Author

“Happiness can be found, even in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light.”
About the Author
Founder of Backseat Directors. Host of The Backseat Directors Podcast, and The Mega Movie Show! Continually surprised that he's getting older and not forever 24. Quit the corporate life to pursue his passions and spend more time at home. Grateful for the talented team at Backseat Directors, and for all the incredible work they do. Lover of movies, the BYU Cougars, Amy Jane and Groucho. Let's go to the movies!

REVIEW: Guns Akimbo

Saban Films
Rated: R
Run Time: 95 minutes
Director: Jason Lei Howden

Every now and then I find myself contemplating on the child actors of certain movies that shaped my childhood—where they are now, and where their acting careers have led them. There have been certain occasions when I realize that a child actor in one of my favorite childhood movies actually never stopped acting, and had made quite the career for themselves. I think it was in 2007 with the release of No Country For Old Men that I realized this was the same Josh Brolin that played Brand in the 1985 classic The Goonies! And what a career Brolin has had, especially in the last decade. But what about some of those child actors that seem to have quietly disappeared even after starring in some of the most iconic movies that shaped us? This is the question that led me to watch Guns Akimbo, starring Daniel Radcliffe.

I had not heard a thing about this movie before watching it, and don’t be surprised if this is the first time you’ve heard of this movie either. Guns Akimbo had a limited release in U.S. theaters back in February of this year, just before the Coronavirus outbreak (it likely was not playing in a theater near you anyway). You can rent the movie on most digital movie platforms which is how I was able to find it. I came across the movie while searching for cheap digital movie sales on iTunes (yes, I love digital movies, so sue me!), and the vibrant yellow and purple poster with Daniel Radcliffe in the middle holding up two guns immediately grabbed my attention. That’s when the previous question about child actors popped into my head, “Where have you been, Daniel Radcliffe? What have you been up to all these years?” I had to get to the bottom of this, even if it cost me $6.99 for a rental.

… And I totally regret my decision.

Guns Akimbo takes place in the near future as society has continued to plunge itself into the ever deepening hole of smartphone and social media addiction. Radcliffe plays a computer coder named Miles who works for a game app company designed to swindle its users out of more and more money through addictive play and in-game purchases (think Candycrush). Miles lives alone, has no friends, and spends his free time online stalking his ex-girlfriend while pining for the past. There is a monotony to his life that many of us are likely able to relate to: we wish for more of our life only to find ourselves spending hours and hours wasting time mindlessly scrolling through the Internet. And just like Miles’ own place of work, there are others organizations in the film that are ready to take advantage of our smartphone zombie-like, vegetative state specifically through an illegal underground game called Skizm.

Daniel Radcliffe in a scene of Guns Akimbo | Saban Films

Skizm has achieved worldwide popularity through live-streaming actual death matches of willing participants. The organization has become so popular and operates under such secrecy that the authorities are struggling to shut them down. This is when we find Miles alone in his apartment, on his computer, trolling the viewers and participants of Skizm in a very relatable “holier-than-thou” moment. But Miles can’t stay hidden behind his Internet anonymity for long as the Skizm game-makers notice his trolling comments and decide to bring the death match game to him. Within minutes Miles’ apartment is broken into by some goons that look like they stepped out of a Mad Max movie. Miles is drugged, passes out, and wakes up the next morning with guns bolted to his hands, and is forced to play in a Skizm death match against top player, Nix (played by actress Samara Weaving). Everything up to this point in the movie felt somewhat promising. It felt like there were some decent narratives and social commentary setup that could be explored in a crazy, fictional way. Social media and smartphone addiction, trolling behavior online, our desensitization of violence, monotony of life while not feeling motivated to make any real changes—this really could have been an interesting way to explore these questions and issues. Unfortunately, the movie fails in every aspect to address these commentaries, and even fails to be remotely entertaining. Once Skizm begins and Miles is trapped in the game, the movie takes the viewer on a bloody, violent, reckless mayhem journey through the city without revisiting any of the aforementioned commentaries. The violence is absolutely senseless, the plot is incoherent, and the acting is so poor that I really struggled to even finish the movie. My policy with any movie I watch is once I start it I have to finish it, no matter what.  It’s been a long time since I was this tempted to turn a movie off and call it quits. 

I was also really disappointed with Samara Weaving’s performance.  She was genuinely great in the surprisingly good indie horror flick Ready or Not (2109), and I believe that she has the talent to be a very good actor, but maybe any actor would have struggled to be good in this movie and this screenplay.  And what about Daniel Radcliffe?  You might almost feel sorry for the guy after watching Guns Akimbo.  No actor had a brighter spotlight in the early 2000’s than Daniel Radcliffe did in the Harry Potter series.  I know he’s done a handful of movies in between this movie and the final Harry Potter movie, but after watching this film, I’m not at all inclined to search out any other Radcliffe-starred movies.

At this point you should not be surprised that my recommendation on this movie is 100% SKIP IT.  Save your money and your time, and watch literally anything other than Guns Akimbo.

Recommendation: SKIP IT

How I Changed My Mind About ‘Batman v Superman’

Ben Affleck and Henry Cavill face off in a scene of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice | Warner Bros.

Today marks the four-year anniversary of one of the most debated and controversial comic book films ever made—Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (BvS). Even four years later you needn’t go further than the screen of your phone to see how widely discussed this movie is among fans and detractors alike. And “discuss” might be an inaccurate description of the types of conversations happening on social media platforms and other chat forums alike. Fans of Batman v Superman show a passion and loyalty to the film and its director, Zack Snyder, that is only matched by the fervor of Star Wars fans. Detractors and critics of Batman v Superman find it difficult to understand the logic of this fandom, and pick out easy targets to demoralize those that enjoy it. Reminiscent of party politics that dominate our county, chances of having a respectful, non-combative discussion of BvS continue to prove to be slim. I’d like to change that narrative. If this article is able to do anything at all, I hope it fosters people’s willingness to listen and have their minds changed. Two people on opposite sides of an argument cannot both be right, and neither rarely are. Truth is often found in the middle—in the divide. You must be willing to meet in the middle in order to discover that truth.

Ben Affleck and Henry Cavill face off in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice | Warner Bros.

Utter Disappointment

I walked out of the packed theater and into the lobby of the Century 16 theater in Salt Lake City just having seen the newly released Batman v Superman on March 25, 2016. I waited for my brother and some other friends as we all congregated outside to recap our experience of seeing this monumental movie for the very first time. Much like today, it was a rainy evening, and the smell of wet roads permeated the inside of the theater. It’s as if the rain from Gotham City carried over into the real-world, and kept that somber mood lasting even when the movie had already ended. It’s hard to remember the exact words shared among our group regarding our initial experience of seeing BvS, but the overwhelming feeling I had was total and utter disappointment. Almost a sickening feeling—a feeling of disbelief or denial that what you saw was actually real. I’ve only ever experienced that feeling one other time after seeing a movie for the first time (The Last Jedi left me in despair, but that’s another conversation for another day). As I walked out of the theater with my brother, we looked at each other and knew with a certainty that our feelings about the movie were mutual. Most of the car ride home was spent trying to make sense of what we just had seen. How could the same studio that produced The Dark Knight (TDK) trilogy be the same studio that produced Batman v Superman? My mind was spinning.

To add some context, let’s back it up a couple of decades. Like many children of the 80s, I grew up a passionate fan of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, NES (Nintendo), Back to the Future, Superman, and Batman. Some of my earliest memories of Halloween featured me, dressed up in my Superman costume: velcro red cape, and cotton-stuffed sleeves to improve the muscular tone of my four-year-old arms (I still need cotton stuffed shirts to enhance my muscular physique). Christopher Reeve was my Superman. John Williams’ theme was THE one and only Superman theme. I watched those VHS tapes regularly, and made sure that my mom gave me the definitive Superman styled hair with the curl. My dad took me to see Tim Burton’s Batman (1989)—the first movie I actually remember seeing in theaters. I wasn’t just a Superman fan anymore: Michael Keaton’s Batman was now my Batman. I had made a place in my heart for these two Superheroes. These were my superheroes. But perhaps unlike many closet nerds of the 80s and 90s, I never got into comic books. Even though I was fanatically obsessed with the Last Son of Krypton and the Dark Knight of Gotham, my exposure to these iconic characters was based primarily on the movies, and both DC animated series. My nerdiness and love for these characters waned somewhat through me teenage years, as the rise of the nerds and nerd culture had not yet swept through our society— that is, until June of 2005.

Christian Bale appears as Batman in The Dark Knight (2008) | Warner Bros.

Christopher Nolan Changed the Game

Arguably the greatest comic book movies (CBM) ever made, the Christopher Nolan Batman trilogy is well-regarded and esteemed by fans and critics alike. Nolan gave audiences everywhere a reason to believe that comic book movies aren’t as far-fetched or unrealistic as we had all been made to believe—a precedence set by every other comic book film ever made before. Nolan’s Batman was grounded, dark, authentic, and just felt REAL. Christian Bale as Batman introduced a more nuanced portrayal of the Caped-Crusader. You identified with Bruce Wayne, and almost sympathized with his character in that you didn’t envy him for being Batman. There was a real toll and cost to donning the cowl, and these movies showed audiences everywhere that being a superhero comes at a price: it’s not all sunshine and roses, as many comic book movies before had led us to believe. The Dark Knight trilogy was not the first CBM, but Nolan’s trilogy changed the game forever. The comic book movie genre was to be taken seriously now. Dark and gritty was now very much in fashion. Campy was out. Realism is what moved this genre forward.

Man of Steel debuted in 2013, and under the supervising eye of Christopher Nolan, Zack Snyder took the wheel and launched both DC and Warner Bros. (WB) on a new course. Man of Steel continues to age well, and every time I go back and revisit that movie, there are new things I learn and appreciate more and more. Man of Steel gave me confidence heading into the sequel. It gave me confidence in Zack Snyder and his vision for more DC movies to come. However, I felt some apprehension with WB introducing a new Batman in the middle of Superman’s own story. When Batman v Superman was announced, my initial reaction was surprise; it felt as though we had skipped a movie in between Man of Steel and BvS. Even though Batman had already graced the silver screen in eight solo films, this was a new DC universe with new stories and a new vision. Batman and other characters needed time to be reintroduced to the world. Come to find out, Snyder had made the case to introduce more characters in solo movies before BvS, only for his ideas to be shut down by execs at Warner Bros. In a quote from Heroic Hollywood, industry insider, Neil Daly confirmed these conversations:

Daly claims that Snyder hadn’t wanted to rush straight into Justice League after Man of Steel. He thought there should have been solo films for each of the heroes that were introduced in Batman v Superman, but Warner Bros. spurred on by the success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, wanted to accelerate things. Snyder, according to Daly had a six-film plan, and wouldn’t have directed all of these solo films. Rather he would have let other directors flesh out the characters in sync with his vision, while he worked on finishing the main arc of the DCEU, which would have consisted of Man of Steel, Batman v Superman, Justice League, Man of Steel 2, Justice League 2, and Justice League 3.

DC Insider Reveals Zack Snyder Wanted Solo Movies Before ‘Justice League’. By Cole Albinder, Jan. 19, 2019

Without the context of a new Batman movie, the audience was jumping into a story that felt like we opened a book and started reading from page 100. What ensued after the release of Batman v Superman was only an inevitability. We looked for context in the most recent parts of our memory, and all we found there was Christian Bale and Christopher Nolan.

Zack Snyder stands in front of the Batmobile in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice | Warner Bros.

Open to Being Wrong

So here I am, driving home with my brother just having seen Batman v Superman, and the dominant part of our conversation was how different this movie was from Christopher Nolan’s iconic trilogy. We discussed how different Ben Affleck’s Batman was to Christian Bale’s. We ended up talking more about Nolan’s Batman movies and how much we wished this new one was more in line with Nolan’s. And for the better part of a year, this was my stance: Zack Snyder’s Batman is not as good as Christopher Nolan’s.

This was my impression of a film that I saw once in theaters and didn’t revist for almost an entire year. That is, until I met some friends who challenged my opinion on BvS (here’s looking at you, Ry, Formal and Mikey). Friends who hold the Nolan trilogy in such high regard, and yet were able to distinguish between that trilogy and this new iteration of Batman, and still enjoy it. It was confusing to me how these new friends could see and experience the same quality of TDK Trilogy and still find value in Zack Snyder’s new movie. It honestly did not make sense to me. Some number of conversations later I was determined to give Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice another try. But not the theatrical cut. Not the cut that WB interfered with, but the cut that Zack Snyder had intended the world to see. An additional 31 minutes of footage not shown in theaters, known as the “Ultimate Edition.” I bought my Blu-ray and popped in the disc, and began to experience a movie I had written off completely in a whole new light. Going into the “Ultimate Edition” with an open mind, I began to notice things I never did in theaters: the powerful, haunting score by Hans Zimmer and Junkie XL, the emotional and poetic opening scene of the Wayne’s tragic murder, how far Bruce Wayne had fallen, and how true Alfred’s words rung. But more than anything, I discovered my new-found appreciation for Batman v Superman. More so, my new appreciation for Zack Snyder and his vision was found in the bonus features of the Blu-ray. Within these bonus features I discovered how much Zack Snyder genuinely loves DC Comics and these iconic characters, and how much he cherished this opportunity to bring them to life on the big screen. Anyone who thinks that Zack doesn’t understand the true nature of Superman and Batman, go watch the special features of Man of Steel and BvS and then tell me you haven’t changed your mind. And if that’s not enough for you, take some time and read the incredible work put together by this Twitter user in comparing Zack Snyder’s DC movies to the actual DC comics.

Over these last few years as more behind-the-scenes information spills out regarding the tumultuous relationship between Zack Snyder and Warner Bros., and Snyder’s unceremonious departure from the DCEU, the more appreciation I have for Snyder’s vision and the story he was trying to tell. Like a table with only three legs, Snyder was trying to create something wholly unique and distinct from the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but without the real support and backing from the studio that seemed to have never been fully behind him in the first place. Snyder is often criticized for his storytelling ability (or lack thereof), or for his use of violence and mayhem, but one thing about Snyder that is undeniable is his keen eye for aesthetic and cinematography. Snyder is one of the most gifted visual artists in the business and his movies speak for themselves. Warner Bros. incessant meddling in Snyder’s DCEU, and their fears of falling behind Marvel Studios in the race for Superhero movie supremacy, cost us fans what could have been some of the most epic Batman and Superman stories ever told. I am grateful though, that we did get the highly ambitious and controversial, Batman v Superman, a movie that has challenged the comic book movie industry, and continues to spark debate even four years later. And I will forever be grateful for friends who were good enough to challenge my opinion, which opened the way for me to change my mind.

#ReleaseTheSnyderCut

BOX OFFICE BULLETIN: No Winners Here

Brothers Ian and Barley Lightfoot embark on an epic quest in search of a rare Phoenix Gem in Onward | PIXAR

The Hollywood box office just had its worst weekend total since 1990 (I really hated writing that sentence). And unfortunately, this might be the predominant Box Office Bulletin headline for the foreseeable future (I really don’t want to get used to that either…). As we move into discussing the box office numbers from movies this past weekend, keep in mind that every single movie currently in theaters is being impacted by Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), and the current global climate of self-isolation and social distancing will force these numbers into record lows.

As the reality of the COVID-19 pandemic begins to settle in, lives around the world are forced to adapt. It’s safe to say we would all prefer things to go back to what we call “normal” and for life to resume the way it was just a few weeks ago: but this is the new reality (for now), and adapting is something that humans do very well. We adapt, we move forward, we find ways to make the best of what life gives us. Rocky probably said it best when dealing with tough challenges in life:

“Let me tell you something you already know. The world ain’t all sunshine and rainbows. It’s a very mean and nasty place and I don’t care how tough you are it will beat you to your knees and keep you there permanently if you let it. You, me, or nobody is gonna hit as hard as life. But it ain’t about how hard ya hit. It’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward. How much you can take and keep moving forward. That’s how winning is done! Now if you know what you’re worth then go out and get what you’re worth. But ya gotta be willing to take the hits, and not pointing fingers saying you ain’t where you wanna be because of him, or her, or anybody! Cowards do that and that ain’t you! You’re better than that!”

– Rocky Balboa (2006) | MGM Distribution Co.

And with that, let’s get into some numbers.

Barley and Ian Lightfoot risk it all to spend one day with their dad in Onward | PIXAR

Pixar’s Onward captured this past weekend’s top spot by earning an additional $10.6 million at the domestic box office. Onward‘s global total has now reached $101 million. From week one to week two, Onward dropped 73% in its domestic earnings, becoming the steepest decline for any Pixar movie in its second weekend. The Good Dinosaur (2015) previously held that spot, dropping 61% in its second weekend, followed by Cars 2 (2011) dropping 60% in its second weekend. This is without a doubt a huge disappointment for Pixar and the filmmakers of Onward, as these numbers are no way reflective of the quality of the film.

Jeremy Camp (played by K.J. Apa) performs a song in I Still Believe | Lionsgate

In its opening weekend, faith-based film I Still Believe was able to gross $9.5 million domestically, coming in second just behind Onward. Lionsgate’s newest inspirational film did see a few international screens in Australia and New Zealand adding less than $300k to its box office totals. I Still Believe follows in the footsteps on another “true story” faith-based film distributed by Lionsgate called, I Can Only Imagine (2018) which grossed over $85 million total at the box office. Sadly, I don’t believe (pun absolutely intended) that I Still Believe will come close to making those kinds of numbers considering the current COVID-19 global climate.

Vin Diesel stars as Ray Garrison in Bloodshot | Sony Pictures

Sony Pictures’ Bloodshot takes third place for this past weekend’s box office. Bloodshot earned $9.1 million domestically, with an additional $15.1 million at the international box office. This is the lowest domestic opening weekend total for Vin Diesel since his 2015 film, The Last Witch Hunter. Even with current public gathering restrictions being implemented worldwide, Bloodshot debuted in 14 other countries, with Russia, Indonesia, and Mexico being the top three international markets. Vin Diesel stars in the lesser-known comic book adaptation from Valiant Comics as a technologically enhanced super-soldier named Ray Garrison. Bloodshot is the first of more Valiant Comics adaptations to come. Harbinger is the next slated adaption to hit theaters and is currently in development. Bloodshot earned a “B” from CinemaScore, while Rotten Tomatoes showed the common divide between that of critics and the general audience. The approval rating from critics is at 32% with 111 reviews at the time of writing this article, while the audience posted a 78% approval rating with 1,080 reviews.

Rounding out the top five of this past weekend’s box office are two films from Universal Pictures. In its third weekend The Invisible Man added $5.9 million to its domestic total, bringing its global box office total to $122.6 million. Kudos to Universal Pictures for instilling confidence back into the public that their iconic collection of ‘Classic Monsters’ can be adapted into compelling modern-day stories. The second Universal movie is the highly controversial film, The Hunt. Originally slated to release in Sept. 2019, the movie was pulled in the wake of the Dayton and El Paso shootings last year. The Hunt is a political satire and dark comedy about wealthy elite liberals who kidnap young adult conservatives to their ranch where they hunt them for sport. The Hunt made $5.3 million domestically, while receiving mixed reviews from both critics and audience members alike.

Here’s a look at how other movies still showing in theaters are performing:

Sonic the Hedgehog$145.7 million domestic total, $306.4 million worldwide total.

The Way Back$13.3 million domestic total, $14.3 million worldwide total.

The Call of the Wild$62 million domestic total, $107.2 million worldwide total.

Emma$9.9 million domestic total, $25 million worldwide total.

*Note: All financial data is provided courtesy The Numbers, my favorite source for box office data.

REVIEW: Spenser Confidential

NETFLIX
Rated: R
Run Time: 111 minutes
Director: Peter Berg

I’ve often heard people compare Netflix’s original content selection model to “throwing spaghetti against the wall and seeing what sticks,” which often seems to be a fairly accurate statement; especially if you’ve spent a good amount of time watching Netflix original content. There’s a lot of good, but there’s also a lot of bad. Spaghetti that’s stuck: Stranger Things, To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, Bright (I personally love this David Ayer movie), Daredevil, Murder Mystery, Grace and Frankie, Queer Eye, The Haunting of Hill House, Roma, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, etc. That list is pretty long, and substantial. Netflix has really begun to hone in on their craft. But it’s been a bumpy road along the way. Spaghetti that has not stuck: Rim of the World, The Open House, Polar, How It Ends, The Titan, The After Party, Everything Sucks, Disjointed, etc. (If I called out any show that you’re a fan of, please do tell me why you like that show!) Here’s what I’m getting at: What happens if that spaghetti you threw against the wall stuck but is slowly sliding down, making its way to the floor? That’s exactly how I feel about Spenser Confidential. It’s really not that great of a movie, but it was free! (kind of)

Spenser Confidential (loosely based on the novel Wonderland by Ace Atkins) stars Mark Wahlberg, Winston Duke, Alan Arkin, Iliza Shlesinger, and Bokeem Woodbine. The movie takes place in Boston, MA, where it was also shot and filmed. This is Mark Wahlberg in his natural habitat doing Mark Wahlberg things. I like Wahlberg. I’m not sure there’s a movie of his that I didn’t enjoy to a certain extent. And any time you go see a movie starring Wahlberg, you kind of already know what you’re going to get. Like many actors in the business, Wahlberg just plays himself. So it’s a good thing that he’s got a charismatic way about him, because without Wahlberg, this movie likely would have sunk like a rock in the Boston Harbor. Wahlberg plays Spenser, a disgraced Boston police officer, who has spent the last five years in prison for assaulting his superior in his own home. Spenser re-enters society after his five year prison stint with hopes of leaving Boston and starting his life over (Why as a truck driver living in Arizona? I’m still trying to figure that one out). Spenser has help acclimating back into society from his old fighting coach, Henry (played by Alan Arkin). Henry allows Spenser to live with him, where Henry is also mentoring and housing an up-and-coming fighter named Hawk (played by Winston Duke). Shortly after Spenser leaves prison, other Boston police officers are murdered, which sparks Spenser’s policing instincts to begin his own investigation into these suspicious murders.

The plot plays out in very familiar fashion. You’ve definitely seen this kind of movie before—think Lethal Weapon, Rush Hour, 16 Blocks, or The Other Guys—the buddy-cop action-comedy, but just not nearly as good or as memorable as those classics. Mark Wahlberg and Winston Duke make a really interesting pair; although, I wish Duke had more to do in this movie. Every time his character is given some light, he shines, but only long enough for the spotlight to be taken away, leaving you wanting more from him. Duke is a very talented actor; he was fantastic in Jordan Peele’s Us, and I’m ready for him to take on a true starring role. The more tense and serious moments of the movie are broken up well with bits of comedy from Spenser’s jilted lover, Cissy, who is not happy about the five years she’s spent alone waiting for Spenser to get out of prison. Cissy definitely plays the part of a strong, confident Bostonian woman: she takes what she wants when she wants, and is not scared to get her hands dirty. Wahlberg really is in his element playing an ex-cop in Boston. This is his city, and he feels right at home in this movie.

(From left to right) Winston Duke, Alan Arkin and Mark Wahlberg appear in a scene of Spenser Confidential | NETFLIX

Where the movie’s wheels fell off for me was the ending. It was far too predictable, and felt like a cheap way to end the movie. Corruption in law enforcement and local elected officials is not an uncommon story, but I always find myself eager to watch these kinds of movies. Maybe that’s because deep down we all know (or want to believe) that these kind of stories are real. We want to see that dirty underbelly of the city we’ve grown up in; we want to swing that door open as fast as we can and expose those filthy rats in the basement; we know they’re there—we just can’t see them. Movies like Spenser Confidential help to fill in the gaps of what we already suspect is happening in real life. So when the movie approaches the ending, and both my wife and I are audibly predicting what is going to happen, and then rolling our eyes when it does, it just feels cheap. Good thing this is a Netflix movie, which means we got to sit in the comfort of our own home, on our own couch, and just veg.

Now it comes to it: my recommendation. Like I stated earlier in this review, Spenser Confidential really isn’t that great of a movie, but I didn’t regret spending the 1 hour and 45 minutes it took to watch it. The reason I will give it a “Stream It” is because this is a Mark Wahlberg-starred movie, and he is able to do enough to keep the movie afloat. The only thing this movie will cost you is your time. So if you’ve got some time to spare, give Spenser Confidential a watch.

Recommendation: STREAM IT

BOX OFFICE BULLETIN: ‘Onward’ and Upward

Ian and Barley Lightfoot (voiced by Tom Holland and Chris Pratt, respectively) in Onward | PIXAR

Pixar’s Onward claims the top spot in this weekend’s box office totals. Including its Thursday night previews, Onward grossed over $40 million domestically over its initial three-day weekend, which might seem like a very good haul for an animated feature film… But everything in context. Pixar Animation Studios has built a reputation for some of the most popular animated movies of all time. The last Pixar movie to gross under $50 million domestically in its opening weekend was Ratatouille in 2007. Including the international box office, Onward grossed approximately $68 million in its first three days. To put things into perspective, the last two Pixar feature films, Toy Story 4 (2019), and Incredibles 2 (2018) grossed $120 million and $182 million, respectively, in their opening weekends. Out of Pixar’s 23 animated feature films, Onward sits at 18th in opening weekend numbers. The film is receiving mostly positive reviews from critics (I personally highly recommend seeing Onward), and audiences seem to be really enjoying the movie as well. CinemaScore awarded Onward an A-, while the audience approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes currently sits at 96% with over 3,750 reviews at the time of this article.

So what happened? Don’t be surprised when the answer might be something as simple as the Coronavirus (even though the Coronavirus issue is anything but simple). Onward did not have the support of international audiences like most other Pixar films. The movie did not debut in any region of the world that is currently being impacted by the Coronavirus—including one of the biggest international box offices, China. In 2019, Toy Story 4 enjoyed a box office bump of over $13.2 million from China in its opening weekend. Expect this to be a trend as more movies continue to release this year. Some studios are trying to avoid these box office disappointments by delaying their releases (see: James Bond, and My Spy), hoping for things to settle down globally concerning the Coronavirus.

Elizabeth Moss in a scene of The Invisible Man | Universal Pictures

Universal’s The Invisible Man dropped 46% from its opening weekend, but still managed to take second place over newcomers The Way Back and Emma. In its second weekend, The Invisible Man brought in an additional $15 million domestically, bringing its global total to $98 million. Undoubtedly an impressive feat seeing the movie’s production budget was a mere $7 million. This is a huge success for Universal Pictures and their abandoned franchise (Dark Universe) that, like the phoenix, has somehow been reborn and risen from the ashes of The Mummy (2017). Director Leigh Whannell has proven that ‘Universal’s Classic Monsters’ do not need the star power of Tom Cruise nor the production budget of a Marvel superhero movie to succeed. The more grounded and intimate character driven approach of The Invisible Man will hopefully help steer the direction of the upcoming ‘Classic Monster’ movie reboots in Dark Army, and Frankenstein.

Jack Cunningham (Ben Affleck) coaches his high school basketball team in a scene of The Way Back | Warner Bros.

Rounding out the Top 3 is Warner Bros. The Way Back. Ben Affleck returns to the big screen after two previous roles in Netflix original movies, The Last Thing He Wanted (2020) and Triple Frontier (2019). The Way Back grossed just over $8.5 million domestically. Even though Ben Affleck has the star name and star talent to go along with this movie, it seems as though Warner Bros. wasn’t too concerned with spending resources in marketing this movie more to the public, and that’s a shame. In recent interviews, Affleck has opened up and shared intimate details of his life and his personal struggles over the last few years, and how much this film meant to him personally. Affleck most certainly cared about this movie; it would have been nice to feel as though Warner Bros. cared about it too.

Number 4 on this weekend’s top box office numbers was Paramount’s Sonic the Hedgehog, which grossed just under $8 million in its fourth weekend. Its global total now sits at $295 million (not including China, Japan etc.). Number 5 is 20th Century Studios’ The Call of the Wild with $7 million domestically. The Harrison Ford starred movie unfortunately is set to lose the studio over $50 million. Like some of the aforementioned movies in today’s bulletin, marketing and global health concerns have played major factors in this movie’s financial failures.

Here’s a look at how other movies still showing in theaters are performing:

Emma$5 million domestically, $6.8 million worldwide total (Emma just debuted in its first weekend)

Bad Boys For Life$202 million domestically, $415 million worldwide total.

Birds of Prey$82 million domestically, $195 million worldwide total.

Brahms: The Boy II$11.7 million domestically, $18.1 million worldwide total.

Portrait of a Lady on Fire$3.3 million domestically, $8.8 million worldwide total.

*Note: All financial data is provided courtesy The Numbers, my favorite source for box office data.

The Mega Movie Show (intro)

Here’s a sneak peek of what’s to come on The Backseat Director’s Mega Movie Show!

BOX OFFICE BULLETIN: Sonic the Hedgehog Remains Unbeaten

Sonic the Hedgehog (voiced by Ben Schwartz) | Paramount Pictures

Coming into its second weekend, Paramount’s Sonic the Hedgehog ran right past the competition to remain atop the box office, beating out new comer and Harrison Ford led, The Call of the Wild. If you’re surprised by these results, either you haven’t seen the movie, or you don’t pay attention to box office numbers (I personally recommend you do both). Sonic the Hedgehog dropped 55% overall from its opening weekend debut, but still brought in $26.1 million. Its domestic box office total now exceeds $106 million…in just 10 days. This is already good for fourth all-time domestic box office gains for a video game adapted movie. Sonic the Hedgehog, based on the iconic SEGA video game character, added 31 new theaters to its domestic showing, proving just how popular our little blue speedster has become.

Harrison Ford appears in a scene of The Call of the Wild | 20th Century Studios

Acting legend, Harrison Ford, took on the role of John Thornton in 20th Century Studio’s remake of The Call of the Wild, which came in second its opening weekend. The movie brought in $24.8 million having debuted in 3,752 theaters across the U.S. These three day numbers were a promising sign for this well-known tale, as pre-ticket sales had indicated a smaller opening than the actual results. However, for a movie as expensive as The Call of the Wild, it will have an uphill battle as it continues to make up ground on its estimated $135 million production budget. The movie debuted in 40 international markets, and managed to gross $15.4 million, with France, the U.K. and Mexico being the top 3 international markets respectively. Reviews for the movie from audiences across the county have been glowing. CinemaScore handed the movie an A-, while the audience approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes currently sits at 90% with 3,648 reviews submitted.

20th Century Studios (formally named 20th Century Fox, now owned by Disney) is still rolling through it’s pre-Disney lineup of movies that began production before being sold to the Mouse with the money. Recent 20th Century Fox movies that were also taken on by Disney due to the acquisition: Ford v Ferrari, Ad Astra, and The Art of Racing in the Rain.

Birds of Prey: And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn | Warner Bros. Pictures

Warner Bros. (WB) Pictures’ Birds of Prey takes third place with adding $6.8 million domestically. Birds of Prey fell 60% from its second weekend, and lost 671 screens across the U.S. Don’t expect the movie to remain in theaters much longer, as WB will attempt to recuperate their losses with DVD and Blu-ray sales. The movie has made $173 million worldwide, which still has it dead last in box office gains for a DCEU movie. A spot previously held by 2019’s Shazam!, which made a total of $366 million globally.

Fourth place was Sony Pictures’ Bad Boys for Life, starring Will Smith and Martin Lawrence, which continues to impress even in its sixth week in theaters. Bad Boys for Life earned $5.8 million, bringing its domestic total to over $191 million. Rounding out the Top 5 is Brahms: The Boy II. In its opening weekend, the movie debuted at $5.8 million; a sequel to the the 2016 film, The Boy (which grossed over $64 million) has its work cut out for itself in replicating those results. If I were the studio, I wouldn’t hold my breath…

Here’s a look at how other movies still in theaters are performing:

Fantasy Island$22.2 million domestically, $33.8 million worldwide total.

The Photograph$17.6 million domestically.

Downhill$7.4 million domestically.

The Gentlemen$33.6 million domestically, $87.5 million worldwide total.

*Note: All financial data is provided courtesy The Numbers, my favorite source for box office data.

REVIEW: The Last Thing He Wanted

NETFLIX
Rated: R
Run Time: 115 minutes
Director: Dee Rees

It’s not often I finish watching a movie and walk away scratching me head trying to understand what the two hours were all about… And it’s a shame, really. I mean, should I be more upset about the outcome of a film with such a highly regarded group of actors, or the fact that I spent two hours watching a movie that made little to no sense by the end? I still haven’t quite decided…

These are the moments in which I am happy that seeing a new movie didn’t require me to spend any additional money on a movie ticket and a 10-minute drive to the theater (where I would have inevitably purchased popcorn and a drink, and now I’m out $20 for a movie and snacks). This is why I enjoy Netflix and other streaming services so much: the risk factor of seeing a movie is mitigated when I don’t have to invest so much of my time and money in a film that I might not enjoy. Like any other movie studio, you have your gems, and you have your fodder. Netflix is no exception. Sometimes you strike gold (see: ROMA, The Two Popes, The King), and sometimes you get something that has all the makings of a good movie, but you’re just left feeling unsatisfied (see: Triple Frontier).

The Last Thing He Wanted (adapted from the novel of the same name) begins as a 1980’s geo-political drama surrounding The United States’ controversial involvement in the Nicaraguan Civil War. Elena McMahon (Anne Hathaway), a reporter for the Washington Post, is driven by her desire to break the next big story of the CIA’s involvement in the Contra/Sandinista conflict. Her passion for discovering and exposing the truth is the driving force behind her career, even at the cost of her personal safety and family life. Hathaway’s character is set up well in the beginning of the film within this storyline. And this storyline seems to set up the movie on a solid path of political intrigue and drama. But this is where I am supposed to tell you, “Not so fast.”

Willem Dafoe as Richard McMahon in The Last Thing He Wanted | NETFLIX

The moment you meet Richard McMahon (Willem Dafoe) the entire movie shifts. The only thing that carries over from Act 1 to Act 2 are the same characters. I was ready for the geo-political and historical drama setup from Act 1; I was ready for the movie to get messy in the secretive machinations of the CIA during the early 80’s. What I wasn’t ready for (or even expecting) was for the movie to take us down a path of confusing family drama involving illegal weapon-smuggling, and non-sensical love affairs. I genuinely wish I understood better what this movie was about, and the story it was trying to tell. No doubt there is a story behind the confusing plot points and all of Elena McMahon’s first-person narrations. I just wish I knew. But even more so, I just wish that Wikipedia was updated with the plot explanation so I could figure out how to actually make sense of this movie.

Courtesy of Sundance Institute. Anne Hathaway appears in The Last Thing He Wanted | NETFLIX

Perhaps I’m being too harsh on this movie—maybe one day in the future I’ll take some time to revisit this movie (although, unlikely) and see if I can’t have a better experience on my second attempt. Perhaps my expectations were a little too high for the film when I saw who was playing in it. I might be one of the few people in the world that genuinely believes Anne Hathaway to be a talented actress. Put her in the right role and she has proven to have star potential. Ben Affleck and Willem Dafoe are A-list type actors. These are seasoned professionals. Affleck’s performance was the most disappointing out of the three. But how much can acting talent overcome such a poor screenplay? When it comes to the quality of movies, I view them in the same way I view sports. You have a coach (director), assistants (writers), and the players (actors). Some players are generational talents and can instantly make any team they are on a good, competitive team—some actors are the same way. They have the ability to elevate a movie from bad to decent, or even enjoyable. But for me, I’ve always considered coaches and assistants (directors and writers) to be even more influential of a team’s success than the actual players (actors) themselves. This seems to be the case for The Last Thing He Wanted. A collection of talent on screen that just does not ever translate into a winning team. Which is too bad—the movie had potential.

Recommendation: SKIP IT

BOX OFFICE BULLETIN: Sonic Zooms Past the Competition

Sonic (voiced by Ben Schwartz) in Sonic the Hedgehog | Paramount Pictures

Paramount’s Sonic the Hedgehog just set the record for best opening weekend for a video game adapted movie, earning a whopping $58 million domestically, and $101 million total worldwide.  Our little blue speedster earned the number one spot for a video game adapted movie, supplanting last year’s Pokemon Detective Pikachu, which opened to a $54 million domestic box office over its initial three day weekend.  Including Monday’s totals, it is estimated that Sonic the Hedgehog will earn upwards of $70 million in the U.S. alone.  For a genre known for its massive flops, box office bombs, and low critical reception, Sonic’s achievements truly stand out.  The movie, based on the iconic SEGA video game character, has also earned an “A” from CinemaScore, and the highest audience score for any video game adapted movie at 94% on Rotten Tomatoes (with 8,052 respondents as of right now). This is an incredible achievement for Sonic the Hedgehog, and for its filmmakers. Considering the fan backlash for the original Sonic design which resulted in a three month delay so director Jeff Fowler and co. could go back and retool Sonic’s look, a successful opening weekend was not guaranteed. Hats off to the filmmakers and everyone who worked on this movie. You’ve earned this success.

Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn in Birds of Prey | Warner Bros. Pictures

Warner Bros. Birds of Prey came in second, falling -48% in its second weekend in theaters, bringing in approximately $17 million over the three day weekend.  This brings the movie’s box office total to $59.4 million domestically, and $143 million total world wide  Without a doubt Birds of Prey continues to disappoint not meeting the studio’s expectations, becoming the lowest performing “DCEU” film to date.  Before Birds of Prey, last year’s Shazam! had the lowest opening three day weekend for a “DCEU” film, bringing in $53.5 million domestically.  Even with a B+ CinemaScore, and a favorable “FRESH” 79% critics score on Rotten Tomatoes, the Margot Robbie led Birds of Prey continues to struggle to find its footing with audiences worldwide.

Third and fourth place was a virtual tie, with Sony’s Fantasy Island bringing in an estimated $12.3 million, and Universal’s The Photograph earning $12.1 million domestically over their opening three day weekend.

Martin Lawrence and Will Smith in Bad Boys for Life | Sony Pictures

Coming in fifth place was Sony Pictures Bad Boys for Life.  Now in its fifth weekend, the Will Smith starred film only dropped -6% from its fourth weekend, bringing in $11.3 million. For a sequel movie that’s 17 years removed from its predecessor, Bad Boys for Life is undoubtedly a smash hit for Sony Pictures.  The movie has earned $181 million at the domestic box office, with a total of $368 million world wide, and continues to attract audiences everywhere. 

Here’s a look at how other movies still showing in theaters are performing:

Downhill$4.6 million in its opening weekend.

Gretel & Hansel$13.3 million domestically, $16.5 million worldwide total.

The Gentlemen$31.2 million domestically, $74.6 million worldwide total.

The Turning$15 million domestically, $18 million worldwide total.

Dolittle$70.3 million domestically, $180.9 million worldwide total.

Just Mercy$34.9 million domestically, $42.1 million worldwide total.

*Note: All financial data is provided courtesy The Numbers, my favorite source for box office data.

REVIEW: Sonic the Hedgehog

Paramount Pictures
Rated: PG
Run Time: 99 minutes
Director: Jeff Fowler

The much maligned “video game” genre of movies just received a much needed breath of fresh air. Sonic the Hedgehog is the 37th (live-action) film based off of a video game or video game character. A genre that started back in May of 1993 with the release of Super Mario Bros., but is still struggling to find its legs and connect with general audiences domestically and globally. There were a few that did…well enough…at the box office to merit a thumbs up, at least when comparing their production budget to the total box office outcome.

Warcraft (2016): The top dog of “video game movies.” Warcraft made more money than any other video game movie before it and since. It had an estimated production budget of $160 million, and was able to pull in almost $439 million world wide. However, over $391 million of that was outside of the U.S.

Rampage (2018): A close second behind Warcraft in its box office totals, pulling in approximately $428 million. On a production budget of around $130 million the studio was able to turn a profit; notwithstanding, it did have the help of one of Hollywood’s biggest stars, Dwayne Johson.

Pokémon, Detective Pikachu (2019): Until this movie, no other video game movie ever achieved the coveted “FRESH” score from Rotten Tomatoes, coming in at 69% (meaning, 69% of the 294 critics who reviewed the movie liked it). On a production budget of $150 million, and a box office haul of approximately $433 million, Detective Pikachu is widely considered the most successful video game movie ever made. Was it a turning point for this struggling genre? Or was the global appeal of Pokémon and that cute and cuddly Pikachu the reason for the movie’s success?

Sonic (voiced by Ben Schwartz) in a scene from Sonic the Hedgehog. | Paramount Pictures

Enter Sonic the Hedgehog. One of the most iconic video game characters ever created. What Super Mario is to Nintendo, Sonic is to SEGA. If you were to make a list of the top 5 most iconic or well-known video game characters, Sonic would be on almost every list. (My list: Donkey Kong, Pac-Man, Super Mario, Sonic, and Master Chief). But time and time again the video game genre have proven that popularity and iconic appeal do not automatically equate to financial and critical success.

I’m very happy to report that Sonic the Hedgehog has not followed the footsteps of its video game movie siblings. In spite of its shaky marketing start (see: Sonic design change), Sonic has sped his way into the hearts of audiences across the country. In its opening weekend, Sonic the Hedgehog has made more domestically ($58 million) than Warcraft made in its entire domestic run ($47.3 million)—and for good reason. Sonic the Hedgehog knows what it is and does not try to be anything else. The movie has timely self-deprecating moments that allow the audience to suspend belief and just enjoy the story being told. Most of the screen time is given to the little blue speedster and James Marsden’s character, Tom Wachowski. So the success of the movie is heavily dependent on the interactions of these two characters and how that translates on screen. Marsden does very well interacting with a 100% CGI created Sonic, and a genuine bond between the two characters is felt throughout.

Jim Carrey plays the villain, Dr. Ivo Robotnik. | Paramount Pictures

The most surprising performance of the film is given by Jim Carrey. I’ll admit I was very surprised to see Carrey take on a role that seemed more suited to the 1990’s Jim Carrey. As the villain, Dr. Ivo Robotnik, Carrey actually seems to care about his performance in this role. His lines are well delivered. His presence on screen is felt but without overshadowing the main characters, and if I’m being totally honest, I think Carrey’s talents were well utilized in this movie.

If you grew up playing the Sonic video games, or you have a family that wants to enjoy a family-friendly movie, Sonic the Hedgehog is the movie to see. I was overall pleased with the outcome, and feel that this (even more so than Detective Pikachu) is a great step in the right direction for video game movies.

Recommendation: GO SEE IT!

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