Category: Box Office Democracy

Box Office Democracy: “The Interview”

The Interview is a movie doomed to collapse under the weight of all the external nonsense forced upon it. It is not a movie worth being called an act of war. It is not a movie worthy of being the standard bearer for free speech against real or imagined tyranny. It’s not a movie worth the total public embarrassment of Sony Pictures. It’s just a stupid comedy. I don’t even mean “stupid” pejoratively here, it is in the same grand tradition of stupid comedies that has brought us movies like There’s Something About Mary and Caddyshack. Both movies I like a great deal, neither of them worth an international incident.

When it’s on, The Interview is quite funny. The bit with Eminem that I saw all over Facebook this weekend is my favorite so it’s a shame that that’s in the first ten minutes of the film. Otherwise the film hits on more joke attempts than it misses. Seth Rogen and James Franco have an undeniable comedic chemistry and it’s just fun to watch them bounce of each other. Randall Park is outstanding playing Kim Jong-Un, as is his Veep co-star Timothy Simons in a terribly small part. It’s also important to recognize Diana Bang who is fantastically funny as the leading lady in this film, a part that often doesn’t get a ton of space under the Apatow-Rogen film umbrella but Bang is electric and hopefully gets to do bigger and better things in comedy going forward.

The entire movie is dragged down to mediocre by a poor second act. After the first round of North Korean hijinks, the movie grinds to a halt as the characters slowly get in to their positions or the finale. This leads to a seemingly endless number of scenes of conversations that move the plot along at a glacial pace while not being particularly funny. It’s inexcusable. Add this to the frequent book-report-esque need to put in North Korea facts and statistics and there’s a lot of drag pulling down what might have been a better movie set in a fictional country.

I appreciate that Rogen, along with his directing partner Evan Goldberg, are continuing to be ambitious with their visuals. It would be very easy (and probably profoundly more profitable) for them to continue making Superbad knockoffs until they all died when their houses collapsed from carrying too much money, but much like This is the End there’s a lot going on here. Sure, they’re taking advantage of the fact that no one has any idea if North Korea looks like the outskirts of Vancouver but there are some real sets here and an honest-to-goodness war at the end. When you compare it to the costless dreck that you get from Adam Sandler or the Twilight movies and it’s just so nice to see people take a simple guaranteed paycheck and make a movie that’s actually interesting to look at on a screen. This sounds like an incredibly backhanded compliment but it’s becoming less and less common.

Box Office Democracy: “Exodus: Gods and Kings”

Exodus: Gods and Kings is a throwback to another era of filmmaking, a time when Hollywood was obsessed with sweeping epics and the infamous “cast of thousands” drawing people to the theater to see the sheer spectacle of it all. While there’s certainly no shortage of spectacle at the multiplexes these days Exodus feels less like a loving throwback and more like a lumbering dinosaur, it’s feels like a movie from a different era for sure but I would much prefer it felt like something I’d never seen than something that bored my in middle school. It wastes a talented cast and some stunning visuals but just ultimately feels pointless.

The problems in Exodus all come back to problems with the protagonist. Moses does not resemble the character I remember from Sunday school; he’s a brilliant general and a peerless swordsman to name two new characteristics. None of this newfound character badassery is of any use at all to the story though as all of the work of liberating the Hebrew slaves from their bondage is done by God. God even specifically calls out Moses’ ineptitude when his plan of guerilla warfare will take too long. The main character has nothing to do with any of the successes or failures in the main plot past the very first section of the movie and so there’s very little investment in the outcome especially when you consider that literally everyone in the audience knows how this story ends.

Ridley Scott is a fantastic director and he has made a beautiful movie. He makes the ten plagues feel so big and so horrible the mini-montages are practically worth the price of admission themselves. They show a level of craft and an eye for cinema that comes from a superb director, I have no doubt that most other people would have made worse choices and produced something that felt either overdone or campy. Unfortunately outside of the plague scenes the movie looks just a little too much like Gladiator for my taste. These old suits of armor and the massive armies don’t feel fresh to me; they feel like Scott is trying to use an old shorthand to connect to his audience. It feels just a touch too lazy and lazy is never a word I would have used about Ridley Scott before.

I feel it’s important to touch upon the race issues in the film because if anything I think they’re being underreported. Yes, all of the principle characters in the film are played by white people and that’s horrible but it’s really telling where they decided where it was ok to case people of color: the wives of Moses and Ramses. In these roles they cast an Iranian and a Spanish woman and exoticized them as much as they possibly could. These women have the darkest skin of almost anyone in the movie and with that comes an elevated level of sexualization. Nefertari is only seen in bed and Zipporah does this repeated bit of weird sexual gatekeeping. It’s the worst racial choice in a movie full where dozens of white people wear makeup to appear browner. It’s profoundly disappointing.

Box Office Democracy: “The Penguins of Madagascar”

I wondered after seeing The Penguins of Madagascar if the people at Dreamworks knew they were releasing their action-oriented animated movie so close to the masterpiece that was Big Hero 6. If, perhaps, they thought Disney was on the verge of a misstep and they could capitalize or maybe they just greatly overestimated the quality of their movie, it can be hard when you get too close to a project. Unfortunately, it isn’t any of these things, DreamWorks Animation must know at this point that they’re putting out inferior films but that holiday weekends mean parents need things to do with their kids and that they just need to be good enough. That’s all Penguins of Madagascar is; it’s good enough.

I’m clearly not the target audience for this movie as I never much cared for the Madagascar franchise and even within those films the penguins didn’t really do it for me. They can be funny enough in small doses but there’s only one joke here, the penguins are always doing wacky things and their plans are always especially zany and frequently fall apart, and it can only be told so many times. They also never fail at anything, certainly not anything with stakes, so the most that ever happens is the penguins become embarrassed and that lack of stakes is fine as something to the side of a bigger story but it can’t carry a whole picture.

There’s a glimmer of hope in the new things Penguins of Madagascar brings to the table. There’s a faction of secret agent animals called North Wind with members voiced by a collection of name actors like Benedict Cumberbatch, Ken Jeong and Annet Mahendru and most of the things I’ll remember from this film came from these characters. There’s nothing especially fresh coming from any of these characters, in fact Cumberbatch’s wolf Classified is, by the end of the film, doing bits I remember The Fonz doing on Happy Days but at least those are jokes that work. The North Wind characters work and are used sparingly enough to not overstay their welcome and that’s enough to feel like a big success in a movie like this. I would also be remiss not to mention John Malkovich’s character, Dave the octopus, which never feels like much more than Malkovich getting an easy paycheck but the character has an utterly vexing bit where he’s always doing celebrity name puns which feels like an attempt to connect with the bored adults in the audience and while it didn’t quite work for me there’s some kind of genuine effort there and it deserves recognition.

There’s an unshakable feeling of laziness in the animation. There are sequences like the chase through Venice or the slow motion sequence in the finale that look tremendous and so lack of effort is the only explanation I can come up with for how lackluster huge chunks of the rest of the film look. The backgrounds feel flat and static, there is an incredible conservation of motion and I suppose that’s easier or cheaper but it makes for such a lifeless product. Couple this with the plot that feels like a slapdash attempt to string together set pieces that cam before any of the script came together and you’re left with a movie that feels like it exists not to say anything important or push the boundaries of a genre but to make a quick profit by keeping a family busy for an afternoon. It’s not fun to watch and Dreamworks Animation can and should be doing better.

Box Office Democracy: “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1”

I understand that we can’t put the genie back in the bottle on these two part movies. Harry Potter might have actually needed to make two movies for The Deathly Hallows but Twilight certainly didn’t and what Peter Jackson is doing to The Hobbit will hopefully go down as one of the greatest crimes in cinema. Now we have things like splitting an Avengers movie in to two parts, which is insane when you consider that it’s not an adapted work at all. It used to be important to tell a complete story when making a movie and now audiences don’t care and it’s certainly more profitable to do one big shoot and then get multiple admissions for it. The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 does not have enough story for a two hour movie and the character arc is less about real change and more about restating what we’ve seen before. This weak skeleton holds back a movie franchise that continues on an upward trend in quality in direction, acting, casting, and pretty much every other aspect of filmmaking that isn’t shameless profit grabbing.


Box Office Democracy: “Big Hero 6”

I never dreamed that when Disney bought Marvel it would lead to something as precious as Big Hero 6. Disney took a nothing Marvel property, one I had never heard of despite reading comic books voraciously for the first 28 years of my life, and turned it in to something quite fantastic. Big Hero 6 is a great movie and is a great example of something Disney can do for Marvel that isn’t just moving all of the Spider-Man cartoons over to Disney Channel.

The plots in Disney animated films tend to be a bit thin and while I mean that as no insult Big Hero 6 is no exception. There’s a precocious kid and a tragic incident. There’s a crew of friends that must rally around the grieving kid and help him get revenge/closure. There’s a secret to be revealed that will surprise a child but no one who’s ever watched a real mystery anymore but why am I still talking about all of this nonsense when I haven’t mentioned Baymax even once yet?


Box Office Democracy: “Nightcrawler”

It’s been a long time since I’ve gone to a movie as cold as I did for Nightcrawler. I hadn’t seen a trailer or even had it described to me. I think I’d seen a poster but it wasn’t terribly clear what kind of movie I was getting in to even as the lights went down. What I got was a film that was remarkably gripping and deeply affecting, a portrait of a remarkably disturbing individual, and a scathing indictment of the TV news business.

Jake Gyllenhaal is doing his best work since Brokeback Mountain here and maybe in his entire career. Lou Bloom feels like a sociopath who has read every pop-business book to grace the non-fiction bestseller list in the past ten years. That isn’t close to a good enough description but it’ll have to suffice because the performance really needs to be seen to be believed. He radiates menace while scarcely ever doing anything or raising his voice. He’s a bad feeling given physical form; he’s a demon of mundanity.


Box Office Democracy: Avengers trailer, Constantine (TV)

Box Office Democracy: Avengers trailer, Constantine (TV)

Hi everyone,

I’m moving this weekend and didn’t have a lot of spare time to spend doing activities that weren’t packing so we have something a little different for you this week.  Here’s a review of a much shorter cinematic experience and a TV show based on a comic that once had a movie based on it.  It all comes back to movies, it all still counts.

Avengers: Age of Ultron trailer


Making a trailer for a movie like Avengers: Age of Ultron is a tricky proposition but one with absolutely no stakes. Everyone is going to see the film practically no matter what. This trailer would have had to be crudely drawn stick figures instead of CGI effects to have a negative impact on the gross and that’s probably underrating the drawing power of Robert Downey Jr.

Unfortunately, none of the stuff in this trailer is going to be what makes this movie special. Any major superhero franchise could produce a trailer with most of these shots. Massive destruction, iconic symbols shattered, big explosions. None of that is what makes The Avengers franchise special. What separates The Avengers is the wonderful character work and the exceptional dialogue. None of that makes for a particularly compelling trailer. If they are going to give me nothing but snippets of action shots and brief shots of people looking anguished or menacing I would have appreciated much more Hulk.

Everything they gave us looked great. I want to see more Ultron, I want to hear more James Spader doing Ultron, and I’m especially enthusiastic to hear Ultron dialogue that doesn’t feel like Marvel is using these movies as a backdoor plug for their old animation catalogue. I’m excited to see more from the characters that get the short end of the stick in the Marvel movies that have come since the first Avengers flick. It’ll be refreshing to see more from Hawkeye and Nick Fury. Black Widow got the closest thing to a punch line in this trailer and as long as Marvel stubbornly refuses to give Johansson her own movie I’ll have to take what I can get.

The characters I was surprised to see get so much screen time, probably as much as any Avenger not named Stark, were Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch. I guess you need to energize the geek base without showing too much of your big Ultron effect but is this connecting with anyone else? Those are fringe characters at best and they eat up a ton of this preview. It almost felt like they were putting as much footage out as possible as leverage is Fox decides those are X-Men after all and want to sue closer to the film’s release. It was a fine trailer but those parts felt a little more like notes from a future deposition.




I’m so glad that DC/Warner Bros. finally decided to make a TV show starring John Constantine. Sure it was easier to just keep collecting those payments that Grimm, Once Upon a Time and Hemlock Grove kept forking over for taking the basic concept from the Hellblazer books but it’s so noble of them to give that money up and compete on their own. What’s that? No one was paying Warner any money for those? They just let one of their established franchises sit on the shelf while other people ate their lunch using a strikingly similar idea? How very latter-day Warner of them.

Constantine is a good pilot with a big problem: they do a ton of work establishing a character they wrote out of the series. Liv Aberdeen is the focal point of the entire episode, the lens through which we view the fantastic world of John Constantine, and she seems to be riding the beginning of a long narrative arc. Somewhere between pilot and series they decided they had no use for the character and hastily wrote her out in the last two scenes. I’m still very much interested in watching the show, they’ve hooked me that much, but unless every week they plan to introduce and overdevelop another temporary character they’ve given me no clear perspective on what I’ll be watching every week. I appreciate that it’s very expensive to reshoot an entire pilot but it feels weird.

I do like the bits of the show they plan to keep. Matt Ryan makes for an excellent John Constantine and I liked the way they did Chas although I’m sure they plan to take a lot of liberties with the source material there. The score seems a bit like they’re aping the sound of BBC’s Sherlock and while it stood out like a sore thumb the first time they used on of those cues by the end I rather liked it like that. Both shows benefit from that bit of musical whimsy. The show feels a smidge too Catholic for my tastes but that might just be the way shows about angels, demons, and magic have to feel and I should just get over it.

I don’t watch a lot of network dramas but I am a dyed-in-the-wool Hannibal partisan so know that it means something when I say this show impressed me with both its disturbing imagery and its slickness.  The cockroach scene at the asylum kicks things off especially well being unsettling without going too far.  Constantine is painting with a brush of the grotesque and rather than coat the walls the way a CSI or a Criminal Minds does it instead uses it just around the edges and that’s so much more compelling to me.  I’m not entirely sure this is going to make for an exceptional TV show over a 22 episode season because I find those too long in general but I’m excited to give this one a shot and am thankful I was forced to sample it for this review.

Box Office Democracy: Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)

There is a scene near the end of Birdman’s second act where Riggan Thompson (Michael Keaton) delivers a brutal tirade against the idea of theater criticism. He talks about how safe the life of a critic is and how audacious it is of them to judge the work of actors. This puts me in a bit of a precarious place as a critic because these are words coming out of a strong character in a brilliantly executed film and they’re basically calling me an asshole if I have a problem with any of the performances in this film. Fortunately I have hardly any complaints about Birdman, acting or otherwise, and I can continue my life as a critic free from fear of the ire of Michael Keaton. (more…)

Box Office Democracy: “Dracula Untold”

I can’t believe Dracula Untold got made. It’s an amazing jumble of nonsensical film parts that I can only believe the pitch meeting between screenwriters Matt Sazama and Burk Sharpless and the development executive at Universal went something like this:

Matt: So, we want to make a Dracula movie that tells the origin story of the most famous vampire in the world.

Executive: Great! Universal has a rich history of making horror movies with iconic characters like this. We’d love to get in the business of making a good horror movie to rescue vampires from being such a punch line in chick lit.

Burk: Oh, no, this isn’t a horror movie. It’s going to be more like the 300 movies. It’ll be a dark atmosphere-y old war movie like that.

Executive: That sounds good too. A brave town hunkering down as they have to defend themselves from the unspeakable horror of the first ever vampire. I still like it a lot.

Matt: Dracula is going to be the good guy in this movie. He’s going to fight the army of the Ottoman Empire.

Executive: Ok, I guess anti-heroes have always done good business and having him fight against a giant army might be interesting. We’ve seen vampires overwhelm individuals but an army of thousands of people might pose an interesting challenge.

Burk: He’s going to kill thousands of people effortlessly in seconds, there won’t be a moment in the film where you believe that anyone is a legitimate challenge to Dracula’s power.

Executive: Well…that’s an interesting way to handle conflict. I think I can still greenlight this movie, if we drop it in October no one will notice it isn’t a scary movie until we already have a lot of their money. Can you at least make a bunch of scenes that feel like they come straight out of Game of Thrones?

Matt: Absolutely, we even already have Charles “Tywin Lannister” Dance himself already attached.

Executive: Great! Is $70 million enough to get this movie in to theaters?

Suffice to say this didn’t produce a great movie. All origin movies have to deal with a certain feeling of inevitability but the good ones manage to do things that shine a new light on the stores we’ve heard a million times. Dracula Untold decides to tell us the parts of the story no one ever cared enough about to ask. I’m not in to Dracula movies to see Dracula care about his family or struggle with the burden of ruling Transylvania. I want to see vampire stuff, victims being stalked and seduced and the like. Dracula Untold gives that to me in the last three minutes of the movie. It’s like making a Superman movie where he doesn’t save Lois Lane until the end credits are rolling. There are a lot of movies this could have been and some of them might have even been satisfying but this was a terrible vampire movie and I would call it a disgrace to the name Dracula but I’ve seen Dracula 2000.

Photo by BagoGames

Box Office Democracy: Gone Girl & Annabelle

Gone GirlGone Girl

David Fincher is a fantastic director who has spent most of his career making movies I don’t particularly care for. Not because they’re bad but just because I’m not interested in the story he’s telling. I wasn’t interested in The Social Network, I had no patience for The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, and I never quite got swept in the madness for The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Panic Room was the last film that I was truly excited for and even then I waited for it to be on cable. I’m back in the fold in a big was now though, Gone Girl is an exceptional film and a worthy kick-off to awards season.