Remembering Wes Craven

If a Mount Rushmore were to exist for horror film directors, there is no question that Wes Craven would be on it. Eyes wide open. Certainly not sleeping. It was with great sadness that film lovers learned of his death at age 76 due to a battle with brain cancer. His influence has been inescapable and that is no understatement. When I learned of his death, I was watching the MTV VMA’s (a horror show of a different kind) and the network was incessantly running promos for their TV version of Scream, based on the franchise he directed.

For over 40 years, Mr. Craven’s work was synonymous with being on the cutting edge of the horror genre. 1972’s The Last House on the Left and 1977’s The Hills Have Eyes are hard edged genre classics. 1984’s A Nightmare on Elm Street brought the slasher flick to new heights. 1996’s Scream both parodied horror movies while being a brilliantly effective one of its own.

These are the obvious titles that will be discussed with his work but allow me to put forth two more that probably won’t be focused on as much. 1988’s The Serpent and the Rainbow is a voodoo infused underrated effort that is definitely worth a look. 2005’s Red Eye is an effective B movie thriller with taut direction and quality performances from Rachel McAdams and Cillian Murphy.

Craven is also responsible for 1982’s fun monster pic Swamp Thing and directing Meryl Streep to an Oscar nomination in 1999’s drama Music of My Heart. There were missteps too. His 1995 Eddie Murphy vanity project Vampire in Brooklyn immediately comes to mind. The Scream sequels tended to go down in quality as they continued on.

Yet few filmmakers have defined and redefined a particular genre as much as Wes Craven. His works have and will continue to stand the test of time. One only needs to look at how many of his pictures have already been remade or spawned sequels. The original editions of Elm Street and Scream in particular stand as hallmarks of horror that will continue to make audiences lose sleep and laugh about it forever. When it’s impossible to imagine a genre of film without the contribution of one man, that’s a legacy of greatness. Few directors can make that claim. Wes Craven was one of them. Sleep well, Mr. Craven.

Box Office Predictions: September 4-7

Unlike most holiday weekend frames, Labor Day isn’t exactly known for studios bringing out heavy hitters and that remains unchanged in 2015. There are two new releases finding their way to theaters over the long weekend: franchise reboot The Transporter: Refueled and Robert Redford led A Walk in the Woods (which opens Wednesday). You can peruse my detailed prediction posts on each here:

I don’t expect much from either. While Transporter has a reasonable shot at debuting #1, a lot of summer holdovers end up doing more Labor Day weekend than they did the previous weekend. If that holds true for Straight Outta Compton, as I believe it will, that means it will be #1 for the fourth straight weekend. As I see it, Transporter could be second or third depending on how well Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation increases its gross. The Christian themed War Room got off to a much better than anticipated start, but I actually see it losing close to a third of its opening weekend audience while No Escape (which also debuted above expectations) may lose about a fourth. That would leave Mr. Redford and his Woods in sixth place.

And with that, my predictions for the four day Labor Day weekend top six:

  1. Straight Outta Compton

Predicted Gross: $14.3 million (representing an increase of 9%)

2. The Transporter: Refueled

Predicted Gross: $10.2 million

3. Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation

Predicted Gross: $9.9 million (representing an increase of 23%)

4. War Room

Predicted Gross: $7.7 million (representing a drop of 31%)

5. No Escape

Predicted Gross: $6 million

6. A Walk in the Woods

Predicted Gross: $4.3 million (Friday to Monday), $5.8 million (Wednesday to Monday)

Box Office Results (August 28-30)

The NWA biopic Straight Outta Compton made it a three peat this weekend with $13.1 million (just above my $12.5M estimate) to bring its impressive total to $134 million. While I pretty much got that right, I stumbled when it came to predicting the weekend’s newcomers.

The aforementioned War Room easily beat expectations with a terrific $11.3 million for second place (surging above my $5.7M prediction). Considering its reported $3M budget, this is a wonderful beginning for it.

Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation took third with $8.1 million, just beyond my $7.4M projection for a total of $170M.

Just behind Mission was the Owen Wilson/Pierce Brosnan thriller No Escape which also made $8.1 million over the traditional weekend and $10.1 million since its Wednesday debut. This outshines my respective predictions of $4.7M and $6.3M and is a better start than most anticipated.

Rounding out the top five was Sinister 2 in its sophomore frame with $4.6 million. I incorrectly had it outside the top five and its two week total is an unimpressive $18M.

Where I really went wrong was with the Zac Efron flick We Are Your Friends, which had an absolutely putrid $1.7 million start for only 13th place. I had it second with $10.9M… oops! Clearly audiences had zero interest in Friends and it managed only an embarrassing $770 per screen average.

And that’s all for now, friends! Until next time…

2015 Early Oscar Predictions: Best Supporting Actress

It’s hard to believe but we are two thirds of the way through the calendar year and that means my first round of incredibly early Oscar predictions are making their way to the blog! Some caveats: it’s early. Real early. Truth be told, most of the main contenders in all the major categories will be rolling out in the fall. Many will be screening at the upcoming film fests like Toronto and New York, among others. As always, those festivals will help the picture become clearer over the next couple of months. Usually by Thanksgiving or early December, we’ve got a pretty good idea on how things are looking.

That said, I started my predictions for 2014 at the same time last year. In the Supporting Actress race, which I’m covering today, my impossibly early predictions yielded two of the five eventual nominees, Laura Dern for Wild and winner Patricia Arquette in Boyhood. It’s also worth noting that I predicted Felicity Jones for The Theory of Everything, who was nominated in the Lead Actress category. Let’s talk about how things look right now:


Already we seem to have one performer who appears to be a shoo in for a nod: Rooney Mara for Todd Haynes’s 1950s set lesbian romance Carol, which premiered to raves at the Cannes Film Festival earlier this summer. It would be very shocking not to see Mara included, unless she’s campaigned for in the Actress race. That seems unlikely because the studio should be putting her costar Cate Blanchett in that race.

After that – much uncertainty. The Irish immigration drama Brooklyn hit the festival circuit to a rapturous response and that could bode well for Julie Walters. Director Quentin Tarantino knows how to get his actors nominated which could mean a nom for The Hateful Eight’s Jennifer Jason Leigh. Director David O. Russell is exceptional at seeing his performers gets nods and his December release Joy could see kudos for either Virginia Madsen or Diane Ladd (I’m leaving both off, for now).

Elizabeth Olsen has had some critically applauded roles and her performance as Hank Williams’ wife in the biopic I Saw the Light could garner attention. So could Kate Winslet in the upcoming Steve Jobs biopic.

The rest of the large field is filled with familiar names and some not. Remember the name Emayatzy Corinealdi for her work in the Don Cheadle/Miles Davis biopic Miles Ahead. And we have previous winners like Blanchett, Jane Fonda, Julia Roberts, Meryl Streep, Nicole Kidman and Rachel Weisz in the mix.


Jennifer Jason Leigh, The Hateful Eight

Rooney Mara, Carol

Elizabeth Olsen, I Saw the Light

Julie Walters, Brooklyn

Kate Winslet, Steve Jobs


Other Possibilities:

Elizabeth Banks, Love and Mercy

Cate Blanchett, Truth

Helena Bonham Carter,  Suffragette

Jessica Chastain, The Martian

Emayatzy Corinealdi, Miles Ahead

Marion Cotillard, Macbeth

Ann Dowd, Our Brand is Crisis

Jane Fonda, Youth

Nicole Kidman, Genius

Diane Ladd, Joy

Melanie Laurent, By the Sea

Laura Linney, Genius

Virginia Madsen, Joy

Helen Mirren, Trumbo

Ellen Page, Freeheld

Julia Roberts, The Secret in their Eyes

Amy Ryan, Bridge of Spies

Meryl Streep, Suffragette

Rachel Weisz, Youth

And there’s part one of my early Oscar picks. Supporting Actor coming your way tomorrow…

Furious 7 Movie Review

The adrenaline fused junk food soap opera that is the Fast and Furious franchise has met with real life in its seventh installment, Furious 7. The pic faced the unenviable task of addressing the death of one its signature stars Paul Walker, who lost his life in a car accident in 2013. The filmmakers handle it in a delicate and touching way at the conclusion and manage to give fans of the franchise what they’ve come to anticipate from this multicultural action fest. It’s got everything you’d expect: ridiculous and often cringe inducing one liners, incredibly choreographed sequences with cars doing things they have no business doing, beautiful scenery on both the human and geographical scale, and lots of dialogue about family (which hits closer than normal considering the events with Walker).

The plot of these proceedings is always secondary, of course. Furious 7 actually picks up after the events of Tokyo Drift, the series third entry and its weakest. This would be after the death of team member Han and our new villain is Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham), the older brother of part 6’s dearly departed villain Owen. Deckard is out for revenge and that means he’s targeting the whole crew, led by Dom (Vin Diesel), Brian (Walker), and Letty (Michelle Rodriguez), who’s still suffering from her amnesia as a result of her near death in part 4. The other usual suspects return including Tyrese Gibson, Ludacris, and Jordana Brewster. And there’s Dwayne Johnson back as Hobbs, the gloriously over the top federal agent who is responsible for some of the silliest bits of dialogue. One notable newcomer is Kurt Russell as a shadowy government agent and the veteran performer seems to be having a lot of fun.

Where the Furious movies succeed or fail depends mostly on the action set pieces and 7 has some dandies. The whole midsection set in Abu Dhabi gives us some real thrills, particularly a sequence involving a multi million dollar car crashing through multiple buildings. The eventual climax back in the homeland of Los Angeles involves predator drones, a pretty far cry from a franchise that used to be concerned with just car tricks. When part 5 was released, the Onion newspaper hilariously pontificated that its screenwriter Chris Morgan was actually a kindergartner. He continues to write these pictures and by my math, he’d be in fourth grade now. Sometimes it still feels as if an elementary student is writing the words here, but that’s not really the point. In Furious world, what counts is the adventure on the screen. And there’s plenty of excitement that James Wan (a new director to the series) conjures up here. It’s pretty simple. If you like this franchise, you’ll like what you see the seventh time around. And you might be a little surprised at how just a completely unsubtle series handles the loss of one its biggest stars with a subtle touch.

*** (out of four)

A Walk in the Woods Box Office Prediction

A host of recognizable faces populate this Wednesday’s adventure comedy A Walk in the Woods, but that may not mean it will be granted box office success. Robert Redford, Nick Nolte, Emma Thompson, Nick Offerman and Mary Steenburgen headline this pic based on a 1998 novel by travel writer Bill Bryson, whom Mr. Redford portrays. Ken Kwapis directs and he’s certainly had a fascinating career with titles like the Cyndi Lauper 1988 vehicle Vibes and Fran Drescher’s Beautician and the Beast to his credit.

Critics have not been impressed and the Rotten Tomatoes meter is currently at 45%. The marketing campaign has been subdued and there could be many moviegoers who simply aren’t aware of Woods existence. Its five day opening number is unlikely to reach double digits and I question whether even $5 million is feasible. I think it’ll just top that, which isn’t exactly an accomplishment.

A Walk in the Woods opening weekend prediction: $4.3 million (Friday to Sunday), $5.8 million (Wednesday to Monday)

For my The Transporter: Refueled prediction, click here:

The Transporter Refueled Box Office Prediction

On Labor Day weekend, the fourth entry in the Transporter franchise hits theaters nearly seven years after the third edition with The Transporter: Refueled. A lot has changed in the meantime. Most notably, the series star Jason Statham is nowhere to be found and English rapper/actor Ed Skrein is the leading man. Cowritten by Luc Besson, who’s scripted the other films, Refueled will attempt to revitalize a franchise that had begun losing steam with part three.

It won’t be an easy task. The original pic in 2002 debuted to $9 million with an eventual $25 million domestic take. 2005’s Transporter 2 marked the highs of the series with a $16 million premiere and $43 million eventual gross. 2008’s Transporter 3 made $12 million out of the gate with a $31 million haul. The absence of Statham and long wait between pics leads me to believe The Transporter: Refueled may struggle to reach double digits. I think it’ll just manage it, if only due to the lack of product currently in the marketplace.

The Transporter: Refueled opening weekend prediction: $10.2 million (Friday to Monday for Labor Day weekend)

For my A Walk in the Woods prediction, click here:

War Room Box Office Prediction

It happens sometimes and we have a late entry in my box office predictin’ business as the Christian themed drama War Room opens tomorrow on an estimated on 1100 screens. That’s enough exposure that the pic could sneak into the top five, considering this should be a lackluster weekend at the multiplex.

Director Alex Kendrick has seen modest box office successes before with his faith based works, particularly 2008’s Fireproof with Kirk Cameron. It opened with $6 million on its way to a $33 million domestic take. Kendrick’s last feature, 2011’s Courageous, opened with $3 million with an eventual $9 million gross. These are great numbers considering they cost very little to produce (War Room‘s budget is just a reported $3M).

I will be revising my top five predictions for the weekend as I believe Room will snag the #4 spot and outdo another newcomer, No Escape.

War Room opening weekend prediction: $5.7 million

For my We Are Your Friends prediction, click here:

For my No Escape prediction, click here:

The Superman We Never Saw

When you’ve got yourself a documentary about a major Hollywood production that never ended up being made and its director Tim Burton isn’t the most eccentric individual being interviewed, you’re probably in for something fascinating. And so it is with The Death of Superman Lives: What Happened?, which tells the tale of why Burton’s proposed reimagining of the Man of Steel never made it to the screen.

The more eccentric character is by far Jon Peters, the mega producer who had successfully worked with Burton to bring Batman to the masses in 1989. The two were deep into pre-production on the late 1990s Superman Lives project before the plug was pulled and some of this doc’s greatest moments involve Peters being interviewed and, even more so, other people talking about him. Peters started out as Barbara Streisand’s hairdresser before becoming a major producing player. We hear tales of Peters’ insistence on having a giant spider featured in the film, his preference on having scripts read to him while he lays on the couch, his proclivity for putting employees in headlocks and trying out his jiu jitsu moves on underlings.

There’s a lot more to the story of how Superman Lives died and director/writer Jon Schnepp explores it in great detail here. This documentary has had its own difficult history in finally being released and it was partly funded through a Kickstarter campaign. The Supes reboot went through three screenwriters during its gestation: Kevin Smith at first, who brought his comic book geek sensibility before being jettisoned by Warner Bros brass, Peters, and Burton; Wesley Strick, who would eventually suffer the same fate; and its final writer Dan Gilroy, who would go onto direct my favorite pic of last year, Nightcrawler. Nicolas Cage was to star in the title role and there’s even fascinating footage of him trying on the iconic Superman costume, which the doc spends a lot of time talking delving into. In the late 1990s, Cage seemed like a fairly logical choice as he was coming off an Oscar for 1995’s Leaving Las Vegas and headlining A list action projects like The Rock, Con Air, and Face/Off.  In other words, it was a few years prior to Cage seemingly accepting every single script that came his way. Other casting choices are discussed, including Sandra Bullock as Lois Lane, Chris Rock as Jimmy Olsen, Christopher Walken as Brainiac, and Kevin Spacey as Lex Luthor (that actor would go onto play him in 2006’s Superman Returns).

What emerges from the documentary is a film about a film never made (it was three weeks away from shooting) that probably would’ve been something to behold. Would it have been good? Hard to say. The two subsequent Superman reboots that would follow years later (the aforementioned Superman Returns and 2013’s Man of Steel) were both rather disappointing in my view and many comic book lovers felt the same way. Burton’s track record over the last quarter century has been hit and miss. While his take on Batman was a rousing success, his “reimagining” of Planet of the Apes in 2001 left much to be desired. What’s clear is that it would have been a much different Superman than we’ve ever seen and would have looked a whole lot different (the long portions about its production design are quite intriguing).

One important through line that runs in the doc is the fact that Superman Lives was by no means guaranteed massive success in the late 1990s. We must remember that it wasn’t until the turn of the century that 2000’s X-Men truly helped usher in the golden age of comic book flicks that we’ve seen steadily over the last 15 years. When this project was gestating, 1997’s Batman and Robin had essentially killed that Caped Crusader franchise until Chris Nolan brought it back to life eight years later. Warner Bros. was nervous about a similar fate for Burton’s new project. Ironically, it was Batman and Robin director Joel Schumacher who killed Burton’s Batman series and helped pump the brakes on Burton’s budding Superman picture.

For comic book lovers, The Death of Superman Lives: What Happened? will be a treasure trove of intel on why this project never saw the light of day. Yet for movie fans in general, it provides key insight into how movies are made… and how some aren’t made. And how its possibly crazy main producer was obsessed with spiders and jui jitsu.

Box Office Predictions: August 28-30

BLOGGER’S NOTE (Thursday, August 27) – I am revising my top five predictions and accounting for the Christian themed drama War Room (opening on approximately 1100 screens). I believe it will manage to snag the #4 spot.

The last weekend of August should bring forth some serious box office doldrums as it usually does this time of year. There are two new entries out: the Zac Efron DJ drama We Are Your Friends and Owen Wilson action thriller No Escape. You can read my detailed prediction posts on each here:

I frankly don’t expect much from either, but Friends stands the better chance of over performing and possibly even nabbing the #1 spot. I don’t think it’ll quite get there though and that means Straight Outta Compton should manage to stay #1 for the third weekend in a row. Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation should drop from 2nd to 3rd.

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

  1. Straight Outta Compton

Predicted Gross: $12.5 million (representing a drop of 52%)

2. We Are Your Friends

Predicted Gross: $10.9 million

3. Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation

Predicted Gross: $7.4 million (representing a drop of 37%)

4. War Room

Predicted Gross: $5.7 million

5. No Escape

Predicted Gross: $4.7 million (Friday to Sunday), $6.3 million (Wednesday to Sunday prediction)

Box Office Results (August 21-23)

The N.W.A. biopic continued to rule the charts as Straight Outta Compton took in $26.3 million in its sophomore frame, just above my $24.6M estimate. The acclaimed pic has amassed an impressive $111 million in ten days.

Staying in the runner-up spot was Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation which added $11.4 million to its coffers, just ahead of my $10.4M projection. Its total stands at $157M.

Horror sequel Sinister 2 sputtered with just $10.5 million, well below my $16.2M prediction and well under the $18 million earned by the original for its start. Hitman: Agent 47 debuted in fourth with an unremarkable $8.3 million, though it did top my $6M estimate.

The Man from U.N.C.L.E. dropped to fifth in weekend #2 with $7.3 million, in line with my $7.1M prediction. Its sleepy two week total is at $26M. Finally, the Jesse Eisenberg/Kristen Stewart action comedy American Ultra tanked in sixth place with just $5.4 million, falling below my $9.8M estimate.

And that’s all for now, folks! Until next time…

No Escape Box Office Prediction

Seeing that a number of Owen Wilson comedies have under performed recently, it’s tough to envision a scenario where his late August action thriller No Escape gains any traction with moviegoers when it opens on Wednesday. The pic casts Wilson as a businessman trapped with his family in Southeast Asia during a military coup. Lake Bell and Pierce Brosnan costar.

The trailers and TV spots do little to inspire much confidence. Frankly, No Escape looks like something that could have as easily gone the direct to VOD route. It’s probably no accident this is arriving the final week of summer, which is primarily a dumping ground for product the studios don’t have much faith in. I believe Escape will struggle to make double digits, even in its expanded five day roll out and it’ll probably be available on the aforementioned VOD quite soon.

No Escape opening weekend prediction: $4.7 million (Friday to Sunday), $6.3 million (Wednesday to Sunday)

For my We Are Your Friends prediction, click here:

For my War Room prediction, click here: