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.

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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…

 

The Sunday Rant

Right, so I thought I could use some venting. The years of indentured servitude one has to go through in order to become a scientist, all the while biting his tongue and pickling his emotions, have taught me that keeping things in can be at least referred to as unhealthy. So, as one might probably realize by now, I tend to rant. A lot. I like to think it’s therapeutic, but other than that I don’t really know.

Last week ended up being really interesting. I spent God knows how long waiting for the rest of the world to catch up with the greatest (so far) stink-bomb of the year – “Iron Man 3”, because I really wanted to see how it is received globally. It would seem that here in Europe we’re mostly good guys and instances of brutally spoiling this film for our fellow movie-goers across the pond were rather scarce; if you don’t count Youtube – that place is just full of butt-holes, but who am I to talk… I sincerely hoped “Iron Man 3” would bomb, but quite expectedly people loved it. The critics write sonnets about how fantastic it was and the box office revenue reflects the popular (sigh!) vote; and that scares me.

I mean, I can understand that people don’t want to step on anyone’s toes with this one, because the great Shane Black wrote the script for this piece of crap, but let’s face it: for the good of everyone around there should be no sanctity when it comes to art or entertainment. If Spielberg makes a s**t film – people should know, but it turns out that RDJ only needs flutter his eyelashes for everybody to fall hopelessly in love with Iron Man… Shame… And to think someone who brought us “Lethal Weapon” or “The Last Boy Scout” could contribute to this…

Fortunately, I’m not the only one who saw that (here’s a video rant from Peter Rallis), but still countless masses made Marvel and Disney think they’ve done it right, because the only thing that matters in here is money. They’ll make a lot of it with this one and I’ll bet you money right here and now that the PG-13 spirit of “Iron Man 3” will make its way to the next “Thor”, “Captain America” or the next “Avengers”. Who knows, maybe they all will feature little boys, Christmas themes and meaningless non-violent substitute for action. It’s not OK. If you want to see a good comic book movie – go and watch “The Crow” (I re-watched it last Sunday to wash the Iron Man off my brain). Actually, do it before they remake it in PG-13, because they are remaking it. Since R-rated movies are frowned upon, the teenagers moan and groan and people lose money, I’m afraid the remake might not be exactly dark.

Now, I could even try and come to terms with the superhero genre replacing the good old-fashioned action cinema, but if this is the way we’re headed – count me out. Now I’m literally dreading the release of “Thor 2”, “Star Trek Into Darkness” and “Man of Steel”, because what if they suck as badly as “Iron Man 3” did? And I need my action films to feel normal. I was raised with them and can’t imagine the world without them…

And in that spirit, and following the raging disappointment Iron Man had caused, I caught up with two films that had slipped through my fingers: “Jack Reacher” and “End of Watch”. Now, I really appreciate the effort, because lately it is rather difficult to see something relatively original leave Hollywood. Well, maybe not exactly, because “Jack Reacher” was based on a novel if I remember correctly, but then again adapting literature is nowhere near as bad as plastering numbers on films or re-heating old noodles are. I desperately tried to like it and as a result I ended up even more frustrated with it than I originally was. Somebody needs to tell Tom Cruise it is time to go. I appreciate “Rain Man, “Jerry Maguire” or “Vanilla Sky”, but enough is enough. Tom just can’t create a believable character for crime/action film any more. It’s all Ethan Hunt over and over again and the attempted noir atmosphere just doesn’t sit very well with him. Between this, the last “Mission Impossible” and “Oblivion”, I think I’ve had enough of Tom Cruise in action films.

“End of Watch” on the other hand… Now that was something else. It was brutal, violent, gripping, maybe a bit heavy-handed with all the flag-waving and police self-apotheosis, but at least it stayed true to the values of action/crime cinema. Maybe the found-footage thing was a bit sketchy, but hey… Everybody vlogs now, so why not the Mexican gangs… So, just because I can swallow a fair bit of pathos before I get sick, I wasn’t bothered by the ‘serve-and-protect’ nonsense. The dialogues were nice, Jake Gyllenhaal was awesome, and most of all when bullets flew, people got hurt. So that’s a plus, because I hate when movies show battles or gunfights and everyone’s OK (which is exactly what I saw in “Iron Man 3”, and no – I do not intend to stop bashing it, it deserves it). Plus, the entirety of the film takes place in a car or in its direct surroundings, so clearly no-one needs to blow up oil rigs or destroy CG-made cities to keep the adrenaline up.

In fact, even “Crimson Tide” (that I happened to re-watch this week as well) proves that you can put your characters in a can and use no effects whatsoever in a film, for it to be gripping. Flag-wavy, but still gripping… But then, Denzel Washington sort of drives the movie on its own, which is yet another piece of evidence that we need character-driven action films and not this plastic colorful flashy bulls**t.

Speaking of plastic colorful flashy crap, Lovefilm sent me “Skyline” this week and I don’t really want to talk about it. I had it on my rental list for ages, because why the hell not and now I got it. What a pile of crap that was… It should be shown to people in film schools as a reminder that special effects are not enough and special effects guys rarely make good directors. Notable exceptions of the like of James Cameron can only prove the theory as a whole, because no theory is complete without exceptions. I shouldn’t even speak about “Skyline” any longer, because it might be mistaken for a review, but I’ll say only this: even though it tried to look like good modern sci-fi with all the bling what-not, but the appalling story and wooden acting can make any good film look mediocre… And a mediocre film look terrible… And a terrible film unwatchable… Therefore, just to make sure I still like Sci-fi I quickly re-watched “Sunshine” and “War of the Worlds” (with the latter additionally easing my Tom Cruise pain, but Spielberg can actually direct actors so that they look convincing, so I don’t know) and everyone was happy again.

Still, when was the last time I watched some genuinely good Sci-fi? As much as I’d like to say “Prometheus”, I couldn’t live with myself for doing that. All the nonsense that went on in that movie has most probably stretched the whole thing into a trilogy, which Ridley Scott will never finish (because he won’t have a clue, how to make it look kosher again) and hence “Prometheus” should be promptly disqualified. But anyway… Good Sci-fi… Maybe “Battle LA” could qualify even with the tonne of pathos it carried, but I think the last time I was literally blown away by a Sci-Fi film was the time I saw “District 9” – four years ago!

But there is a silver lining to that, because Neill Blomkamp’s “Elysium” hits theaters this summer, so at least I’ll have something to look forward to. And I can try to feel better about seeing “Star Trek” next weekend – hopefully it won’t suck.

Meanwhile, the Sunday rant slowly crept onto Monday territory and I think I can stop now. Maybe next week I’ll do something similar and I’ll see where it gets me.

Rant over.

“Iron Man 3” – I was NOT amused…

It would seem that the universe just doesn’t want me to do what I really want. Instead, just when I feel comfortable enough to finally sit down and write about what I actually liked, it gives me this… Because of this burning need I feel within me, I cannot yet again do what I want, but I must first get it off my chest and clear up my mind.

The Summer Blockbuster Season is upon us. The teenagers are out and about turning movie theaters into pigsties, the queues at the cinemas are longer than usual, and the amount of superheroes on the posters will soon be at its yearly highest.  We’ve already seen the first glimmer of what is yet to come in “Oblivion” and I can only call it a fail start, so in order to be polite I thought I wouldn’t take that dud of a movie seriously. Sure, it had a solid budget, nice VFX and music, but the sub-par utterly non-creative collage story killed it for me quite effectively.

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That leaves “Iron Man 3” to open up the season for real this time, because right thereafter we have a bag of big budget blockbusters lined up with “Star Trek: Into Darkness”, “Man of Steel”, “Thor 2 – The Dark World”, “Pacific Rim” and “World War Z” leading the charge. There. So I went and saw it…

I think it is well established that “Iron Man” franchise has been widely successful partly due to its self-parody slant. Robert Downey Jr’s comedic and lighthearted portrayal of Tony Stark has grown nearly to a legendary status and after “The Avengers” the bar was pretty high when it comes to what we would like to expect from Marvel’s Phase Two (which starts off this year with “Iron Man 3”). The extensive marketing campaign has successfully elevated our expectations with the fact we would see Sir Ben Kingsley portraying The Mandarin – the ultimate villain in the Iron Man’s universe – and that we would see more Tony Stark, and less Iron Man. We were promised adrenaline, drama, more focus on Tony’s inner problems, and of course tonnes of action and unforgettable effects… And I got none of them. None, null, nada, zero… I literally wanted to demand my money back, but in hindsight, I should have known better in the first place. Or maybe I’ve grown to be uber cynical, but I highly doubt that. It’s not as if I went to see “Iron Man 3” assuming it would suck. I went there hoping for a good time, but the fact that film sucked so badly, seriously impeded my ability to actually have a good time.

“Iron Man 3” started off with a premise that the events of “The Avengers” had taken a serious toll on Tony Stark’s well-being. He couldn’t sleep, suffered from insomnia (and nightmares when he actually slept) and kept building new suits and contraptions that would keep tragedies of that magnitude from happening… or something.

Meanwhile, a mysterious terrorist, who calls himself The Mandarin, is on the loose. No-one really knows what he wants, or where he is at a given point in time, and his vicious terrorist attacks go mostly unpunished. Only when Tony Stark’s close friend winds up in a hospital after one of Mandarin’s bombings, he finally decides to suit up in his can again and face his foe. What he doesn’t know is that in doing so he’d have to face enemies he made way back in his days of arrogance, condescension and banging strangers. In order to actually face The Mandarin and settle the score Iron Man will need to come to terms with his problems, finally understand the importance of Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) in his life and revisit some old acquaintances… very fiery acquaintances…

 

This is pretty much, how “Iron Man 3” looks on paper. It sounds enticing, it promises action and all, but delivers nothing but disappointment. As I said before, “Iron Man” franchise has never taken itself too seriously and stayed unique this way, up until now. The third installment of the adventures of Tony Stark went a bridge too far and as a result, the whole film turns into farce before the story is even rolling. It begins with grandiose statements of how the past determines our present, and so on, and so forth. We see the suffering Stark, who then quickly forgets all about this and turns into a one-liner robot. Not that I don’t appreciate a good one-liner in an actioner, but this time it was a bit much. There were moments I wasn’t even sure I should care about anything that happens on the screen, because Tony Stark kept taking a piss virtually every time he was on it, regardless of what peril he (or Pepper) was in.

So that’s that. Secondly, I realized that “Iron Man 3” was supposed to be packed with super-awesome action sequences, but they all were somehow lifeless; pretty, but I couldn’t care less… Probably partly due to Tony Stark’s humor getting in the way far too often. Additionally, for the action to be meaningful, the story needs to be compelling. And here, there’s nothing. You could show me a million Iron Men army fighting dragons and demons, but it’s all for nothing if I don’t care about any of the characters. And I can’t care about anything when Tony Stark doesn’t  I know he’s supposed to be cynical and all, but it really annoyed me this time round.

And the Mandarin… Oh, the Mandarin. In the interest of not spoiling anything for anyone who still hasn’t seen it, I shall say the following. I really enjoyed Ben Kingsley here. It was really fun to watch him, even though his manneeeeer of speeeech was ratheeeer annoyiiiing at tiiiiiiimes. But, whoever claims Kingsley’s Mandarin is on par with Ledger’s Joker, needs to go to a store and get himself a pair of new eyes. A good make-up doesn’t really cut it here, does it? Especially that “Iron Man 3” takes a ‘cough’ rather unorthodox approach at The Mandarin. I shan’t say more. I could (and maybe I will) rant a bit more on how The Mandarin would not even shine Joker’s shoes, but it’s neither the time nor place for it…

“Iron Man 3” is simply a generic action superhero flick aimed at the teenage audience. There’s action – sure, there are explosions, evil henchmen, a couple of villains, gunfights and the like. On the plus side, the film sports a twist that you don’t see coming and is in fact hilariously entertaining. But the era of M. Night Shyamalan is long gone and a twist won’t save a film any more…

Nevertheless, I sat there mostly indifferent turning my head in discontent and performing occasional face-palms every now and again. It got to a point when I couldn’t really wait for this movie to end, as its final sequences were terribly boring; but I survived until the end.

The credits rolled and I sat there waiting for the post-credit sequence hoping for a teaser of some sort. What a waste of time that was. Don’t get me wrong, there’s one and if you like, stay put and have a look at it, but it is a bit underwhelming. Nothing major…

That would neatly sum up what I thought about “Iron Man 3” when leaving the cinema – nothing major. I felt bamboozled. This was not what I was promised in the trailers. This was not how I expected of “Iron Man” trilogy to conclude. The story was all over the shop, the action was meaningless and the humor quickly got stale. The plot was full of holes, the characters (especially the villains) were poorly introduced and in the end no-one cared about anything that happened on the screen. Waste of time. I hope “Man of Steel” is going to raise the bar, because action movies like “Iron Man 3” are simply unacceptable.