BEYOND MEDIOCRE

STAR TREK BEYOND IS A HARMLESS PATCHWORK EFFORT THAT ISN’T HORRIBLE BUT SHOULDN’T HAVE BEEN THE MOVIE TO CELEBRATE TREK’S 50TH ANNIVERSARY

Director: Justin Lin

Starring: Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Karl Urban, Simon Pegg, Idris Elba, Sophia Boutella, Zoe Saldana, John Cho and Anton Yelchin

Rated: PG

Studio: Paramount

Running Time: 2 Hrs

There’s been a lot of attention focused on Star Trek recently. From the new series coming this January to the loss of Leonard Nimoy last year, to the tragic death of Anton Yeltsin a few months ago to the fact that 2016 is the franchise’s fiftieth birthday, Star Trek’s been on a lot of minds. You would this would be a perfect opportunity to release another strong entry in Trek’s lengthy and celebrated movie series. Not only to celebrate Trek’s long list of successes but to honour the memory of its recently departed family members as well.

Unfortunately, Star Trek Beyond is not that movie.

Read More . . .

Advertisements

BOX OFFICE ROUNDUP: GHOST CAN’T CATCH PETS

DESPITE A STRONG OPENING, SONY’S GHOSTBUSTERS REBOOT CAN’T CATCH REIGNING BOX OFFICE CHAMP SECRET LIFE OF PETS

Sony’s much maligned, female centric Ghostbusters reboot was the center of attention this weekend as insiders and trackers were keeping a close eye on the controversial movie’s box office performance. But while everyone was watching what could be the most talked about movie in years, Universal/Illumination Entertainment’s animated blockbuster The Secret Life of Pets snuck past the supernatural comedy to claim box office supremacy for the second weekend in a row.

Read More . . .

GHOSTBUSTERS ANSWERS THE CALL

FORGET ALL THE HATE (AND THE TRAILERS), THE NEW GHOSTBUSTERS IS AN ENTERTAINING AND SATISFYING SUMMER RIDE

Perhaps the most hated movie of the century has arrived in theatres. The release date for Ghostbusters: Answer The Call has been Christmas in July for online haters and trolls and this movie has been mercilessly skewered the last year and a half (especially after Sony’s underwhelming trailers started to see the light of day). But if you can divorce yourself from your nostalgia for the original 1984 classic and accept that the world has changed over the last thirty years, you’ll likely leave the theatre both surprised and entertained.

Read More . . .

BOX OFFICE ROUNDUP: SECRET SUCCESSFUL

SECRET LIFE OF PETS FINALLY DEFEATS FINDING DORY AND GIVES HOLLYWOOD A MUCH NEEDED SHOT IN THE BOX OFFICE ARM

Disney/Pixar’s Finding Dory has been killing the competition since it was released last month, dominating the box office three weekends in a row (and the first two weeks weren’t even close as Dory doubled and even tripled the next closest titles). Few doubted that Universal’s The Secret Life of Pets would open in the top spot this weekend, but the question was by how much and would Dory prove to be a speed bump on Pets way to box office dominance. The answer to both those questions were“a lot” and “no.”

Last summer should have proven to everyone that there were plenty of dollars in the animated movie kitty to go around as Pixar’s Inside/Out and Universal/Illumination’s Minions squared off in a battle of the animated titans, with Minions coming out on top (though both movies made insane amounts of money). Insiders were keeping a close eye on this year’s rematch and the two heavyweights didn’t disappoint.

Pets silenced the doubters with a whopping 103.2 million dollar debut at the North American box office, the third highest opening in what has been an otherwise disappointing summer (the average box office debut of this summer’s new releases are down an estimated 27% from this time last year) and laid waste to conservative predictions of a debut in the 80 to 85 million dollar range. It is the sixth highest opening this year and breaks the box office record for the highest opening gross for an original property (non sequel, prequel, remake, reboot or adaptation). The previous record was set last year by, you guessed it, Inside/Out. Trackers will now be watching to see what kind of legs Pets will have and what kind of profit margin it can generate against a very reasonable 75 million-production budget.

The Legend of Tarzan narrowly held onto second place, snaring an extra 20.6 million in its second weekend. Warner Bros. revisiting of the Edgar Rice Burroughs classic has netted 81.5 million since its debut last week but will need a strong overseas performance to balance its 180 million dollar production budget.

Despite being bumped from the top spot, this was hardly a bad week for Finding Dory. The sequel to 2003’s Finding Nemo unseated The Lion King as Disney’s highest grossing animated film of all time and it passed Captain America: Civil War to become 2016’s reigning box office champ. Currently sitting at just over 422 billion, the race is on to see if Dory can reach the elusive half billion domestic box office mark. If it can, it may well be the only 2016 release to do so.

Fox’s R-Rated comedy Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates opened fourth, outperforming some expectations but still only pulling in 16.6 million on its opening weekend (with grim long-term prospects). Has the raunchy comedy genre run out of steam, or is it the raunchy comedy starring Zac Efron’s abs genre that has run its course? Efron’s other two adult comedy efforts this year-Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising and Dirty Grandpa-were both disappointments. It may be time him to try and expand his resume a little.

The Purge 3: Election Day’s box office performance dropped an eye popping 63 percent, but it was still able to claim fifth spot with 11.7 million in earnings, bringing its two week total to 58 million. Considering it only cost 10 million to make, every dollar Purge rakes in at this point is pure gravy for Universal. And the Dwayne Johnson/Kevin Hart buddy movie Central Intelligence passed the 100 million dollar mark this week, raking in another 8.1 million to bring its four week total to a shade over 108 million. Holding the sixth spot this week, Intelligence should hold onto a spot in the weekly top ten for at least one or two more profitable weeks.

Independence Day Resurgence continues to (barely) hang onto a spot in the top ten, adding 7.7 million to a dismal total of 91.5 million domestically. How bad has it been for 20th Century Fox’s pricey (165 million) sequel? According to IMDB, the original Independence Day made over 306 million dollars domestically; the sequel could be hard pressed to hit 100 million despite IMAX showings, 3D ticket prices and two decades worth of inflation. Ouch. And speaking of bombs, The BFG brought in only 7.6 million on its second weekend for a total of 38.7 million against a production budget of 140 million. Fortunately Disney has four billion dollar properties under its belt so far this year and has a few big bullets left in its chamber (plus Walden Media shouldered some of BFG’s swollen budget, meaning Disney won’t take as big of a bath on it).

Sony’s small budget suspense The Shallows also continues to swim with the box office sharks, adding 4.8 million to a 45.6 million total that is nearly triple the film’s production budget. And just to add a surprise to the mix, Bollywood import The Sultan ranked tenth among North American box offices this weekend, bringing in 2.2 million on only 287 theatres. Not too shabby.

With Secret Life of Pets breathing some much needed life into a stagnant 2016 summer box office; distributors can breath a small sigh of relief. Attention now turns to Sony’s Ghostbusters opening next weekend. The female centric remake/reboot is one of the most hated things on the Internet (and has been since it was first announced in 2014) and responses from both Sony and director Paul Feig have only added fuel to the online fire. A lot of eyes will be on Ghostbuster’s bottom line this time next week. Stay tuned.

Shayne Kempton

 

 

 

THE SECRET’S OUT

THE SECRET LIFE OF PETS MAY NOT BE IN THE SAME LEAGUE AS DISNEY OR PIXAR, BUT THERE’S STILL PLENTY TO ENJOY

Director: Chris Renault

Starring: Louis C.K., Eric Stonestreet, Jenny Slate, Kevin Hart, Ellie Kemper, Albert Brooks, Lake Bell, Dana Carvey, Hannibal Buress and Steve Coogan

Studio: Illumination/Universal

Rated: G

Running Time: 1 Hr, 30 Mins

A handful of heavyweights have risen to the top of the animation world over the years. Disney’s in house studio as well as their Pixar brand are easily the top dog (refer to the box office numbers of Zootopia and Finding Dory if you have any doubts) while studios like Dreamworks and Sony’s Blue Sky vie for second place. Universal’s animation division-Illumination Entertainment-is looking to challenge the status quo by building off the enormous success of their Despicable Me/Minions franchise and challenge Disney’s place on top of the animated food chain with the much-hyped Secret Life of Pets. While Pets falls a little short of that lofty goal, it’s still an amusing romp that’s more than worth the price of admission.

Video: Illumination Entertainment

Max (Louis C.K.) and his owner Katie (Ellie Kemper) live the perfect life in New York. Katie adores Max and Max pretty much worships the ground Katie walks on. When Katie leaves everyday for work (her daily disappearance remains a complete mystery to Max, who tries every day to convince her to stay) Max dutifully waits by the door, eager for her return. While the other pets of the city spend their days partying, watching TV and raiding the refrigerator, Max pines away the hours until his beloved owner returns home.

But one day Katie returns with a new addition to their family-Duke (Eric Stonestreet), a hulking brute of a dog that’s all slobber and fur. Max’s exclusive place in Katie’s life is challenged and he immediately resolves to do everything in his power to get Duke out of their lives and back in the pound where Katie found him. Understandably Duke isn’t a fan of this and becomes determined to get Max out of the picture (strictly as self defense of course). As a result they both find themselves on the streets, trying to get home while on the run from New York Animal Control and Snowball (Kevin Hart), a psychotic rabbit that leads an army of abandoned pets called The Flushed that seek revenge on the human world.

Pets takes some time to get going, spending a good chunk establishing the characters, back story and premise. But when it does get going, it’s a roller coaster of laughs, sight gags and inside jokes. The animators perfectly captured the spirit of the characters and embedded them into their animal likenesses. Whether through body language or facial expressions, the visual imagery sells the character side of story.

Unlike some other animation studios, Illumination cast its voice actors from TV, keeping the budget reasonable (Pets estimated budget is around 75 million compared to the average Pixar budget, which easily surpass the 100 million dollar mark). But that doesn’t subtract from the impact the voices have at all. Albert Brooks is fantastic as Tiberius, the domesticated hawk that constantly wrestles with his predatory instincts while trying to make friends. Louis C.K. does a more then decent job as Max, really selling the conviction of the little terrier’s love for his master and his contempt for his new rival. You can truly tell that Kevin Hart had a blast as Snowball, the sociopathic, murder crazed bunny out for blood. But Jenny Slater steals the show as Gidget, the demur, polished toy poodle with eyes for Max and an addiction to Mexican soap operas. Gidget is the real star of the movie, going from prim and proper, long distance admirer to a pet-of-action, leading the search party for Max who eventually becomes a fierce engine of hand-to-hand combat. And Slater brings her to life with nothing short of perfection.

Pets plot is essentially Toy Story recycled. But instead of toys coming to life when their owners aren’t around, household pets reveal their true selves once their humans have departed for the day. The former favourite has to deal with the strange newcomer but soon they have to join forces to get home safe. Pets succeeds because while the writers borrowed the storyline from another movie, they heavily invested in creating a world of talking pets and vengeful bunnies, and then allowed their characters to explore the comedic boundaries. The jokes (and there lots of them) write themselves.

Unlike Pixar though, Pets doesn’t yank on any heartstrings, though considering the subject matter that’s probably a wise decision (few things are more devastating, especially for a child, then the loss of a pet). It flirts with a little genuine emotion before quickly returning to the jokes. That’s why it fails to reach the same territory as Pixar. Make no mistake, there’s pretty much the same amount of laughs for both kids and adults, but Pixar has perfected the recipe of brilliant visuals, comedy and just the right amount of pathos, while Pets prefers to focus on the laughs.

Pets even opens with an animated short-a new Minions adventure-but it doesn’t have the same presence that Pixar or Disney animated shorts do. It was amusing but not really memorable.

The Secret Life of Pets is a great family movie nonetheless. The kids will love it and the parents will love taking them. It’s a visual roller coaster ride full of laughs and you may never look at a poodle or a bunny the same way ever again. It’s the fun family movie that reminds us why summer is movie season. And while it falls a little short of Pixar, don’t be surprised if Illumination is soon challenging the creators of Toy Story, The Incredibles and Finding Dory for animation’s top spot soon (they’re already hyping their Christmas release Sing). Pets may even have a sequel in it too. If Max and company get into this much hijinks just welcoming a new dog, imagine what could result if one day Katie brought home a husband?

Shayne Kempton

 

CANADIAN FORTUNE

WHAT DO ALL CANADIANS HAVE IN COMMON? UNBELIEVABLE LUCK

What is it to be Canadian?

Every Canadian from coast to coast to coast has a different answer, and each one is as right as the one before it and the one after it. In truth, there is no one feature or attribute that makes a Canadian a Canadian, no one defining characteristic that separates the citizens of the Great White North from the rest of the world. Once upon a time, you were Canadian if you weren’t British and you were Canadian if you weren’t American and at the end of the day Canadians have struggled since those days to define themselves and their national identity.

I know what your thinking-this post is about a week late. And Canada Day was indeed last Friday, but I wanted to share my musings after everyone’s head cleared from the holiday weekend and let’s be honest, no one’s reading anything short of a beer label or barbecue instructions on Canada Day itself.

So here we are in steamy July and a handful of days past Canada’s 149th birthday (you can hardly see her grays) and we face the same question we do every year. We’re constantly asked to define our identity, asked what it means to be Canadian, as though all 36 million of us carry a list with us whenever the question comes up.

This is the part of the conversation that usually invites endless stereotypes; we say thank you to bank machines, we have maple syrup and beer running through our veins and hockey sticks hanging over our mantles and drink water from thousand year old icebergs. In truth, Canadians are just as diverse as the snowflakes in a January blizzard. But there’s one word that can be used to describe all of us.

Lucky.

The one thing Canadians love to complain about the most is Canada. You listen to talk radio or peruse Internet forums or the letters pages in newspapers and the one pattern that emerges is that Canadians have a love hate relationship with the land we call home. In short Canadians love nothing more then to complain about the True North Strong and Free, we hate on it as much as possible, but despite all our complaints and our contempt few ever make the slightest attempt to leave.

So let me lay it offer some brutal truth for both my fellow Canadians and everyone else abroad. If you call this nation home you have won the lottery. Not only is Canada one the richest, freest countries on the planet today, but also in human history.

For every Canadian who complains and moans about living here, there are thousands living in poverty and war zones, deprived of both rights and dignity who would kill to be here. Canada represents somewhere around half of one percent of the world’s population but the number of people who dream of having a better life here number in the hundreds of millions. Syrian refugees who found refuge on Canada’s shores breakdown into tears when reflecting on the kindness shown them while their own nation crumbled into dust and ashes beneath the relentless heel of a tyrant. When it became official that Donald Trump would carry the Republican banner into the 2016 Presidential election and that Britain had voted to leave the European Union, one of the most Googled questions following those revelations south of the border and across the pond was “How Do I Move to Canada?”

Moving to Canada was also an empty threat tossed around by American homophobes and bigots last year when the American Supreme Court ruled that same sex marriage had to be recognized in every state. Empty because Canada had recognized marriage equality a decade earlier, and while there was the predictable moral outrage from the lunatic fringe on the political far right when it did, most Canadians met the news with a shrug of the shoulders and carried on with their daily lives, realizing that the sky wasn’t falling. When Parliament changed two words in our national anthem earlier this year to include everyone and not just men, there was barely a ripple outside of the brief uproar from the chauvinists and “moral purists.” In the United States meanwhile, the entire national press and body politic spent weeks fighting and obsessing over who could go to the bathroom where and Congress is currently trying to pass a law preventing the United States from putting a black woman on the ten dollar bill (while tattooing Confederate war heroes and slave owners on money has always been acceptable).

Last October we had one of the most engaging federal elections we’ve had in a long time, ending a decade of one party’s rule and ushering in another promising hope and change. Canadians everywhere were offered the opportunity to raise their voices and welcomed to have their say. It was an election free of corruption, scandal and violence, unlike so many other countries where democracy is for appearances only and elections are rigged our decided well in advance. In Russia for instance, Vladimir Putin’s political rivals have a nasty habit of disappearing or turning up very, very dead. In 2015 Russian opposition leader Boris Nemstov, who opposed Russian’s invasion of Ukraine and openly voiced his fear that his opposition put his life in jeopardy, was shot in the head just blocks from the Kremlin. Putin seized personal control of the investigation, vowing to bring the killers to justice. Shockingly no arrests were made and no one has opposed Russia’s bullying of Ukraine since. Bet Canadian democracy isn’t looking so bad right now, is it?

Canada is far from perfect and only a fool would sugarcoat her history. The ugly truth is Canada is built on a legacy of genocide and has more than her fair share of bloody skeletons in the closet. As painful as it is, we need to resist the urge to forget or should erase that past (the way Texan textbooks tried to convince elementary school students that slavery “had positive economic benefits” and that First Nations Americans voluntarily gave American settlers their lands) and embrace history’s lessons, no matter how dark (perhaps Canada’s biggest shame is that her last residential school, bastions of cultural genocide and unbelievable abuse run by both church and state, didn’t shutter its gruesome doors until 1996). And here’s a little secret few Canadians would ever share with the world-we’re really not as nice or tolerant as like everyone to think.

But despite her crimes, her warts and her shortcomings, Canada is far better off facing the same challenges and uncertain future that have paralyzed so many other nations across the world. She is, without a doubt, the best country in the world to call home.

So just remember Canadians, while you may hate her, while you may hate the justice system or the entertainment or the weather or the bilingualism or the colours on her money, she will never turn her back on you and each and every one of you is beyond lucky to call her home.

Next time you doubt it, remember you get a whole day every July to get drunk on her dime. And if that doesn’t work, just ask anyone who chose to live here and they’ll remind you, while you take living here for granted, how much the rest of the world wants to be here.

Shayne Kempton

BOX OFFICE ROUNDUP: DORY REIGNS SUPREME

If Pixar decides to make a third installment in the Finding Nemo franchise, they should consider making the main characters piranhas, because they’re devouring everything in their path. Not only did Finding Dory defend its title as current weekend box office champion against three new high profile releases, but it also became the first movie to rule the box three weekends in a row since Zootopia (also a Disney property) did it last March. Dory added over 41 million to its domestic coffers over the holiday weekend and has now grossed over 372 million since its release three weeks ago. It’s well on its way to becoming the highest grossing movie of the year and will have no problem becoming Disney’s fourth billion dollar title of 2016 (it’s already made 538 million world wide). It has equaled Batman Vs Superman’s entire North American gross in just three weeks, it will likely pass Captain America: Civil War in a week or two and still has plenty of steam heading into July. And none of this takes into account all the Finding Dory merchandise currently flying off store shelves (just in time for summer vacation) or the fortune the home release will inevitably make when it hits DVD and Blu-Ray players next fall. If someone isn’t making a documentary titled “The Power of Pixar” yet, they should be.

One of those new releases, The Legend of Tarzan, opened in second with a healthy 38.1 million debut. But Warner Bros is already keeping a close eye on the weekly ticker tape considering Tarzan’s pricey 180 million dollar production budget. The Purge 3 was this weekend’s big winner, opening in third place with just over 30 million in ticket sales. Universal’s third (and final?) entry in the hyper violent film series tripled its ten million dollar budget in just its first weekend and it should prove interesting too see what kind of legs the action flick (which slyly paraphrased its tag line Keep America Great from Donald Trump’s xenophobic presidential campaign) has moving forward.

In a rare misstep, Disney’s other family friendly summer release, The BFG, opened fourth with a disappointing 19.5 million. The big budget BFG seemed to have everything going for it; based on the popular Roald Dahl book (and released on the hundredth anniversary of his birth, a fact Disney made sure to play up in the film’s promotion), it was directed by Steven Spielberg (his first Disney title) and had the full weight of the Disney hype machine behind it. Lukewarm reviews, a narrow target audience (seriously, this one was just for the kids) and a weekend full of competition combined to kill BFG’s prospects and the race is now on to see which will be the bigger Disney bomb; BFG or last April’s Alice Through The Looking Glass.

Speaking of disappointments, Independence Day: Resurgence took a near 60 percent hit to it’s weekend performance, tumbling from second place to fifth and only adding 16.5 million to it’s total. Resurgence came with a 165 million price tag (before promotional spending) and at its current pace it will be lucky to hit 100 million in domestic gross (it currently sits at just over 72). It will need a crazy overseas performance just to break even, which is currently looking unlikely. At best, 20th Century Fox is now looking to minimize the bath they’re going to take on this tent pole release.

Central Intelligence continued its strong run, holding down sixth spot with 12.3 million. Intelligence has made Fox over 95 million since it’s June 17th release and the Dwayne Johnson/Kevin Hart buddy movie should have no problem hitting the 100 million milestone later this week, effectively doubling its production budget. And speaking of doubling budgets, the Blake Lively thriller The Shallows, which was made on the cheap for 17 million, made a cool nine million in it’s second weekend of release, bringing it’s total performance to over 35 million. Not a bad July 4th present for Sony.

Civil War period piece The Free State of Jones failed to capitalize on the July 4th weekend, falling to eighth spot with 4.1 million. The Matthew McConaughey vehicle has been a disappointment since it’s release last week, earning a total 15.2 million despite a 50 million dollar budget. Jones might hold on to a spot in the top ten for another week but is likely to be relegated to a box office memory by the time Ghostbusters hits theatres July 15th. This will be the second big write off studio STX is forced to make this year after Hardcore Henry bombed last March.

A pair of sequels rounded out the top ten, with The Conjuring 2 scaring up another 3.85 million. The latest title in the James Waan/Warner Bros. horrorverse has totalled 95.2 million on North American shores and all but guarantees a third Conjuring, not to mention an already announced spin off featuring the movie’s demonic protagonist, a la Annabelle. But while that sequel is doing gangbusters at the box office, Now You See Me 2 sits on the exact opposite side of the spectrum. The Lionsgate sequel only managed another 2.95 million in what is likely its last weekend in the top ten, brining its domestic total to a little over 53 million. Lionsgate needed Now You See Me to be a success after the disappointing performance of Allegiant last March and the appalling bomb Gods of Egypt last February. The combined losses on those three titles (and the absence of any more Hunger Games movies) may have severe consecequences for the studios future.

Also worth mentioning is Warner Bros. romantic drama Me Before You. The adaptation of JoJo Moyes bestselling book has not been without controversey but it has proven to be fairly resilient. Five weeks after release, it has grossed over 53 million at North American box offices on a humble 2o million dollar budget. Could some of the controversy have  translated into box office dollars? If so, perhaps that may bode well for Sony’s incredibly maligned Ghostbusters remake.

Next weekend presents a rematch of last summer’s animated Battle Royal. Can Disney/Pixar’s Finding Dory fend off Universal/Illumination’s Secret Lives of Pets and hold the title for a fourth week in row? Or will Pets succeed where others have failed and be the movie to finally put Dory down? Last year’s battle between the two animated giants was definitely one for the books. Pixar’s Inside Out was yet another blockbuster but couldn’t handle the juggernaut that was Illumination’s Minions. Round two should be a blast.

 

Shayne Kempton