Big Game Movie Review

“Say cheese” is the final line of Jelmari Helander’s Big Game and it’s an appropriate one because this Finnish director knows he’s paying homage to 80s/90s style PG-13 adventure in a tongue and cheek way. The result is a fast paced experience that doesn’t always transcend the cliches of the kind of pics it admires, but has some fun moments along the way.

The concept is of the highest order. The President of the United States Bill Moore (Samuel L. Jackson) is aboard Air Force One flying over Finland (though it was filmed in Germany) when it’s shot down by terrorists. The POTUS gets out through an escape pod, landing in the wilderness. Lucky for him, young Oskari (Onni Tommila) is on a hunting trip in the barren land. He’s about to turn 13 and it’s tradition in his family to show their manhood by bagging a bear or deer… or in this case, corrupt Secret Service agents and Middle Eastern looking baddies. The two team up to outrun their hunters, led by Ray Stevenson’s head agent gone rogue (think James Woods in White House Down). We also see the confusion happening in Washington D.C. as the VP (Victor Garber), an expert CIA man (Jim Broadbent, having a good time), and others including Felicity Huffman and Ted Levine try to save their leader.

Somewhat surprisingly, Helander’s screenplay doesn’t turn President Moore into a secret ass kicker like this material frequently does (think ID4’s Bill Pullman or Air Force One’s Harrison Ford). He’s a bit of a weakling (his approval rating is apparently upside down as well) and young Oskari is also trying to live up to his father’s legendary huntsman status. Moore’s survival skills are questionable as is his teenage companion’s bow and arrow abilities. In a role where one might think Jackson would overact, he gives an often tender performance, when he’s not trying to work a machine gun.

Action sequences are certainly not of the huge budget order, but they’re passable enough. The villains are pretty dull and non descript. For a quick fix of playful and knowingly ridiculous entertainment, Big Game isn’t bad even if its concept can’t completely sustain itself through the Finnish line. What I came away thinking the most is that director Helander could be a natural choice to helm a throwback genre that’s been rebooted or is currently producing sequels. With his clear admiration of the time period, he might do something worthwhile with Jurassic dinos or Goonies.

**1/2 (out of four)

Hardcore Henry Box Office Prediction

When Hardcore Henry premiered at the Toronto Film Festival last year, it set off a wave of positive buzz to the tune of a current 94% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. The sci-fi action thriller is touted as a “first person” experience in which the audience sees all the destruction and mayhem through the eyes of the title character. Sharlto Copley and Tim Roth are among the cast.

How will this experimental pic translate to box office dollars? I’m not overly optimistic. While certain fanboys have had this circled on their calendars for months now, I just don’t see this getting beyond a niche audience and I don’t believe it’ll reach double digits. So while Hardcore Henry could certainly become a cult hit, it may not necessarily become a real hit at the multiplexes.

Hardcore Henry opening weekend prediction: $7.8 million

For my The Boss prediction, click here:

The Boss Box Office Prediction

Melissa McCarthy’s first comedy of 2016 is her second most anticipated of the year as The Boss debuts next weekend. Directed by her hubby Ben Falcone (who also made 2014’s Tammy), his wife plays a member of the 1% guilty of insider trading trying to rehabilitate her image. Kristen Bell, Peter Dinklage, and Kathy Bates costar.

Since her breakout role in 2011’s Bridesmaids, McCarthy has been a force in the genre. 2013’s Identity Thief made $34 million out of the gate while that same year’s collaboration with Sandra Bullock, The Heat, earned $39 million. The aforementioned Tammy took in $21 million over the July 4th, 2014 three day weekend with a $33 million five-day haul. Last summer’s Spy opened to $29 million.

Her comedies have proven to be mostly critic proof (Tammy was met with derision) and that should apply here. However, I’m a little skeptical that this reaches the mid-high 30s heights of her largest openers and I’d be somewhat surprised if this one tops $25 million. That is not likely to be the case with July’s eagerly anticipated Ghostbusters reboot that McCarthy is featured in. For The Boss, low to mid 20s seems to be the strongest probability.

The Boss opening weekend prediction: $23.4 million

For my Hardcore Henry prediction, click here:

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice Movie Review

Zack Snyder’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is indeed Warner Bros answer to the Marvel Cinematic Universe – a realization that more is more when it comes to bringing their stable of DC’s most famous superheroes to the same screen. Where Disney’s Avengers are often considerably lighter in tone, these caped crusaders bring the bleakness to their proceedings. The template set forth by Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy and Snyder’s Man of Steel is present here with the additional responsibility to begin the forthcoming Justice League series. At two and a half hours, BvS does feel overstuffed from time to time. There are elements that just don’t work, but I came away believing its merits outweighed its flaws. More is more, from the Nigel Tufnel approved decibel level of its score and sound effects to a variety of subplots fighting against one another for a cohesive whole. It shouldn’t work as well as it does and that’s a compliment to the director and the actors (most of them at least).

The film picks up 18 months after Man of Steel, when Henry Cavill’s Supes defeated General Zod (Michael Shannon), who appears in a lifeless performance and I don’t mean that negatively. That throwdown with Zod and the casualties that resulted has caused some in the public and some in the government to question Superman’s role in society. This includes a Kentucky senator (Holly Hunter) who’s opened hearings into it. She is not, however, his most important detractor. Bruce Wayne/Batman (Ben Affleck) is. Gotham City’s morose bachelor doesn’t believe Kal-El stands for Truth or Justice or the American Way. It leads to a royal rumble between them that marks the inaugural time we’ve seen these giants in tights together.

Due to the aforementioned Justice League features coming soon to a megaplex near you, we also are introduced to Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman and briefly to some others. Gadot shines enough in her limited role to make us curious for her stand alone pic. Then there’s Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg), who serves as our main antagonist. Eisenberg, who’s shined himself in certain roles, doesn’t here. His overacting and strange mannerisms (along with some doozies of dialogue) make him the weakest link here. Other supporting players from Man of Steel are back, including Laurence Fishburne as Perry White and Diane Lane as Clark’s beloved mama. Amy Adams’ Lois Lane is back as well and she’s grown better into her part the second time around. Jeremy Irons debuts as Batman butler Alfred. He doesn’t get much screen time and certainly won’t make you forget Michael Caine.

Henry Cavill continues his serviceable service as Superman. The best surprise is Affleck, who entered the unenviable position of following Christian Bale. He does a fine job as the beleaguered Wayne wrestling with his own demons (his parents murder is shown… again) and his distrust of the God like hero from Metropolis. I’m happy to report Affleck looks good in the Bat Suit and the screenplay even explains that lower register voice when he dons it.

BvS has a LOT of ground to cover between its action set pieces. The danger for this to feel fragmented and unfocused occasionally manifests itself, but it feels more united than it really has any right to. The main villain is a disappointment. Some of the special effects look suspect. Most look fantastic. Here we have a grim comic book tale that generally accomplishes its mission of being fairly decent dark entertainment. It also appears primed to achieve its studio’s mission statement: the birth of a franchise and keeping these icons flying on.

*** (out of four)

Box Office Predictions: April 1-3

After a record-breaking Easter weekend for two iconic superheroes, the first weekend of April brings a slowdown as only two non major studio pics debut. They are faith-based sequel God’s Not Dead 2 and Mike Epps’ Purge parody Meet the Blacks. You can read my detailed prediction posts on each here:

Let’s get the newbies out of the way first. I look for God’s Not Dead 2 to open within the same range as its predecessor two years ago. That should leave it in a close battle with the second weekend of My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2, which I have falling by almost half.

As for Meet the Blacks, it’s only opening on about 1000 screens and I believe it will be lucky to reach $5 million. My $3.7 million estimate for it leaves it outside the top five.

Zootopia should continue its smallish declines and retain the #2 position. Miracles from Heaven should round out the top five, as long as Blacks doesn’t exceed my estimate.

That leaves the biggest question of the week: how much will Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice drop in its sophomore weekend? Down below, you can read all about its record-setting debut. Critics have not been kind and its B Cinemascore grade indicates that even audiences aren’t exactly loving it. Here’s how some other tent poles dipped in their second weekends (all of these titles made between $147-$191M out of the gate):

Avengers: Age of Ultron – 59%

Iron Man 3 – 58%

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2 – 72%

The Dark Knight Rises – 61%

Spider-Man 3 – 61%

Furious 7 – 59%

Then there’s 2013’s Man of Steel, which serves as Justice‘s predecessor. It didn’t have the greatest buzz either and dropped 64% after a $116 million debut.

So where does that leave us? I actually believe BvS is going to fall right around with where Man of Steel did (63-65 percent).

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

  1. Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice

Predicted Gross: $59.1 million (representing a drop of 64%)

2. Zootopia

Predicted Gross: $14.9 million (representing a drop of 38%)

3. God’s Not Dead 2

Predicted Gross: $9.6 million

4. My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 

Predicted Gross: $9.4 million (representing a drop of 47%)

5. Miracles from Heaven

Predicted Gross: $5.7 million (representing a drop of 41%)

Box Office Results (March 25-27)

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice accomplished having the seventh largest opening of all time and kick starting Warner Bros. Justice League features and intended spin-offs to the tune of a $166 million debut. My prognosis? $166.4M! Pretty happy with this one. While critics were mostly not kind (a 29% Rotten Tomatoes score), audience anticipation was clearly peaked. It just missed being its studio’s biggest opener (the final Harry Potter did $169M), but it did set the record for the month of March and highest Easter performer. The big question, as mentioned above, is how far it falls in weekend #2 and I’m predicting it’ll be rather precipitous.

Zootopia took the runner-up spot with $24 million (in line with my $23.4M estimate) for a four-week tally of $241 million.

Opening in third and with higher than anticipated numbers was long gestating comedy sequel My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 with $17.8 million, above my $13.1M projection. This is a positive result considering reviews were poor and it had been 14 years since the mega hit original. This was never expected to approach the amazing $241M the first Wedding pocketed and it certainly won’t, but overall this is a fine result.

In a close battle for fourth among features in their second weekends, Miracles from Heaven edged out The Divergent Series: Allegiant. The faith-based Heaven capitalized on the Easter weekend with $9.6 million (a bit below my $10.9M estimate) for a total of $34M. Allegiant continued its plummet with $9.4 million (under my $12.7M projection) for an overall gross of $46M. It may top out at just around $65M – its two predecessors made $150M and $130M, respectively. Ouch.

And that’ll do it for now, friends! Until next time…

Meet the Blacks Box Office Prediction

In the near future, comedian Mike Epps could see a real turning point in his film career when he portrays Richard Pryor in an upcoming biopic directed by Lee Daniels and costarring Oprah Winfrey and Eddie Murphy. In the meantime, Meet the Blacks opens this Friday in theaters and it appears unlikely to do much for anybody’s careers.

Debuting on a fairly low reported 1000 screens, Blacks is a low budget parody of The Purge franchise. Epps headlines with Zulay Henao, Gary Owen, George Lopez, Mike Tyson, and Charlie Murphy among the supporting players.

Meet the Blacks seems unlikely to break out and the minimal number of screens doesn’t help. If this were to get roughly the same per screen average as A Haunted House 2 from two years ago, that would give it less than $4 million. That sounds about right.

Meet the Blacks opening weekend prediction: $3.7 million

For my God’s Not Dead 2 prediction, click here:

Truth Movie Review

James Vanderbilt’s Truth is of the genre that All the President’s Men is, even employing one of its stars, Robert Redford. It, too, tells the tale of a President of the United States under severe scrutiny. Both show the tremendous pressure and hard work of journalists and their duty to get the story right. The main difference among the numerous similarities? Whereas Redford’s 1976 Oscar nominated picture was confident enough to mostly eschew unneeded overdramatization, Truth is not. It’s a hindrance that causes it to pale in comparison.

Set against the backdrop of George W. Bush’s 2004 reelection, the film focuses on CBS News and its digging into the President’s three decades old plus National Guard record. Producer Mary Mapes (Cate Blanchett) works for 60 Minutes and is especially close to the network’s veteran news anchor Dan Rather (Redford). The pair and their colleagues believe they have a credible story covering lapses in Bush’s attendance in the Guard – a time when Vietnam was in its darkest days. A story is aired just months before the reelect, but potential inconsistencies rise up immediately. Some are from serious sources. Others come from the burgeoning blogosphere.

Truth explores the inner workings of news today, corporate politics, real politics, and journalistic integrity. These are subjects that have been covered before and covered more satisfactorily. I’ve already mentioned Redford’s classic from 40 years ago. There’s also Network. And Spotlight. The pic’s flaws don’t lie with the acting, even though this will not rate among Blanchett’s best performances. Redford gives a passable take on Rather. Their coworkers, including Topher Grace as a freelancer and Dennis Quaid as a military affairs expert, aren’t given any time for their characters to be anything other than caricatures.

Blanchett is a tremendous actress but there are times when even she seems to be overdoing it. Not as much as Truth itself, though. From its sweeping score to reaction shots of Mary’s young child watching her work in awe on the tube, Truth often seems distracted by its own perceived virtue instead of just sticking to the facts. The subject matter is by its nature fascinating and there are occasionally well dramatized touches here. Yet President’s Men and Spotlight were confident enough in their stories to simply tell them to intriguing results. Truth rather tries too hard and often rings false for it.

** (out of four)

God’s Not Dead 2 Box Office Prediction

Two years ago, the faith based drama God’s Not Dead turned into quite the sleeper hit. After opening with a surprisingly robust $9.2 million, it held firmly in subsequent weekends to the tune of a $60 million overall gross.

Now we have a sequel opening next weekend and God’s Not Dead 2 has plenty of similarities to the original. For one – a rather eclectic cast. Part one boasted both TV’s Hercules (Kevin Sorvo) and Superman (Dean Cain). The sequel has Melissa Joan Hart of “Sabrina, the Teeange Witch” fame, “Desperate Housewives” alum Jesse Metcalfe, the late Tennesse Senator and actor Fred Thompson, Mike Tyson’s ex Robin Givens, and fourth Ghostbuster Ernie Hudson. I wasn’t kidding, folks!

The original was made on a reported $2 million budget and while I couldn’t find a reported price tag for this, it’s probably not much and it shouldn’t have much trouble turning a profit. However, that doesn’t mean it’ll earn as much as its predecessor. There has been a bunch of similar genre pics in recent weeks (Miracles from Heaven, Risen, The Young Messiah) and that could have some effect.

I look for this to open in the same range as the first and perhaps just above it, but it may not have the legs to get to an eventual $60M domestic tally.

God’s Not Dead 2 opening weekend prediction: $9.6 million

For my Meet the Blacks prediction, click here:

Oscar Watch: Hello, My Name Is Doris

This past weekend, comedic drama Hello, My Name Is Doris impressed box office observers by making nearly a million dollars on just 128 screens. The film premiered at the SXSW Film Fesitval days ago to positive response with a current rating of 85% on Rotten Tomatoes.

The bulk of the film’s praise has been devoted to its lead star, Sally Field, playing an older woman romancing a younger man. If distributor Roadside Attractions is able to mount a credible campaign, Field could find herself in line for her fourth nomination in just under 40 years. In 1979, she was victorious in Best Actress for her title role in Norma Rae and in 1984, won again for Places in the Heart. In 2012, she was nominated in Supporting Actress in Lincoln. 

This is highly likely to be the only category where Doris could be a factor. Costars including Max Greenfield, Stephen Root, Natasha Lyonne, and Tyne Daly shouldn’t garner attention. While reviews are strong, March is awfully early in the Academy’s season and her inclusion may depend on how solid the race for Actress becomes (a question mark currently).

That said, Field is a beloved performer whose track record with the Academy has been sterling over four decades. They’re capable of liking her – really, really liking her. It’d be foolish to completely count her out.

Box Office Predictions: March 25-27

Two iconic superheroes look to set an all-time March opening weekend record as Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice debuts Friday, along with rom com sequel My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2. You can peruse my detailed prediction posts on each here:

As outlined in the individual prediction on Dawn of Justice, it stands a real shot at becoming March’s biggest opener if it manages to get past the $152 million accomplished by The Hunger Games four years ago. I’m predicting that it will.

As for Greek Wedding 2, it’s the sequel to the highest earning romantic comedy in box office history. However, I believe the 14 year gap with this sequel could mean an opening in the low teens.

When it comes to holdovers, Zootopia should drop to second after 3 weeks on top while The Divergent Series: Allegiant looks to suffer a much heftier drop in its sophomore frame than Miracles from Heaven, which should capitalize on the Easter weekend. In fact, I see a genuine photo finish for the three spot between Wedding, Miracles, and Allegiant.

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

  1. Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice

Predicted Gross: $166.4 million

2. Zootopia

Predicted Gross: $23.4 million

3. My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2

Predicted Gross: $13.1 million

4. The Divergent Series: Allegiant

Predicted Gross: $12.7 million

5. Miracles from Heaven

Predicted Gross: $10.9 million

Box Office Results (March 18-20)

Disney’s Zootopia made it three weeks in a row on top with $37.1 million, a bit higher than my $32M forecast. The smash hit animated pic has earned $200M thus far and reaching above $300M now looks to be a foregone conclusion.

The results were not so hot for The Divergent Series: Allegiant, which posted the lowest numbers by far of the franchise to date. While 2014’s Divergent premiered to $54 million and Insurgent made $52 million, Allegiant managed just $29 million compared to my $43.7M prediction. This doesn’t bode well for part two of Allegiant, out next summer.

The faith based drama Miracles from Heaven debuted in third with a sturdy $14.8 million (just under my $15.8M projection) and a five day total of $18.3 million since its Wednesday opening (I said $20.8M). As mentioned, look for this continue to perform solidly this coming Easter frame.

10 Clovefield Lane was fourth in its second weekend with $12.5 million (I said $10.1M) and its two week total is $45M. Deadpool rounded out the top five with $8 million (I was close with $7.2M) for a cume of $340M.

And that’ll do it for now, friends! Until next time…