Thursday, April 24, 2014

One Sentence Reviews of 2014 Movies

For a variety of reasons that I don't want to ramble on about here, I've been absolutely putrid at putting up movie reviews on the site. This means that the only way to get my thoughts on several new releases is to scour the internet and hope you've found the review that I ghost wrote. Since the whole point of that style of writing is to be anonymous it will likely be a futile and pointless effort.

In order to kick-off my latest effort to house my movie reviews on this blog that will lead to enough reviews to eventually apply for the Online Critics Society, I want to present all the 2014 pictures I've previously ghost reviewed. Since many of these are a few months old, I can't write a quality full review (and besides the time it takes to write some of the higher quality ones would mean a pretty massive backlog again for content), but instead will try to capture my opinion on the pictures with a single (run-on) sentence. It will be an interesting challenge to try to convey the essence of a movie without delving into too much detail.

Some of these pictures really do deserve fully written reviews. I hope to re-watch them someday and then write out some deeper thoughts. For other pictures on this list, a one time viewing was far too many times. Also to aid me in the process, I'll be attaching my four star rating that I initially gave each picture. My ratings have altered for a few of these pictures after I had time to dwell on them, but I've decided to stick with the original rating until I have a chance to re-watch and reassess.

Anyway, this is how 2014 has shaped up so far. I've ranked the pictures in the order that I've seen them from the first to the most recent.

Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones ***: The one picture that I've written a review for that has a byline, so you can just click the link for my thoughts.

Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit **: A prime example of what is wrong with Hollywood's constant quest for recognizable franchises as this feel like a heartless and dull knock-off of Mission Impossible and James Bond rather than the cerebral thriller we once expected from the Tom Clancy series.

The LEGO Movie ***½: Directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller are the undisputed masters of launching franchises by adapting things that no one thought would make an entertaining movie with a picture that is a glorious celebration of individuality and creativity while also an incredibly hilarious parody of adventure films that is filled with an army of fun pop culture references and iconic character appearances.

About Last Night ***: The picture strays even farther from the brilliant source material than the 1986 version, but this turns out to be the stronger of the cinematic adaptions by adeptly avoiding the easy pay-off and plot points in traditional romantic comedies by instead focusing on the long haul of a relationship after the firework have ended; the picture is anchored with hilarious supporting roles from the bickering couple of Kevin Hart and the vastly underrated Regina Hall.

Pompeii *: I was prepared for the Paul W.S. Anderson sword and sandal 'epic' to be historically inaccurate, riddled with lame dialogue, and push special effects over story, but I didn't expect it to be so mind-numbingly dull and flaccid.

In Fear **½: The best moments create a lingering feeling of claustrophobia and an unsettling atmosphere of the trapped couple on the country road that is chilling, but unfortunately, some of the attempts at fear become excessive and predictable that loses the dark and intimate mood that had been built up; it is still worth a look for horror fans tired of the supernatural homes.
  
300: Rise of an Empire **: Evidence that a stylized form of shooting and editing can't really hold up after eight years of clones and it causes the visceral effect to be completely lost making a hollow movie that would have been much better if it focused on the mythology of Xerxes and gave more for fantastic Eva Green to do.

Mr. Peabody & Sherman ***: The first half of the picture is stuffed with charm and several really fun jokes and winks at major historical moments and myths, but the wit gets a little lost in the final act when it ramps up the action, but it is still a fairly smartly written animated feature that appeals to both children and the adults they dragged along.

Veronica Mars **½: A very satisfying final chapter for the die-hards and it was enough to make me really want to track down the series, but there was too many storylines that relied on past knowledge to make it a strong standalone effort.

Enemy **½ : This is where I confess this picture likely needed a second viewing and I'm not as confident with my lower star rating here, but this is definitely Director Denis Villeneuve's stronger effort when compared to Prisoners because this makes much better use of his expert skill in imagery and symbolism as this story about identical doubles is essentially one giant puzzle to solve and its art-house style makes it harder to follow but definitely offers up something different than the typical mainstream fare.

Cheap Thrills ***: It is a cross of Jackass meets Indecent Proposal that makes for an intriguing morality tale as one man wrestles with his need to support his family with an eccentric rich man's offer of cash for vile and gruesome acts; I'd say it is something incredibly different but some other similar pictures are coming out this year but this is definitely a dark and twisted comedic thriller that many horror fans will lap up.

The Grand Budapest Hotel ****: Wes Anderson creates a masterpiece that looks and feels like a storybook for adults that has fantasy-like visuals along with almost idealistic and simple characters that allow for the profane and violent moments to really shake you every time; Anderson lovely crafts a '40s style caper that turns into a funny and endearing adventure that is enhanced by fantastic performances.

Bad Words ***: The picture stays true by not sentimentalizing or redeeming Jason Bateman's character, who's a man who finagled his way into a children's spelling bee, but also allows him to have sweet and authentic relationships with both Kathryn Hahn and Rohan Chand's characters that grounds the more raunchy humour; the true stand-out is the adorable Chand and Bateman's near perfect depiction of a public television's coverage of national spelling bee (the funniest moment).

Divergent ***: The critical panning for this picture seem to come from beaten down critics after the YA assault, because while this one struggles with some overt imagery and an incredibly rushed third act, it does have a dynamite lead in Shailene Woodley, some fantastic mood-setting visuals, action sequences that rival some blockbusters, and characters you can invest in.

Muppets Most Wanted ***: The biggest detriment to this picture is that it is a follow-up to a zany and cheerful reboot that has a surprising amount of emotional depth that this sequel doesn't even attempt to capture, but as a goofy and fun caper picture it works well and has a fun time playing with tropes and clich├ęs in the genre.

Noah ***: It is absolutely ridiculous to judge this picture based on its accuracy to the source material, because if pictures were rated on how loyal they were as an adaption or how close they were to historical fact than many pictures would need to return their Oscars; this is a different spin on an ancient tale that is modernized and reinterpreted but still has a great deal of resonance to the greater message of the original story, plus this has to be one of the most unique wide-release pictures in decades that has incredible production values but dares to go in some many unexpected directions with the characters -- Darren Aronofsky does well with his first big budget picture.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier ***½: Marvel is establishing themselves as the masters of the franchise as this picture offers up all the special effects laden action the audiences are craving but also meshes the picture with other genres and often feels like a 1970s style political thriller with a counter-culture and subversive vibe with the hero questioning the government and authority figures along with some a great doses of intrigue and mystery; this is proof one can follow the formula but still attempt something differently.

Oculus ***: It takes the popular haunted house genre and goes in a different direction as the approach of showing both flashbacks and current time makes for a jarring and uncomfortable experience as the viewer starts to question what is reality and what is in the mind of the characters thus making this a surprisingly gripping horror in a subset of the genre that felt like there weren't any original tales left. 

Transcendence *½: It tackles some intriguing science concepts like singularity and nanotechnology and feels like true hard science fiction, but Director Wally Pfister seems more focused on loosely tied-in imagery rather than developing compelling characters or really exploring any of the concepts, thus making this an intriguing premise squashed by poor execution; I'd still like Pfister to take another shot at helming a picture.

Bears ***: It is refreshing seeing the mega-corporation Disney actually take some time away from their massive franchises to make a small nature documentary aimed at children and the cinematography is gorgeous and it is amazing how they achieved some of the shots; it is at its best the picture feels authentic and enchanting, but I'd rather it dialed back on the John C. Reilly narration that often was more cartoony than informative, but I recognize this is geared towards small children and it mostly works really well.

This is what 2014 has looked like so far, and based off where we are in the calendar, I'd declare it a solid year at this point (I have more recommendations than I did at this point last year -- though one less four star review). We'll see if the positive trend continues with my full-length The Other Woman review that should be posted Saturday.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Just a Friendly Reminder That I'm a Little Bit Insane

I realize that the content output on this blog has been all kinds of dreadful. Unless you like sites being infrequently updated and mainly filled with excuses and links to other sites, because in that case, this has likely been an absolute pleasure for you.  For everyone else, there hasn't been too many reasons to check out the site lately.

I have reasons for the low output, but a lot of them have been discussed here thoroughly in the past. There were a few unforeseen events a couple weeks back that acted like a rather mighty gut punch and sucked a bit of the energy out of me for a bit. Though I'd rather not trot out the excuses, so we'll move on from here.

My real reason for this small post is to actually offer you up a small window into the insanity of my mind. Earlier today, I decide it was time to relaunch things on this site. In order to do that, I thought it would be a wonderful idea to write a post that presented 21 quick thoughts on pop culture events that I've been meaning to discuss.

The vision was for it to be a quick catch-up piece. It would be just a line or two for each thought. At this point, you'd think I'd have come to terms with the fact that I am a wordy fellow and tend to like going down that rambling path.

Before I reached my 21st thought, it was quite clear that each thought was now a paragraph and I'd composed a mini-book. The problem was that each paragraph was supposed to be "brief" thoughts, which meant I didn't explore any proper depth on any of them. What I had was a very long essay filled with teasers.

I've voted against posting it, because it was quite clear that it didn't meet my expectations for what I wanted to convey. On the positive side, I now have opening paragraphs to several new articles on a variety of topics. This should lead to a nice batch of new content on here for the next while (or for a few publishers in some cases).

I'm slowly learning that I don't really write anything quick. It is almost never a good idea for me to try to compose articles of lists or an assortment of thoughts, as it is destined to become a mammoth collection of essays and articles that should have been on their own.

One day, I'll learn to be succinct, but it clearly won't be with this particular post.

I just want to try to reaffirm that content is on its way and I am most definitely plagued by some odd writing quirks that sometimes hinder actually posting things on here.

I also wanted to announce that movie reviews are going to start being regular on here again. In the coming days, I'll try to come up with something to quickly sum up the 19 pictures I've seen this year but have only ghostwritten reviews for. I'll be kicking off with new reviews this weekend starting with The Other Woman. You can look forward to that.

Speaking of reviews, the Breakdown will relaunch on the first Monday of May. Scott and I will be reviewing four pictures including The Amazing Spider-Man 2. We're also going to start doing trailer reviews again, but that will return next Thursday (as in not tomorrow).

So, that is enough stuff to hype up for the now active site. I'll christen the new beginning with a very overdue tribute to the Ultimate Warrior that I'll try posting by the afternoon tomorrow.

Now, you can return to your regularly scheduled programming.

The Big Blockbusters You Must See This Summer

The summer movie season is about to get kicked off in about a week. It will be a constant battle of studios trying to convince you they have the tentpole that you must spend money on. But not all blockbusters are created equal. This week at the Collective Publishing, I choose the big budget pictures that I think you should see this summer.

Friday, April 18, 2014

The Top Box Office Spot May Be for the Birds (from 'Rio 2')

It is a busy long weekend at the box office as there are 4 new releases opening in America and in Canada was have a fifth with Trailer Park Boys: Don't Legalize It. Scott has decided to ignore the Canuck darlings but he still offers up his predictions on the other new releases' chances along with a top five prediction.

Also, Happy Easter.

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Four new movies are popping out in theatres in wide release this weekend in time for Easter and looking to make a run at box office glory. I can easily see three of those films falling in the top five, leaving Disney’s Bears documentary most likely ending up taking the sixth spot. This makes seven wide releases in the last two weeks, creating quite the battleground in some very busy theatres.

First Place – Rio 2 - $25.5 Million

After getting held out of first place by Captain America: The Winter Soldier in its debut weekend, I am putting my money on the family movie coming through and sustaining well enough to suffer a drop of only around 35% from last week’s $39 million opening. It is quite possible that it may only drop 30%, but I am not completely confident of that. It will all depend on how many families take to the theatre during a time that can be busy with family and church commitments. Regardless of how it does this weekend, it has the advantage of not having any direct competition until May 9 when Legends of Oz: Dorothy’s Return is released.

Second Place – Transcendence - $22 Million

It is the directorial debut of Wally Pfister the Oscar winning cinematographer from many Christopher Nolan films, and he looks to make a splash as he brings some science fiction to the table. It is a film about a person (played by Johnny Depp) who integrates himself into what looks like the internet. It is not an incredibly new concept (The Lawnmower Man took a ‘lawnmower man’ into the interwebs long ago), but it is packaged in a visually interesting way and has a great cast to support Depp in Paul Bettany, Kate Mara, Morgan Freeman and Cillian Murphy.

There are, however, a few issues that this movie will be battling. While it had some great looking trailers, there has not been a lot of money being made in science fiction movies lately. This issue is compounded by the fact that there has been very little critical appreciation of the film with it currently sitting at only 13% on Rotten Tomatoes at the time of writing this. Depp himself can be a decent draw, but his opening weekend numbers are not as good as when he is playing a ‘quirky’ character. For a little Johnny Depp trivia, would anyone have guessed that his highest movie on Rotten Tomatoes is A Nightmare on Elm Street with 96%? Hooray for 80s horror flicks!

Third Place – Captain America: The Winter Soldier - $18.5 Million

After having two weeks at number one, it is hard to believe that this film will be able to hold on to grab the much coveted three weekend run at the top. The Winter Soldier saw a drop of 57% from week one to week two, and I am thinking it could be seeing a decrease of 55% this weekend. It has been able to outperform expectations so far, and I will be guessing that the third film (which should enjoy a bump from the next Avengers movie) will be landing comfortably over $100 million in its opening weekend.

Fourth Place – Heaven is for Real - $18 Million


This year has seen its fair share of faith based productions. Movies such as Son of God and God’s Not Dead have shown that there can be interest enough in such films making their way to theatres. While they have performed decently, they have failed to hit the mark with critics with Son of God only scoring 22% on Rotten Tomatoes and God’s Not Dead landing in Transcendence territory with 13%. The reception for Heaven is for Real has been much better, as it currently sits at 55% on Rotten Tomatoes.

Starring Greg Kinnear it is able to bring some legitimate star power into the mix. As well, judging by the trailers, the production quality seems to be miles ahead of typical religious productions that generally suffer from sub-par technical attributes. Churches have apparently been getting behind this film and encouraging congregation members to see it, which will lend a massive hand in its chances. I am figuring that it should end up making over $7,000 per theatre this weekend.

Fifth Place – A Haunted House 2 - $16 Million

Sigh… I suppose I should give some insight here, but it is very hard to do for me to do. Not because there are no numbers to dig into, but because what really is there to say about modern ‘spoof’ movies, which is just a compilation of several genre scenes transformed into an awful parody? There was a while where these types of movies were able to make around $20 million in their opening weekend like clockwork, but there has been a little dip in the trend, and A Haunted House fell just shy of the mark with $18 million. I think there will be another dip this time around, and even so, I have fears that I will have to write about another one a year from now.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

There is More to the Summer Than Giant Robots and Web-Slingers

The summer blockbuster movie seasons has been hyped for months now. Even if you don't eagerly anticipate your next trip to the cinema, you probably are well-aware we have superheroes, a giant lizards, battling robots, and adventures in space all lined up for the next several months. The heavy diet of special effect spectacles can be sensory over-load and enough to make one hide away until Oscar season. Even though I'm all for an exciting blockbuster, there are times you want something different. Luckily, there are several character-driven stories that will be quietly making their way into cinemas this summer too. Over at the Collective Publishing, I look at a few of them that I think you should check out.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Captain America Battles Blue Macaws, NFL Draft and Possessed Mirrors in an Attempt to Retain Top Spot at Box Office

Scott looks at the chances that three new releases have against Marvel's latest red hot juggernaut.

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After being absent from my weekend analysis on Tuesday due to some nasty bit of sickness, I am attempting to return to stake my predictions for this week’s box office top five. However, writing from a den of illness and pestilence today means that there may be a little less intellect behind my thoughts as the majority of my waning brain power has been spent on making sure I keep drinking my orange juice and other such simplicities. I do apologize ahead of time for the lack of critical thinking this week.

First Place – Captain America: The Winter Soldier – $41 Million

After having a strong opening weekend that saw the largest percentage increase for an Avengers franchise post The Avengers (it scored an opening weekend 46% higher than the first movie), and there is a good chance that it could take the number one spot again. Other Disney Marvel movies generally hit a decline of around 60% in their second week (Iron Man 3 had a drop of 58% and Thor: The Dark World dropped 57%), and it is safe to say that something similar should be happening again here. It is hard for a film that makes so much money in its opening weekend to maintain such a pace, even when both audiences and critics are enjoying it as much as they are The Winter Soldier.

Second Place – Rio 2 - $40 Million

In 2011, Rio (starring Anne Hathaway and Jesse Eisenberg) opened to $39 million and signalled the start of a franchise. Three years later, Rio 2 comes out in a year where only two family movies have opened north of $30 million (The LEGO Movie $69 million and Mr. Peabody & Sherman $32 million), which could indicate that there is plenty of room for a the right type of movie to do well as parents may not have already broken the bank on movie tickets for 2014.

Third Place – Draft Day - $11 Million

Audiences love a great sports movie, and Draft Day looks to try a bit of a non-traditional approach to the genre by focusing on decisions made around the day of the NFL draft, and stars Kevin Costner. Costner’s ability to draw solid opening weekend numbers is not incredibly reliable. Most recently, 3 Days to Kill opened at $12 million, which perhaps showed a little glimmer of hope for the actor’s chances, especially in a role that may be more suited to his fan base and not one as an action star. The reviews have not been overly kind to this movie, which currently it has 47% on Rotten Tomatoes.

Fourth Place – Oculus - $10 Million

Out of the three new wide release movies this weekend, it is the horror flick that currently has the best critical reception. Oculus is boasting a decent 77% rating right now on Rotten Tomatoes, with a possibility of that dropping over the weekend as more critics see it. However, a solidly reviewed horror never means that it will fare well in theatres, as fans tend to be drawn more to the style of a horror than to its substance.

Fifth Place – Noah - $7.5 Million

While some films are able to hang around and secure solid numbers for a while, I am not seeing that as the case for poor Noah. After falling 61% in its second weekend (probably thanks to the attention that Captain America received) it will most likely see a fall this weekend of around 55%. That would mean that this film that opened to an impressive $43 million will only have two weekends in double digit millions.

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

It Is Never Too Early to Get Excited About the New Fall TV Season

The Network Upfront is a major one week event where the TV networks reveal their new TV fall season (and often also their potential mid-season and summer season) in hope to attract big sponsorship dollars and generate excitement amongst the TV audience. There are always large batches of new TV series that get thrown into the mix. But for the last few months, there has been news pouring in about pilot orders and possible new series that will get picked up. Over at the Collective Publishing, I select a few of these potential series that I think are worth getting very excited about.

Friday, April 04, 2014

'Captain America: The Winter Soldier' Looking at a Super Heroic Win at the Box Office

One of the biggest potential blockbusters of the year comes out in one of the traditionally quieter movie months. Captain America: The Winter Soldier is looking to kick-off the big box office season early and become another massive hit for Marvel. Scott looks at its chances along with the pictures he predicts will land in the top 5 spot for this weekend.

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This year the blockbuster season has an early start as Disney pulls out the big guns the first weekend of April as opposed to the customary beginning of May kick-off weekend. Captain America: The Winter Soldier stands as the only new wide release, which is a smart move by competing studios who know that going against a Marvel super hero who was in The Avengers could be a dangerous game. This week I will be looking at how it will do, as well as making predictions on what the films will be in the box office’s top five will be.

First Place – Captain America: The Winter Soldier - $90 Million

A sequel to Captain America: The First Avenger, The Winter Soldier comes after 2012’s The Avengers, a super hero ensemble film that was able to prove solid in boosting the selling power of the Marvel brand. Iron Man 3 saw an opening weekend increase of 36% over Iron Man 2, showing just how great the increased popularity had become. As well, Thor: The Dark World had an $85 million opening weekend, a jump of 30% from the $65 million that Thor brought in. It has become quite clear that The Avengers has added a lot of interest into the movies of its individual components, the main question will be just how much Captain America: The Winter Soldier is able to grow by.

Similarly to the first Thor movie, The First Avenger had a solid opening frame of $65 million and online tracking of social media shows that it is ahead of where The Dark World was at the same point in its release cycle. It also has a much better critical reception when compared to the sophomore showing of Thor (which had 65% on Rotten Tomatoes compared to Captain America’s current rating of 88%). The trailers for the film have looked great, and the inclusion of Scarlett Johansson in her role as Black Widow should assist the film as well.

Second Place – Noah - $18.5 Million

After having a very successful opening weekend of $43 million, the Darren Aronofsky directed interpretation of the Biblical flood account really stands no chance of competing with a Marvel super hero from The Avengers. If it was just an ordinary weekend I could see the film holding up well with perhaps a drop of only 50% or so, but because of its competition it will most likely be dropping close to 60% from its opening weekend numbers. It has already cracked $100 million worldwide, and it should be able to secure second place quite easily this weekend.

Third Place – Divergent - $12.5 Million

After so many young adult movies had failed to capture audiences and become the next Twilight or The Hunger Games, Divergent was able to establish itself as a viable franchise moving forward. After opening to $54 million, it dropped by 53% for its second weekend, and I could easily see a drop of 50% in its future for this weekend. It may not have made the same amount of money that other successful young adult films have pocketed, but it has done well enough that it should be able to grab third spot without much competition.

Fourth Place – God’s Not Dead -$7.9 Million

While the top three movies this weekend feel like clear cut predictions as far as how they will order, the lower half of the top five sees three movies (God’s Not Dead, The Grand Budapest Hotel, and Muppets Most Wanted) that could all land within one million dollars of one another. The faith based film God’s Not Dead debuted at number four and then dropped to fifth place last weekend. It is expanding its theatre count this weekend to 1,765 theatres from last week’s 1,178. I am predicting that it will be able to make a per theatre average of around $4,500 (down from last week’s average of $7,468) and could end up nabbing fourth place in the process.

Fifth Place – The Grand Budapest Hotel - $7.5 Million

Also expanding this weekend is Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel, which has seen great support from both audiences and critics so far. It has been working its way slowly towards wide release, and this weekend will be screening at 1,263 locations. It started its run at four theatres on March 7, and made an enormous $202,000 per theatre average. Since then, it has kept the critics happy (currently it has a 91% rating on Rotten Tomatoes) and the fans keep flocking out to see it. I do not think a per theatre average this weekend of $6,000 is out of the question (down from $8,741) which could keep it fending off Muppets Most Wanted who will be possibly landing right around the same mark.