Saturday 25 May 2019

Aladdin (Movie Review)

Of all the movies released during the decade-long Disney Renaissance, the 1992 animated film, Aladdin, was arguably my favorite one. The movie had captured my imagination with its beautiful visuals and unforgettable cast of characters, not to mention its awesome soundtrack. So you can imagine my skepticism when it was announced that Disney would be adapting a live-action remake in their current bid to introduce their classics to a whole new generation. Thankfully, my worries have turned out to be unfounded, at least for the most part.

Aladdin tells the story of a skilled thief (Mena Massoud) that befriends a young woman (Naomi Scott) after rescuing her from a botched attempt to steal some food at the marketplace. Unbeknownst to him, she is actually Princess Jasmine, the daughter of the Sultan (Navid Negahban) of the desert kingdom, Agrabah; having grown weary of her place as nothing more but a price to be sought after by royal suitors, she'd desired to understand the plight of the commoners and help the less fortunate.

Believing that she is nothing more than a handmaiden, Aladdin pays her a visit at the royal palace one night. But he is spotted vaulting the rooftops by Jafar (Marwan Kenrazi), the Vizier and chief advisor to the Sultan, who has also grown weary of being "second place." Impressed by his climbing skills, Jafar captures Aladdin and takes him to the mouth of the Cave of Wonders, where he tells him about the princess' true identity before tasking him with helping him retrieve a sole lamp from its vast vault of many treasures, in exchange for what he'd need to win her affection.

Things don't go according to plan of course, and Aladdin ends up trapped in the cave with nothing but the lamp, his pet monkey, Abu, and a sentient magic carpet they'd found there. He soon discovers that the lamp is actually home to a powerful genie (Will Smith), who grants him three wishes as a reward for finding the lamp. And with the help of the genie, Aladdin begins his attempt to woo the princess by becoming a prince. But not without having to contend with Jafar and his equally villainous parrot, Iago.

Aladdin is one of those timeless tales that never ceases to amaze in whatever form it is being told in, and I think it is fair to say that Disney has done an admirable job with this 2019 live-action update. The cast in particular needs to be applauded for turning in such good performances, the obvious standouts being the two leads. Even Will Smith's take on Genie wasn't half bad, or at least as bad as we thought it would be after that second teaser trailer. The musical numbers as well were pretty stellar, with some of the most memorable ones feeling like what you would find in a full-blown Bollywood production.

And therein lies my biggest criticism for the movie, the fact that it doesn't lean into its Middle Eastern origin more heavily, with the two leads adopting American accents that felt out of place within its colorful and culturally-rich backdrop. But even that small nitpick couldn't dampen what was otherwise a remarkable if somewhat flawed experience. Overall, it didn't quite reach the same emotional and storytelling heights as The Jungle Book, but I guess we have The Lion King to look forward to for just that.

Wednesday 22 May 2019

Game of Thrones: Season 8, Episode 6 (Spoilercast)

The final episode of Game of Thrones has come and gone, and once again, it has proven to be quite divisive among critics and fans alike. People have taken issue with the fact that too many subplots have proven to be inconsequential, and with the by-the-numbers approach the showrunners had used with the final two seasons of the show in general. In all fairness though, they had clearly stated that the ending was going to be bittersweet, and the final outcome was precisely that, even if it didn't quite "go out with a bang" like many of us had hoped it would.

Listen to myself, Prince and Comfort (our special guest for the week) share our thoughts on the episode below or over at SoundCloud. You can also listen on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher and TuneIn, so don't hesitate to give us a sub, like, rating or comment wherever you choose to listen. We also look back at the series as whole, and reveal some of our best episodes and defining moments. Regarding the future of this podcast, now that Game of Thrones is over, we are already looking into providing future content by doing spoilercasts for movies and such, so continue to watch this space you must.

Saturday 18 May 2019

John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum (Movie Review)

The boogey man is back for another round of over-the-top action in John Wick: Chapter 3, the third film in the fast-growing franchise about the eponymous hitman who's been forced out of retirement. And as the subtitle, Parabellum, suggests, he is fully prepared to bring all-out war to all those that would oppose him or otherwise stand in his way. And all through the ensuing carnage, he remains glorious to watch as the movie manages not to feel stale in the same way that similar franchises like The Equalizer or The Transporter started to over the years.

The movie opens right where the previous one left off, with John Wick (Keanu Reeves) on the run after he is declared excommunicado for killing a member of the criminal underground's High Table on Continental grounds. And with a $14 million bounty on his head, it doesn't take long before all the shady assassins come out of the woodwork and attempt to claim said bounty. Emphasis on the word attempt though, because John Wick is still as deadly as they come, turning even the most mundane objects like a book from a library or a nearby horse into instruments of death.

But in order to put an end to the endless barrage of assassins after him, John Wick seeks out some owed help from the Director (Anjelica Huston), a member of the High Table, as well as Sofia (Halle Berry), a fellow assassin and dog lover whose twin German shepherds are almost as deadly as she is. With their help, he hopes to find the Elder (Said Taghmaoui), a senior member of the High Table powerful enough to end it all, a mission that takes him all the way to the deserts of Casablanca.

The High Table itself has already started making moves of its own though, sending out its Adjudicator (Asia Kate Dillion) to mete out justice to both Winston (Ian McShane) and the Bowery King (Laurence Fishburne) for helping John, with both men being given seven days to step down from their positions of power or face the consequences of their actions. She also recruits Zero (Mark Dacascos) to hunt down John Wick, a deadly assassin whose skills are only matched by his adoration for John's.

John Wick: Chapter 3 is a more than worthy follow up to the two movies that preceded it. It takes everything that fans love about the first two films, and cranks its up several notches. It deepens the lore behind the rules under which the criminal underground operates, while also shedding more light on John's past life as an assassin in service of that underground. And while the movie delivers enough thrills to be considered satisfactory on its own terms, it still somehow manages to leave you amped up for more of the same and what comes next by the time the credits roll.

Wednesday 15 May 2019

Game of Thrones: Season 8, Episode 5 (Spoilercast)

The penultimate episode of Game of Thrones has aired and not everyone was happy with its outcome apparently. Color me surprised, but isn't that what Game of Thrones is known for? Subverting our expectations and spitting in our faces at every given opportunity? Regardless of how you felt about the episode, there is no denying the fact that it was an even greater technical achievement than The Long Night, with it graphic depiction of war and its consequences.

Listen to myself and Prince share our thoughts on the episode below or over at SoundCloud.You can also listen on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher and TuneIn, so don't hesitate to give us a sub, like, rating or comment wherever you choose to listen. We also give our predictions for the very last episode of Game of Thrones. It's feels weird saying that, the last episode. Here's hoping that it turns out just as bittersweet as the showrunners have promised it would.

Friday 10 May 2019

Detective Pikachu (Movie Review)

Video game adaptations haven't exactly had the best track record with critics and fans alike, with beloved franchises like Super Mario Bros, Tomb Raider and Resident Evil all managing to fall short of their source material's full potential after making the transition to the big screen. This is what immediately makes Detective Pikachu appealing, because of all the video game-based movies we've had so far, it looked like it had the greatest potential of delivering the goods. But how exactly does the finished product fare? Not bad I'd venture, not bad at all.

The movie is set in a fictional world where humans coexist with Pokemon (a portmanteau for Pocket Monsters), creatures with special abilities which can be caught, tamed and even trained to battle other Pokemon. Most people in this world eventually form a bond with their Pokemon, but not Tim Goodman (Justice Smith), a young man who despite growing up in awe and adoration of the often cute but nonetheless powerful creatures, has come to have a measured level of indifference and aversion to their various species.

All that changes of course when Tim is forced to team up with Detective Pikachu (voiced by Ryan Reynolds), a wise-cracking Pokemon with a caffeine addiction. Unlike other humans and their chosen Pokemon, Tim is able to understand and communicate with Detective Pikachu, which sets the stage for the buddy-cop dynamic at the heart of their relationship. Tim's father was a Detective himself, but had gone missing while on the trail of a case, so it is up to the unlikely pair to get to the bottom of the mystery behind his disappearance, with Kathryn Newton, Ken Watanabe and Bill Nighy rounding out the cast.

My first experience with the Pokemon franchise came all the way in 1999, when I'd first played Pokemon Yellow on Nintendo's GameBoy Color (a game that was recently remade for the Nintendo Switch as Pokemon Let's Go). So in a way, Detective Pikachu felt like a nice callback to those childhood days, presenting what was once a world relegated to the confines of a 2.6-inch monochromatic screen in a beautiful blend of live-action and CGI. And therein lies my greatest concern about the movie's crossover prospects, with most of the fun I had with the movie being dependent on my built-in familiarity with the franchise and the lore it has built up over the years.

I'm indeed curious to know what someone who isn't already a Pokemon fan would have to say about Detective Pikachu, which was of course decent enough by its own terms. But one thing that can't be denied is the fact that this is a "far cry" from the Uwe Boll adaptations of old (see what I did there? 😉), so this is a hopeful indicator of what can be done with video game adaptations when placed in capable hands and given the requisite amount of attention to detail they demand.

Thursday 9 May 2019

Game of Thrones: Season 8, Episode 4 (Spoilercast)

How do you top the biggest battle ever put to film? By following it up with an episode that serves as build up for an even bigger battle, that's how. At least that was the feeling Game of Thrones fans had at the end of the fourth episode of the final season, "The Last of the Starks." It is clear that the battle for the Iron Throne is going to turn out every bit as exhilarating as last week's Battle of Winterfell.

With just two episodes remaining until the very end, fans are already going crazy with their predictions for how the whole thing would pan out. Listen to myself and Prince's predictions and our overall thoughts on the episode below or over at SoundCloud. Our podcast is now also available on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher and TuneIn, so don't hesitate to give us a sub, like, rating or comment wherever you choose to listen.

Sunday 5 May 2019

10 Reasons Why a Game of Thrones Movie could NEVER make $1 billion in 1 day at the Global Box Office

The title of this blog post says it all really. But just to give you some context, I had an argument a heated discussion with a couple of coworkers the other day, which started after one of them had said something along the lines of, "If Game of Thrones was a movie, it would make $1 billion in 1 day at the global box office." This was right after the long-awaited Season 8 premiere, a time during which all our social media timelines were flooded with posts related to the TV show. So I guess they could be forgiven for basing their argument on the sheer size of its social media buzz at that time.

What I can't forgive though is choosing to ignore the many variables and subtle nuances that go into making box office projections. Things like advance ticket sales, marketing budgets, early twitter reactions, critic reviews and audience demographics; all these things and more are used by box office analysts to come up with and refine their projections. And even with these details at their disposal, their projections still end up missing their mark more often than not, which is why most analysts allow for a margin of error by giving their projections as a range rather than a single number.

The purpose of this post, therefore, is to highlight the inherent flaws in such a projection, as well as detail all the things that would effectively prevent a Game of Thrones movie (or any movie for that matter) from attaining such a high number on its opening day. During our heated discussion, I'd used the then box office opening weekend record champion, Avengers: Infinity War, as a point of reference. (And I was summarily dismissed for being a Marvel fanboy for doing so, as silly as that sounds). But for this post, I'll be using its sequel, Avengers: Endgame, instead, since it just released and has already broken every conceivable opening weekend record there is.

Before I dive into the task at hand, there are a few clarifications I need to make. First off, when reporting box office numbers, domestic refers to its take at the US box office, international refers to its take from other territories, while global refers to the two figures combined, its overall take. Secondly, we are primarily concerned with how quickly the movie rakes up money from the global box office, not how much it is expected to make during its entire theatrical run. In other words, we are looking at it becoming the fastest grossing movie of all time, not the highest grossing.

So, without further ado, here are 10 reasons why I think a Game of Thrones movie could never make $1 billion worldwide on opening day:

1. The Size of its fanbase

I am starting with this point mainly because this is what the opposing party's argument was based upon. Game of Thrones is big. Scratch that, it is huge. The season 8 premiere was shown to a record 17.4 million people when it aired three weeks ago. Aside from that, you don't need to look any further than your nearest social media platform of choice to see just how big of a following it has. For example, on Instagram, the official Game of Thrones account currently boasts 9.5 million followers. That's a lot of followers.

But guess who has even more fans and followers than that? Marvel Studios, makers of Avengers: Endgame and the 21 films that preceded it. Their official Instagram account currently boasts 19.2 million followers, twice that of Game of Thrones. But I guess this is to be expected. I mean, the first Game of Thrones book came out in 1996, and the TV shows didn't start airing until 2011. Marvel on the other hand has been selling comic books and winning fans over since the 1960s, while their Marvel Cinematic Universe brand of movies have been making waves since 2008.

The point I am making though is that if Marvel Studios, which clearly has the bigger following based on the aforementioned numbers, needed 5 days to gross over $1 billion worldwide (a previously unheard of record by the way), then what hope does a Game of Thrones movie have to gross that amount in the span of a single day?

2. There Aren't Enough Cinemas

Going back to Avengers: Endgame as a reference point, it was pretty commonplace for moviegoers who'd gone to the cinema during the movie's opening weekend to find that the movie was sold out. Heck, some theaters had to stay open for 72 straight hours just to meet the demand of people that wanted to see the movie within its first three days of release. Over here in Nigeria, we had some cinemas dedicating most of their screens to showing just this movie, with round-the-clock showtimes every 15 to 30 minutes all through the day.

And yet the movie didn't make $1 billion in 1 day, since there was clearly a bottleneck in the number of patrons cinemas could admit in a single day. This shows that for a Game of Thrones film to manage that feat, we'd first need to have the available infrastructure in place. In other words, more cinemas would need to be built, with enough screens to accommodate enough showtimes to generate $1 billion in ticket sales. Either that, or ticket prices would need to be hiked up significantly, and that is of course assuming that moviegoers would still be willing to see the movie at those hiked-up prices, which brings us to my next point.

3. The Price of Admission

A cursory Google search tells me that the average movie ticket price is around $9. By comparison, a one-month subscription to HBO Now costs $14.99. But we all know that HBO's streaming service is not the only way to actually watch Game of Thrones. The sad truth is that a vast majority of the people who watch the show do so via illegal download and streaming websites, which basically costs them nothing. So here's the question: would the same people that watch the show for free be willing to shell out 9 bucks for a movie ticket? The cynic in me does not think so.

But let's even assume that they were all willing to shell out 9 bucks. All 54 million people who streamed and downloaded the season premiere for free according to the article I linked to above. Add that number to the 17.4 million people that actually paid to watch the show legally and you have 71.4 million rabid fans, just waiting to storm theaters to watch the Game of Thrones movie on its first day of release. Multiply 71.4 million by $9 and what have you? $642,600,000, a number that is $357,400,000 short of the assumed $1 billion our GoT movie is supposed to make.

4. Game of Thrones is not Family Friendly

Aside from the fact that its earlier seasons were renowned for subverting viewer expectations by killing off its main characters, Game of Thrones is also known for its gratuitous depiction of sex and violence. It is a show geared towards adults after all, and its tendency to divulge key plot details in the midst of its many sex scenes helped coin the term, sexposition. But all those naked bodies and beheaded characters could only ever mean one thing for a Game of Thrones movie: it would be slapped with an R-rating faster than it would take Gendry to run to the Wall from the frozen wilds of the North.

So what does getting slapped with an R-rating have to do with the movie making $1 billion you say? Well, everything. Because in the history of cinema, no single R-rated movie has ever grossed over $1 billion during its entire theatrical run. The highest-grossing R-rated movie till date is Deadpool, which had managed an impressive $783 million at the worldwide box office, despite its potty-mouthed hero and his tendency to decapitate his foes. And we are talking lifetime grosses here mind you, not single day grosses. There have in fact only been 39 movies that have managed to gross over a billion dollars at the worldwide box office, and a vast majority of those were family-centric.

Because let's face it, the movies in mega franchises like the Avengers and Star Wars wouldn't be half as successful as they are if they weren't appealing to and safe to watch by entire families. In other words, for a Game of Thrones movie to have any kind of a fighting chance at making a billion dollars worldwide, it would first need to be severely edited down to at least a PG-13 rating, a decision that I am pretty sure would not sit well with fans, which is a good segue for my next point.

5. China

Once upon a time, the US box office was the be-all-and-end-all when considering a movie's global box office prospects. Not anymore. During the first quarter of 2018, the Chinese box office overtook the US. This was at a time during which Black Panther was raking up cash from American moviegoers mind you. It also explains why a movie like Warcraft, considered a box office failure in the US for making just over $47 million against a $160 million production budget, could still go on to make more than $400 million globally. So long story short, a movie's viability at the Chinese box office is sure to affect its overall box office prospects.

This leads me to the question: how popular is Game of Thrones with Chinese audiences? The reason why I ask is China is infamous for its strict censorship of films, a practice that has been extended to the TV show over the years. So assuming it is just as popular over there as it is elsewhere in the world, we still know that a Game of Thrones movie would never be allowed to see the light of day, unless of course its makers are willing to produce a super-clean cut that would pass its censorship standards. At which point one has to wonder what the point is, since Chinese audiences are also known to favor piracy as a means of getting to see the show in its original, unedited form. Speaking of which....

6. Piracy

Game of Thrones is the most pirated TV show in the history of online piracy. This is yet another measure of its overall popularity, for sure, but as I already discussed under Price of Admission above, its popularity doesn't exactly equate to a general willingness to spend hard-earned cash on it. Heck, it can even be argued that its popularity has been fueled by its availability through piracy. After all, all those people sharing tweets and memes all over social media must have caught the latest episode somehow, and the show is not even legally available everywhere in the world.

So for our billion-dollar-opening Game of Thrones movie to work, online piracy would need to be taken out of the picture completely. And that my friends is where we start to enter into the realm of fantasy. Simply put, there is no way to put an end to online piracy. I mean, just look at how many times the authorities have tried to shutdown popular torrents websites like The Pirate Bay and YTS, yet they still exist today in one form or another. Just don't ask me for links. 😉

7. Counter-programming

As popular as Game of Thrones has become, there are still a lot of people out there that simply can't get into it. And I mean a lot. Some are put off by its medieval, fantasy setting, with its dragons and undead wights preventing them from enjoying the deep family drama and politics at its core. Others simply can't stomach or overlook its graphic depiction of sex and violence. For such people, Game of Thrones is simply not their cup of tea. And rival movie studios are aware of the fact and fully prepared to capitalize on it.

This is where counter-programming comes in, because for every tentpole release like Avengers: Endgame, there are smaller-scale movies like The Intruder and Long Shot that manage to thrive in its shadow by targeting a totally different demographic. And these other movies would of course eat into the available screens theaters have to show the tentpole release (remember that we already don't have enough screens and theaters to begin with). So for our Game of Thrones movie to hit its projected opening day gross, we have to assume that it would be the only movie showing at the cinemas, and that everyone would be willing to go see it on the first day, whether it is their cup of tea or not.

8. Marketing

Game of Thrones has come a long way since its early season 1 days when major battles used to take place off-screen. Over the years, it has left us with episodes full of pure spectacle like Watchers on the Wall, Hardhome, Battle of the Bastards and most recently, The Long Night. It's increased success has meant that HBO could afford to budget $15 million to produce each episode of its final season. That's $90 million total. And that's not even considering what it must have spent on marketing in the lead-up to its final season, because let's face it, if it wasn't for all those ads and endorsement deals it had been throwing in our faces over the months, no one would've remembered to tune in on April 14th when the first episode aired.

But guess who has even more money than HBO to spend on marketing? Disney, owners of Marvel Studios, the 800-lb gorilla in the ring of movie studios. Avengers: Endgame is one of the most expensive movies of all time, with a production cost of over $350 million. And with a further $200+ million spent to market the film, it is hard to see how HBO could ever match or surpass that amount. And once again, it took Avengers: Endgame 5 days to gross $1 billion worldwide, not one day.

9. That Other Game of Thrones Movie

Believe it or not, we've actually gotten a Game of Thrones movie before. Well, it was not technically a movie, but a special screening of the final two episodes of Season 4. It was shown at 205 Imax locations in the US, where it managed to gross $686,000 on its opening day. A far cry from $1 billion dollars, for sure, but we're talking far fewer screens here. That's a per-screen average of roughly $3,350. So indulge me for a minute as we do some wonky math.

A quick trip to Statistica tells me that we had over 182,000 theater screens in 2018. What do you get when you multiply 182,000 by our $3,350 per-screen average? $609,700,000, which is once again shy of our projected $1 billion opening day gross. And this is assuming that every single available theater screen in the world has been dedicated to showing our Game of Thrones movie. But like I said, the math above is wonky at best, but even in its wonky state, it still adequately illustrates just how unattainable a $1 billion opening day gross is.

10. Historical Data

In the history of cinema, no other movie has remotely come close to grossing $1 billion in a single day. Even going beyond movies to entertainment in general, the fastest grossing product in the history of entertainment remains Grand Theft Auto V, a video game developed by Rockstar Games that managed to gross $1 billion in 3 days. And mind you, those 3 days included the several months of pre-orders that preceded the game's release, which resulted in a first day gross of over $800 million. A mammoth achievement, no doubt, but we also have to consider that the game debuted for $60 retail, not $9. And it still wasn't able to gross $1 billion in a single day.

The current fastest opening movie of all time is of course Avengers: Endgame, which made $157 million on its opening day in the US alone, with a further $108 million made from China where it had opened two days earlier. That's $265 million already, off the two largest movie markets in the world. Factor in other opening day grosses from around the world and you have something closer to half a billion dollars. That is huge. Astronomical even. Now times that number by two and just think of all the hurdles our Game of Thrones movie (and the movie industry as a whole) would have to cross to get there.

And once again, we find ourselves in the realm of fantasy and wishful thinking, where the only movie being shown at cinemas is our Game of Thrones movie, and everyone is being forced at gunpoint to go and watch it. If that were the case, then sure, the movie would gross $1 billion in a single day, easily. Heck, why stop there when it can as well gross $10 billion? But wait, aren't there like over 7 billion people in the world today? Imagine if all of them were to turn up for our movie on opening night. 7 billion times $9 is $63 billion. HBO would be swimming in money right now.

And that, my friends, is why box office projections are based on very real facts, like historical data, not assumptions. Records are made to be broken, for sure, but never by the magnitudes being suggested here. By the time you read this post, Avengers: Endgame would've crossed the $2 billion mark, on its way to outgrossing Titanic to become the second highest grossing movie of all time. Will it eventually hit $3 billion and outgross Avatar by so doing? Maybe. Only time would tell at this point. But what I am driving at is this was a record that was set in 2009, and it has taken this long for us to get another movie with a remote chance of breaking it.

There is no denying the fact that a Game of Thrones movie at this point in the TV show's popularity would've been huge, provided it was well-made and marketed. It could very well had been the first ever R-rated movie to cross the $1 billion mark. But to make that same amount in a single day? That's a different type of suspension of disbelief that this film and box office enthusiast is simply incapable of.

But that's just me. What do you think? Could a Game of Thrones movie (or any other movie for that matter) actually make $1 billion in 1 day?

Wednesday 1 May 2019

Game of Thrones: Season 8, Episode 3 (Spoilercast)

We always knew that fans of Game of Thrones were in for a real treat this past weekend, with the long-awaited third episode of the final season of the series airing on Sunday. I mean, this was supposed to be the episode that was finally going to feature the battle between the army of the living and the forces of the Night King and his undead army, the Battle of Winterfell as we'd been calling it.

The showrunners had of course made sure that we also knew just how epic the battle was going to be, edging out the Battle of Helm's Deep from The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers as the longest consecutive battle sequence ever put to film. So how did the whole thing stack up at the end of the day? You can find out below or over at SoundCloud where Prince from The Drunk Pen and I take a stab at the battle that was, and its defining moments.