Summer Box Office – movies to watch

It’s a bit late to be listing the movies I want to watch this summer, given that a couple of them have already set the box office on fire, but better late that never.

1. The Hunger Games – This movie was hotly anticipated as the next big new young adult franchise following the end of the Harry Potter series and the forthcoming end to the Twilight Saga. The first trailer was underwhelming and a few watchers must have started questioning the wisdom of giving the reins to Gary Ross. But when the movie came out, it was a deserving hit, with Ross finding a fine balance between the human story, the action and the social satire, all packaged into an intense, well paced film in spite of the longish 2 hour 22 minute run time. Until a few days ago, this was the top grossing movie at the US box office and at USD 388 mn has out-grossed every one of the Harry Potter films in the US. That in itself is an amazing achievement, given that it was produced for a budget of just USD 78 mn. US + Worldwide combined the film has grossed nearly USD 650 mn. One of the co-writers for the screenplay is Billy Ray, who I have a lot of respect for…check out his writer-director efforts Shattered Glass and Breach. Studio Lionsgate Films, which until now had the Tyler Perry Madea films and the Saw series as revenue generators has struck gold with this franchise. The sequel comes out on Nov 22nd, 2013.

2. John Carter – I was really excited about this film when it was announced by Disney a few years ago. Of course, by now, pages and pages have been written about how they messed up the marketing and let the production run over budget. By and large, I enjoyed the film, although I agreed that they made a mess of the marketing – please refer my post from some weeks ago. John Carter will close its US run with about USD 75 mn and has earned about USD 250 mn elsewhere around the world. I don’t expect any of E.R. Burroughs other John Carter novels will ever reach the big screen in the near future.

2. Battleship – Outside the US, Battleship has been released for a few weeks already. The Universal Studios movie is the typical summer popcorn movie. It has the usual ingredients – alien invasion, lots of high technology and big explosions, a romantic sub-plot and lame dialogue. Peter Berg is a poor man’s Michael Bay, but the output is very similar, although one may argue that it operates at a slightly higher intellectual plan…but only slightly. Battleship opens in the US this weekend, having already taken in USD 200+ mn globally. I expect it to make about USD 200 mn in the US (at best), so all combined it will be marginally profitable for Universal (the formula is that a movie has to gross about twice its production cost to make any money for the studio).

3. Marvel’s The Avengers – Well we knew this would be big for Disney, but obviously, no one expected it to make this much money. It really has helped Disney forget about the John Carter experience, I think. I talked about my top 10 Avengers moments soon after I watched the movie, which was the week before it debuted in the US. As predicted it has grossed USD 1 billion globally and in the US, it is likely to end its domestic run with a gross of about USD 525-550 mn, in the vicinity of the current #3 The Dark Knight.

4. Dark Shadows – I am usually very excited to watch a Tim Burton movie, but I have to admit, I haven’t really enjoyed his last 2 films – Alice in Wonderland and Sweeney Todd. I am not really looking forward to Dark Shadows either and the weird Johnny Depp performances are now getting a bit tired for me. Looks like that’s the verdict of the movie going audience after its tepid launch last weekend and relatively poor Cinemagrade Score. I don’t think this one is going to cross USD 100 mn in the US. I am not in a hurry to watch the upcoming Frankenweenie either, as I explained here soon after the trailer came out in early March.

5. Prometheus –  Releasing on June 8th in the US, this is the movie I am really looking forward to this summer. Ridley Scott has teased Alien fans out of their minds over the past several months – is it a prequel, is it not a prequel? If not, then why are the trailers so similar? The pre-launch viral marketing has been outstanding and very detailed – a bit too detailed in my view as I feel that too much of the back story is being given away already. I have stopped watching any of the new videos or trailers now. I don’t think this will make more than USD 150 mn in the US and about the same amount Internationally, given its R rating. I believe (I hope) it will be my favourite film of the summer.

6. Rock of Ages – Yes, I am looking forward to seeing Tom Cruise sing 1980’s hair metal songs. There, I’ve said it. Adam Shankman did a pretty good job with John Travolta and co. in Hairspray a few years ago. He has directed a couple of episodes of Glee in the meantime, so it’s safe to say the man knows his musicals. I am sure there will be a lot of hamming up on screen with the likes of Russell Brand, Alec Baldwin and Catherine Zeta-Jones. I don’t think the movie will cross USD 100 mn in the US and I don’t think it will get much traction Internationally, but one never knows. This one comes out June 15th in the US.

7. Men in Black III – After the disaster that was MIB2, I was very skeptical when the 3rd edition was announced. But after seeing the trailer, I am really looking forward to a fun ride. I am a big fan of James Brolin and would like to see him try out his comic chops. I expect this to bring the franchise roaring back with about USD 250 mn in the US and about the same amount Internationally. Releasing next weekend in the US.

8. Snow White and the Huntsman – Releasing on June 1st in the US. The trailer is pretty interesting and Charlize Theron is going to chew up the screen as the evil queen. Chris Hemsworth is in a Thor-like role as the huntsman and Kristine Stewart will knit her brows as usual as the warrior princess Snow White. Director Rupert Sanders is an unknown quantity, as it’s his debut film (quite a responsibility, given the big budget, special effects and star cast). I think it’s going to be a success and will make about USD 200 mn in the US and perhaps USD 300 mn plus Internationally.

9. Brave – Pixar need to find their way back after Cars2 (which I thought was more bearable than Cars, but that’s not saying much) and Brave has a troubled history with original director Brenda Chapman being replaced by the eccentric Mark Andrews. But the trailer looks tremendously entertaining and Disney does have the magic touch with princesses. I think this will be a return to box office form for Pixar with about USD 300 mn in the US, though it may not make as much Internationally (except UK, of course). It releases June 22nd in the US.

10. Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter – Talk about counter-programming. This movie releases opposite Pixar’s The Brave and will target the exact opposite demographic. I am not sure if this will get a PG rating or an R rating, but you can be sure that with Timur Bekmambetov at the helm, there will be plenty of shocks and violence. I think this is a critical release for this sub-genre of the historical-horror mash up that was created by Seth Grahame-Smith a few years ago. If this succeeds then we can expect to see some of his other work come to the big screen. Pride and Prejudice and Zombies has already been optioned by Lionsgate.

11. The Amazing Spider-Man – It’s back to superhero territory in July with the opening week kicking off Sony’s reboot of the successful trilogy from the last decade. Many fans including me feel it is an entirely unnecessary reboot, but Sony has to keep making these films otherwise the rights to the character revert to Marvel (and its current owner Disney). I am not convinced that Andrew Garfield will make a convincing Spider-Man, but I had similar reservations about Tobey Maguire 10 years ago and was proven wrong. So, I am willing to wait and watch. I did enjoy director Marc Webb’s (500) Days of Summer, but this is a very different kettle of fish. I expect the film will struggle to cross USD 150 mn in the US and may make about the same amount of money Internationally.

12. The Dark Knight Rises – The final entry in Chris Nolan’s Batman trilogy closes off the summer. By this time, The Avengers would have almost completed its box office run and Spider-Man may have fizzled out, so audiences will be ready for a big thrill ride. This is a quality film maker who will deliver a complex, layered product on screen, with even bigger stunts and thrills than before. Since it is the last entry in the current franchise, we can expect a big opening, close to the USD 150 mn of the earlier entry. The final gross depends entirely on the storyline. The final instalment in a trilogy usually ends on a high, but with Nolan that cannot be taken for granted. Also, anyone familiar with the Batman comic storyline knows what happened when Batman went up against the villain Bain. If the end is a downer, then box office will fall off rapidly. Still, I expect the movie to make about USD 400 mn in the US and about USD 500 mn overseas.

I think the eventual box office champion of the summer will be The Avengers, followed by The Dark Knight Rises, with The Hunger Games coming in 3rd. As I said, I am expecting (hoping) that my favourite film by the end of the summer will be Prometheus.

I haven’t bothered listing the 2 animated sequels coming out this summer, Madagascar 3 and Ice Age 4. I expect both to be formulaic and will make about USD 150 mn each. The same goes for G.I. Joe: Retaliation releasing at the end of June.


‘A Different Kind of Truth’ goes back to the basics with a familiar kind of Van Halen

In February this year Van Halen released their first new album in 14 years, titled A Different Kind of Truth. It signaled the return of David Lee Roth on vocals, a direct result of him having rejoined the band for a hugely successful concert tour a couple of years ago. This album is also the first one not to have Michael Anthony on bass; instead Wolfgang Van Halen – yes, Eddie’s son – is on duty.

I listened to the lead single Tattoo in February. What struck me about the single, which applies to many other songs on the album, was that every time the song seemed to settle into a catchy rhythm or riff, it would suddenly change direction and pace. Initially, I found this a bit irritating, because I so desperately wanted to find songs that were instantly catchy like Running with the Devil, A’int Talkin’ ‘bout Love and Dance the Night Away from their first 2 albums or Jump and I’ll Wait from the 1984 album. It almost felt like Van Halen purposely wanted to stay away from radio-friendly singles and instead wanted to create songs that required the listener to apply some effort. Or it could be that since some of these songs were written during Roth’s original stint with the band, they are the ‘left-over’ material that were not considered ‘hit-worthy’ enough to get into their earlier albums.

Any which way, the fact that many of the songs were written in the ’70s explains why the album has a more guitar-driven sound as compared to the strong keyboard sound which emerged on the 1984 album and stayed on through the subsequent albums 5150 and OU812 with Sammy Hagar. Those two Sammy Hagar albums gave rise to a number of crossover hit singles like Why Can’t This be Love, Dreams, Love Walks In, Finish What Ya Started and When it’s Love.

The first time I listened to the album, I felt that while the songs were heavier, they didn’t necessarily have the spark and inventiveness of Van Halen and Van Halen II.

But after my 4th or 5th listen, I was able to ‘navigate’ through the songs better and I started to enjoy more of the material. The songs I liked are Honeybabysweetiedoll, The Trouble with Never, Outta Space, Big River and Beats Workin’. But my favourite song on the album is Blood and Fire. Strangely, the vocal style on this song reminds me of Colin Hays vocals on Men at Work albums Business as Usual and Cargo.

David Lee Roth’s vocal style is much closer to his solo albums than his vocal delivery in the early Van Halen albums. I refer to it as his ‘Broadway musical/conversational’ style, rather than the fluid vocal delivery of most rock vocalists. And of course, the lyrics are typically DLR tongue-in-cheek as opposed to the more earnest love-centred lyrics of the Sammy Hagar albums. It’s nice to hear that DLR has retained most of his amazing vocal range. On many songs, he hits both the high notes and on one song he has a great spoken section where his low gravelly voice is on full display. For a very interesting demonstration of DLR’s vocal range, check out this mashup clip on Youtube.

So, after my initial disappointment, the album has definitely grown on me. I am now looking to dust off their earlier stuff and go through a chronological retrospective – yes including even the reviled Balance and Van Halen III.

Hopes for a new Hulk movie

Darkhorizons has just reported that Marvel has spoken about the possibility of a Hulk movie following the overwhelming positive feedback about Mark Ruffalo and the latest CGI interpretation of The Hulk in The Avengers.

I don’t find this talk surprising. My Top 10 Avengers moments features several scenes involving The Hulk. Mark Ruffalo’s portrayal came across as mature and empathetic. The CGI version of the Hulk came across as the most fluid of the lot – using Mark Ruffalo to motion-capture the movements obviously works better than how they have animated the big guy in the last 2 movies.

I am not so excited about the TV series idea. I am also not sure that Marvel can create an entertaining stand-alone Hulk movie. The reason Hulk works in The Avengers is partly because of the humor and partly because of the interaction with the other superheros. Some of the most memorable Hulk battles have been with other heroes, whereas in a stand-alone film we will invariably have to watch Hulk battle it out with the military again (yawn!). The only way I would watch Hulk in another military story-line is if General Ross transformed into the Red Hulk.

Another option would be to use a Hulk in combination with another Marvel character in a Marvel Team-Up franchise. I can already see Hulk and Sub-Mariner or Hulk and Power Man.

I am sure we will hear more from Marvel in the days to come, once The Avengers opens in the US & Canada. I expect there will be announcements about The Avengers 2 and possible spin-off films.