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US Box Office Report: 05/06/15 – 07/06/15

America chose… wisely! Spy rules, Entourage drools, Insidious pulls… in crowds, OK, this headline has failed totally, and Other Box Office News.

by Callum Petch (Twitter: @CallumPetch)

I don’t think that I’m exaggerating when I say that this weekend’s box office battle was quite literally between good and evil.  On the side of good: Spy, the best comedy to come along in a year, and one that is quietly yet brilliantly progressive, boasting outstanding performances, and led almost entirely by excellent female comedians who are getting their deserved shots at the limelight.  On the side of evil: Entourage, a piece of pure f*cking garbage, based on pure f*cking garbage, made by and for pure f*cking garbage.  Except for Brooker, he’s alright.  The outcome of this fight would prove seismic, can good movies aimed at a female audience triumph over pure f*cking garbage aimed at dude-bros, humanity’s collective walking pieces of human f*cking garbage?

For once in this miserable cesspool that is humanity, good won out.  Good won out big!  Spy opened in first place with a very respectable $30 million.  Whilst that’s $9 million less than The Heat opened to in 2013, that is a very good number considering that Spy had mediocre to poor trailers and marketing, and had to open against a horror movie and Insidious Chapter 3.  Plus, considering the fact that the comedy landscape is free until Ted 2 at the end of the month, it’s guaranteed decent legs over the coming weeks!  We did it everyone!  We actually did it!  Everything is going to be OK!  It is all going to be O. K!

As for those terrifying journeys into worlds of misery populated by evil spirits who wish to do us all harm, Insidious Chapter 3 ended up the victor in that battle, bringing home a very good $23 million.  That’s admittedly still a very large drop from Chapter 2’s $40 million opening, and it was still very front-loaded, but Chapter 2 wasn’t released in the Summer and had absolutely no competition that weekend.  Besides, a $23 million opening for a horror movie is definitely not something to sniff at.  So I hope you’re all looking forward to being drowned in these apparently-great (?) films for years to come!  I have no idea why I wrote that so sarcastically, I shouldn’t get sniffy at good horror movies doing good business just cos I selfishly want their trailers to stop appearing before films that won’t give me mini-heart attacks due to my major wussiness.

And as for Vinny and the boys?  Well, Entourage blew hot steaming chunks.  And the box office of the film wasn’t so great either.  Over the three day weekend, it could only manage $10 million for a really pathetic $3,000 per-screen average.  “But the film opened on a Wednesday,” I hear you cry!  “Surely those extra two days will have provided an opening worthy of the once proud star of James Cameron’s Aquaman which is apparently a real thing that happens in Entourage at some point?”  Well, keep dreaming, brah, as Entourage’s five-day total stalled out at $17 million, which still left it stuck in fourth place!  The system works!  The terrible disaster movie failed!  Meanwhile, San Andreas took second with a shockingly great 50% drop between weekends.

I can keep making these awful jokes all day, folks.


spy

This Full List wants you to hug it out, bro.

Box Office Results: Friday 5th June 2015 – Sunday 7th June 2015

1] Spy

$30,000,000 / NEW

Saw it again on Friday night with a nice big crowd, which is exactly the way that one should experience a good comedy.  God, this film is so brilliant!  I’m actually tempted to check out Miranda, which has always looked like insufferable tripe to me, thanks to Miranda Hart’s brilliant performance in this.  I’m jealous of Paul Feig’s ability to assemble perfect casts with seemingly little effort, I really am.

2] San Andreas

$26,440,000 / $92,163,000

This is actually going to cross $100 million domestic by next weekend.  Gonna be honest, I did not see that coming at all.  Even after last weekend’s surprisingly great opening, I thought for sure that this would collapse spectacularly after word got out that it was really crap, but I guess Mr. The Rock holds way more sway than even I thought he did.  Of course, next weekend, everyone’s newest crush, Chris Pratt, arrives to take what’s his, so expect San Andreas to take a tumble.

Hang on a minute…  Million dollar idea: buddy-cop movie starring Chris Pratt and Mr. The Rock!  How has this not already been optioned?!  Call me, Hollywood!  I’ll have the script ready for you in a week!

3] Insidious Chapter 3

$23,000,000 / NEW

I will never see these movies.  I don’t hate them or anything like that, I’m just way too much of a wuss for jump-scare horror to ever want to see them.  I prefer my terror to come from constant unsettling wrongness instead of the film equivalent of a song by a bad Pixies imitator.  It’s not for me, and I’m OK with that.  It’s not ruining humanity.

4] Entourage

$10,420,000 / $17,805,000 / NEW

(*buries head in hands and makes strangulated noise of pure disgust*)  I have to see this tonight, and I really am not looking forward to it at all.  I had planned to watch as much of the show as I could have before seeing the film, but I only made it through 4 episodes before tapping out.  I couldn’t do it.  I just couldn’t.  They are all terrible people!  The show is so ragingly sexist it makes Love Actually look like f*cking Thelma & Louise!  There are no dramatic stakes, no actual satire, and no reason to care about any of these raging assholes!  WHY DO PEOPLE LIKE THIS?!

God, I have to follow Spy with this.  That’s like chasing down a delicious Ham and Turkey Subway with a Gin and Tonic comprised of vomit and dick cheese.

5] Mad Max: Fury Road

$7,970,000 / $130,804,000

This will collapse next week when Jurassic World comes a-calling, but it has now doubled its budget worldwide, pretty much guaranteeing an overall profit.  We’re all OK, folks.  We’re all OK.

6] Pitch Perfect 2

$7,700,000 / $160,982,000

There’s the big fall!  This will cross $250 million worldwide this week, and should also pass both The Spongebob Movie and Fifty Shades of Grey to become the fifth highest-grossing film of 2015 domestically by the time we reconvene next week, in any case.  I know that we film critics aren’t supposed to be interested in the business side of things, for whatever reason, but it still does my heart good all the same to see quality films rewarded with large stacks of cash!

7] Tomorrowland

$7,022,000 / $76,236,000

As a possible result of this film failing, Disney has cancelled production on Tron 3, like I needed even more reasons to strongly dislike this bad movie.  I mean, I’m not surprised – I am a legitimate and unironic Tron fan, I am used to disappointment by now – but I am still sad all the same.  Tron: Legacy was fun, dammit!  I need another Daft Punk score in my life, dammit!  YOU NEVER FORMALLY CANCELLED THE EXCELLENT TRON: UPRISING, DISNEY!  AT LEAST BRING THAT BACK!

8] The Avengers: Age of Ultron

$6,201,000 / $438,015,000

Age of Ultron has just passed the last Harry Potter to become the fifth highest grossing film of all-time worldwide.  Got a feeling the superhero boom isn’t going away for a while yet.  In fact, rather than having everyone moan about that again, can we maybe instead direct our ire at a recent glut of films that are actually even more interchangeable and irritating than superhero films?  I am, of course, referring to Young Adult Adaptations.  Yeah.  Why do I have to sit through seven thousand thinkpieces and complaints about comic book movies, yet the Divergents and Maze Runners of this world get by with nary a shrug of the shoulders?  Y’all do know that The Hunger Games existing doesn’t give this mostly-awful subgenre a pass, right?

9] Aloha

$3,300,000 / $16,342,000

Bwahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha!!!!

10] Poltergeist

$2,850,000 / $44,452,000

(*in creepy horror movie child voice*) They’re leaving.

Dropped Out: Far From The Madding Crowd, Hot Pursuit, Home

Callum Petch wants to ride on a white horse.  Follow him on the Twitters (@CallumPetch)!

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US Box Office Report: 29/05/15 – 31/05/15

San Andreas is no busta, Aloha says Aloha to any semblance of money, Results can barely do one measly pull-up, I can’t even make up a terrible pun for Heaven Knows What cos it looks too miserable, and Other Box Office News.

by Callum Petch (Twitter: @CallumPetch)

Prior to this weekend, it seemed very much like the box office was going to be extremely quiet until the release of Jurassic World in a fortnight.  After all, we all knew that Tomorrowland was going to bomb, Spy will do well but isn’t exactly going to light anything on fire, I know of only one human being who is (self-loathingly) excited for the Entourage movie and he works for this very website, and I know of no human beings who are clamouring for another frickin’ Insidious movie.  Post-Pitch Perfect and post-Mad Max, we basically entered a quiet period where little of interest was coming out and nothing was going to do particularly well or make for exciting headlines.

It turns out, however, that we all forgot one very important thing: Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson.  So although San Andreas on paper looked to be a middling underperformer that would be collectively skipped because, goddamn, did this movie ever look (and was) excruciatingly boring, in practice the film stormed its way to number 1 with $53 million in ticket sales.  There’s also the fact that it’s an expensive-looking disaster movie released on a weekend where there was almost literally nothing else of note coming out against it, but I think we all know that this is entirely down to Dwayne Johnson.  I mean, the guy is just the best, isn’t he?  He’s the best.  I want him as my dad!

The “of note” was added onto that prior paragraph because San Andreas was not the only wide release of this past weekend.  That other one would be Aloha, the first film in almost four years from writer-director Cameron Crowe.  In case you hadn’t heard, the film is apparently utter garbage that even Sony heads hated which, combined with the fact that Cameron Crowe has only ever really broken out of being a cult filmmaker maybe twice (thrice if you want to count We Bought A Zoo) in his entire 25 year career, basically sealed its fate even with Bradley Cooper in the lead role.  It’s kind of a bomb, opening in sixth place with an estimated $10 million – that, for those of you playing along at home, is behind the third weeks of Pitch Perfect 2 and Mad Max: Fury Road, the second week of Tomorrowland, and the fifth week of Avengers.

In the land of limited releases, Mumblecore architect Andrew Bujalski took a tentative step towards making a mainstream movie with the Guy Pearce, Cobie Smulders, and Kevin Corrigan-starring rom-com-ish (I haven’t seen it yet so I don’t know how much it sticks to and how much it subverts formula) Results.  The public responded somewhat warmly, with the film finishing up the weekend with $13,000 from 3 screens, which isn’t too bad considering that it’s been on VOD since March 13th.  Meanwhile, pure-unfiltered-misery in the shape of Heaven Knows Whathere’s the trailer which, even with the obnoxious and ill-fitting Harmony Korine-style editing and soundtrack, gives as good an idea as any as to how miserable that film is going to make me – got off to a very good start with $15,000 from 2 screens.  I realise that doesn’t seem like much, but this is a movie about homeless heroin addicts that looks BLEAK AS F*CK.  So, yeah, I’m gonna chalk that up as a win.


san andreas

All this Full List had to do was FOLLOW THE DAMN TRAIN!

Box Office Results: Friday 29th May 2015 – Sunday 31st May 2015

1] San Andreas

$53,215,000 / NEW

Saw this on Saturday and I mostly agree with Steve, it’s not very good.  I think the cast really try and there are a few sequences that are pretty good, but mostly I just found this incredibly, mind-numbingly boring.  Oh, and loud.  Very, very loud.  It has got some fine Paul Giamatti overacting, though, so that’s worth something.

Also, yes, I do find the irony in the fact that Tomorrowland, a film that sermonises about our obsession with turning death and planetary destruction and disaster into harmless entertainment, was unceremoniously dumped from number one by a film that is exactly what the former spends 130 minutes railing against.

2] Pitch Perfect 2

$14,381,000 / $147,540,000

This has a surprisingly strong chance of surpassing Fifty Shades of Grey’s closing total of $166 million.  It’s barely $20 million away from it, already, and with its strong mid-week grosses it could hold onto that trajectory even when Spy drops next week.  Yay to all of this!  And, yes, I still do really like this movie and believe it to be better than the first.  Accept that I’m not budging, and let’s close the book on this issue.

3] Tomorrowland

$13,803,000 / $63,188,000

Yeah…  this…  this isn’t making its money back.  Not even close.  I really hope that the lesson Hollywood takes away from the failures of this and Jupiter Ascending is not that the public doesn’t want expensive original blockbusters.  It’s that we want good expensive original blockbusters.  Actually, that doesn’t quite work since Jupiter Ascending is a good expensive original blockbuster, but the sentiment is still the same.

4] Mad Max: Fury Road

$13,625,000 / $115,915,000

You know what?  I think I’m going to go and see this again this week.  You should too.  I don’t care if you’ve already seen it 5 times in 3 weeks, that’s still not enough times to fully appreciate this magnificent specimen of a film and you damn well know it!

5] The Avengers: Age of Ultron

$10,920,000 / $427,070,000

Gee, Box Office Mojo!  It sure would be great if I could find out how Age of Ultron is doing in China, the one market that actually matters for this movie, on a week-to-week basis!  But not knowing anything because you have decided to skip on the details of your detail-oriented website and dropped so hard in overall quality since Ray Subers left is fine too!  Really!  I love having to put in an unnecessarily large amount of work for what should instead be a fun little 75 minute writing exercise each week!  I’m not irritated at all!

6] Aloha

$10,000,000 / NEW

Bummed to hear this one sucks, but I guess I now know why I have to wait until September 1st – The UK’s Dumping Ground – to see it.  On an entirely unrelated note, I need to actually watch a Cameron Crowe film, since he’s one of those filmmakers I’ve heard great things about but never actually seen anything by (otherwise known as: Most Filmmakers).  I guess I’ll start with Pearl Jam 20, since Lucy will not stop going on about Pearl Jam, and go from there.

7] Poltergeist

$7,800,000 / $38,267,000

Told you this would sink like a stone.  At least Insidious: Chapter 3 can’t use this as a scapegoat defence if it underwhelms next weekend.  Side wish: please underwhelm majorly so I never have to be at risk of seeing an Insidious trailer again.

8] Far From The Madding Crowd

$1,420,000 / $8,362,000

Look, instead of watching this garbage, why don’t we all instead go and watch Thomas Vinterberg’s much, much, much better previous film The Hunt?  It’s got Mads Mikkelsen in it!  In fact, why don’t we all also just watch Bryan Fuller’s Hannibal TV series instead of this tripe?  I think we can all agree that both options are much better usages of our collective time than this walking gasbag.

9] Hot Pursuit

$1,370,000 / $32,351,000

Well, goodbye, Hot PursuitYou couldn’t even make back your $35 million budget, which would be sad if your film wasn’t apparently so excruciatingly terrible.  Don’t let the actually-good Spy knock you on your arse on the way out.  Spy, after all, deserves better than associating with wastes of space like you.

10] Home

$1,150,000 / $170,409,000

Wait, this actually made it to 10 weeks on the chart?!  And is the fourth highest-grossing film of the year domestically at time of writing?  Alright!  High fives and party poppers all round, folks!  Today is a very good day!  Now if Shaun The Sheep: The Movie could be somewhat of a success when it launches in America in August, that would be just peachy!

I know that that is never going to happen, just give me a few more seconds of blissful denial.

Dropped Out: Furious 7, Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2

Callum Petch is just trying to change the world.  Follow him on the Twitters (@CallumPetch)!

US Box Office Report: 22/05/15 – 24/05/15

Tomorrowland comes today and is really underwhelming, Poltergeist is here and did really mediocre… y’know what?  This whole Memorial Day Weekend was basically a total bust, and Other Box Office News.

by Callum Petch (Twitter: @CallumPetch)

You may not know this, but this past weekend was a Bank Holiday.  No, really.  A second one in the same month, the official “Spring Bank Holiday”.  No, I really don’t know why.  Maybe we have it so that, when America shuts down for Memorial Day Weekend, we don’t have to wonder what those lazy ingrates are celebrating for whilst we have to keep going to our miserable dead-end jobs.  Did anything even actually shut down on Monday for anybody?  All of the shops in my village remained open as if it was any normal Monday, as if even they realised that this bank holiday is utterly pointless…

Hmm…?  Oh, right, movies.  Sorry, I was awake until 3:30am last night essay writing and got barely 5 hours of sleep.  My brain might make some left-turns during this piece, so be prepared.

Anyways, Memorial Day Weekend!  Typically, this is the period in which studios launch their biggest heavy-hitters to guide the 4-day weekend to piles-full of Scrooge McDuck money.  For example, last year, 20th Century Fox dropped X-Men: Days of Future Past, and despite humanity collectively forgetting everything that ever happened in that 2 hour piece of moving wallpaper as soon as they left the cinema – yeah, I said it – the film still opened to a ridiculous $110 million.  Analyst expectations were high, everyone was on the edge of their seat, this is meant to be the first Summer Blockbuster season that crosses $5 billion, after all, so Memorial Day Weekend should be a fever pit of activity, right?

Small problem with that: the two big films that people gave a sh*t about came out last weekend.  Instead we got a bad Brad Bird film, which is a phrase that physically hurts to type, and a crappy pointless horror movie remake.  Surprising nobody, the box office promptly died on its arse.

Tomorrowland is technically the winner, since it ended up in first place over the period, but it could barely scrape together $40 million over all four days which, for a film that cost $190 million to make and has been marketed and advertised to the hilt, is more than a little pathetic and embarrassing.  Hell, it barely beat the second week of Pitch Perfect 2, which was in an almost dead-heat with Tomorrowland for most of the weekend!  Meanwhile, Poltergeist posted exactly the numbers that you are expecting a crappy horror movie remake to post.  It started out strong on Friday with a good $9 million, then proceeded to sink like a stone once every horror fan collectively realised that, yeah, it was a bit sh*t, wasn’t it?  It eventually finished the long weekend with $26 million for fifth place.

In the land of the limited releases… things were rather crap over there, too, actually.  The only thing worth talking about was When Marnie Was There, currently the last planned Studio Ghibli film so, let’s face it, it would have still been the only thing worth talking about even if the limited releases were filled to the brim with films of quality and note.  Well, for the possible swansong of one of the greatest, if not the greatest, animation studios that has ever existed, the public came out in force!  They all collectively joined arms, packed their best tissues, and skipped merrily together down to their local cine…  Sigh.  Yeah, that didn’t happen.  Marnie managed to post a three-day weekend total of $27,388 from 2 screens.  By contrast, Isao Takahata’s The Tale of the Princess Kaguya managed $54,915 from 3 screens, whilst Hayao Miyazaki’s The Wind Rises scored $313,751 from 21 screens.  So, a bit underwhelming.  It did, though, post the highest per-screen average of the whole miserable weekend, at $13,694, so little victories and all that.


tomorrowland 1

This Full List will only be doing the three-day period of this four-day weekend (but including the fourth day in the total gross so far area) cos that’s the formula.  You know what happens when you mess with formula?  Chaos and anarchy, that’s what!

Box Office Results: Friday 22nd May 2015 – Sunday 24th May 2015

1] Tomorrowland

$32,972,000 / $41,736,000 / NEW

My review, for those of you who enjoy reading my opinions on stuff, for some bizarre reason.  Yeah, really disappointed that this one didn’t work and I lay the blame at Brad Bird’s feet.  I know that a lot of people are going to blame Damon Lindelof, and I do get why, but he’s not mainly to blame, here.  I mean, Lindelof’s various works are a lot of things, but the last thing that they are is preachy and obsessively on-the-nose about their messaging, to the detriment of everything else.  Bird is usually way better than this, but he dropped the ball here for whatever reason.  Damn shame.

2] Pitch Perfect 2

$30,830,000 / $117,305,000

For those of you following along at home, that is a 55% drop between weekends which is a far better hold than I thought this film would have.  It is typical, after all, for female-targeted movies to drop majorly between weekends – last year’s box office smash The Fault In Our Stars collapsed 70% between weekends, whilst Fifty Shades Of Grey plummeted 73% between weekends – so this hold is pretty miraculous.  It’s not tearing it up overseas like I thought it would, but $250 million worldwide still seems like a lock by this point, and combined with the inevitable smash that it will be on DVD…

Give me a moment, I just want to savour all of this cos like sh*t is anybody going to give this the proper credit that it is due.

3] Mad Max: Fury Road

$24,815,000 / $95,540,000

Look, I know that everybody is collectively crapping their pants because Fury Road hasn’t slaughtered every box office record and made off with all the money in the world in its first week.  I get that, I really do, the quick-fix narrative of modern day box office reportage makes any film that doesn’t immediately dominate all-comers a complete failure that will sully impressive track-records and ruin careers.  But look a little closer for a second: Max spent the weekdays trading incredibly close places with Pitch Perfect 2, whilst posting very strong numbers, it’s doing very well overseas, that R-rating was always going to handicap it anyway, $150 million domestic now seems a lock, and it’s only dropped 45% between weekends with nothing else to really challenge it until Jurassic World comes along.

Plus, as myself and Lucy discovered on Thursday together for the second time, it’s still an utterly mesmeric movie that deserves way more than a ridiculous box office narrative attached to it.  Believe me, it’s going to be fine.

4] Poltergeist

$22,600,000 / $25,509,000 / NEW

Yep, the reason why it finishes fifth on the four-day scale is because it only made $2.9 million on the Monday.  Crappy horror movies, and especially pointless crappy remakes of actually good horror movies, won’t hang around for long.  Nor, in fact, will actually good horror movies.  Really, no horror movies do particularly strongly at the cinema.  Huh.

5] The Avengers: Age of Ultron

$21,691,000 / $410,978,000

do we think anything will ever beat Avatar’s $2.7 billion all-time worldwide gross?  Can anything?  I ask because I don’t want Avatar to be remembered as a statistic, mainly because I don’t want Avatar to be remembered at all.  Nobody remembers anything from the movie itself, anyway, so we’re already halfway there!

6] Hot Pursuit

$3,600,000 / $30,300,000

The rest of this chart might be wrong, don’t blame me if it is.  Box Office Mojo has clearly been handed over to a clueless intern for whatever reason, and is thusly impossible to read and trust.  I can’t find anything, several reported grosses are just plain wrong – yeah, sure Pitch Perfect 2 posted a $30 million weekend but only did $900,000 on Friday – and their write-ups are somehow even worse than mine.  What’s going on, folks?  Sort it out!  Where am I going to go otherwise for this stuff?  Deadline?  (*snorts derisively*)

7] Furious 7

$2,232,000 / $347,687,000

So I am actually now cross-checking with Deadline on all of these entries for total accuracy.  Feel I need to explain that that was my attempt at a light-hearted joke and that I harbour no ill will to any potential outlets who are looking for writers and, if they’re gigs of the paying variety, I can be reached at p…  (*author notices Owen eyeballing him, hastily covers up work and moves on*)

8] Far From The Madding Crowd

$2,200,000 / $6,048,000

At least I never have to hear “Come all ye fair and tender girls” ever again.  Hearing it in front of damn near every single film for 3 straight months was absolutely maddening, which is something I should never have to say about Carey Mulligan’s singing.

9] Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2

$1,875,000 / $66,358,000

Kevin James’ next film has just been picked up by Netflix, the company that just won’t stop enabling Happy Madison affiliates despite common goddamn sense.  If this is this trade-off for Orange Is The New Black and Bojack Horseman… well, I can’t really have an opinion in this case as I haven’t watched either show yet.  They are in my cue, though, so I’ll get to them around 2018.  At the earliest.

10] Home

$1,753,000 / $168,763,000

Well, after nine weeks of quietly decent performing, it’s time to say goodbye to Home.  It’s almost certainly not done well enough to justify DreamWorks continuing to spend $135 million on every damn film they release – thank CHRIST, that lesson cannot be hammered into them fast enough – but it’s hopefully done strong enough to keep them afloat for another year.  Yay!  Now I’m just going to go and find myself some Tip merchandise so that I can feel good and happy about DreamWorks taking steps towards better representation in ani…

Just one goddamn doll?  One?!

(*buries head in hands, defeated*)

Dropped Out: The Age of Adaline, Ex Machina

Callum Petch is living on such sweet nothing.  Follow him on the Twitters (@CallumPetch) and listen to Screen 1 on Hullfire Radio every Monday at 9PM BST (site link)!

US Box Office Report: 15/05/15 – 17/05/15

Pitch Perfect 2 beat Mad Max: Fury Road so I guess society is completely fucked or something, Age of Ultron has only just now passed $1 billion so Marvel are completely fucked I guess, people are still voluntarily giving money to Far From The Madding Crowd, and Other Box Office News.

by Callum Petch (Twitter: @CallumPetch)

This weekend, two female-driven – and, at least according to the fact that the film itself bills Charlize Theron above Tom Hardy, female-fronted – blockbusters/tentpoles made a combined opening weekend of $114 million between them.  If you, for some literally inexplicable reason, still thought prior to this weekend that female-fronted and female-targeted films just can’t make any money, then this should finally piledrive that stupid, moronic, close-minded, and arguably sexist line of thinking straight down to the earth’s core where it will never again return from.  Now watch as Hollywood, instead of doing the correct thing and green-lighting every single female-driven film that crosses their path, sticks dollar bills in their ears, loudly yells “LA LA LA” and continues to try and shove Jai Courtney or Joel Kinnaman down our throats.

So, I’m celebrating!  Two damn great, staunchly feminist movies with a female-focus just made ALL the money!  …oh, no, wait, hang on.  Cancel the celebrations, it turns out that Pitch Perfect 2 beat Mad Max: Fury Road, like we all saw coming from a mile away.  After all, one’s a PG-13 teen comedy sequel to a sleeper hit from 3 years ago that became a sensation on home video, whilst the other is a hard R-rated action sequel to a cult franchise that hadn’t produced any activity in exactly 30 years prior to this.  What did you all think was going to happen?  Pitch Perfect 2 handily trounced Mad Max: Fury Road, $70 million to $44 million, and both posted absolutely ludicrous per-screen averages, $20,242 and $12,004 respectively.

In a perfect world, we would all simply sit here and celebrate the fact that these two films did great and be happy and optimistic about the future of this whole Movies thing.  Unfortunately, our world is crap and so now I, along with those of us who follow Film Twitter even tangentially or who are even slightly involved in Internet Film Circles, have to strap in for the next week of Thinkpiece Hell.  Joy!  What’s on your bingo card?  I am expecting variations on “Damn Millennials, ruining everything for the rest of us!”, “REAL action movies are DEAD!!”, “stupid girls with their cooties!”, and “Why Film Critics Don’t Matter In 2015” among others.  I mean, GOD FORBID we just take this positive victory as is and leave it at that(!)

Also likely to cause Thinkpiece Hell, although it’s already done a fine enough job of that before this weekend, is The Avengers: Age of Ultron.  This weekend, the film finally passed the $1 billion mark worldwide, but only after 24 days, which is foooooreeeeveeeerrr in these days of Furious 7 crossing the mark in 19.  Clearly this means that Marvel Studios are in complete disarray and that, in addition to ruining all blockbusters for everybody forever, they have ruined their once glorious and infallible reputation on a not-completely-incredibly-brilliant film that everybody hates and nobody wants to see again.  Oh, the horror!  Oh, the humanity!

Meanwhile, Far From The Madding Crowd breaks into the Top 10 and nobody’s whipping up their vitriol for that.  I fucking hate Film Internet.


pitch perfect two

What a lovely day for this aca-mazing Full List.

Box Office Results: Friday 15th May 2015 – Sunday 17th May 2015

1] Pitch Perfect 2

$70,300,000 / NEW

I stand by most all of my review.  See, heading back in this past weekend, I was rather nervous, because my good friend Jackson hated the living daylights out of this film for perfectly legitimate reasons – his great review is over here – and he and I are so well-tuned and agree so often with one another that whenever we do end up having differing opinions I end up getting very worried and self-conscious, especially since he’s really good at reading films (better than I am, at any rate).  Did I get it wrong?  How did I miss such glaringly obvious minority-marginalising?  Do I not check my privilege enough despite spending almost every goddamn day fretting over everything I do or say?  Does really liking something problematic make me a terrible person?

Then I saw the film again, had a lot of fun whilst acknowledging certain flaws, and left feeling confident in my opinion, albeit slightly cooler on it than I was the first time.  One of these days I’ll learn not to be so self-conscious, it’s bad form in this critic game.

2] Mad Max: Fury Road

$44,440,000 / NEW

At approximately 5:18PM on Saturday the 16th of May 2015, I am 80% certain that I witnessed perfection, and it was tear-inducing.  The last shot of Fury Road is the textbook definition of perfection, for me, and it so perfectly caps off a film for which there are no descriptors that could be classed as hyperbole when applied to this thing.  I couldn’t think straight for almost the rest of the day, let alone form coherent thoughts on this utter masterpiece of cinema.  It’s… it’s just beautiful.  Utter beauty.  I don’t know why we haven’t been giving George Miller $150 million live-action budgets for the last 20 years, and why we’ve been settling for anything less than this.  I really don’t.  More coherent thoughts can be found here on the site by good old Brooker.

Also, I want to be even a tenth as awesomely and passionately feminist as Imperator Furiosa when I grow up.

3] The Avengers: Age of Ultron

$38,837,000 / $372,008,000

Finally going to give this a re-watch on Thursday, when I can finally get a spare few moments break from the Hell that is Essay Season 2015.  Then I’ll more than likely immediately walk back into Mad Max: Fury Road afterwards.  Then I’ll get out of Fury Road and immediately buy a ticket for the next showing, and so on and so on until that film is seared permanently into my retinas.

4] Hot Pursuit

$5,780,000 / $23,504,000

This collapsed 59% between weekends, surprising nobody since Pitch Perfect 2 arrived to remind everybody what a good female-led and female-focussed comedy should look like, and Mad Max: Fury Road arrived to inform everybody of what feminist entertainment should be like.  Therefore, this movie has no reason to exist.  Roll on July 31st when I can be incredibly disappointed myself, then, I guess.

5] Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2

$3,600,000 / $62,939,000

I don’t care that this is only making miniscule money each week and has still only just made half worldwide of what the first one managed worldwide, WHY IS THIS UTTERLY REPREHENSIBLE PIECE OF SLOTH FAECES STILL HANGING AROUND MY CHART?! Get it out of here!  Get it out!  OUT!  GET IT THE FU…

6] Furious 7

$3,600,000 / $343,800,000

This has a higher per-screen average than Blart yet is sat behind it, for some reason.  Why?  Do we really think that the actuals are going to hurt this more than Blart?  Ugh, whatever.  Let’s instead look forward to next February’s Academy Awards where this and Mad Max will duke it out for Best Picture!  …it can totally happen, shut up.

7] The Age of Adaline

$3,200,000 / $37,072,000

I don’t know what the hyper-specific and scientific narration in this movie was all about, but what I do know is that it made me really, really want a resurrected Pushing Daisies.  Hey, Bryan Fuller!  Yeah, I hear that Hannibal is great and all, but could you maybe put it on pause to bring back Pushing Daisies?  Thanks!

8] Home

$2,700,000 / $165,647,000

This just will not die at my local Cineworld.  No, really, it’s still here after more than two full months!  I don’t care anymore about box office grosses, I’m just going to class this as a full-blown success and live in bliss for a while.

9] Ex Machina

$2,103,000 / $19,556,000

Really looking forward to revisiting this when it hits Blu-Ray on June 1st.  Film Crit Hulk’s piece on it this past week has sufficiently stoked those fires and I’m all about revisiting that ending to see if I read it wrong – I saw it as the film sacrificing its fantastic and angry gender themes in favour of returning to the surface-level and far less compelling AI themes – or whether Alex Garland really is just 90% incapable of sticking the goddamn landing.

10] Far From The Madding Crowd

$1,300,000 / $2,631,000

This goddamn movie…  If I get started on this thing, I will be here all day, so just skip to the drop-outs before I spoil a nice day with unrestrained venom.

Dropped Out: Woman In Gold, Cinderella

Callum Petch got you thinking just too much.  Follow him on the Twitters (@CallumPetch) and listen to Screen 1 on Hullfire Radio every Monday at 9PM BST (site link)!

US Box Office Report: 08/05/15 – 10/05/15

Age of Ultron drops like that one thing from the movie that I can’t specify cos spoilers I guess, Hot Pursuit has lost ‘em, The D Train has been cancelled, and Other Box Office News.

by Callum Petch (Twitter: @CallumPetch)

Continuing to very much embody and experience the effects of the younger sibling of the family – in that it comes along after a successful first effort that everybody loves, has unreasonably high expectations fostered upon it that it unsurprisingly doesn’t live up to, ends up vocally liked a whole lot less than its older sibling, and eventually grows up to be a miserable burnout who never received the love and compassion that could have stoked its drive to succeed and do something great with the world, YOU MONSTERSThe Avengers: Age of Ultron managed a second weekend of only $77 million for first place, $26 million less than The Avengers’ second weekend.  (*takes deep breath*) CINEMA IS DOOOOOOOOOO-

In non-superhero news, because such things do actually exist nowadays believe it or not, Hot Pursuit came out!  You know, that Reese Witherspoon/Sofia Vergara buddy-movie?  Fronted by women, directed by a woman, aimed at women, things that are still unfortunately rare in this damn industry?  The one that looks like (and, by all accounts, is) total garbage?  Yeah, that one!  Well, it’s a dud.  Despite canny counter-programming placement and an apparently decent marketing campaign, it turns out that those toxic reviews caught up with it after all, so its second place finish came from a paltry $13 million.  Maybe everybody was saving their money for Pitch Perfect 2 next weekend instead.

(Side bar: If Pitch Perfect 2 bombs, I am going medieval on everyone’s asses.  Consider yourselves warned.)

Meanwhile, in the land of limited releases…  things were rather miserable here, too, actually.  I’m starting to believe that people actually were saving their money for Mad Max: Fury Road and Pitch Perfect 2 next weekend.  Doing the worst of the lot and opening on the most screens of the lot was The D Train which built its marketing campaign around Jack Black and a twist that anybody could figure out purely by looking at the goddamn title.  It did horrendously, only managing $469,000 from 1,003 screens for a per-screen average of $465.  That makes it the 17th worst opening weekend for a wide-release film ever and puts it below even Men, Women & Children in terms of per-screen averages.  Poor, poor Jack Black.  I was looking forward to christening his career resurrection “Back In Jack Black” but I guess everybody figured that would happen and decided to snuff out the whole concept to be safe.

Speaking of actors pushing themselves out of their comfort zone only to be slapped down violently by an uncaring public who just want the monkeys to dance for their amusement, dammit, Arnold Schwarzenegger tried acting in a moody zombie drama called Maggie this past weekend where, by all accounts, he actually acted instead of just chewing scenery!  This, however, is not the kind of sh*t the public pay to see Arnie do, dammit, and so the film could only manage $131,000 from 79 screens for a sub-$2,000 per-screen average.  Not even “pleasant” movies were saved from general public apathy as the Morgan Freeman/Diane Keaton comedy 5 Flights Up found out the hard way, only mustering up $234,000 from 87 screens for a $2,690 per-screen average.  The only success from this weekend was I Am Big Bird which managed a $10,000 per-screen average… from its singular screen.


maggie

We’ll head off this Full List at the pass, boys!

Box Office Results: Friday 8th May 2015 – Sunday 10th May 2015

1] The Avengers: Age of Ultron

$77,203,000 / $312,589,000

This will pass a billion next week.  Three words my friends: Chinese opening weekend.  Mad Max doesn’t have a release date over there yet, and Tomorrowland doesn’t drop until the very end of May.  Consider this Open Season for The Avengers on the Chinese box office.  I really need to find the time to see this again in cinemas before the utter mayhem that is Summer Movie Season 2015 boots this to home media.

2] Hot Pursuit

$13,300,000 / NEW

Disappointed but not at all surprised to hear that this is garbage.  I watched that trailer, too, and it was around about the time jokes were made about how Reese Witherspoon is short (ha!) and Sofia Vergara is over-40-and-therefore-ancient (HA!) that I realised, despite all my best hopes, that this would be pure garbage.  Sigh.  Hurry along, Pitch Perfect 2.  Show the rest of cinema how to do this sh*t right.

3] The Age of Adaline

$5,600,000 / $31,529,000

Saw this this past weekend and I was so close to liking it for what it is – a film that wastes its thematically rich premise on a bog-standard love story with an infinitely better melodramatic subplot at the halfway point – but it loses points for having a lead male protagonist who only gets the girl because he keeps forcefully inserting himself into her life despite her objections, wearing her down until she finally goes on a date and realises how dreamy he is.  Serious question: how goddamn hard is it to get a romance story that’s actually friggin’ romantic, huh?!  Surprisingly great Harrison Ford performance, though.

4] Furious 7

$5,272,000 / $338,420,000

When actuals came in last weekend, this did beat Adaline after all.  Might even happen again!  Who knows?  Not I, for I am neither psychic nor particularly bothered.

5] Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2

$5,190,000 / $58,075,000

Oh, just fuck off already.

6] Ex Machina

$3,470,000 / $15,722,000

This expanded to another 725 theatres this past weekend, putting it up to 2,004 total, hence why it’s made a fair bit more money than last weekend.  I mean, its per-screen average isn’t particularly great but, again, this is a hard sci-fi that’s expanding purely on word-of-mouth and with little advertising behind it.  I think we can agree that this is doing fine.

7] Home

$3,000,000 / $162,116,000

Up to $330 million worldwide which makes it currently the 18th highest grossing DreamWorks film worldwide.  It will pass Over The Hedge this week but Shark Tale seems more than a little out-of-reach, and it’s still made less worldwide than notorious flop Penguins of Madagascar.  No, I won’t stop worrying about DreamWorks Animation.  I feel like a parent with a kid at Secondary School – the kid is more than likely fine and capable of taking care of themselves, but I’m going to keep worrying regardless.

8] Woman In Gold

$1,652,000 / $26,978,000

The Voices is available on DVD and Blu-Ray from all good retailers on July 27th.

9] Cinderella

$1,574,000 / $196,116,000

OK, I am completely out of things to say for most of this list.  Can the rest of May hurry up please so that I get some fresh material?  Not too quickly, mind, I still have 5 uni essays to do in the next 8 or so days, but, y’know, soon.

10] Unfriended

$1,412,000 / $30,943,000

Lucy was sufficiently impressed with this when she reviewed it for Screen 1 – if you missed the episode, you can listen back here – which, coupled with the generally positive responses I have heard from other people, has led me to believe that this isn’t a total waste of time.  I’ll find out for myself on DVD then, I guess. [Owen: Also, we covered this on our recent podcast and apparently have a very different opinion to Callum’s colleague]

Dropped Out: The Longest Ride

Callum Petch will do this one himself.  Follow him on the Twitters (@CallumPetch) and listen to Screen 1 on Hullfire Radio every Monday at 9PM BST (site link)!

Two By Two

Despite a decent premise and above-average animation, Two By Two is content to be as formulaic and uninteresting as humanly possible.

by Callum Petch (Twitter: @CallumPetch)

twobytwoI’m struggling to think of an animated film released this decade that has uglier main character designs than the ones that Two By Two sports.  Not the animals that still exist today, save for the King lion who has a really distracting quiff because nobody remembered how bad it looked on Alec Baldwin Lion from Madagascar 2, those all look fine, although they do suffer from the film’s excess colour palette.  The film’s main characters, however, are not real species of animal, so the film’s designers get free reign with regards to their design.

And, oh hell, are they ever unpleasant to look at.  The Nestrians are coated in excess fuzz, they have too many differently-shaped appendages and so little rhyme or reason as to their construction that they basically look like somebody just kept gaffa-taping a children’s playset of shapes together until they got bored, their nose grabs the attention in a bad way, their colour scheme is unnecessarily garish… I get that the point of the film is that the Nestrians are always out-of-place no matter where they are, but they just look plain hideous.  The Grymps are a little better, but they suffer from ill-fitting eyes and needless body patterns that look like bad henna tattoos, whilst the Griffins are just kinda not pleasant to look at, and not in an intended “fierce predator” way.

It’s a shame that those characters are so unappealing to look at, too, because the animation is actually pretty decent compared to most mid-league animated fare.  I mean, the colour palette really is sickeningly bright, and instead of looking convincingly wet during any one of the numerous sequences involving water, characters instead end up looking like shined vinyl models of themselves, but otherwise things are rather decent.  Character animation manages to tow the line between “limited animation” and “just plain cheap” rather well, there’s a nice lived-in feel to the ark, and there’s some decent boarding here and there.  If the character designs weren’t so ugly, this would be an OK movie to look at.

I mean, it’s not a particularly good one to watch.  Yeah, Two By Two is not good.  It’s not bad, but it’s not good, either.  This itself is a shame because the film frequently hints at a much more interesting and entertaining movie than is presented here.  The plot involves two Nestrians, a father and son called Dave and Finney respectively, and two Grymps, a mother and daughter called Hazel and Leah respectively, trying to survive the inbound flood by taking passage on Noah’s ark.  The Nestrians, however, aren’t on the guest list to board the ark and are basically left to go extinct.  Dave stows he and Finny away on the ark, however, by pretending to be Grymps, which causes extra problems when Finny and Leah accidentally miss the launch of the ark and have to find a way to survive the flood and the Griffins hunting them.

There are actual large scale stakes there as well as thematic touches like the strongest deciding who gets to survive and what not – a group made up of the king lion, a flamingo, and an elephant check and decide who is allowed on the ark or not, and they are a group that can barely hide their contempt for the other species – but Two By Two actively goes out of its way to not touch on them.  The extinction risk is left unspoken and is completely undercut by a brief indulgence in cartoon physics that, unsurprisingly, make the life-and-death stakes feel insincere, whilst that thematic underpinning also goes untouched until the ending where, in a very brief line, it’s promptly dropped completely and explained away as a misunderstanding.  It’s a film that seems terrified of getting even slightly dark, keeping up the day-glo sunshine tone regardless of how boringly formulaic it makes the final product.

In a way, that puts it in close proximity to DreamWorks’ recently released Home which back-grounded its themes of colonialism in favour of misfits finding each other, whilst Two By Two backgrounds its themes in favour of things like parental love and finding friends and your place in the world.  But where Home gets away with it by having likeable and entertaining characters, Two By Two’s cast are all really grating.  The Nestrians, who are both excessively optimistic and panicky, are too shrill and irritating, the Grymps, who pride themselves on being loners and hate company, are too needlessly uptight and angry, the Griffins are basically just boring Cockney “Infinity +1” villains, and the other two characters who tag along with Leah and Finny – an overweight land creature named Obesey, and the parasite that lives on top of him and is voiced by radio DJ Chris Evans for some bizarre reason – are incredibly uninteresting and poorly voiced.

So that ends up leaving Two By Two feeling rather emotionally hollow and making its formulaic beat-by-beat nature really obvious.  That’s a shame because the film isn’t bad, really, again excepting its awful lead character designs.  There are a few genuinely funny gags, some scenes are entertaining, the actual animation is fine, and it all works competently, even with flat line readings all about the place.  It’s just not particularly good, or interesting, or original, or doing anything really to adequately justify taking up 80-odd minutes of anyone’s time, especially with how actively it steers itself into formula to avoid those far more interesting avenues.

In fact, that formula was far better served in Ice Age, which actively addressed the extinction stakes and thematic undertones that Two By Two strives to avoid.  Ice Age adopts the appropriate melancholic tone, has pleasant to look at characters who are entertaining to watch and likeable, and aims to be more than just an 80 minute time-killer.  Basically, although there’s nothing fundamentally or majorly wrong with it, there’s no real reason to recommend Two By Two, either.  You’re better off leaving it to drown.

Callum Petch has seen so much he’s going blind.  Follow him on the Twitters: @CallumPetch

Callum is one of a number of guests that occasionally makes appearances on the Failed Critics Film Podcast, hosted by Steve Norman and Owen Hughes. Unfortunately, you won’t find any of our previous 250 episodes dedicated to a Two by Two review, but you can catch up with one of our more recent editions of the slightly shambolic movie podcast by clicking the link at the top of this page, streaming directly from acast.com/failedcitics, or subscribing in iTunes (or whatever your favourite podcast app of choice may be)!

US Box Office Report: 01/05/15 – 03/05/15

Age of Ultron makes all of the money but not ALL of the money so cinema is officially doomed, and Other Box Office News.

by Callum Petch (Twitter: @CallumPetch)

Heading into this weekend, Disney and Marvel Studios were probably preparing the Scrooge McDuck money bin for the inbound GDP of multiple small countries that would make up the opening weekend total of Age of Ultron.  After all, it’s not like they’ve been quiet about the fact that the film was inbound – I’m waiting for somebody to piece together the movie from the endless promo clips that Marvel released for this thing, like what happened with The Amazing Spider-Man 2 – it’s The Avengers, and it’s not like there was anything else out this weekend.  Or the weekend before that.  Or the weekend before that.  What was everybody going to do, watch Furious 7 again?  They probably felt like Shane McMahon; “here comes the mon-ay!

Well, the mon-ay came, but not in the Earth-shattering quantity that we all unreasonably expected it to.  Age of Ultron opened in first, and accounted for 85% of the weekend’s domestic box office, but it didn’t beat The Avengers’ $207 million opening weekend.  In fact, it didn’t even come close, finishing with $187 million.  I mean, it’s understandable, the first Avengers was an EVENT MOVIE of epic proportions, the first time that we could see all of these guys (and girl) together on screen in the same movie.  By simple fact of it happening again, Age of Ultron is only an Event Movie, and no amount of excess marketing saturation can change that.

Then there’s also the fact that everybody seems very much more divided on this instalment than the first one.  I mean, not so much audience-wise – it got an “A” on the shaky silly CinemaScore metric – but critically, definitely.  I mean, I’m probably going to be on the minority side of things with regards to my critic friends by liking it, and this divide will likely bleed over into the general public, too.  Plus, some sh*tty boxing thing happened this weekend or something, and there’s only one thing that captures the American public’s slovenly attention quicker than movies…  It’s sports, I’m talking about sports.  Besides, this is still, by a considerable margin, the second best opening weekend in America ever, and the film is already up to $436 million overseas with China still to go.

However, Age of Ultron did not beat The Avengers in its opening weekend and May is incredibly crowded with regards to films – basically guaranteeing that Ultron won’t match The Avengers’ total – so cinema is now doomed forever.  The superhero bubble has burst, folks!  Marvel Studios are over the hill!  Their films aren’t as good as they used to be, they can’t beat opening weekend records anymore, and they only made all of the money instead of ALL of the money!  They’re finished, the genre is finished, this whole goddamn medium is finished!  If even Marvel can’t make ALL of the money, anymore, then what hope is there for the rest of us?!  WHAT, I TELLS YA?!

Oh, yeah, and Far From The Madding Crowd opened in limited release this weekend.  $172,000 from 10 theatres.  Snooze.


age of ultron

There are no strings on this Full List.

Box Office Results: Friday 1st May 2015 – Sunday 3rd May 2015

1] The Avengers: Age of Ultron

$187,656,000 / NEW

Yes, even with a per-screen average of $44,000, Age of Ultron is still a failure!  …yeah, OK, I’m gonna stop that now.  I am serious though when I say that I don’t think Ultron is going to match The Avengers’ total, at least domestically.  The first film had nothing serious to challenge it for three weeks, and even then I don’t think we all expected Men In Black III to perform that well, but Ultron has the combined onslaught of Mad Max: Fury Road and Pitch Perfect 2 in 11 days, with Tomorrowland the week after.  Even if one of those bombs – hint: it’s going to be Tomorrowland, get the disappointment out of your system now – that’s still two films taking a chunk out of its box office.  We’ll see, I guess.  Man, this Summer is stacked!

2] The Age of Adeline

$6,250,000 / $23,424,000

Wait, this actually beat Furious 7?!  I mean, I sort of saw this coming since this has only been out for two weeks and Furious 7 has been out for over a month, but still.  Huh.

3] Furious 7

$6,114,000 / $330,539,000

Up to $1.4 billion worldwide, now the 4th highest grossing film worldwide of all-time, has successfully made $1 billion purely from foreign markets, and is closing fast on The Avengers’ $1.5 billion.  It might actually get there, but this going to go right down to the wire.  I still can’t get over the fact that all of this originally came from a silly mid-budget Point Break riff from 2001.

4] Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2

$5,500,000 / $51,186,000

So, last Thursday, I was given the opportunity by my university to go down to London, attend a press-only screening of Pitch Perfect 2, and have a 20 minute roundtable interview with the film’s director (and movie star in her own right), Elizabeth Banks, afterwards.  I have been wanting to shout about that day and that whole experience since I found out about it that Tuesday, so finally getting to spill today has been incredibly cathartic.  At the risk of sounding unprofessional, the day was incomparable – mainly because it proved that I could do this for a living if the opportunity were presented to me – and you can read all about it and the interview here.  The full interview transcript will be posted over at The Hullfire soon enough, but there’s a Pitch Perfect 2 review for you to read in the meantime!

Yes, I am talking about something that makes me happy instead of Paul Blart.  Why wouldn’t I?

5] Home

$3,300,000 / $158,132,000

Home finally opened in China last week, where DreamWorks films have often done well recently… and only made $8 million.  It is now up to $326 million worldwide, though.  Still, MAKE MORE MONEY FASTER, DAMMIT!

6] Cinderella

$2,357,000 / $193,651,000

Wait, seriously?  This re-entered the chart?  From the no. 12 slot?  Man, this was a bad week to be a non-Avengers film.

7] Ex Machina

$2,231,000 / $10,868,000

Surprising no-one, not even art house patrons could resist the allure of Ultron, since all art house patrons must be able to butt into conversations about blockbusters and explain in great detail why they suck horribly.  In any case, Ex Machina was never going to be a film that made a giant expansion in audience moneybills, anyway, so the fact that it’s doing $10 million worth of business already is good enough, I feel.  Yay for Alex Garland!

8] Unfriended

$1,988,000 / $28,531,000

I don’t think Lucy’s seen this yet, so I’m going to withhold having an opinion until I’ve heard from her.   What?

9] The Longest Ride

$1,700,000 / $33,240,000

Should probably clarify that I don’t think Age of Ultron is perfect – god, no, it’s a mess – and that having reasonable complaints about it is fine.  I just don’t understand why people who hate a certain genre or series, know that they will hate the latest instalment, and spend all of their time prior to seeing the thing complaining about doing so, would voluntarily… (*author remembers that this is what he does on an astoundingly frequent basis*)

I’ll be quiet now.

10] Woman In Gold

$1,681,000 / $24,588,000

The Voices is available on DVD and Blu-Ray from all good video shops on July 27th.

Dropped Out: Get Hard, Monkey Kingdom

Callum Petch didn’t mean to make you cry.  Follow him on the Twitters (@CallumPetch) and listen to Screen 1 on Hullfire Radio every Monday at 9PM BST (site link)!

US Box Office Report: 24/04/15 – 26/04/15

The Age of Adeline is not upon us, Little Boy makes child-sized money… basically, filmgoers opted to not see the crap that came out this week, and Other Box Office News.

by Callum Petch (Twitter: @CallumPetch)

…look, nothing came out this week.  It’s the weekend before The Avengers, or it is the weekend of The Avengers if you live in the specially designated half of the world, and every movie studio worth their salt knows that you release jack in the week before and after that Galactus-sized money-hoover.  After all, what’s the point when The Avengers will just swallow up any and all potential revenue for your film near-immediately?  This does make me question why Mad Max: Fury Road and Pitch Perfect 2 are opening two weeks after instead of three to make absolutely certain that they can bank a nice amount of cash… but, then, I’m not the guy who has to deal with the utterly ridiculous Summer 2015 release schedule, so what do I know?

In fact, side note: can 2015 just end after the weekend of May 15th?  Like, just stop and move onto 2016?  I’m seeing Mad Max: Fury Road and, more importantly, Pitch Perfect 2 on the same day with the bestest and closest friend I have, who’s also staying for the weekend.  The year’s not going to get any better than that, it may as well just pack up and go home.  Anyways…

So, since nothing came out, audiences decided to take one last ride with Vin Diesel, Paul Walker and the whole gang before The Avengers supplants the “surrogate family”-driven film fix that we all so desperately crave.  Furious 7 held onto the top spot for the 4th weekend in a row with $18 million in ticket sales.  Close behind it – OK, about $2.5 million behind it, but that’s still way too close for me – was the excretable Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2 which somehow retained 65% of its opening weekend audience and came away with $15.5 million in ticket sales.  It’s still trailing how the first Paul Blart was doing at this time by about $20 million, but that still doesn’t guarantee that we are safe from a sequel just yet.  I mean, we already got one!  I now have to go through my life in constant fear that Kevin James might force another one of these upon me!  I don’t like living in fear, you guys!

In any case, some films did come out this week.  It’s just that, like Paul Blart, they all stank to high heaven.  Widest-releasing, and therefore the one that actually charted, was The Age of Adeline, a film so confident in its construction and qualities that it actually lists one of its two screenwriters twice on its poster.  (EDIT: my good friend Jackson Tyler has informed me that it’s a WGA thing.  Still seems weird and ridiculous, mind.)  It actually beat Furious 7 on Friday, until everybody collectively realised that they could be watching good movies instead, where upon it finished the weekend in third with about $13 million in ticket sales.  Next up was Little Boy, a film that… you know what, how about I just post the Wikipedia synopsis and see how long it takes for you to realise why this film has not exactly won over the critical press…

The story centers on a 7-year-old boy, Pepper Flynt Busbee, who uses magic powers produced by his faith to end World War II and bring his father home.

yeah.  It only managed $2.8 million from 1,045 screens for a pathetic $2,708 per-screen average.  Then we have Russell Crowe’s directorial debut, The Water Diviner.  Despite, according to himself, being a much more talented movie director than any other movie director alive today, because he’s been in 41 movies which means he knows more about directing than someone like Ridley Scott, nobody much seemed to care about his movie.  The film managed a meh $1.25 million from 320 screens and a sub-$4,000 per-screen average.  But, hey, at least it wasn’t Child 44!  Poor, poor Child 44.  I’d feel kinda bad for both of these films if they weren’t so uninterestingly rubbish.


furious 7 2

The age of this Full List is none of your business, you rude young man!

Box Office Results: Friday 24th April 2015 – Sunday 26th April 2015

1] Furious 7

$18,259,000 / $320,536,000

This will close having out-grossed 2014’s actual Highest Grossing Film Domestically, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1, and what is technically its Highest Grossing Film Domestically, American Sniper.  More importantly, this week, and this is even with Age of Ultron coming in hot, it will become the 4th highest grossing film worldwide of all-time and has a good shot of closing extremely close to The Avengers’ $1.5 billion.  Once again, if I see ANY “The Box Office Is DYING!” think-pieces this year… words have not yet been invented that can convey the strength of my response.

2] Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2

$15,500,000 / $43,950,000

Now, I realise that I didn’t provide an actual professional or traditional review of this film when I subjected myself to it a few weeks back.  Some of you may wish for a second review, one that actually discusses the movie and properly conveys its various qualities and failings.  Well, you are in luck, cos I’ve got one right here for you!  Are you ready?

(*hits head on desk repeatedly for about 5 minutes*)

That’s your professional review of Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2.

3] The Age of Adeline

$13,375,000 / NEW

Age of Ultron has already banked $201 million at the countries it managed to roll out to this past weekend.  Think it has any chance of breaking $2 billion?  Think it has any chance of breaking the $200 million opening weekend the first Avengers had in America?  All of this, I feel, depends on whether everybody agrees with Owen – who really doesn’t like it and is wrong – or myself – who finds it great but doesn’t love it like he did the first one, and is right.  Time will tell soon enough, folks.  Time will tell.

4] Home

$8,300,000 / $153,784,000

Despite being a legitimate success, Home has only just now been able to double its production budget worldwide.  Goddamn, even when they have a success, DreamWorks are still constantly teetering on the verge of oblivion!  Kung Fu Panda 3 was moved to late-January, recently, and I’m still worried that that’s going to crash and burn!  Do you see what you’re doing to me, DreamWorks?  DO YOU?!  Don’t you dare go dying on me now, ya hear!

5] Unfriended

$6,244,000 / $25,158,000

So this is apparently actually good?  Well, not if you believe the public – this has plummeted 60% between weekends – but the public wouldn’t know a good horror movie if it appeared out of nowhere and inflicted some kind of blender-based violence upon them; they mostly rejected It Follows, after all.  According to critics and horror fans, this is apparently rather good.  Huh, colour me surprised.  I’ll know for certain, in any case, when I subject Lucy to it this coming Friday.

6] Ex Machina

$5,441,000 / $6,920,000

Oh, yeah, this movie!  This actually expanded nationwide after a string of strong reviews and a fantastic pair of limited release weekends, so for a hard sci-fi with next-to-no real advertising behind it and only critical and art-house buzz this is a really good performance!  Yay for Alex Garland!  I don’t love this film like everyone else – mainly because, in typical Alex Garland fashion, he drops the ball on the ending, and there are a few structural choices that undermine its strongest thematic through-line – but I’m happy to see him do well.

7] The Longest Ride

$4,365,000 / $30,398,000

This has now done better than The Best (THE BEST THE BEST THE BEST THE BEST THE BEST) of Me, but is still one of the lowest-grossing Nicholas Sparks adaptations ever.  Can we finally put this guy’s brand/schtick out to pasture now?  Please?

8] Get Hard

$3,905,000 / $84,066,000

Because I know that some of you are curious: “Lucy” is Lucy Meer, my co-host of Screen 1, Monday nights at 9PM BST on Hullfire Radio.  The fact that you don’t know that means that you don’t listen, and that fact hurts my feelings.

9] Monkey Kingdom

$3,551,000 / $10,258,000

Monkeys are amazing.  That is all.

10] Woman In Gold

$3,501,000 / $21,635,000

The Voices is available on DVD and Blu-Ray from all good video shops on July 27th.

Dropped Out: Insurgent, Cinderella

Callum Petch can’t read about it, burns the skin from his eyes.  Follow him on the Twitters (@CallumPetch) and listen to Screen 1 on Hullfire Radio every Monday at 9PM BST (site link)!

US Box Office Report: 3/4/15 – 5/4/15

Furious 7 makes Fast mo-HOLY MOTHER OF CRAP, THAT’S MORE THAN I’LL MAKE IN 11 LIFETIMES, and Other Box Office News.

by Callum Petch (Twitter: @CallumPetch)

OK, let’s see if I still know how to do this…

I think we all expected Furious 7 to do well.  It’s the sequel to a series that has slowly become genuinely beloved as time has marched on, the last one made $97 million opening weekend – no, I have no idea how, and I say that as a fan of these movies – and it’s the last appearance of Paul Walker and, let’s face it, we were all morbidly curious to see how they dealt with it in film.  Oh, yeah, and the film itself is pretty great and stuff.  So, a high debut was pretty much guaranteed.  That didn’t stop me from flinging out the shocked profanity when I saw that it made $67 million on opening day alone.  I mean, $67 million!  That’s more than the GDP of some countries in a year!  In one day!

Furious 7 would close out the weekend with $143 million, officially the ninth best opening weekend ever for a film in America (assuming that actuals don’t drop it by about $800,000).  Undoubtedly the film was kept from ridiculously stupid echelons of money by the fact that it opened on Easter weekend, making Saturday and Sunday totals come in lower than they otherwise could have… but then I remember that $143 million is still ridiculously stupid echelons of money and I go back to just being in awe of that total.  I mean, aren’t you?  And that’s not even mentioning the fact that the film also made $240 million overseas, and that’s not including China as it doesn’t open there until next week.  All that money from a film with a predominately non-white cast.  Y’know, it’s almost like Hollywood could learn something from this but I just don’t know what…

Despite that commanding performance, which we all sort of saw coming from multiple miles away, other films did attempt opening against Furious 7.  They just correctly stuck to limited release.  Best performing of the lot was Woman In Gold, the Weinsteins’ attempt to re-capture that Philomena magic kinda sorta maybe not really – the trailer gave me a lot of Philomena vibes, OK?  On 258 screens, the film managed $2 million overall and actually broke into the chart itself, which isn’t bad at all.  Chinese possibly-comedy – I can find sod all about this film on the Internet – Let’s Get Married did next best with $180,000 from 39 screens, with the Anton Yelchin romantic drama 5 To 7 bringing up the rear but technically doing the best with $19,600 from 2 screens.  Indie films!

Elsewhere, before we get into the real meat of things, despite having collapsed disappointingly in America like a man who talks a big game about his bedding prowess but can only give you a few brief moments of satisfaction, Fifty Shades of Grey is now up to $400 million overseas from people who just don’t know how to quit this terrible movie.  It Follows continues to post relatively strong numbers in its nationwide expansion despite it getting next-to-no-marketing and, unsurprisingly since these are the people who made Ouija a success, being rejected by the general public at large.  Home dropped 47% between weekends but is still making good money, thank the Maker!  And finally, The Gunman dropped out after 2 weeks and nothing of value was lost.


paul walker

This Full List lives its life a quarter-mile at a time.

Box Office Results: Friday 3rd April 2015 – Sunday 5th April 2015

1] Furious 7

$143,623,000 / NEW

My review, for those of you who are interested.  This is going to be a fun week; I have to go on two separate audio outlets and defend this movie against two separate misery guts who wouldn’t know what a fun movie was if it sla- (*remembers that Owen is the head of this site and hastily shuts up*)

2] Home

$27,400,000 / $95,621,000

Home is the first DreamWorks Animation film since Shrek Forever After to be classified as Rotten because critics are unpleasable tits.  Trust me, Home is great.  Mind you, you probably already know that as you’ve likely already seen it, thank the Maker again!  Seriously, even though it’s nothing particularly brilliant, Home being a success makes me really legitimately happy for both DreamWorks’ immediate future and for more diversity in our animated leads.  Seriously, look at this image!  LOOK AT THIS GODDAMN IMAGE!  If your heart doesn’t swell with happiness looking at that, you are basically dead.

3] Get Hard

$12,925,000 / $57,004,000

I did see this last weekend, but I just never got around to reviewing it.  Probably for the best, otherwise you would have read nearly 2,000 words of me insisting that Kevin Hart is actually a really funny guy honest!  Seriously, he is a really funny guy, it’s just that his movies are really bad which makes my opinion come off as deluded for anybody who has only seen his terrible, terrible movies.  Seriously, man.  Pick better films!  Quickly, whilst I still have a chance at convincing people of your talent!

4] Cinderella

$10,289,000 / $167,251,000

Didn’t review this one for one simple reason: I’m getting really self-conscious about the fact that I am a straight white guy writing frequently about women in film.  Even the fact that I consider myself a feminist doesn’t help assuage the guilt and fear that I might be dictating how things should be with my man ways and such, and crowding out female voices which are far more important to this conversation.  Therefore, I point you towards Tasha Robinson of The Dissolve whose thoughts basically line up with mine but are far better expressed than I ever could.

5] The Divergent Series: Insurgent

$10,000,000 / $103,385,000

I was on the Failed Critics Podcast two weeks back where I attempted to explain this stupid, stupid universe to people who either hadn’t seen the movies or couldn’t remember the movies.  It was fun, even though I’m still 80% certain that I am the drunk stepchild that everybody puts up with out of politeness whenever I show up on there.

6] It Follows

$2,465,000 / $8,541,000

I’m looking forward to finally watch this when it hits Blu-Ray.  At home.  With all of the lights on.  And the ability to pause and/or mute the film when it inevitably pushes my nerves beyond breaking point.  Have I ever mentioned that I am really bad when it comes to horror?

7] Woman In Gold

$2,004,000 / NEW

The Voices is available to watch in all good cinemas right now!

8] Kingsman: The Secret Service

$1,700,000 / $122,260,000

With Home about to cross the mark sometime this week, that will make 7 films in the space of just over 3 months that have made $100 million at the domestic box office – 8 if you want to also count American Sniper from last year.  If I hear or see any “The Domestic Box Office Is Dying!” thinkpieces at any point this year, I am going to go f*cking nuclear.  Fair warning.

9] Do You Believe?

$1,500,000 / $9,811,000

…in life after love?  After love?  After love?  After love?

10] The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

$1,000,000 / $30,059,000

Has anybody else seen the trailer for The Lady In The Van yet?  If not, go do so.  It’s not out until November, which clearly means that this is being positioned as one last Best Actress roll call for Maggie Smith, but it looks so off-beat and distinctly and truly British – in the way that films like The Theory of Everything and The Imitation Game could only dream of being – that I’m really intrigued by it.  There are still 7 months to go until I can actually see the thing, but I’ve already got a good feeling about it!  I’m optimistic!

Dropped Out: Run All Night, The Gunman

Callum Petch is a man, woman.  Follow him on the Twitters (@CallumPetch) and listen to Screen 1 on Hullfire Radio every Monday at 9PM BST (site link)!

The DreamWorks Animation Retrospective Conclusion

by Callum Petch (Twitter: @CallumPetch)

On October 12th 2014, DreamWorks Animation SKG celebrated their 20th anniversary.  On July 15th 2014, Callum Petch decided to mark the occasion, as well as bring himself up to speed with the films he missed, by going through their canon from 1998 to 2013 and giving everything a full-on retrospective treatment.  After 35 weeks – 27 for the theatrical films, 1 for their sole direct-to-video feature, 2 for their television output, 4 weeks off for various workload-related reasons, and this week – the series now comes to an end.  If you have missed any entries, you can catch up here.


dreamworks collage

Conclusion

So, here we are.  I’m going to be honest with you folks, I never actually expected to finish this thing.  When I started this ridiculous quest way back last July, I had no pretensions into thinking that I would actually make it through all 30 planned weeks of content.  I have a very uncanny ability to start long tasks and never actually finish them, usually giving up at about the halfway point, and I expected that this one would be no different.  I even decided to turn my journey through DreamWorks Animation’s history into a weekly series of articles in order to ensure that I wouldn’t just drop the whole thing circa Shark Tale, and I still thought that I’d stop long before 2014 was out.

Yet, as should be obvious, I didn’t.  I made it through all 30 weeks, missing my deadline for non-workload related reasons only once – Madagascar 3, which instead went live 3 days late due to my initial inability to crack the article.  What started as a personal catch-up goal and a way to keep myself occupied throughout the Summer months at home that were draining my sanity, turned into a weekly routine that I put immense effort into, which is not to say that I didn’t put a tonne of effort into the first 8-or-so entries – go back and look at how many research links I included in those early pieces to make my arguments as airtight as possible – but there was certainly a point when I started going out of my way to ensure that these were the best that they could be.

And, for the most part, I think they are.  I’ve found myself going back through older entries in this series every now and again and being legitimately surprised that I actually wrote them.  As anybody who knows me knows, I have major self-confidence issues and especially have a habit of retroactively disliking pretty much anything I write, especially when I read other people’s writings instead: how they can read films deeper than I can, how their arguments are better constructed, their articles better written, more intelligent, etc.  Yet, I continue to look back on these articles and, for the most part, my personal issues with many of them simply boil down to my not having enough words to touch on everything I wanted to.

You can even see an evolution in my writing style as the series goes on, too.  What started off as a ginormous wall-of-death where paragraphs went on forever and point changes were about as smooth as changing gears in a near-totally rusted lorry, became much more aesthetically pleasing with more frequent clip breaks, less cluttered paragraphs, and with more natural changes between points which themselves aren’t lingered on excessively.  I also swear less, now.  Yay!  The exact focus of the Retrospective changed as the series went on, with things like box office performance and the animation landscape at large lessening and increasing in importance week-to-week, but there’s still a remarkably consistent set of through-lines throughout this series – gender, the DreamWorks voice, marketing and box office, etc.

I realise that you’re probably not in the slightest bit interested by my public self-reflection, but there is a reason for my doing so.  After all, I noted from Day 1 how this was going to be just as much a personal experience as it would be a film-focussed studio retrospective, with my prior experiences with animation and DreamWorks being mined and examined for material in order to aid the retrospective nature.  And though they stopped being so explicit at about the midway point – which was the point I jumped ship prior to this series – they still factored majorly into each entry.  I mean, otherwise these entries would have just been dry Wikipedia-style summaries and about half as long.  So, over these past 30 weeks, I’d like to think you’ve learnt a bit about myself in addition to learning a lot about DreamWorks; I know I have.

For example, I’ve learnt that staying up until about 3am on a Monday morning finishing and formatting these articles is an absolute killer and I cannot wait to rediscover what a full good night’s sleep is.  But I’ve digressed and self-indulged long enough.  Let’s move onto DreamWorks Animation SKG.

One of the benefits of doing this series on a weekly basis and never once pre-writing an article in case I miss a week – which bit me in the arse precisely 3 times, which is way less than I thought it would – is that I could keep it topical and work in commentary on major events and stories that have happened to DreamWorks as they ocurred, instead of waiting until the end of the series to do it all in one fowl swoop.  Therefore, 2014 has already been covered in various entries throughout the series – most specifically Joseph: King of Dreams, Bee Movie, and Puss In Boots – whilst the studio’s releases for the year have already been reviewed and can be found on the site – or, in the case of Mr. Peabody & Sherman, via the Wayback Machine for my old website, although that one is due a retrospective of its own in the future – so I don’t need to waste time setting up the situation.

So… where do we leave DreamWorks?  Why are they in such dire straits?  Well, Home actually provides a nice walking example as to why their features just aren’t taking off anymore.  Now, I really like Homeas you can find out for yourself by reading my review – but it’s also nothing particularly special or vital.  It’s a nice, fun, heart-warming low-key animated family film.  For me, the animation fan who sees everything regardless and only cares about how the film works on its own terms, this isn’t a problem.  For families who don’t have limitless disposable income and who have to choose which of these smorgasbord of animated features to take their kids to, this is a problem.

As I have mentioned frequently throughout this series, the animated feature landscape is significantly different and more open than it was back when DreamWorks were breezing past $350 million worldwide (minimum) regardless of what they put out.  Where before it was pretty much them, Pixar, and Blue Sky (to a degree), now DreamWorks are jostling for position with every film studio and their attempts to get back in on the animation game.  For myself, the animation fan, that’s excellent news.  For DreamWorks, this is really bad, because they can no longer guarantee $350 million worldwide (minimum), not when they’re having to compete with Illumination and Sony Pictures Animation and a resurgent Disney, who all have something to prove and who put their all into each film to make damn sure the audience turns up.

DreamWorks, however, don’t aim for the stars with each film.  They don’t always try something new, they don’t always swing for the fences.  Again, for myself, the animation fan who doesn’t automatically see more modest ambitions as a knock against the film, that’s fine.  But for families, who don’t have enough money to be able to see and try animated films that aren’t taking risks, that is not.  This is why Turbo, Mr. Peabody & Sherman, and Penguins of Madagascar failed; they didn’t push boundaries and didn’t aim to be anything more than extremely well done modest animated films in a time where the public want something new.  Variety’s Peter Debruge, in a rather negative review of Home, hits it best.

“From a creative standpoint, this is the studio’s least exciting feature yet — Hardly its worst, execution-wise, but entirely lacking in the risk-taking spirit that has spawned such successful franchises as Shrek, Kung Fu Panda and Dragon.”

Again, as a fan, I don’t see a modest animated film as inherently a bad thing as long as it’s done well with a tonne of heart, but a public with less money and time on their hands will skip the more modest film in favour of the swinging-for-the-fences-spectacular every time.  DreamWorks are no longer vital, they are no longer fresh and bold, and they are not giving viewers any particular immediate reason to turn up to every one of their films.  As I have touched on before, a DreamWorks film is not an Event.  A Disney film is an Event, an Illumination film is an Event, Pixar films are Events, Blue Sky films are possibly starting to become Events.  A DreamWorks film is primarily something you take or leave, at this point.

Because of the way that their studio has to be run – with franchising being the order of the day, multiple films being released each year, and TV show spin-offs littering the standard and digital airwaves – DreamWorks films are more products than anything else.  For every How To Train Your Dragon and Kung Fu Panda, there has to be a Turbo or a Home.  They can’t put their all into every film and they can’t take risks in every film because they don’t have the capacity to do so and they need a safe bet or two in case the bigger risks fail tremendously.  Of course, nowadays the public are turning away from safe bets unless they’re part of franchises and even then those aren’t safe – Penguins of Madagascar just lost DreamWorks $57 million, after all, and I find it hard to not point to the Dragons TV series as a reason why HTTYD2 underperformed at the domestic box office since that show tries so hard to be a TV version of the movie it’s based on.

Meanwhile, their marketing is stuck in a rut and really not helping the perception that they’re just making the same films that they’ve been making for years.  I was actually rather worried for Home because its trailers leaned too much on broad comedy that eventually grew tiring, and the usage of licensed music and general tone indicated a film that wasn’t trying in the bad way (purely for profit).  The actual film is far, far sweeter than it first appeared, but sweetness isn’t a commonly accepted overriding factor of the DreamWorks brand so in come The Hives and expensive looking set-pieces!  Compare that trailer, which was embedded a little earlier in the article, with this just released teaser for Hotel Transylvania 2.

Now, much like with the equally superior Minions trailer – which is now the gold standard for utilising licensed music in your animation trailers, studios, take notes – this has the benefit of advertising for a previously established franchise, so it’s not quite an apples-to-apples comparison, but look at how quickly it establishes that unique voice – silly comedy with characters grounding proceedings and the promise of legitimate heart mixed in with the mayhem.  It feels different, vital even though the finished film may not be, and that’s what gets viewers into the cinema, the promise of something new.  Brand recognition for Joe and Jane Average is not enough anymore, you need to make those films appear worth their while, and DreamWorks, well, don’t really.  Not whilst their marketing is hitting the same buttons.

Whilst the closures and layoffs are a shame, scaling back film production to two a year with one always being a sequel is certainly a step in the direction of righting the DreamWorks ship.  They can’t make a real Event movie like Pixar can – when Home inevitably fails and I get all sad, expect DreamWorks stock to go into freefall as it is their only film for all of 2015 – but this means that they can focus time and effort into that year’s original film, making it seem like (or actually being) a new vital voice that the public should watch immediately, with the sequels being what they should be for a company like this – near-guaranteed revenue streams that are great films in their own right, that can either push boundaries or stick with what works.  This set-up should, in theory and if they play this right, help sustain DreamWorks and keep them running, if they find a buyer (which we touched on before), if they learn to control their budgets, and if they make it through Home with little damage.

As for what we’ve learned over the past 30-or-so weeks?  Well, despite their reputation, it turns out that DreamWorks Animation very rarely stuck rigidly to the lowest-common-denominator Shrek formula that the company are and were frequently accused of doing.  Even during their commonly-accepted “Dork Age” of 2004 to 2008, they only really played that perception straight with the Shrek movies and Shark Tale, with Bee Movie going for big self-conscious parody, Madagascar predominately aiming to be a silly cartoon, and Over The Hedge only sliding into it to further its consumerist suburban satire.

That being said, they certainly do have a voice and relative formula of their own.  For example, there’s a certain self-conscious way in which the studio does its pop culture references, where the fact that the joke is the reference is called attention to and lingered on more than is necessary.  Like, there’s a difference between Shrek 2’s COPS segment – where the film forces itself into a position where it can have the gag for seemingly no other reason than everyone really wanted to – and the Silence of the Lambs reference in Shaun The Sheep – which is a quick-fire gag and treated as such – or the moment where Toy Story 2 just ludicrously becomes The Empire Strikes Back for about 30 brilliant seconds – which is the film using its satire of merchandising and pop culture obsession to have a little fun.

In recent years, they have toned down the pop culture references and tangible “attitude” of Shrek – seemingly in an effort to shed that association once and for all – in favour of making relatively simple movies that balance funny and often broad laughs with a likeable level of heart, although that possibly runs the risk of actually making their films more interchangeable and formulaic than they were accused of being throughout the middle of the previous decade.  Again, I really like Home but I still can’t shake the feeling that I basically watched a better version of Mr. Peabody & Sherman.

Their most successful films, financially and artistically, are the ones that break from formula and establish their own individual voices; they’re still recognisably DreamWorks but have numerous little individual quirks and touches that make them stand out from the rest of the pack.  Kung Fu Panda 2, their masterpiece, clearly could not have been made like that by anybody other than DreamWorks – and Jennifer Yuh Nelson, cough cough – but still feels distinctly different from the studio’s other successful action-dramedy series How To Train Your DragonPuss In Boots is clearly cut from a similar cloth as The Road To El Dorado, and is indebted to its parent series Shrek much to its detriment, but all three of those films are different in tone and feel to one another, yet still recognisably DreamWorks.  It’s hard to pull off and some of them take time, it took Madagascar three tries to settle into its crazed skin, but, in their best moments, the studio pulls them off with aplomb.

As for that other through-line, the studio’s awkward relationship with the female gender?  Well… I hesitate to offer up any kind of definitive summary, as I am a guy and, in all honesty, should not have been as fixated on this area as I ended up being – due to the fact that men really should not be the primary voice talking about representation of women in the media, and the fact that I am not as educated on feminist film theory as I ought to be – but I can observe that a lot of the instances of problematic depictions of the female gender come more from a lack of courage in blazing new storytelling trails than anything actively malicious and such.

Things like Fiona being relegated to a damsel and prize at the end of Shrek, Marina and Astrid suddenly and inexplicably falling for the heroic male character at the drop of a dime, Roxie not really getting any actual agency despite being a well-defined and entertaining character…  These are mainly the result of filmmakers and writers leaning on “tradition” and obvious story beats, presumably out of the belief that this is how stories are supposed to go.  After all, as we have also seen throughout this series, the studio can make strong interesting female characters when it tries to – DuBois from Madagascar 3 and Clover from All Hail King Julian get to be completely insane which is still sadly rare in comedy nowadays, Tigress from Kung Fu Panda 2 and Tip from Home are co-leads and their films treat them with the respect such a role demands, and I’ve already talked at length about how I believe Monsters vs. Aliens to be a staunchly feminist film.

More “traditional” representations, when the works even have female characters to begin with, seem to stem from everyone just believing that that’s the way things are done or because they have focussed the film on the male protagonist and everything else just revolves around them.  That’s why Tooth Fairy gets the least amount of screen time in Rise of the Guardians, why Eep is merely the point of view we experience The Croods from instead of the main protagonist, why Gloria is one of the four main cast members of the Madagascar series yet does pretty much nothing notable in all three films.  Of course, though, this doesn’t need to be the way that things are done, which is why I got so frustrated at every slide back into “traditional” representation, because animation has a major representation problem and accidental sticking to the status quo is doing more harm than it is good.

Of the studio’s upcoming slate of films, two of the specifically scheduled six point to featuring female protagonists.  There’s Trolls in November of 2016, and The Croods 2 in December of 2017, which co-writer/co-director Kirk DeMicco has stated will focus more on motherhood, although I’m still burnt by the first film’s protagonist bait-and-switch, so we’ll wait and see.  Combined with Home making Tip the co-lead in the vein of Tigress from Kung Fu Panda 2, and time will tell if Kung Fu Panda 3 continues treating her character so brilliantly, that marks three straight years in which DreamWorks will be telling stories that feature women in a leading capacity.  We’ll soon discover if they stick to this diversifying sentiment, and more importantly whether they’ll actually pull it off well, but it is a good and welcome step in the right direction for the studio.  If they get some success from this then maybe, combined with Disney’s resurgence in telling female-focussed stories, they’ll help convince the rest of the industry to follow suit.

Maybe they’ll also finally balance out that bra-burning gag from Shrek The Third, too.  I still have not forgiven them for that one.

This is the point of the article where I’m supposed to come up with some grand profound summary that encompasses my overall thoughts on this series, the films we’ve discussed, and the studio in question, but I’m honestly drawing a blank.  For one, despite how I may sometimes come off, I’m not really one for big definitive summary point makings anyway.  But, mainly, it’s because DreamWorks Animation is way more complex and multi-faceted than I once thought they were.  I thought that they only really made one kind of film, but this series has constantly picked apart the almost non-existent concept of “The DreamWorks Film”.  I thought that their post-Shrek 2 output would be unbearable, but it turns out that most of them were legitimately trying to be their own good thing.  I thought they only made sequels because they were desperate for franchises and money, yet most of their best films are sequels.

At almost every turn I’ve been wrong-footed about my preconceptions, and even when I was proven right I found a tonne of interesting things to comment on and reasons as to why those films failed.  It’s been an eye-opening experience, one that I have been happy to lose 30 good Sunday nights worth of sleep to.  I guess my big end summary is that I don’t want to lose DreamWorks Animation.  The studio is in a tough spot right now – partially of its own making, partially because Jeffrey Katzenberg is a stubborn tit, partially due to factors outside of its control – its future is really uncertain, and I want them to be OK.  The initial impact they had on Western feature-length animation, the opening up of the market, should give them a free pass to keep on keeping on anyway, but their films are still an entertaining and welcome voice in the animation landscape and to lose them now, in the middle of this mostly underappreciated streak of quietly great films that they are on, would be a majorly saddening shame.

I get the feeling that they’ll be OK in the end – Disney was in dire straits for much of the early-to-mid-2000s, let’s not forget – but if they were to go, I would now be legitimately upset.  This series has created not just a deep and renewed appreciation in me for their work, but also a sort of bond; the kind that’s forged when you undertake a laborious yet rewarding task with a friend you didn’t realise meant as much to you as they ended up doing when you both emerged from the other side.  So, thank you, DreamWorks.  Here’s hoping we see you around for another 20 years!


Next week, we begin an in-depth 87 part series where I revisit and explore every facet there is to explore about the films and history of Walt Disney Ani-I’m just kidding, we’re not gonna do that.

Callum Petch is making up for it.  Follow him on the Twitters (@CallumPetch) and listen to Screen 1 on Hullfire Radio every Monday at 9PM BST (site link)!

Home

Home is not original, but I dug the hell out of it.

by Callum Petch (Twitter: @CallumPetch)

home 1Home begins with an alien race called the Boov forcibly invading and colonising Earth for themselves.  They do this by arriving unannounced, forcibly relocating the natives – whom they deem as uncivilised, lower, unintelligent, and in need of saving and educating by the Boov – against their will, systematically going through everything that the Earth has to offer and keeping what they deem is useful (often by mis-utilising the items in question) and jettisoning totally what they don’t, and re-naming and re-shaping the planet in their own image.  The real life subtext that comes from this set-up I doubt is lost on you.

Home, however, is very much uninterested in following that subtext, likely because describing it in that way sounds very much counter to the good laughs and fun times that are typically required in animated family films.  We get the occasional glimpse at it here and there with what little we see of the new human city – located on Australia – but it is otherwise left untouched.  Is this a little disappointing?  Well, yeah, in the sense that it is always disappointing when a film decides to leave its original potential untapped in favour of the safe and familiar, but Home does still have subtext going on underneath its tale of unlikely fellows becoming strong friends.

Specifically, our protagonist is Oh (Jim Parsons, who is not just sticking to his Big Bang Theory safe zone, trust me) and Oh does not fit in with the rest of the Boov.  The Boov, you see, are a tightly regimented and dull alien race.  They are an arrogant, perfection-obsessed, and self-involved race whose extreme self-preservation instinct has kept them perpetually distant from one another.  They don’t particularly have time for one another and they, at least from what the film shows us, don’t bother to make friends, they’re that cynically detached.  Oh, however, is a heart-on-sleeve kinda guy.  He has that self-preservation instinct, growing up in a culture of fear will do that to you, but he’s also open about his emotions all of the time and he makes no secret about them.  He wants friends, he wants to fit in, but that kind of open joyous honesty is frowned upon in Boov culture and leaves him feeling isolated from his own race.  Again, with minor adjustments, hopefully the similarities between Boov culture and post-millennium culture aren’t lost on you.

Again, though, Home mostly pushes it to the side – mostly, it’s still easy to see it flowing through as the film progresses – in favour of telling a relatively simple story of two lonely people struggling to fit in finding each other by happenstance and becoming friends for life through wacky mishaps.  Oh doesn’t fit in with the Boov because of his eternally sincere nature and general clumsiness, Tip (a surprisingly brilliant Rihanna) didn’t fit in with humans because she and her mother are originally from Barbados – which is touched on briefly in dialogue as she explains why she never felt at home, but otherwise her race is not made a big deal out of – and she’s a bit of a whiz at math.  The two are thrown together after Oh accidentally texts the location of Earth to the Boov’s ever pursuant enemy, the Gorg, and he agrees to help Tip reunite with her mom (Jennifer Lopez) whilst attempting to lay low from the Boov’s commander, Captain Smek (Steve Martin).

If you’ve seen an animated film or five, you’ll know Home beat-by-beat without ever stepping foot in the cinema.  Again, this is a film that is brimming with potentially boundary-pushing subtext that it actively steers itself away from in order to tell the story that it ends up telling.  And yet, I don’t consider this much of a flaw because the film itself is that good and appeals that much to my sensibilities.  What can I say?  Give me two lovable characters who find it hard to fit in, and you might as well just start the countdown clock to the happy tears due to myself relating to their situation.

That being said, Home does do plenty of quietly great things that are worthy of note.  For one, there’s Tip herself.  She’s a black girl – the first lead black girl in any Western CG feature-length animated film, to my knowledge, which is going to be huge for a subset of children, I can already tell – and, again, her race and gender are not made a big deal out of, which is a major boon for the notoriously non-diverse feature animation landscape.  And though she is not the main lead of the film, Oh’s is the perspective that we are primarily given, the film still treats her with absolute respect and importance.  Tip’s quest to re-unite with her mom is decidedly more low-stakes than Oh and the Boov’s quest to keep the Gorg from finding Earth, but the film treats it as something equally as important, even with minimal flashbacks to how their dynamic was before she was taken.

The film never gives Tip the short-shrift.  She’s just as resourceful as Oh, she’s just as entertaining as Oh, and the one time that somebody in the film explicitly takes a swipe at her gender they are immediately proven wrong by Tip herself (and also by the fact that the Boov making that crack is pretty much an antagonist anyway).  There’s even a bit in the finale where it seems like she’s being carted off to the sidelines for Oh to resolve the main plot, but she then forces her way back in with vital action that Oh couldn’t have done.  She reminds me a lot of Vanellope from Wreck-It Ralph or Tigress from Kung Fu Panda 2, lead female characters who aren’t the main protagonists but whom the film treats as well as one anyway.  If Home didn’t do that, then I wouldn’t have been in floods of joyous tears at the incredibly sweet payoff to Tip’s story.

(Also, for a personal little plug, it’s very much a major step forward for DreamWorks Animation, who have had major troubles when it comes to the female gender in their films, as those who have been reading The DreamWorks Animation Retrospective will know.)

For two, I find the animation, and more specifically the art style, to be excellent.  Human character animations have the same weight, heft, and naturalness of How To Train Your Dragon, whilst the Boov are more susceptible to the occasional squash-and-stretch of various intensities, and the two gel very smoothly with one another.  But it’s the art style that really grabs my attention.  There is a lot of detail going on, all of it very pretty but most of it arguably unnecessary, but the world itself has this very smooth feel.  Places, people, and animals all have this soft, often curved design that creates this warm, huggable, inviting feel that, combined with the bright primary colours colour scheme, I found it very easy to lose myself in.

It’s all best demonstrated in the design of the Boov.  They have this very simple cylindrical body shape that extends to their multiple feet and fingers (which both lack any noticeable tips), and that curves instead of points idea extends to their noses which, in their resting state, curl in on themselves, their teeth which gently curve with noticeable gaps, and their eyes which are wide and expressive.  They are very eminently huggable, which is a characteristic I like in this kind of genre.  Boov also change colour based on their expression – red denotes anger, orange denotes happiness, green denotes lying, etc. – which provides a fun extra layer of information about Oh at any given moment and helps make the designs and world pop that much more.

And for three, despite walking a lot in the same sweet DNA as Mr. Peabody & Sherman – lots of heart, funny but not overly so, not re-inventing any wheels – Home manages to avoid that film’s structural mistake: forcing an action-packed finale.  Home seems to be heading towards a superfluous big stakes action finale, but pulls back at the last minute to resolve its central conflict in ways more befitting what came before.  The threat of global destruction is there, because of course it is, but the stakes are primarily focussed on our two leads and the set-piece itself only really qualifies as a set-piece because of its placement and general expensive look; no giant chase sequence.  Since many animated films lose their nerve and force a last minute action climax, seeing Home pull back is a nice pleasant surprise and display of self-confidence in its storytelling.

(Also, the film takes the DreamWorks licensed soundtrack thing to its logical endpoint and, at multiple points, backs proceedings with songs written specifically for the film.  When it actually commits to this idea, it’s a rather neat and non-distracting choice, even with most of them being by Rihanna and Jennifer Lopez.  Unfortunately, it doesn’t commit enough to the idea for me, with the really good score handling the vast majority of the film and the songs popping up very sporadically.  The songs are good, I rather like them, so the lack of time devoted to them makes it all feel like a bit of a wasted opportunity for me.  Ah, well, the soundtrack album will probably be pretty great, though!)

As I said earlier, Home does not re-invent any wheels and it’s not a majorly necessary and vital entry into the Western feature-animation landscape.  It’s not laugh-out-loud funny, although the kids at my screening never tired of the Boov’s constant inability to use correct syntax and proper grammar, and it’s not a market leader when it comes to heart or anything.  But I really, really dug Home.  It’s adorably sweet and sincere in the way that great animated features often are, its two leads are a joy to spend time with, its animation is great, and its vocal performances are surprisingly really strong.

In my review of Penguins of Madagascar, I noted that not all animated films have to reach for the stars.  They can aim to be more modest, lightweight entertainment so long as that is all executed with heart and joy by the filmmakers.  Home has enough heart and love visibly poured into its creation that I didn’t mind in the slightest when the Dance Party Ending reared its head to send us all home on.  That, my friends, is true praise.  I dug the hell out of this one.

Callum Petch got his friends by his side and that’s all that matters to him.  Follow him on the Twitters (@CallumPetch) and listen to Screen 1 on Hullfire Radio every Monday at 9PM BST (site link)!

Monsters vs. Aliens

by Callum Petch (Twitter: @CallumPetch)

This year, DreamWorks Animation celebrates its 20th anniversary.  To mark the occasion, Callum Petch is going through their entire animated canon, one film a week for the next 30 weeks, and giving them a full-on retrospective treatment.  Prior entries can be found here, should you desire.


monsters vs aliens18] Monsters vs. Aliens (7th November 2008)

Budget: $175 million

Gross: $381,509,870

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 72%

In 2012, Pixar made major waves by releasing Brave, their first animated feature in the 26 years that they had existed (17 since they started releasing feature films) to feature a lead female protagonist.  Conversation about the film primarily revolved around this aspect and the company was roundly praised and criticised for the execution of said creative choice.  In late 2013, Disney released Frozen and one couldn’t move in 2014 without being drowned in think-pieces about whether the film was feminist or not.  2014 has also been the year in which the lack of female characters in films, long since held onto by movie executives who believe that female leads can’t carry non-romance movies – despite these past several years offering a laundry list to the contrary, and women now making up the majority of cinemagoers – has been roundly called out and questioned at large.

You can extend those questions of representation to the animated realm, too.  For example, Pop Quiz: name me five non-sequel Western animated films released in cinemas in the past 10 years that feature a lead female protagonist… who is not, or does not become, a princess.  Not a secondary lead character – so throw away Wreck-It Ralph – not a love interest, the lead character.  Off the top of my head, I can name Persepolis (which is cheating, seeing as it is based on a true story), Coraline, The Croods, this week’s film Monsters vs. Aliens…  No, that’s about all I can name.

The official list, which I have discovered through Wikipedia so apologies if some of these are wrong, consists of those films, Hoodwinked! (barely qualifies, it’s an ensemble piece by nature), Battle For Terra, Happily N’Ever After (again, barely), The Snow Queen, Anina, Epic and Legends Of Oz: Dorothy’s Return.  That’s 11.  11 in 10 years.  You can also throw the Tinkerbell series in that pile too – alongside the instalments of series like Barbie, Winx Club etc. that actually get a cinema release and fit the criteria – but it doesn’t change the fact that animation has a major female representation problem.  Pixar’s Brave provoked some heated conversation for not adding to that pile – something they will attempt to rectify possibly with next year’s Inside Out – and, although I enjoyed Brave, it’s an understandable thing to rake them over the coals for.

Especially since DreamWorks Animation will have already fulfilled this criteria six years before Inside Out attempts to.

Despite appearances, Monsters vs. Aliens is very resolutely Susan’s story.  There are stretches of the film where we hand proceedings over to the monsters or The President Of The United States, but those are basically just borrowing the film from Susan for a short while.  At its core, at its centre, Monsters vs. Aliens is a film about a woman who learns to take control of her life and stop taking men’s sh*t.  Susan is absolutely the main character, Susan is the character whose arc is the most fleshed out, Susan is the character who gets the lion’s share of the film’s awesome moments (as well as the best of them), and Susan is the emotional centre of the film.

Susan is Monsters vs. Aliens and her tale of female empowerment is why I spent so, so, so much of this film eating out of the palm of its hand.  Many stories of female empowerment that I have come across recently – best epitomised by the latest Tomb Raider, which is a videogame but is too relevant to this topic to not address – mistake actual lead female growth for “Let’s constantly put her down and beat her up until she finally turns around and fights back.”  They don’t let them grow emotionally, they don’t really let them choose to become powerful.  They’re forced into violence, forced into fighting back and they don’t really grow as a person besides a proclivity for violence.  There are ways to do this right, don’t get me wrong, but too many times I’ve seen media essentially put their lead female character through a Trauma Conga Line and have them come out of the other side broken but not stronger.

For an example of how to do this right, Monsters vs. Aliens spends much of its first half having bad things happen to Susan.  Her fiancée relocates their honeymoon to Fresno instead of Paris in order to try and further his career, she gets hit by a meteor and grows nearly 50 feet tall, she is captured by the military and forcibly locked away in prison, denied the chance to see any of the people she loves ever again, and is renamed “Ginormica” by the government.  She takes all of this how pretty much anybody would and retreats into despair, albeit trying to make the best of her situation by making friends with her fellow monsters.  When told that she would gain her freedom if she helps take down a giant alien robot, she runs away, not wanting to be put into that situation.

But, and this is the crucial bit, she then stops mid-escape on the Golden Gate bridge to help those people who she has inadvertently put in danger.  She risks her own life to help others, even though she has no reason to believe that she would make it out of the encounter alive.  Her growth is not motivated by her own survival instinct, it’s motivated by her naturally-being-a-good-person-ness being enhanced by her powers.  Susan is not a tormented dog turning around and biting back after being provoked enough because she has no other choice, she is somebody who actively chooses.  She chooses her destiny, she chooses her strength, she chooses to embrace her new role.

After the robot battle, Susan is on Cloud Nine.  She’s discovered a strength and a near-independence she didn’t know came with her personality, and she is proud of that fact!  And that pride ends up becoming a defining feature of her character.  Derek dumps her because Derek is a selfish dick, but he doesn’t take her pride with him.  If anything, he re-enforces her independence.  Naturally, she’s heartbroken for a short while, but the experience reminds her of how much more she’s accomplished by herself without holding the hand of Derek and that re-asserts her confidence.  When she’s captured by Gallaxhar, she doesn’t even pretend to play the scared damsel, she’s immediately breaking out and trying to kick ass.  When she’s de-powered, her first instinct is still to try and beat the crap out of Gallaxhar.  When she’s home free but her friends are trapped, she goes back and sacrifices her prior life to save them.

And she makes all of these choices herself.  Her agency becomes the drive for the film.  Whenever somebody else tries to snatch her agency away from her, she takes it, or tries to take it, right back.  Derek dumps her and breaks her heart; she seizes the wake-up call and announces that she will go on without him, no problem.  Gallaxhar kidnaps her; she immediately breaks free and rampages across the ship in an attempt to beat him down in response.  Gallaxhar takes her powers; her first instinct is still to try and take him down.  About to be swarmed by clones?  Susan immediately grabs a blaster and starts fending for herself.  Her friends are set to die?  Not whilst there’s still breath in Susan’s body!

She’s strong of mind, strong of personality.  Her ability to kick copious amounts of ass is just another side to her – it’s not the only side to her and it’s not the only way she asserts her independence as a woman.  She is – and I know that people absolutely detest this phrase but I can’t think of a better time to deploy it than now – a Strong Female Character.  Way stronger than anything that DreamWorks had concocted up to this point – way more so than the supposedly progressive Shrek series and waaaaaaaaay more so than the supposedly-openly-feminist Shrek The Third.  In fact, she reminds me at points – not always, their characterisations are rather different after all – of Korra from The Legend Of Korra, especially during her rampage through Gallaxhar’s spaceship which gave me flashbacks to the Korra Book 3 finale – where her kicking ass is not the empowering moment, because she doesn’t, but the fact that she is standing up and actively metaphorically yelling ‘no more!’ at her male oppressor.

This all being said, one could read the scene in which Susan fully rejects her original name and embraces Ginormica instead as yet another example of strong women being equated to masculinity – having to sacrifice their femininity to be happy or strong.  However, I think it’s hard to read it fully like that.  For one, Susan is rejecting the negative aspects of her old self – her passivity, her dependence on her man, the side of her that smiles and accepts bad things happening to her instead of fighting back – not her entire self.  She’s embracing the side she didn’t realise she had until she become Ginormica, so she’s associating that new identity, which combines the best aspects of her old self – compassion, strong loyal bonds – with her newly discovered independence and personal strength; with her new outlook on life.

For two, Ginormica still has a distinctly feminine edge to it, primarily coming from the “a” affixed to the end of the name.  It may have been assigned to her by somebody else – formally by General W. R. Monger, more than likely decided by a room full of men – but she has claimed the name back for herself.  What started as an unwanted designation turns into a name that she is proud to sport, one that denotes her strength and her femininity.  And for three, Susan doesn’t do anything, in this scene or in the remainder of the film’s runtime, that she hasn’t already proven herself capable of doing.  She’s not suddenly becoming more masculine, she’s just owning up to the identity that she has now created.

Plus, this scene is just absolutely f*cking amazing and I will hear absolutely no ill will spoken against it.

Yet, I saw pretty much zilch comments about this aspect of the film during my research for this entry.  Variety’s review – and I sh*t you not, here, go and follow the link to see for yourself – spends its paragraph on her talking about her in purely visual terms, as a thing to be attracted to and whose looks are the sole thing worth talking about.  Empire managed to get a brief segment in about it, Salon’s Stephanie Zacharek notes that the film’s very-unsubtle delivery of that message undermines and grates, but that’s about it.  Professional reviewers instead judged it by the usual things they judge animated films by – pretty colours, pop culture jokes, level of heart, nowhere near as good as Pixar – and I count 2 think-pieces at the time on its feminism.

The point I’m trying to make is that there was no conversation.  Brave sparked a conversation.  Monsters vs. Aliens did not.  Pixar sparked a conversation.  Disney are deemed worthy of a conversation.  DreamWorks were deemed unworthy of that conversation.  Now, why do you think that is?  After all, as I’ve pointed out time and again throughout this series, DreamWorks are a company with a complicated and storied history with characters of the female gender – next week I’m going to have to talk about Astrid, for example, and I am bracing myself accordingly – shouldn’t we be scrutinising their works the same way we scrutinise Disney or Pixar?

Now, of course, one can explain these away by either noting that a lot has changed in the last five years – hence why I noted the uptick in demands for representation this past year – and that Disney has a longer history than DreamWorks so there’s more to cull from.  That first one is sort of understandable, I guess, but the second is what I call shenanigans on.  After all, Pixar have only been releasing animated features for 3 years longer than DreamWorks have, and they’ve released less films overall than DreamWorks have.  So why do Pixar get preferential treatment?

It probably comes down to that rep that DreamWorks have accumulated.  I am not going to go over this in full again, as I have covered it multiple times in this series – hell, that rep is what basically helped kick-start this series in the first place – and it helps none of us if I spend forever repeating myself, but DreamWorks are seen as a commercial outhouse.  A factory, if you will, one that pumps out an endless stream of films – at least half of which are sequels – with no semblance of quality control in the hopes that something strikes financial, and maybe also critical if that’s possible, gold.  And whilst 2014 has shown that to be completely untrue – three home runs creatively, even if the How To Train Your Dragon series does nothing for me – that’s the rep they’ve acquired and it’s not one that they’re shaking any time soon.

Pixar releases, though, and official Disney releases are seen as events.  Because they limit themselves to one film a year, even taking a year off in some cases, each release and each entry into their canon is seen as something special, something to take notice of.  It’s why when they release a Cars 2 or a Home On The Range/Chicken Little, everybody is harder on them – those are seen as sullying marks on a track record that has shown it can do better.  Yet if DreamWorks releases a sub-par Shrek, everybody shrugs their shoulders and collectively goes, “Well what did you expect?” before proceeding on with their lives.  It’s why negative Cars 2 reviews compare it to Pixar’s prior classics, whilst negative Penguins Of Madagascar reviews also compare it to Pixar’s prior classics despite DreamWorks having a rapidly-growing list of quality films of their own to compare themselves to.

Look, I get it, Pixar are The Gold Standard for animation – hopefully still are, I pray to various deities that 2015 is the year in which everybody pulls their fingers out of their arses and gets back to a level somewhere close to where they were operating on up to and including Toy Story 3 – but they should not be the be all end all of conversation in the medium.  DreamWorks Animation are one of the biggest and most successful animation companies in the Western world for a reason, and their creative decisions should be getting as much scrutiny as their competitors.  You know how many think-pieces I’ve seen on How To Train Your Dragon 2’s gender roles in the past six months?  Three.  That Tasha Robinson piece from earlier that used the film as a jumping-off point to look at the industry at large, a short blog entry by Margot Magowan, and a list piece by Gina Luttrell.

Next year, both Pixar and DreamWorks are releasing films with female protagonists.  Pixar are releasing Inside Out, a film about the various emotions inside a 10 year-old girl’s mind, DreamWorks are releasing Home, a film about a black teenage girl who teams up with a not-particularly smart alien to thwart a double invasion of Earth.  I guarantee you that Inside Out will be talked about and scrutinised more for its depiction of the female gender than Home ever will be.  I mean, I’m also pretty sure that Inside Out will be a better film than Home as well, but that’s not the point.

The point is that we can’t and shouldn’t pick and choose which animated films and which animation studios are worth hard analysis.  This is a medium that deserves to be taken seriously – as I have repeatedly made clear in articles on this site – and that’s not going to happen until we look at everything with the same staunchly critical and analytical eye that we do for Pixar and Disney.  Do you think I wrote 3,108 words on Sinbad: Legend Of The Seven Seas because I had nothing better to do with my time?  I mean, I don’t, but the point is that Sinbad had that much going on in it that I didn’t need to work especially hard to hit my self-assigned word count.  Ditto films like The Nut Job, or Escape From Planet Earth, or the Tinker Bell series.  They’re not high art, but they are still worthy and capable of supporting in-depth discussion.

And so does Monsters vs. Aliens, which I believe is a very feminist film.  It’s not a perfect feminist film – Susan is still the only girl, girl-ish screams are the focal point for a very long gag, “You got beat by a girl” is deployed as an insult form but at least in a dramatic way that affects character work this time – but I believe that it is still a loud, proud and powerfully feminist film about female self-empowerment.   I may be wrong.  Hell, I want to be wrong; I want a hundred feminist critics – preferably women, who have far more of a say in this discussion than I do – to come charging down the hill and take up both sides of the argument, either agreeing with my assessment or disagreeing and showing me ten to fifteen reasons why.

I want to see lengthy conversations about the film’s messy structure, about its uninteresting villain, about why the humour does or does not work, about whether the art style works or just ends up freaking the writer out for the length of the film, about how badly the unspoken “All Animated Movies Must Be 90 Minutes Under Pain Of Death” rule hobbles the film from excellency.  All things I would have talked about at length had I the time – although, for the record: awkwardly paced first half but the film soars from San Francisco onwards, script doesn’t give him anything to do, too low-brow for the most part and the film’s very dramatic undercurrent means that the attempts at parody undercut proceedings, takes a while to get used to but at least makes Susan and the monsters look great, and this needed to be 2 hours or even a full season of TV – and all things I could have easily based at least half an article of this length on individually.

Point is, I want a conversation to start.  Animation needs a conversation if it’s going to better itself and be fully respected, and that conversation needs to cover everyone – not just critical golden boy Pixar and good old Disney.  DreamWorks Animation should be allowed in on that conversation, regardless of its past or its very commercial and prolific nature.  I am one of about three people talking about feminism and non-Shrek DreamWorks films.  This should not be the case.  So, start conversing.


Monsters vs. Aliens continued DreamWorks Animation’s re-ascension to quality filmmaking in the eyes of critics, although the film’s major underperformance overseas prevented it from being the financial smash that the studio would have liked.  It wasn’t a failure, though, and so the company would close out the decade – Monsters vs. Aliens being their only release for 2009 – on a decent note with the company still looking strong.  Their first film of the new decade, though, would take everybody by surprise and be seen as the company’s new Magnum Opus, as well as the start of a very successful new franchise.

Next week, we look at the first How To Train Your Dragon.

A new edition of DreamWorks! A Retrospective will be posted here every Monday at 1PM BST!

Callum Petch should have cut his losses long before he knew.  Follow him on the Twitters (@CallumPetch) and listen to Screen 1 on Hullfire Radio every Monday at 9PM BST (site link)!

Frightfest 2014 Preview Part 2: Change and sleepy queues

By Mike Shawcross (@shawky1969)

FrightfestSaturday usually boasts a strong line up and this year, it’s got some decent looking films and even a Party! Films in the main programme during the day include All Cheerleaders Die, Starry Eyes and Dead Within.

All Cheerleaders Die is from the director Lucky McKee (The Woman) and Chris Siverston (The Lost). An All the Boys Love Mandy Lane and The Craft mash up, it sounds quite a bit of fun and one I’m disappointed to be missing; though it has a DVD release in September.  Starry Eyes is a film from directors Kevin Kolsch & Dennis Widmyer and starring relative newcomer Alex Essose. A story of selling your soul for your dreams, as a desperate actress will do anything for her major break in Hollywood. Yet another one that sounds worth a watch. The Harvest starring Michael Shannon, Peter Fonda and Samantha Morton and directed by John McNaughton sounds a very strong film indeed. Boasting a solid cast and a something in the basement premise this really does sound worth seeing. I may have to rethink my Discovery Screen choice for this one.

In the discovery screen and playing against The Harvest for me is Dead Within; from director Ben Wagner. A couple struggle to stay alive in a remote cabin in the woods after surviving a pandemic; not only fighting the dangers from outside they soon have to fight their own paranoia from within. Not high on my watch list; over in the other Discovery screen is Bad Milo, a film I was up for seeing but may change my mind! Directed by Jacob Vaughan and starring Ken Marino (We’re the Millers) about a bloodthirsty creature living in the lower intestine of Duncan (Marino) and emerging from his rectum to eat anyone that is annoying Duncan. Sounds bizarre and ridiculous and just the sort of Discovery film that will generate a lot of buzz! I think I may watch The Harvest.

Next in the Discovery Screens are White Settlers and The Short Films (Part 1). Over the years I’ve come to enjoy the short film showcase usually sponsored by the Horror Channel; some have been exceptional, but this year it is tucked away in the Discovery screen and I will be giving it a miss. White Settlers directed by Simeon Halligan (Splintered) and starring Pollyanna McIntosh (The Woman) set in the Scottish Borders as a young couple move into a remote farmhouse and are terrorized by a group of masked intruders. Sounds a typical house invasion film, but I’m hoping for something different. I know Simeon; he runs the Grimm Fest film festival in Manchester so I’ll be supporting this film anyway.

Mitch Jenkins directs an Alan Moore penned film; Show Pieces in the Discovery screen 1. A trilogy of stories written directly for the screen by Moore and which sounds fun; I like anthology films, and I do like most of Moore’s adaptations so I’ll be seeing this one.

Saturday evening’s main films are Life After Beth, directed by Jeff Baena in his debut feature and with a stunning cast; Aubrey Plaza, Dane DeHaan, John C Reilly, Anna Kendrick and Molly Shannon.  A zombie rom-com with a twist it sounds a blast and I will be not be missing this one. The Babadook is one which has already gained quite a bit of buzz on twitter this year, and a film I’m looking forward to seeing. Directed by Jennifer Kent in her first film and starring Essie Davis (The Matrix sequels), Daniel Henshall (Snowtown) and Noah Wiseman. The story of a widow looking after her son while his fear grows that there is a monster in the house, she starts to feel a sinister presence around her.

Sin City: A Dame To Kill For needs no introduction or build-up; this is the biggest film at the festival this year. The original Sin City was a festival favourite and I’m sure the sequel will play very well; but it’s actually a film I’ll be missing. It opens nationwide a week later plus it’s playing in the midnight slot for the Horror screen so I’m off to a Frightfest party instead. (NB – This has now moved to the opening night)

In the evening discovery screen 1 we have a TBC, Digging up the Marrow and Creep. Digging up the Marrow is a film of two halves. Literally. Opening as a documentary exploring Monster Art it then becomes a horror film as the documentary makers investigate a so called “real” monster. Sounds quite appealing and I do like Adam Greens films, but against The Babadook it has no chance. Creep directed by and starring Patrick Brice alongside Mark Duplass in this improvised film. Taken from a 10 page outline, Duplass and Brice make it up as they go along. I’ll be at the party!

In the Discovery Screen 2 there is The Mirror, a UK production from director Edward Boase and starring Jemma Dallender (I Spit On Your Grave). Based on a so called true story of a haunted mirror reported by the Daily Mail and Huffington Post, I think I’ll be waiting for the DVD.

The following two events in the discovery screen are from the Duke Mitchell film club. Coherence directed by James Ward Byrkit is showing first followed by a Film Party in the final showing of the day. Both events should be worth a visit, though I’ll be attending the Party over the film.

The Sunday line up in the main screen looks very good and I’m only straying into the Discovery Screen for House at the End of Time in the evening session. Discovery screen 2 is showing some retro films for the day, they include The Visitor from 1979 and directed by Giulio Paradisi.  A Nightmare on Elm Street, Robert Englund is in attendance at the festival. Nekromantik from 1988 directed by Jorg Buttgereit and The Shining from 1980, directed by Stanley Kubrick. The final film of the day is a new film; Another from director Jason Bognacki. Sounding like a giallo/hammer hybrid I think I’ll stay in the main screen.

Open Windows directed by Nacho Vigalondo and starring Elijah Wood, Neil Maskell and Sasha Grey; who all have had previous films play at the festival before, comes this new cyber horror film. One I wasn’t interested in until I read the synopsis. Worth a look. In the Discovery screen 1 there is  Expedition; while it sounds good, I’m not sure I want to watch a dinosaur found footage film.

Faults starring Mary Elizabeth Winstead (The Thing prequel) and directed by Riley Stearns, his first feature looks an interesting look into the effects that a cult can have on people and their families; really looking forward to this one. In Discovery Screen 1 there is the documentary Drew: The Man Behind the Poster, a look at the life and art of Drew Struzan, it does sound a decent documentary and one I’ll pick up on DVD.

Among the Living from the directors of Livid and Inside; Julien Maury & Alexandre Bustillo and starring Beatrice Dalle comes this coming of age horror film. I am looking forward to this one. Playing alongside this is Doc of the Dead, another documentary about surviving a zombie apocalypse; I’m not really a zombie fan so I’ll stay in the main screen.

The Samurai, a German film and one I really know nothing about. I was hoping to jump into the discovery screen but they don’t really interest me. The Shining, and Lost Soul. So I’ll stick with The Samurai – it might surprise me. Lost Soul is another documentary and doesn’t really draw me in, though it gets good feedback, but may be another I’ll pick up on DVD.

The House at the End of Time, is a debut film written and directed by Alejandro Hidalgo. The first horror film from Venezuela to be shown internationally, this sounds a promising feature; a much better option than Stage Fright in the main screen or Another. Stage Fright, directed by Jerome Sable and starring Minnie Driver and Meatloaf is a musical, a mix of Friday the 13th and Glee, and while that sounds a strange mash-up, it’s not one that’s caught my imagination.

The final film of the day is Home. There is nothing playing against this film. From the director of The Pact, Nicolas McCarthy, Home stars Catalina Sandino Moreno in a story of demonic horror. I prefer the new title of At the Devil’s Door. Sounds a good end to Sunday.

The final day is a mix of main screen, discovery films and tiredness and of course the after festival drinks at the Phoenix Club.

Alleluia, directed by Fabrice du Welz and starring Lola Duenas and Laurent Lucas. The 2nd film in the Ardennes trilogy, the first film being Calvaire. Worth a watch if the first one arrives in time from Amazon! In the discovery 1 there is Altergiest from director Tedi Sarafian, writer of Terminator 3, which put me off a little. This horror/sci-fi thriller is Sarafian’s directional debut and is based on true events, which put me off again. Deadly Virtues from director Ate De Jong, sounds a run of the mill home invasion film, though my 2nd option if I’ve not seen Calvaire before the festival.

Nymph has me in 2 minds; a killer Siren, a Nazi concentration camp and featuring Franco Nero (Django) this doesn’t sounds too bad. Directed by Milan Todorovic and starring Kristina Klebe, I might change my mind. At the moment my plan is to see Lemon Tree Passage in Discovery 1. An Australian urban legend and directed by David Campbell. We’ve been here before with a group of non-believers wanting to disprove the legend, and of course things are never what they seem. Blood Moon from Jeremy Wooding, who directed The Magnificent Eleven (which was alright!) comes this werewolf western starring Shaun Dooley.

Xmoor directed by Luke Hyams and starring Melia Kreiling and Nick Blood comes this UK creature feature. One I’ll be avoiding. The Jessica Cameron Truth or Dare which she co-wrote, directed and stars in alongside Ryan Kiser and Heather Dorff, is my draw in Discovery 1. The film has had a fantastic run on the festival circuit and one I’m looking forward to seeing. Extraterrestrial sounds excellent, from director Nacho Vigalondo, who gave us Timecrimes (which was also excellent) comes this sci-fi romantic comedy. This is one I’m gutted to be missing.

VHS Viral, the 3rd outing in the VHS franchise and one I’m really looking forward to watching, after really enjoying VHS 2 and not really liking most of VHS 1, this one boasts a decent line up of directors including Nacho Vigalondo, Gregg Bishop and Marcel Sarmiento; could be a highlight of the festival. The Remaining plays in Discovery 1, directed by Casey La Scala is a religious-slanted horror film. Playing on the biblical end of the world scenario it’s one I’ll be avoiding. In Discovery screen 2 the 2nd part of the Shorts will be shown, with one short, The Tour starring Jessica Cameron and Heather Dorff, a real coup for Frightfest’s own Damon Rickard in his first short.

The final film of the festival is The Signal, starring Breton Thwaites (Oculus), Olivia Cooke and Laurence Fishburne. Directed and co-written by William Eubank this sounds an interesting film to end on and one I’m looking forward too.

Following the final film will be drinks in the Phoenix bar, where Mike Shawcross will be attending to celebrate and dissect what has been and gone over the previous 5 days – and of course have a well-earned pint or two!

FrightFest will be running from 21-25 August 2014. You can keep up to date with Mike’s reactions here, on our Twitter page (@FailedCritics) or by following him at @Shawky1969