Despicable Me 2 (#110 of 5)

Oscar 2014 Winner Predictions: Animated Feature

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Oscar 2014 Winner Predictions: Animated Feature
Oscar 2014 Winner Predictions: Animated Feature

If we pretend this contest is a legitimate one, The Hollywood Reporter may be right that The Croods stands a fighting chance here. Except that anything DreamWorks Animation does to remind voters of the cartoon's art and originality is to also remind them of its retrograde sense of moral values, which isn't so easily forgiven by the story's actual prehistoric setting. In the end, it seems that the sheer likability of the highest-grossing film in the category, Despicable Me 2, in which the franchise's resourceful minions happily bust out the cute once more, makes the cartoon a more viable contender, at least more so than Ernest & Celestine, a lovely little triumph in world-building that may be the film with the least chance of winning an Oscar on March 2nd.

Box Office Rap Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues and the 2013 Wrap

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Box Office Rap: Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues and the 2013 Wrap
Box Office Rap: Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues and the 2013 Wrap

Adam McKay’s Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues opens on Wednesday and looks to become the eighth live-action comedy of 2013 to gross over $100 million in its domestic run. That's a significant jump from only three comedies in 2012 which made that benchmark—a doubling in margin that suggests, by all conventional accounts, that it was a “good” year for comedies. Yet, upon further inspection, we find the titles of these moneymakers to be Bad Grandpa, Grown Ups 2, The Heat, and The Hangover Part III, which are among the laziest, if not the worst, Hollywood films of the year. Instead of “good,” we should say it was a profitable year for comedies and leave any such evaluative adjectives out of box-office summations.

If live-action comedy hits were aplenty, so were their animated counterparts, with Despicable Me 2, Monsters University, The Croods, Frozen, and Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2 all meeting or exceeding financial expectations. The same could certainly be said for nearly every endeavor into superhero territory, as audiences still prefer cinema that transports them from the confines of reality and into a playground of fantasy-infused triviality, with a treatment of characters that ranged from tongue in cheek (Iron Man 3) to bombastic (Man of Steel) to hopelessly imitable (The Great Gatsby).

Box Office Rap Kick-Ass 2 and the Hollywood Reporter Snafu

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Box Office Rap: Kick-Ass 2 and the Hollywood Reporter Snafu
Box Office Rap: Kick-Ass 2 and the Hollywood Reporter Snafu

Neill Blomkamp's Elysium topped the box office this past weekend, though its lead over the competition ended up being less than anticipated. However, if one were following The Hollywood Reporter's coverage on Friday, that margin was said to be even less, as writer Pamela McClintock claimed that “strong matinee business” suggested Planes was headed for a $30 million weekend, which was set to match that of the Matt Damon actioner. The actual for Planes ended up in third place with $22.2 million, over 25% less than initially reported. More troubling than the inaccurate figures, which are understandable given the unpredictability of internal weekend multipliers and whatnot, is the article's headline, which claims that Planes's performance is “breaking [the] animation curse,” allegedly created from underwhelming box-office openings by Turbo and The Smurfs 2. An animation curse? It's hard to argue for any curse, given the almost $640 million made worldwide by Monsters University and the $745 million made worldwide by Despicable Me 2, the latter of which is second to only Iron Man 3 as the highest-grossing domestic release of 2013.

Box Office Rap Elysium and the Summer Traffic Jam

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Box Office Rap: Elysium and the Summer Traffic Jam
Box Office Rap: Elysium and the Summer Traffic Jam

Jacques Tati and Jean-Luc Godard would undoubtedly be amused with the August traffic jam Hollywood has made for itself, as 14 wide releases will debut within the next four weeks. June 2013 saw just eight new releases, but even then, a mega-budgeted film such as Man of Steel only managed to stay in theaters for seven weeks, so the likelihood of any August films sticking around for longer than a month becomes a near impossibility. Has the summer market always been so saturated? Looking back to June 1993, seven major studio films saw wide releases, only one less than 2013. However, Jurassic Park played in theaters for 71 consecutive weeks. Even Last Action Hero, a film that brought a studio to its knees, lasted 12 weeks during that 1993 summer.

The casualties this summer have been numerous. Most notable is, perhaps, The Lone Ranger, a $215 million production that fell to just 553 theaters in its fifth weekend and is likely to be out of theaters by Friday by the time this week's four mega-wide releases drop. What's an onlooker to make of these developments? On the one hand, from a cultural capital perspective, these are dire days. Matt Zoller Seitz wrote an excellent, and spot-on, positive review of Gore Verbinski's film, in which he bets that, like Steven Spielberg's 1941, 20 years from now The Lone Ranger will be “re-evaluated” and discussed as “misunderstood.” Seitz's thoughtful and contemplative review shuns much of the mob-mentality demonstrated by the film's embarrassing Rotten Tomatoes score and reveals the underlying problem with such an adopted critical system: emphasis on scores and figures over ideas and commentary. Yet his perceptive insights are lost amid this contemporary climate because, in turn, the marketplace cannot hold such a product long enough to receive honest feedback and critique; the “critical consensus” passes immediate judgment on The Lone Ranger to expedite the film's financial (and cultural) execution. On the other hand, a neo-Marxist couldn't help but delight in Mouse House miscalculation, as the film appears unlikely to match its budget through even its worldwide haul, which currently stands at $175 million.

Box Office Rap 2 Guns and the Cycles of Popularity

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Box Office Rap: 2 Guns and the Cycles of Popularity
Box Office Rap: 2 Guns and the Cycles of Popularity

When Martin Scorsese takes the time to write a critical piece on legitimating film culture disguised as a reflection on the language of cinema, not only do you read it, but you read it twice for good measure. That's precisely what happened this past week, as Scorsese joined Steven Soderbergh to deliver the second, excellent “state of cinema” address of 2013. Scorsese's prose is packed with an expected degree of passion, reverence, and Romanticism, such as when he lovingly calls cinema “the invocation of life…an ongoing dialogue with life,” and on that premise, he laments the decline of cinema associated with cinephilia, a lack of visual literacy being taught in schools, and the rise of box-office culture as “a kind of sport—and really, a form of judgment,” where “the cycles of popularity are down to a matter of hours, minutes, seconds, and the work that's been created out of seriousness and real passion is lumped together with the work that hasn't.”

To Scorsese's claims I say: absolutely. Box office is indeed used as a form of judgment to determine what films audiences are interested in seeing. Thus, studios act accordingly and try to replicate success through like-minded projects with stars that have a proven pedigree. Nevertheless, the cinema, as a form of popular culture has, more or less, always been a democratic medium, contingent on viewers showing up in support. I think of Mario Van Peebles's Baadasssss! when reading this argument; in that film, Van Peebles plays his father Melvin, whose new film, Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song, is opening in a single Los Angeles theater. A dejected Melvin sits in the theater as no one fills the auditorium on opening night. Suddenly, the doors burst open, and people start flooding in. He's elated because people want to see his film.