River Phoenix: 20 Years Later

Today marks 20 years ago that an incredibly promising acting career was cut tragically short due to drug addiction.

At the age of 23, Oscar nominee River Phoenix collapsed outside the Viper Room in Los Angeles due to a heroin and cocaine overdose. In just an eight year period, Phoenix had earned the status of one of the finest actors of his generation. His first film role came alongside a young Ethan Hawke in Joe Dante’s 1985 cult sci-fi flick Explorers.

By the following year, River really broke out with roles in Rob Reiner’s terrific Stand by Me and alongside Harrison Ford in the well-reviewed The Mosquito Coast.

In 1988, Mr. Phoenix received a Supporting Actor nod for his impressive work in Sidney Lumet’s Running on Empty, which is a picture well worth seeking out.

In 1989, Phoenix’s biggest commercial success would come in the opening scenes of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade where he played a young Indy quite believably.

In 1991, he would costar with Keanu Reeves in Gus Van Sant’s acclaimed My Own Private Idaho, where he won the National Society of Film Critics Award for Best Actor. That same year he starred with Lili Taylor in the critical favorite Dogfight.

More commercial success would follow in 1992 with Sneakers, in which he played a supporting role alongside heavyweights Robert Redford, Ben Kingsley, and Sidney Poitier.

It’s hard to imagine, but River Phoenix would only be 43 years old if not for the fateful Halloween evening in 1993. There is little doubt that his career would have persisted onwards and upwards alonside contemporaries like Johnny Depp, Brad Pitt, and Leonardo DiCaprio.

The family legacy has certainly continued. It was River’s younger brother who placed the 911 call while River fought for his life. Joaquin Phoenix and his brilliant work in Walk the Line, The Master, and his Oscar buzzworthy turn in the upcoming Her carries on the tradition of great acting that his big brother started.

Box Office Predictions: November 1-3

It isn’t often you have a weekend showcasing three new pictures that all stand reasonable shots at opening in first place, but that’s the situation we find ourselves for the first weekend of November 2013. We have the sci-fi epic Ender’s Game, the animated Thanksgiving tale Free Birds, and the all-star comedy Last Vegas all debuting. You could make legit arguments for any one of them being the weekend’s champ. You can find my individual prediction posts on all three here:




The odds-on favorite is Ender’s Game and I have it easily taking the top spot. However, there is the chance it could flop and allow one of the others to leapfrog it. Free Birds could capitalize on its Thanksgiving subject matter. Last Vegas could cash in on the star power of Robert De Niro, Morgan Freeman, Michael Douglas, and Kevin Kline.

Ultimately, though, I’m not betting against Ender’s Game winning the weekend. As for holdovers, it could be a tight race for the four spot as Gravity will likely experience its typical small decline while last weekend’s #1 Bad Grandpa is poised to fall more than 50%.

Outside of the top five, Oscar front runner 12 Years a Slave expands to 400 theaters and could take in $3.5-$4 million.

And with that, my predictions for the weekend’s top five:

1. Ender’s Game

Predicted Gross: $32.9 million

2. Free Birds

Predicted Gross: $21 million

3. Last Vegas

Predicted Gross: $19.2 million

4. Gravity

Predicted Gross: $13.9 million (representing a drop of 31%)

5. Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa

Predicted Gross: $13.7 million (representing a drop of 57%)

Free Birds Box Office Prediction

Not enough animated movies this year after Escape from Planet Earth, The Croods, Epic, Monsters University, Despicable Me 2, Turbo, Planes, and Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2? Have no fear – the Thanksgiving themed Free Birds is out Friday.

Featuring the voices of Owen Wilson, Woody Harrelson, and Amy Poehler, Free Birds is the first venture from Reel FX Animation Studios, distributed by Relativity Media. The company was formed to produce modestly budgeted animated titles and Birds comes with a reported $35 million price tag which is small for these types of pics. The best thing Free Birds has going for it is the timing factor. If its halfway decent, this should play pretty well into the Thanksgiving holiday frame and could experience smallish declines from week to week throughout November.

Whether this means it’ll have a big opening is uncertain. The distributor has zero track record so that makes it a little tough to gauge. Anything below $20 million would have to be considered mildly disappointing. It’s rare for any wide release animated feature to fall much below that. A debut in the low 20s range where Turbo and Planes opened seems like a strong possibility. Of course, there’s always the chance this premieres higher than expected, but I’m not prognosticating it.

Free Birds opening weekend prediction: $21 million

For my Ender’s Game prediction, click here:


For my Last Vegas prediction, click here:


Last Vegas Box Office Prediction

The four stars of Last Vegas are all Oscar winners who have had long and respectable (for the most part) careers. The question is: can the star power of Robert De Niro, Michael Douglas, Morgan Freeman, and Kevin Kline propel this gimmicky sounding exercise to box office success?

You can put me down as highly uncertain. The flexibility on how Last Vegas opens is wide. The pic puts the quartet in a bachelor party setting and The Hangover for senior citizens tag has been thrown around a lot. This is the type of flick that could stall and reach low teens. It could also strike a chord with older audiences and open much bigger than most prognosticators assume – like over $25 million or $30 million. I’m skeptical that Last Vegas reaches those milestones, but I won’t be shocked if it does.

The most sensible prediction is high teens-to low 20s in my view. Still, there’s no doubt that Vegas remains a bit of a question mark to me as neither a $12 million or $32 million debut would totally surprise me.

Last Vegas opening weekend prediction: $19.2 million

For my Ender’s Game opening weekend prediction, click here:


For my Free Birds prediction, click here:


Ender’s Game Box Office Prediction

Based on a popular series of novels by Orson Scott Card that began in 1985, the sci-fi action pic Ender’s Game arrives in theaters Friday with a reported $110 million budget and a built-in audience that will analyze it closely.

Starring Asa Butterfield as the title character with a solid supporting cast that includes Harrison Ford, Ben Kingsley, True Grit‘s Hailee Steinfeld, Viola Davis, and Abigail Breslin, there is likely hope that Ender’s Game spawns a franchise. The pic has been well promoted and, as mentioned, its source material is known to many.

How will this translate to its opening? There is uncertainty surrounding it. Let’s take a look at some other openings in 2013 for high-profile sci-fi flicks that aren’t sequels:

Pacific Rim opening: $37.2 million

Elysium opening: $29.8 million

After Earth opening: $27.5 million

Ender’s Game currently stands at 71% on Rotten Tomatoes so critics are mostly on its side. The pic should debut at #1 unless other new entries Last Vegas or Free Birds debut bigger than expected. Ender’s Game could eclipse the openings of the aforementioned trio (above $40M is possible), though I’m predicting it’ll fall short of that and below what Pacific Rim managed. A debut in the low to mid 30s seems like the right call.

Ender’s Game opening weekend prediction: $32.9 million

For my Last Vegas opening weekend prediction, click here:


For my Free Birds prediction, click here:


Box Office Results: October 25-27

The three-week domination of Alfonso Cuaron’s Gravity is over and it is Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa becoming the only other #1 film in the month of October with an impressive debut. Grandpa earned $32 million in its debut, above my $28.3M prediction. This marks the second highest opening in the Jackass franchise and shows that the series hasn’t even come close to losing any steam.

Gravity fell to the #2 spot with $20.3 million in its fourth frame, slightly below my $21.2M prediction. It currently stands at $199 million and the possibility of reaching $300M domestic is still alive (especially when it starts earning Oscar nominations in the beginning of 2014).

In its third weekend, Paul Greengrass’s Captain Phillips with Tom Hanks was third with $11.8 million, slightly higher than my $10.9M estimate. Phillips stands at $70M and should cross the century mark later on.

Ridley Scott’s The Counselor could not capitalize on its all-star cast that included Michael Fassbender, Brad Pitt, Cameron Diaz, Penelope Cruz, and Javier Bardem. Riding a wave of mostly negative reviews, The Counselor flopped with only $8 million for a fourth place showing, well below my $13.8M prediction. Moviegoers were simply ambivalent about the pic and I have no doubt that the weak reviews certainly didn’t help.

The Carrie remake received zero help from the Halloween time frame and tumbled 63% in its sophomore frame with only $5.9 million – below my $7.6M estimate. This actually put the horror flick in sixth place and allowed the animated Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2 to be #5 with $6.1M.

Outside of the top five, the acclaimed 12 Years a Slave was #8, grossing a robust $2.1 million on only 123 screens. The picture, which is looked at as an Oscar front runner, expands to more screens this Friday.

Be sure to check the blog later today when I’ll have prediction posts up for next weekend’s trio of newbies: Ender’s Game, Last Vegas, and Free Birds.

The Internship Movie Review

The point of an internship in real life is to lead to something better. Ironic because that’s what happens as I watched The Internship with Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson. Also ironic because the song “Ironic” by Alanis Morrisette is featured prominently in the opening scene. We keep wanting the script to give us something more than a formulaic tale of two old-timers entering the tech world complete with cliched characters and stale jokes. It doesn’t.

The selling point of The Internship is obviously the reunion of Vaughn and Wilson eight years after their 2005 smash Wedding Crashers. It’s a little surprising just how safe this follow-up plays it. The most curious decision is to make it PG-13 when their first collaboration was heralded as a welcome return to raunchy R-rated comedy.

Vaughn and Wilson play watch salesmen whose company falls victim to the fact that everyone checks the time on their cell phone (though last time I checked, lots of people still own watches). The duo decide to apply for an internship at Google and they are grouped with a gang of much younger computer nerds. The team must face off against other teams, one of which is headed by a bully (Max Minghella, who appeared in the Citizen Kane of Internet films The Social Network).

None of this is particularly fresh or interesting. Vaughn and Wilson spend most of the movie coasting on their chemistry together, but the screenplay (co-written by Vaughn) doesn’t bring the funny. We also have a tacked-on romantic subplot between Wilson and Rose Byrne that is just dull. Even cameos by John Goodman and a certain comic superstar who also had a surprise appearance in Crashers add little to the proceedings.

Towards the third act of The Internship, we start to get the feeling through Vaughn and co-writer Jared Stern’s dialogue that they may have something worthwhile to say about the current tech age. There are nibbles here and there about how the younger generation can’t communicate with people as well as older generations. A scene where the two stars convince a business to join the computer age is fairly well-written. It mostly never materializes though.

The only serious problem I had with Wedding Crashers was it could have probably been fifteen minutes shorter and that same complaint applies here with its bloated 120 minute running time. Crashers had a heckuva lot going for it though. Real chemistry between Wilson and Rachel McAdams over a boring subplot here. Outrageous R-rated comedy over conservative PG-13 jokes. A truly hilarious Will Ferrell cameo over a forgettable one.

Anything with these two stars will have a few laughs and Vaughn and Wilson give us that occasionally. There’s no question, however, that when you do a Yahoo or Bing search on Best Vaughn/Wilson comedy, this won’t be it. I could have said another search engine company that you might have heard of, but they just got two long hours of product placement in the film I just watched.

** (out of four)

Box Office Predictions: October 25-27

Unless it earns less than half of what Jackass 3D took in for an opening three years ago, Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa with Johnny Knoxville should knock Gravity off its three week perch of being #1. The weekend’s other newbie is Ridley Scott’s The Counselor with an impressive cast and curiously, a so-so marketing campaign and no reviews at press time. You can read my prediction posts on both newcomers here:



Gravity lost about 30% of its audience from week two to three and I’d expect roughly the same for this weekend. A low 30s drop seems likely for Captain Phillips in week three. And, finally, Carrie opened to a disappointing third place showing in its debut and could easily fall over 50% in its sophomore frame.

And with that, my prediction for this weekend’s top five:

1. Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa

Predicted Gross: $28.3 million

2. Gravity

Predicted Gross: $21.2 million (representing a drop of 29%)

3. The Counselor

Predicted Gross: $13.8 million

4. Captain Phillips

Predicted Gross: $10.9 million (representing a drop of 33%)

5. Carrie

Predicted Gross: $7.6 million (representing a drop of 52%)

As always, I’ll have updates on the blog’s Facebook page Saturday with final results Sunday!

The Counselor Box Office Prediction

It’s got some incredibly talented and well-respected people involved but will The Counselor break out of the pack and be a hit? Ridley Scott directs this crime drama that boasts an original screenplay from acclaimed novelist Cormac McCarthy. It stars Shame and X-Men First Class star Michael Fassbender and features an all-star supporting cast that includes Brad Pitt, Cameron Diaz, Penelope Cruz, and Javier Bardem.

With that kind of pedigree, The Counselor could have a healthy opening above $20 million. However, I don’t think it’s going to happen. The marketing campaign has only been so-so and the TV spots really don’t make it clear what the film is about. Curiously, we’ve seen no mainstream reviews out five days before its debut so buzz (whether it turns out positive or negative) is nonexistent at this juncture. While Fassbender is certainly well-respected, he’s got no track record of opening a film. This could all spell out a muted opening for The Counselor.

While it’s certainly one of my most anticipated releases of the season, there’s been plenty of recent titles catering to an adult audience (Gravity, Captain Phillips, Prisoners). The possibility of The Counselor getting somewhat lost in the shuffle seems very real. I’m going with a debut in the mid-teens.

The Counselor opening weekend prediction: $13.8 million

For my Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa prediction, click here:


Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa Box Office Prediction

For over a decade now, the Jackass franchise has been a mightily profitable one for Paramount and MTV Films. Based on the popular MTV series, Jackass: The Movie opened to $22.7 million in the fall of 2002. Four years later, Jackass Number Two debuted to $29 million. Four years following that, Jackass 3D took in an amazing $50.4 million for its opening.

This Friday brings us Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa in which star Johnny Knoxville portrays said Grandpa, one of the more known characters from the show’s history. This could properly be called a spin-off of the franchise and the trailers claim that it’s all real people reacting to Grandpa’s antics. Bad Grandpa appears to be modeled more after the kind of pics that Sasha Baron Cohen makes.

Bad Grandpa looks to be a true test as to just how hot this franchise still is. A lot of the moviegoers that grew up with Jackass are getting older. Will they turn out? I highly doubt this venture can even approach what Jackass 3D made in 2010. Its enormous opening was way beyond what most thought it could do, but it did have the advantage of higher ticket prices due to the 3D technology.

My gut tells me Bad Grandpa is more likely to debut around the numbers of the first two franchise flicks. It could certainly surprise with a gross north of $30 million but I’m not seeing it. What Bad Grandpa should do is end the three-week reign of the juggernaut Gravity. However, the trend of each Jackass pic opening bigger than the last should end here.

Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa opening weekend prediction: $28.3 million

For my prediction on Ridley Scott’s The Counselor, click here: