Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Box Office Predictions (2/10/17)

Over the past few years, studio executives have been gleefully sliding the summer movie season further up each year, like that guy at the bar whose had too much to drink and doesn't think you'll notice if he scooches towards you a couple inches every few minutes. Movies one would expect to see between May and August are now starting to appear as early as February, which has recently proven to be as good a month as any for studios to plant a franchise tent pole.

This weekend is shaping up for a similar shakedown, with multiple, big franchises looking to stake an early 2017 claim. Such licenses include the second 50 Shades of Grey installment, the next chapter in the surprise John Wick storyline, and of course the first of many LEGO Movie spinoffs. These newcomers are set to square off against the reigning champ Split as well as the hot underdog (and Oscar Darling) Hidden Figures. By the looks of it, the box office could be in for quite a slobber knocker this weekend.

Here are my predictions for the match (ranked by predicted domestic gross):

#1: The LEGO Batman Movie
In February, 2014, The LEGO Movie grossed near $70 million its opening weekend and from there continued its box office marathon, earning into the millions every weekend until April 11th. Since then its popularity has only grown (though it failed to garner a mere nomination for Best Animated Feature at the Oscars that year). What's more, there hasn't been a new family release since December. Oh! I almost forgot: It also has "Batman" in the title and Batman sells. Big time.

Predicted gross: $80 million

#2: Fifty Shades Darker
If the first 'Fifty Shades' film proved anything, it's that Americans like to get freaky. That's my rationale for predicting a second place slot for the sequel. Though a vast majority of its overall domestic gross was already accumulated by the end of its first weekend (a grand total of just over $93 million), it dropped more than 73% the following weekend. Many complained that the film did not live up to the promised promiscuity of its sexy source material. The disappointment may carry over from 2015, but if this film is freakier than the first (like its marketing campaign suggests), then this follow-up will have *ahem* better legs.

Predicted gross: $55 million

#3: John Wick Chapter 2
Sometimes franchises are built on low budget surprises. Such was the case with John Wick. When it came out in 2014, it didn't put up blockbuster numbers (raking in a little over $14 million its fire weekend out), but it also didn't have to. A relatively low budget coupled with high critical praise, including a pretty lucrative home video life. However, now the cat's outta the bag and people know what to expect from this retired-not-retired assassin.

Predicted gross: $19 million

#4: Split
After two consecutive box office successes, many are hailing the return of Writer-Director M. Night Shyamalan. After Split rocked three back-to-back-to-back weeks on top the box office while also pulling in positive critical praise, it's difficult to argue otherwise. With three heavy hitters joining the fight this weekend, a drop to the number four slot should still mean a pretty decent return for the defending champ.

Predicted gross: $8.3 million

#5: Hidden Figures

Hidden Figures recently passed La La Land to become the highest domestic grossing Best Picture nominee this year. Based on general reactions from moviegoers and critics alike, there seems to be a thirst for a feel good theater experience and Hidden Figures definitely delivers on that front. Expect this true story to continue hanging around the top five for at least another weekend or two.

Predicted gross: $6.9 million

*All box office figures provided by Box Office Mojo & The Numbers.

Saturday, February 4, 2017


Lion: A Tale of Two Halves

It's a tale of two halves for Best Picture nominee Lion. Though both halves work together to tell the true life story of Saroo, an India native who was separated from his family for almost three decades when he was just five years old, the first half represents more effective storytelling while the second is cluttered and unfocused.

There are a couple reasons for this. First, the actual story of the first half is simply more engaging on a primal level. It follows five-year-old Saroo as he learns to survive on the streets of an unfamiliar India a thousand miles away from home. It's impossible not to viscerally react as this helpless child narrowly avoids abduction attempts, starvation, and a myriad of other threats. What's more, Sunny Pawar gives the best performance in the film as young Saroo. He never has a disingenuous moment and it never clicks that you're actually watching a movie.

The first half also has the luxury of a more narrowed focus. There are no subplots at this point so the audience spends their entire time with Saroo while he's figuring out the world. When we are introduced to supporting characters, they are never around for long. It is obvious that Director Garth Davis (also nominated for Best Director) took advantage of this half to highlight his technical talents as a filmmaker. The gorgeous cinematography captures the grandeur of the mysterious, sometimes beautiful world Saroo is lost in. Infrequently does Davis rely upon close-ups to convey the harrowing sense of confusion that pervades the small protagonist's mind.

Once the story jumps ahead twenty years we are introduced to Dev Patel (who you may remember as the kid from Slumdog Millionaire, which was also nominated for and eventually won Best Picture back in 2008). He plays older Saroo, who now lives in Australia thanks to his adoptive parents and is determined to locate his Indian family. Unfortunately, this is where things begin to clutter up and slow down.

A multitude of prominent characters are introduced, including Rooney Mara as Saroo's love interest, Divian Ladwa as Sarro's adopted brother, and many more. With these news characters comes the introduction of new subplots that crowd the film. Saroo struggles to hold his romantic life together after his wife begins accusing him of spending more time on Google Earth than with her. There are also a couple mild confrontations with his troubled adopted brother over the heartache he often causes their Australian mother. All the while we get intermittent montages of Saroo researching possible locations of the hometown he cannot seem to recall.

While these storylines sound ripe with dramatic tension, Davis gets lost in his own execution. Large jumps in time are made without much of a heads-up and are used for excuses to further relationships between characters without actually spending a lot of time on them. So while each actor does solid work here, it gets tough to invest in these relationships because most of them are not truly earned.

These disingenuous subplots eventually overshadow the main through line for most of the second half. The focus shifts to Saroo's relationships with the new people in his life instead of trying to find his original family. The result is mostly moping around over a lot of moot conflict. The main plot becomes so enveloped that Saroo's reunion with his Indian family feels like a forced 10 minute tag on at the end and ultimately kills the spirit of its inevitable happy ending.

The contrasting quality of storytelling between the two halves, while not exactly night and day, is still the deciding factor in my final verdict: B-.