Monday, September 6, 2010

Box Office Update: Labor Day Edition

The outcome of the 2010 summer box office contest had not been in doubt for some time, but now it’s official: Stu has defended his title from 2009, winning this year’s edition by a walk.

With an impressive five films grossing more than $130 million, and three over $238 million, Stu’s picks earned him an easy runaway victory, with an eight-film total summer gross of $1.073 billion.

John was, again, the runner-up, with roughly $818 million in total grosses. Highlights were more than $312 million from “Iron Man” and nearly $100 million from “The Expendables.”

Again, I finished third. Having the summer’s biggest movie — “Toy Story 3,” at over $400 million — couldn’t make up for having “The Adjustment Bureau” moved out of summer and the dismal performance of my hoped-for sleeper picks.

Dave’s run of bad box office luck continues, with a second straight summer of discontent, finishing last again, despite nearly $300 million from “The Twilight Saga: Eclipse” and nearly $160 million from “Grown Ups.” [Note to self: Never fail to pick an Adam Sandler summer comedy again!]

Until next year…

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Box Office Update: August 1 Edition

After a month’s hiatus, the box office report is back, and – well – not much has changed.

Stu’s commanding lead continues, as he’s racked up over $950 million in grosses, outpacing his nearest competitor by almost $240 million.

John’s hoping “The Expendables” will keep him in second place next week.

Dave’s highlights have been “Twilight” doing predictably well and Adam Sandler’s winning streak continuing with strong performance by “The Grown Ups.”

My consolation prize is that “Toy Story 3” is the highest-grossing movie of the summer.

Here are the totals through August 1:

Stu (seven films): $955 million
John (seven films): $716 million
Dave (six films): $696 million
Robert (six films): $623 million

Monday, July 5, 2010

And Then There Were Four...

The semifinals of the world's greatest sporting event are upon us, with Uruguay facing off against the Netherlands on Tuesday, and Germany battling Spain on Wednesday, each for a place in the final.

The last week of competition has left some nations heartbroken, to say nothing of those of us in the first annual Bellingham View World Cup pool.

Here's what happened since we last checked in...

* As of last Sunday, Stu's remaining teams were Spain and Paraguay

* In the round of 16, Spain outlasted Portugal 1-0, while Paraguay played Japan to a soulless 0-0 draw, advancing by a 5-3 margin on penalty kicks

* This set up a quarterfinal matchup between Spain and Paraguay, so Stu was guaranteed to lose one squad. It turned out to be the South Americans, as La Seleccion -- behind yet another late-game goal from Barcelona-bound striker David Villa -- advanced with a 1-0 victory

* Can Spain stop the steamrolling Mannschaft? Vamos a ver.

* Remaining team: Spain

* As of last Sunday, my remaining teams were Portugal and Japan

* From the entry above, you can see that Cristiano Ronaldo of Portugal couldn't match the Spaniard Villa's brilliance, and the Japan was unable to repeat its dead-ball prowess from the Denmark match and failed to advance past Paraguay

* Eliminated

* As of last Sunday, Kimo's remaining teams were Brazil and Ghana

* Pre-tournament favorites Brazil looked stellar in the group stage and even moreso in their 3-1 victory over Chile in the round of 16, combining a sturdy Dunga-mandated defense with a strong attack. So, it was not a shock to see them go up 1-0 through Robinho within the first quarter-hour against the Netherlands, and narrowly miss going up 2-0 through Kaka just past the half-hour mark. What was a shock, however, was to see them give up two Wesley Sneidjer goals, then have to play a good deal of the second half a man down after Felipe Melo's stupid stomping of the otherwise lamentable Arjen Robben. No samba in Brazil this year.

* People with far greater writing ability than I have failed to come up with words that would adequately describe the sporting tragedy that was Ghana's hearbreaking loss to Uruguay in the quarterfinals. I still don't believe what I saw unfold on that TV screen, but Ghana is out, and we can only hope that the cheating Uruguayans will be rolled in humiliating fashion by the Dutch.

* Eliminated

* As of last Sunday, John's three remaining teams were the Argentina, the Netherlands and Slovakia, the latter two of which met in the round of 16

* The upstart Slovakians couldn't keep the momentum of their historic defeat of the defending world champions Italy, losing 2-1 to the Netherlands, who then went on to deliver the above-mentioned knockout punch to Brazil

* Argentina was demolished 4-0 by a rampaging Germany squad, ending Diego Maradona's hopes of doing the World Cup double of winning as both a player and coach

* I'll be rooting for the Dutch to destroy Uruguay; oddly enough, John won't be, as a win will put the Oranje one victory from joining the exclusive club of World Cup winners, an outcome that offends Mr. Chamberlain's sensibilities to no end

* Remaining team: Netherlands

* As of last Sunday, Dave's remaining teams were Germany, Uruguay and Chile

* The Chileans were dispatched with ease by Brazil

* As stated above, Germany continued its roll through the competition by crushing Argentina, and Uruguay parlayed a last-second goal-line handball/straight red card into an improbable and undeserved berth in the semis

* Remaining teams: Germany, Uruguay

Sunday, June 27, 2010


For those whiny sticks in the mud who claim they hate soccer because no one ever scores, the first four knockout round matches of World Cup 2010 played yesterday and today resulted in a total of 15 goals, with no match having fewer than three.

Not bad, imho.

In terms of the pool...

* The United States were eliminated on Saturday at the hands of Ghana, losing 2-1.
* Remaining teams as of Sunday night: Spain and Paraguay

* The Three Lions of England were unceremoniously dumped by a rampaging, counter-attacking Germany squad by a margin of 4-1 on Sunday
* Mexico was also bounced out, with the Albiceleste of Argentina besting El Tri 3-1
* Remaining teams as of Sunday night: Portugal and Japan

* Mr. Proudfoot didn't lose a team this weekend
* Ghana showed the U.S. the door, 2-1, earning a quarterfinal clash with Uruguay
* Brazil plays Chile on Monday
* Remaining teams as of Sunday night: Brazil and Chile

* Much to his chagrin, Mr. Chamberlain also survived the weekend without losing a team, but he'll bid farewell to either the Netherlands or Slovakia on Monday, as they play one another
* He can't bring himself to root for them, but his Argentines rolled over Mexico today
* Remaining teams as of Sunday night: Netherlands, Argentina, Slovakia

* Dave's Germans are looking strong after the England victory, but they face a buzz-saw in Argentina for their quarterfinal match
* Uruguay beat South Korea on Sunday and faces Ghana on Friday in the quarterfinals
* Chile goes up against the biggest giants of them all, Brazil, on Monday
* Remaining teams as of Sunday night: Germany, Uruguay and Chile

Box Office Update: More Toys and Grown-Ups

“Toy Story 3” held strong, ringing up another $59 million in sales this weekend for a 10-day cume of $226.6 million for me.

Dave’s “Grown Ups” landed in the Adam Sandler summer sweet spot with $41 million in its first weekend.

John’s “Knight and Day” wasn’t the adventure he was hoping for, grossing $28 million after five days. He’s hoping the movie has legs like Cameron Diaz’s. Madon’!

“The Karate Kid” keeps waxing on and off, now up to $135.6 million for Stu.

Next week brings Dave’s big summer bite, “The Twilight Saga: Eclipse,” on Wednesday, with Stu’s M. Night Shyamalan–directed “The Last Airbender,” landing on Friday.

Here are the totals through June 27:

John (six films): $596 million
Stu (two films): $365 million
Robert (four films): $327 million
Dave (five films): $291 million

Saturday, June 26, 2010

The Knockout Stage

After two weeks of thrilling action, the group stage of World Cup 2010 South Africa has come to an end, with 16 teams remaining to enter the knockout stage of the competition, which begins today.

Which brings us to our World Cup pool, in which four friends and I each drew six teams out of a hat, with $10 (I erroneously thought it was $20 in my initial post on the subject) from each to be paid to the person holding the golden ticket bearing the name of the eventual World Cup–winning nation.

And, of course, things didn't quite go according to form.

1. Spain: La Seleccion were pre-tournament favorites, but they shockingly lost their first game to Switzerland before recovering with two stylish wins over Honduras and Chile. Player for player, they have the most talented squad in South Africa. It will be interesting to see if these Galacticos can put it together for a deep run. Next up: Portugal, on Tuesday, in what could be one of the most exciting matches of the Cup.

2. Italy (eliminated): The defending champion Azzurri were embarrassingly knocked out in round one, after three awful performances.

3. United States: Playing the role of comeback kids, the Americans rallied to secure two dramatic draws in their first two matches (albeit, the first via a gift from the English) and then won their third on a thrilling injury-time winner by Landon Donovan. Next up: Ghana, today.

4. Paraguay: The least-bad of the teams in Group F, Paraguay topped the group which defined underachievement. Next up: Japan, on Tuesday.

5. Australia (eliminated): The Socceroos couldn't repeat their charmed run of 2006, exiting the cup after a win, draw and loss in the group stage on goal differential to Ghana.

6. North Korea (eliminated): Their sole highlight was scoring against Brazil in their opening match.

1. England: The Three Lions have looked incredibly shaky, with a poor draw against the U.S. following goalkeeper Robert Green's gaffe heard 'round the world in their first match and a thoroughly disastrous draw against Algeria in their second redeemed only by an unexciting but effective 1-0 win over Slovenia to secure second place in Group C. Next up: Germany, tomorrow.

2. Portugal: One of world soccer's most stylish and yet confounding squads, Portugal had a truly bizarre first stage, with scoreless draws vs. the Ivory Coast and Brazil sandwiched around a 7-0 thrashing of North Korea. Can star Cristiano Ronaldo -- arguably the world's second-best player -- lead them to the promised land? Next up: Spain, on Tuesday.

3. Mexico: El Tri was fortunate to escape their opening match against hosts South Africa with a draw, then they thumped 2006 finalists France before losing to Uruguay by a goal to finish second in Group A. Next up: Argentina, tomorrow.

4. Cameroon (eliminated): Striker Samuel Eto'o is coming off two unprecedented seasons on club level, winning league titles, domestic cups and the European Champions League in each of the past two years with two different teams -- Barcelona and Inter Milan -- but he and his countrymen couldn't advance out of the group stage, losing to Japan, Denmark and the Netherlands in succession for a disappointing result to their 2010 campaign.

5. Honduras (eliminated): Losses to Chile and Spain and a draw to Switzerland equaled a hasty exit from the group stage.

6. Japan: Tenacious performances by Japan led to 1-0 win over Cameroon and a 3-1 decision over Denmark, enough to overcome their 1-0 loss to Netherlands and secure passage to the knockout stage. Next up: Paraguay, on Tuesday.

1. Brazil: The Selecao predictably triumphed in Group G, defeating North Korea and the Ivory Coast before being held to a scoreless draw by an overly defensive Portugal squad in their third match. The world's favorite team has added a defensive mindset to their offensive flair in 2010, and they're hungry to take home the trophy for the sixth time. Next up: Chile, on Monday.

2. France (eliminated): Providing the best soap opera of the tournament, France drew their first match against Uruguay, had starting striker Nicolas Anelka thrown out of the team following their second-game drubbing by Mexico, then saw captain Patrice Evra benched for the game three loss to South Africa following an argument with Les Bleus' trainer that resulted in said trainer and the vice-chair of the French Football Federation quitting in disgust and the team refusing to train. Sacrebleu! And good riddance.

3. Serbia (eliminated): Shocking Germany with a 1-0 victory in their second match will remain their highlight of 2010, as losses to Ghana and Australia led to a quick ouster.

4. Nigeria (eliminated): The Super Eagles' hopes of being Africa's standard-bearers were dashed with losses to Argentina and Greece and a draw to South Korea.

5. Ghana: They lost talisman Michael Essien to injury before the World Cup even started, but Ghana have persevered, beating Serbia in their opening match and drawing with Australia in their second before losing to group toppers Germany in their last first round contest. Next up: the U.S., today.

6. Denmark (eliminated): The Danes were not great, losing 2-0 to the Netherlands and then being dumped 3-1 by South Korea. Consolation prize: their second-match 2-1 win over Cameroon.

1. Netherlands: The Dutch won all three of their group stage matches to win Group E on nine points, but their Total Football style was never truly in evidence. The return of Arjen Robben from injury will help in the knockout round. Next up: Slovakia, on Monday.

2. Argentina: The Albiceleste have gone marauding through the group stage, easily topping Nigeria, South Korea and Greece to cruise into the knockout round on nine points, behind the scoring exploits of Gonzalo Higuain and the playmaking of the world's best player, Lionel Messi. Caution: The Argentines similarly dominated group play in 2006 only to flop in knockout time. And who knows what distraction manager Diego Maradona will provide. Next up: Mexico, tomorrow.

3. Greece (eliminated): The Greeks were hammered by South Korea and Argentina, rendering their win over Nigeria useless. Their win in Euro 2004 must be hereby consigned to an aberrant fluke.

4. Ivory Coast (eliminated): Didier Drogba gamely played through a broken arm but even his brilliance couldn't pull Les Elephantes through what many deemed the "group of death," with Brazil and Portugal ultimately proving too much.

5. Slovakia: After a draw to New Zealand and a bad loss to Paraguay, Slovakia thought they needed a miracle to advance out of the group stage. Luckily for them, they got one better: Italy for an opponent. Slovakia completely out-hustled and outplayed their more celebrated final-match adversaries and deservingly went through after a thrilling 3-2 victory. Next up: the Netherlands, on Monday.

6. South Korea: A 2-0 win over Greece got their campaign off to a nice start before Argentina kicked them all over the park 4-1. A 2-2 draw with Nigeria got them into the knockout round. Next up: Uruguay, today. UPDATE: In a very good match played in a driving rain, South Korea was level with Uruguay deep into the second half, before succumbing to some individual brilliance by Luis Suarez and losing 2-1.

1. Germany: A favorite to perform well at any major competition due to superior organizational skills and a deep sense of national pride, the three-time World Cup champions got off to a rousing start at South Africa 2010 with a 4-0 demolition of Australia before stumbling a bit in a 1-0 loss to Serbia. They regained their footing with a 1-0 victory over Ghana to top Group D. Next up: England, tomorrow.

2. Uruguay: Two-time champions Uruguay drew with France in their opener and then easily handled South Africa (3-0) before edging Mexico 1-0 to win Group A. Next up: South Korea, today. UPDATE: A terrific brace by Luis Suarez has taken Uruguay to the quarterfinals after a 2-1 victory over South Korea.

3. Chile: A pair of 1-0 wins over Honduras and Switzerland put Chile in position to win Group H, but a 2-0 loss to Spain left them second. Next up: Brazil, on Monday.

4. Slovenia (eliminated): When Slovenia beat Algeria 1-0 in their first match and jumped to a 2-0 lead over the U.S. in their second, they must have thought their football dreams were about to come true. Two second-half strikes by the U.S. left Slovenia smarting at having to settle for a draw, and when they couldn't score against England, their campaign was over.

5. Algeria (eliminated): It's hard to win if you don't score, and the Algerians never found the net in South Africa, going scoreless in a draw and two losses in Group C.

6. South Africa (eliminated): The hosts have put on a nice tournament, but Bafana Bafana unfortunately became the first host in World Cup history not to advance out of group play. But, they did have that glorious win over the hapless French in their last match.

More to come...

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Box Office Update: Toy Edition

“Toy Story 3” finally opened, restoring just a slight bit of dignity to my selections in this year’s box office pool. The highly anticipated threequel grossed $109 million in its first three days, establishing a new opening weekend record for a Disney/Pixar film.

The weekend’s other wide release, Dave’s “Jonah Hex,” unfortunately misfired, grossing $5.1 million.

Stu’s improbable summer blockbuster – “The Karate Kid” – chopped up another $29 million for a 10-day cume of $106 million.

The plan of John’s would-be sleeper blockbuster – “The A-Team” – didn’t quite come together, but it added another $13.8 million for a 10-day total of $49.8 million.

John’s third pick, the Tom Cruise-Cameron Diaz action comedy “Knight and Day,” leaps into action on Wednesday. Dave’s fifth – the summer comedy “Grown-Ups,” starring Adam Sandler, Kevin James, Chris Rock, David Spade and Rob Schneider – opens Friday.

Here are the totals through June 20:

John (five films): $507 million
Stu (two films): $329 million
Dave (four films): $237 million
Robert (four films): $200 million

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Box Office Update: World Cup Edition

In an event as unlikely as the country of England (the birthplace of football, aka soccer) failing to beat the United States in a World Cup match, Stu’s eighth pick, “The Karate Kid” remake starring Jaden Smith, was the #1 movie at the box office this weekend, kicking up an estimated $56 million in its first three days.

The weekend’s other major wide release was John’s fifth pick, “The A-Team,” and the re-boot of the 1980s television series fired blanks, opening to a relatively disappointing $26 million.

As for the holdover success stories, John’s “Iron Man 2” will pass $300 million this week, Stu’s “Shrek Forever After” has passed the $210 million mark, and Dave’s “Robin Hood” will pass $100 million this week. I, on the other hand, have no success stories.

Next week brings my biggest hope, Disney/Pixar’s “Toy Story 3,” while Dave hopes “Jonah Hex” will rustle up some business.

Here are the totals through June 13:

John (five films): $507 million
Stu (two films): $266 million
Dave (three films): $215 million
Robert (three films): $72 million

Monday, June 7, 2010

Mondiale di calcio

World Cup 2010 is upon us, with the world's premier sporting event set to kick off this Friday as the Bafana Bafana of host nation South Africa square off against Los Tricolores of Mexico.

And what would a major sporting competition be without a wager? So, four friends and I drew teams out of a hat, with $20 from each to be paid to the person holding the golden ticket bearing the name of the eventual World Cup–winning nation.

After dropping what we agreed were probably the two lowest seeds in the tournament – New Zealand and Switzerland – we put the remaining 30 teams in three pods of 10, roughly according to the most recent FIFA world rankings, with seeds 1–10 in group one, seeds 11–20 in group two and seeds 21–30 in group three. Each player selected two teams from each group, for a total of six national teams per player.

And the results...

1. Spain
2. Italy
3. United States
4. Paraguay
5. Australia
6. Korea DPR (North Korea)

1. England
2. Portugal
3. Mexico
4. Cameroon
5. Honduras
6. Japan

1. Brazil
2. France
3. Serbia
4. Nigeria
5. Ghana
6. Denmark

1. Netherlands
2. Argentina
3. Greece
4. Ivory Coast
5. Slovakia
6. Korea Republic (South Korea)

1. Germany
2. Uruguay
3. Chile
4. Slovenia
5. Algeria
6. South Africa

I'll be rooting for the Three Lions of England, as they're my highest-rated squad, but I'll happily forego the $80 prize if the Azzurri of Italy – my favorite team since childhood – can somehow regain form to repeat as champions and tie Brazil's record of having won five World Cups.

Forza Azzurri!

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Box Office Update: D-Day+66 Edition

Today, the Los Angeles Lakers lost to the Boston Celtics, evening the NBA Finals at one game apiece. Yesterday, the Italian national soccer team – yes, the defending World Cup champion Azzurri – had to scramble to save a 1-1 draw vs. Switzerland, days after a humiliating 2-1 defeat to Mexico. My brutal weekend continued, with my fourth, seventh and eighth picks in the summer box office contest – “Get Him to the Greek,” “Marmaduke” and “Splice,” respectively – opening to a combined $36.2 million, according to Box Office Mojo.

Dave’s “Killers” fired up $16.1 million worth of tickets in its opening weekend, “Sex and the City 2” dropped -59% for a 10-day total of $73.4 million, and “Robin Hood” is quietly shooting toward $100 million.

Stu’s “Shrek Forever After” was #1 for the third weekend in a row, lumbering its way to a cume of $184 million to date.

John’s “Iron Man 2” is now up to $291.3 million, while “Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time” has fought its way to $59.5 million.

Next week brings the release of “The A-Team” for John and “The Karate Kid” for Stu. I heard something truly bizarre tonight, that a friend of ours thinks “The A-Team” will have a three-day opening tally of $55 million and “The Karate Kid” will open at $28 million. Wow.

Here are the totals through June 6:

John (four films): $456 million
Dave (two films): $184 million
Stu (one film): $183 million
Robert (three films): $36.2 million

Monday, May 31, 2010

Box Office Update: Memorial Day Edition

Now that the dust has settled on May – my yearly mensis horriblus, due to work issues – it’s time to refocus on important things: the weekly summer box office report.

A lot has happened since we last checked in. “Iron Man 2” opened to solid results, if a bit less than expected, but has held up OK, fighting its way to a total of $275 million to date for John.

Stu’s big ticket, “Shrek Forever After,” opened far below DreamWorks’ expectations, and now has $133 million in the bank after 10 days, according to estimates from Box Office Mojo.

Dave’s second pick, “Sex and the City 2,” sashayed its way to a $45 million four-day opening, off $12 million from the three-day opening weekend of the original. But the results are still sold for Mr. Shaw, New Line and Warner Bros.

“Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time” opened with $30 million for John this weekend, putting his hopes of winning the contest in serious jeopardy.

“Robin Hood” has hunted down $83 million to date for Dave, while John’s “Letters to Juliet” got lost in the mail, with a cume so far of $37 million, which isn’t awful for an eighth pick. John’s seventh choice, “A Nightmare on Elm Street,” has scared up $62 million so far.

Next week brings “Killers” for Dave, while three of my movies square off in what I hope will not be a zero-sum death match: “Get Him to the Greek,” Marmaduke” and “Splice.”

Here are the totals through May 31:

John (four films): $403.3 million
Dave (two films): $128.4 million
Stu (one film): $133.2 million
Robert (N/A): N/A

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Summer Box Office: Green Sabbath Edition

Weekend number two of the 2010 summer box office contest saw the release of what was widely thought to be the most lethal weapon in the summer cash hunt: John’s first pick and number one overall, “Iron Man 2,” with Mickey Rourke, Scarlett Johansson and Don Cheadle joining stars Robert Downey Jr. and Gwyneth Paltrow in the Jon Favreau–directed sequel to the 2008 smash, which had grossed $318 million in the U.S.

According to Sunday estimates by Box Office Mojo, the film banked $133.6 million for its opening frame, including Thursday midnight screenings. While that was good enough for the fifth-best three-day opening of all-time, according to, it fell short of some observers’ (cough cough, John and Stu, cough cough) contention that it would open bigger than “The Dark Knight.”

But John is likely happy with these results, as the film should easily cruise to $300 million, even though drop-off will likely be big and hopes of a $400 million haul seem dashed.

“A Nightmare on Elm Street” scared up just over $9 million in its second weekend, for a 10-day cume of $48.5 million.

Next Friday, Dave enters the fray with the “Robin Hood” re-boot, starring Russell Crowe and directed by Ridley Scott, while John goes the weepy route, with “Letters to Juliet” about to hit the mail.

Here are the totals through May 9:

John (two films): $182.1 million
Dave (N/A): N/A
Robert (N/A): N/A
Stu (N/A): N/A

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Summer Box Office: Nightmare Edition

The race has begun, with John’s seventh selection – the reboot of “A Nightmare on Elm Street,” starring Jackie Earle Haley – topping the domestic box office in its first weekend with a three-day gross of $32.2 million, according to estimates from Box Office Mojo.

My hopes for victory took a blow last week, as Universal Pictures unkindly moved “The Adjustment Bureau” – starring Matt Damon and, more importantly, my sixth pick – out of the summer and into September, leaving me with only seven films. So, I’ll have to win this with one hand tied behind my back.

Next week brings the wide release of John’s first selection and the odds-on favorite for highest-grossing movie of the summer, “Iron Man 2.” His eighth pick, “Letters to Juliet,” also gets a sneak peek on Sunday.

Here are the totals through May 2:

John (one film): $32.2 million
Dave (N/A): N/A
Robert (N/A): N/A
Stu (N/A): N/A

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Summer Movie Ca$h

The summer movie contest is back. As a quick refresher, three friends of mine and I choose eight upcoming movies in a fantasy sports-esque draft, and whoever has the highest-grossing slate at the end of the contest wins $20 from each of the other participants, normally paid out at a humiliating luncheon.

Last year's contest was a runaway, with Stu's picks outgrossing his nearest competition by more than $470 million dollars. We can't let that happen again.

The 2010 contest covers the U.S. box office earnings of films between April 30 and September 6. The draft was conducted last night, and here are our picks:


1. Iron Man 2
8. Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time
9. Knight and Day
16. The Expendables
17. The A-Team
24. Predators
25. Nightmare on Elm Street
32. Letters to Juliet

Note: John asserts that six of these films will gross more than $100 million. We think he's delusional. Check back at the end of the summer.

2. The Twilight Saga: Eclipse
7. Sex and the City 2
10. Robin Hood
15. Step Up 3D
18. Grown-Ups
23. Killers
26. Jonah Hex
31. The Switch
Note: Not sure about at that Step Up 3D pick or passing over Toy Story 3 with his first choice.

3. Toy Story 3
6. Salt
11. The Sorcerer's Apprentice
14. Get Him to the Greek
19. The Other Guys
22. The Adjustment Bureau
27. Marmaduke
30. Splice
Note: Four guaranteed $100 million grossers and a sleeper kids' dog movie = your winner.

4. Shrek Forever After
5. Inception
12. The Last Airbender
13. Despicable Me
20. Dinner for Schmucks
21. Eat, Pray, Love
28. Cats and Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore
29. The Karate Kid
Note: Stu thinks he has five films destined for $100 million or more. Please.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Everybody's a Critic, Part IV: Other Favorite Songs of 2009

OK, so my pledge to post more regularly has apparently gone the way of bi-partisanship in Washington, as it's been over a month since my last attempt.

I began writing this on the day of the Academy Awards, but do I have my thoughts together on my favorite movies of 2009? Of course not, so this entry will begin some long-delayed ruminations on my favorite songs of last year.

As a refresher, here's a link to my five favorite albums of 2009.

Now, for some individual tracks ... not including any from the favorite albums list noted above. I'll keep adding new songs and thoughts to the bottom of this entry throughout the coming weeks, because there's no telling when I'll actually finish the whole thing.

* I and Love and You by The Avett Brothers, You Really Got a Hold on Me by She & Him, and The Weary Kind by Ryan Bingham: If music history had a "most beautiful-sounding recording of all time" contest, and each year got to submit a handful of entries for consideration, these three breathtaking tracks would represent the year past just nicely, in my humble opinion. They're not upbeat by any stretch, mind you, but they're gorgeous and soulful nonetheless. The Avett track is just killer, an aching lament about a relationship ended. The Zooey Deschanel and M. Ward classic cover examines what happens when the heart knows better but can't help itself. And what can one say about Bingham? Got regrets? So does the character in his song ... but one can hope it's not too late.

* Gasoline by The Airborne Toxic Event and Geraldine by Glasvegas: These two songs sat adjacent to one another on just about every mix or iTunes playlist I put together last year. Yes, I realize Gasoline came out in 2008: I was a bit late to the game, so this is admittedly a slight cheat. That said, music history is full of songs about first loves and trying to re-write history: Gasoline's breakneck pace caught my ear and never let up. If the dude from Thunder Road never picked up Mary, this might have been what he was left with as a theme song: "The words you said tore through my head like bullets from a gun/I shoulda just shown up and said 'Get in this car, let's run.'" And looking back at the succeeding, failed relationships that never measured up to that glorious first: "These years have seen so many imitations turning green/Each like the last, they go right past, like credits on a screen/But your memory blazes through me, burning everything, like gasoline." As for Geraldine, simply put, the world would be a better place if everyone knew a Geraldine: "When you're lost in the deep and darkest place around/May my words walk you home safe and sound."

* Kick Drum Heart by The Avett Brothers and Bull Black Nova by Wilco: These two don't have much in common except that they're propulsive, keyboard-driven toe-tappers that I played relentlessly throughout the year.

* Slowly (Oh Slowly) and Nikorette by Conor Oberst and the Mystic Valley Band: The self-conscious, slightly overwrought prodigy of Bright Eyes has evolved into a confident-sounding, virtuoso in his self-titled "solo" debut of 2008 and last year's Outer South: These two songs are my favorites from the latter.

To be continued...

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Everybody's a Critic, Part III: Another Year at the Movies, Honorable Mentions and Docs

Most years, I’m good for seeing about 75–100 new releases in the theater, with a handful of revival/repertory screenings and another dozen or so on DVD. This year, try as I might, I only saw 50 new features on the big screen.

Not even averaging one film per week represents an all-time low for me as an adult. While I certainly could have forced myself to engage more, the year was oddly uninspiring for long stretches, although there were some really compelling movies released this year, as well as some highly encouraging commercial success stories.

As for the movies themselves...


(500) Days of Summer: Romantic comedies can be deadly, but this one avoided just about all of the genre pitfalls and delivered a sweet three-act tale of the arc of a relationship (highlighted by some beautiful downtown Los Angeles photography), with affecting performances by indie icons Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel.

The Hangover: Call me biased (I work on the TV side of the studio that released it), but The Hangover is the perfect summer buddy flick. Bradley Cooper established himself as a star, Ken Jeong added to his string of priceless high-energy comedy cameos, and Zach Galifianakis walks off with the picture. Oh, I almost forgot: Mike Tyson sings Phil Collins. Seriously.

The Informant!: Steven Soderbergh is probably one of the most talented artists on the planet, writing, producing, shooting and editing more than 20 films since his stunning arrival with Sex, Lies and Videotape back in 1989. As iconoclastic as they come, Soderbergh seems equally at home crafting crowd-pleasing major-studio fare, experimenting with no-budget digital productions and also trying to find that elusive middle: making films within the studio system that challenge audiences and bear the distinctive stamp of a substantive artist at work. I don't always find myself loving what he delivers, but I never want to miss one of his effots. The Informant! is, at once, many things: a biting satire about corporate greed, a dark comedy about human nature, and -- in Soderbergh's hands -- a whopper of a bizarre tale about a quasi-whistleblower at agricultural giant Archer Daniels Midland. I'm still not convinced this movie works on all levels, and the story is so bizarre as to be completely unbelievable at times (although most of it, apparently, is true), but Matt Damon is priceless as crook/hero/villain Mark Whitacre. Not everyone will care for this, and if you're expecting a straightforward take akin to Michael Mann's incredible The Insider, look elsewhere. But if offbeat and lacerating is your taste, this might be for you.
The International: Clive Owen stars in this globe-trotting thriller as an Interpol agent who teams up with Naomi Watt's New York assistant district attorney to investigate an all-powerful international bank that is mixed up in arms dealing, laundering money and overthrowing politically inconvenient governments. Armin Mueller-Stahl is in it, too. If that's not enough, it's got one of the all-time great shootout scenes, set in New York's Guggenheim Museum, painstakingly recreated on a sound stage so as to, you know, damage up the masterpieces and such. Great fun.
Public Enemies: I regard Michael Mann as one of the best filmmakrs of the last 30 years, so the release of any new picture of his takes on event status in my mind. As I wrote last summer when I saw the first trailer for the film: "Michael Mann directing Johnny Depp and Christian Bale in a period drama about John Dillinger? Fughedaboudit. Expectations couldn't be higher." I think my hopes for the film may have been elevated in such a way that they exceeded the grasp of any mortal's artistry, but the movie is still very strong, with a rugged star turn by Depp and strong supporting work by Marion Cotillard as the object of Dillinger's affection and Stephen Lang as a lawman on his trail.

Up: I confess to seeing only half of Pixar's theatrical output over the years, even though I fully understand the argument that while their movies are kid- and family-friendly, they also offer rich rewards for adults. I'm not philosophically opposed to animated features -- trust me, I've been waiting in vain for more than 20 years for Warner Bros., Disney, Steven Spielberg and Robert Zemeckis to make a sequel to Who Framed Roger Rabbit -- but they aren't normally top of my list. That said, I finally saw Up in its third or fourth week of release, and it was wonderful. Now, did I completely love all of it? No. But that opening half-hour was truly heartbreaking, as was the ending. Damn you, Pixar!

Whatever Works: Larry David is great in the Woody Allen role in this comic farce also starring Evan Rachel Wood and Patricia Clarkson. This continues a nice run of form by writer/director Allen, including Vicki Cristina Barcelona, my favorite movie of 2008; Cassandra’s Dream, a highly underrated 2007 thriller; and Match Point, from 2005. (Feel free to overlook 2006’s Scoop.)


Art & Copy: A more inspiring movie about creativity and expression (with not just a little dollop of message manipulation and image manufacturing thrown in) you will not find. If you work in media or communications -- in any fashion -- this is a must-see film.

It Might Get Loud: Jack White, U2’s the Edge and Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page give witness to why all we might really need in life are three chords and the truth.

The Way We Get By: A group of citizens in Maine gather at all hours of the day and night at Bangor International Airport to make sure that members of our armed services who are either (1) flying out to duty overseas or are (2) returning to the United States from serving abroad always have someone there to wish them good luck or welcome them home. Selfless, beautiful stuff.

Next up ... some day ... my 10 favorites of 2009 ... to be continued ...

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Springsteen on "Spectacle"

As everyone knows by now, I'm a lifelong Bruce Springsteen fan, and one of my current favorite television shows is "Spectacle: Elvis Costello With..." a sort of "Inside the Actors Studio" for the music-obsessed, featuring discussion of the art and craft of songwriting and musicianship, enhanced by live performances.

Sadly, Costello has stated that he won't be continuing the show after the conclusion of this, the second season.

Fortunately, he managed to snag Mr. Springsteen for a marathon four-hour taping that will air as the show's two-part, two-hour series finale, this Wednesday and next, January 20 and 27, at 10 p.m. ET/PT on the Sundance Channel.

Sundance has made three clips available in advance. Unfortunately, I'm having trouble embedding them, so click here to view them at the "Spectacle" site.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Everybody's a Critic, Part II: Favorite Music (Albums) of 2009

2009 was a slightly confounding yet still exciting time for me when it came to music. First off, four of my favorite artists of all time – Bruce Springsteen, U2, Pearl Jam and Bob Dylan – put out new records this year (Dylan even released two!), and while they all contain thrilling elements that remind me of why I’ve been obsessed with them for the better part of my life, only one of them managed to rank among my top favorites as I look back at the last 12 months.

On the other hand, one of the records I listened to most this year was issued by a band whose previous work I’d been aware of but hadn’t really heard, and three – count ’em, three – of the releases that had the most impact for me were from artists I had never even heard of back in January, so that rush of being overwhelmed by something new was truly a welcome surprise.

On that topic of discovery, just a quick note here to thank those many people who have given me the priceless gift of their recommendations of music, films, books, art, TV series and more over the years.

I still firmly believe in the old-fashioned notion that a transcendent artistic achievement has the power to change a person’s life, and what could be more generous than sharing something that may do just that?

So, with that out of the way, here is the brief list of my favorite albums of 2009 – the furious five.

* The House That Dirt Built by The Heavy: A couple of friends – both from the Philadelphia area, coincidentally – tipped me off to this record at some point in December, and of this writing, I don’t think a day has gone by where I haven’t played it multiple times. Like last year’s Furr, by Blitzen Trapper, but even more so, The Heavy’s The House That Dirt Built is a dazzling assortment of tracks that easily jump from one musical genre to another yet are wholly of a piece and fit together snugly in a tight, 38-minute package that – for me – is the best complete record I heard all year.

Of course, before the kids in Philly mentioned it, I’d never even heard of this powerful UK band: Now, I can’t stop talking about them and this infectious collection.

The album proper starts with a bang, with the punky garage rocker “Oh No! Not You Again!” – featuring sexy backing vocals (“Baby, baby, want to play?” indeed!) – leading into the funky and blistering “How You Like Me Now?,” which sets its lead character’s attempts to reclaim a lost love (“Does that make you love me, baby?”) against a swaggering beat.

The jaunty “Sixteen” comes next, followed by the soulful “Short Change Hero,” which somehow seems to borrow from both Ennio Morricone and Groove Armada’s “Hands of Time” all at once, with vocals that wouldn’t sound out of place on a new Gnarls Barkley single. Undeniable.

“No Time” essentially sounds kinda like Soundgarden, with a horn section that wanders in halfway through (hint: a good thing), while “Long Way From Home” could be the most beautiful thing on the record.

Sure, maybe the reggae-infused “Cause for Alarm” was a bridge too far, but I give ’em credit for wearing their influences on their sleeves, and the fuzzy, propulsive“What You Want Me to Do?” more than makes up for it.

The House That Dirt Built closes with the plaintive “Stuck,” revisiting one of the album’s themes with the narrator once again trying to find emotional connection and a little human touch with someone just out of reach: “I don’t know if I can do it by myself … I’m stuck, ’til you make your mind up.”

All in all, a great album by a band from which I can’t wait to hear more.

* Tell 'Em What Your Name Is by Black Joe Lewis & The Honeybears: At some point in early 2009, I started seeing posts on music blogs talking about a forthcoming debut record from an Austin, Texas–based group called Black Joe Lewis & The Honeybears. The name struck me as funny and cool, but I didn’t really pay too much attention until one day, out of the blue, someone sent me the MP3 to the album’s second track, “Sugarfoot.” As will be evident by the end of these ramblings, I’m a sucker for a good horn part, and on this song, the horns had me at hello.

The album is just a joy to listen to, basically from start to finish, full of James Brown–esque old-school R&B–style grooves mashed up with a shambolic punk spirit. Imagine Sam Cooke being accompanied by Chuck Berry on guitar, the Funk Brothers and a garage band.

And the titles of some of the songs – “Big Booty Woman,” “Humpin’” and “Bobby Booshay” – just make me laugh by looking at them.

“Get Yo Sh*t” might be my favorite track, a shaggy dog tale if ever there was one, about Joe coming home to find all his possessions thrown on the front lawn by his rightfully scorned woman, whose name he can’t even bother to remember. Despite his protestations that “I love you baby!,” she isn’t having it.

These guys put on a fantastic live show, too. If they come to your town, don’t miss ’em.

* Animals in the Dark by William Elliott Whitmore: One day, out of the blue, a friend brought me a copy of this record, suggesting it might be something I might like. As usual, she was right, and I’ve been thanking her in my mind every day since.

If I told you that one of the best releases of 2009 was a contemporary folk disc which blended the populist topicality of Steve Earle with Billy Bragg’s fiery indignation and Bruce Springsteen’s humanity, sung by a guy that sounds like the Midwestern spawn of Tom Waits and Keb ’Mo (hat tip to another friend for the latter comparison), would that be something that would interest you? I would hope so.

I could write all day about Animals in the Dark, but I’ll spare you that except to note a few things.

Picks to click are the leadoff track, “Mutiny,” a fiery (and not safe for all workplaces) indictment of our leaders and their reckless stewardship of the country; “Johnny Law,” a rollicking tale of an encounter gone bad with the po-lice; and “Old Devils,” another examination of how the more things change, the more they stay the same (“They tell me there’s a war without no end, the old devils are at it again”). Hey HBO, "Old Devils" is the perfect theme song for your upcoming “Boardwalk Empire” series. Trust me.

Other standout tracks are “Hell or High Water” and “There’s Hope for You.”

But the outright gem is “Who Stole the Soul.” Now, it’s a running joke that I can’t go a day without somehow referencing Bruce Springsteen. Hell, I’ve already done it a few times in this post, and I’m going to do it again right here. In its earnest questioning, “Who Stole the Soul” confronts unchecked imperialism and directly criticizes the Constitution-bending we’ve witnessed over the last eight years in this country. When Whitmore sings that he won’t let go of “these things beyond value that we cherish so dear,” I was reminded of Springsteen’s “Long Walk Home” from the 2007 Magic album, specifically the line about the flag flying over the courthouse meaning that certain things were set in stone, like (1) who we are as a country and (2) what we’ll do in the name of the land in which we live, but (3) more importantly, standing for the things we won’t do in its name – immoral torture, illegal occupation, unjustified military intervention, etc.

At the end of “Who Stole the Soul,” the narrator has seemingly had a breakthrough, happy to proclaim that he’s “got back the spark from inside of me” and urging listeners to hear the shuffle of his dancin’ feet. That determination to meet challenges head-on reminded me of that simple verse in “Racing in the Street” from Darkness on the Edge of Town, about how some guys give up living and start dying little by little, piece by piece, while others come home from work, wash up and go racing in the street. Inspiration comes from mysterious places sometimes.

Anyway, Animals in the Dark by William Elliott Whitmore – highly recommended.

* 1372 Overton Park by Lucero: For years, many of my friends have tried to impress upon me how fantastic a band Lucero is. The testimony came from pals everywhere, whether it was D.C. (yes, Anderson and Company, I’m looking at you), New York, the great state of New Jersey or the locals here in L.A.

Try as I might, I found myself basically appreciating their previous work, but never falling head over heels for it until the day back in August when a friend, Jack, sent along a link to stream the audio of their new single, “The Devil and Maggie Chascarillo.” I think it took about 30 seconds for me to determine this was my favorite track of the year: those horns, that jagged voice, the infectious rock and soul vibe!

I waited – exceedingly impatiently – for the complete album to arrive, and when it did, it was chock full of unexpected treasures, from “Smoke” to “What Are You Willing to Lose,” “Sounds of the City,” “Sixes and Sevens” and more.

Having stupidly missed seeing them not once but twice in two different tiny Southern California venues last year, I hope against hope that they’ll swing back through here again this year.

So, Lucero, my apologies for not having been on the train earlier, but late to the party is better than not showing up at all, right?

* Backspacer by Pearl Jam: The fellas come out swinging on their latest record, with three crushing, guitar-driven rockers – “Gonna See My Friend,” “Got Some” and “The Fixer” – right out of the gate that reminded me of why they’re one of the best bands on the planet.

Now, the record admittedly doesn’t keep that pace throughout, and the collection of songs doesn’t rise to the level of the band’s seminal efforts of years past, but – to me – Backspacer is still a standout piece of musical work for 2009, relative to other releases of the past 12 months.

“When something’s loooooost, I want to fight to get it back again.”

To be continued ... with favorite individual songs of 2009, featuring some of the above plus The Airborne Toxic Event, The Avett Brothers, Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, Conor Oberst and The Mystic Valley Band, The Dead Weather, Doves, Elvis Costello, Girls, Glasvegas, Green Day, Justin Townes Earle, M. Ward, Muse, My Chemical Romance, Rhett Miller, Ryan Bingham, She & Him, U2, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Wilco and The XX.

Until then...

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Everybody's a Critic, Part I: Favorite TV Shows of the Decade

It’s been quite a while since I’ve updated this blog, but I resolve to post more often in 2010. So, since everyone else I know is posting best-of the year and/or decade lists, what better way to start off the new year than with one of my own.

Proving that everybody’s a critic, here is one TV flack’s list of favorite television shows of 2000–2009. (Note: I admit to not having watched Battlestar Galactica, which I hope to remedy via Netflix some day, so it will not appear on this list.)

10C. Extras: Ricky Gervais and Steven Merchant’s brilliant satire of the television business lasted a mere two short seasons, but what a glorious two seasons they were. The series finale, a movie-length episode in which Gervais’s Andy Millman – by now a successful television actor who has compromised his integrity for fame and fortune – appears on a celebrity edition of Big Brother is an absolute classic, and a stinging indictment of the wasteland that current popular culture has become.

10B. The Big Bang Theory: Sure, it’s only in its third season (and I’ll take the knock for studio bias), but I think this is much funnier than the uneven 30 Rock and The Office, with Jim Parsons’ work here every bit the equal of Alec Baldwin’s while eclipsing Steve Carell.

10A. Lost: Ambitious network TV at its finest. At a certain point, I gave up trying to figure out the overarching mythology and just watched the show like you would watch the Law & Order or CSI series, or any other non-serialized show, by just sitting back and enjoying the ride of that particular hour. Some characters can be annoying, and the producers’ seeming insistence on simply adding more mystery can be a bit tough to deal with when we just want answers!, but I cannot wait for the final season upcoming.

9. Freaks and Geeks: Two-thirds of its 18 episodes aired in 2000, so I deem this eligible. What a perfect gem of a show. Judd Apatow and company were years ahead of their time.

8. Brotherhood: Showtime’s criminally underrated drama about a Rhode Island state assemblyman, his family and his mobbed-up brother lasted only three seasons, but it combined some of the best elements of The Sopranos with the political elements of The Wire and provided a weekly showcase for powerhouse performances by Australian Jason Clarke and Englishman Jason Isaacs as two Irish brothers in Providence.

7. Sons of Anarchy: Another relative youngster, with just two seasons under its belt, this action-drama about an outlaw motorcycle club became can’t-miss TV in its just-concluded second year on the air. Ron Perlman and Katey Sagal turn in career-defining work on a weekly basis as the patriarch and matriarch of the SAMCRO club; Maggie Siff (Mad Men) is brilliant as a conflicted doctor; and Charlie Hunnam (of Judd Apatow’s brilliant but canceled Undeclared and the UK version of Queer as Folk), as the headstrong heir-apparent has firmly established himself as one of the best actors working on TV today.

6. The West Wing: Aaron Sorkin and his collaborators proved that TV could not only entertain but could also inspire and enlighten … and, in fact, should do those things. Sure, it may have played as a bit of liberal fantasy and the idealism was unabashed, but so was the drama.

5. Mad Men: One of the great things about film, TV, music, books and all forms of art is that they take you places you might never have been. Watching this singular drama is like opening up a time capsule from the 1960s, but the show’s style is only exceeded by its substance, a finely crafted piece of entertainment, family and workplace drama, social commentary and more, with an iconic performance for the ages by Jon Hamm as ad man Don Draper.

4. The Sopranos: After Homicide: Life on the Street, it looked like drama might be dead. But no! David Chase and his writers gave James Gandolfini, Edie Falco and the rest the tremendous cast the opportunity of their lifetimes, and the assembled company of artists delivered one of the most influential programs in the history of the medium. Marred by some inconsistency in the middle seasons, the show still stands tall in the pantheon of dramatic television, the signature series by which all future entrants in the genre are judged.

3. The Shield: Not many people could reliably say that when they heard that Michael Chiklis (then late of Daddio and previously The Commish) would be starring as the head of an elite L.A.P.D. strike team in a new drama on a then-middling cable network, that the program would eventually turn television upside down, winning the first-ever acting Emmy for a basic cable show and redefining the cop genre for the decade. But it all happened.

2. Deadwood: Ian McShane turned Sunday nights into his own personal master class in acting for three sublime seasons, inhabiting the character of Al Swearengen in a way unrivaled by anyone on TV not named James Gandolfini or Andre Braugher. The fact that he never won an Emmy® for this peerless work – or the absurdity that he was only nominated once! – constitutes a crime against creativity. And any show that has the good grace to end its run with Bruce Springsteen's O Mary, Don't You Weep playing over the closing credits is OK by me.

1. The Wire: I’m not sure I’ll be able to articulate anything here that hasn’t already been said by hundreds of professional television writers and critics far more eloquent than I, but allow me to assure you that they all speak the truth. For five seasons, this show chronicled the decline of an American industrial city, as seen through the prism of the impact the war on drugs, the diminution of the value of work, political dysfunction, the failed school system and an indifferent media had on the denizens of Baltimore, Maryland. This claim may strike some as outlandish, but I think the five chapters of this cinematic story represent the most accomplished scripted achievement in the history of American television. Season four, which addressed the role public schools play in the life of a community and focused on the disparate lives of four young boys, simply represents the best thing I’ve ever seen, epic in scope, heartbreaking in the telling, and unforgettable. I cannot wait to see Treme, the upcoming new HBO series from The Wire creator David Simon and company.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Box Office Contest Update: Nothing New to Report Edition

Stu’s victory lap continues, as “Inglourious Basterds” scalped another $20 million to bring its 10-day cume to just under $74 million, according to estimates from Box Office Mojo.

Next week marks the official end date of the contest, with results through the Monday of Labor Day weekend.

In addition to issuing the final tallies next Monday, we’ll also be taking a “coulda,” “shoulda,” “woulda” look at our game, in which we revisit the draft with the benefit of 20/20 hindsight and see how things would have worked out had we correctly drafted the 32 highest-grossing films of the summer in the proper order.

In the meantime, here are the totals through August 30:

Stu (eight films): $1.28 billion
John (eight films): $829 million
Robert (eight films): $758 million
Dave (eight films): $682 million

Click here for our complete picks and release dates.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Box Office Contest Update: Basterds Edition

With this week’s release of “Inglourious Basterds” and “Shorts,” all four of the competitors in this summer’s box office contest have all eight of their movies in play.

Quentin Tarantino’s return to form grossed $37 million this weekend: The basterds were quite glorious and just added icing to the cake of Stu’s runaway victory.

“Shorts” came up … yes … short for John, but he’ll finish second for the summer.

Totals through August 23:

Stu (eight films): $1.24 billion
John (eight films): $800.8 million
Robert (eight films): $743.3 million
Dave (eight films): $677.8 million

Click here for our complete picks and release dates.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Box Office Contest Update: Got My Computer Back Edition

Before we get started, consider this a public service announcement and a plea: If it is playing in your town, please go see the indie film “In the Loop,” which is an absolute must-see for anyone interested in smart comedy … but especially so if you like the intersection between politics and the media.

Imagine a comic version of “The West Wing,” albeit with completely venal characters, boasting an absolute live-wire performance by Scottish actor Peter Capaldi as a beautifully profane, irascible and manipulative head of communications for an unseen Prime Minister as Britain and the U.S. contemplate joining together to go to war.

Trust me, it’s brilliant.

OK, back to the box office.

Due to a computer issue befalling the Bellingham View (new hard drive needed for the laptop), we haven’t had a box office update in a while.

Which is probably for the best, considering the pathetic “performance” that John, Dave and I have turned in.

None of us has passed the $700 million mark yet with our combined releases, while Stu is closing in on $1.2 billion with yet another film – “Inglourious Basterds” – still to be released.

So, this isn’t really an update, per se, but more of a simple acknowledgement that the contest continues … although our hopes don’t.

Totals through August 9:

Stu (seven films): $1.18 billion
Robert (eight films): $693 million
John (seven films): $687 million
Dave (seven films): $660 million

Click here for our complete picks and release dates.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Box Office Contest Update: Hogwarts Edition

To John’s delight (and that of Warner Bros. employees), “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince” opened huge this week, setting a box-office record with more than $22 million from midnight showings on Tuesday night/Wednesday morning and then adding another $79.5 million over the weekend for a five-day cume of $159.7 million, according to estimates from Box Office Mojo.

His “Ice Age” is holding up strong, adding another $17.7 million this weekend for a total of $152 million.

John is convinced this means that the game is still on and that he has a chance to stop Stu’s inevitable march to victory. I disagree, but since he has three more movies still to be released, we’ll wait patiently.

“Bruno” plunged -73% from last weekend for a three-day take of $8.4 million and a total of $49.6 million=unhappy numbers for me.

Stu continues to ride high, with “Transformers,” “The Hangover” and “The Proposal” still in the top six this week.

“Public Enemies” has snatched up $79 million, making it Michael Mann’s second-highest-grossing film ever, behind only “Collateral.” That’s good news for Mann and Universal, but not good enough for Dave in this summer’s contest.

Next week: John’s hopes ride on Jerry Bruckheimer’s “G Force,” while Dave plays out the string with the release of “The Ugly Truth,” starring Katherine Heigl and Gerard Butler.

Totals through July 19:

Stu (seven films): $1.1 billion
Robert (six films): $613 million
Dave (seven films): $563 million
John (five films): $389 million

Reminder: If it’s playing in your town, go see “The Hurt Locker.”

Click here for our complete picks and release dates.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Box Office Contest Update: Movie I Wish You Would See Edition

Before we get to this week’s results, please allow me this one public service announcement: Go see “The Hurt Locker,” one of the best and most intense movies of 2009.

OK, with that out of the way, this week brought the release of “Bruno” for me and “I Love You, Beth Cooper” for John.

“Bruno” opened strong with a $14 million Friday, according to estimates compiled by Box Office Mojo, but then dropped -39% for a weak Saturday of $8.8 million leading to an opening frame of $30.2 million.

No one loved “Beth Cooper,” with the Fox comedy matriculating only to $5 million in its opening weekend. In better news for John, “Ice Age” froze another $28.5 million in box office cash this weekend, leading to a 12-day cume of $120.6 million.

Dave’s “Public Enemies” held up OK, grifting another $14 million this weekend for a total of $66.5 million.

But all this is largely irrelevant, given that Stu has run away with this summer’s contest. His “Transformers” is now up to $339 million, “The Hangover” is at $222 million, and three of his other picks have passed the $100 million mark, including "The Proposal," which continues to earn. He has over $1 billion in the can.

As a noted basketball announcer used to say, this one’s in the refrigerator. The door’s closed, the lights are out, the eggs are cooling, the butter’s getting hard and the jello’s jiggling.

John holds out hope because next Wednesday marks the arrival of “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince,” but it’ll take more wizardry than Hogwarts could ever conjure up to stop the Levine express.

Totals through July 12:

Stu (seven films): $1 billion
Robert (six films): $587 million
Dave (seven films): $541 million
John (three films): $192 million

Click here for our complete picks and release dates.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Box Office Contest Update: Independence Day Edition

“Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs” and “Public Enemies” opened on Wednesday of last week, joining holdover “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen” to light up the July 4 weekend box office, according to estimates reported by Box Office Mojo.

For John, the “Ice Age” five-day debut of $67.5 million is a solid, if unspectacular, opening, putting it slightly behind the three-day total for “Up” and a few million behind the five-day for the second “Ice Age” film.

John will need the dinosaurs to roam far and wide if he has any chance of catching Stu, whose “Transformers” twisted up another $42.5 million in its second weekend for a 12-day cume of $293.5 million.

Dave’s “Public Enemies” shook down the box office to the tune of $41 million over five days. Sure, this is nothing compared to the dollars thrown off by Johnny Depp’s “Pirates of the Caribbean” movies or Christian Bale’s “Batman” pictures, but this has to be considered good commercial news, given the Michael Mann film’s decidedly mixed reviews, R rating and period setting.

Next week: “Bruno” is unleashed for me, and “I Love You, Beth Cooper” tests John’s theory that a legion of guys (pubescent and otherwise) are believing the tease that star Hayden Panettiere drops trou and that will translate into box office gold. We’ll see!

Totals through July 5:

Stu (seven films): $952.8 million
Robert (five films): $546.2 million
Dave (seven films): $500 million
John (three films): $130.9 million

Click here for our complete picks and release dates.