Winners and Losers, 2016

Well, as John Oliver rightly noted, 2016 was not a good year. And while I’ll do my best to keep updating this space, regular readers (if there is such a thing) can vouch that I’ve been lacking in posts; mostly because it feels like the world is falling apart. (I say this not as a wholly political statement; for instance, Alan Thicke and Florence Henderson and George Michael have passed while I’ve been working on this draft. Update: Carrie Fisher, too.) But with that said, entertainment is often a good way to express discontent with the current political and social climate, and can often serve as a distraction from, well, our impending doom. So enough prologue: I humbly submit the winners and losers of the entertainment world that were on my radar in 2016.

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MCU Films, Ranked (Updated May 2017)

This post is updated as I’ve now seen the second “Guardians of the Galaxy” movie, aka “Baby Groot and Drax Variety Hour.” I wanted to give my quick thoughts as to what the best Marvel Cinematic Universe (“MCU”) movies are. Please note that the list below is in worst-to-first order. Sorry, Thor. Feel free to disagree or tell me how wrong I am in the comments! Continue reading

Best of 2015

In many ways, 2015 was pre-ordained to be a massive year. After a down year at the box office in 2014, pundits predicted 2015 would be huge, given the releases of “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” “Avengers: Age of Ultron,” the final “Hunger Games” movie, and “Jurassic World.” And (for those that have been released), those movies delivered well at the box office (including “World” setting an opening weekend record, and then, you know, “Star Wars” demolishing it.). But there were a number of pleasant surprises that pundits didn’t see coming, and that’s what made 2015 quite an impressive year for entertainment. These are my favorite pieces of entertainment from 2015, presented in no particular order, but, for sake of readability, I’ve broken my list down by categories. Let me know what I missed, or what you enjoyed, in the comments. And, as always, thank you for reading this blog – and I hope you’ll stay with me in 2016. Continue reading

There’s No Crying In Baseball

As I’ve said before, I usually try to keep sports separate from this blog. But, as I’ve also said, it’s my blog, and I’ll post what I want. With that in mind, I’ll share with you what I couldn’t get out of my head last night: the idea that, so far, the big summer movies all seem to match up well with one Major League Baseball team. Will the trend continue? Who knows. For now, let’s take a look and see which movies are which teams.

1) Furious 7

Team: St. Louis Cardinals

The Cardinals keep putting out winning teams on the field, doing better than most pundits would expect, even when they have to deal with tragedy, like a sudden death from a car crash (Oscar Taveras). Sounds a lot like a Vin Diesel/Paul Walker led franchise to me.

2) Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2

Team: Oakland Athletics

No one understood what Oakland GM Billy Beane was doing this off-season, and nobody understood why a sequel to the heinously unfunny original was necessary. Both movie and team performed poorly, at the box office or on the field.

3) Avengers: Age of Ultron

Team: San Diego Padres

San Diego GM AJ Preller put together what looked to be an all-star roster: adding Matt Kemp, Justin Upton, Wil Meyers, Derek Norris, James Shields and Craig Kimbrel should have made for an easy cruise to the division title. But putting together all that talent doesn’t make for a workable on-field product, and the same can be said for the re-teaming of Iron Man, Thor, Hawkeye et. al.

4) Pitch Perfect 2

Team: Houston Astros

Led by a pint-size box office darling (Anna Kendrick/Jose Altuve), the movie/team followed the same blue print as last time/last year to even bigger success.

5) Spy

Team: Toronto Blue Jays

Toronto traded for Josh Donaldson, signed Russell Martin, and got rave reviews by many baseball pundits. Feels a lot like what Paul Feig assembled for his Bond-spoofing film. Both team and movie got better ratings than what the box office/win column may show, but both appear to have legs (especially given Toronto’s recent winning streak).

6) Tomorrowland

Team: Chicago Cubs

Living in the present but constantly focused on the (hopefully-promising future), the Cubs have assembled a ton of young talent in the hopes of winning an elusive World Series before another century passes.

7) Mad Max: Fury Road

Team: Washington Nationals

Led by Max, the best reviews of the summer haven’t led to as great a box-office haul as the movie producers would like. But don’t be surprised if this movie is in the conversation for Best Picture at the Oscars….and if this team wins the pennant (and more) this October.

8) Aloha

Team: Boston Red Sox

Cameron Crowe put together an all-star cast, with Bradley Cooper, Emma Stone, Rachel McAdams, Alec Baldwin and Bill Murray. Ben Cherington did the same with Pablo Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez. The results? Putrid.

9) Jurassic World

Team: New York Yankees

Nobody thought the dinosaurs would do this well at their age, and Jurassic World also fared pretty well at the box office.

10) Inside Out

Team: San Francisco Giants

The Giants started off the season woefully underperforming, especially after the team’s championship performance last year. But once it was able to bring Joy, Fear, and Disgust into balance (i.e. bringing back Hunter Pence and getting its clubhouse chemistry in order), the team is again a force to be reckoned with in the NL West.

11) Entourage

Team: Kansas City Royals

This team has wayyyy more swagger than most people think it deserves. Yes, it went to the World Series last year, but the Royals have brawled with multiple teams this season, and its fans have alienated casual baseball fans by stuffing the ballot boxes online so that the Royals will start a player at nearly every position for the All-Star Game. This is a team full of Johnny Dramas.

I may update this as the summer season rolls along, but for now, let me know what you think in the comments.

Why I’m Worried About Ant-Man

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I’m an unabashed fan of the Marvel movies, or what’s commonly known as the Marvel Cinematic Universe. I loved the original “Iron Man,” and I remember sitting in the theater in 2008 being captivated by Robert Downey Jr.’s total and complete embodiment of Tony Stark. While I was less taken with “The Incredible Hulk” and “Thor,” I thought “Captain America” was fantastic, and when I heard that Marvel was planning on bringing all of those heroes together for “The Avengers,” I was thrilled. Marvel took characters that were not household names the way Superman, Batman or Wolverine were, and made them into global megastars. When “The Avengers” set the box-office record for biggest opening weekend ever, it was a referendum both on the success of Marvel’s insight and its marketing machine.

“The Avengers” marked the end of Marvel’s “Phase One,” and its “Phase Two” slate, on the whole, has performed well, both critically and at the box-office*. “Iron Man 3” might be the best entry of the series, “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” is the best Marvel movie they’ve made, and “Guardians of the Galaxy” took Chris Pratt and a talking raccoon voiced by Bradley Cooper and made an entertaining, profitable movie out of them.

*The less said about “Thor: The Dark World,” the better.

Marvel’s movies, to date, have an astounding box-office performance. The worst performing movie, “The Incredible Hulk,” made $134 million in 2008, and since the release of “The Avengers,” no Marvel movie has grossed less than $200 million, with “Guardians” bringing in over $330 million, “Iron Man 3″‘s total haul nearing $410 million and this summer’s “Avengers: Age of Ultron” approaching $445 million. (Note: these are just domestic totals.) The average Marvel movie makes $309 million, and while that number is substantially aided by both “Avengers” films, that speaks to Marvel’s ability to deliver what mass audiences want to see.

Which leads me to my concerns with “Ant-Man,” the first movie of Marvel’s “Phase Three.”  While I said that I was an unabashed fan of Marvel, I’m an even bigger fan of Paul Rudd. I loved him in “Clueless,” think he’s the best part of the very funny “Wet Hot American Summer,” and has been invigorated by his frequent collaborations with both Judd Apatow (“Knocked Up,” “The 40-Year-Old Virgin”) and David Wain (“Wet Hot,” “Wanderlust,” “Role Models,” “They Came Together.”) Here are just a few of my favorite Paul Rudd scenes, but believe me, there could have been dozens more added:

(This next one’s not safe for work…don’t watch, Mom and Dad!)

It’s impossible not to like Paul Rudd. It is. If I could watch one roving reporter all day, it’d be Brian Fantana. If I could choose one heir to a candy fortune to hang out with, it’d be Bobby Newport. But you know who may not like Paul Rudd as much as I do (and I hate to even say this)? Moviegoers.

Look at Paul Rudd’s box office resume. His highest-grossing movie is “Monsters Vs. Aliens,” a forgettable animated movie where he played the fifth lead. After that is “Knocked Up,” (third at best on the call sheet), “Anchorman 2” (arguably second banana), “The 40-Year-Old Virgin” (again, arguably second banana), and “Anchorman” (ditto). The highest-grossing movie of his career where you could call Rudd the lead is “Dinner for Schmucks,” and I don’t think I’ve ever heard the sentences, “You know what movie I loved? ‘Dinner for Schmucks.'” said out loud. “Dinner for Schmucks,” “I Love You, Man,” “Role Models,” and “This is 40” all grossed between $67 million and $73 million; that seems to be the range of a typical, Paul Rudd-led vehicle, at its best. I love Paul Rudd. Everyone I talk to seems to love Paul Rudd. But so far, moviegoing audiences don’t love Paul Rudd. I imagine this is how I might deal with various movies of mine underperforming at the box office:

Now, of course, Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, and even Robert Downey Jr. weren’t all box-office kings before the Marvel machine got ahold of them. And Chris Pratt, who has just had the best 16+ months ever, as far as box office is concerned, wasn’t printing money for studios before “The Lego Movie,” “Guardians” and “Jurassic World.” But Paul Rudd’s been around for twenty years now; if he were going to be a huge box office success story, wouldn’t it have already happened?

The other, major concern that I have for “Ant-Man” is the fact that it’s had the most troubled production of any of the major Marvel movies. Usually, a director is hired, Marvel OKs the script (to make sure that there are no inconsistencies, and to make sure that each movie intertwines with the rest of the cinematic universe to build to future movies), and months or years later, a gigantic blockbuster is released. This has been a proven formula, even with material as quirky as “Guardians.” But “Ant-Man”? “Ant-Man” has been in trouble for a while now. This Vulture article spells it out pretty well, but the most important thing is to realize is that this is the first Marvel movie where the director (who also wrote the script) was fired off the project. And this is after the movie languished for the better part of eight years in development hell.

So…what does it all mean? Not much, although I wouldn’t be shocked if Ant-Man is the first Marvel movie not to cross $100 million (which I think the studio would see as a major disappointment). You have a star who people seem to love, but who don’t rush to see his movies. You have a movie that’s been rewritten on the fly, with a troubled production for years. And there also may be a sense of superhero fatigue. This summer already had an “Avengers” movie; there will be a new “Fantastic Four” in August, then “Batman vs. Superman” next year and “Captain America 3: Civil War” soon to follow.

And yet…if there’s one studio that can pull a rabbit out of its hat, defying conventional wisdom, it’s Marvel. And I think if there’s one actor who has the temerity to prove me wrong, while at the same time not caring whatsoever about his prior box office fortunes, it’s Paul Rudd. After all, when life hands you lemons…

The Magnificent Seven

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I was texting with my friend Kevin last night, and he asked me what my favorite movie of 2014 was. Not best movie, mind you, but my favorite. And the sad thing is, after a summer filled with some real promise, there haven’t been that many entertaining movies (and I think the ledger tilts in favor of comedy, at least so far). So, without further ado, let’s talk about my seven favorite movies of 2014. Please feel free to tell me how wrong I am in the comments below. Continue reading

Best of the Rest

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Especially in the summer blockbuster season, it seems that the only movies released are giant, action franchise tentpoles. Just this summer, we’ve had a new X-Men movie, Trans4mers, Godzilla, and Spider-Man, and we’re only two days into July. And I’m not alone in thinking that the good, mid-range movie has gone the way of the dodo (or, flocked to AMC and FX and HBO to become the next great miniseries. See: Fargo. See also: True Detective. See further: Mad Men.)

Vulture interviewed Billy Bob Thornton in advance of the premiere of Fargo, and this is what he had to say about television versus cinema:

It’s been a long time since you’ve done series TV. Why come back now?
It’s where we are headed. If you’re going to make something for adults, the mid-level movies the studios used to make, they’re gone. TV is where you do it. This is where actors get to actually do the kind of acting we used to do. If you’re going to do an independent film like I’m known for, now they give you $2 million to make it, and they want you to have 12 movie stars so you can get the foreign value, so we’re really restricted in a lot of ways in movies. Meanwhile, the studios are making big event films or real broad comedies or action movies, and that’s really not my bag.

While I would never disagree with Sling Blade (mmhmm), I happen to think that there are some solid, mid-level movies that have come out in the last few years. So, with that in mind, I wanted to highlight some of my favorites. Outside of Star Wars, the Avengers, and countless Lego movie sequels (I hope), we’ll just call these the best of the rest. Continue reading