The Trailer Awakens The Movie Geek

For movie geeks around the globe, this particular Black Friday will not be remembered for long lines at Wal-Mart or Best Buy. No no. Today has seen the debut of arguably the most eagerly awaited movie trailer of all time for Star Wars: The Force Awakens, which opens December 18, 2015.

There will all kinds of critiquing of the film’s 88 second trailer and I’ll leave that to others to pontificate on. Here’s my professional movie blogger reaction:


That about covers it. Why? Just the sight of Han Solo’s iconic spacecraft gave me movie geek goosebumps. After all, it’s George Lucas’s creation 37 years ago that spawned the blockbuster era we’ve been living in ever since. Harry Potter? The Avengers? The Hunger Games? They all owe a huge part of their existence to the galaxy far, far away.

The fact that we will see Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, and Carrie Fisher return to the roles of Luke, Han, and Princess Leia is, frankly, a film lover’s bonus that was once thought highly unlikely. The fact that JJ Abrams is in control of the franchise’s new entry inspires nothing but confidence. The Force Awakens will be scrutinized on a level that is perhaps unheard of so far. At the very least, movie geeks hope it will easily eclipse the disappointing results from 1999 when The Phantom Menace simply didn’t meet expectations – for reasons more than just Jar Jar Binks.

Star Wars, at its best, has the ability to inspire hope in those who love it. And this trailer inspires that hope.

And did I mention – The Millennium Freakin’ Falcon?!?!?!?!

Thanksgiving Box Office Predictions: November 26-30

The term “leftovers” has some real meaning as sequels are likely to populate the top three slots of the Thanksgiving 2014 box office. Penguins of Madagascar and Horrible Bosses 2 will both attempt to unseat The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 for the top spot. You can read my detailed prediction posts on the two newcomers here:

As I see it, Hunger Games should manage to stay #1, despite the fact that it opened considerably below its two predecessors (more on that below). I expect a drop just over 50%, just like last year’s Catching Fire. Holdovers Big Hero 6 and Interstellar should round out the top five and experience small declines due to the holiday frame.

Since it’s a long holiday weekend, I’ll do the top five predictions for both the traditional Friday to Sunday weekend and extended Wednesday to Sunday five day:

1. The Hunger Games – Mockingjay – Part 1

Predicted Gross: $57.9 million (Fri to Sun), $85.7 million (Wed to Sun) – representing a drop of 52%

2. Penguins of Madagascar

Predicted Gross: $40.1 million (Fri to Sun), $54.7 million (Wed to Sun)

3. Horrible Bosses 2

Predicted Gross: $28.6 million (Fri to Sun), $38.3 million (Wed to Sun)

4. Big Hero 6

Predicted Gross: $17 million (Fri to Sun), $24.8 million (Wed to Sun) – representing a drop of 15%

5. Interstellar

Predicted Gross: $10.9 million (Fri to Sun), $15.5 million (Wed to Sun) – representing a drop of 30%

Box Office Results (November 21-23)

It was a fascinating opening for The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1. As expected, it managed the largest opening of 2014 with $122.6 million, easily besting the $100M that Transformers: Age of Extinction took in this summer. However, it was easily the lowest opening of the franchise by nearly $30M. This means it came in well below my generous $155.8M prediction. One must wonder if there’s some franchise fatigue here and it remains to be seen how the third entry in the series holds up in subsequent weekends.

Big Hero 6 was second with $20.1 million, a bit below my $22.4M projection. The Disney hit has taken in $135M so far and should find its way past $200M and more.

Interstellar was third with $15.3 million, just below my $16.3M estimate. The Christopher Nolan pic stands at $120M and is likely to struggle to reach $200M.

Dumb and Dumber To fell hard from the top spot with $14 million in its sophomore frame, below my $16M prediction. It’s earned $57M so far and is unlikely to reach $100M.

Gone Girl was fifth with $2.8 million, just under my $3.2M estimate. Its total is at $156M. Beyond the Lights was sixth in weekend #2 with $2.6 million, under my $3.3M projection. It’s made just $10M.

That’s all for now, folks! Enjoy your turkey and, hopefully, a movie!

The LEGO Movie Review

The central theme of The LEGO Movie is ultimately about allowing one’s creative impulses to be set free and not conforming to the set ways of the world. That statement could apply to the directors and writers of this picture, Phil Lord and Christopher Miller. A movie based on the timeless LEGO toys might have made its studio a lot of money regardless of its quality. Yet Lord and Miller allow their creativity to run wild and what results is a highly entertaining experience that no doubt will serve as the building block (so to speak) of a new franchise.

We begin in the community of Bricksburg, where regular old construction worker Emmet (Chris Pratt) is perfectly happy with the micro-managed society that’s run with an iron fist (or acrylonitrile butadiene styrene fist, to be technically accurate) by President Business (Will Ferrell). The truth is that the dastardly President has plans to end the LEGO Universe and that Emmet may or may not be The Special or Master Builder (think Chosen One) who must save the world. Emmet’s journey partners him with Wyldstyle (Elizabeth Banks), a hipster who would be the traditional love interest if she weren’t dating Batman… yes, Batman (voiced marvelously by Will Arnett). There’s also a wise old wizard who is naturally voiced by Morgan Freeman and a humorous “good cop/bad cop” character figure voiced by Liam Neeson. The team of resistors to President Business’s schemes journey through visually splendid other worlds such as The Old West and Middle Zealand and even come across friends from a galaxy far far away. This is in addition to a little help from the 2002 NBA All Stars, which includes Shaquille O’Neal.

In case you’re already picking it up, The LEGO Movie is jam packed with pop culture references. There’s a lot here to keep adults smiling as much as the kids. Miller and Lord also get in their digs at corporate culture – many are quite clever, some are a bit well-worn. The voice over work is filled with smart choices and Chris Pratt now has two 2014 film heroes that youngsters will idolize.

There’s a “twist” later in the proceedings that truly did surprise me and it creates a level of emotion that I didn’t expect. It isn’t quite Pixar when it reaches its heart tugging heights (think another animated franchise about toys or Up), but it works very well. Emmet’s main problem for awhile is not believing he has the capability to be exceptional in a world that prides itself in conformity. President Business and others don’t want to allow for the innovations of others. The LEGO Movie shows its audience how important it is to strive to be unique and also be part of a team and that’s a good message for all of us. And kudos to Warner Bros. for allowing its filmmakers the chance to take what could have been an assembly line cash cow and make it something… well, pretty special.

***1/2 (out of four)

Todd’s Oscar Predictions: ROUND THREE (November Edition)

November brings us my third edition of my Oscar predictions in the eight major categories. Since October’s round of predictions, a few important things have happened. First and foremost, Ana DuVernay’s Martin Luther King Civil Rights pic Selma has screened for critics and vaulted itself into a major contender… and not just for nominations. Disney’s Into the Woods screened just last night and it too has entered the fray. The only film left unseen is Angelina Jolie’s Unbroken, but it remains a potential force to be reckoned with.

Let’s go through the categories one by one and I’ll point out what changes have transpired in the last few weeks!

Best Adapted Screenplay

Only one change here as I’ve taken out American Sniper and subbed in Into the Woods. The other four nominees seem like sure things for the most part. If Woods or Sniper don’t get in, Inherent Vice, Still Alice, or Wild are other possibles.

Predicted Nominees

Gone Girl

The Imitation Game

Into the Woods

The Theory of Everything


Best Original Screenplay

I had Interstellar in a month ago, but this seems unlikely after the main complaints of critics was the script. Foxcatcher is out as well as it seems to be losing momentum in the Academy derby. I’ve put it Selma and Whiplash in their place. I’m still keeping in The Grand Budapest Hotel, though many prognosticators have it out of competition. A Most Violent Year and Mr. Turner could get in, too.

Predicted Nominees



The Grand Budapest Hotel



Best Supporting Actress

We have a couple changes here as Meryl Streep (Into the Woods) and Carmen Ejogo (Selma) join the mix, supplanting Laura Dern (Wild) and Kristen Stewart (Still Alice). Other possibles include Carrie Coon (Gone Girl) and Jessica Chastain (A Most Violent Year).

Predicted Nominees

Patricia Arquette, Boyhood

Carmen Ejogo, Selma

Keira Knightley, The Imitation Game

Emma Stone, Birdman

Meryl Streep, Into the Woods

Best Supporting Actor

We’ll make this simple – this is the one race where nothing has changed prediction wise! If any of my predictions falter – keep an eye out for Tom Wilkinson and Tim Roth (both for Selma), Josh Brolin (Inherent Vice), or Robert Duvall (The Judge).

Predicted Nominees

Ethan Hawke, Boyhood

Miyavi, Unbroken

Edward Norton, Birdman

Mark Ruffalo, Foxcatcher

J.K. Simmons, Whiplash

Best Actress

Just one alteration here as I’ve taken out Amy Adams for Big Eyes and substituted Emily Blunt for Into the Woods. Others with surprise nomination shots are Marion Cotillard (Two Days, One Night), Hilary Swank (The Homesman), and Jennifer Aniston (Cake).

Predicted Nominees

Emily Blunt, Into the Woods

Felicity Jones, The Theory of Everything

Julianne Moore, Still Alice

Rosamund Pike, Gone Girl

Reese Witherspoon, Wild

Best Actor

The most competitive category of all appears to have four shoo-ins now: Benedict Cumberbatch, Michael Keaton, David Oyelowo, and Eddie Redmayne. This is actually the first time I’ve included Oyelowo after Selma screened, so I’ve removed Jack O’Connell in Unbroken. The fifth slot is tough – it could be O’Connell, Timothy Spall (Mr. Turner), Oscar Isaac (A Most Violent Year), Bradley Cooper (American Sniper), or even Jake Gyllenhall (Nightcrawler) or Ralph Fiennes (The Grand Budapest Hotel). For now, though, I’m sticking with Steve Carell in Foxcatcher, despite its downgrading among many for possible nominations.

Predicted Nominees

Steve Carell, Foxcatcher

Benedict Cumberbatch, The Imitation Game

Michael Keaton, Birdman

David Oyelowo, Selma

Eddie Redmayne, The Theory of Everything

Best Director

Last month, I included high profile auteurs David Fincher (Gone Girl) and Christopher Nolan (Interstellar). They’re out and Ana DuVernay (Selma) and Morten Tyldum (The Imitation Game) are in. Oscar could make some history if DuVernay makes it in. She’d be the first African American woman to be recognized in this category. Additionally, my current estimates that include her and Angelina Jolie would mark the first time two women are up for the award.

Predicted Nominees

Ana DuVernay, Selma

Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, Birdman

Angelina Jolie, Unbroken

Richard Linklater, Boyhood

Morten Tyldum, The Imitation Game

Best Picture

I’m still sticking with nine predicted nominees yet a third of them have changed. Gone are Gone Girl, Foxcatcher, and American Sniper. They all have decent shots still, along with A Most Violent Year, Mr. Turner, and The Grand Budapest Hotel. Joining the mix are Selma (a no brainer now) and less sure things Into the Woods and Whiplash. I’m still including Interstellar, though that’s an iffy proposition.

Predicted Nominees



The Imitation Game


Into the Woods


The Theory of Everything



We’ll have a fourth round of December predictions soon enough, friends! Until then…

Penguins of Madagascar Box Office Prediction

Dreamworks Animation rolls out a spin-off of their popular Madagascar franchise with Penguins of Madagascar, out Wednesday for the long Thanksgiving box office weekend. Featuring the voices of Benedict Cumberbatch, John Malkovich, and Ken Jeong, Penguins will have some competition with the third weekend of Big Hero 6 still bringing family audiences in.

Still, the history of the Madagascar pictures is a profitable one. The original in 2005 debuted to $47 million on its way to a $193M domestic gross. The follow-up, 2008’s Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa, opened with $63 million for an eventual $180M take. 2012’s Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted got off to a $60 million start and then a franchise best $216M overall gross.

Penguins is unlikely to reach the heights of the two last two entries out of the gate, but I’ll predict it tops the $50M mark for its Turkey Day five-day premiere.

Penguins of Madagascar opening weekend prediction: $40.1 million (Friday to Sunday), $54.7 million (Wednesday to Sunday)

For my prediction on Horrible Bosses 2, click here:

Horrible Bosses 2 Box Office Prediction

The Turkey Day box office frame showcases a sequel to a well regarded comedy that came out three and a half years ago as Horrible Bosses 2 opens Wednesday. Jason Bateman, Jason Sudeikis, and Charlie Day are back along with returnees Jennifer Aniston, Jamie Foxx, and Kevin Spacey. Newbies Christoph Waltz and Chris Pine join the fray as well.

In the summer of 2011, the original Bosses debuted to a robust $28 million on its way to a $117M domestic take. Those grosses were strong enough to warrant this sequel. Reviews have not been on its side as it currently holds a tepid 11% on Rotten Tomatoes (compared to its predecessor’s 69% rating). However, its opening weekend should be somewhat critic proof before lackluster word of mouth could cause large drop-offs in future weekends. After all, bad reviews didn’t hurt Dumb and Dumber To one bit.

I’ll predict Horrible Bosses 2 opens with just about what the first did for its Friday to Sunday frame while inching close to $40M for the five-day frame.

Horrible Bosses 2 opening weekend prediction: $28.6 million (Friday to Sunday), $38.3 million (Wednesday to Sunday)

For my Penguins of Madagascar prediction, click here:

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 Movie Review

Everything is toned down in The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 from the makeup and hair of Elizabeth Banks to Woody Harrelson’s alcoholism to, most importantly, the tone of the franchise. Hell, even Stanley Tucci’s flamboyant talk show host seems to have gone all Charlie Rose on us. A lot of the excitement is toned down too. The result is what too often seems like a perfunctory bridging of the gap between Catching Fire and what hopefully will be a rousing conclusion to the blockbuster franchise a year from now. Where that leaves Part 1 is left to be determined by what we get in Part 2. For now, it leaves this particular picture as the weakest of The Hunger Games entries by a somewhat considerable margin.

When we last left Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) in 2013’s superb Catching Fire, her love interest Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) had been captured along with others by the dastardly Capitol, led by President Snow (Donald Sutherland, always oozing appropriate creepiness). The main focus here is Katniss’s efforts to eventually get him back. The question is whether or not Peeta’s mind has been corrupted by his captors. His imprisonment means Gale (Liam Hemsworth), best friend to Katniss, has got a legitimate shot at creating an old fashioned love triangle once again and the pic explores those issues.

We are also treated to the sight of some truly fine actors sitting around a lot talking about politics and rebellion – including returnees Harrelson, Jeffrey Wright, and the late, great Philip Seymour Hoffman. They’re all assisting the effort of bringing President Snow’s reign to an end and it’s Julianne Moore as the latest terrific actor joining the club as District 13’s President.

Mockingjay – Part 1, as has been noted by others, doesn’t exactly require The Hunger Games moniker ahead of its title. There are no Hunger Games here and a more accurate title could have been The Propaganda Games. The leaders of District 13 are not shy about using Katniss as their symbol to topple the Snow regime and it even results in video cameramen following her to film her heroic exploits. This leaves our central character conflicted about her desire to free the people against her hope to reunite with Peeta.

Jennifer Lawrence has created a heroine for the movie ages with her performances in this franchise and her strong work doesn’t let up here. She’s not the problem here and neither are the other actors – though I’ve never quite been sold on Hutcherson in his important role. The problem is not Francis Lawrence’s adequate direction, even though the action scenes don’t pop like they did in Catching Fire (there’s also not as many of them).

The issue is the Part 1 behind the title. I suspect there could have been a top-notch two and a half hour feature made from the Mockingjay novel. Lionsgate, for clear financial purposes, chose to divide it into two features (much like the Harry Potter and Twilight franchises before this). Due to that choice, Part 1 feels like a commercially viable stopgap made to monopolize profits.

Don’t get me wrong. If you’re a fan of this series (and I consider myself one), this is obviously required viewing. Yet the level of satisfaction provided here doesn’t match the first two films. It feels like half a movie and it’s about half as entertaining as Catching Fire was last year. Let’s hope that Part 2 provides a main course high on entertainment that could relegate this to “leftovers” status. Sometimes those leftovers are just as good as the main course. Not here despite the best efforts of its star, but you’ll need to get through this to get to the main course.

**1/2 (out of four)