59%)

This would leave Now You See Me debuting at #6 with my predicted opening of $14.2 million. As always, check back over the weekend on the Facebook page for early returns and Sunday on the blog for final results.

Oscar History: 2002

2002 was a vast improvement over 2001 at the theaters and this was reflected in the lineup of Oscar nominations in the major categories. In my view, however, there were a number of worthy titles that were snubbed.

The Best Picture race went as planned with Rob Marshall’s Chicago taking the top prize. The musical garnered the love of the Academy and it leapfrogged the early favorite, Martin Scorsese’s Gangs of New York for top honors. Other nominees: Roman Polanski’s The Pianist, Stephen Daldry’s The Hours, and Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers. 

Other titles that I believe merited consideration: Alexander Payne’s About Schmidt and Spike Jonze’s Adaptation. And I would’ve given some thought to my favorite M. Night Shyamalan thrill-fest Signs, which I believe to be slightly superior to The Sixth Sense.

However, my favorite film of the year was Steven Spielberg’s Minority Report and I unquestionably would have included it.

While the Best Picture category winner was not a surprise – Best Director was. While the recipient of Picture and Director usually match, that was not expected in 2002. Rob Marshall’s Chicago won and he was nominated, but the smart money was on Martin Scorsese to win his first Directing Oscar for Gangs. Surprise, surprise. The winner called was Roman Polanski for The Pianist. Of course, Mr. Polanski was not in the auditorium to accept. If you don’t know why, Google his name and find out. Other nominees were Daldry for The Hours and Pedro Almodovar for Talk to Her. Peter Jackson was the odd man out for his work on the second Lord of the Rings entry.

Obviously, I would’ve had Spielberg on my list for Report. Even if you didn’t love the movie like I did, the direction was amazing.

The surprises continued in the Best Actor field. The two favorites were Daniel Day-Lewis for Gangs of New York and Jack Nicholson for About Schmidt. But The Pianist surprises continued when its relatively unknown star Adrien Brody took the statue… and memorably accepted the award by planting a long smooch on presenter Halle Berry. Other nominees: Nicolas Cage in Adaptation and Michael Caine in The Quiet American.

While nearly all major Chicago actors were nominated, Richard Gere missed the cut for his leading role. And I may have had Leonardo DiCaprio’s impressive work in another Spielberg pic, Catch Me If You Can.

The surprises stopped with Nicole Kidman, who won Best Actress for The Hours, as expected. Other nominees: Salma Hayek for Frida, Diane Lane in Unfaithful, Julianne Moore in Far From Heaven, and Renee Zellwegger in Chicago. 

A couple of other worthy names: Jennifer Aniston’s surprising and effective performance as a Midwestern housewife in The Good Girl and Jodie Foster’s fine work as a mother dealing with new home problems in Panic Room.

The Supporting Actor race would honor Chris Cooper for his work in Adaptation. Cooper won out over Ed Harris in The Hours, Paul Newman in Road to Perdition, John C. Reilly in Chicago, and Christopher Walken for Catch Me If You Can.

That’s a solid group of nominees there. I might have put in Ray Liotta for his menacing role in Narc, but no big complaints here.

Catherine Zeta-Jones would win Supporting Actress for her heralded work in Chicago. The other nominees were Kathy Bates in About Schmidt, Queen Latifah in Chicago, Julianne Moore in The Hours, and Meryl Streep in Adaptation.

Three other first-rate performances I would’ve thought about: Toni Collette in About a Boy, Hope Davis for About Schmidt, and Amanda Peet for Igby Goes Down.

In closing, 2002 was a year in which Chicago reigned supreme, but The Pianist provided some major surprises in other big categories.

Now You See Me Box Office Prediction

Along with After Earth, which opens Friday, the caper film Now You See Me represents the first of the summer flicks that is an original story. It’s not based on a comic book, a novel, a TV show, and it’s not a sequel! Pretty rare for a May release, I must say. By the way, I’ve already done my After Earth prediction on the blog and it can be found here:

https://toddmthatcher.wordpress.com/2013/05/27/after-earth-box-office-prediction/

Now You See Me comes from director Louis Leterrier, who made the Transporter pictures and 2008’s The Incredible Hulk. It’s about a team of magicians who also do bank heists. Now features a cast of several recognizable faces, including Jesse Eisenberg, Mark Ruffalo, Woody Harrelson, Isla Fisher, Morgan Freeman, and Michael Caine… none of whom have a proven track record of opening a picture whatsoever.

The film is a rather curious choice for a late May release and a bit of a gamble from Summit Entertainment. It comes with a reported $70 million budget, which isn’t anywhere near Iron Man, Star Trek, or Fast&Furious levels – but it’s still not small potatoes. I actually think it looks like it could be a lot of fun and I dig the cast, but I’m not sure this will get audiences to the multiplex. It has the feel of a “wait until DVD” title and while it’s been decently marketed, nothing about this shouts Event Movie… you know, like pretty much everything else out right now.

As I see it, if Now You See Me grosses above $20 million – that should be considered a victory. I am more inclined to predict a low to mid teens opening. If it gets decent reviews, perhaps it’ll have legs in future weekends.

Now You See Me opening weekend prediction: $14.2 million

That’s all for now. Tomorrow, I’ll make my predictions for next weekend’s Top Five.

After Earth Box Office Prediction

After Earth will go quite a ways towards answering this question at the box office over the weekend: how bankable is Will Smith anymore?

This is a very open question. The Fresh Prince has kept a relatively low-profile over the past few years. His only high-profile summer pic since 2008’s Hancock was last summer’s Men in Black 3. It earned $179 million domestically – not a bad number, but also the lowest of the trilogy. Smith had an incredible run from 1996 to 2008 where four of his films (Independence Day, Men in Black, I Am Legend, Hancock) earned over $200 million and seven others crossed the $100 million mark.

After Earth does not have the advantage of being a sequel or being based on a known property. The trailers, in my opinion, have been unimpressive. Earth features the actor costarring with his son, Jaden. The younger Smith had a giant hit of his own two years ago with the Karate Kid remake, produced by his dad. The story is based on Will’s original idea and is directed by M. Night Shyamalan. At one time, the fact that M. Night is behind the camera would have been a selling point for the studio. Those days have passed and I wrote an extensive post just yesterday focused on Shyamalan’s career:

https://toddmthatcher.wordpress.com/2013/05/25/the-rise-and-fall-of-m-night-shyamalan/

So – let’s get to the prediction, shall we? As I see it, anything above a $50 million opening should be considered a nice surprise for all involved here. I just don’t see that happening and I’m not seeing enough in the marketing campaign to justify that prediction. A better question is whether After Earth reaches $40 million. And I’m not even sure of that.

There’s a big part of me that wants to project a low-30s opening here. However, I’m going to give Smith a little bit of credit here with his ability to open a science fiction picture. This is a tough one and I could see this falling anywhere between $30-$50 million. Neither extreme would shock me. I may regret this, but I will say:

After Earth opening weekend prediction: $39.1 million

That’s all for now. Check back tomorrow for my opening weekend projection for Now You See Me, which also debuts Friday. On Wednesday, I’ll predict next weekend’s top five, including projections for how Fast and Furious 6, The Hangover Part III, and Epic hold up in their sophomore frames.

**Update: my opening weekend prediction for Now You See Me can be found here:

https://toddmthatcher.wordpress.com/2013/05/28/now-you-see-me-box-office-prediction/

Behind the Candelabra Movie Review

Though most of its events take place just three decades ago, Behind the Candelabra often feels as much of a period piece as Jane Austen or William Shakespeare. For those in my generation, Liberace is known as an immensely influential piano player who also happened to be gay.

What may not be known to many in my age bracket is that the performer was ferociously protective of his public image. He was successful in lawsuits against publications that insinuated his sexuality was anything but straight. According to Lee (as his friends knew him), he just had never found the right girl.

Behind the Candelabra is based on a book by Scott Thorson, Liberace’s companion and lover from the late seventies to mid-eighties. He is played by Matt Damon in one of the most impressive performances of his career. Liberace is portrayed wonderfully by Michael Douglas. Like Damon, this is a career highlight of a role. Douglas is not only doing an impersonation (and a good one at that), he infuses the role with character traits that Lee himself probably wouldn’t approve of.

As the film portrays it, Liberace was a man who wanted to completely control everything around him. This included not just his public image, but also controlling every aspect of his life that public didn’t see… and that he dared not show them.

His relationship with Scott is a prime example. After Liberace takes him under his feathered wings, he eventually insists on Scott getting plastic surgery to make him in his own image. He also puts Scott on a weight loss program – “the California diet” that consists of taking lots and lots of pills. This is all administered by Lee’s plastic surgeon who definitely practices what he preaches to ridiculous levels. The doc is played in a humorous performance from Rob Lowe. His work on Liberace himself leaves the piano prodigy unable to close his own eyes.

Lee’s control of Scott comes to unravel their once promising, if always slightly off-kilter relationship. It’s never fully determined whether Liberace wanted to be more of a father figure to his younger companion or just another fling (albeit a long one) before he tosses Scott aside for a younger model.

The last chapters of the picture focus on the disintegration of their union, which includes Scott’s growing cocaine addiction. This may all be based on fact, but it can’t help but have a been there, seen that effect on the viewer.

Where Candelabra succeeds best is its sense of time and place. Steven Soderbergh is always adept at providing a visual feast and his visualization of Vegas in this era is a treat. The pic is also littered with solid supporting players, from Dan Aykroyd at Lee’s fiercely protective agent to Debbie Reynolds as Lee’s mother, whose relationship with her son was complicated, even if the screenplay doesn’t delve into it that much.

Behind the Candelabra works the most as an experience when exploring Liberace’s fear and demons with his own sexuality. His unwillingness to come out is portrayed as an obvious choice and something he would dare not do. The fact that this was happening just three decades ago shows us how things have changed. Here’s a man who went out of his way to control everything, except he couldn’t ultimately control his own identity. After after his death, his manager goes out of his way to push a story that Lee died of heart failure and not of the real cause of death, the AIDS virus.

The release of Candelabra may ultimately show that things haven’t changed as much as we might think, however. It’s got an A-list director and A-list stars, but still couldn’t strike a deal for theatrical distribution due to its subject matter. HBO snapped up the rights and will likely be rewarded for it with high viewership. Had Candelabra been released theatrically, I wouldn’t be surprised if both Douglas and Damon had received Oscar nominations. The Emmys and the Golden Globes will probably take notice.

Parts of Behind the Candelabra might feel familiar, but the performances and occasional boldness of the story make it worthwhile.

*** (out of four)

Box Office Results: Memorial Day Weekend 2013

Moviegoers propelled the 2013 Memorial Day box office to record setting levels. The 2011 Memorial weekend was previously the biggest moneymaking frame when The Hangover Part II grossed a gargantuan $135 million. That record stands no more.

However, The Wolf Pack is not the primary reason why this time around. That honor belongs to Fast and Furious 6, which grossed a fantastic $120 million over the four-day frame. This comes in above my $106.8M projection. Clearly the goodwill from Fast Five (the franchise’s best reviewed and highest earning entry) and solid reviews for the sixth edition made this the must-see event of the weekend. The seventh Fast film is already slated to open next summer.

The news was not as good for the aforementioned Wolf Pack. The Hangover Part III opened to tepid reviews and received a “B” Cinemascore grade (for comparison, the second Hangover got an A-). It was starting to feel like audiences were souring on the franchise and this proved true. Part III grossed $51.2 million over the four-day frame and $63 million over the five-day frame (it opened Thursday, unlike the weekend’s other new entries). This is lower my projections of $60.3M and $77.4M over the four and five day, respectively. If a $63 million opening seems decent to you… well, not so much. Let me put it to you this way – that’s $72 million dollars lower than its predecessor’s opening gross just two years ago. Ouch.

Star Trek Into Darkness had an encouraging second weekend after a somewhat disappointing opening weekend. The JJ Abrams sequel earned $47 million over the holiday frame – above my $41M projection. A gross north of $200 million seems likely at this point.

The summer’s first animated feature Epic made a respectable $42.6 million, a tad below my $45.5M projection. It’s going to be a few weekends before Epic receives direct competition, so it should hold nicely for awhile.

Rounding out the top five is Iron Man 3 in its fourth weekend. It earned $24.4 million, slightly above my $21.7M estimate.

Tonight on the blog, I’ll make my projection for After Earth, Will Smith’s sci-fi flick opening this Friday. Tomorrow, my estimate for next weekend’s other opener, Now You See Me. Stay tuned!

Savages Movie Review

In Savages, director Oliver Stone take a rare break from making films about politics and instead concentrates on a fairly straightforward drug crime flick. There’s no grand statements about the drug war (this isn’t Traffic), but there is one fascinating subtext. A corrupt DEA agent (John Travolta) explains at one point that eventually the U.S. is going to legalize pot and it got me thinking about how all the bloody mayhem involved in this picture probably wouldn’t happen if that occurred. However, that’s a discussion for another day and it’s not the primary focus here.

Savages centers on two independent marijuana dealers – one is short fused Afghanistan War vet Chon (Taylor Kitsch) and the other is Ben (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), a Buddhist and more of a pacifist. Together, they make a fortune out of developing a potent product with highly elevated THC levels. Other than a successful business, they also share something else: Ophelia (known as O), played by Blake Lively, a beach babe who loves them both.

Naturally, Chon and Ben’s thriving company attracts the fascination of the Mexican drug cartels, who look to buy out the boys. When things don’t go as planned, O is kidnapped and thy must figure out a way to get her back.

We meet the disreputable cast of characters who make up the cartel. It’s headed by Elena (Salma Hayek), who inherited the business through her dead husband. She’s lost some of her children in brutal fashion as well and her daughter (who lives in the States) wants nothing to do with her. This is actually a fact that makes Elena proud. If you’ve been lucky enough to watch the documentary Cocaine Cowboys (if not, watch it immediately), you’ll notice that Elena’s character is very similar to Griselda Blanco, a real-life drug kingpin who was just recently assassinated. Elena is the best character in Savages – so much so that I wish the entire movie had been about her.

Elena’s enforcer Lado is played in a typically solid and slightly bizarre performance by Benicio Del Toro. He has a memorable scene with Travolta’s DEA agent that comes towards the end. Once again, the fine acting of Hayek, Del Toro, and Travolta and their dynamic could have been one unique picture.

Alas, Savages is more about Chon, Ben, and O. And therein lies the central flaw of the film… it’s central characters aren’t very special. Especially O. I will not blame Lively wholly for this, even though her performance is lackluster. It’s more that her character is written as nothing more than a dull pothead beach babe. Frankly, with her being the character in the most danger, it’s hard to really care much about what happens.

Savages is no doubt a stylish feast for the eyes. Stone is, of course, a heckuva director. And the secondary performances mentioned above are noteworthy. It’s the main troika of characters and their relationship that makes Savages a bit of a letdown, albeit a good looking one.

**1/2 (out of four)

The Rise and Fall of M. Night Shyamalan

The trajectory of M. Night Shyamalan’s directorial career is at a bit of a low point right now and it’s held there for around seven years. The release of the Will and Jaden Smith sci-fi pic After Earth this Friday will either continue that trend or reverse it. We’ll have our answer soon, but today we’ll explore the history of this important filmmaker and how we’ve gotten to the point Shyamalan is currently at.

At the age of 22, he made his directorial debut with Praying with Anger, which was never released for wide distribution and played the festival circuit. Per usual, M. Night wrote the feature as well. Shyamalan cast himself as the star of the picture which focused on Indian culture (the director was born in the country, but grew up in Pennsylvania). Released in 1992, Anger managed to gross $1.4 million and was shot on an $800,000 budget.

The moderate success of his first picture led to 1998’s Wide Awake, a dramedy starring Denis Leary, Dana Delany, and Rosie O’Donnell. Awake began M. Night’s trend of setting films in his adopted home state. It received mixed reviews and never really got much of a theatrical release. Shot in 1995 on a $6 million budget and released three whole years later, it earned a tepid $282,000.

Based on his first two efforts, there was really no reason to believe Shyamalan would break out in the Hollywood scene in a major way. However, then 1999 came along and changed everything. This happened in the form of The Sixth Sense, released stateside on August 6, the director’s 29th birthday. Starring Bruce Willis and child actor Haley Joel Osment, The Sixth Sense became the most buzzed about summer 1999 title. The supernatural thriller about young Osment seeing dead people struck an unexpected chord with audiences and critics. It currently sits at 85% on Rotten Tomatoes.

An absolutely astonishing $293 million gross domestically and $672 million worldwide would be the result. 11 year-old Osment received an Oscar nomination, as did Toni Collette playing his mother. Willis was snubbed in my view for a Best Actor nomination. Most importantly, Sense earned a Best Picture nomination and nods for Shyamalan for his direction and original screenplay.

The Sixth Sense immediately vaulted Shyamalan into a superstar among directors. Even most blockbuster films don’t earn their director a ton of name recognition. This was not the case here. There were Hitchcock and Spielberg comparisons as critics and moviegoers marveled at the ingenious screenplay and, of course, the surprise ending was truly surprising. That ending assisted in getting audiences back for repeat viewings, which no doubt contributed to its gargantuan box office numbers.

The goodwill garnered by Sense would cause a breathless anticipation for Night’s follow-up, which hit multiplexes just fifteen months later. In November 2000 came Unbreakable, with Bruce Willis returning in the starring role and assisted by Samuel L. Jackson and Robin Wright Penn. As much as I love Bruce Willis, he’s never been a consistent box office draw when you examine his filmography. Shyamalan’s name propelled Unbreakable to a fantastic $30 million opening. However, the picture showed the first chink in the armor of Night’s invincibility. Audiences weren’t thrilled with it, at least not anywhere to the extent of Sixth Sense. While moviegoers were blown away with the “he’s been dead the whole time” shock value of that surprise ending, the revelation of Bruce’s character in Unbreakable being a superhero didn’t wow folks. Unbreakable would earn $95 million domestically – a far cry from its predecessor’s numbers. It would receive mixed reviews and is at 68% on the Tomato meter.

My take? I really dug Unbreakable. I found it to be a very clever superhero origin story and subsequent viewing have elevated my view of it. Like most first-time watchers, I found myself confused at the direction the film took in my theater experience. But I’ve grown to appreciate Unbreakable and consider it to be a worthwhile experience that once again features assured direction and a fine Willis performance.

Less than two years later, Night would be back in Sixth Sense territory with another audience and critical triumph. Arriving in the summer of 2002, Signs was maybe or maybe not an alien invasion flick as the trailers toyed with us in brilliant fashion. Starring Mel Gibson and Joaquin Phoenix as farmers who notice strange crop dust patterns in their field, Signs was a suspenseful and seriously clever genre pic that delivered. When we find out that Signs is indeed an alien invasion pic via that birthday party in Mexico, it is film magic of the highest order. This is my favorite Shyamalan movie and one of 2002’s greatest titles. Signs would bring in a domestic gross of $227 million – less than Sixth Sense, but still terrific. It’s Tomato Meter is at 74%.

Two years later, the summer of 2004 would bring The Village, set in the 19th century and featuring creatures in the woods terrorizing a village. Or… is the movie about that? The Village would feature much of what we had come to expect from Night’s works, especially the surprise ending. However, it was The Village that also began to accentuate issues with his pictures: actors delivering their lines with zero emotion, dialogue that could be laughable at spots, and pacing that took a little too much time. The director’s name would allow The Village a $114 million domestic gross. Not bad, but nowhere near Sense or Signs levels. And audiences disliked it even more than Unbreakable. Critics weren’t wild about it either with a 43% Rotten Tomatoes total. I certainly found it to be the weakest of his mainstream features up to that point, but I thought it was OK overall. Still, The Village was the origin point of a downward spiral that has yet to reverse.

The summer of 2006 would end Night’s solid box office run and it would decimate his standing with critics as well. Lady in the Water, starring Paul Giamatti and Village costar Bryce Dallas Howard, landed with a thud. Focusing on an apartment complex maintenance man who finds a water nymph in the pool, Lady was simply bizarre. In many spots, it was badly written and featured truly laughable dialogue along the way. It tanked at the box office with only $42 million domestically, as well as an embarrassing 24% on Rotten Tomatoes. The excitement that Night had built with The Sixth Sense and Signs was gone and his name connected to a movie was no longer a selling point.

Night’s 2008 summer film The Happening starring Mark Wahlberg wouldn’t help the situation. While the picture, which is basically about plants turning people into homicidal maniacs, outdid Lady‘s gross with $64 million – audiences hated it on the same level. The critics were brutal and a 17% Tomato meter evidenced that. There are times watching The Happening where you’re totally cracking up unintentionally. Pretty sure that’s not what Shyamalan was going for. Wahlberg, a very talented actor, is also just awful in it. The combination of Lady in the Water and The Happening had severely soured Night’s reputation, less than a decade after The Sixth Sense made him one of the most famous directors on Earth.

Shyamalan would move away from scary and twisty thrillers with The Last Airbender, released in the summer of 2010. He would also move away from his screenplays being based on original material. Airbender was based on a Nickelodeon series and aimed squarely at a kid/young adult audience. Somewhat surprisingly, the picture grossed a rock solid $131 million domestically, Night’s highest earner statewide since Signs. It is worth noting that its American gross was less than its budget, which was a hefty $150 million. The movie would do little to improve Night’s reputation, however. Only 6% – yes six percent – of critics deemed it worthy of view on Rotten Tomatoes.

And that brings us to this weekend’s release of After Earth. This film is not based on Night’s original idea… it’s actually based on Will Smith’s idea that he brought to the director. Shyamalan did co-write the script for the sci-fi pic that comes with a $130 million budget. After Earth is notable in its advertising campaign. As it should, it focuses mainly on the fact that it’s a Will Smith sci-fi flick. The difference for Night this time around? Nowhere does it focus on him. At all. It’s almost as if the studio doesn’t want you to know he directed it… like it’s more of a hindrance than a selling point. It was less than a decade ago that the possibility of that would have been ludicrous.

Times have changed for Night, however. And the question that will be answered this Friday is whether After Earth continues the bad news for the director or reverses the audience and critical distaste for him.