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Box Office Rap: The Wolverine and Post-Comic-Con Malaise

Comic-Con 2013 absolutely cements these cultural developments, where future films aren’t even contingent upon the previous film’s success.

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While DC and Warner Bros. stole headlines this past weekend with plans to integrate Batman into Man of Steel 2 (a.k.a. Batman vs. Superman, or vice versa, as writer David S. Goyer confirmed), it’s Marvel and 20th Century Fox that look to immediately capitalize on all the geekdom hoopla this weekend with The Wolverine, the second standalone film for Hugh Jackman’s titular X-Man, which has made him one of the highest paid actors in Hollywood. What’s changed since the release of X-Men Origins: Wolverine just four years ago? For starters, it appears that Fox has abandoned plans to make standalone films for each of their comic-book properties, instead offering X-Men: First Class as a means to reboot the entire franchise, while anchoring Wolverine on his own for two films until…wait for it…X-Men: Days of Future Past, which will finally bring all of our favorite mutants together again, marking four X-Men films in just six years.

Iron Man 3 rocketed off the 2013 summer blockbuster season with a blistering $174 million opening weekend, a tally that bested Iron Man 2’s debut by a whopping $46 million. What happened in between that caused such a significant increase? Probably a little film called The Avengers, which still holds the opening-weekend box-office record with just over $207 million. A few weeks later, Fast & Furious 6 became the highest opener of the franchise, amassing $117 million over the Memorial Day holiday. What these franchises have in common, besides increasing grosses with each successive entry, is that the following film had already been announced before the “new” one even hit North American screens. In the case of Iron Man 3, discussions centered less around the film as a singular effort, but more toward what clues it would avail for The Avengers 2: Age of Ultron in 2015. With Fast & Furious 6, word got out that James Wan had been tapped for Fast & Furious 7, which will supposedly conclude the most complicated franchise in Hollywood.

Thus, The Wolverine joins these films as the next entry of the “already-a-sequel-in-the-works” category, a relatively new development that makes the “high-concept” days of 1990s studio films seem like a beacon of sincerity and good faith. Comic-Con 2013 absolutely cements these cultural developments, where future films aren’t even contingent upon the previous film’s success. Or, if the previous film grossed a little less than expected, well, it’s time for studios to go The Avengers route and combine the properties for one mega-franchise (I, for one, can’t wait for Despicably Furious and Paranormal: Impossible in 2025). The brilliance from a marketing standpoint is that viewers likely identify The Wolverine with The Avengers 2, because of even the slightest possibility that the two franchises will meet up in the near (or distant) future. The Wolverine functions simultaneously as “film” and advertisement for the franchise machine.

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In light of these developments, The Wolverine appears primed to continue the upward trends of mega-franchising by matching, or even besting the $85 million opening of X-Men Origins: Wolverine. However, that Gavin Hood-directed effort received poor reviews from critics (a tepid 38% Rotten Tomatoes score) and earned about 47% of its total domestic gross on opening weekend, reflective of poor word of mouth. While X-Men: First Class managed a lesser $55 million opening by comparison, which only amounted to 37% of its total domestic gross, it lacked the star and character power that Jackman brings to the new film. Even though director James Mangold claims The Wolverine stands alone from the forthcoming entry, the pending reunion of all the characters together, in one film, cannot be denied, which lends The Wolverine the immediacy of its Marvel brethren. Nevertheless, Twitter buzz is low and being absent from Fandango’s Top 5 as of Tuesday afternoon is troublesome for a huge opening, but chalk it up to Comic-Con malaise. Expect the Marvelites to be out in full force this weekend.

Other openers: The To Do List, starring Aubrey Plaza, opens in roughly 500 theaters and should struggle to crack $2 million, giving it almost no shot at the Top 10. On the other hand, Fruitvale Station expands nationwide into around 1000 theaters, which gives it a good chance at besting the second weekend of R.I.P.D., which is hilarious.

Box Office Weekend Predictions

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1. The Wolverine: $85.3 (NEW)

2. The Conjuring: $22.6 (-46%)

3. Despicable Me 2: $15.2 (-39%)

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4. Grown Ups 2: $11.5 (-42%)

5. Turbo: $11.3 (-47%)

6. Pacific Rim: $7.8 (-51%)

7. Red 2: $7.6 (-58%)

8. The Heat: $5.8 (-38%)

9. Fruitvale Station: $4.9 (+662%)

10. R.I.P.D.: $4.8 (-62%)

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Watch: Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood Gets Teaser Trailer

When it rains, it pours.

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Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
Photo: Columbia Pictures

When it rains, it pours. Four days after Quentin Tarantino once more laid into John Ford in a piece written for his Beverly Cinema website that saw the filmmaker referring to Ford’s She Wore a Yellow Ribbon as Tie a Yellow Ribbon, and two days after Columbia Pictures released poster art for QT’s ninth feature that wasn’t exactly of the highest order, the studio has released a teaser for Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. The film was announced early last year, with Tarantino describing it as “a story that takes place in Los Angeles in 1969, at the height of hippy Hollywood.”

Set on the eve of the Manson family murders, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood tells the story of TV actor Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his stunt double, Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt), as they try to get involved in the film industry. The film also stars Margot Robbie (as Sharon Tate), Al Pacino, the late Luke Perry, Damian Lewis, Dakota Fanning, Emile Hirsch, Timothy Olyphant, Kurt Russell, and Bruce Dern in a part originally intended for the late Burt Reynolds.

See the teaser below:

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https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Scf8nIJCvs4

Columbia Pictures will release Once Upon a Time in Hollywood on July 26.

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Watch the Stranger Things 3 Trailer, and to the Tune of Mötley Crüe and the Who

A wise woman once said that there’s no such thing as a coincidence.

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Stranger Things 3
Photo: Netflix

A wise woman once said that there’s no such thing as a coincidence. On Friday, Jeff Tremaine’s The Dirt, a biopic about Mötley Crüe’s rise to fame, drops on Netflix. Today, the streaming service has released the trailer for the third season of Stranger Things. The clip opens with the strains of Mötley Crüe’s “Home Sweet Home,” all the better to underline that the peace and quiet that returned to the fictional rural town of Hawkins, Indiana at the end of the show’s second season is just waiting to be upset again.

Little is known about the plot of the new season, and the trailer keeps things pretty vague, though the Duffer Brothers have suggested that the storyline will take place a year after the events of the last season—duh, we know when “Home Sweet Home” came out—and focus on the main characters’ puberty pangs. That said, according to Reddit sleuths who’ve obsessed over such details as the nuances of the new season’s poster art, it looks like Max and company are going to have to contend with demon rats no doubt released from the Upside Down.

See below for the new season’s trailer:

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https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YEG3bmU_WaI

Stranger Things 3 premieres globally on July 4.

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Who Killed My Father Is Heartbreaking but Prone to Pat Sociological Analysis

Édouard Louis’s latest is strong as a portrait of a family unable to communicate through anything but volatile, toxic outbursts.

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Who Killed My Father

Author Édouard Louis’s father has been an important figure in each of his previous works, even when he’s never seen or mostly at the periphery (as in The History of Violence). With his latest, Who Killed My Father, Louis finally turns to directly examining his most important, damaged relationship. Both in his previous books and interviews, Louis has repeatedly acknowledged this broken relationship, largely stemming from the author’s open homosexuality. Alongside this, Louis’s prior works have circled around a number of themes to which he returns here: the French political and working classes, the small-town prejudices that surrounded his upbringing and drove a closeted homosexual boy to escape to more cosmopolitan Paris, and the role of state power in producing social and physical illness.

With Who Killed My Father, Louis invites inevitable comparisons to Abdellah Taïa, another talented French writer who’s also gay and largely estranged from his place of origin, and also primarily an autobiographical novelist. Like Louis, Taïa incorporates his complicated relationship with a parent into several of his books. Taïa also connects that relationship, his writing, and his experience with the society he left behind in Morocco and the one he found in France. But what distinguishes his writing in, for example, Infidels or Salvation Army from that of Édouard Louis in Who Killed My Father is a strong sense of meaning. Taïa incorporates his relationship with his mother, M’Barka, to convey something more meaningful and developed.

Louis begins down this same road before clumsily inserting a political tract at the end of Who Killed My Father that doesn’t knit as effortlessly with parts one and two. The book situates Louis’s relationship with his father front and center as compared to his previous work. It’s clear that he’s exposing the painfulness of their relationship for the purpose of speaking about political power and its physical and social toll on those who don’t possess it, but Who Killed My Father stumbles in conveying its message adequately.

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Louis’s account of his father’s suffering and violence toward those around him is both painful and sharp. Who Killed My Father is strongest when Louis is demonstrating his father’s most private acts of kindness, as when the father gives Louis a copy of Titanic for his birthday after trying to convince him to ask for a more “masculine” gift. After Louis realizes that his carefully planned tribute to the pop band Aqua at a family dinner has embarrassed his father, the man reassures Louis that “it’s nothing.” In the book’s first and strongest part, Louis expounds not only on the relationship with his father, but also excavates what might have made his father the man he grew up with. At one point, he recounts finding a photograph of his father in women’s clothes—undoubtedly some adolescent joke, but also inconceivable from the man who insisted to his son that men should never act like girls.

Regrettably, part one ends with a trite conclusion that says everything and nothing at the same time. In part two, the story attempts to braid together all the malignant threads of Louis’s family narrative. Louis recalls igniting a violent outburst between his father and older brother as a result of his mother shaming him for acting too much like a girl (“faggot” is what some others in the neighborhood more precisely call him). The insinuation hurts and angers him so much that he betrays his mother’s confidence on another family secret, setting loose a new wave of violence. Part two is short and important to moving Who Killed My Father toward some wider evaluation of the questions Louis begins the book with, but it ultimately fails to find its footing by pivoting in part three to an unearned polemic against the political classes.

Who Killed My Father is strong as a portrait of a family unable to communicate (except in brief moments of tenderness) through anything but volatile, toxic outbursts, but the book at its weakest when trying to ham-handedly force this narrative into some broad theorizing about power and society and structural violence. Part one aligned beautifully with a narrative of meaning more comparable to Taïa at his best. Unfortunately, the story quickly falls apart when Jacques Chirac is indicted for destroying Louis’s father’s body through changes in health care coverage. It’s not that the questions Louis ends with aren’t necessary and important ones; it’s that there’s so little threading the narrative together into anything cohesive. What was the point of the first two-thirds of the book? His father was cruel, occasionally loving, but never mind because the state is killing him? The life of the poor is one of abject powerlessness against an unremittingly powerful and callous “ruling class”?

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Louis deserves credit for the attempt to tie it all together into some grander commentary on the political class and its ambivalence, but the conclusion is simultaneously glib and condescending. Perhaps Louis didn’t intend it, but the book’s conclusion drains away responsibility for the cruelty and bigotry of those like his father, and patronizes them as with a quick How could we expect any better of the noble, working poor? Is it the state’s or the ruling class’s subjugation of his father’s body that’s somehow also responsible for his inability to sympathize with gays or immigrants? Of course, the poor are subjugated by the rich and Louis has written more meaningfully about the implications of that relationship elsewhere. But in Who Killed My Father, he inadvertently demonstrates that the answer isn’t to sanctify them any more than it is to demonize them.

Édouard Louis’s Who Killed My Father is now available from New Directions.

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