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…

 

Terrible box office performance isn’t necessarily a bad thing…

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, never left your house in the last two weeks, or you have been disconnected from the World Wide Web, you should know about the highly anticipated “Pacific Rim” hitting the screens this past weekend. Well, Internet, I have to say I am a bit disappointed in you… again, because it looks to me that “Pacific Rim” is going to go down in history as that awesome film that nobody went to see; a bit like “Dredd 3D” last year, but on a bigger budget.

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This morning (and it’s a bank holiday here where I live) when I looked at the Box Office news, I couldn’t really believe my own eyes. Well, I have already heard that the opening night was a tad underwhelming, but coming in third behind “Grown Ups 2” (!!!) and “Despicable Me 2”, which by the way has been put for two weeks already, just did not add up. How that could happen, I ask… Does the general public fear anything that’s not a sequel and/or a remake? Is that it?

I shouldn’t really be surprised given how this summer has been unfolding so far. From the current top ten highest grossing films of this summer, five are direct sequels, one is a reboot (and that’s “Man of Steel”), and there are two high-profile book adaptations (“World War Z” and “The Great Gatsby”; nothing against it, but I just had to put it out there). That leaves us with only two examples of “original thought” that has made a considerable profit. Note the ironic use of quotation marks, because the original films in question involve the horrid “Now you see me” and “The Heat” that I haven’t seen yet (and I doubt I will, at least in the cinema). This leads me to conclude that the rampaging sequelitis that’s been at large for the best part of the last decade or so, has finally done it: now your average Joe will never trust a given title (and let’s confine ourselves only to high-profile blockbusters) unless it’s something he has seen before one way or another. Unless it’s another comic book movie with well-established mythos, a sequel, prequel, or a reboot, there’s no chance Average Joe is going to buy the ticket. After all, the times are tough, money is scarce and it’s far better to spend your money on something that you know is going to be good, right?

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Even if you compare “Pacific Rim” to, say, “Transformers” trio (I refuse to call it a trilogy) in terms of content versus box office revenue, I’d say that an Average Joe should be able to draw a parallel between the two and think it might be just like “Transformers”, but with giant monsters… And I have to say that Michael Bay on his best day wouldn’t be able to create a spectacle like “Pacific Rim”, full stop. And I don’t even want to venture into how shite “Transformers” really are; not in the widely acceptable film quality, but in the geek-type quality. I might put together a short rant later on about just that, but suffice to say now that “Pacific Rim” in my eyes is the closest to being the modern standard for any type of movie about giant anything.

But there’s a silver lining to it all, I think… I like to believe that because the average stream of teenagers failed to recognize how awesome “Pacific Rim” was, makes it even more special to us, nerds. You heard me, now I get to feel like a Brooklyn hipster and no outlander shall taint this mountain of epicness with their comparisons to any other sci-fi that might, or might not have had Robert Downey Jr. in it.

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Apart from the nerdy bragging rights, I now feel safe about one thing: due to terrible box office revenue, “Pacific Rim” will most likely never get to breed a sequel. Can you imagine, how cool that is? It’s never going to be bastardized with the ‘bigger and louder’ clone of itself and I sincerely hope “Pacific Rim” will remain the stand-alone bad-ass fountain of awesome that stands proud in every nerd’s apartment. Who knows, maybe it will develop a genuine cult following… Maybe it will spin off a slew of fan fiction and then after a decade or two, someone in Hollywood will recognize the potential that might lie within “Pacific Rim”, and then someone will shoot a sequel or whatever. So, here’s to hoping for “Pacific Rim” to be left alone. After all, it didn’t make any money, so leave it be for me and my kind…

“The Great Gatsby” – the word I’m looking for is ‘kitsch’, old sport…

Who would have thought that having one’s laptop taken away for a week would cripple one’s ability to blog? Nevertheless, after this measly week with only one post I’m back to my regular writing regime; long story short – I can feel normal again. At this point I should probably stop and think about the gravity of a problem I might have just uncovered, because it would appear that my computer is so damn crucial to my existence. I guess this will be an addiction I will have to embrace, because in this day and age, a good chunk of one’s life takes place in front of a screen. Scary, right? Not for a nerd, it’s not… But I digress; the point is that I’m back and have got some ideas for posts already, so I shall just resume churning them out at a steady pace.

And what better way to break out of a rut, if not to review a recent big screen experience? For God knows how many months I have been teased and attacked by marketing campaigns for the long-awaited Baz Luhrmann’s adaptation of “The Great Gatsby”; I couldn’t be way off mark if I said that the first posters with Leo DiCaprio holding a glass of champagne popped up in cinemas nearly a year ago. It was supposed to be a jaw-dropping experience filmed in native 3D that would take the novel into a whole new dimension and so on and so forth… Now, every single time I hear so much waffle and attempted self-praise about any film, I get a bit skeptical  because everybody knows that a good piece of cinema can defend itself. Moreover, a recent example of “Star Trek Into Darkness” (I know I shouldn’t be comparing sci-fi to “Gatsby” but hey, I don’t care) can testify to the fact that playing your cards close to the chest can only benefit and empower the picture.

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I think we can all agree and call Baz Luhrmann an auteur; his work has a certain discernible style and he wears mixing periods and eras (musically and stylistically) as a badge of honor  I try to see him as a film-making equivalent of a modern painter who would draw a red square and smear some brown paint on it, give it a pretentious name and have people believe his work has a meaning. Therefore, I find it impossible to be indifferent to his films – you can either love him or hate him, and for sake of clarity I should admit here that my relationship with his work is more of the hating variety. I didn’t like “Romeo and Juliet” at all, “Moulin Rouge” bored me to death and I didn’t even bother with “Australia”. The question remains: what the hell was I thinking going to see “The Great Gatsby”?

Literature classics like “The Great Gatsby” can be nicely described by a collective hunting term of ‘easy game’ for the film making meat grinder. You can really bastardize a timeless work of literature in so many ways and still come out on top, because it’s not the film that is ultimately responsible for the commercial success, but its literary predecessor, and Luhrmann is no stranger to that phenomenon. After all, his modern 90’s MTV-esque take on the Shakespeare canon was really well received, regardless of what I think about it. But I do think it was crap, it’s just that simple (“Romeo and Juliet”, not “The Great Gatsby”, but I’ll get there in a minute). My point is that Luhrmann knew exactly how much he can screw with the book before it becomes too much. But was it enough for the film to stand on its own two feet?

Right, so if you somehow slept through high school or something of that variety and you don’t know what F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby” is all about, here’s a quick plot synopsis. A young aspiring writer-turned-bond-salesman Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire) rents a house in Long Island next door to a mansion owned by a mysterious millionaire Jay Gatsby (Leonardo Di Caprio). Nobody really knows anything about that fellow and he clearly keeps to himself. Well, not quite because Gatsby is known for throwing lavish parties that attract all the NY celebrities, artists, politicians and mobsters. Anyways, Nick’s cousin Daisy Buchanan (beautiful as always Carey Mulligan) lives in the neighborhood  directly on the opposite side of the bay. She’s married to Tom (Joel Edgerton), a womanizing arrogant prick of a husband who spends way too much time bedding strangers and boozing at extravagant house parties, but I guess it’s the 1920’s, so everything’s OK. Nick spends his days in Long Island mostly on sipping tea with Daisy and her hubby, playing polo or golf, reading books, and looking at the mansion next door hoping to see its enigmatic owner. One day he receives an invitation to one of Gatsby’s weekend orgies parties, where he ends up meeting Gatsby himself, who asks Nick for a favor of setting him up to meet Daisy. And it goes from there…

Once again, if you didn’t read the book or failed to see any of the numerous adaptations, then watching “The Great Gatsby” by Baz Luhrmann can sort you out in that regard. However, reading the book would take just as long as watching the movie, so if you really hate Luhrmann’s film making, just read “The Great Gatsby” instead.

I was actually pleasantly surprised with what “The Great Gatsby” had to offer. Make no mistake, it’s not a very good film at all, but it’s a very good Baz Luhrmann film, if that makes any sense. It is nowhere near as heavy-handed as “Romeo and Juliet” or “Moulin Rouge” in the plastic eclectic style, but it is still clearly visible, whose film this is. In it, the excesses of 1920’s are shown with great detail with a strong thread of modern hip-hop mixed in that sets the stylistic tone of the movie. While I don’t really understand the premise of the musical choices, the fact that Luhrmann was just being himself there didn’t really bother me that much. I could probably go and throw a fit about how Jay-Z and Beyoncé don’t belong in the jazzy 20’s and it looks like a cheap scheme to win over the young audience, but the apparent parallel drawn between those times and the modern bling and excesses of the hip-hop culture makes this mish-mash work in a weird way.

Though, I wouldn’t be myself if I failed to point out that as a whole the film feels cheap. The noisy parties, colorful interiors, lavish outfits and top-notch choreography will never suffice to make a good movie. In fact, “The Great Gatsby” feels more like a 50’s movie filmed entirely on stage with its color palette, over-the-top acting and recitation of the lines from the novel. That is exactly what the film can be boiled down to once you strip it off the bling – it’s a bunch of actors walking around reading lines with theatrical emotional investment. As much as I would like to say that the acting was top class, it’s only true for Leonardo Di Caprio and to some extent for Tobey Maguire, who breathed some life into their respective roles, whereas the rest of the cast was just wood dressed in shiny outfits. And I know Carey Mulligan can act like a champ (“Drive”, “Never Let Me Go”), so I think I have to point the finger towards the director, who seemed completely out of depth when it came to actual directing (a sad realization indeed).

All in all, “The Great Gatsby” was maybe kind of OK and it is a subjective verdict biased heavily by my admiration towards Di Caprio’s acting. Other than that, the film looks like an excuse for the director to play with the 3D workshop, which is redundant, by the way. I saw it in 2D and I think I could spot the sequences where the 3D was supposed to shine and I can only say that it’s out of place. The 3D aspect seems to be just a marketing ploy as it brings nothing to the table; it’s just a couple of gimmicks with snowflakes and perspective that is irrelevant to the film and ends up more of a distraction. Moreover, the entirety of CGI employed in the film looks a bit out of date and has cheap written all over it. The only things that really save the movie are the parties, choreography, Di Caprio’s acting and the story. But then again, if you take the story away, there’s not much “The Great Gatsby” as to show for, so in the long run you’re better off reading the book, old sport…