Tag Archives: Reese Witherspoon

Sing

“You won’t be scared, once you get out there and sing.”

I wasn’t sure about Sing. When I saw the first trailer for it, after the Illumination Entertainment logo appeared, I was pretty underwhelmed. I remember looking at my wife and saying “where’s the jokes?”. I was so used to the films these guys put out, like Despicable Me and The Secret Life of Pets being all about the jokes. Whether or not the films turned out to be good was immaterial, I always chuckled at the trailers. This time around? Nothing.

But we’ve all heard good things about Sing, so I bundled up the wife and kid – also known as “the reason I get away with watching animated films on a Sunday morning at the cinema” – and headed off to last weekend’s previews with my expectations low.

Sing is the story of a down and out koala, Buster Moon (voiced by Matthew McConaughey), who’s theatre is on its last legs both financially and structurally. His business is flopping and he owes more than he has to his staff, his backers and the bank.

In a last ditch attempt to save his livelihood, Moon has auditions for a singing competition. With the entire city coming to his doors to try for the competition’s (accidental) $100,000 prize money, the entrepreneurial bear selects a handful of the best contestants to perform in his finale.

Putting together what could be the theatre’s last show, Buster tries for the best lineup he can. Pairing singing housewife Rosita (Reese Witherspoon) with crazy German dancer Gunter (Nick Kroll) for his opener. Followed by a true variety show lineup with teenage rocker Ash (Scarlett Johansson); Sinatra wannabe Mike (Seth MacFarlane); piano playing Johnny (Taron Egerton) and soul singer Meena (Tori Kelly). Each contestant comes with their own baggage and as the big day draws near and all their troubles descend on the Moon theatre, the group of performers must come together to make it a success.

While I went in skeptical, I admit I came out pretty happy with Sing. It’s a very well told family film that, while I do think it’s missing the humour from Illumination’s previous films – a situation compounded by the constant reminder that these guys invented the Minions in their logo before the film – there’s no denying the quality animation from this studio.

Everyone on voice work is outstanding. I couldn’t pick a best performance even if I tried. More surprising to me is when the cast start singing. Not everyone on this bill is known for their pipes and each of them puts in the work and it sounds excellent. I mean, I won’t be buying the soundtrack or anything, but I’ll gladly buy the film and let the kid bop along to it while it’s on.

You can’t deny the musical finale when it happens, no one will come out of it not smiling. Considering it’s filled with pop and R’n’B tunes, I can only imagine how someone who resonates with that style of music felt by the end.

I can’t not recommend Sing. It’s such a great, inspirational, family film that I just want to watch it again and again with everyone at home and sing along, cheering for everyone involved.

Hot Pursuit

by Andrew Brooker (@Brooker411)

hot pursuit 2015Everything but your husband’s going to be fine.

Let’s start here: 87, 21, 10, 6, 3, 2 and 2. I’ll explain those numbers in a bit, but for now just know that the idea of starting that count and actually counting while watching the latest lady-led comedy was the funniest thing to come out of the screening I only just walked out of.

The last couple of years have upped the bar for female led comedies. They’re not usually a subject I bring up and I certainly don’t ever bring up the fact that the film is led by women. Not because I’m some woman hating arse hair that thinks women shouldn’t be in my precious man-films, absolutely not. But because I watch films, good and bad, starring men, women, dogs, whatever. I don’t much care for the shape of your genitals so long as you make good films. Of course,I get excited when someone does particularly well, I’m a loud and proud Melissa McCarthy fan and like to cheer that I was right when I said she was hilarious in (and the best part of) Samantha Who? back in the day, but I also get very vocal when someone is complete and utter crap. Sadly, this is where I find myself this evening.

Anyway, back to that raised bar. Like them or not, and a fair few I’m about to list I really wasn’t a fan of, but films like Pitch Perfect, Spy, Bridesmaids and The Heat, along with stunning female roles in films like The Hunger Games and Mad Max: Fury Road have pulled out all the stops in getting people to stand up and notice their female stars. As much as I never wanted to be that guy, I have to say that we are seeing a turning point where women aren’t just dumb bimbos and objects of ridicule in films, they are legitimate stars and should absolutely be treated as such.

Hot Pursuit works very hard to undo all of that.

So, those numbers. 87. That’s minutes. Almost an hour and a half of Reese Witherspoon and Sofia Vergara in a road/cop/buddy comedy that sees Witherspoon’s inept Texas cop unwittingly taking charge and trying to get Vergara’s ridiculous, bimbo housewife into protective custody after a home invasion leaves her soon-to-testify husband dead. Taking flight from cartels, dirty cops and good taste, the unlikely pair have to rely on each other to stay safe and get to their destination. On paper, it sounds a bit pants. But Reese Witherspoon has some pretty decent comedy chops on her so maybe she can up this to the level we have come to expect. Surely?

No.

Hot Pursuit is an unwanted demonstration in how awful things used to be. Relying on antiquated clichés and sub-par lady-business jokes to illicit cheap laughs at the expense of the dignity of everyone on screen. And it doesn’t even succeed! This may be the least funny comedy I’ve seen since last year’s eye rapingly bad Sex Tape. Every single dusty old chick-comedy trope has been brought out and brushed off by these guys and they wasted no time in putting them out there. My next number; 21. It took the film 21 minutes (including intro/titles etc) to roll out each of the big four recurring jokes. Periods, height, age and race. 21 minutes to set up pretty much the rest of my movie going experience this evening.

Those jokes claim the rest of my numbers. Ten Reese Witherspoon is short jokes; six Sofia Vergara is old jokes; three period jokes and two race related jokes; not including every time Vergara’s accent is played for “laughs”, I couldn’t keep up with those. The average for these jokes? One shit, flat out insulting joke every 3.8 minutes. What a way to spend Friday evening.

The last number, the final 2?

The amount of laughs the film got out of me. An enormous two! And one of those came from the bloody blooper reel in the credits! So one joke in an hour and a half long movie got me to crack a smile! The rest of the time was spent equally between being embarrassed for those involved in making the film and rolling my eyes that this was supposed to be making me laugh!

OK, so forget my little rant up top about how this abomination of a movie has set those other movies back by a few years. In reality, I couldn’t care less that your film is female led. Be female led, I don’t care. Have your film be only women, or only men. Have your movie be a stop motion feature starring the old He-Man toys from your mum’s attic! Have a cast filled with nothing but angry dwarves tap dancing in a corn field for all I give a flying fuck. Be offensive, be funny, be whatever you like. Just be worth wasting some time on, just don’t be shit. Please. Make no mistake, Hot Pursuit is awful; it’s unwatchable. It’s complete and utter bollocks and you’d be better off spending your evening pushing splintered bamboo in under your fingernails!

Wild

Beautiful natural American scenery, a wonderful heart-felt performance from Reese Witherspoon and an honest, interesting story help stop Wild from becoming yet another boring yarn of self-discovery.

by Owen Hughes (@ohughes86)

Reese Witherspoon as "Cheryl Strayed" in WILD.Have you ever been travelling? Like, really travelling, not just spending three weeks camping? I haven’t. The thought of walking a thousand miles through a desert on my own, wearing ill-fitting boots, lugging around a back-breakingly heavy ruck sack and eating cold watery porridge does not appeal to me, funnily enough.

However, I am lazy and contented. I am also more than willing to give up a little time up to spend an evening in a cinema watching somebody else struggle with all of the aforementioned. Particularly when that film is directed by the Oscar nominated Jean-Marc Vallée (Dallas Buyers Club, The Young Victoria etc) and stars multiple award winning actress Reese Witherspoon in the lead role.

Wild is adapted for the screen by Nick Hornby (An Education) from the memoirs of best-selling writer Cheryl Strayed as she hiked 1,100 miles up the Pacific Crest Trail from California to Oregon during the 90’s. A personal challenge that the 26 year old embarked on to liberate herself from her life as a divorced heroin addicted grieving daughter, in order to (for want of a better phrase) find herself. It was a test of faith; not in God but in her own nature. To know that by the time she reached the end of her path, she would not only have moved on from her problems in a literal geographical sense, but also metaphorically.

As strange as it may seem, the story really isn’t about running away from your problems. Cheryl isn’t quitting her life, rather she is just on a different and new path. That’s mostly why I enjoyed Wild. Anybody could tell a story about walking from one place to another. Some people have and in the process bored the tits off of everyone listening. A journey isn’t just about moving your physical presence from one location to another, it’s about a change. A visible and honest growth of personality, maturity and character. It’s not even about Cheryl returning to the person she was before her recent traumatic experiences, because through the use of flashbacks to the time spent with the love of her life, her mother (Laura Dern), we see how she could sometimes be a pain the arse. It’s about accepting and overcoming what has happened. As painful as it is, the grieving process is not yet over for her and as she walks, with each step and bruise on her body, we can see a visible detox from lost, to slowly understanding, to almost-found.

It’s not an entirely satisfactory experience watching Reese Witherspoon’s progression. Nor, do I believe, is it fully intended to be. Scenes leading up to the start of her trek seen in flashbacks, showing Cheryl at her lowest ebbs, such as her marriage falling apart after having affairs with multiple complete strangers, or lying naked in a crack den, mirror aspects of her journey a bit too well. Vallée avoids being explicit in terms of laying things out for you or using too much exposition, but by the same token, images and songs used over and over to beat you into submission is not all too necessary when you get it the first time around.

To expand on that point for a second, the soundtrack is used two-fold. Firstly, cuts of tracks such as the (quite frankly brilliant) haunting folk song El Condor Pasa by Simon & Garfunkel is used to generate atmosphere as it plays over the opening title credits… and then quite a lot of other scenes afterwards. Secondly, as with a lot of other songs throughout, it is emotionally connected to Cheryl’s relationship with her mother and brother. Therefore, whenever you hear it, you too are then brought back to various other scenes without the need to literally see them again. It’s a cleverly employed technique, but can become distracting or artificial in its insistence on frequently relating experiences to one another.

When Carole Petts saw the film at the London Film Festival in October last year, she commented that “the film is a little thin on plot but worth seeing for its redemptive nature and for Witherspoon’s excellent performance”. It’s quite difficult to disagree with any of that. Particularly the final comment. As much as I loved Witherspoon in Election, this performance tops it.

Yes, the path trodden is well worn and despite some dark undertones and genuinely uplifting triumphs that penetrate both the flashbacks and the actual hike, it doesn’t really have a lot new to tell us. Of course that doesn’t automatically equate to an unoriginal and bland film; it’s still a competently delivered story with an actress unlucky to miss out on the best actress award at the Golden Globes this weekend. What I would say is, as a word of warning, if this doesn’t sound like your kind of film before going in, then it most likely won’t be your kind of film once you come out. If you’ve enjoyed the director, writer or actresses previous work at their best, then chances are this will also be of interest to you too.

Wild hits UK cinemas this Friday 16 January and will be featured on the upcoming Failed Critics podcast.

US Box Office Report: 26/12/14 – 28/12/14

Unbroken takes home a silver medal, Into The Woods busts out The Gambler, Big Eyes sees little money, The Interview did alright, [Insert Tasteless Joke About American Sniper Beating Selma Here], and Other Box Office News.

by Callum Petch (Twitter: @CallumPetch)

Ah, yes!  That great American tradition of spending Christmas and its surrounding weekend at the cinema in order to try and force the family to shut up for 2 hours!  As a Brit, I don’t get to experience this joy as all of our cinemas inconsiderately shut down on Christmas Day, like the people who work there have families they’d rather go home to or something.  In any case, the majority of Americans chose to spend their Christmas returning to the cinema to re-watch that film they all saw last week.  The Hobbit: The Battle Of The Five Armies easily beat off all comers to retain the #1 spot with $41 million in ticket sales and only a 24% drop between weekends, the softest for any instalment of The Hobbit trilogy (sort of, considering the fact that last weekend came after a Wednesday opening that burnt off some demand).

In fact, Americans chose to spend a lot of their moneys re-seeing films from prior weekends over the holidays, even the ones that don’t deserve it.  Night At The Museum 3 leapt up 20% between weekends because being sad about the passing of Robin Williams really does bring families closer together (not sarcasm, I’m speaking from experience), The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 jumped up 27% in its sixth week to prove that, yes, this series is still a juggernaut that will make all of the money despite what the haters will say, and Annie increased by 5% presumably because a whole bunch of confused families didn’t realise Into The Woods came out this week.  Elsewhere, The Imitation Game went nationwide in 747 theatres and smashed its way into the Top 10 because everybody is in love with Benedict Cumberbatch.  I don’t quite get why, but it’s a thing nonetheless.

The holiday weekend was also the last opportunity for studios to get their films out in time to be considered for awards season, hence the flood of new releases.  Leading the charge was Angelina Jolie’s Unbroken which surprisingly smashed its way to the Christmas Day number 1 slot and then rode that momentum to a strong number 2 finish.  That, however, only happened because Into The Woods opened on 600 less screens; it ended up losing the battle for second by only $700,000 even though it had a higher per-screen average, so these two may switch places when the actuals come in.  Much less successful was the Mark Wahlberg-fronted The Gambler which only managed $9 million over the three-day weekend, sinking after a strong $5 million Christmas Day performance.

In limited release news, Clint Eastwood’s American Sniper ran rampant on the competition, making $610,000 from 4 theatres over the weekend ($850,000 including Christmas Day) for a per-screen average of $152,000, the third highest opening per-screen average of any live-action film ever.  Slightly less successfully but still a major success nonetheless was the opening of Selma, which took $590,000 from 19 screens ($912,000 incl. Christmas Day) for a per-screen average of $31,053.  The inexplicably-not-nominated-for-Best-Foreign-Film Two Days, One Night finally received a US release and took $30,600 ($48,200 incl. Christmas Day) from two screens, whilst Leviathan managed $15,200 ($23,000 incl. Christmas Day) from two screens.  FILMS!!!

And lastly – good lord, this was a busy weekend – The Interview, after a whole bunch of utterly ridiculously insane and awful events, finally got a last minute go-ahead to be screened in select cinemas.  So, after all of that hoopla, the film managed to take $1,811,000 ($2,851,000 including Christmas Day) from 331 screens for an average of $5,471 per-screen.  Decidedly average, but that doesn’t count the fact that many of these were hastily-arranged at the last minute with few showings and the fact that the film has apparently made an extra $15 million over the weekend with its simultaneous VOD release.  Depending on how that holds, we could be looking at the start of something new in film distribution, here.  Time will tell, but for now I’m pretty sure Sony will be calling this somewhat of a success.

Oh, and lastly lastly, Big Eyes, the new Tim Burton film and the best thing he’s made in at least 7 years (if you like Sweeney Todd) as well as a pretty bloody good movie in its own right, collapsed on 1,307 theatres with just under $3 million for 15th place.  Dammit.


hobbit

Will the circle be Unbroken by this Full List?  Let’s go Into The Woods for the last time this year to find out!

Box Office Results: Friday 26th December 2014 – Sunday 28th December 2014

1] The Hobbit: The Battle Of The Five Armies

$41,420,000 / $168,522,000

The more I think back on The Hobbit trilogy, the less and less I like it.  I find more faults, the stuff I like rescinds further into the background, and the stuff I dislike becomes more pronounced in my mind.  The Lord Of The Rings, meanwhile and which I saw for the first time in the same two week period in which I saw The Hobbit, rises more and more and more in my estimations the more I think back on it, and I really, really liked The Lord Of The Rings when I saw it.  I still don’t hate The Hobbit, but man I wish Peter Jackson had just moved on from LOTR instead of making a lower-quality facsimile of it.

2] Unbroken

$31,748,000 / $47,341,000 / NEW

Saw this on Friday and ultimately left rather cold.  Its intentions are pure and Jack O’Connell gives another commanding lead performance – now making him 3 for 3 this year – but its structure is a complete mess, any influence The Coen Brothers may have had on the screenplay has been near-totally scrubbed away by endless rewrites that make it more awards-baity and Jolie just doesn’t know when to stop overcooking certain scenes.  Nothing about the film gives me any indication that Jolie was purely aiming for awards with this one, but the finished product seems perennially missing a “For Your Consideration” watermark over 75% of its reels and so nothing truly landed for me.  Shame.

3] Into The Woods

$31,021,000 / $46,105,000 / NEW

Drops here in two weeks, which is a surprisingly quick turn-around for a Disney film, I gotta say.  Still, really looking forward to this; there’s a lot of actors and actresses that I really like in it and I am dying for a musical that’s damn proud of its musical foundations and nature right about now.  Yes, I am still angry about Annie.

4] Night At The Museum: Secret Of The Tomb

$20,600,000 / $55,307,000

Still not an outstanding performance since the film inexplicably cost $127 million to make – and if you’ve actually seen the film, you’ll get why I refuse to believe that figure – but any film that increases its weekend takings by 20% from opening weekend at least deserves a modicum of respect tipped in its direction.

5] Annie

$16,600,000 / $45,835,000

Speaking of Into The Woods, The 2014 Failed Critics Awards results were revealed last week (*plug plug*) and Emily Blunt in Edge Of Tomorrow didn’t even make the shortlist for Best Actress in yet another example of why democracy doesn’t work.  (*flips table in disgust and storms out*)

6] The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1

$10,000,000 / $306,656,000

Just $26 million away from taking the #1 Domestic Movie of 2014 spot away from Guardians Of The Galaxy.  It’s got a good chance at making it, too, since Tak3n isn’t due out for another two weeks and the general dead zone of January (although it actually doesn’t look that bad this year) means that there’s a large opportunity for it to slowly earn small increments each week in the cinemas that keep it around.  I think this is actually going to be rather close, folks!

7] The Gambler

$9,300,000 / $14,300,000 / NEW

Transformers: Age Of Extinction is still the highest grossing film of the year worldwide by a good margin.  Just thought I’d bring the mood down a little bit.  Thanks for nothing, Mark Wahlberg!

8] The Imitation Game

$7,930,000 / $14,631,000

The wrong Benedict Cumberbatch movie is getting all of the money.  Yes, you damn well perfectly know which film I am talking about.

9] Exodus: Gods And Kings

$6,750,000 / $52,517,000

So, this came out in the UK this past weekend and I was circle-jerked to hell and back.  The Cineworld website said that there were only 3D screenings, but when I got there on Friday they insisted that there were actually 2D screenings, but those ended up overlapping with Unbroken so I pushed Exodus to Saturday instead.  By the time I had finished Unbroken, however, I felt more than a little burnt out when it came to watching movies.  It’s been The Great List Blitz 2014, you see, where I watch a whole bunch of films I missed and re-watch some films that fell out of my memory somewhat over the course of a very cramped couple of weeks to prepare for list-making season, and it had taken its toll on me somewhat.  So I got to thinking, “Do I really want to give over 3 hours of my life to a film I am 95% certain is going to be horrendous tripe?  Big Eyes at least has the potential to be good.”

And, in the end, on that Saturday, I decided that no, I didn’t much fancy giving over 3 hours of my life to Exodus: Gods And Kings.  So I saw Big Eyes and then went home.  And you know what?  I feel great about that!  Now let’s all point and laugh at Exodus one last time before moving on with our lives.  HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!

10] Wild

$5,415,000 / $16,364,000

I suspect that this will experience a resurgence of major proportions when the Academy comes a-calling for Reese Witherspoon, much like what happened when Dallas Buyers Club kept revolving door-ing its way in and out of the list this time last year.  So this is not a farewell, this is a see you tomorrow.  Christ, I just sounded so f*cking pretentious…

Dropped Out: Big Hero 6, Top Five (goddammit, America), P.K., Penguins Of Madagascar (GODDAMMIT, AMERICA!)

Callum Petch got time to kill, got folks to kill, on overkill.  Follow him on the Twitters (@CallumPetch)!

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)!

US Box Office Report: 3/10/14 – 5/10/14

Gone Girl disappears with a lot of cash, Annabelle scares up big bucks, Nas: Box Office Gross Is Illmatic, you already know the obvious pun for Left Behind, and Other Box Office News.

by Callum Petch (Twitter: @CallumPetch)

Defying typical David Fincher luck, Gone Girl obliterated the weekend and took first place with $38 million in ticket sales.  Why do I say “defying typical David Fincher luck”?  Well, because David Fincher films do not open past the $20 million mark, the only exceptions being The Social Network (and even then just barely), The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button (which had Brad Pitt and enough crowd-pleasing Oscar bait schmaltz to drown kittens in) and the prior biggest opener Panic Room (which… OK, I’ve got nuthin’).  Plus, you know, the fact that the film is bleak and nihilistic and preposterous and nasty as all hell.  But, hey, it’s the date movie of the year!  I mean, I don’t know about you folks, but I find that films about psychopaths and sociopaths are just the most hopelessly romantic!

Anyways, the success of Gone Girl means that, for once, justice prevails at the box office!  My favourite film of the year so far managed to hold off blatant coat-tails riding cash-grab Annabelle, which entered in second with $37 million!  Admittedly, that is still extremely close and could lead to a switch in positions when the actuals come in, but I am going to pre-emptively do my happy dance jig right now, if you all don’t mind.  The fact that its opening is still massive and that it’s guaranteed to make crap tonnes due to it being the only horror movie out for the majority of October (Dracula Untold will bomb, just you watch) are both irrelevant.  Gone Girl came out on top!  Everything’s going to be OK, folks!  Everything is going to be OK.

Other films came out this past weekend, though, so we have to talk about them.  Left Behind, an adaptation of a faith-based book series starring noted religious man Nicholas Cage and directed by former stuntman Vic Armstrong, was resoundingly… you know what?  I am above the obvious joke that everyone else has already made, I draw the line at jokes this easy.  All I’ll say is that Left Behind took almost $7 million for sixth place.  Faring infinitely worse was the “mother of God, this trailer is so offensive and offensively treacly that a crazed homeless man could jump out of nowhere and scoop my eyeballs out of their sockets right now, and it would honestly be preferable to having to see the rest of this trailer or the film that it’s promoting” The Good Lie, which could only manage $935,000 from 461 screens despite Reese Witherspoon being somebody whose name we should all know.

Doing much better than both of those was the Bollywood epic (and I do mean “epic”) Bang Bang!, a remake of that world-famous and widely-revered Tom Cruise/Cameron Diaz vehicle Knight & Day that you all totally didn’t forget about 5 minutes after watching.  In any case, its 271 screens, as part of one of the biggest release roll-outs for a Bollywood movie ever, convinced $1.2 million worth of people to finally try this Bollywood thing they keep hearing so much about, the highest opening of the year for a Bollywood film in the US.  Faring much, much, much worse was the latest film from once bright directorial star Jason Reitman: Men, Women & Children, which has been absolutely savaged by critics, only managed to take $48,000 from 17 screens for a per-screen average of $2,824 which is horrible.  The film might do better when it expands nationwide in a few weeks, but that’s still two straight critical drubbings in the space of 10 months for Reitman.  Dude, what the f*ck has happened to you?

Finally before we get into the full list, Nas: Time Is Illmatic, a documentary about the creation of one of the greatest, if not the greatest, rap albums of all-time and the people behind it, managed to open to $23,200 from 2 screens.  I mention this purely for the reasons of I think that’s genuinely awesome and to tell you to listen to Illmatic right now if you haven’t yet.  In fact, listen to it even if you already know it front-to-back, it’s never not a good time to listen to that album!


XXX GONE-GIRL-MOV-JY-2007-.JPG A ENT

This Full List sneaks a uzi on the island in its army jacket lining.

Box Office Results: Friday 3rd October 2014 – Sunday 5th October 2014

1] Gone Girl

$38,000,000 / NEW

My review, in which I battled against an unrelenting cold and a desire to avoid spoiling anything to tell you why I think Gone Girl is the best film I have seen all year and likely will see all year.  Before anybody shouts “BUT INHERENT VICE HASN’T COME OUT AND CHANGED ANYONE’S LIVES YET” or some such like, UK release dates mean that films like Inherent Vice don’t make it over here until January because Americans just can’t get over that one time we forcibly colonised them.  In any case, no film has made me as excited about films and cinema and going to the cinema this year as Gone Girl did.  It’s going to be divisive, but I f*cking adore it and, for me, it’s the bar to clear for everything else this year.

2] Annabelle

$37,200,000 / NEW

I am so glad this comes out next week here.  Then I can finally stop hanging around outside cinema screens for films I want to see waiting for the trailers to finish in case this one starts up and gives my easily-scared self a heart-attack.  Instead, I’ll be hanging around outside cinema screens for films I want to see waiting for the trailers to finish so that other films I want to see aren’t spoilt for me; a totally legitimate reason for doing so.

3] The Equalizer

$19,000,000 / $64,500,000

Fine, I guess I’ll see this tomorrow or whatever.  I’m probably going to hate it, but at least then we’ll all know together!

4] The Boxtrolls

$12,425,000 / $32,539,000

A 28.1% drop between weekends, which is excellent.  Now, yes, considering the soft opening, that’s still a bit too much of a drop for my liking, but it’s actually really excellent.  Why?  Well, again, stop-motion animated films open soft anyway and a near 30% drop is rather expected between weekends for them, it’s better than ParaNorman’s near 40% plummet two years back and is equal to the fall that Wallace & Gromit: The Curse Of The Were-Rabbit took between weekends.  Boxtrolls will pass Frankenweenie by Friday in terms of total domestic grosses, it’s doing well overseas, and it may close closer to Tim Burton’s Corpse Bride than initially thought.  Overall, things are going to turn out alright for Laika.  I’ve got a good feeling about this!

5] The Maze Runner

$12,000,000 / $73,921,000

OK, then, Friday, bring on The Maze Runner.  I’m ready to give it a fair shot.  My expectations are low but my mind is willing to give the film a chance to win me over.  This is your shot, Maze Runner.  Impress me.

6] Left Behind

$6,850,000 / NEW

Yeah, I’ll just stick to watching The Leftovers, is that’s alright with everyone.

7] This Is Where I Leave You

$4,000,000 / $29,003,000

So… have we all come around to Arrested Development Season 4 yet?  Granted, I haven’t watched it since it came out (I have been busy, but I’d like to have a run back through all of Arrested Development yet again some point soon), but it fulfilled pretty much all of my expectations when I saw it; I spent pretty much three straight days in varying levels of hysterics with it.  That made my going online and seeing the bile-filed reception the season got from most people rather perplexing.  I mean, sure, it’s not as good as Season 2, but I ask you what else is?

Can you tell that I’m really reaching for stuff to talk about with regards to this film, cos I want to hold off on making any judgements until I’ve seen the thing for myself?

8] Dolphin Tale 2

$3,530,000 / $37,940,000

So, in preparation for finally seeing this in the very near-future, I watched the original over the weekend.  It’s an OK film, does exactly what it promises to do and not much more but I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that it did work for small stretches at a time.  It felt very much like a film that’s been pulled out of time and released in the early 2010s, specifically a time between 1993 and 1996.  Still have no idea what they can do for a sequel, mind, besides hit the exact same beats this one did but with diminishing returns.  I guess I’ll find out soon.

9] Guardians Of The Galaxy

$3,034,000 / $323,360,000

Well, it’s been an incredible 10 week run, but it’s time to say goodbye to the Guardians Of The Galaxy.  Next week sees the release of a sh*tty looking Dracula movie, an abysmal looking live-action Disney family film, and a mediocre looking Robert Downey Jr. starring piece of award bait.  But it’s not the quality that’s the point here, it’s the fact that they’ll be new films and that Guardians will be an 11 week old film that will hit home media in exactly two months from now.  Ah, well, it’s been fun!  Let’s play it out, shall we?

10] No Good Deed

$2,500,000 / $50,157,000

America, you could have seen anything else.  Almost quite literally anything else.  Just remember that fact.

Dropped Out: A Walk Among The Tombstones, Let’s Be Cops, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

Callum Petch never sleeps cos sleep is the cousin of death.  Follow him on the Twitters (@CallumPetch)!