Tag Archives: The Book Of Life

US Box Office Report: 14/11/14 – 16/11/14

Dumb and Dumber audiences turn up in droves for Dumb And Dumber To, Beyond The Lights exists an imaginary pile of cash, Christmas is doomed, and Other Box Office News.

by Callum Petch (Twitter: @CallumPetch)

Surprisingly, it turns out that the audience size for a sequel to Dumb & Dumber is about equal to that of the audience for a second week Disney film, which I genuinely did not see coming.  Dumb And Dumber To ended up taking the top spot this weekend with about $38 million in ticket sales, just $2 million more than what Big Hero 6 managed.  For those wondering, my surprise keeps alternating between “that many people turned up for a 20 years later sequel to Dumb And Dumber?” and “only that many people turned up for a 20 years later sequel to Dumb And Dumber?”  I dunno.  I’m in shock, I just don’t know what I’m in shock at.

In any case, unlike next week, there was more than one new release this weekend.  With regards to the wide releases, bottom of the pack was Beyond The Lights – a film whose trailer just caused me to vomit profusely in sickening anger – which could only manage a very mediocre $6.5 million from 1,800 screen for a distant fourth place.  Birdman continued its slow expansion nationwide and managed to crack the Top 10, albeit with about the same haul as last week but in more theatres.  Whiplash, meanwhile, continues to be punished for NOT BEING IN FRONT OF MY EYEBALLS RIGHT NOW DAMMIT by struggling to find a non-arthouse audience – its expansion to 441 theatres could only manage $801,000.

In limited release land, we have a pair of successes, an OK performer, and a hilarious failure in more ways than one.  Most successful of the lot was the speculative fiction drama Foxcatcher which rode a near-literal wave of buzz and good press to a weekend total of $288,000 from six theatres – a ridiculous per-screen average of $48,000.  Performing much less great than that – but still great, it must be said – is the Tommy Lee Jones-directed western drama The Homesman which managed a very respectable $48,000 from 4 screens for a $12,000 per-screen average.  Whilst in expanding news, The Theory Of Everything infected another 36 theatres and raked in an average of $18,000 from each of them.  Yes, I do think that film looks insufferable, don’t act surprised.

Elsewhere, John Stewart of The Daily Show (as every mention of his name must be suffixed with by royal decree) released his directorial debut this past weekend and Rosewater did… OK.  It managed $1.2 million from 371 theatres for a per-screen average of $3,325, which is OK.  Not great, not poor, OK.  It’s fine, could’ve been better but still enough to crack the Top 15.  Much less OK, and more closer to straight up “bomb” territory, was Saving Christmas which could only manage $1,012,000 from 410 screens for a dismal $2,468 per-screen average.  This means that either Americans don’t give a sh*t about the threat that faces Christmas, or that stoners who want to laugh at inept entertainment with no redeemable value except MST3K sessions were too busy staying at home watching Adult Swim.  In either case, America is doomed.

Oh, and The Book Of Life collapsed out of the Top 10 because you people hate good movies.


dumb and dumber to

This Full List is Dumberer than the other box office reports you could be reading elsewhere.  Also, it just reminded you that Dumb And Dumberer: When Harry Met Lloyd existed and now you hate life.

Box Office Results: Friday 14th November 2014 – Sunday 16th November 2014

1] Dumb And Dumber To

$38,053,000 / NEW

So the film that my Secondary School Physics teacher would throw on almost quite literally whenever he couldn’t be bothered to teach us finally got a sequel, eh?  Well, if it leads to a late-career resurgence for Jim Carrey then I won’t complain.  I still really like Jim Carrey and that streak he had in the mid-to-late 90s still predominately holds up!  I’d like to see him get one last run at the spotlight.

2] Big Hero 6

$36,010,000 / $111,653,000

There are people on this world that do not like The Emperor’s New Groove.  I do not know who these people are or why they are incapable of experiencing joy, but they exist and I want nothing to do with them.  I defy you to watch scenes like this, or this, or this without cracking a smile at least once – I think science has deemed doing so to be physically impossible.

3] Interstellar

$29,190,000 / $97,810,000

Not too bad a drop, quite frankly, especially considering the near-non-stop toxic word-of-mouth on this thing.  Look, folks, I am not Interstellar’s biggest fan either – I barely think it’s good, even if I did enjoy it – but maybe calm the vitriol somewhat, eh?  It’s not the worst film ever, it’s nowhere near the worst film this year!  It’s just a rather disappointing mess that tried to do too much and failed in its lofty ambitions.  Perspective, people!

Now, if you wanna talk Worst Film Of The Year candidates, let me talk to you about Nativity! 3: Dude, Where’s My Donkey?!

4] Beyond The Lights

$6,500,000 / NEW

Will this be the next Ride Along or the next Obsessed?  Well, which do you think it’s going to be?  Come on.

5] Gone Girl

$4,625,000 / $152,699,000

Rosamund Pike is not going to get a Best Actress nomination, is she?  Let’s get real, we all know that the Academy are not going to go for Gone Girl, despite the fact that I still haven’t seen anything that comes even slightly close to its level so far this year.  Since we all know that Scarlett Johannson getting a Best Actress nomination – let alone deservedly running away with the statue before the nominees have even been announced – for Under The Skin isn’t happening, Pike would have been my backup “I approve” choice.  But, again, getting realistic, that probably isn’t going to happen.  Siiiigh…

6] St. Vincent

$4,025,000 / $33,258,000

You should really listen to St. Vincent’s self-titled album if you haven’t already.  It’s one of the best albums of the year.

7] Fury

$3,810,000 / $75,941,000

I… err… don’t really have anything to put here.  What can I say?  Not every film has an endless bountiful stream of material to mine on a week-by-week basis.  And so it goes.

8] Nightcrawler

$3,038,000 / $25,000,000

Going back to the cinema to see this again on Tuesday.  I’ve wanted to go and see it again for a good while now, but I have just been way too busy and way too swamped.  Bright side: cinema screen should basically be empty!  Woo!  In the meanwhile, and on a related note, Matt Lambourne has a short piece on why we are all to blame for his crappy movie choices up on the site if you have a spare five minutes.

9] Ouija

$3,025,000 / $48,105,000

Oh, just fuck off.

10] Birdman

$2,450,000 / $11,575,000

As I mentioned last week, this doesn’t hit the UK until January.  You know what else I found out doesn’t hit the UK until next year?  Chris Rock’s Top Five which looks brilliant and doesn’t get here until MarchMARCH.  I’ll tell you right now, Penguins Of Madagascar better be next-level amazing because it’s the sole thing making up for this incredibly dull-looking Rest Of 2014 Schedule for me.

Dropped Out: John Wick, Alexander And The Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day, The Book Of Life

Callum Petch is the only one in the only world.  Follow him on the Twitters (@CallumPetch) and listen to Screen 1 on Hullfire Radio every Monday at 9PM BST (site link)!

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US Box Office Report: 7/11/14 – 9/11/14

Interstellar’s opening isn’t so stellar, Big Hero $56 million, The Theory Of Everything lacks an easy pun for this headline, and Other Box Office News.

by Callum Petch (Twitter: @CallumPetch)

A lot of people, myself included, felt that Disney were signing Big Hero 6’s death warrant when they chose to schedule it directly against Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar.  I mean, it’s Christopher Nolan!  You all have seen how much his last films made, right?  I get the idea of counter-programming, but Nolan films are events, and you, Disney, have only just solidified your second renaissance!  Are you insane?!  Those fears, however, conveniently forgot one key part of this equation: Disney always wins.  Disney.  Always.  Wins.  No matter how long it takes, no matter the force against them; Disney will always win.

And win they did, quite handily at that.  Big Hero 6 opened in first at an excellent $56 million estimated, the second biggest opening for an animated film in 2014 only behind The Lego MovieInterstellar had to settle for an estimated $50 million, one that more than likely will not hold when the actuals come in, which puts it below Inception, Gravity and even Prometheus – as Box Office Mojo notes, likely whilst applying salt liberally to the film’s various wounds.  If one were to include Wednesday and Thursday IMAX-only screenings, then the total would rise to $52 million, but we don’t include such cheat tactics around these here parts!  This is the weekend Box Office Report and, last I checked, the weekend doesn’t include Wednesday or Thursday!  Nice try, Nolan!  Thanks for playing!

Activity elsewhere on the chart is limited, as seemingly everybody else realised that they have better things to do than be crushed by Disney and Nolan and so got the hell out of dodge whilst they were still able to do so.  The one major release was the none-more-blatant piece of awards bait known as The Theory Of Everything, in which Eddie Redmayne metaphorically gets down on his hands and knees and begs for awards by playing Stephen Hawking in a biopic about his life.  So, naturally, the film also did pretty great in limited release, as folks cued up to have an opinion to spout come Oscars time, taking $207,000 from 5 screens for a $41,400 per-screen average.

That just leaves a trio of documentaries that were likely dumped here because all the prime spots on the release schedule were taken.  Doing the best in terms of pure gross, primarily because it played in the most amount of theatres, was On Any Sunday: The Next Chapter, a pseudo-sequel to the 1971 Steve McQueen-fronted doc, which took $344,000 from 231 screens (for a per-screen average of $1,489) full of people with nothing better to do that given Sunday.  Next, and most successful in terms of per-screen gross, was National Gallery which made $9,700 from 1 theatre full of people who couldn’t be arsed to just book a plane ticket to London and see the place in person.  Finally, Death Metal Angola, about soft rock in the Maldives, made $2,500 from 1 screen populated with people who had a very strangely specific urge that needed scratching.


big hero 6

This Full List is really rather pissed that Big Hero 6 is giving the UK a miss.  Hey, that rhymed sorta!

Box Office Results: Friday 7th November 2014 – Sunday 9th November 2014

1] Big Hero 6

$56,200,000 / NEW

Yup, you heard that right!  Big Hero 6 doesn’t hit the UK until January of next year, adding to a pile that already includes Whiplash, John Wick, Inherent Vice, Birdman, Foxcatcher and a hell of a lot more.  That also means that the only film I’m really excited for from now until the end of the year is – and I kid you not here – Penguins Of Madagascar.  Look, American studio execs, I get that you want to capitalise on the inevitable awards hype that all of these films are going to get, and I get that we forcibly colonised your country one f*cking time, but come on!  There are giant empty gaps in our release schedules that are being plugged with dreck like a third goddamn Nativity movie!  You can do better, dammit!

2] Interstellar

$50,000,000 / $52,151,000 / NEW

Owen has reviewed it here because I am way too busy to crank out a review right now.  But also because, honestly, I’m still not quite sure what to think of it.  I did enjoy it, but the film is incredibly fatally flawed in ways that are too numerous and lengthy to explain here.  I’ll try and find time go into detail on it at some point, but for now I will say that Hans Zimmer’s score is absolutely atrocious, like a church orchestra that’s being disembowelled and expressing the feelings of said disembowelling via their instruments as they slowly bleed out.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that “overwrought” doesn’t even begin to cover it, and I’m pretty sure the guy in charge of the organ dropped dead at some point and nobody bothered to move his corpse from the keys he face-planted.

3] Gone Girl

$6,100,000 / $145,428,000

I have a friend who works at a cinema and she managed to snag me a Gone Girl poster from work today.  I have good friends.

4] Ouija

$6,017,000 / $43,472,000

The fact that this hasn’t sunk like a stone since its release genuinely confuses the hell out of me.  Like, nobody liked this one, critics and audiences, so who’s still going to this?

5] St. Vincent

$5,707,000 / $27,356,000

Chris O’Dowd’s slow breakthrough into America is one of the more bewildering things that I have come across recently.  I mean this in a good way, for once, though.  I like Chris O’Dowd, I think he’s a funny actor – although Moone Boy did quite literally nothing for me – but I thought he’d be an exclusively British thing.  You know, like how Steve Coogan has never broken through into the US despite being STEVE F*CKING COOGAN?

6] Nightcrawler

$5,512,000 / $19,756,000

OUCH.  I mean, I really should’ve seen this coming, Nightcrawler is not exactly the kind of film that will sit well with general audiences, but still.  This really isn’t the fate that one of the year’s best films deserves.  It might survive next week, as Dumb And Dumber To is the only wide release that will make money, but this still deserves way more love.  If you’ve yet to see it, go now!

7] Fury

$5,500,000 / $69,268,000

This was pretty darn great.  Took a while to warm up and ultimately didn’t do much that many other war dramas haven’t already done better, but its cast is great, its individual scenes are really good, and the whole is the sum of its pretty good parts.  Glad to see that Sabotage appeared to be a fluke for David Ayer after all!

8] John Wick

$4,075,000 / $34,745,000

Wha…?  Huh…?  Wh…?  IT’S JOHN WICK, YOU GUYS!!  I don’t even know you people anymore.

9] Alexander And The Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

$3,495,000 / $59,208,000

Yes, I did end up seeing this.  No, it wasn’t awful.  I mean, it’s not that good, but it is pacey, incredibly earnest, and has committed performances from a game cast.  It’s that earnestness that keeps it from being an intolerable slog, because the film is that happy and sincere that it overwhelms any cynical boundaries.  It’s not a good film, we can’t forget that, but it’s not an awful one so I’m willing to chalk this up as the most minor win possible.

10] The Book Of Life

$2,800,000 / $45,215,000

This has yet to cross $80 million worldwide.  Why do you people hate nice things?

Dropped Out: The Judge, Dracula Untold

Callum Petch asked her for her number all the same.  Follow him on the Twitters (@CallumPetch)!

The Book Of Life

Exquisitely gorgeous, full of heart and refreshingly free of pop-culture gags, The Book Of Life is only kept from excellency by rushing its finale.

by Callum Petch (Twitter: @CallumPetch)

book of life 3I am not going to waste any time or beat around any bushes, so let’s get straight to the point: it’s good.  It’s really good.  I went into The Book Of Life with unreasonable expectations, as anyone who follows my Twitter will more than know, and yet this film managed to fulfil them near-totally for so much of its runtime.  It is incredibly beautiful, in both the visual and metaphorical sense as the film’s sublimely wonderful visuals are complimented at every turn by strong characters in a story whose formulaic beats are spruced up and justified by said strong character work and that Mexican aesthetic influencing a lot of the film, not just visually.

I’ll get to my one issue in a short while.  For now: our plot, related to us by a museum tour guide (Christina Applegate) looking after detention kids, tells the tale of three childhood friends: heartfelt and peaceful wannabe singer Manolo (Diego Luna), swashbuckling Joaquín (Channing Tatum), and the girl they are both also openly in love with, María (Zoe Saldana).  They end up becoming the participants in a bet made between the rulers of the festive and wonderful Land Of The Remembered, in La Muerte’s (Kate del Castillo) case, and the desolate and rotting Land Of The Forgotten, in her husband Xibalba’s (Ron Pearlman) case; a bet over which boy will end up marrying María and with control over each ruler’s respective lands and the ability to meddle in the affairs of humans on the line.

Said bet ends up lasting a good decade after María is forcibly sent off to a boarding school in Spain.  During their time apart, Manolo is forced by his father to take up the family tradition and become a bullfighter, albeit one who morally objects to killing the bull.  Joaquín, meanwhile, has become a well-renowned defender of the people throughout Mexico, thanks to a special medal that Xibalba gave him at the outset of the bet that makes the wearer invulnerable, in a desperate attempt to live up to his famous father.  The return of María also heralds the return of Joaquín to their village and the re-igniting of the relatively friendly competition to win the hand of their childhood sweetheart, with the situation being complicated by María’s father attempting to forcefully arrange a marriage between his daughter and Joaquín, in an attempt to keep the latter around to defend the town from bandits, and the fact that Xibalba is a very poor sportsman.

Now, yes, this set-up does carry worrying overtones that we should be rooting for María to get with The Right Man, seeing as there are worrying stakes at hand if she picks wrong.  Fortunately, although it doesn’t do so overtly, The Book Of Life cuts off any such unfortunate implications by making all involved participants well-drawn and consistent characters and keeping Xibalba as a trickster and overly competitive entity who has no actual malicious plans for The Land Of The Remembered.  So whilst the central tenant of the film is in hoping that Manolo ends up with María, it comes from Manolo and María being right for one another, chemistry and all that.

That is not to say, however, that the film demonises Joaquín.  There is a point where it seems like it will go that way, there’s a reunion dinner with María where Joaquín accidentally comes off as a sexist pig (don’t worry, the film is aware of this fact), but it keeps these moments in moderation.  Joaquín is flawed, but not horrible.  He’s a little ego-centric and macho, but he also has deep-seated insecurity issues and is still fundamentally a good person, still remaining friends with Manolo deep-down even when their battle for María’s affections overrides common sense, and really not buying into the whole arranged marriage deal.  Again: flawed, not horrible.

The main trio are all extremely well-rounded and well-defined characters whose bond is believeable and whose personality traits are consistent and well-conveyed – a small early scene of them as kids trying to stylishly get to the bottom of some street steps has María slide down the railing, Joaquín jump from the top step to the bottom step in one fluid flip motion, and Manolo trips and falls flat on his face but doesn’t let his failed attempt at being cool get him down.  And that’s what drive the story, the characters.  Admittedly, María doesn’t get quite the level of development that Manolo and Joaquín do – most likely caused by the film’s big problem that we’ll get to in due course – whilst Xibalba and La Muerte’s marriage isn’t quite fleshed out enough for my liking, but these didn’t start becoming an issue for me until after the credits had rolled.

There’s real heart bleeding out of every facet of this film, which is what makes its more formulaic moments easier to accept and swallow.  The standard plot beats are occasionally hit, with the frequency of said hitting going up as the film progresses, but the film is so sincere in its deployment of them – not once does it feel like they’re being hit because that’s how successful animated films are supposed to go – that they work.  More than nearly any other animated film that I have seen this year, The Book Of Life feels like a labour of love.  Practically everything in this film is done because its main creative force, first-time feature-film director Jorge R. Gutiérrez (best known as the co-creator of the short-lived and criminally underrated Nickelodeon cartoon El Tigre: The Adventures Of Manny Rivera), wished it so.  Or, at least, that’s the impression I got.

Especially from the jokes.  Now, disregard what other critics have said, the film’s jokes are not heavily steeped in pop culture.  When they say that, they are likely referring to the film’s soundtrack and one particular scene that takes its cues from said soundtrack.  See, the film’s soundtrack primarily consists of Mexican-style covers of songs from non-Mexican countries and one scene involves Manolo’s friends trying to help him romantically serenade María, but the friends keep playing songs that are decidedly un-romantic, like Biz Markie.  Now, admittedly, on one level, the joke is “we all know that Biz Markie song!”  But the joke goes deeper than that, instead also working to show that Manolo’s friends (who disappear from the film shortly after this scene, endemic of a larger pacing problem I’ll get to soon) have no concept of romance and no real understanding of the songs they’re singing.  It’s a pop culture joke rooted in character work.

It’s also practically the only time that pop culture gags invade the film, or at least to such a blatant degree.  Most of the jokes are of the fast-paced physical humour variety, with plenty of sight gags, one-liners and facial reactions thrown in for good measure.  The film’s best gags, though, compliment the mood without overpowering it.  As an example, an otherwise sad scene caused by Manolo’s public refusal to kill a bull has a quick cut to the bull itself shaking its head disapprovingly at him before slinking off.  Whilst the film’s most unquestionably heart-breaking scene gets two cuts back to the kids being told the story reacting with the exact kind of “This story is messed up, we’re kids!” reaction that I imagine a lot of younger audience members might be going through.  Neither one ruins the intended mood, they instead enhance it, providing a counterbalance without coming off as obnoxious or ill-fitting.

Going back to the soundtrack, there is a full-on score by Gustavo Santaolalla, but it’s relatively generic and fades into the background.  The pop songs will be what sticks out, be they original (which are fine, but rather unmemorable), or covers.  Both are highly influenced or re-worked to have a distinct Mexican flavour.  For example, Mumford & Sons.’ plodding, coldly-calculated-for-radio-and-festival-playing “I Will Wait” is transformed into a cheery, bouncy number just bursting with knowingly cheesy energy, whilst “Creep” by Radiohead is played as straight as humanly possible with a near-total lack of awareness to the actual meaning of “Creep”’s lyrics that almost works.  Also, a very minor remix of “The Ecstasy Of Gold” backs Manolo’s bullfight and that song can make pretty much anything amazing.  I dug the soundtrack, even the out-of-place, but not-unwelcome, deployment of Le Tigre at the very beginning.

As for the animation…  the only words that I feel get close to my thoughts on it can be arranged in an order that reads “best looking animated film all year”.  It’s all down to the outstanding art direction and character designs.  Almost every shot practically bursts with colour and little individual details that once again demonstrate the sheer amount of heart put into the film.  It’s a distinct visual palette that genuinely looks like nothing else on the animated market right now and lets the film get away with the occasional cost-cutting measure, like making a foregrounded crowd that our heroes ride past at a very high speed a dark blob that resembles a foreground prop in a puppet show, because it absolutely fits the storybook aesthetic of the film.

Speaking of, the story that the kids are told is illustrated in their world with little wooden figurines, which is also how that part of the story is presented to us viewers, wooden figurines whose joints, boxy edges and paint lines are clearly visible – I may have even seen some scuff marks at points, too – and the effect is just delightful.  It’s unique in the most wonderful way, a look that takes full advantage of the visual treats that animation can provide, and I haven’t even described how cold and desolate The Land Of The Forgotten is in comparison to the you-need-to-see-it-for-yourself Land Of The Remembered.  This is one of the best looking animated films that I have ever seen, almost all thanks to outstanding visual design, and I wish I had a Blu-Ray of the film right now so’s I can appreciate its beauty in all of its majestic glory on my terms.

In fact, just feast your eyes upon the character design for La Muerte and the sheer detail that went into it.  Yes, that is skin designed to resemble sugar, representing the candy skulls synonymous with the Day Of The Dead.  Study it real hard.  The whole film looks that outstanding.

book of life

So, it’s funny, it’s heartfelt, exquisitely and unfathomably gorgeous, and full of characters with depth and personality.  Where’s the kicker?  I’ve been building up through this review that The Book Of Life has one central overriding problem that keeps it from excellency and it’s about time to reveal it.  See, by the time we get to The Land Of The Remembered, an aspect that a lot of the marketing has been based around (understandable, the place is stunningly beautiful), the film is about 50 minutes to an hour done.  The film runs a strict 95 minutes, and that includes credits.  I think you already know where I’m headed with this.

It’s not that those first 50 or so are too slow or anything – if anything, they are absolutely perfectly paced – it’s that the remaining 45 are way too fast.  As soon as we enter The Land Of The Remembered, the film screams its way through plot point and character and beat after plot point and character and beat with pretty much no breathing room.  You know those pauses in a well-paced film, where the action slows down and lets the viewer get their bearings on events and deepen characters before the next big segment happens?  Those are present in the first 50 or so minutes, but they are pretty much gone in that last third.

Consequently, many scenes are robbed of much of the impact that they would have had – most jarring of which is a reunion that should have been emotionally devastating, but instead carries zero weight because the film screeches past any of that potential weight, as if it looked at the clock and realised how little time it has left.  It’s the equivalent of taking a drive to the supermarket in your dependable low-cost Corsa only for it to, at the two-thirds mark, suddenly switch into a Lamborghini without warning and your steady peddle work now translates to 200MPH all the time.

It doesn’t feel like a creative decision, either; I got the impression that this part of the film was edited to hell and back, as if studio interference from upon high decreed that “animated films rarely last longer than 90 minutes, so we’re cutting your mics in 30, OK?”  Maybe the budget ran out, maybe there are significant half-finished scenes on the cutting room floor waiting for a release on home media, maybe it really was a creative decision designed to get us just as confused and “taking it all in at once” as the character we’re following – I don’t know.  What I do know is that the film needed to be longer.  It needed those gaps, those pauses, and it could have gotten them if the film were longer, even if it were just by 5 or 10 minutes.

There’s also the relatively minor issue of Chakal, the film’s true Big Bad.  Yes, there actually is one and the reason I forgot to mention this is because he feels nearly-completely ancillary to the film.  Oh, sure, his reputation and presence in the world are necessary, but his actual appearance in the finale and the way the film deals with him, as well as the complete and total lack of any character other than his name, feels… pointless?  It does give a very good pay off to everyone’s arcs and little plot teases set up at various points, but his actual turning up carries pretty much no weight.  It could have just been a horde of his bandit minions and the effect would have been the same.  Instead, he turns up presumably because these films need a Final Boss and, as mentioned, Xibalba isn’t truly evil, so he fits the bill.  Again, his total lack of character is what hurts him; I remember exactly zero things about him as I type these words.

So it doesn’t quite stick the landing as well as it should, but otherwise The Book Of Life is a full-on triumph.  Considering the fact that I had such unreasonable expectations for the thing prior to its release, the fact that I am 80% satisfied with it could probably and not unfairly be considered a goddamn miracle.  But I am.  I am very much satisfied and happy with The Book Of Life.  If its last third weren’t so rushed, this would be the best animated film of the year.  As it stands, though, “very funny, indescribably beautiful, and bursting with heart” is still an opinion-summing up to be very proud of.  I hope Jorge R. Gutiérrez has many more animated features planned for further down the pipeline because his creative voice, as also proven by his co-creating work on El Tigre, is one that this medium needs to hear more of as soon as possible.

Callum Petch is a gasoline gut with a Vaseline mind.  Follow him on the Twitters (@CallumPetch)!

US Box Office Report: 24/10/14 – 26/10/14

Ouija makes contact with idiot spirits who have money to burn, St. Vincent is the kind of clown that’s crying on the inside, Laggies doesn’t lag behind, John Wick underwhelms goddammit, and Other Box Office News.

by Callum Petch (Twitter: @CallumPetch)

The world is a cruel, horrible, and uncaring place where anything good will fail miserably whilst anything bad rakes in the cash hand-over-fist.  That’s my theory, in any case, as to why Ouija triumphed over John Wick at the box office this weekend.  The former, a strongly-marketed PG-13 horror film with dreadful reviews released near-Halloween to capitalise on a seasonal desire to be spooked in some way, took first place with $20 million in ticket sales.  The latter, a lightly-marketed R-rated action film with excellent reviews slotted into a free weekend of a ridiculously cramped release schedule, took second place with $14 million in ticket sales.  Sure, you could point to other factors that would cause a film like John Wick to underwhelm, but I’m sticking with my initial conclusion: people suck.

Ah, well.  At least John Wick wasn’t 23 Blast, the faith-based sports biopic about Larry Freeman, a man who lost his eyesight but still managed to go on and play in the NFL anyway.  That film got its start in 617 theatres, maybe even had big aspirations as to overall total gross and its standing in life, only to have them snatched away from it by a cruel, uncaring public.  It only managed to make $402,000, making its opening weekend the 11th worst for any wide release film ever, and with a dismal $652 per-screen average to boot.  This would be the point where I make cruel tasteless jokes at the film’s expense, but I find this just too sad to crack wise at.  On the bright side, it still opened better than last week’s Men, Women & Children.  So at least it has that going for it.

In limited release news, Laggies, the new film from Lynne Shelton which has been renamed to Say When in the UK for some reason, got its start in 5 theatres and banked a respectable $78,500 – for a per-screen average of $15,700.  Citizenfour, a documentary about Edward Snowden and the NSA spying scandal, did much better, managing to confiscate itself $125,000 from 5 screens worth of people who fancied a change of pace; one has their limits when it comes to buzzed-about Indie Dramedies, after all.  Meanwhile, Studio Ghibli’s The Tale Of The Princess Kaguya expanded to 20 theatres and raked in a far less impressive $63,500, for a per-screen average of $3,175, as a sad reminder that most people don’t seem to give a sh*t about Ghibli if the film isn’t made by Miyazaki.  Dammit.

Finally, we have multiple expanders, the most successful of which was the Bill Murray-led St. Vincent.  Admittedly, it’s the only one that went nationwide and boats the advantage of having Bill Murray in the lead role, but it still managed to crack the Top 10 with $8 million in ticket sales.  Whiplash, which I want in my life now DAMMIT, added 25 more theatres to its slow conquest of America and managed a decent $266,000 from all 46 of them.  The provocative Dear White People, which still looks amazing and still doesn’t have a UK release date for NO GODDAMN REASON, jumped up to 384 screens and finished with a much more down-to-earth and expected total of $1,384,000.   Birdman, meanwhile, expanded to 50 screens and did exactly as well as a film like Birdman is expected to do – $1,436,000 and a per-screen average of $28,720.


ouija 2

This Full List was a final gift from John Wick’s dying wife.

Box Office Results: Friday 24th October 2014 – Sunday 26th October 2014

1] Ouija

$20,006,000 / NEW

This seems like as good a time as any to tell Owen that I will not be coming into “work” for a week commencing on January 23rd.  That’s when Saints Row: Gat Out Of Hell comes out and I sequester myself away from the world for a straight week to do nothing but play it.  I live for the simple things, like a new Saints Row with an increased focus on Kinzie Kensington, the greatest character in anything ever.  So, yeah, sorry Owen.  Can’t say you weren’t notified, though!

2] John Wick

$14,150,000 / NEW

This is no longer coming out in the UK this year.  I have to wait until January 2nd to watch John Wick.  This was NOT THE GODDAMN DEAL, LIONSGATE!!  I was supposed to get John Wick at Christmas!  It was all-but-guaranteed a spot on my Top 10 of 2014!  To withhold it until next year is evil, ya hear?!  Pure evil!  HOW COULD YOU DO THIS TO ME?!  (*goes on like this for another 5 or 6 pages*)

3] Fury

$13,000,000 / $46,050,000

OK, that’s not a good hold at all.  Considering the star attached to it, the level of advertising that it’s received, and the fact that pretty much nothing came out this week, this should have held better than a 45% drop.  Owen’s review went live last Tuesday if you want to know if there’s a reason as to why few came back for repeat showings.

4] Gone Girl

$11,100,000 / $124,093,000

Battle lines have been drawn in my Film Studies course over Gone Girl.  You either love it, like I and several students do, or you hate it, like most of our lecturers seem to.  If this doesn’t end with a full-on all-out war, then I am going to be sorely disappointed.  At least I know that I will be on the right side of history if everything does kick off!

5] The Book Of Life

$9,800,000 / $29,913,000

Of course I saw it this weekend, who do you think I am?  The only reason as to why I haven’t reviewed it yet is quite simply because I haven’t had the time.  It’ll be up by Wednesday at the latest.  Short version: really good, best looking animated film I have seen all year, last 30 minutes are incredibly rushed.  It absolutely needs to be seen, definitely way more than it currently is.  If you’re still on the fence though, quite rightly believing that my opinion means sh*t, then know that the film is Lauren Faust and Craig McCracken approved!

6] St. Vincent

$8,058,000 / $9,189,000

There’s a part of me that wants to just talk about the music of Annie Clark instead, but I get the feeling that this one is going to hang around next week, so I’ll hold off on bombarding you with links until then.  You should listen to St. Vincent anyway, though.

7] Alexander And The Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

$7,023,000 / $45,544,000

So I was all set to see this Saturday but, before I’d even set off for the cinema, the screening I was planning on going to had sold out.  That came as a surprise, but rest assured that I will be seeing this at my next free occurrence, which is Wednesday!  I may accidentally miss awards bait dramas, I may miss horror flicks, and I may even accidentally miss awful-looking action flicks, but I shall never miss an insufferable looking live-action family film!  That’s just not my style!

8] The Best Of Me

$4,736,000 / $17,663,000

…THE BEST, THE BEST, THE BEST, THE BEST, THE BEST, THE BEST, THE BEST, THE BEST, THE BEST, THE BEST, THE BEST, THE BEST, THE BEST…

9] The Judge

$4,345,000 / $34,377,000

Yeah, I ended up missing this one.  I was too busy in its opening week and all showings were pulled this week at my Cineworld, so that was the end of that.  I could have gone to a different cinema and paid money, but my remaining cash went to My Little Pony: Equestria Girls: Rainbow Rocks (review here) and bis gig tickets and like f*ck am I willingly spending money on this cure for insomnia!  So, goodbye, The Judge!  At least be glad that I didn’t make any Arrested Development references during your stay!  That takes restraint!

10] Dracula Untold

$4,302,000 / $48,328,000

… … … …nope.  Can’t do it.  Can’t let The Judge escape without an Arrested Development reference.  Hit it, William Hung & His Hung Jury!

Dropped Out: Annabelle, The Equalizer, The Maze Runner

Callum Petch don’t care if we never come back from the night.  Follow him on the Twitters (@CallumPetch)!

My Little Pony: Equestria Girls: Rainbow Rocks

It lacks the surprise “this actually works!” factor of the original, but My Little Pony: Equestria Girls: Rainbow Rocks is otherwise a better film in every respect.

by Callum Petch (Twitter: @CallumPetch)

mlp1I really like the first Equestria Girls.  I liked it enough to actually put it on my Top 10 Films of 2013 list in the #10 slot with 47 Ronin (which is always reserved for the nicest surprise I’ve had all film-going year).  I will, however, admit a fair bit of that liking came from the sheer surprise that it actually worked at all.  As a big fan of My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic, I entered very much worried that the film was just going to be a cash-in, as Hasbro threw the well-respected Friendship Is Magic licence under the bus in search of that sweet sweet Monster High money.  To find the film worked at all, let alone as well as it did, was very much a nice surprise.  It’s not brilliant, it’s too fast-paced and lacks material for much of its cast, but it is very fun and very good.

Rainbow Rocks, which arrives just over a year after the original film, is therefore at the disadvantage of not having the “holy crap, this actually works” card to fall back on for any of its flaws.  Like it or not, the film now has to stand on its own merits.  That’s pretty much the only disadvantage that the film has, though, as Rainbow Rocks is a better film than Equestria Girls in almost every single possible way.  In fact, it’s way more than that.  It’s one of the best animated films of the whole year.  Admittedly, that doesn’t sound like much, what with 2014 being a rather miserable year for animation, but it’s still worthy of the level of respect that such a statement usually holds.

We’re a while removed from the first Equestria Girls, and Canterlot High is getting ready for its first ever musical showcase, which the remaining human members of the Mane Six – Rainbow Dash (Ashleigh Ball), Applejack (also Ashleigh Ball), Pinkie Pie (Andrea Libman), Fluttershy (also Andrea Libman) and Rarity (Tabitha St. Germain) – have started a band to perform in.  Filling in the Twilight Sparkle (Tara Strong) shaped hole in the group is the recently reformed Sunset Shimmer (Rebecca Shoichet) who is finding it hard to integrate into the group and find acceptance at school after the whole “being evil” thing.  But all is not well, for the school has been infiltrated by three Sirens that were banished from Equestria – now taking the human forms of their leader Adagio Dazzle (Kazumi Evans), the airheaded Sonata Dusk (Marÿke Hendrikse), and the permanently irritated Aria Blaze (Diana Kaarina) – who gain power by planting discord and anger in others through their singing.  Realising that the Sirens are up to something, our heroes send a message to Equestria to try and get Twilight to come and help.

One may notice that that summary contained a hefty lack of Twilight Sparkle, a key segment of the character dynamics and the main protagonist of the first film.  That’s actually one of Rainbow Rocks’ many strokes of genius.  Twilight is not the main character, this time.  In fact, she doesn’t even enter the film until about the halfway mark, and even then she’s pushed a bit more to the back than before.  The film instead focuses more on the rest of the main ensemble, the point being to show how these human versions of the pony cast interact with each other as friends without Twilight.  It gives them more of a spotlight, lets the viewer see them as full-on characters, and allows one to relate and love them on levels that aren’t tied to residual love for their pony incarnations, which is why the emotional stakes of the film end up carrying genuine weight this time around.

The other reason for the film’s sliding of Twilight into the “co-lead” position is the film’s best choice: Sunset Shimmer is our main protagonist.  That’s not to say that the rest of the ensemble get left out, on the contrary, but most of the film is viewed from her perspective and its most prominent, not to mention best, plotline revolves around her trying to atone for her many past sins and trying to gain acceptance from other people.  To put it simply; anybody who found, like I did, the main cast’s sudden forgiveness of her at the end of the first film to be extremely unearned for a character who, up until that point, had shown no reason for sympathy or forgiveness should find this more than enough of a course correct.

It, like the best moments of the show it’s spun-off from, taps into real insecurities and worries and feeds them through a character who is very easy to like.  Sunset is somebody who is desperately trying and wanting to change, wanting to become a good person who helps her friends and does the right thing, but she can’t escape her past because nobody will let her forget it.  Even her new and only friends keep inadvertently bringing it up regularly enough for her to be used to it.  Her attempts to fit in, to gather up the courage to help out, and to completely believe that she really is capable of change are extremely well handled, able to be played for big laughs and quiet emotional nuance in equal measure, and it is the best part of the film.  Credit needs to be given to both Meghan McCarthy’s excellent script and Rebecca Shoichet’s brilliant vocal work; they’ve turned a mediocre character who had pretty much no redeeming qualities into somebody I’d like to see more of whenever possible.

Speaking of that script, this is a far better paced film than the first Equestria Girls was.  Whilst that film raced through plot point after plot point, whilst still finding time to work in a whole bunch of character beats to keep it from feeling like a soulless exercise in plot, Rainbow Rocks has much less plot than the first one.  Much of it was actually summarised in that paragraph a while back, and the film is structured in such a way that we get far more time with the cast of characters to make its emotional beats register that much more.  The first film had to tell a story and set-up the world, but the second one is able to relax and breathe more, so it feels like I’ve been able to immerse myself more in Equestria Girls’ dimension than I did the first time.  Nothing is rushed, nothing feels forced excepting one bit in the finale; it all feels natural.

On that note, the humour is less pronounced this time.  Don’t get me wrong, it is still a very funny movie, it’s just that the jokes are much lower-key.  There’s a lack of giant laughs, although they do exist – one is a brilliant self-acknowledgement of how conflicts in the series tend to resolve without it devaluing said thing, another involves the appearance of one of Season 4 of the original show’s best one-shot characters – but the joke ratio is still high, coming from character traits and certain turns of phrase rather than extended sequences of Twilight trying to act like a person.  It fits, the laughs complimenting on-screen events instead of overpowering them.

Animation is great, considering the limitations of Flash.  Due to the restrictive nature of the technology, one shouldn’t expect anything close to the levels of How To Train Your Dragon 2 or The Book Of Life but it’s still very good regardless; director Jayson Thiessen and the folks over at DHX really mastering this form and pushing it to its apparent limits.  Character designs are distinctive without being off-putting, specifically the anthropomorphic features that the main cast take on at points are slightly less pronounced and therefore less awkward than before, whilst the colour scheme is bright and breezy, to a degree that can come across as excessive, but tempers its primary tendencies with good deployment of shades to add an actual spectrum and variety to proceedings.

Camerawork and perspectives are vastly improved, too; there are multiple instances of dollying, focus-shifting and perspective switching – manipulating the camera in a two-dimensional plane in a way that gives off the illusion of three-dimensions – that come off much smoother than they have in many prior instalments of both the show and the last film.  There’s also some great board work going on here, too; sequences that are made thanks to well designed and laid out shots and images.  Most specifically, there’s a musical montage late in the film of the Battle Of The Bands competition that visualises the various clashes like an actual battle with real kinetic energy that makes the sequence a lot of fun.  Also it reminded me of Scott Pilgrim and I love Scott Pilgrim.

Related: the songs, penned primarily as always by Daniel Ingram, are really darn good.  There’s a lack of anything that I’m still humming about 24 hours removed from being exposed to it, like the show’s best numbers ended up doing to me many times, but they also fulfil the more important job of fitting the film.  They hop between genres and moods and tones – the Sirens mostly sing incredibly well-harmonised goth pop, our main cast get earnest but likeable pop rock, whilst The Great And Powerful Trixie performs a brilliantly naff early-00s electropop number – but they always feel consistent and unified whilst still having their own identity.  The final battle ends up incorporating elements of heavy metal, whilst Snips & Snails have to perform an incredibly awkward rap number earlier on, yet they don’t feel out-of-place or blatantly calling out to the older segments of the audience.  They fit and they work, even if the lyrics do sometimes cross the line from “earnestly rubbish” to “just plain rubbish”.

The only real knock I have against Rainbow Rocks, and by which I mean the only part that isn’t improved from the first film in any way, is with regards to the character of Flash Sentry, the teenage boy whom Twilight has a reciprocated but never openly stated crush on.  He’s in the film for about the same amount of time as he was in the first one, but he’s still pointless to overall proceedings.  He mainly seems to exist so that the audience has somebody to worry about when the film needs to show the effects of the hostility that the Sirens bring out in people.  So he spends most of the film being a paper-thin jerk, in stark contrast to Equestria Girls where spent most of that film being a paper-thin pretty boy.  He only seems to be here because nobody was confident enough to admit the character didn’t work and cut him, with his negative characterisation being a way to turn into the skid of nobody liking him.  In a film where Sunset Shimmer was able to be totally redeemed as a character in the space of 75 minutes, Flash sticks out like a sore thumb.

Forget about Flash Sentry, though (heaven knows the film does for long stretches), and My Little Pony: Equestria Girls: Rainbow Rocks is an unqualified triumph.  A major leap forward in nearly every respect, this is what a sequel should be: using a previously established world and characters to tell a new story with character development that actually sticks, a story and set of character arcs that aren’t just rehashing the beats of the original and improving upon their problems to create a film that stands head and shoulders above its predecessor.  Admittedly, if you’re not already on board the super-earnest and occasionally-proudly-cheesy My Little Pony bandwagon, this may not be the movie to convince you, even if it does have a literal music battle for a finale (that is AWESOME).  But if you found yourself disappointed with the first Equestria Girls, then you should give Rainbow Rocks a shot as I guarantee you that you will find it a major leap forward comparatively.

Considering how this series first looked to be a cynical heartless cash-grab driven purely by the need to sell toys, Equestria Girls has turned into quite the fantastic little series.  See, folks!  Heart-on-sleeve sincerity wins out, after all!  Roll on the inevitable third instalment in 12 months’ time!

Callum Petch has a nagging fear someone else is pulling at the strings.  Follow him on the Twitters (@CallumPetch)!

US Box Office Report: 17/10/14 – 19/10/14

Sound and Fury signify a change in the top spot, Birdman will be able to buy law books with pictures this time, Nicholas Sparks is not getting the best, the best, the best, The Best Of Me, and Other Box Office News.

by Callum Petch (Twitter: @CallumPetch)

Movies, successful movies at that, often go about trying to solve questions that the public need answers for.  For example, our new number 1 film, Fury, finally helped to answer our year-long conundrum, “So, is this what caused Shia LaBeouf, who wasn’t exactly the most stable and upstanding citizen to begin with, to finally go completely off the deep-end?”  As marketing hooks for World War II movies go, it’s a pretty unique selling point, and one really should commend LaBeouf for starting so far away from the film’s release date and sticking with it for so long, too; professional wrestlers can’t commit to a bit this much!  $23.5 million worth of Americans ended up tempted enough by the possibility of a train-wreck to pony up and watch an apparently pretty alright film.

In release news that doesn’t involve me making really tired and terrible jokes about a man who is most likely suffering from some kind of mental health problems, The Book Of Life continued the trend of animated films not made by established companies, and not outstandingly marketed to hell and back, opening rather soft with a third place debut and $17 million in ticket sales.  By contrast, Studio Ghibli’s second-to-last planned film, The Tale Of Princess Kaguya, opened in limited release to a very respectable $51,700 from 3 screens – which sounds small, but one must remember that this is the return feature of Grave Of The Fireflies’ Isao Takahata and that not everybody wants to be reduced to blubbering, incoherent wrecks at art-house cinemas filled with snobby judging art-house crowds.

Meanwhile, and thankfully for people absolutely f*cking sick of his goddamn signature brand, the latest Nicholas Sparks adaptation, The Best Of Me, bombed majorly, only managing $10 million for sixth place and allowing hacks like me to make unfunny Foo Fighters references.  Admittedly, Nicholas Sparks films have very fluctuating performances – The Notebook was followed by Nights In Rodanthe, whilst The Last Song was followed by Dear John – so we can’t break out the party poppers just yet, but it’s still the lowest opening for any of his adaptations ever so I’m calling this a win!  Along similar total-failure lines, Jason Reitman’s Men, Women & Children expanded to 608 screens this past weekend and scored the fifth worst nationwide debut ever, with just $320,000.  Films that managed a better per-screen average than it ($526) include Let’s Be Cops in its 10th week ($795), The Giver in its 10th week ($561), Lucy in its 13th week ($778), How To Train Your Dragon 2 in its 19th week ($566) and… well, pretty much everything else on the list.

Finally, we have the limited releases and the big success story of the weekend: Birdman.  The new film from Alejandro González Iñárritu starring Michael Keaton as somebody who once played a superhero now trying to make it on Broadway and filmed in a way that gives off the illusion that the film is just one continuous shot… actually, now that I think about it, it’s absolutely no surprise that the LA and NY cinemas that got this film ate it up so massively.  In any case, $415,000 from 4 theatres makes it the second-biggest-per-screen-average for a limited release of the year (behind The Grand Budapest Hotel) and the ninth best live-action limited release opening ever.  Also doing great business on 11 screens, for a very impressive $31,273 per-screen average, was Dear White People with a weekend total of $344,000.  I don’t really have anything else to add, to be honest, the film looks way too good for me to get snarky at.


dear white people

This Full List has got another confession to make, it’s no fool, it’s getting tired of star- (*is forcibly pulled away from keyboard*)

Box Office Results: Friday 17th October 2014 – Sunday 19th October 2014

1] Fury

$23,500,000 / NEW

Owen will be handling review duties on this one, folks.  Be gentle with him.  I also find it interesting to note that Fury has made more domestically in one weekend than David Ayer’s other 2014 film, Sabotage, did worldwide throughout its entire run.  Good to see his year has turned around significantly!

2] Gone Girl

$17,800,000 / $107,069,000

Gone Girl has been embraced by Men’s Rights Activists, just as I feared it would be.  Sigh…  I guess that’s the risk one gets when trying to tell stories like this one, but it is saddening to know that I am going to have to spend the rest of my life lengthily explaining myself when I tell more Internet conscious people that I love Gone Girl, so that they don’t get the idea that I’m some kind of woman-hating psychopath.

3] The Book Of Life

$17,000,000 / NEW

Out here on Friday, so one last time for good luck: I ORDER YOU TO NOT SUCK!

4] Alexander And The Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

$12,039,000 / $36,871,000

And this is out this weekend, too.  Well, I guess you gotta learn to live with the bad days to ap- (*looks down to see hands have somehow become sentient and are strangling the author to death*)

5] The Best Of Me

$10,200,000 / NEW

Should probably clarify that the strangling that occurred in the previous joke involved my throat, not anything dirty like I know some of you more childish readers were attempting to misconstrue it as.  There are no such uses of toilet humour in these articles.  This is a family feature.

6] Dracula Untold

$9,889,000 / $40,735,000

A pretty large 58% drop between weekends, so it’s a total flop domestically.  Unfortunately, it’s almost cleared $100 mil overseas, mainly thanks to Russia and Mexico of all places, so I can’t smugly sit here and claim that it completely bombed like I predicted it was going to.  Drat and blast!

7] The Judge

$7,940,000 / $26,843,000

No, seriously, watch the trailer for Dear White People.  It looks absolutely excellent and the kind of film I need in my life right f*cking now.

8] Annabelle

$7,925,000 / $74,127,000

Yes, that is a really close gap between The Judge and Annabelle, but actuals have yet to actually flip the places of two films that are dead close to one-another in estimates under my watch, so don’t expect anything to actually happen here.  You know, except for the realisation that I just managed to sufficiently kill time by making a big deal out of nothing with this entry.

9] The Equalizer

$5,450,000 / $89,170,000

Fuck off.

10] The Maze Runner

$4,500,000 / $90,837,000

OK, I’m not stupid.  I know you haven’t actually watched the Dear White People trailer yet.  I have no control over you and can’t force you to visit every single link I attach to these articles.  You’re busy people with places to be.  So I’m just going to leave this here and we’ll all reconvene next week for me to do this dance with another completely different film possibly maybe.

Dropped Out: Addicted, The Boxtrolls, Left Behind

Callum Petch is watching the television with no sound.  Follow him on the Twitters (@CallumPetch)!

US Box Office Report: 10/10/14 – 12/10/14

The Judge has a Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad weekend, Dracula does makes Untold millions, Kill The Messenger is DOA, the full list will give you Whiplash, and Other Box Office News.

by Callum Petch (Twitter: @CallumPetch)

This weekend, a terrifying curse was placed upon a certain set of people.  One that rendered them scared, confused, worried about the changes and its effects, and unable to go out during the daytime (primarily because they don’t go out during the day, anyway).  I am of course referring to the 48 hours in which the website known as Box Office Mojo ceased to exist.  We film writers were thrown into a panic.  “How on earth can we do our jobs now?  What other monstrous websites will we have to patronize instead?  Why hast thou forsaken us?!” we cried skyward to the heavens.  But then, right on cue, the site returned this morning with no explanation for its absence!  And so our great national nightmare was over!

You could say, then, that it was a Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad weekend, in an incredibly lame segway towards referring to the box office stats.  It was most certainly one for the “Robert Downey, Jr. has a space on his fireplace that he’s just freed up for some awards statues” flick known more commonly as The Judge.  Not only did critics collectively shrug it away from any possible awards buzz, the film underwhelmed severely at the box office, despite featuring Robert Downey, Jr. doing that Robert Downey, Jr. thing that the people like, only debuting in fifth place with $13 million in ticket sales.  Alexander, then, much like its titular character, ended up passing off that yadda yadda weekend to somebody else, opening with a surprisingly strong $19.1 million for third place.

That left it comfortably sat behind the number two film, Dracula Untold which debuted to a very surprisingly strong $23 million.  Couple that with its currently-really-rather-successful overseas performance, and you have one genuinely surprised writer.  In any case, that still puts it very much behind the weekend’s number 1 film, Gone Girl, which shed only 28% between weekends to hold onto the top spot.  Couple that with its currently-very-successful overseas performance, and you get one very, very happy writer.  Also sneaking into the Top 10 was the moderate release drama-thriller Addicted, which managed to overcome the handicap of apparently being complete garbage to score a seventh place debut and a near-$9000 per screen average.

As for those limited release films outside of the top 10, there’s a lot to parse through.  First off, Meet The Mormons, which resides in 11th place on our countdown with a weekend gross of $2.7 million, from 317 screens, that are presumably from people who thought it was an expose on the making of The Book Of Mormon.  It is, though, the second biggest opening for a documentary all year, at any rate (behind Bears).  Next up, we have the Jeremy Renner-starring and Mary Elizabeth Winstead-featuring Kill The Messenger, which tanked with only $939,000 from 374 screens.  You know, because Mary Elizabeth Winstead is cursed at the box office.  St. Vincent, a film starring Bill Murray and I know that’s all it needs to do to earn your ticket because that’s all it took to earn mine, managed to take $121,000 from 4 screens worth of people who had the exact same thought processes as us.  Meanwhile, the critically lauded Whiplash kick-started its assault on the public with $144,000 worth of people in 6 screens wanting to see J.K. Simmons mentally and physically abuse the f*ck out of Miles Teller.  The real abuse, as should be obvious, though, is withholding this film from us Brits until January the goddamn 16th of 2015!!

Oh, and One Chance, that biopic about the opera singer from Britain’s Got Talent, finally got released in America this past weekend.  $32,800 from 43 screens.  Absolutely worth the constant release date circle-jerking.


dracula untold 2

This Full List is being held in contempt of court!  Everything that guy just said is bullsh*t!  The Bible is a good book, but it’s not the only book!  I believe there is justice in our hearts!  You can’t handle the truth!

Box Office Results: Friday 10th October 2014 – Sunday 12th October 2014

1] Gone Girl

$26,800,000 / $78,281,000

Saw it again this weekend and again loved every second of it.  It’s just such a brilliant film, and trying to articulate the reasons as to why I love it so in less than an A4 page when it inevitably ends up in the highest possible echelons of my Top 10 of 2014 list is going to be a monumental task.  Look forward to that inevitable train-wreck of a series (yes, series, I’m planning in advance here, got a feeling the overall article would be in excess of 10 goddamn pages otherwise) in the future!  For now, go see Gone Girl!  Yes, even if you have already seen it.  Go again.

2] Dracula Untold

$23,457,000 / NEW

So, yeah.  Gonna be frank, I fully expected this one to out and out bomb.  Like, straight flop as soon as it left the starting gates.  It still could, next week has plenty of releases ready to steal its thunder and rumours are going around that the $70 mil price tag the film is sporting is significantly lower than its true budget, but it’s not an immediate and total failure, which I will likely never stop being surprised by.  You people did see the awful trailer, right?

3] Alexander And The Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

$19,100,000 / NEW

Oh, Christ, this one.  Look, I refuse to believe that it is anything less than a total steaming, nigh-on insufferable dud until I inevitably see it with my own eyes in the near-future.  I’m also guessing that his work as Childish Gambino is not paying anywhere near enough to keep Donald Glover away from dreck like this.  That’s a bit of a shame; because the internet isn’t too bad of an album.

4] Annabelle

$16,365,000 / $62,156,000

A 56% drop between weekends, which is a little steeper than The Conjuring’s but is still not too bad overall.  Again, it’s got no direct competition for the whole of October, which is weirdly empty with regards to horror films this year, and Ouija, which drops at the very end of the month, will bomb to some degree (I have never been so sure of anything in my entire last 15 minutes of life).  Annabelle will keep making money.  Whether that’s a good thing or not is for you folks to judge.

5] The Judge

$13,300,000 / NEW

Robert Downey, Jr. really does just play the Robert Downey, Jr. role now, doesn’t he?  That’s kind of a shame.  I mean, don’t get me wrong, I really like Robert Downey, Jr., but he is capable of more and I’d rather he stretch himself and try to mitigate the risk of just coasting by on Iron Man.  On a related heathen note, all three Iron Man films are my least favourite of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, with the exception of The Incredible Hulk.  Yes, even Iron Man 3.  Expect my firing to be made public in a few hours.

6] The Equalizer

$9,725,000 / $79,885,000

Skipped it last Tuesday, before you ask.  I fulfilled the “seeing Dolphin Tale 2” part of that plan and then was too “eeeeeeeeeehhhhhh”’d out to bother seeing The Equalizer on top of it.  Guess I’ll never see it now.  Oh, boo hoo.  How I weep for such a missed opportunity.

7] Addicted

$7,600,000 / NEW

It wasn’t until I watched the trailer that I realised why this film came out of nowhere to make big, big bucks: it predominately stars, and is targeted at, black people.  Let me be clear, that’s not meant to be an insult – for the love of God, it really is not.  It’s instead an observation that there is a large segment of America that very much enjoy watching films aimed at them regardless of quality, and which are not white.  In fact, it’s an observation that keeps being made every single time a film like that becomes successful, almost like it’s a fact about a mostly untapped market instead of an observation about trend that will die out soon…

8] The Maze Runner

$7,500,000 / $83,840,000

Penning my review as soon as I’ve finished with this.  Short version: surprisingly, genuinely great until the abysmal ending cocks everything up.  You should have seen me in the cinema; I visibly went from “Hell yes, bring on the sequel!” to “(exasperated groan), I guess I’ll see the sequel because I have to,” in the space of about 10 minutes.  Again, review will be set for tomorrow, so sit tight for in-depth thoughts, but man I was so disappointed by this one.

9] The Boxtrolls

$6,676,000 / $41,032,000

Oh.  Oh.  OK, remember last week when I said Laika were going to be OK?  I want you to disregard that and instead hit all of your panic buttons.  The budget is $60 mil, which it has only barely cleared thanks to foreign grosses, it’s currently sitting at less domestically than notorious under-performer ParaNorman, and The Book Of Life (side note: PLEASE DO NOT SUCK) is coming along next week to hijack its audience.  It may end up a hit on home video, which it deserves to be because Laika deserve all the success even with films that aren’t up to their usual standards, but I’m going to panic the f*ck out until somebody at Laika tells me I don’t need to.

10] Left Behind

$2,909,000 / $10,920,000

Still not going to make any obvious jokes at the expense of its title.  I am above that.  I have limits, y’know.

Dropped Out: This Is Where I Leave You, Dolphin Tale 2, Guardians Of The Galaxy, No Good Deed

Callum Petch couldn’t see he was the car you crashed.  Follow him on the Twitters (@CallumPetch)!

The Boxtrolls

The Boxtrolls is good.  It is very good.  It’s just not great.

by Callum Petch (Twitter: @CallumPetch)

boxtrolls… … …dammit.

The Story So Far: I have been spending this year attempting to watch every single non-horror film released in 2014 that comes my way (this, for frame of reference, is my 52nd review of the year for the 78th film I have seen during it), but I have been going out of my way to see every animated film that is released in the year as part of my ongoing life quest to absorb all of the animation ever.  For, as previously mentioned, I adore animation.  It holds a special place in my heart and the medium is one awash with amazing possibilities that, when realised, are nearly unmatched for me in the world of film.  Unfortunately, 2014 has not been a particularly good year for the medium so far.  Sure, we’ve had The Lego Movie and Mr. Peabody & Sherman, I am not disputing and downplaying the extent to which I enjoyed those films, but those were both released in February and, well, nothing else has really come close to great since then.  How To Train Your Dragon 2 was a major disappointment for me (and, yes, I know that I am in the minority with regards to that series), Rio 2 was merely divertingly decent viewing, and everything else has basically sucked miserably.

But all hope was not lost for me!  For the last four months were going to bring forth two saviours who were going to make the crap worthwhile (not three, because Disney’s Big Hero 6 doesn’t hit UK shores until January for literally no good REASON).  The end of October was going to bring The Book Of Life, the debut feature of El Tigre: The Adventures Of Manny Rivera’s Jorge R. Gutierrez and which looks full of charm and visual splendour that nobody else in the animated-feature industry seems willing to try.  But, before that, there would be The Boxtrolls.  Now, I think it would be fair to say that my expectations for The Boxtrolls prior to entry were high: Laika, the company behind the film, are previous of Coraline and ParaNorman, the latter being one of my very favouritist films of 2012 and my second-favourite animated film of all-time.  I actually entered 2014 with The Boxtrolls being my single most anticipated film of the whole year.  Some might say that I had crippled the film before I’d even seen a single frame, putting too much pressure and expectation on a film that it could not possibly live up to.

Maybe those people are true, maybe I built myself up for disappointment.  That, however, is a theory.  You want facts, so here are the facts: The Boxtrolls is good.  The Boxtrolls is very good.  I had a lot of fun with it, I laughed, I gasped up, my heart got a minor stirring from my emotions.  The Boxtrolls is not great.  The reason why The Boxtrolls is not great is down to its messy, unfocussed and sub-par screenplay.  The Boxtrolls, ultimately, is a disappointment, only for legitimate reasons instead of unreasonably high expectations.  And now you know why I started off this review with “… … …dammit.”

Our story concerns the town of Cheesebridge, a Victorian-style place where class structures are everything and everyone has an obsession for cheese that overrides all common senses for some reason.  Residing below the streets of Cheesebridge are a race of creatures known as Boxtrolls (primarily voiced by Dee Bradley Baker and Steve Blum), friendly little scavenger and worker creatures who everyone mistakes for fierce monsters due to the fact that they don’t look normal (yes, we are working towards the same moral that ParaNorman had but in a far clumsier way, more on that shortly).  Not helping matters is the fact that one night, they end up taking a human boy, who they dub Eggs (Isaac Hempstead-Wright), from the surface and raise him as one of their own.  This leads to the slimy and opportunistic Archibald Snatcher (Ben Kingsley) presenting his Boxtroll exterminator service to the townsfolk with the promise of an entry into the town’s high society if he successfully completes his planned genocide.  A decade or so later, most of the Boxtrolls have been captured and Eggs decides to try and rescue them.  Tagging along is a human girl, named Winnie (Elle Fanning), with a perverse fascination for the violent Boxtroll stories that Snatcher has been perpetuating (or maybe it’s just Boxtrolls in general, it’s rather unclear).

Right, the good first.  As is par for the course, by this point, the animation is fantastic.  It’s much less busy than Coraline and ParaNorman, even when madcap chase scenes abound, but it’s no less detailed and no less convincing.  The folks over at Laika have done an outstanding job with the look and feel of Cheesebridge, excellently evoking the mood of a Victorian town with its cobbled roads, tight streets and towering buildings.  There’s a good sense of scale.  Character movements are even more fluid than in ParaNorman and facial expressions have never been more perfectly expressive.  Snatcher, in particular, can go from humorously ineffectual-looking to menacing through a change in position, facial expression and camera placement, especially when the film reveals the identity he’s been using to ingratiate himself into high society.  It’s all really charming, too, that natural stop-motion love seeping through every frame.  Lighting is fantastic, shadows are very convincing, with an early scene at night reminding easily reminding all that Laika are the kings at atmosphere in the animated realm.

Occasionally, though, the film does revert to CG to animate more complex movements and the like.  I wouldn’t bring this up if it was near-seamless, like in ParaNorman, but it really isn’t.  The quality is very low, excess motion blur poorly hides said low-quality, it gels badly with the non-CG’d stuff and a lot of it feels extraneous, animations that would have been possible to perform in stop-motion but were probably assigned CG duty due to encroaching deadlines and the like.  It’s not enough to bring the film down, after all I will be remembering the exceptional character animations and facial work long after this movie has left the cinemas, but it is enough to be noticeable and warrant a mild calling out.  I have no problem with CG being used to enhance your stop-motion, Laika, ParaNorman did it fantastically, but it needs to be of a higher standard than this.

Character designs, meanwhile, are very strong.  The film has to walk a thin line between “ugly cute” and “just plain ugly”, in order to both convey the grimy Victorian time period design and be able to play the titular characters as alternately cute and menacing depending on whose point of view we’re looking at, but it manages to do so with aplomb.  The Boxtrolls themselves all have minor individual yet distinctive designs that make it easy to tell apart who is who, and they are honestly really rather adorable, especially when they start moving.  As previously mentioned, Snatcher has a design that easily lends itself to whatever tone the material he is involved in takes.  Eggs and Winnie also have distinctive designs, even if Eggs is sometimes a bit too dirty to be 100% pleasant to look at and Winnie’s design never seems to quite escape the pompous scowl that she mostly holds.  I must, however, applaud the character designers’ choice to have Winnie have a noticeably fuller body type than is usually displayed in kids’ films.  You might think this means little and is rather inconsequential, but I guarantee that there will be some young girl out there who sees something like that, something that is not made fun of once I must add, and will find it a huge self-esteem boost.  Trust me, it’ll mean more than you think to somebody.

Speaking of kids, now seems as good a time as any to put to bed a couple of things that other critics have been saying about the film.  No, the character designs are not too ugly for kids to love.  I know this for a fact because my screening was rammed full of families and the kids there loved the little Boxtrolls.  Many of them even audibly and visually got very excited at the standee for the film that was situated near me whilst I did some reviewing between films; one even got their parent to take a picture of them with it.  The other thing is that some critics have claimed that the film, and the finale especially, will be too scary for children.  Not only is it demonstrably false (again, I was in a screening filled with kids and they all loved it and weren’t bothered by its darker moments in the slightest), it both shows a severe underestimation on the part of critics with regards to their thoughts on children and gives off the suspicion that none of them have seen Laika’s prior work.  Compared to Coraline, which basically was just a straight horror film for kids, The Boxtrolls is more along the lines of James & The Giant Peach.  In fact, that was even the distinct feeling I had when I got out of the film, a strong recollection of the movie of James & The Giant Peach.

So, if you really do have to judge an animated movie based solely on the insulting criteria of whether kids will love it: rest easy.  I was in a screening full of them and they were all audibly having a tremendous time, loving every character and not being traumatised in the slightest.  Normally I wouldn’t take the time out to mention this, but I thought I’d nip some misconceptions in the bud before they become commonplace.

Anyways, back to what the film does right: The Boxtrolls is a lot of fun.  The action scenes are exciting, the film is well-paced if awkwardly plotted and structured (we’ll get to that), and its jokes are fast, frequent and very funny.  Much like with ParaNorman, the jokes cover the whole spectrum, but they are a bit broader, like everyone involved is cutting loose due to not being constrained by a horror aesthetic this time.  Slapstick is brilliantly staged and deployed (finally!), a piece of grotesque body horror actually ends up as one of the film’s funnier gags, there’s a segment where Eggs is attempting to fit into a high society banquet and, whilst they are rather obvious and very telegraphed, the jokes there are some of the film’s best, Snatcher’s secret side-identity is a very easy gag but I still laughed because Ben Kingsley takes it all the way (in fact, I’m just going to go ahead and single out Ben Kingsley from the very good voice cast now because it saves me a paragraph in a minute), and then there are Mr. Pickles and Mr. Trout.  Mr. Pickles and Mr. Trout are two of Snatcher’s henchmen, voiced by Richard Ayoade and Nick Frost respectively, and they are both having existential quandaries about their place in the universe and the good vs. evil narrative they’re partaking in.  As you can probably guess, their material is some of the funniest in the film, in particular because Ayoade and Frost rattle it all off near-flawlessly.

boxtrolls 2

And yet, despite those last few paragraphs of points in its favour, and the fact that it easily slots into the highest echelons of the year’s animated films, I was still disappointed with The Boxtrolls.  Why?  No, it’s not because I am “a hard-to-please-killjoy”.  It all comes back to the screenplay.  Yes, it’s very funny and well-paced.  It is also a huge mess: trying to do too much in too little time, giving most everyone the short ends of various sticks, never quite grasping who most of the characters actually are, and clumsily re-treading ground that ParaNorman covered two years ago.  With the characters, the villains are all really well drawn and defined and easy to get a handle on, but the leads are mostly lightweight and not as detailed.  Winnie, in particular, never seems to be a completely defined character and I never did quite figure out whether her interest in the Boxtrolls was because of them, the gruesome stories that Cheesebridge perpetuates about them, or whether it’s just her attempting to get attention from her neglectful parents.  Incidentally, Cheesbridge’s extreme obsession with cheese never really amounts to anything, as if it’s just supposed to stand in for their entire character.  Also, notice how the titular Boxtrolls seem to get the short shrift, barely being relevant outside of their being a plot device?  Yeah, that’s the problem here.

We get to know Fish because he’s Eggs’ adopted father, and Shoe gets a tiny bit of screen-time, but that’s about it.  They may all look distinct and individual, but most of the Boxtrolls are interchangeable when it comes to personalities.  We learn that they scavenge and are peaceful and that they sleep by stacking themselves one on top of another in the most adorable thing you will see all weekend, but I never felt like I learnt anything about them.  They’re important because they’re cute, they’re important to Eggs and nobody wants to see a genocide, and that’s about the extent of it.  You know how Despicable Me 2 had us spend a lot of time with the Minions to make the eventual happenings that occur to them carry genuine weight beyond just “nobody wants to see the cute things hurt”?  Yeah, the same isn’t true of the Boxtrolls.  They mostly just sit in the background, as, in fact, do most of the heroes, whilst the villains take centre-stage unless it is absolutely necessary for them to appear.  That’s a damn shame, both because they are really cute and personality-filled, and also because the film’s message of tolerance and inclusivity rings false when, well, they’re mostly kept on the sidelines for the villains.

As for that message of tolerance, inclusivity and acceptance regardless of race, gender, age, physical deformities, sexuality, etc.?  It sounds rather similar to the one that ParaNorman sported, doesn’t it?  That’s the other problem.  A lot of The Boxtrolls’ best moments, its best scenes and emotional beats, were done before in ParaNorman and done much, much better.  ParaNorman had a whole cast of fantastically well-drawn characters that were full of depth, whilst The Boxtrolls kinda doesn’t and that really ends up hurting it.  There’s no real emotional centre, nothing connects like it should, the big moments don’t resonate.  Winnie’s arc with her parents neglecting or just straight up ignoring her was done way better in ParaNorman, working that neglect into actual character reasons rather than just irritating absurdity.  That film’s message of tolerance and acceptance was woven right into its DNA and addressed, again, through actual character work instead of just plot mechanics.  But when The Boxtrolls goes for its own path, it falls down even harder.  The middle of the film reveals how Eggs got into the hands of Fish and Shoe and it’s based around an action that really ratchets up the menace for Snatcher at just the time he needs it… but then there’s a twist at the three-quarters mark that undoes that for no real reason than to just give Eggs everything at the ending.  There is no plot reason for this change in course.  It just feels like the film wimping out, something that Coraline and ParaNorman never even dreamt of doing.

Then, much like this part of the review, there’s the awkward structure.  As you may have noticed, we spend a large amount of time in the presence of the film’s villains and, whilst they are very entertaining, it ends up reducing the already underwritten heroes even more and highlighting that problem in bright colours that could be seen from the moon.  They really need reduced screen time, time that we should instead be spending with Eggs as he goes through his identity crisis, or even just the Boxtrolls themselves so that we can actually fear for their plight.  Meanwhile, the film’s decision to start right as the Boxtrolls take in Eggs gives us no real status-quo.  There’s no real indication as to how things were before the bad times started, we get no real idea as to how the Boxtrolls act in their downtime (read: not being chased and captured) and, again, this all feeds into the hollow emotional centre.  Besides their cuteness, I know nothing about them and I have no clue what things were like for them before they started having to truly fear for their lives.  The film also starts off really awkwardly, taking too long to set things up properly and not finding its footing for at least 15 minutes, and I could practically see the gears creak (pun kind of intended) when it came to moving things into place for the finale.  This screenplay, as you may have gathered, is a mess and badly needed substantial rewrites before the film entered production; shame it never got them.

The Boxtrolls is a highly entertaining ride, I will admit.  I had a lot of fun and, as is the usual case for Laika productions, the animation is gorgeous and the voice work is splendid.  But it lacks the giant beating heart that Coraline and ParaNorman had.  Its screenplay is too messy, short-changing too many characters and being too muddled in its overall aims.  When it cribs from ParaNorman, which is does a lot, it only serves to show how bereft of genuine depth this film has and how badly the screenplay needed major rewrites.  Whereas those prior films really connected on a strong emotional level, in ways that stick with me to this day (ParaNorman, especially), The Boxtrolls instead just entertains and will likely fade from my memory soon enough.  A lot of effort has clearly gone in here, it’s one of the year’s better animated features and it’s still very good.  Unfortunately, seeing as we’re talking about Laika here, “very good” isn’t good enough for me.  You could probably give them credit for already reaching the “good enough isn’t good enough” point after only two prior films, but it only stands to show the fact that, despite the large amounts of fun I had with it, The Boxtrolls ultimately disappointed me.  Dammit.

OK, The Book Of Life.  It’s all on you now.  Don’t mess up.

Callum Petch should have just named you Laika.  Follow him on the Twitters (@CallumPetch)!

The Nut Job

No.

by Callum Petch (Twitter: @CallumPetch)

the nut job 2I have been given crap for my review of Tinker Bell & The Pirate Fairy because I dared to compare it to other, far superior animated movies on the market; your Lego Movies, your Mr. Peabody & Shermans, your Frozens, even your How To Train Your Dragons.  I got stick for commenting in detail on the animation quality.  I got stick for attempting to evaluate the film despite not being part of the target audience.  (I also got stick for not having familiarised myself with the series beforehand which is a fair complaint that I will admit is unprofessional of me.)  I have even been accused of being the kind of guy who nitpicks at supposedly perfectly good films for no other reason than I like to and that I am the kind of guy who has forgotten why I go to the cinema: to have fun.

I don’t feel shamed by any of this.  Really, I don’t.  I don’t feel any remorse whatsoever for that review and I don’t feel any remorse for my continuing love and harsh criticism of animated films.  Do you want to know why?  It is not because I am a fun-hating killjoy with a giant stick shoved right up where the sun don’t shine.  No, it is because I love animation.  I adore animation.  I always have and, goddammit, I always will.  The medium is one filled with boundless, near-limitless storytelling potential.  A chance to create and display images of astounding beauty that would be impossible or near-impossible to replicate in live-action.  The possibility to take the viewer on a trip to brand-new worlds, the likes of which one has never seen before.  A chance to make the kind of films and tell the kind of stories that would never get funded in live-action, wouldn’t have the same experience as in live-action, and to create a timelessness that telling the story in live-action might lack.  Pixar (circa 1995 – 2010, minus 2006) were kings at crafting lived-in worlds, Disney can pump out strong, memorable characters in their sleep, DreamWorks at their best know perfectly how to balance comedy and strong character work, Persepolis (although not a kids’ film) is one of the most beautiful and emotionally affecting films that I have ever seen and could only be told in the way that it was via animation.

So, no.  I will not apologise for the way I review animated films.  I will not be forced to apologise for holding animated features a higher standard.  Because I know that this medium can do better.  I know for a fact that it is better and deserves better than the crap that is constantly pumped out cynically for a quick buck.  I know that shovelware is going to crop up for all mediums and that live-action cinema, in all of its forms, has just as much, if not more, crap than the animated landscape ever will have.  And guess what?  I’ll call those out for being terrible, too.  But animation means a whole lot to me and to be accused of being a fun-killer for not giving a pass to every cheap mediocre-or-worse slop that is plopped down in cinemas for the sole purpose of sucking parents’ wallets clean because, “Hey, the cinema’s cheaper than a babysitter,” infuriates me.  I hate because I love, I hold animation to a higher standard because it can do better and I don’t just give slop aimed at the youngest and stupidest of children a pass because, guess what, they deserve better.  And they can get better; turn on the TV to quite literally any cartoon channel nowadays and they will get better for free!  There is no excuse and I will never apologise for the way I go about reviewing these films.

I bring this up because The Nut Job is literally a walking example of everything that is wrong with animated kids’ films.  This is a film designed by a committee for the sole purpose of making money.  There is no heart, there are no characters, there are fart noises and Gangam Style music cues in lieu of jokes, the animation is mediocre at best and terrible at worst, the voice acting is boring and uncommitted, the art design and layout and storyboarding is all lifeless and uninteresting.  No effort has been put in, not in conception, not in execution.  The one interesting thing it has is the fact that it kind of wants to be a heist movie, but it bungles proceedings so thoroughly, and seems so uninterested in actually being a heist movie, that all it does is leave me wishing that somebody would make an actually good animated heist movie.

Think of something that happens in a bad kids’ movie and it turns up here.  A cast of characters who have one single trait, go through pretty much no arcs, and who exist almost solely for jokes yet the film still wants you to care about anyway?  Lame puns based on a word that is supposedly inherently funny but really isn’t yet the film stops to call attention to it before moving on?  Sequences set to chart-ready pop songs, including one where the film stops dead for a good minute because it was popular when the film went into production?  Disconnected story threads where the human villains get nearly as much screen-time as the animals that we’re supposed to care about, and who keep getting shoved back into the main plot despite their overall irrelevance to it?  A section near the end where it looks like our hero has died, and the film acts like he has, but then it turns out he’s actually OK and you were crying for no reason (which is a trope/beat I am officially banning all movies of all kinds from using in the future)?  A lead female protagonist who is supposedly tough and capable on her own yet whose only function is to be constantly rescued by our lead male protagonist?  An “Obligatory Dance Party Ending Over The Credits”?  Yes, they are all present and correct and done with so little effort or interest it’s insulting.

The jokes, meanwhile… oh, lord, the jokes.  The Nut Job has all kinds of bad jokes.  We got fart jokes, jokes based on characters very noticeably and clumsily dropping the word “nut” into a sentence, jokes based around characters dancing to Gangam Style, obvious blind jokes, jokes that just involve characters shouting lines of dialogue at one another, jokes that just involve characters screaming lines of dialogue at one another, jokes designed around the fact that one of the characters has a bird who looks exactly like one of the Angry Birds birds, and jokes based around how irritatingly stupid the whole cast is (a stupid cast is fine in a comedy, obviously, but you need actual jokes because otherwise you’ve just got annoyingly stupid characters).  Each joke is pulled off with a total lack of skill, effort, construction and timing (said fart jokes genuinely just involves fart sound effects playing on a near-constant loop on the soundtrack at one point as everyone takes turns to say how disgusting farting is).  There is one, precisely one, that got a positive reaction out of me and that involved two speeding vans passing a donut shop, upon which point every cop inside collectively have their heads rise up like an old broken-down animatronic on a fairground ride.  Everything else landed with a thud at best, or a sigh of derision at worst.

Animation is all over the shop.  At the best of times, it’s half as good as Monsters Inc. from 2001.  Character models lack detail but they are passable enough, scampering is clearly hiding a limited budget but at least fits considering the fact that we’re talking about squirrels and rats and the like, and there’s a bit in the finale involving water that doesn’t look horrible.  Otherwise, this is hideous.  Lighting is dreadful, sequences set at night barely look any different from sequences set in the day except that the sky is now purple.  Everything lacks detail, something that’s especially prominent whenever the famed and desired nuts get a close-up and just end up looking plastic.  Character movements that don’t involve scampering are too restrained and unconvincing, especially whenever cartoon physics take over (there are multiple jokes that should end with one or more characters dead which, incidentally, saps any tension the later sequences should have).  Facial expressions frequently border on completely lifeless and mostly just settle for plain boredom, the lone female human genuinely looks like a Barbie doll and it is creepy as all hell.  And character designs are uninspired with some characters (namely that bird and any and all humans) looking like they don’t even belong in the same film as the rest.

Also, during the aforementioned end credits dance party, an animated version of Psy comes out to dance to Gangam Style and I am not kidding or exaggerating or anything of the sort when I tell you that it is genuinely the cheapest and lowest resolution animation that I have seen in a feature-length animated film released in cinemas in…  in…  You know, I honestly can’t recall ever seeing an uglier and lower-quality piece of a theatrically-released animated feature-film.  It is quite literally unbelievable just how horrible the end credits look.

Also of note is just how despicably unlikable the lead character is.  Surly (voiced by a Will Arnett who clearly does not care enough to keep up the Russian accent I think his character is supposed to have) is a thoroughly unpleasant lead who is mean to everybody, selfish, and isn’t even witty or entertaining to make up for that fact.  He’s just a jerk, a complete and total jerk.  And he remains that way for a good 80% of the film’s runtime despite needing to become a more selfless and heroic guy at the end.  So, at the 80% mark, around about the time the film’s big lifeless final chase scene starts, he suddenly becomes a paragon of virtue.  As expected, it didn’t take to me, and it especially didn’t take seeing as every other character in the film is a complete tool that nobody in their right mind would step up and defend or a really annoying one-joke blank slate (step right up, the groundhogs) that is impossible to care about.

Look, folks, I am tired.  I am tired of animated films that are not trying harder.  Before The Nut Job, a trailer for Jorge R Guitérrez’s upcoming debut feature-length animated film The Book Of Life was shown.  In that one two minute trailer, I saw more imagination, invention, heart, character, love, visual splendour and overall effort than the entirety of The Nut Job.  There was also a trailer for Laika’s third animated feature The Boxtrolls and that too displayed more imagination, invention, heart, character, love, visual splendour and overall effort in two minutes than all 86 of The Nut Job.  I am tired of people not aiming for those levels, I am tired of people not trying.  They don’t even have to be that good, just as long as everyone involved is clearly trying.  So I am done giving crappy animated films a pass.  In a year that has seen The Lego Movie, in a year that has seen Mr. Peabody & Sherman and in a year that has seen How To Train Your Dragon 2, there is no excuse for Escape From Planet Earth, there is no excuse for Tarzan, there is no excuse for The House Of Magic and there is no excuse for the cynical, soulless pile of complete tripe known as The Nut Job.

You want to distract your kids with cartoons for two hours?  Turn on Cartoon Network, turn on Nicktoons, turn on Disney; turn on any TV channel that shows cartoons because there are brand new kids’ shows on the air right now who are of far higher quality than this crap and which will cost you pretty much nothing.  Just do not take them to this because not only is there better, and not only do your kids deserve better, animation as a whole deserves better.  Do not reward them for churning sh*t like this out.

Callum Petch wants to run til we meet in the night.  Follow him on the Twitters (@CallumPetch)!