“By default, I was a Mets fan, because I knew being a Yankee fan was the wrong thing to do morally.” - John Oliver pic.twitter.com/nXPHFSRafa— Roger Cormier (@yayroger) May 26, 2019
Box Office: ‘Aladdin’ Solid But No ‘Beauty’
Disney's live-action “Aladdin,” with a couple of good-looking unknowns in the leads, and the hugely known Will Smith as the hugely mocked genie, opened OK over Memorial Day weekend, grossing $86.1 mil. Among Disney's live-action remakes, that ranks upper tier but not top tier. It's the highest-ranking live action Disney remake to not gross $100 million opening weekend:
|Movie||Gross||Thtrs||Open Wknd||Open %|
|1||Beauty and the Beast (2017)||$504,014,165||4,210||$174,750,616||34.67%|
|2||Alice in Wonderland (2010)||$334,191,110||3,739||$116,101,023||34.74%|
|3||The Jungle Book (2016)||$364,001,123||4,144||$103,261,464||28.37%|
|5||Oz The Great and Powerful||$234,911,825||3,912||$79,110,453||33.68%|
|9||101 Dalmatians (1996)||$136,189,294||2,901||$33,504,025||24.60%|
|10||Alice Through the Looking Glass||$77,041,381||3,763||$26,858,726||34.86%|
|11||Pete's Dragon (2016)||$76,233,151||3,702||$21,514,095||28.22%|
Reviews were mixed (57% on RT) but let's assume it does what most of these have done and gross 28-34% of its total on opening weekend. That means total domestic will be between $260 and $300. One assumes it‘ll do better abroad, where it’s already grossed $121, since all Disney live-actions general earn 60-70% of their worldwide total in other countries. If these percentages hold (28-34/60-70), “Aladdin” could gross anywhere from $650 million to $1 billion abroad.
Of the two other openers, “Brightburn” (scary Superboy) and “Booksmart” (“Superbad” w/girls), the latter received great reviews (98%), the former meh reviews (59%), and neither blew the lid off the box office. “Brightburn” finished in fifth place with $7.5 while the critics darling finished in sixth with $6.5. Way of the world. Doesn't pay to be booksmart. I could‘ve told you that.
Meanwhile, “John Wick 3” added another $24 for second place but first place among “Wick” movies; it squeaked over the $100 million domestic mark, which no “Wick” movie has ever done. In third place, “Avengers: Endgame” added another $16.8 for a $798 domestic total. Tomorrow, it will become just the second movie (after “The Force Awakens”) to pass $800 mil domestic, but it’ll have to settle for second place. It won't catch “Force” at $936. On the adjusted chart, it's in 21st place. On the worldwide chart, it's still more than $100 million away from No. 1 “Avatar”: $2.78 billion vs. 2.67 billion.
The Press Ain't Yellow, It's Chicken*
What gets me is news breaks that this woman is weighing committing a crime before Congress &it’s getting framed by the NYT as some Lifetime drama called “Hope’s Choice.”— Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@AOC) May 26, 2019
This is a fmr admin official considering participating in a coverup led by the President.
Treat her equally. https://t.co/XcNbSuU4QB
* With apologies to Bob Dylan.
Movie Review: Monos (2019)
“Monos” (“Monkeys”) is a beautifully shot movie about human ugliness. It’s about the thin veneer.
I like that there are no politics in it. You have the government fighting the Organization—the rebels living in the mountains and jungle. What does the government stand for? Who knows. How about the Organization? Got me. Both are just fighting. World without end.
Which is why, I suppose, our team of eight young rebels winds up betraying the Organization. Put your team in the jungle without an overarching ideology and their ideology becomes the law of the jungle. It becomes about survival—not against the government, who can’t reach them, but against you, who can.
The kids start out blind, playing a blindfolded game of futbol in the mountains, in order to, one assumes, attune their senses as well as their sense of teamwork. One assumes a lot in this, by the way, since writer-director Alejandro Landes doesn’t give us much or any exposition. We never find out anything about the eight kids, for example, beyond their code names and personalities. Where are they from? Why did they get involved? Were they kidnapped? Do they have family?
Or take Doctora (Julianne Nicholson). We first see her with the girls, Lady (Karen Quintero) and Swede (Laura Castrillon), by a mountain lake, with Swede insisting on braiding her hair. Doctora is older, and Anglo, and slightly off, and after a time we assume she’s a hostage, but it’s only by and by that we know this with any certainty.
Was she always there? Even during the blindfolded futbol game? It certainly adds to the world without end quality. There’s always a government, always being defied by rebels, who always have a hostage.
What we do see introduced to the group is a cow. Messenger (Wilson Salazar), an indigenous dwarf who shows up periodically as the Organization’s voice, presents it to the group with this caveat: It’s borrowed from a sympathetic farmer and must be returned to him after hostilities are over; if it isn’t, they will pay.
They pay. The morning after celebrating the wedding of the team’s tall, handsome leader, Wolf (Julian Giraldo), to Lady, the boys wake up late and shoot off their machine guns. A stray bullet from Perro (Paul Cubides), kills the cow. Distraught, Wolf kills himself, and Bigfoot (Moises Arias) takes defacto and then sanctioned control of the team, rallying it and protecting it with this lie: It was Wolf who killed the cow. Why not? Wolf is already dead, Perro gets off, the team continues. But the lie is the snake in the garden; if it was ever a garden.
We knew Bigfoot was trouble from the get-go. His eyes burned with anger, there was a slyness in his manner, a jealousy and need in his soul. Watching, I was thinking, “He looks like a scarier version of that American actor who was in ‘Kings of Summer’ and ‘Ender’s Game’ a few years ago.” Turns out it’s him. One wonders how his Colombian accent was. Or are they even in Colombia? Either way, he is by far the most veteran actor among the kids. For the rest, save Swede/Castrillon, this is their debut.
The movie never stops being tense in the way that “Lord of the Flies” never stops being tense. We wonder how low everyone will sink.
It’s a bit that but it’s more an internal collapse—the team eating itself. Suspicions and jealousies mount. The smallest, Smurf (Deiby Rueda), isn’t paying attention and lets Doctora escape. By this time they’re in the jungle and she has a tough time of it, and anyway since the camera follows her we assume she’ll be recaptured. She is. Messenger shows up again, and during a group confessional, a kind of struggle session, secrets spill out. Some are petty (“Lady only sleeps with powerful men”), but they keep getting worse until it’s revealed that Perro killed the cow and Bigfoot orchestrated the cover-up. Taken by boat back to Organization HQ, Bigfoot shoots Messenger in the back and returns for revenge against his betrayers. In the chaos, Doctora kills Swede and escapes, as does Rambo (Sofia Buenaventura), who looks a bit like a girl because he is. Was he supposed to be a girl? Or trans?
One of my favorite moments: Rambo holes up with a family living on the edge of the forest but with all the amenities—house, electricity, TV—and on television they’re watching a report/documentary about Beethoven. “Ah, civilization,” I thought. Then it quickly becomes about the mass production of gummy bears. “Right. Civilization,” I thought.
We get some gorgeous shots in Monos," but do we learn much about humanity that we don’t already know? The descent isn’t particularly interesting to me; it’s the natural way. The true interest, the true struggle, is in the ascent.
Movie Review: Sword of Trust (2019)
Marc Maron is the best part of Lynn Shelton’s “Sword of Trust.” Maybe because his exasperation with people and the times mirrors mine. He’s past the point of caring but not quite. “The fuck is this?” he says at one point, unable to believe idiots believe in the things they do. He spoke for me.
The idiot things people believe in 2019 gets us back to the Philip Roth dilemma: How do you make credible American culture when the culture always outdoes the best efforts of our imaginations? When the culture itself is a satire? Roth complained that no novelist, for example could’ve dreamed up Richard Nixon, and he complained about this ... in 1962. Imagine if he could’ve seen ahead a dozen years. Imagine if he could’ve seen ahead to Reagan and Rush and W. and Alex Jones. And of course President Donald.
So how do you do it? How do you create an American reality that seems both absurd and credible?
Shelton and co-writer Michael Patrick O’Brien (SNL”) do it by saying there’s a fringe group that believes the South actually won the Civil War.
You think about that for a second and go, “Yeah, that feels about right.” It feels so right that when you get home you go online to check that it’s not actually a thing.
The story is pretty simple. Maron plays Mel, who runs a two-bit pawnshop in a lazy stretch of Birmingham, Ala., with a conspiracy-minded assistant, Nathaniel (Jon Bass of unfortunately “Baywatch”), helping, or mostly not, by his side.
Meanwhile, Cynthia (Jillian Bell) has just lost her father and assumes she’ll get his house, but, oops, the bank is taking that. The only thing for her is an old Civil War sword, which she and her partner, Mary (Michaela Watkins), try to sell at Mel’s pawnshop.
This particular sword plays heavy in the conspiracy theory that the South actually won the Civil War. The sword was there at the surrender of the North, or something, in 1881, and so suddenly there’s a bunch of loons descending on Mel’s pawnshop.
Just writing that makes me think the movie should’ve been funnier. Maybe with a bigger budget? As is, the loonish descent is just two lousy stickup men, and the guy who played “The Wiz” on that episode of “Seinfeld” (Toby Huss). Here, he’s Hog Jaws, repping an interested buyer.
The movie goes wrong in a couple of ways:
- How much was improv? Parts felt that way, and those parts weren’t funny. Nathaniel’s whole “Flat Earth” society bit was just ... nothing
- I didn’t buy that anyone in it lived in Alabama. Not Maron from Jersey, Not Bass from Texas, not Watkins from NY or Bell from Vegas. It was filmed in Birmingham but I didn’t feel Alabama at all. (Caveat: I’ve never been to Alabama.)
- Hog Jaws says his buyer won’t visit their pawn shop; they have to get in the back of a van, like an unmarked police van, and meet him at his estate. And they go.
One, it’s a horrible negotiating move: You travel all that way, you kinda want to make the deal. More important: He’s nuts. He believes the South won the Civil War. You could die. Who’s taking that risk? These people.
Anyway, it turns out that the buyer, Kingpin (Dan Bakkedahl of “VEEP”) doesn’t believe in alt South history anyway. Hog Jaws does, and when he overhears he pulls a gun on Kingpin. But others get the drop on him and he’s taken to the “Toy Room,” which is a supercreepy name straight out of “Pulp Fiction.” We never see it; thank god. Our heroes get out alive and with $40k.
There’s a subplot, too, about Mel being in love with an addict, played by Shelton. The movie ends on a grace note.
In the end, it feels too improv, too indie. But if you like Maron, go. He’s the show.
Movie Review: Sink or Swim (2018)
In France they call it “Le Grand Bain,” or “The Big Bath,” and it’s basically “The Full Monty” meets that great 1985 SNL skit about men's synchronized swimming starring Martin Short, Christopher Guest and Harry Shearer. A a group of out-of-shape, middle-aged underdogs get involved in synch swimming because nothing else is going right with their lives. It’s got some French nuance, yes, but also nasty/snooty relatives out of central casting who get told off twice by our heroes—the second time to cheers from the Seattle Internatonal Film Fest crowd. Then it gets even more Hollywood. In an international competition in Norway, our heroes not only go the distance (see: “Rocky”), not only win (“Rocky II”), but win over the foreign crowd (“Rocky IV”).
Kind of disappointing.
Afterwards, my wife called it a pretty good feel-good movie, and she’s right, but even she was shocked when I told her it got nominated for 10 Cesars last year (including best director and best film), and won one (best supporting actor).
You get a story...and you get a story
It begins well, with a voiceover from our lead, Bertrand (Mathieu Amalric), a depressive, unemployed father of two, talking about the circles at the beginning of life (earth, sun, womb, etc.), and the squares at the end of it (casket, tombstone, etc.), before getting into the whole “can’t fit a square peg into a round hole” bit. Then our story begins. With him.
Today’s the day Bertrand is supposed to begin work again, or apply for a job, or something, after a year or two fighting depression. His kids don’t respect him, his wife, Claire (Marina Fois), is losing patience, and he’s got that hopeless faraway look in his eyes that Amalric can do standing on his head. Then he sees a flyer about a men’s synchronized swim team and tears off one of the phone-number stubs.
Why is this the answer to his ennui? He tries to explain it to the chain-smoking, alcoholic, but still quite lovely female instructor, Delphine (Virginie Efira), who was once a competitive synch swimmer herself, but he doesn’t have the words. Maybe the screenwriters don’t, either. They just need the thing to happen for the movie to move forward.
Delphine’s team is already full of men for whom life didn’t turn out as planned:
- Laurent (Guillaume Canet, the French Patrick Dempsey), who has a hair-trigger temper, a son who stutters (because of dad’s hair-trigger temper), and a mother suffering dementia
- Marcus (Benoit Poelvoorde) is an unethical scamp whose pool/hot tub business is about to go bankrupt
- Thierry (Philippe Katerine, our Cesar winner) is a quiet, good-natured sort whom everyone, particularly Marcus, takes advantage of
- Simon (Jean-Hugues Anglade), who has self-published 17 rock CDs without success, works in a lunchroom in the high school his superpretty daughter, Lola (Noée Abita), attends, and lives in an RV...but not down by the river
- Basil (comedian Alban Ivanov) has been denied a mortgage because he’s too old at 38. That’s pretty much all we know about him. He's kind of one-note
- Avanish (Balasingham Thamilchelvan) is also one-note: He doesn't speak French, but Basil responds to his comments as if everyone understands
I thought the movie's focus would be Bertrand but it is a true ensemble. We see Laurent’s wife and child leave him. We see him visiting his addled, abusive mother in a home, then bring her home to live with him—where she, in her dementia, continues to verbally abuse him. At least there’s that; at least she doesn’t get better because he puts in the effort. We don't get that lie.
We see Marcus struggle to keep his business afloat, going so far as to burn a company van to collect the insurance, but not realizing he’d stopped paying the insurance months earlier. Not a bad bit.
Simon plays a rock concert for geriatrics while Thierry is abused by jocks at the pool where he works. Oh, and Delphine isn’t just a chain-smoker who wound up in AA through the love a good man. No, she's actually stalking that man, a married man, who pleads angrily to leave him alone. An interesting turn. For a time, she’s replaced by Amanda (Leila Bekhti), a martinet in a wheelchair, who whips them in shape. Well, “shape.” They’re still fairly doughy at the end.
Is this too many storylines? Each gets a bit but none goes deep. Some are played for laughs, some for pathos. Bertrand goes to work for his asshole brother-in-law in a sad furniture shop, takes his abuse with an increasingly astonished look in his eyes, until we get a worm-turns moment when he tells him exactly what he thinks of him, his furniture and the shop. Then they take it outside. Cut to: A shot of the two of them, through the window, silently and ineptly grappling with one another. That was good; that made me laugh. It’s when Bertrand’s wife, who hasn’t exactly been supportive of her husband, tells off her snooty sister in a grocery store—to actual cheers from the SIFF crowd—that I began to shake my head. Make it funny or go home.
All of it leads to a male synch competition in Norway, which somehow they‘re able to enter as the French national team. The other teams are young, fit and well-financed, while our guys are not, not and not. They’re in a sweaty panic; but then they perform perfectly. I wasn’t sure what I wanted, to be honest. That they wouldn’t embarrass themselves mostly. But the movie has them win the whole thing. They come back to their small northern town with gold medals.
The sure thing
Apparently this French version, and a British version starring Rob Brydon that came out the same year, were both inspired by a 2010 documentary, “Men Who Swim,” which IMDb describes thus:
A humorous and poignant film about a group of middle-aged men who find unlikely success as members of Sweden's all-male synchronized swim team
A Hollywood version seems inevitable, but who to cast? In the French version, because the men are over-the-hill, their best days back in the 1980s, they cast actors who were stars in the ’80s. That would make sense for the Hollywood version, too, and there’s a host of options: John Cusack, Matthew Broderick, Ralph Macchio, Emilio Estevez, on and on. If you allowed Delphine to be older, Holly Hunter would be perfect.
I just hope Hollywood's version is less Hollywood than the French one.
And Then There Was One
“Staunch libertarian Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.) on Saturday said — or rather, tweeted — what no other Republican member of Congress has yet had the nerve to utter: President Trump committed impeachable acts that Attorney General William P. Barr tried to downplay by misrepresenting the Mueller report, and Republicans are too partisan to do anything about it and too lazy to even read the report.”
Jennifer Rubin, in the lede to her Washington Post Op-Ed, “Why Justin Amash Stands Alone.” She breaks the GOP, who continue to support Trump despite impeachable offenses, into three groups: the cynics who want their judges and/or tax cuts; the scaredy cats who fear GOP ostracisism, not to mention being primaried; and the nuts who actually buy the extremism that Trump is selling. Rubin says this third group is unfortunately bigger than many Americans could ever have guessed.
Whoa! ‘Wick 3’ Debuts at $57 Million, Toppling ‘Avengers’
I haven't seen any of the John Wicks but they sure are getting popular. The first one opened to $14 mil in Oct. 2014, the second doubled that debut ($30), and the third has now doubled it again ($57, est.) and in the process unseated “Avengers: Endgame” for No. 1 domestic box office champ of the weekend. “Chapter Two” also doubled the total gross of the first ($43 —> $92), and if that pattern holds, well, now you‘re starting to talk real Hollywood money.
Whoa, as someone might say.
But the real real Hollywood money is still in the superhero genre—particularly the MCU. “Endgame” fell 53%, adding another $29.4, for a domestic total of $770, which is enough to push past “Avatar” ($760) for the second-biggest domestic movie (unadjusted) of all time. If you adjust, “Endgame” is 23rd all-time, ahead of the biggest movie of the 1940s, “Fantasia” ($748), and knocking on the door of Ben and Mrs. Robinson in “The Graduate” at No. 22 ($771).
Since it looks like Earth’s Mightiest Heroes won't catch “Force Awakens” at $936 on the unadjusted chart, the adjusted chart is more fun to contemplate. Where might it stop? It‘ll need another $35 mil to pass “The Sting” to get into the top 20; that seems likely. But another $100 mil to pass “Avatar”’s adjusted gross of $876 to get into the top 15? Probably not. For the curious, to get to No. 1, “Avengers: Endgame” will need another $1 billion domestic to pass “Gone with the Wind”'s adjusted take of $1.8 billion.
Worldwide, I'm not seeing much movement. Have the international numbers not come in yet? “Endgame” is at $2.564 billion, “Avatar” at $2.788.
Among the other supers in release, “Captain Marvel,” in 14th place, added another $727k for $425 domestic, which is sixth-best in the MCU—after four “Avengers” movies and “Black Panther.” In 15th place for the weekend, the DCEU's “Shazam!” added $680k for a domestic total of ... wait for it ... $137, which would be great for a “John Wick” movie but abyssmal for a modern superhero movie. Among the seven DCEU movies, it ranks last (previous low: “Justice League” at $229), and among the 22(!) MCU movies, it would rank 21st, ahead of only the Ed Norton “Incredible Hulk” from 2008, which grossed $134 domestic. That's why not another “Hulk” movie; and sadly, probably why not another “Shazam!,” which had the advantage of being funny.
Elsewhere, “Pikichu” picked up another $24 for a 10-day total of $94 and a worldwide total of $206; and a “A Dog's Journey,” sequel to “A Dog's Purpose,” opened at $8 mil, less than half of what its predecessor opened to in Jan. 2017. Maybe they should‘ve kept this franchise in January.
Dying in “Endgame”’s wake? Rom-coms and buddy/chick flicks, seemingly. After two weekends, “The Hustle” (Hathaway/Rebel Wilson) has grossed $23, and after three weekends “Long Shot” (Theron/Rogen) has grossed $25. Meanwhile, “The Sun Is Also a Star” (impossibly good-looking newbie actors/models on a 24-hour rendezvous with not being deported), eked out just $2.6 million in 2,000+ theaters in its debut. Are any worth seeing? Of the three, only “Long Shot” (81%) wasn't rotten; and its premise seemed so absurd to me (Theron running for president and potentially interested in Seth Rogen) that I never considered it. “Hustle” seemed more fun but it landed at 15% on RT. Ouch.