Is this a trend I’m looking at?

“We’re doin’ a sequel! That’s what we do in Hollywood!
And everybody knows that the sequel’s never quite as good”

Here’s a challenge you have probably heard a million times – name a sequel better than the original. I think it’s safe to assume that if you’re generally interested in film, you have probably had more than one conversation on that topic, which usually spins out of a casual talk about movies in general, preferably over a pint of beer with a bunch of friends… It’s such a cliché question that it even featured in the mildly received (but still enjoyable) “Scream 2” during a film class scene, so I’m not going to bother stating the obvious examples (they’re all in that scene, by the way). Despite some people’s best wishes, the history has always seemed to indicate that ‘the sequel’s never quite as good’, as it is exemplified by the lukewarm reviews of the new Muppets film, from which this line was directly pulled. But is it really? Continue reading

Because ‘reboot’ is the Apocalypse’s middle name…

The word ‘reboot’ has been thrown around a lot lately – there’s no question about it. It’s not rocket science to notice the inherent drive within the studios to de-risk their investments (you have no idea how much I hate this corporate mumbo-jumbo), which has resulted in the last decade being unusually rich in sequels to successful franchises, remakes of the classics, and – the cherry on top of this cake – the establishment of ‘the reboot’ as a device in the film-making business. Continue reading

The Spirit of Robocop

Robocop rant logo

As promised, I decided to go back to my (well, let’s be honest here) scolding review of the “Robocop” remake and have a go at it from a completely different angle, hopefully with the aim of defining why it fails miserably on all fronts. As I already mentioned in the previous article, it’s not a perfect film. Hell, it is miles away from being decent in general, but what is the most painful to me as a fan of the original is that it doesn’t really deserve to wear the name “Robocop” at all. Continue reading

One Last Look At 2013: The Real Winners And Losers…

With all the box office dollars thoroughly counted and stored safely in the pockets of sequel-loving, originality-hating studio executives (who in their spare time club baby seals… or is it too far? I’m sure they would if it generated profit) the time has come for the long overdue look at the state of big screen entertainment. It also comes in light of recent news that “The Hunger Games – Catching Fire” overtook “Iron Man 3” in the (American) box office and ended up on top of the charts, but I think I’d like to have a look myself to see how things really are; especially when you factor in the recent ‘fantastic’ revelations that despite the underwhelming summer, 2013 was the most profitable financial year for the film industry.

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It’s no secret that bean-counters love to sugar-coat everything, as 2013 was also a year of the record low ticket sales, but nobody seems to go out of their way to put emphasis on it at all. What it does to the general state of cinema, and how far down the toilet the industry has gone, is a topic for a separate discussion (on which, again, I will give my two cents in due time), but let’s have one last look at the box office charts for the 2013 and see where the real winner is, who lost the most, and who holds the most promise in terms of producing profitable entertainment.

General Remarks

A quick glance at the yearly Box-Office Charts (boxofficemojo.com is a good place to go to have a look) will immediately reveal how sad things really are. As an advocate of original ideas I can only weep at the realization that out of the ten most profitable films of 2013, as many as 7 (6, if you factor out “The Hobbit – The Desolation of Smaug” due to it being a chunk of a bigger film and not a sequel per se) are sequels, reboots, remakes or other forms of cashing in on previous financial successes.

Ordered by US Box Office returns ($M)

  1. “The Hunger Games – Catching Fire” (413.8)
  2. “Iron Man 3” (409)
  3. “Despicable Me 2” (368)
  4. “Frozen” (317.3)
  5. “Man of Steel” (291)
  6. “Monsters University” (268.5)
  7. “Gravity” (256.2)
  8. “The Hobbit – The Desolation of Smaug” (242.2)
  9. “Fast and Furious 6” (238.7)
  10. “Oz The Great and Powerful” (234.9)

Somehow I’m not surprised that the big summer popcorn munchers ended up on top. After all, they are targeted at the widest demographics and they all piggy-back off of other huge releases (i.e. “Iron Man 3” surfing on the tidal wave created by “The Avengers”). However, this list only factors the US market, which I will not deny is the most important for the industry, and it generates the bulk of the profits in many cases. When looked at in global terms, the list looks slightly different:

Ordered by Worldwide Box Office Returns ($M)

  1. “Iron Man 3” (1215.4)
  2. “Despicable Me 2” (935.1)
  3. “The Hunger Games – Catching Fire” (846.8)
  4. “The Hobbit – The Desolation of Smaug” (808.2)
  5. “Fast and Furious 6” (788.7)
  6. “Monsters University” (743.6)
  7. “Frozen” (711.9)
  8. “Gravity” (670.7)
  9. “Man of Steel” (668)
  10. “Thor – The Dark World” (630.9)

Now, the list looks even grimmer than previously, because only 2 titles on it are truly original (“Gravity” and “Frozen”) and once again “Iron Man 3” ends up on top. Though, bear in mind that those results might possibly be a bit misleading due to vastly different release dates for some countries, but it won’t change the fact that the big summer releases generated the most ticket sales worldwide.

However, one should also take into account that all of those big releases (both in US and worldwide Box Office Top 10) came out with their concurrent 3D versions, which come at a larger price per ticket. With the 3D market being in range of the 10% of the overall ticket sales, it could mean that some films seen by more people have generated less profit. I can’t possibly know the extent of this phenomenon, as I have no access to the relevant data, but (in worldwide terms) the 2D-only releases start showing up only around the 20th mark (“The Hangover Part 3”, and “The Conjuring” at the 24th).

Profits

This is where things get interesting and really sad at the same time. Well, in this day and age it becomes more and more relevant to take note of the simple fact, that the highest-grossing blockbusters cost a fortune to make. Therefore, at times, what seemingly looks like a good financial result and a promising cash-cow franchise, might not exactly be as ‘blockbustery’ as one might like to think. Below you’ll find the Top 10 most profitable films of 2013 (US and worldwide):

Top 10 Highest Profits US ($M)

  1. “Jurassic Park 3D” (392.4)
  2. “Despicable Me 2” (292)
  3. “The Hunger Games – Catching Fire” (283.8)
  4. “Iron Man 3”  (209)
  5. “Frozen” (167.3)
  6. “Gravity” (156.2)
  7. “The Conjuring” (156.2)
  8. “The Heat” (116.6)
  9. “We’re The Millers” (113.4)
  10. “Identity Thief” (139)

 Top 10 Highest Profits Worldwide ($M)

  1. “Iron Man 3” (1015.4)
  2. “Despicable Me 2” (859.1)
  3. “The Hunger Games – Catching Fire” (716.8)
  4. “Fast And Furious 6” (628.7)
  5. “The Hobbit – The Desolation of Smaug” (583.2)
  6. “Gravity” (570.7)
  7. “Frozen” (561.9)
  8. “Monsters University” (543.6)
  9. “Jurassic Park 3D” (463)
  10. “Thor – The Dark World” (460.9)

(The values do not take into account the marketing costs not included in the production budget; therefore at least the values worldwide could suffer from greater uncertainty)

And all of a sudden, instead of the big (and costly summer release), the most profitable film on the American ground is the re-release of “Jurassic Park” in 3D. It is the pinnacle (the PINNACLE!!!) of taking the easy way, because you can’t possibly think of an easier way to make money than by taking a classic, throwing 10 million dollars at it to make it 3D, and releasing it again theatrically. It’s the perfect way to utilize the gimmick of 3D and earn an easy buck.

However, looking past that scathing example of the sad state of cinema, one would notice immediately that instead of the biggest titles, the bulk of the list is made up by smaller and cheaper genre films like “The Conjuring” or “The Heat”. So, at least within a confined market (even as big as the US) things can take a completely different look when the gargantuan production budgets are taken out of the equation. Quite expectedly though, everything goes (more or less) back to normal when the global profits are included, simply due to the numbers getting bigger and the budget values becoming a smaller percentage in comparison. Nevertheless, “Jurassic Park 3D” still makes an appearance in what would be a re-write of the Box Office Top 10.

Bang for the Buck

Here’s an interesting idea: let’s level the playing field now and see how things are, when the luxury of having a big budget is taken away. It is quite unfair and painfully true that the biggest blockbusters are seldom small budget releases, as they don’t get the marketing at the level of “The Avengers” and are more often than not ORIGINAL ideas, not rehashings and sequels. Therefore, I decided to see how much bang for the buck last year’s releases actually had. To do that, divide the film’s profit by its budget; the generated value depicts the amount of dollars that are generated as profit by one dollar of the budget. If the value is 0, the film broke even, if it’s 1, then it made a dollar of profit per dollar of budget. In other words, you spend one dollar and get two dollars back (the net profit in your pocket is 1).

Jurassic-Park-3D-T-Rex

Bang for the Buck Top 10 US (Dollar per Production Dollar)

  1. “Jurassic Park 3D” (39.2)
  2. “The Purge” (20.5)
  3. “Insidious Chapter 2” (15.7)
  4. “A Haunted House” (15)
  5. “Kevin Hart – Let Me Explain” (11.9)
  6. “The Conjuring” (5.9)
  7. “Jackass Presents – Bad Grandpa” (5.8)
  8. “Despicable Me 2” (3.84)
  9. “Mama” (3.77)
  10. “The Best Man Holiday” (3.1)

Bang for the Buck Top 10 Worldwide (Dollar per Production Dollar)

  1. “Jurassic Park 3D” (46.3)
  2. “Insidious Chapter 2” (31.2)
  3. “The Purge” (28.8)
  4. “A Hunted House” (23)
  5. “The Conjuring” (14.9)
  6. “Kevin Hart – Let Me Explain” (11.9)
  7. “Despicable Me 2” (11.3)
  8. “Mama” (8.8)
  9. “Jackass Presents – Bad Grandpa” (8.7)
  10. “We’re The Millers” (6.3)

Boom! No Blockbusters in sight! Instead we’ve got the mini-budget successes with the likes of “The Purge”, “Insidious Chapter 2” and “A Haunted House” leading the pack. Well, sort of… the shameful re-release of “Jurassic Park” still got the biggest bang for one dollar, but hey…

The-Purge-box-office-large

Interestingly, out of the titles normally found among the high-grossing blockbusters, only “Despicable Me 2” was left standing, and it might not be a stretch to call this film the most successful film of the 2013. Also, it goes to show that maybe comic book actioners and destruction porn are not the best way to create entertainment and get a solid return on your investment. I’d say, cheap genre films are just as good, if not better than any “Iron Man”. Of course, you can also re-release “Gladiator” in 3D next year… or “Schindler’s List”…

The Biggest Bombs

Last, but not least, here’s the Top 10 of the biggest financial disappointments of the year:

Top 10 Biggest Box Office Flops US ($M)

  1. “47 Ronin” (-138.6)
  2. “Jack The Giant Slayer” (-129.8)
  3. “The Lone Ranger” (-125.7)
  4. “R.I.P.D.” (-96.4)
  5. “Pacific Rim” (-88.2)
  6. “White House Down” (-76.9)
  7. “After Earth (-69.5)
  8. “Turbo” (-52)
  9. “Ender’s Game” (-48.3)
  10. “Walking With Dinosaurs” (-46.3)

Top 10 Biggest Box Office Flops Worldwide ($M)

  1. “47 Ronin” (-68.8)
  2. “R.I.P.D.” (-51.7)
  3. “Ender’s Game” (-21.1)
  4. “The Incredible Burt Wonderstone” (-2.6)
  5. “Jack The Giant Slayer” (2.7)
  6. “Delivery Man” (5.2)
  7. “The Host” (8.2)
  8. “Walking With Dinosaurs” (17.9)
  9. “The Mortal Instruments – City o Bones” (20.2)
  10. “Don Jon” (24.4)

And there you go… “47 Ronin” was hereby unequivocally crowned as the biggest bomb of the year topping the charts both in the US and globally. Note that the worldwide list excludes some films that did not get a proper global release in 2013 (“The Wolf of Wall Street”, “Lone Survivor”, or “Grudge Match”) and it would be unfair, to say the least, to include them. Anyway, just by looking at the discrepancies between the two lists, one can clearly see that the so-called biggest flops according to the various sources have managed to soften the blow when they hit the international market. So, even though the Americans didn’t like “The Lone Ranger”, “Pacific Rim”, “White House Down”, or “After Earth”, the world didn’t let those titles stand in the cold for too long. Interestingly, only four titles still failed to break even after the worldwide profits had been included. And once again, M. Night Shyamalan got saved by the international market, as his “After Earth” did not end up anywhere near the list of shame in global terms.

Conclusions

Having looked at the box office returns for the year 2013, one could quickly make an argument that the big blockbusters and comic book movies have been the most successful, but upon closer look, I no longer think it’s the case. Having looked at the B/O revenues, profits, and profitability per production dollar, there’s only one title that kept its place near the top in all of these ranks – “Despicable Me 2”. I’d say, according to me it was the most comprehensively successful film of the year.

Despicable-Me-2-movie-trailer

It saddens me to see that originality seems to be on the brink of extinction, but it is the world we live in and we have to make the best of it. I love to see, that genre films are still in good shape turning profits and entertaining the likes of me. I’d still do without the ghastly 3D re-releases of classics, because they’re classics for a reason. Who knows, maybe this year we’ll see more creative ideas on screen… Because judging by what’s in store for 2015, things will get really brutal.

Wrapping Up 2013

Now that we are fully committed to the New Year, I think I owe the 2013 a proper farewell kiss. Ironically, not too long from now, this very blog will be turning one, but I decided to separate those two occasions and simply devote this entry to looking back through time in ‘calendar’ terms. To me, personally, this year was full of fantastic developments and major changes, but film-wise, some would say, the 2013 was a bit underwhelming.

Looking at the box office revenues and the onslaught of sequels, it’s hard to disagree with the notion that (globally) cinema has seen better days. Still, the indie scene is flourishing and has been supplying us with food for thought, as if to counter the sensory overload brought about by the Hollywood money-making machine. However, I think highly of some of this year’s big budget productions and can’t help but admit I had a lot of fun watching them. I have had, unfortunately, my fair share of disappointment, but nevertheless the year 2013 shall not go down in my memory as one of the worst on record, at least that’s certain. I just have to come to terms with the idea that comic book movies are here to stay as replacement for the good ol’ actioners I grew up with, and that rehashing old ideas is the thing of the future.

In order to complete the ritual burial of 2013 (Viking style, of course), I decided – just like everybody else – to come up with my Top 10 Films I enjoyed the most in 2013, similar in vein to what I’ve done to summarize the first six months of the year. Bear in mind, that the artistic quality is only one of the factors that I consider. I make a point of not rating the films in my reviews (with the exception of Letterboxd that I joined recently), because for me a film can speak to me intellectually, artistically, or in terms of pure entertainment. And let’s not forget about those films that strike a special note in my heart, even when they are otherwise disappointing (“Elysium”, I’m looking at you).

Here we go:

10. “Evil Dead” / “Star Trek Into Darkness”

evil-dead-pics

I couldn’t decide which one I liked more and I couldn’t imagine my list of this year’s favourites without either of them. “Evil Dead”, directed by a débutante Fedé Alvarez, was just a pure adrenaline rush that, whilst being a remake, elbowed its way into my heart.  I am normally very sceptical when it comes to redoing classics, but this one certainly delivered on all levels, with strong emphasis on the gory, visceral entertainment that made my legs shake on my way home from the screening.

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“Star Trek Into Darkness”, directed by J.J. Abrams (a.k.a. The Lens Flare Guy) also spoke to me on a visceral level, but stroke completely different notes. Forgetting it’s a sequel to a reboot to an established franchise, this Sci-Fi epic was filled with action and adrenaline in its entirety. Surely, this film had its flaws and part of my enjoyment must have had something to do with the usual mystery J.J. Abrams veils his films with, but “Star Trek Into Darkness” was still pretty awesome.

9. “Man Of Steel”

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Some say that “Iron Man 3” was the best comic book film of the year, to which I say ‘Hell, no!’. I really loved Zack Snyder’s approach at resurrecting the Superman franchise, and that’s no small feat considering the level of disrepute it was brought down to over the years with abysmal sequelitis. “Man of Steel” has definitely been airbrushed by Chris Nolan, and partly because of this attempted grounding Superman’s mythos in reality, the film delivers astounding entertainment filled with high octane action. I loved the performances, I loved the villain, and for once, oddly, I am somewhat excited for the sequel.

8. “You’re Next”

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Even though I didn’t get to write up this film properly, I think it deserves its spot up there with the best. Rarely do I get to have as much fun watching horror films, as I had with ”You’re next”. It’s brutal, witty, comically self-aware (unlike “Cabin in the Woods”, which is allegedly comical, but I failed to see that) and playfully twists the genre on its head.

7. “The Conjuring”

Conjuring-large

Widely touted as the scariest film of the year, James Wan’s “The Conjuring” truly lived up to the hype. I am a sucker for a good scare, which this film has sported a good deal of. The combination of a clever use of old-school practical effects, relatable characters, and the ‘based on a true story’ slant truly resulted in a memorable and terrifying experience.

6. “The Kings of Summer”

kings-of-summer-malicky

I find it sad I didn’t get to see this film over the summer, because its impact would have been all the more powerful. “The Kings of Summer” is a brilliant coming-of-age comedy filled with witty humour, snappy dialogue, and beautiful cinematography, that makes you wish you were  fifteen again so that you could run away from home and build a house in the woods.

5. “Pacific Rim”

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As someone cleverly summed it up, “Pacific Rim” is the best early 90’s film made today. God, I wish I had come up with that myself. Guillermo Del Toro’s return to the big screen sporting monsters and big robots was just phenomenal and I couldn’t have wished for better quality entertainment. Brilliant special effects, awesome models, and outstanding attention to detail, stapled with a metric tonne of action was responsible for my biggest nerdgasm in recent memory.

4. “Behind the Candelabra”

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Steven Soderbergh’s swan song (following “Side Effects”, also released in 2013) about the life of Liberace was a phenomenal treat with unforgettable performances by Michael Douglas and Matt Damon. Watching this gripping story of love, abuse, betrayal and manipulation was not only entertaining, but most importantly engaging from the point of view of the artistry of film-making. Soderbergh, regardless of what he tackles, has a fine grip on the subject that will highlight the smallest nuances and turn a seemingly shallow love story to a whole different level. Sadly – and I hope he changes his mind – “Behind the Candelabra” is probably going to be the final entry in his filmography.

3. “The Place Beyond The Pines”

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Derek Cianfrance’s follow-up to the stunning “Blue Valentine” kept me glued to my chair. It’s the perfect indie drama with visceral performances by Ryan Gosling and Bradley Cooper that through the maze-like plot gets you to think about causality in life. Gripping, naturalistic, and dark in the subject matter, as well as the tone, “The Place Beyond The Pines” has been a front-runner for the best film of the year and only recently was it dethroned.

2. “Captain Phillips”

Captain Phillips Tom Hanks

Paul Greengrass’ newest piece was nothing short of great. This gritty film stylized as a documentary was striking in its naturalistic portrayal of the ordeal those few guys must have gone through when taken hostage by Somali pirates. Interestingly, “Captain Phillips” tries to stay impartial and somehow validates the motives of both sides, but the film’s true greatness comes from the meticulous procedural approach to every single thing on the screen. Plus, in my opinion, Tom Hanks has given the performance of a lifetime in “Captain Phillips”, which crescendoed amazingly in the final act. If that doesn’t score him an Oscar, I don’t know what will.

1. “Gravity”

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Alfonso Cuarón’s science-fiction epic adventure “Gravity” has left me speechless. Not only was it a feast for the senses with the amazingly clever special effects, blunt or inexistent sound, and finally a proper use of the third dimension, but it spoke to me on all levels. “Gravity” was a bundle of enjoyment with a stunning performance by Sandra Bullock, whom I never suspected of such capabilities, and a tight and layered storyline that kept me riveted to my seat. Finally, tickling me on an intellectual level with subtle visual cues and strong adherence to the rules of science has propelled “Gravity” to the very top of my most favourite films of the year, possibly of all time. In space no-one can hear you scream… Am I right?

And just like that, I can close the books on 2013. I guess, I could give the honourable mention to “Good Vibrations”, “Only God Forgives”, “Stoker”, “The Way, Way Back” and “Prisoners” that didn’t make the cut, but still are fantastic films in my opinion. At some point, I had to make the tough decisions, but I’d still gladly come back and revisit them as well.

Point of note for those wondering: I somehow failed to see apparently awesome films like “Mud”, “Fruitvale Station”, “Frances Ha”, “The Bling Ring”, “Rush”, “Blue Jasmine”, “The Counsellor”, or “Before Midnight” which might explain their absence in my ranks. I am, however, planning on getting round to watching and reviewing them in the near future.

Also, in my neck of the woods, films like “The Wolf of Wall Street”, “Out of the Furnace”, “12 Years a Slave”, or “American Hustle” (opened today) are released in January 2014 and I will make it my mission to watch them.

Happy New Year!

See Also:

2013 so far…

The Summer Blockbuster Challenge – Recap!

As of today, the summer season (at least in the US) has officially drawn to a close. The tickets have been sold, the films have been watched, the reviews have been written, the popcorn has been eaten and unceremoniously distributed on the floors by moronic teenagers… and so on. Therefore, I think it’s high time I saw how I’ve done with my predictions as to which films would dominate the box offices over these last few months.

Let me reiterate the rules of the challenge, as described by the good folks over at Slashfilm. By the way, whenever they come out (hopefully in the following days) with their results and the details of the scoring system, I shall make a note of it to see how I stand in comparison to the ‘big guys’.

First of all, the challenger gets to choose 10 films released in the period between the first weekend of May and the first weekend of September (inclusive) and arrange them according to the predicted domestic box office revenue from highest to lowest. Additionally, the challenger gets to name 3 Dark Horse entries that will gain extra points in case they make it to the top 10. The challenger will then be scored based on the accuracy of his/her predictions.

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Because I didn’t quite know the exact scoring rules, which I hope to learn in the foreseeable future, for a time being I decided to come up with a scoring system of my own that would reflect the accuracy of predictions, so let me walk you through it.

Quite logically, I assume that the perfect score would be to predict the ten films in exact order, for which the challenger would be awarded a score of 100%. From there, it’s quite easy to notice that in this system, predicting each entrant awards the challenger a maximum of 10%, which can be broken down further with regard to the accuracy in predicting its spot in the top 10. I think that in order to best reflect the real accuracy, a given film should be awarded 10% score if its predicted place on the list matches perfectly. A penalty of subtracting 1% from an individual score would be enforced on a film, if its predicted spot in the top ten differs by one from the actual result. For example, if the challenger predicted “Iron Man 3” to come up on top, which it did in reality, then no penalty would be awarded. But if he predicted this film to come up fifth, then 5% would be subtracted from the individual score. The Dark Horse entrant showing up in the top ten grants 5% score regardless of its positioning in the bracket. The sum of individual scores then gives the total score as a percentage.

Regardless of the actual rules of the Slashfilm challenge, I believe that this particular system doesn’t have any major flaws, as it awards accuracy and punishes its lack the most in its extremes. I think naming the top contenders is the easiest; therefore mistakes in that region should be punished most severely. The same goes for the bottom of the bracket.

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Above you can see what I came up with based on a quick analysis of the past top grossing summer films based on the release date, direct competition during release weekends and current trends in movie-going (left-hand column) against the harsh reality of the US summer box office results. Right of the bat, you can spot that I did a particularly terrible job at actually predicting the top 10, because as many as four films that I predicted never made it near the top. Plus, my personal Dark Horses (“White House Down”, “After Earth”, and “The Lone Ranger”) turned out to be the biggest bombs of the entire summer. How unlucky is that?

I also failed to listen to reason when I hoped “Man of Steel” would win the whole summer and show “Iron Man 3” where to go, which it didn’t. As predicted, though, I managed to pick the two animations that got to the top 10, but messed it up when it comes to the order and seriously underestimated the hype machine of the minions from “Despicable Me 2”. In other news, I failed to recognize the potentials of “World War Z” (which I thought would tank like the Titanic) and “The Great Gatsby”. “The Heat” and “The Conjuring” got me by complete surprise, because never in my life would I have thought that Sandra Bullock would stand a chance against a franchise like “The Hangover” (which under-performed severely). Plus, a horror film in the bracket? Nobody knew…

As a result, the collective penalties amounted to 53% which gave me a shameful score of 47%. Seriously, I need to work on my foretelling skills, because this is a joke. I know I might have included some titles in my list that were more like good wishes than actual cold calculations, but I didn’t think a film like “Pacific Rim” would bomb in the US. Well, I can only give myself a pat on the back for good effort and better luck next year.

summer2

But wait, there’s more… Since I have already begun writing up the summer season for a proper analysis (and I will roll it out some time this week) I could put my predictions against the worldwide box office results to see how I did on the global market. Granted, I might not know the American trends all that well, because I don’t live there, so what the hell…

Well, it’s not that bad! I was actually pleasantly surprised to note that I managed to get 9 out of 10 films, which is already an achievement. Plus, I got one film – “Wolverine” that I ironically refused to see – perfectly on the nose. Still, I vastly overestimated “Man of Steel”, and apart from a slight miscalculation on “Despicable Me 2” and “Fast and Furious 6” (I’m baffled as to why this film was so popular), I did quite respectably. And one more thing – taking into account the foreign markets, my personal favorite “Pacific Rim” landed finally in the top 10, as if to please me in some way.

In the end, I scored 64% against the global top 10 this summer, a score that might not look impressive, but it’s nothing to sniff at. Still, I think I should re-evaluate my methods for the next year, but then again, if I take into account all the harsh assumptions I made, I should be rather glad the moviegoers proved me wrong. How can I be mad at the fact that a phenomenal horror made a lot of money? And the less money sequels make, the better for everyone…

 

Just because there’s more of you, doesn’t mean you’re right…

Speaking of Internet rage, I Just wanted to put it out there, so that I have something to refer to in two years’ time. Yeah, so in case you just woke up from a coma, none other than Ben Affleck has been cast as the next Batman in the upcoming sequel to this year’s “Man of Steel”, which is supposed to be a Batman/Superman crossover. And again (and pretty much on the same day as the Joss Whedon thing happened) the Internet has crapped its collective pants in the violent episode of nerd-rage and to this day – three days later – it still stinks… Wherever I turn, it’s really difficult to see past the feces-hurling and name-calling, because for the vast majority of the Internet vocal hate-club Ben Affleck is as good as dead as an actor and to take on such an iconic character of The Caped Crusader can only be seen as a slap on the face of everyone out there.

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I’m not even going to delve into the subject deeper, because it’s not my place to comment on casting decisions, especially in light of what I’m about to say. As somebody who has grown up alongside the Internet revolution, I should only remind everyone that the phenomenon of the World Wide Web has not so much spawned, but brought to the public light the collective problem of humanity – the fear of change. We know all too well that we tend to like what we know and fear (and dislike) the unknown and different. That’s about as close as it gets to the foundations of racism, intolerance and a whole slew of other modern problems we struggle with every day. Combine all that with the anonymity the Internet provides and we can bask in hatred all day long, just because somebody somewhere is trying to force a change down our throats.

But change is good and it’s what we need to evolve and further ourselves as humans, and more often than not what we had feared so terribly in the first place, ends up being our next favorite thing in the whole world. ‘Who needs iPads anyway?’ you’d have asked yourselves a few years back – now you probably own one (or its Android equivalent) and cannot imagine your life without it; that’s how addictive toilet gaming is… But I digress…

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So let me dig out some dirt, if you let me, because I simply can’t stand the overwhelming abundance of non-creative memes that attack my poor sense of vision every time I look something up online. As the old adage goes (and if there isn’t an adage like that, there damn well should be one by now), the Internet forgives, but it never forgets. And it didn’t forget what you all felt when you heard that a Brokeback-brat Heath Ledger was going to become the next Joker in “The Dark Knight”. Hell, even Jack Nicholson wasn’t having any of it, partly because he wasn’t even considered for the role, but to leave a character of that magnitude to a prince Charming was just a bridge too far. It’s amusing to read all that profound wisdom from where I’m sitting now, but it wasn’t all dancing and singing back in the day. It got to a point that Nolan himself had to explain his casting choices to fend off the pitchforks and torches.

And do you remember Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man? Well, it didn’t get all that nasty, but there was a good crowd of nay-sayers voicing their disdain about it all too loudly. And Daniel Craig as the next James Bond? I reckon none of those brave hate-mongers who prophesized doom to “The Dark Knight”, “Iron Man”, or “Casino Royale” will admit how terribly wrong they ended up being. Therefore, I’ll reserve judgment until I’ll have seen Ben Affleck as Bruce Wayne. Sure, he’s made some terrible films in the past, but let’s not overlook that he is  a talented man of film (universally acclaimed and thusly awarded) and I think we might be in for a surprise with this one. But I hope to God he’d ditch Bale’s bat-voice…

Perception strikes back

It really has been a slow month with next to nothing of value hitting the screens. Not only that, it seems to me that apart from some scarce casting news, there isn’t much happening at the minute in the greater world of film. Sure, there still are festivals and some minor announcements here and there, but not enough for me to have an opinion about – and that saddens me deeply, as I shan’t really write for the sake of having something new up there. I genuinely hope things pick up come September, because it’s just silly to be picking on sequels all the damn time.

Well… Having said all that, I had the privilege yesterday to observe the vocal collective of overzealous movie lovers go batshit crazy in the comment sections of every major movie blog/news outlet and I think I’d like to say a few words on the matter as well. I could theoretically join any of the already existing threads, but I won’t simply because every single one of them has been derailed by the movie-goer equivalents of religious fundamentalists and turned into hate-spouting shoutfests. We all know you can’t really have a mature conversation with someone convinced that repeating himself and shouting will get his point across.

In the interest of keeping things concise (well, relatively), I’ll just get to it. Ok, so why exactly has the Internet exploded with rage? Well… Sequels… But not just any sequels. It turns out that Joss Whedon (the man behind “The Avengers”, if you don’t know) during a recent interview has voiced – and not for the first time, I might add – his very strong opinion on “The Empire Strikes Back”. Do you feel the tension in the room? Well, basically, he admitted not to be a big fan of this film’s ending. Granted, he started off by naming “The Empire…” an example of a sequel done right, but he then went on to say how displeased he was with how the film concluded. And to him, it didn’t conclude at all, thus resembling an episode of a TV show rather than a stand-alone full-feature film.

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You could imagine that the second I read it, I immediately scrolled down to the comments to check for hate-speech. Suffice it to say, you can’t tamper with film classics of that caliber without getting a good chunk of the Internet up in arms. Especially when the said classic is a cornerstone of a substantial culture nurtured and expanded upon over the last decades. Therefore, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that having someone that prominent in the geek-world say thing like that will provoke a strong emotional response from the community.

But… are you sure the man doesn’t have a point? As a person interested in the truth and hearing both sides before making hasty judgments, I’d like to stop and think what Joss Whedon tried to say in the first place. He didn’t dismiss your (and mine) beloved “Star Wars” at all, and if you felt offended, then you are also incapable of having an unbiased opinion that brings anything of value to the table. The only thing the man said was that he didn’t enjoy the ending to “The Empire…” because of its totally unresolved nature, because he had to wait another three years to see how everything came together. And it is a genuine concern based on his experience.

I think it’s safe to assume that the overwhelming majority of the offended commenters have never seen “The Empire…” or “The Return of The Jedi” when during their original theatrical runs. I sure didn’t because I wasn’t even born at the time. Therefore, it is imperative that before making any comments on Joss Whedon’s credibility, we should try to see the problem through his eyes. We often forget that we take certain things for granted and simply assume things like The Original Trilogy has been there always. Sure, for me it was… At any given point in my life I was able to sit down and watch all three Star Wars films back-to-back without even thinking about how any of the respective episodes would perform on their own. I have never had any issues with how “The Empire…” ended, because every single time I would just pop “The Return…” on and continue the journey. And that, my dear Internet, is a luxury you didn’t get back in 1980.

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Joss had to wait three years to see Luke become a full-blown Jedi and rescue Han from the slimy hands of Jabba the Hutt. If you look at “The Empire Strikes Back” this way, you might actually notice that its ending was far from perfect. It was completely different from the original “Star Wars”, which was conceived as a stand-alone feature and was only expanded to a set of three following the amazing box office results, because at that point George Lucas knew very well he would get the financing for a whole trilogy, so he decided to leave so many loose threads and end “The Empire…” on a cliffhanger. That’s a risky move on its own, because it was very much designed for the viewers to exit the cinema not satiated and longing for more. And three years is a long time to wait for a follow-up to something as awesome as “The Empire Strikes Back”, so no wonder people did get emotional about that.

So, as a person who not only has grown up with The Original Trilogy at his side, but also had enough resolve to look past the attempted vandalism done by its creator in the form of the revamped Special Edition and the Prequel Trilogy, I can only say the following: before you draw your sword and jump in your crusader’s armor, make sure you’re fighting for the right cause. Blind faith and jihadist zealotry never go down well in a discussion, while cogent arguments always do. Calling people names, because he happens to be of a different opinion (and perfectly valid at that), sadly does not look like a result of sound reasoning.

Scientists vs. “Pacific Rim”

I reckon it’s one of those evenings again when instead of doing something that I had already planned in advance (in this particular case it was a plan to review a film) I will be forced to address an issue that has been brewing in the back of my brain for a while.

It has come to my attention that a film that I thoroughly enjoyed (“Pacific Rim”) weirdly enough has sparked a discussion about the erroneous and allegedly denigrating portrayal of science and its practitioners. Therefore, I feel compelled to voice my own opinion on the subject, as I have not only enjoyed the film and have not been bothered by its take on science, but – as a scientist myself – I think I am reasonably qualified to do so anyway being a member of the community that has supposedly been affected by “Pacific Rim’s” ignorant, superficial and (help me, thesaurus, you’re my only hope) defamatory depiction of the world’s intellectual elite.

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In the last week’s episode of Slashfilmcast, as a sort of impromptu debate in between film reviews, the problem of “Pacific Rim” and its goofy scientists has been raised, wherein it was argued that the scientist characters portrayed by Charlie Day and Burn Gorman have nothing to do with how a real scientist looks like and that the film-makers have completely over-stepped the line between a comedic caricature and a slanderous mockery. The comment by a real-life professional particle physicist from Penn University, Sean, who must have left the screening deeply offended by how Guillermo Del Toro and Travis Beacham have shown his profession in an allegedly negative light, has only cemented my resolve to partake in the discussion.

Let me ask you this: why do we seem to be having a problem in the first place? For all I know, “Pacific Rim” is not the first and will most certainly not be the last film that is punctuated by raging inaccuracies in its portrayal of science and the mechanistic aspects of reality (i.e. how come a kaiju can be a silicon-based life-form, but still have DNA), but for some reason the general consensus is to single it out as dumb, unrealistic, and offensive in its ignorance. A quick Google search will actually show you, how determined some people have gotten in their attempt to call the creators of “Pacific Rim” on their bullshit. I completely understand the idea of applying real science to point out where exactly a given film is inaccurate; hell, I used to do that myself years ago. It’s just one of those things that nerdy young apprentices of science do in their down time and I was no different. I’m sure I’m not the only one in here, who used to have very heated debates with friends about the intricacies of warp drive, wormholes, mechanics of giant robots, or whether in real life a character would survive the ordeal, from which he seemed to have escaped unscathed on screen.

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But would anybody do the same for a fantasy film? Would anybody question the mechanics of conjuring a fireball by a wizard in his battle against a hell-spawn demon? Of course not, simply because we inadvertently assume that we are dealing there with a different universe that might or might not have completely different and obscure mechanics. Nobody questions, why the seasons in “Game of Thrones” last for generations, because it is the very premise on which this entire world is built. So, why can’t we do the same for giant robots and monsters?

Where exactly is the difference then? After all, “Pacific Rim” creates a universe (tangential to our own; I can’t see any kaiju roaming the Pacific coasts, can you?) where an alien race uses an inter-dimensional gateway to dispatch big-ass monsters to fight the inhabitants of Earth. At this point, I am not allowed to question anything about the so-called realism of the universe, because the fact giant monsters can emerge from a different dimension to fight gigantic robots is the very convention used in this film. It’s commonly referred to as poetic license and pretty much assumes that it is well within the author’s powers to create a world as he sees fit and we shouldn’t apply any laws of our nature to explain the events depicted in the story set in the aforementioned universe. Well, we still do it for the fun of calculating things (non-nerds will never understand it though), but I find it unjust to judge the quality of the film based on the mechanics of the universe it shows and its apparent lack of realism. Somehow, I can’t remember anyone being that snipy about “The Avengers”, “Man of Steel”, or “Iron Man”. I guess, nobody is bothered by giant ships floating in the lower stratosphere, men flying at supersonic speeds and/or dressing in suits of armour that can do anything short of cooking a dinner for five. Again, where is that line “Pacific Rim” has crossed?

If you’re somehow capable of grasping the notion of “Pacific Rim” having nothing to do with reality, then most of the initially contentious areas of this film will become irrelevant (maybe excluding the wind-resistant umbrellas), so that we can focus at the problem actually raised by Sean the Physicist. Well, he thinks it is berating to depict scientists (regardless of their field) as loud, goofy, inconsiderate or reckless. He goes a step further though claiming it is damaging to the scientific society, when the general public is shown that kind of stereotypical-bordering-on-racist portrayal of a scientist that fails to show their real motivations, their real desires and dreams, and what real scientists actually do for a living. Because that’s how Hollywood films usually show scientists – as mad, sinister, socially awkward people that use long words, wear white lab coats and dream of world domination. But don’t they do the same with policemen? Aren’t they typically obese, donut-eating, rule-disregarding trigger-happy, alcoholic macho cowboys addicted to adrenaline? …Or politicians? …Or journalists? Seriously, pick a profession and you will find that Hollywood does a near perfect job at creating its stereotypical and potentially damaging image in high-profile blockbusters. So why would the scientists be exempt exactly?

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Does every police drama have to pay due homage to the trials and tribulations of the law enforcement officers? Conversely, does every Sci-Fi film have to be scientifically accurate and/or truthful in its depiction of science? Hell, No! Do you want to know why? Because it’d be boring – that’s why!

I know that we – scientists – tend to have some form of a god complex which makes us feel unique and special, so that we can create our little bubbles in which we’d dwell completely divorced from the mundane problems of the real world. Therefore, we are led to believe that whatever it is we do, it is magnificent and ground-breaking and if we can get just that one grant, or that one paper out, then we could change the world and we would be remembered for eons…

But, let’s be honest for a second. What are the real motivations that drive a scientist to spend days and nights in the lab, to stare at white boards full of equations, to run countless simulations, or to never stop thinking about work? Is it the inherent desire to understand the world? Or maybe the selfless need to help others? As much as I’d like to think so, the truth lies far from it. In the grand scheme of things, as with any other profession, I might add, the main goals of any practicing scientist are fame, power, and money. I really don’t want to delve deeper into the rotten nature of the scientific community, but modern science – for the most part – has nothing to do with selfless sacrifice for the greater good. A scientist these days doesn’t pursue the problems he finds interesting, but rather the ones that would yield publications. Research than cannot be published is simply not worth the hassle. Moreover, the scientist strives to publish his findings only in the most prestigious of journals, so that he can secure the grants for his future endeavours and so that he could feel better among his peers.

Exactly – peers! But, have you ever tried to explain your research to a civilian? How many practitioners of science are capable of addressing the general public, so that the crowd understands the importance of their work? And worse yet: how many scientists actually do that? Try and ask members of public to name 5 physicists, astronomers, chemists, or biologists and you’ll see how lacking the perception of science in the real world is. A simple question of who won the Nobel Prize in any of the scientific disciplines would reveal how little people actually know, and it’s not their fault, honestly speaking; it’s the hermetic shut-off nature of the scientific community filled with elitist individuals who despise teaching that’s responsible.

So, yes! I’d like my film scientists to be divorced from reality sometimes. I’ll gladly take the goofy guys from “Pacific Rim” or the socially awkward bunch from “The Big Bang Theory” any day of the week. It’s not that I don’t enjoy seeing faithful portrayal of any profession, but there is time and place for everything and at times a little bit of comic relief (be it caricature or not) is much welcome. If you’re worried that the youngsters will take that kind of depiction seriously and it would steer them away from pursuing science as a career – well then, they wouldn’t make good scientists anyway, if they’re that easily discouraged. I know some of you might feel they are getting the shorter end of the stick when the cops, pilots, soldiers and any other gun-wielding profession gets all the appraisal and flag waving. But a true scientist should be immune to applause and continue on his journey to the truth in spite of it all, so if you’re offended by wacky scientists in blockbusters, maybe you’re not a scientist after all, but more of an attention-seeking lab-rat suffering from abandonment issues that thought becoming a researcher was a great career move.

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In closing, I’d like to bring one more thing to attention. While it’s perfectly reasonable to discard the scientific validity of anything that Hollywood tent-pole releases try to pass as science, I find it baffling that there are individuals out there claiming to have been offended by the idea of Charlie Day’s character sticking an electrode into a hunk of alien meat and attaching it to his own brain. I am really struggling to understand the problem. Could it be that a ‘real scientist’ would never ever ever ever ever do anything like that, because it’s a reckless, potentially harmful behaviour and nobody can possibly fathom what repercussions it might bring?

Well, have I got news for you… Self-experimentation has been and most likely will remain indispensable as a tool of scientific progress. It embodies the pinnacle of human curiosity – which by the way the scientists should carry forward for the future generations – without which many discoveries and ground-breaking observations would have happened much much later. Simply because the breed of scientists has a long history of researchers tasting their synthesized chemicals, or injecting themselves with home-made vaccines, or various bacteria, I do not have a problem with seeing that on the screen.

After all is said and done, in this day and age when we are advised not to endanger ourselves in the name of curiosity, I think every scientist out there should share the sentiment that we think it’s really (!!!) cool to be able to do something like that; just to feel how it’s like for a moment. Because that’s what science is all about and I’d very much like the young people to understand it, however comedic it comes across, there’s nothing wrong in showing a guy willingly establishing a wired connection with a hunk of meat. It’s all about learning the truth and heeding the cry of our inner curious child that makes us boldly go where no man has gone before. And if any particle physicist ends up offended by that, then he must have a huge chip on his shoulder, and maybe – just maybe – he’s not a real scientist at all. Science is not a job that you do and it has nothing to do with scoring a position at an Ivy League institution. Being a scientist is a state of mind; it’s the desire to do what nobody else would think of doing. So, to the best of my knowledge, even the wacky scientists in “The Independence Day” or “Pacific Rim” end up rather faithful in that regard, everything else aside.

Rant Over.

 

The Blind Spot Special – The Spike List

For some time now I have been toying with various ideas about getting in touch with the classics of cinema, but unfortunately I couldn’t decide on the form or the content of something like that. Quite frankly, simply going through (or even worse – binging through) the most iconic pieces of film-making I find daunting to say the least and I’d rather prefer to sprinkle some fun into equation by making it a game or a challenge. To certain extent I hoped that “The Blind Spot” reviews would be fit for purpose, but I failed to incorporate the fun factor into it, so in the end, “The Blind Spot” I have decided to keep for more personally relevant stuff.

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Other than that, I still have some ideas to re-invigorate me desire to get acquainted with things I really should have seen by now (like most of Woody Allen’s stuff and nearly all of Hitchcock’s work), but due to my own personal time constraints I think I’ll have to hold back on that though for a little while.

Meanwhile, Spike Lee in an attempt to utilize his high profile now (especially with the anticipated “Oldboy” remake to hit the screen soon-ish) has decided to share some of his film knowledge with the rest of us. In case if you don’t know, Spike Lee is also a teacher at NYU Film School where he mentors countless young aspiring film-makers and, as he put it, every year before he starts off with a fresh batch of young minds, Spike gives every student a list of films he believes a film-maker should see. And now he shared the list with us as well. Now, I’m no film-maker nor I intend to become one, but I thought I’d have a look to see how Spike Lee wants me to see the world of cinema.

And I have to admit, I’m a little embarrassed… Out of 86 films Spike named as absolutely vital for any film-maker to see, I can only say I’ve seen 12. You can have a look at the list here, but suffice it to say that my knowledge of iconic classics lacks severely. Plus, out of those 12 I know, I can only remember 4 of them, that’s how long it’s been since I saw them. Even though I’m not planning on making any films in the foreseeable future, I believe I should make haste and get cracking on them classics. I think it’s always fun to come up with little projects that give you some more things to do in your spare time, so I accept the challenge, Mr Lee. You have uncovered a major blind spot in my knowledge of film and it shall be addressed. Additionally, it’s yet another thing to be writing about.

Excelsior!

One more thing: I wonder if Spike Lee’s list would inspire his fellow acclaimed directors and writers to come up with lists of their own. I’d definitely love to have a look at what Martin Scorsese, Steven Spielberg, David Fincher, or Danny Boyle would like me to see.