You may remember from my tracking of the box office last year that it was a record-setting year, right? 2013 was given a hard act to follow and so far it hasn’t followed well.
The month of January looked well with the box office topping with Hansel and Gretel, Mama and Zero Dark Thirty but it wasn’t enough to outgross January 2012. February had it tougher when successes from Identity Thief, Warm Bodies and A Good Day to Die Hard failed to even touch February 2012’s results. Actually none of the weekends in February 2013 succeeded in outgrossing the previous year’s weekend. In fact February 2013’s gross of $536 million made it the lowest-grossing February since 2006. March 2013 wasn’t as bad but it also didn’t outgross the previous year. Mind you there was no Hunger Games in March this year. This March’s box office-toppers–Jack The Giant Slayer, Oz: the Great And Powerful, The Croods and G.I. Joe: Retaliation–failed to top with a big bang. There was at least one March weekend this year that did outgross the previous year’s weekend and that was when Oz was on top. Nevertheless the first quarter of 2013 added up to a dismal grossing of $1.85 billion, down half a billion from $2.36 billion: a dip of over 20%.
April 2013 was also lower than the year before. Yeah, not having a movie with buzz like The Hunger Games does hinder. It wasn’t all dismal as the first two weekend’s weekend toppers like Evil Dead and 42 did outgross the weekends the year before. However the spark didn’t carry with weekend toppers like Oblivion and Pain and Gain. May 2013 however was a ray of hope in 2013’s box office year. This came thanks to Iron Man 3 opening the very first weekend. It opening weekend of $174 million was the second-highest opening weekend ever. Oh sure, it didn’t outgross that weekend the year before because opening that weekend last year was opening weekend record-holder: The Avengers. The following weekends kept the buzz rolling with strong showings from Star Trek Into Darkness and The Fast And The Furious 6. As May 2013 came to an end, May became the first month of 2013 to outgross 2012. Its total gross of $1.438 billion set a record as the highest-grossing May ever and outgrossed May 2012 by over $250 million. June however was back to showing the box office struggle of 2013. This June’s box office toppers–Purge, Man Of Steel and Monsters University— lacked the buzz of 2012. In the end June 2013’s gross of $1.1 billion was more than $200 million less than June 2012 and the lowest-grossing June since 2008. Despite the low showings the second quarter of 2013 did show a plus sign. Yes it failed to outgross the second quarter of 2012 but by a slim margin: only $56 million.
So with 2013 halfway done, the box office results are not too impressive right now. Already 2013 is more than half a million behind 2012’s pace and it’s safe to assume 2013 won’t outgross 2012’s record year. Neverhteless there will be attractions in the coming months. This weekend features two action movies–Red 2 and R.I.P.D.–opening this week and even Turbo that actually opened today. Next weekend plans the release of The Wolverine. The first weekend in August plans Two Guns and The Smurfs 2. The following weekend has the action movies Elysium and the Percy Jackson sequel. Other August releases with big buzz is Jobs, Paranoia, Kick Ass 2, The World’s End, The Butler and One Direction: This Is Us. September has Riddick, The Family, Prisoners, Rush and Baggage Claim to perk up what is normally the quietest movie month of the year. October has Gravity, Captain Phillips, Escape Plan and a remake of Carrie to attract crowds. The end of the year promises more attractions like Ender’s Game, Frozen, American Hustle, Saving Mr. Banks, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty and sequels to Thor, The Hobbit, Anchorman and of course The Hunger Games.
So even though 2013’s box office results look like this year won’t be a record-breaker, it doesn’t mean it won’t be a good year to draw people to the theatres. So go out and see a movie. Not for the sake of the box office but for your own enjoyment.
For some odd reason, Hollywood feels it’s time to revamp Superman. Apparently the original from 1978 doesn’t cut it anymore and there needs to be a new Superman. Does Man Of Steel cut it?
Here this isn’t necessarily to be a review of Man Of Steel but more of a comparison to the original Superman from 1978 and I will commonly refer to Man Of Steel as ‘the new movie.’ Superman fans will notice that Man Of Steel is a lot different than the original 1978 version. First off the original movie was the telling of how Superman the legend came to be. It was adventurous and thrilling but it was also light-hearted and funny too. We saw Superman go from the sole survivor of Krypton to growing up to be Clark Kent and then the Man Of Steel. I still remember one of my favorite parts being when Clark is left behind by the football team so he shows them by running home. In the process, he dazzles a 9 year-old Lois Lane who watches him outrun her train.
The new movie is something very different than the original first Superman movie. For one thing you will notice the strife on the planet Krypton as it is about to explode. Instead of dying with the planet, Jor-El is murdered by General Zod just before he and the exiled Kryptonians are to be taken off the planet. Superman’s youth is also shown significantly different as he’s shown as a young child first disturbed with all the human images he sees. Then shown as a life-saver as a teen after a schoolbus plunges in a river. None of which are as light-hearted as the original. One difference that actually added to the new movie was Clark’s work as an adult in various odd jobs such as fisherman or oil rig worker. Even though the original featured Clark only ever working for the Daily Planet, that change from the original was one changed that worked well if not great.
One element the new movie has in common with the original is Jonathan Kent is seen as a positive father figure to Clark as he grows up on Earth. Jonathan’s death in the new movie is different from that of the original. Martha Kent’s portrayal in the new movie however is more different. First difference would be her presence as compared to that in the original; she is way more present her and shown throughout. Back in the original Martha was seen as the mother figure that Superman eventually had to leave behind in order to discover himself and define himself and his existence on Earth. Here in the new movie, Clark doesn’t leave Martha behind and even returning to her in times of crisis often looking to her as one to confide in.
Another difference you’ll notice is Lois Lane’s involvement in this. Just like in the original, Lois is again the one person who can get through to the identity of Superman while the whole world wonders about him and gets a lot more. Lois however is not a colleague of Clark Kent’s because Clark is seen through most of the movie employed outside of the Daily Planet. Nor is Lois seen dating the social awkward Clark in the new movie. Man Of Steel sets Lois’ discovery and involvement in the Superman story right as she’s on top of another story deep in the snowy mountains. It progresses further with each battle Superman has to face to the point the inevitable between the two happen.
Jor-El’s presence is another noticeable difference. Those who remember the original may remember Jor-El as the scientist who launches baby Kal-El to Earth to keep the Kryptonian race alive. Jor-el would be a mentor to Superman as he learns of his identity and of his origins. One thing about Jor-El’s existence to Superman outside of Krypton in the original is that he would only be present to Superman in voice only. Also one will remember from the original is that Superman received from Jor-El the instruction: “It is forbidden for you to interfere with human history.” Here in the new movie, Jor-El makes appearances to Superman in the flesh and even gives him words of encouragement in his interaction with humans: “You can save them… You can save all of them.”
Another noticeable difference is the villain in this. The villains in the movie were the Kryptonians: General Zod and five others. Those were the villains in the second Superman. It almost seemed like the new movie was trying to mix the original first and second movies together. The original had Lex Luthor as the villain with the Kryptonians only seen sent off in their sentencing. Here there’s no presence of Lex. That totally surprised me because I always considered him Superman’s #1 nemesis. It also dampened my hopes as I was hoping to see who Lex Luthor was in this version and what tricks he had up his sleeve. The battles Superman faced too were also more different than in the other two movies. Also in the new movie was the fact that the US Military was growing suspicious of him. Funny because I don’t remember anything about the military and its concerns in the original. In fact the police were very cooperative with Superman and even welcoming of his support.
Even the ending was different. If you remember the original, you’ll remember Superman would circle around Earth to reverse its spin and bring those killed by Lex’s missile including Lois Lane back to life and reverse the damage. I won’t give away all that happens at the end but the most I will say is Lois is not fatally hurt.
Looking at the overall picture of the movie, I have to say that it does not work as well as the original. It’s been a common theme in this millennium to either remake movies or tell tales with a much darker theme. It’s been a common belief that such a thing would work considering movies with dark themes have been hits at the box office. However dark remakes haven’t paid off as well. A darker version of Peter Pan in 2003 didn’t fare as well as it hoped. A darker version of the first Spider-Man movie from last year didn’t do as well as the 2002 original at the box office. And now a darker version of Superman doesn’t fly as well as the 1978 original. It’s like its trade of charm and lightness for a darker edge didn’t pan out as much as they thought. Those unfamiliar with the 1978 original may welcome the new movie but I feel it will disappoint Superman fans.
Outside of comparing Man Of Steel to the original 1978 movie, I would have to say that the movie did have some good acting. Russell Crowe was very good as the mentor Jor-El. Amy Adams was also good as Lois Lane however she gave a Lois that lacked the girl-next-door quality Margot Kidder gave in the original. Henry Cavill did a good turn as Superman but he was meant to have a more dramatic role than that of the light-hearted Superman role Christopher Reeve was given. Diane Lane was good as Martha Kent but she lacked the Midwestern characteristics so it was not easy for me to believe this Martha was from Smallville, Kansas. I can’t really compare the acting of the villains from the original second movie but they were believable as cold and vicious. Hans Zimmer did a score that fit the movie well even if it’s not as memorable as John Williams’ score from the original, especially the opening theme. Zack Snyder has a reputation as being a director of dramas just like Richard Donner and this movie should add to his credit. Also it’s obvious the scriptwriters of Christopher Nolan and David Goyer aimed for a story more intense and more drama driven than that from the six scriptwriters of the original.
If there’s one thing Man Of Steel did surpass the original in, it’s in its action scenes. There’s no question that the action scenes were more sophisticated and more believable and more spellbinding than in the original. Mind you that you have to give the original credit. Back in 1978 they didn’t have the technologies, especially the computer technologies, to create the visual effects we have now. Most of what was done back then had to be done in Hollywood studios and with more effort from set designers and operators than computer operators.
Man Of Steel is like a lot of movie remakes that take a risk out of giving a different version of the original and hope it will pay off for today’s audiences. Sure the effects and action are bigger and better but the story falls short and doesn’t charm as the original. It may be a hit for some but it’s a miss for others, including me. I feel like renting the original from my local DVD store right now.
The first weekend in May certifies the official beginning of the summer movie season. This is where the big studios are the most competitive where they deliver big-time attention-grabbers in an attempt to hit new highs at the box office. As expected, the first movie to kick off the 2013 summer movie season is a sequel of a huge-grossing series: Iron Man 3. The question is does it live up to the hype?
Tony Stark is back but instead of setting up for his third adventure, it goes back in time to the turn-of-the-millennium. Tony had a fling with a scientist named Maya Hansen who worked for a mechanics company named Extremis that’s experimenting with regenerating amputated limbs. Her boss, scientist Aldrich Killian who’s disabled himself, offers Stark a job but Stark refuses much to Killian’s humiliation.
Fast forward to the present, Stark and girlfriend Pepper Potts build several Iron man suits in immediate response to an alien attack which left him with panic attacks. Meanwhile Stark learns of a new rival villain: The Mandarin, who assaults his butler Happy Hogan. Stark challenges The Mandarin with a televised threat only to be faced with battle with The Mandarin and his army who leave his mansion demolished. The world believes Stark and Potts to be dead but they’re both alive with Stark being rescued by Hansen and Stark dawning an Iron Man suit whose JARVIS technology lands him in Tennessee. Stark learns more about the Mandarin thanks to the help of a young boy named Harley. Harley directs Stark to an alleged bomb explosion. Stark learns that the explosion is not only by Extremis but a possible fake to cover up Extremis’ flaws.
After a failed attack by two Extremis agents, Stark is able to get the location of The Mandarin through Harley’s help and through using improvised makeshift technology. Stark soon learns that The Mandarin is an impostor, an actor named Trevor Slattery. The Mandarin is actually a decoy of Killian who used Hansen’s program to fix his own disability and create an army of his own who successful has Potts hostage in hopes of getting Stark to fix Extremis’ flaws. That’s not all Killian has planned. Killian also stole James Rhodes’ Iron patriot outfit in an attempt to hold the plane with the President Of The United States hostage. Stark attempts to save the plane and those on board. He succeeds but misses the President whom Killian intends to kill and have the Vice President as his puppet to follow his every order to make Extremis succeed in its business.
The end battle features a lot of twists and turns but gives a surprise but somewhat expected ending to the movie and the Iron Man series as well. Oh yeah, I encourage you to sit through the credits for a surprise end.
Usually I’m not a huge fan of movie sequels. I consider Hollywood sequels to be the actors, directors and producers masturbating for two hours. However I did find Iron Man 3 to be enjoyable. This was movie that was to be, or appears to be, the end of the Iron Man series. It had quite a lot to work with and it did a very good job of it, even though I feel it could have been better. Yes it was a story with a lot of clichés and yes there were a lot of areas that felt very formulaic. Even the addition of a cute kid felt like Hollywood up to its usual tricks. What it lacks in terms of inventiveness and unpredictability, it does make up in terms of its visual effects. The fights still thrill and the effects still dazzle. It’s what one should come to expect from a superhero movie. Surely director/co-writer Shane Black knew what he had to deliver when he agreed to do Iron Man 3. He’s written for popcorn movies before. Even though he delivers an ending to a series that could have been better, he does mostly end the Iron Man series on a positive note. One thing is that even though this may mean the end of the Iron Man series, it doesn’t mean that Tony Stark won’t be back for the next Avengers movie. There was even a hint or two of The Avengers in the script.
Once again, Robert Downey Jr. brings out the character of Tony Stark, but it felt like something was missing. I don’t know what it was but I felt there was a certain quality of Tony that was present in the first Iron Man and made him a scene-stealer in The Avengers that was missing here. Pepper Potts was given more of a role as being the one getting Tony to smarten up although Gwyneth is not as much of a scene stealer as she could be. Guy Pearce could have done more with his role of Killian but keeps him as a stockish villain. Rebecca Hall was good as Maya Hansen even though her role was nothing out of the ordinary. Don Cheadle was good at being a comedic sidekick Iron Patriot but he too lacked the scene-stealing quality. Ty Simpkins was given a typical child actor role where he’s made to look cutesy. And Ben Kingsley’s turn as the Mandarin succeeded in being both intense and comical when it was required to be.
As is to be expected with any big release of the summer movie season, Iron Man 3 succeeds in challenging for top box office results. It achieved $174.1 million in its opening weekend making it second only to last year’s The Avengers for the biggest opening weekend ever. Even now it continues to remain strong at the box office even though it was replaced at the #1 spot in its third weekend by Star Trek Into Darkness. I don’t think it will supersede The Avengers‘ total gross since The Avengers was still #1 after three weekends. I am confident that Iron Man 3 will finish its box office run in the Top 10 of all time. It’s only $86 million away right now.
Iron Man 3 is a series-ending movie in which first seems surprising but turns out to be typically expected on second-thought. It’s better than the second but not as entertaining as the first. Nevertheless it ends on a good note, if slightly flawed.
When you think of singing icons, which male icons come to mind? Elvis? Bob Dylan? How about Rodriguez? Yeah, I know you’ll be asking ‘Who Rodriguez?’ Searching for Sugar Man solves the mystery for us of who Rodriguez is while the documentary plays out the fan’s mystery of what happened to him.
Sixto Rodriguez was a Detroit rock/folk singer from the early 70’s who wrote songs of what he saw and felt. His songs were a mix of folk and blues and he was already being touted as the next Bob Dylan by Sussex records: the record company that discovered him. He recorded two albums under Sussex but neither sold. Rodriguez was dropped in 1972. Yet another could’ve been that didn’t. That’s that, or so it seemed.
South Africa had a different story. People had bought both of Rodriguez’s albums and it caught on. The fact that his album was banned in South Africa at a time where censorship was heavy increased the stigma of the album and bootleg versions came about into the hands of many more South Africans. There was even talk of his alleged onstage suicide in 1973 that increased the stigma of Rodriguez that made him a bigger phenomenon than Elvis. The problem was that there was not only a lot of censorship within South Africa at the time but a lot of censoring of media of what came out of South Africa. Nobody outside South Africa knew of Rodriguez’s phenomenon there. Not even Sussex Records, which folded in 1976.
Then came the time to put Rodriguez’s music on compact discs in the 1990’s. This was done with the aid of record-store owner Stephen Segerman, who’s nicknamed ‘Sugar Man’ after one of Rodriguez’s songs, and journalist Craig Bartholomew-Strydom who had to write the liner notes to the disc. They try through pictures and through lyrics to get information to no avail. Instead Strydom wrote in the liner notes asking out for knowledge. That’s what triggered the determination to find out what happened to Rodriguez and learn more about his life. Boy were they in for a surprise. They post an ad on the internet asking for knowledge. They get more than knowledge from people that know him: they learn he could be alive.
Then came the call from the man himself to Segerman. Rodriguez is alive and working as a construction worker/demolition remover in Detroit. He has been married twice and has three daughters and a grandchild. He taught his children never to feel like second-class citizens despite coming from a working class family. He even ran unsuccessfully for civic office in 1989. They’re excited but they know that all of South Africa need to know what happened to him and Rodriguez needs to know of his fame. Then he finally agrees to do concerts in South Africa in February 1998 featuring a popular South African band as his backup musicians. It’s at that moment during the very first concert that Rodriguez finally learns of his greatness and South Africans finally meet their beloved musician. After the tour, it was a return for the Rodriguez family to their regular lives and Sixto back to his construction work. Only now his co-workers know more about his fame half a world away.
One thing I liked best about the documentary is that it keeps secret the fact that Rodriguez is still alive from the audience until we hear of Segerman’s phone call from Rodriguez right in the middle. Unless you have your wireless device with you at the film–and I hope you have enough manners not to use one in the theatre while the film’s running– you too will probably think that Rodriguez is deceased because you most likely wouldn’t have known who he is either. The film did a smart move in revealing Rodriguez is alive and showing us the real life Rodriguez in the middle of the film. It makes the South Africans’ mystery of the past our mystery too.
Another good quality of the documentary is that it does remind you about the music industry. It’s cruel but it still decided the winners and losers whether we like it or not. We often think that the late-60’s early-70’s was the time most accepting of new sounds, most consisting or game-changers in the music scene and less pressure to conform to looks or less need for mass promotion. Rodriguez’s lack of success reminds you that even back then, promotion and typical music business procedures were necessary to even make a legend out of Rodriguez. He could have been the ‘Dylan Of Detroit’ that people described him as but his success never happened at home. And this was at a time before independent record labels or alternative radio or even before unsigned musicians could create and produce their own music and have it on iTunes and Youtube. Was the grass really greener back then?
Another good addition in the documentary is the use of animation, pictures and Sixto’s music. The animation shows the images of the Detroit Rodriguez knew and wrote about. The pictures of Rodriguez during the 70’s give a good example of his personality. His music shows the darkness of the life he was living and the life he saw through his eyes. The combination of it makes this out to be something more than a simple music documentary. The people interviews for the documentary also added to it. It’s not just the two South Africans, Sixto and his family but record personnel who worked with Sixto, a South African band who idolized him and would become his back-up band during his 1998 South African tour, and even co-workers of his construction job.
The documentary is not just about Sixto and the fame he never knew he had but also of South Africa and why they fell in love with his music. We should remember up until 1990, South Africa was a country under the strict rule of apartheid: the separation of races. Life was hell for non-whites but life was difficult for many whites too, especially the ones who opposed apartheid. News was censored. Entertainment was limited. And speech against apartheid even from white people was a crime punishable by 3 years in prison. You think the hippies of the late 60’s early-70’s had their things to rebel against? It was nothing compared to what the young South Africans of the time had to deal with. You could understand why censored music would attract them: because they were that disgusted with their government. They even go into South Africa’s national archives of censored music, take out one of Rodriguez’s albums that was to be the nation’s official master copy and show the scratch marks of one of his songs. Scratching out songs on albums was the censorship technique used by the South African government.
The movie does not end on a completely happy note. We still learn that people other than Rodriguez are making money off of his records. We learn that Rodriguez has toured South Africa at least three more times and he has given all of his tour money to family members. He still lives in the same Detroit house he’s lived for forty years and never complained about the fame in the US he never had. In fact he’s even happy with his construction work as he says it helps keep him in good physical condition. Shows that Rodriguez is not just quite a musician but quite a person.
Has my review stimulated interest in you to actually hear Rodriguez’s music? Guess what? The documentary has succeeded in stimulating interest in Rodriguez to the point that the soundtrack of the documentary has sold. This has also led to recent reissuing of his two albums in many countries including the US and even appearances on 60 Minutes and Letterman. Guess what? For the first time his music is charting in the US! In fact this very week, Cold Fact is #78 and the Searching For Sugar Man soundtrack is #100 on the Billboard Album chart. Yeah, it’s a shame that he had to wait 40 years for success of any kind here but better late than never.
Searching For Sugar Man is an intriguing documentary that leaves the audient engaged in Rodriguez’s music as well as the mystery the South Africans try to solve on him. In a world full of documentaries that mostly one-sided liberal propaganda being shoved down your throat, this is a welcome relief too. I went to see it because it’s heavily favored to win the Oscar for Best Documentary. Boy did I get more than my money’s worth.
Note: If you want to learn more about Rodriguez, here’s his official website: http://www.rodriguez-music.com/ You can even give your email for upcoming news and tour dates. Now if only he can come to Canada!