Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Futures Market: Summer 2015

What does the future hold? This question, in one form or another, has existed since the beginning of time. And the answer has always been the same: the future holds movies. Sure, for the vast majority of the time the Universe has been in existence, it only held movies in the distant, distant future, and almost certainly in only an insignificantly small fraction of that future - a fraction that grows smaller with each passing moment - but for the time being, it's still true.

I'd like you to keep that in mind while you peruse the following list, which represents an annual tradition here in the Middle Room. And why do I want you to focus on this trivial existential concept? The answer is simplicity itself: to distract you from my "predictions," so you're less likely to remember when I'm horribly wrong.

For example, do you remember when I predicted Terminator: Salvation was going to score 80% Fresh back in 2009? Or just last year, when I was so sure the Amazing Spider-Man 2 would score 85%. Or back in 2012 when I thought GI Joe: Retaliation would get 65% and, you know, be released in 2012?

Of course you don't remember any of those things. That just goes to show how well these introductions work. And a good thing, too - it would be humiliating if anyone recalled those guesses.

As always, I'm limiting these to geek movies, minus the horror, which I generally skip. If you're at all confused what constitutes a "geek movie," you'll find no better illustration than the following list. In addition to the movie's release date (pulled from IMDB, if you were wondering), I'm taking a guess at whether the movie will be good or not and letting you know what I'm looking for when deciding whether to see it in theaters.


Avengers: Age of Ultron
Projected Tomatometer: 80%
What it'll take to get me in the theater: NA - See you opening weekend

The movie I'm most excited for is the one I'm most dreading. My expectations for this movie were already beyond the point they could conceivably be met, and that was before the last round of trailers. The first Avengers movie delivered on a scale I hadn't really imagined possible. It was a near-perfect fantasy/science fiction/spy/superhero/action-adventure, not to mention one of the best experiences I've ever had in a movie theater. Almost every critic out there agreed - it's at 92% on Rotten Tomatoes - and it's already transformed genre film making.

How the hell do you follow that up?

Everything we've seen from the sequel - at least in my opinion - looks amazing. And clearly there's no one I'd rather have overseeing it than Whedon. But as excited as I am, I'm also terrified. This one is even more ambitious than the first, which means there are more pitfalls. If they somehow manage to pull this off, the payoffs could be huge, but if it falters at all, it could be a massive disappointment.

Predicting the Tomatometer on this feels like throwing a dart in the dark. My guess is that, even if the movie is as good as its predecessor, critics will probably be a little harder. If it's even a smidgen worse, I suspect they'll be extremely harsh. Of course, if it's miraculously better, it could conceivably be in the 98% range.

I'm saying 80%, because my hopes are already too high. But, deep down, I can't help but wonder.


Pitch Perfect 2
Projected Tomatometer: 55%
What it'll take to get me in the theater: 85%, Good word-of-mouth, assurances we're past the vomit jokes, and for Avengers 2 not to be so good I go see that a second time instead

I only saw Pitch Perfect because of the sequel's trailer: the original flew totally under my radar. Part one was a sort of a musical/slapstick/parody/dramedy hybrid that was surprisingly satisfying. It goes in some interesting directions, committing completely to its desperate elements.

I don't know what to think of the sequel. It has a new director, which is always a toss-up, and it's easy to imagine them retreading a lot of the same material. But the first was such a pleasant surprise, it's certainly worth keeping an eye on.

All that said, I'll almost certainly wait for Netflix if they don't drop the vomit jokes. No judgment if that's your kind of humor, but I'd rather see that on a smaller screen, even when it's clearly fake. Just personal preference.

Mad Max: Fury Road
Projected Tomatometer: 45%
What it'll take to get me in the theater: Great word of mouth

I respect the studio's tenacity in releasing this just two weeks after Avengers: Age of Ultron hits the screen, but I'm not sure it's the most strategically strong maneuver. Mid-May release dates typically portend a lack of faith in a film's US box office potential, particularly when it's on the heels of a major event film. That doesn't always mean something's bad, but it's not exactly a good sign.

Its been a while since Miller made something especially well-received, particularly if you discount his kid-friendly fare. Again, not a good sign, if you're gambling.

In the movie's defense, the trailers look good, and Hardy is a great choice for Max. I'm hoping this is great, but I'm not betting on it.


Projected Tomatometer: 96%
What it'll take to get me in the theater: High 80's Tomatometer and/or good word of mouth

A Tomatometer score of 96% sounds high, but it would actually be about average for Brad Bird. His last movie, Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, was his worst reviewed, at a measly 93% positive (though I actually agree with the dissenting votes there).

Ghost Protocol aside, Bird's one of my favorite directors, thanks to his flawless animation resume: Ratatouille, The Incredibles, and Iron Giant are three of the best animated films made in my lifetime. I'm intrigued by the fusion of Wizard of Oz and 80's adventure the trailers are implying. Family films are what he seems to do best, largely thanks to the fact he outright refuses to dumb down the ideas or tone. I can't wait to see what he came up with this time. 

Projected Tomatometer: 78%
What it'll take to get me in the theater: Good word-of-mouth, particularly around tone and genre

Whether I have any interest in seeing this really boils down to whether it's a comedic spy movie or a spoof of spy movies. If it's the latter, then its reviews may impact whether I watch it on Netflix in a few years. If it's the former, however, I might be interested, in part because this is as good a predictor for the Ghostbusters reboot as we're likely to get.

I love spy movies - especially Bond films. It's just that I'm getting sick of Bond. And no, making him American and changing a few letters in his name doesn't change that. Gender-flipping the character's a good start, but it's been done. Casting Melissa McCarthy, on the other hand, sounds like a potentially fresh take.

But here's the catch: I don't really want a movie where she spends the first hour and fifteen minutes as a bumbling idiot, only to suddenly believe in herself in act three. I want this character to be competent and effective. Funny's fine, too, but not if it's her defining trait. Having a lead with a different body type is wasted on cheap humor: it's a chance to develop dramatically different kinds of action scenes than we get 99% of the time.

The 78% is an average of Feig's last two movies. Honestly, I'd rather get a mediocre spy film than a great spoof.


San Andreas
Projected Tomatometer: 42%
What it'll take to get me in the theater: Extremely positive reviews and/or an act of God

This actually has a pretty solid trailer, but until I have reason to do otherwise, I'm inclined to credit that to whoever cut the trailer together. The movie looks to be pretty generic disaster material. This time it's The Rock vs. a big earthquake. Okay, Dwayne Johnson's a solid choice to headline a movie like this, but I still find it difficult to imagine it'll be worth seeing in the theaters. Or, you know, on video.

I'm generously predicting this will get a 42% Tomatometer score, which is the same as the higher of Brad Peyton's two prior films.


Jurassic World
Projected Tomatometer: 78%
What it'll take to get me in the theater: 87% and/or rumors the effects are cool.

Hey, it's a Jurassic Park movie director by the guy who directed Safety Not Guaranteed. I saw that! And... I think I liked it. Maybe? Honestly, I can barely remember the damn thing. It had something to do with reporters and time travel.

The trailers for Jurassic World look fun, but the premise is a waste. We really don't need another movie where a dinosaur theme park goes horribly, predictably wrong. What we need is a movie where dinosaurs reach the mainland. Maybe that's what they're building towards. But if the sequel isn't called Jurassic World War, I'll be pissed.

I've got no idea whether this will be good or not. Trevorrow's a wild card, and one hopes there's a reason this got made, beyond a short term money grab (I'm not an idealist: I'm just hoping they were thinking about the long-term profits possible in a great franchise). The 78% is an average of the last two movies made by the guy who directed Spy. Obviously, that's got no bearing on this, but the number was on my mind and it seemed as good a guess as any.


Inside Out
Projected Tomatometer: 98%
What it'll take to get me in the theater: Pretty much anything above 70%. Or, hell, a decent recommendation or two. A rainy day might be enough.

Personified emotions certainly aren't a new idea, but Pixar's take looks pretty interesting. Also, potentially scarring, based on the last trailer. It looks like they're digitizing depression with the same precision that went into Merida's arrows and Sulley's fur. If they pull this off, it should be a slam-dunk for best animated picture.

And, unless I miss my guess, Pixar will have invested the time, money, and human sacrifices necessary to guarantee this one delivers. The studio has been in a bit of a funk: their last few movies didn't get the accolades or cash they'd hoped for, and it's pretty clear the leadership has taken that to heart. They cancelled a movie mid-production and delayed others, which is why we didn't get anything last year. This is an attempt to correct course and regain their place as the industry leader.

I'm not betting against them. That said, if the reviews aren't solid, and if I don't hear it's worth my money, I'll stay home. I ignored the critics when I went to see Monsters University and kind of regretted it: I might be more careful this time.


Ted 2
Projected Tomatometer: 26%
What it'll take to get me in the theater: Money would be a good start

I still haven't seen Ted, though I did hear it was pretty entertaining. That said, comedies should rarely get sequels in the best of circumstances, and Seth McFarlane is about as far removed from the best of circumstances as you can get. Ted might have gotten 68% Fresh (still nothing to brag about), but his follow-up, A Million Ways to Die in the West, is at 33%.

It's certainly possible that whatever kind of worked in the first one will kind of work again, but it's highly unlikely. If this doesn't get dismissed as a cheap facsimile, I'll be surprised.


Terminator: Genisys
Projected Tomatometer: 70%
What it'll take to get me in the theater: Decent reviews or good recommendations

Most people seem underwhelmed by the trailers for this, but I love them. More specifically, I love the twist around Sarah Connor's back story and status at the start of the movie.

It definitely looks more action-adventure than suspense, but I'm fine with the shift. It's hard to deny this could wind up more like Terminator 3 than 2, but I'm trying to stay optimistic. Still, I'm using that movie as a guess for this one's Tomatometer.


Projected Tomatometer: 67%
What it'll take to get me in the theater: Not likely: I've never even seen the first two movies.

I've heard decent things about the Despicable Me movies (or at least the first one), but I still haven't seen them. I figure I'll get around to them some day, but I'm honestly in no hurry.

This spin-off/prequel looks extremely bizarre. The Minion characters seem to be the most popular, at least among the coveted male 18 - 35 month-old demographic, so it'll likely make some money. The movies' Tomatometer scores had a downward trajectory between parts one and two: 67% continues the slope of that line.


Projected Tomatometer: 73%
What it'll take to get me in the theater: Rotten Tomatoes score of 40% or higher

Ah, Ant-Man. Even before it was filmed, it represented Marvel's studios' first public embarrassment. The movie was originally planned by Edgar Wright, who left over some sort of disagreement. Peyton Reed picked it up and made it extremely quickly, which is all a bit worrying.

If I had to guess, I'd say this will probably be extremely mediocre. I'm not expecting bad, but I'll be surprised if it's anyone's favorite Marvel movie.

That said, it's still a MCU movie, which means we'll likely get some interesting tie-ins to Age of Ultron and who knows what else. Even if it's not great - or even good - I'm expecting it'll be fun, so I'm willing to overlook less than stellar reviews if I have to.

My guess for the movie's Tomatometer is based on Iron Man's 2 score. My gut tells me that's where the critics will settle.

Projected Tomatometer: 60%
What it'll take to get me in the theater: 90% and/or solid recommendations

I don't know what the hell to make of this thing. I can't really tell whether it's trying to feel like a fairy tale, a gritty fantasy, or a jumble of both. It seems to be a prequel to Peter Pan written by people who either don't know or don't care that Barrie already wrote an origin for the character. The 90's Hook movie certainly wasn't good, but at least it respected the world it was set in.

It's also worth noting that in making this an origin story, they're effectively shifting the protagonist from a female to male character, which is a problematic trend. Wendy is actually listed in the credits, which is almost odder, since it really doesn't make sense for her to be there. I guess this is more a reimagining than a prequel. Regardless, it's Neverland with a young Wendy, an origin for Peter where he teams up with James Hook, and - as far as I can tell - no Tinkerbell.

I'd be writing this off entirely if it weren't for the fact Joe Wright is directing. He made Hanna a few years back, and that was pretty good. Still, I don't have a lot of confidence in this project. There are few things I'd be happier to see than a really good dark retelling of Peter and Wendy, but I have a hard time believing this is what I've been waiting for.

Still, it can't possibly be worse than the 2003 version. Can it?


Projected Tomatometer: 28%
What it'll take to get me in the theater: 80% and assurances that Sandler doesn't do his usual shtick

There aren't many actors I believe can ruin a movie, but Adam Sandler clearly has that power. This doesn't mean he's incapable of acting - I've been assured that he's done a great job in a handful of movies I haven't seen. But when he does slapstick, he almost always does a variation on the same exaggerated comic relief character he's used since the 90's.

Until there's a trailer, we won't know for certain that's what he's doing here, but... it's a movie about aliens invading using ships and weapons based on 80's arcade games. It seems unlike we'll be seeing an abundance of subtlety.

This is being directed by Chris Columbus, who's made a wide range of movies. On one hand, he made the first two Harry Potter movies, which were pretty solid. Unfortunately, he's also responsible for the first two Home Alone movies, which are awful. There's a chance we'll get something good here, but I'm betting against it.

Projected Tomatometer: 78%
What it'll take to get me in the theater: Tomatometer in the 90's and great word-of-mouth

I'm probably being generous with my assessment here, but I have to assume Raimi wouldn't have produced this if he didn't have a good reason to think Kenan could pull it off. Gil Kenan directed City of Amber and Monster House, both solid movies that display real potential but weren't particularly memorable.

Good or bad, it's going to be a hard sell. No one really asked for a remake to Poltergeist: the original holds up incredibly well. But - like I said - I have some faith in the talent involved.

None of that means I'm planning to go see this. That would take some really strong reviews or recommendations.


Fantastic Four
Projected Tomatometer: 70%
What it'll take to get me in the theater: 70% positive, good word of mouth, or a few glowing recommendations

Tough one. I really liked Chronicle despite the found footage aspect, and a lot of the credit belongs to the director. I'd love to see what Trank can do with a bigger budget. In addition, the trailer was pretty good, at least as science-fiction goes.

That said, the premise of this movie - a more grounded, realistic Fantastic Four - bores the hell out of me. I appreciate that Fox wants to distance themselves from the previous movies (and who can blame them?), but trying to turn Marvel's first family into something modern and edgy misses the point. The Fantastic Four have a tone that doesn't lend itself to something in the vein of The Dark Knight. If you're not going to try and capture that tone, why use this team? I'm pretty sure Stan Lee wanted the team's name to feel nostalgic when he created them in the early 60's: if you want to create something modern, you've already shot yourself in the foot.

None of that means the movie will be bad, of course. But a decent SF movie with a passing resemblance to a Marvel team isn't necessarily enough to guarantee I'll check this out. I'm getting tired of rewarding film studios for being embarrassed they're making superhero movies.

If I go see this, it will be because I hear it's good, either from critics or fans. Otherwise, I'm sure I'll check it out on Netflix. Like I said, it looks like a decent movie: just maybe not the right movie.

Projected Tomatometer: 21%
What it'll take to get me in the theater: Good luck with that

The team that made the 2010 Gulliver's Travels is back. To be fair, I never actually saw that movie: maybe it was better than the critics thought. Lacking a better starting point, I'll just go with their assessment and predict this nets the same 21% score.


The Man from U.N.C.L.E.
Projected Tomatometer: 65%
What it'll take to get me in the theater: 90%

On one hand, this was made by Guy Richie, director of the 2009 Sherlock Holmes movie, which was decent, though not exceptional. On the other hand, Richie was also responsible for the 2011 sequel, which was nearly unwatchable (I find it baffling that 60% of critics gave that a pass).

A remake of The Man from U.N.C.L.E. might be more up Richie's alley, anyway. The trailer looked fun enough, but making a good trailer is a lot easier than making a good movie. My guess is this will be fine and likely worth checking out on Netflix.


Hitman: Agent 47
Projected Tomatometer: 12%
What it'll take to get me in the theater: A score of 90% would get me in a seat, mainly because I'd want to see how the hell they managed it.

I'm not entirely clear on why the Hitman series deserves not one but two live-action adaptations. The first came out in 2007 and received a 14% positive score from critics (close to average for video game adaptations, I suspect).

There's no reason video game adaptations have to be bad, but almost all are. My guess is that this will fall somewhat near its predecessor.

Wrap up

I usually miss a movie or two of interest. In addition, there's a decent chance one or two of these movies will drop out at the last minute and open next spring instead. But assuming everything opens as intended, here's a quick summary:

Movies I'll Almost Certainly See
Avengers: Age of Ultron
Inside Out

Movies I'll Probably See
Jurassic World
Terminator: Genisys
Fantastic Four

Pitch Perfect 2
Mad Max: Fury Road

Long Shots
Everything else

I'm struck by how short my short list is this year. I get the feeling that every studio whose name doesn't rhyme with Gisney was a bit timid when it came time to schedule movies the same season as Avengers 2.

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