Economist Crunches Numbers, Makes Box Office Condemn “The Last Jedi”

This post by Captain Capitalism falls under the category of Interesting, With Caveat.

In essence, he calculates Box Office As a Percentage of GDP, to evaluate the relative success of the Star Wars Movies in 1977 vs. today.

Naturally, A New Hope tops the list, bringing in .035% of the US GDP.

Solo does the worst, at .0019% GDP.

The blogger/economist thus observes that “Kathleen Kennedy wiped out 95% of the Star Wars franchise value”.  He then twerks the numbers a bit more, and gives us a more conservative, mere 75%.

Which, as I said, is interesting, and certainly grist for the mill of those who want to make Kathleen Kennedy the Palpatine of Lucasfilm.

But.

We cannot know, at this point, if Solo was an outlier or not. The narrative – that fans boycotted Solo in protest of The Last Jedi, is commonplace, and indeed was argued on this very blog. But we can’t call it a trend yet. Solo had things wearing it down in addition to the reaction to Last Jedi, such as the fact that no one wanted it in the first place. If Episode IX returns to the mean, then that means: a) Solo tanking had nothing to do with any boycott, b) said boycott has run its course, or c) the fan base is gaining new members to replace the old ones. And any of those will mean that the conclusion – that Kathleen Kennedy destroyed Star Wars – will be inoperative.

Also, the data suggests that, Solo notwithstanding, The Disney films are doing about as well as the Prequels. Force Awakens more or less ties Phantom Menace at .011% GDP, while Rogue One and The Last Jedi do about the same as Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith. Now, it is absolutely damning with faint praise to defend the Disney SW films by saying “they’re doing as well as the Prequels”. But if that’s true, then as I’ve been saying, the real damage was done to the franchise 20 years ago, and Kathleen Kennedy is merely the golem operating under George Lucas’ ghostly hand.

If Episode IX does fail, then Kennedy will certain deserve opprobrium for taking a profitable if damaged franchise and driving a stake through its heart. But if it doesn’t, then we must all revise our narratives.

 

Variety Buries the Lede About Disney’s Film Division

 

Walt Disney Studios had a much more magical earnings report than analysts had expected. The entertainment powerhouse behind Pixar, Marvel, and the world’s most trafficked theme parks logged earnings per share of $1.84, a 3% drop from $1.89 in the prior-year quarter. Disney also reported revenue of $15.3 billion, essentially flat with the year-ago period.…

The article is called No Star Wars, No Problem, and it’s true that Disney had a good quarter. But why?

The better-than-anticipated financial picture is attributable to higher broadcast revenues and the increased popularity of its parks, bright spots that off-set declines in Disney’s film division. The company faced difficult comparisons because it did not field any “Star Wars” sequel or spinoff during the holidays for the first time in four years. The lack of a “Star Wars” film also took a bite out of licensing profits.

Doesn’t that seem to suggest the opposite of the headline? The fact that other divisions of the company are covering for a loss does not mean that the loss is not there. How bad is the loss?

Disney’s film unit released the hits “Mary Poppins Returns” and “Ralph Breaks the Internet” during the final three months of 2018, as well as the box office bomb “The Nutcracker and the Four Realms.” Film revenues for the quarter decreased 27% to $1.8 billion and segment operating income decreased 63% to $309 million.

That seems bad. And note something here. Of the three films released, two were sequels to existing properties (one a sequel to a film fifty years old). Those were the hits. The bomb was a re-imagining of “The Nutcracker” that no one wanted and was critically panned.

You know what didn’t get released?

Anything new.

Now for a year of live-action remakes of earlier films, more sequels, and comic book movies?

The Renaissance is over.

And Now For Some Mindlessly Speculative Guff About Star Wars Episode 9

Get obsessed over product, swine!

tenor

Actually, this article at Digital Spy  hews very close to verifiable fact, and leaves the theoretical where it belongs.

A few pertinent facts:

  • Mark Hamill will be back.
  • Previously shot footage of Carrie Fisher will be used, rather than CGI.
  • We’ll also see Billy Dee Williams as Lando Calrissian
  • Most of the cast of The Last Jedi will be back, including Benicio Del Toro, Kelly Marie Tran, and Laura Dern.

These are interesting, but by no means surprising, nor as relevatory as we might want. Back in May, I made some predictions about Episode IX, one of which has been basically confirmed (the return of Hamill/Luke), and one of which has been made more likely (The Finn/Rose or “Frose” romance, as both are predictably back), and one of which has become rather unlikely (The Kylo/Rey or “Reylo” Romance, as Disney is adamant that the Skywalker Saga is ending here).

But these things are not known. Luke fading into the Force at the end of Last Jedi probably means his return will be as a blue-outlined ghost a la Obi-Wan Kenobi or Yoda, but Abrams might hard-cut away from Rian Johnson and slap together some internal logic of Force Rebirth that would give us real, actual Luke. Do I think that will happen? No. Do I discount it? Also no.

Same with Frose. Maybe they have these characters in LUV, or maybe Rose gets killed in the first act, and Finn is Sad about it. Or maybe both.

As for the End of Skywalker, let me shove my glasses back up my nose and point out that a child of Kylo Ren would not be surnamed Skywalker, but Solo. And Disney ain’t said nothing about that. Just sayin’…

But again, these are all useless, deeply hedged, speculations. Until we see a trailer, we have no idea what will happen, and we really won’t then, either. So keep your lightsaber crystals dry.

The End of House of Cards: Sound and Fury Signifies Nothing

p15818372_b_v8_aaWell, not nothing. There’s something to the final image in the final episode (I’m not going to spoil it. Watch and you’ll understand me). But it comes across as incredibly anti-climactic, given the sturm und drang it tries to build. I watched it last night, and my initial response was “non-ending”. Which, on further reflection, it isn’t exactly. I suppose the real meaning of the ending is that we’re right back at the beginning and nothing really has changed.

The mammoth task of ending House of Cards without its main character would probably have defied any creative team. But there was another problem: the character they had, by default, to replace him with was an enigma for six seasons, and the new season did nothing to illuminate her.

Who is Claire Underwood/Hale? What does she want?

One did not have to ask these questions about Francis Underwood. He was a politician;  he wanted power. He was Richard III re-imagined as an American Congressman, complete with scene-chewing asides and soliloquys thrust like a dagger through the Fourth Wall. The point of this was to take the audience on a journey into the dark heart of the City of Washington, to show us how the sausage is made via one man’s struggle to be the Greatest of Butchers.

And yes, the exercise wearied after a while, became a parade of improbables and extra-constitutional fancies, with freshly-minted secondary characters acting without clear motivation (Who the hell is Mark Bishop? Who the hell is Jane? What are they doing? Why?). Like Richard III, Frank Underwood loses his control of events when he wears the crown, and that got dull to watch.

But Claire is an enigma wrapped in a duality and seasoned with progressive bromides. Am I really supposed to believe that the woman who made the office manager of her charity foundation lay off half the staff, and then fired her, is a feminist? Am I supposed to buy that the woman who murdered her lover considers herself somehow better than Frank? Based on what?

The charm of the first season was that these two schemers were a team, they understood and complemented each other’s darkness, strengthened and enlightened it. Claire wasn’t, like Lady MacBeth, full of the wish to murder and empty of the capacity for it. She wasn’t Frank’s driver, she was his partner.

And then, for some reason, she wasn’t. At the moment of triumph, she pulls away from him. Sometimes it’s because she feels guilt, but only sometimes. Sometimes it’s because she feels like she wants her turn, but when Frank offers her exactly that, she becomes his enemy. Nothing she does makes any sense, except in the context of “I want it all, and I want it now.”

Which, I understand. Which even makes sense for the tone of the show. So why can’t she just come out and say it? Why does she have to pretend that she’s somehow better? Why can’t she wryly analyze the difference between her exoteric discourse, the performance for everyone else, and her esoteric doctrine, which she lets the audience see? In the end, it’s precisely when Claire broke the Fourth Wall that I found her least truthful. Unlike Francis, who showed us without shame the foulness within, Claire seems oddly insistent that I find her heroic. Sorry, lady, but the blood on your hands is the same as your husband’s. He was no hero, and neither are you.

There’s a lot of threads in this final season that go nowhere. The App business. Mark and Jane. The Shepherd’s family secrets. Eventually all these become nothing more than red herrings meant to drag our attention from the true conflict of the season, that of Claire vs. Stamper for control of Frank’s Legacy. Which has a logic to it: Frank as the Dead Prophet with a schism between a guided caliph (Stamper) and a blood caliph (Claire), to put an Islamic cast on it. I just wish I came away from the closing credits with a feeling of something other than “that’s it?”

Not Everyone Gets a Statue: Oscar 2019 Predictions

I have no intention of watching the Oscars (although my wife might persuade me to hate-watch them), but I’m curious to see if I can call these shots with any accuracy using my default cynicism as a guidepost. With each category, I’m going to call make a Probable Prediction, and a Sleeper Prediction. I’m not going to make any assessment of What Should Win, because I don’t care.

So let’s away!

Best Picture:

“Black Panther”
“BlacKkKlansman”
“Bohemian Rhapsody”
“The Favourite”
“Green Book”
“Roma”
“A Star Is Born”
“Vice”

We’ve got a universally acclaimed superhero movie, a Spike Lee joint, a rock biopic, an all-girls Costume Drama, a period piece about bridging the racial divide, a foreign film about the underprivileged, the fifth remake of a Hollywood drama, and a MASH-mask for Donald Trump. There’s a lot of different ways you can call this.

Generally speaking, the films that get The Most Nominations are to be seriously considered. But Roma being a foreign film, I consider it a lock to win Best Foreign Film, and I don’t know that the Academy will want to do both.

The Favourite thus jumps to the lead as the Movie to Beat. But it’s got that Costume Drama thing going against it. But it’s all about Women, so it’s got that going for it.

I’m gonna say it probably wins.

Sleeper Prediction: Black Panther. Everyone would love that.

Lead Actor:

Christian Bale, “Vice”
Bradley Cooper, “A Star Is Born”
Willem Dafoe, “At Eternity’s Gate”
Rami Malek, “Bohemian Rhapsody”
Viggo Mortensen, “Green Book”

I really don’t want to think Christian Bale is going to ride Prosthetics and Weight Gain to an Oscar, but the politics might do it for him. They didn’t nominate this movie for Film, Both of the Actor, Director, and Screenplay to have it come up bupkis. However, he’s already won an Oscar, and this role already got him a Golden Globe, so I wouldn’t say he’s a shoe-in.

So I’m going with Rami Malek, because everyone still loves Queen for some reason. That would be a safe call, no one would complain about it, it’s not some White Dude playing a Historical White Dude.

Sleeper Prediction: Christian Bale. It could still happen.

Lead Actress:

Yalitza Aparicio, “Roma”
Glenn Close, “The Wife”
Olivia Colman, “The Favourite”
Lady Gaga, “A Star Is Born”
Melissa McCarthy, “Can You Ever Forgive Me?”

I’ve seen enough of Can You Ever Forgive Me to know that McCarthy’s not going to win. Not because she isn’t good in it. She is. And it was smart of her to expand her palette. But she’s not getting an Oscar.

I can’t really see Lady Gaga getting one either.

Did anyone see The Wife? Because it sounds like every movie that Established Good Actresses Get Nominated and Don’t Win For. Slight chance they give her the Paid Your Dues statue, given that this is her 7th nomination with no wins, but I’m not gonna bet too hard on it.

I’m going with Yalitza Aparicio. That would be the Statement of the night.

Sleeper PredictionOlivia Colman.

Supporting Actor:

Mahershala Ali, “Green Book”
Adam Driver, “BlacKkKlansman”
Sam Elliott, “A Star Is Born”
Richard E. Grant, “Can You Ever Forgive Me?”
Sam Rockwell, “Vice”

This seems pretty straightforward. Sam Elliot and Sam Rockwell are not a big enough deal right now. Adam Driver isn’t going to be the White Dude that wins in a Movie About Racism. That would be #OscarsSoWhite. Instead, the statue goes to Mahershala Ali. He’s So Hot Right Now.

Sleeper PredictionRichard E. Grant. Amusing Gay Dude who dies of AIDS. Can’t rule it out.

Supporting Actress:
Amy Adams, “Vice”
Marina de Tavira, “Roma”
Regina King, “If Beale Street Could Talk”
Emma Stone, “The Favourite”
Rachel Weisz, “The Favourite”

I’m not gonna sweat this one too hard. Rachel Weisz is the one to beat. She’s the best performance in the most-nominated film (Emma Stone is pretty good, but Weisz nails it). I say she gets it.

Sleeper PredictionRegina King.

Director:

Spike Lee, “BlacKkKlansman”
Pawel Pawlikowski, “Cold War”
Yorgos Lanthimos, “The Favourite”
Alfonso Cuarón, “Roma”
Adam McKay, “Vice”

Spike Lee has never won an Oscar. He’s been nominated several times, but never won. Then again, Yorgos Lanthimos never has, either. But he’s got several chances. I’m expecting a Paid-Your-Dues Oscar for Lee.

Sleeper Prediction: Yorgos Lanthimos. He’s the New Hotness.

Animated Feature:

“Incredibles 2,” Brad Bird
“Isle of Dogs,” Wes Anderson
“Mirai,” Mamoru Hosoda
“Ralph Breaks the Internet,” Rich Moore, Phil Johnston
“Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse,” Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey, Rodney Rothman

I’ve already stated why Wes Anderson Will Not Win an Oscar:

His new film about animated dogs on a giant trash island near Japan is cultural appropriation, you see.

Given that, I feel like the Most Woke response would be to give a statue to an actual Japanese animated film. That would send the Message.

Sleeper PredictionSpider-Man: Into the Spider Verse, because the other two are sequels and because someone might grandstand about the late Stan Lee from the podium. If they can bring in those comic book viewers, they might build an audience for the telecast.

Animated Short:

“Animal Behaviour,” Alison Snowden, David Fine
“Bao,” Domee Shi
“Late Afternoon,” Louise Bagnall
“One Small Step,” Andrew Chesworth, Bobby Pontillas
“Weekends,” Trevor Jimenez

Um.

Yeah…

whatever gif

Adapted Screenplay:

“The Ballad of Buster Scruggs,” Joel Coen , Ethan Coen
“BlacKkKlansman,” Charlie Wachtel, David Rabinowitz, Kevin Willmott, Spike Lee
“Can You Ever Forgive Me?,” Nicole Holofcener and Jeff Whitty
“If Beale Street Could Talk,” Barry Jenkins
“A Star Is Born,” Eric Roth, Bradley Cooper, Will Fetters

In keeping with my initial predictions regarding If Beale Street Could Talk, which turned out right, I’m predicting it to win here. Let it Ride, as it were.

Sleeper Prediction: A Star is Born. No real reason, I just don’t see them shutting it out.

Original Screenplay:

“The Favourite,” Deborah Davis, Tony McNamara
“First Reformed,” Paul Schrader
“Green Book,” Nick Vallelonga, Brian Currie, Peter Farrelly
“Roma,” Alfonso Cuarón
“Vice,” Adam McKay

And based on the same logic, I think they’ll throw McKay and Vice a bone in this category, given that he’s also nominated for Director. That way we can have our moment of Political Grandstanding, as is tradition.

Sleeper Prediction: Green Book

What follows are the Technical and minor Awards. I’m not going to dig that hard into these; I’ll just call some shots:

Cinematography: The Favourite

Documentary Feature: RBG

Documentary ShortPeriod. End of Sentence.

Live Action ShortDetainment

Foreign Language FilmRoma

Film EditingBlacKkKlansman

Sound EditingA Quiet Place

Sound MixingBohemian Rhapsody

Production DesignBlack Panther

Original ScoreMary Poppins Returns

Original Song: “All the Stars”

Makeup and HairVice

Costume DesignThe Favourite

Visual EffectsFirst Man

 

How Good Were My Year-Old Oscar Predictions?

A little under a year ago, I fisked a Variety article written about the day after last year’s Oscars. My purpose was to make fun of Variety’s substanceless click-bait, but as it evolved, I emitted a handful of sneering predictions. Which is to say, inasmuch as I participated in the anticipation of a program I never watch, Variety won that exchange. But let’s see how I did:

Regarding Marwen:

Prediction: Carell gets a best actor statue for this weepie, since it’s a mostly comedic actor playing a tear-jerk. The Academy loves that crap. Zemeckis gets nominated, doesn’t win. The film doesn’t get nominated, and everyone gets pissy about how that can even happen.

I was right about the film not getting nominated, wrong about everything else. I expected it to be competent enough to be Oscar-worthy. Nope.

Regarding First Man:

Prediction: This film will do reasonably well at the box office, and won’t get any nominations.

Got one for Production Design. I guess that means I was wrong.

Regarding If Beale Street Could Talk:

That’s more like it. Something obscure and from the director of a previous Best Picture. This will do garbage box office and be hailed by the people who hail things as Significant and Powerful. It will get some nominations, maybe one Oscar, for screenplay or something.

If Beale Street Could Talk Domestic Box Office : $10,912,908

If Beale Street Could Talk Rotten Tomatoes Critic Score: 95% Fresh

“With Beale Street, (director Barry) Jenkins cements his status as this generation’s cinematic poet laureate of the American condition.”

-Matt Ward, Cinematic Considerations

Oscar Nominations: 2, for Best Supporting Actress and Adapted Screenplay.

nailed-it-4

Regarding The Favourite:

Nominated for Costume Design. Wins for Costume Design. The End.

Well, I was wrong about that. Best Picture, Best Actress, Two for Best Supporting Actress, Screenplay, Cinematography, Film Editing, AND Costume Design. Although if it wins for Costume Design and nothing else, I will be proved retroactively right. So there’s that.

Regarding Isle of Dogs, well, I’ve beaten that one to death. But it ended up with a nomination for Animated Film, as predicted. That means a win.

Regarding Hereditary: 

If a horror film ever gets Oscar Gold, it’s going to have to be blessed by Sundance or something else first. And it’s going to need to have Topical Politics, so everyone can high-five each other about how much it would bother Mike Pence if he saw it.

Prediction: Toni Collette gets a nomination. No idea if she wins or not.

I was right about the film, wrong about Toni Collette. I underestimated Hollywood’s love of self-referential entertainment (Lady Gaga, A Star is Born, really?).

Regarding Mary, Queen of Scots:

My initial response is to say that Costume Dramas don’t win Oscars, but some instinct tells me not to leave out the possibility that they’ll nominate both Ronan and Robbie for the same award, that Drama and Sisterhood might ensue. Besides, Ronan-Robbie has a certain ring to it.

My instinct was right, but should have been applied to The Favourite. My initial response remains undecided.

Regarding Boy Erased:

This wins Best Picture. You heard it here first.

LOL. That’ll learn me.

Regarding Vice:

I think the whole “Prosthetics and Weight Gain for Oscars” thing might be played out now that they finally gave one to Gary Oldman for doing it. But Dick Cheney might make a good MASH-mask for Donald Trump, so who knows.

Best Picture, Best Lead Actor, Best Supporting Actor, Best Director. These are the Big Boys. Mike Pence will totally hate it if it wins for something. So I’m going to call this a win.

I didn’t make any predictions regarding Black Panther, so that’s a wash.

Overall Score: 3 Solid Right, 2 Partially Right, 3 Solid Wrong. I am the Detroit Lions of Making Oscar Predictions a Year Out.

Next: Winner Predictions based on Nominations

Quick Review: The Favourite

the-favourite-image-credit_-yorgos-lanthimos-rachel-weisz-olivia-colman-e1532374834538One of these days, I’m going to write one of these that’s not about the Stuart dynasty in some way.

Queen Anne reigned briefly at the beginning of the 18th century, and spent most of her reign at war with France over who got to sit on the throne of Spain (that Hapsburg penchant for cousin marriage caught up with them). She is not well-remembered. Fat, sad, gouty, and childless, she seemed largely at the mercy of court favorites, especially the Churchills (yes, Sir Winston’s ancestors, the 1st Duke of Marlborough and his wife). Her 17(!) pregnancies resulted in 4 live babies, none of whom made it past the age of 11. When she died, the very Glorious Revolution that put her sister and then her on the throne decreed that a Hanoverian clod named George should occupy it instead of the surviving members of her family. In short, in an unlucky dynasty, she was perhaps the unluckiest, almost certainly the saddest. Even her grandfather’s grandmother Mary, in her proud, defiant exile, never approached that level of melancholy.

Now, historians will quibble over how true that really was, and point out counter-narrative facts, like how Anne presided over Cabinet meetings far more regularly than her predecessors or successors. But this is the movies, and the movies will print the legend. So Queen Anne becomes a cipher controlled by other women.

And more than controlled. Because this is a 21st century film, we must treat 18th century gossip-rag rumor (the Gawker of its day) as Gospel truth, and believe that Her Majesty was giving away more than her trust to her favorite women. We will leave utterly unexplored the relationship between her and her husband, Prince George of Denmark, the father of those 17 pregnancies, nor give any credence to the widely-reported rumor that she loved him deeply and was heartbroken at the loss of him. That kind of film won’t give us a chance to see Emma Stone naked.

That being grumbled, did I like the damn thing? Yes. It aspires to a kind of Barry Lyndon feel, and it gets there. Rachel Weisz, as Sara Churchill, is at least as much fun as Glenn Close in Dangerous Liasons. Actually, more so, because Sara Churchill has a depth to her that the Marquise de Merteuil does not have. Churchill doesn’t play the game just to be Queen of the Mountain, she actually cares about the politics. She favors the vigorous prosecution of the war with France, even at the risk of her husband, the great general Marlborough. She labors against France just as her descendant Sir Winston would labor against Germany, and for the same reason. Louis XIV was no Hitler, but he was the head of the strongest state in Europe with a habit of bullying smaller states and seeking to make himself the arbiter of Western Civilization. The War of the Spanish Succession was in this respect as epoch-defining as the Napoleonic wars were a century later. And the film focuses on this, brings it right front and center. The script gives Weisz a chance to elevate Sara Churchill from mere schemer to stateswoman.

By contrast, Abigail Hill (Emma Stone) has no interest other than not going back to the scullery. Which, who could blame her, but the cynical disinterest in policy, the refusal to even countenance that her actions will have consequences, is not driven home until the last scene, when it becomes clear what she has bought herself. The ending is dour to the point of being anticlimactic.

But that’s what happens when you try to do history, which gives us very few third-act turnarounds. In real life, the Churchills were disgraced, the war party-Whigs sent packing, and peace with France was negotiated. The Churchills lost, and Anne died a few years later. That was how it was, and the film finds a poignant if irretrievably current way to express that. Peace to all of them, and to the shades of them we conjure up on film, just for good measure.