Category Archives: Movies

Summer Movie League – Shaft Shafted but The Dead Don’t Die

Week two of our Summer Fantasy Movie League is in the books and there were some big misses.

First up there was Men in Black International which was expected to land close to the $40 million mark.  Lukewarm reviews, other viewing options, and probably the previous two movies, conspired to chop that down to $30 million over the weekend.  If you anchored on this, you were not having a good weekend.

But your weekend wasn’t as bad as anybody who bet on Shaft.  The sequel to the year 2000 film of the same name was expected to coming in around $23 million, but instead landed just shy of $9 million for the weekend.  Even that $2 million Worst Performer bonus can’t fix that bad landing.

Late Night was on a more even keel.  Expected to make about $5 million in its limited engagement, it brought in $5.2 million.  Right on the mark for somebody.

And finally there was The Dead Don’t Die, which seemed to me to be the prime contender for best performer.  It was also the one film I went and saw this past weekend.  Cracking $2 million would have made it a solid pick at the price, so when it ended up hauling in $2.5 million it was difficult to see anything else taking away its best performer bonus.  John Wick 3 and Booksmart were the next closest two, and they were both a ways from making the cut.

With all of that in place, the scores for the week ended up looking like this:

  1. SynCaine’s Dark Room of Delights – $80,306,365
  2. Wilhelm’s Qeynosian Kinetoscope – $80,306,365
  3. Too Orangey For Crows – $76,868,694
  4. Joanie’s Joint – $72,344,312
  5. Goat Water Picture Palace – $70,251,452
  6. Cyanbane’s Neuticles Viewing Party – $68,493,131
  7. Ben’s X-Wing Exp(r)ess – $57,592,078
  8. Miniature Giant Space Hamsterplex – $54,331,713
  9. grannanj’s Cineplex – $52,655,472
  10. Po Huit’s Sweet Movie Suite – $49,774,361

The perfect pick was 2x Secret Life of Pets 2, 1x Rocketman, and 5x The Dead Don’t Die.  Nobody went with that, though two of us were close.

SynCaine and I tied (he got first place via the tie breaker) on 2x Secret Life of Pets 2, 1x Godzilla, and 5x The Dead Don’t Die.  Given the pricing, Godzilla just seemed like the right pick last week.  Bhagpuss took third on 2x Secret Life of Pets 2, 1x Rocketman, 1x Ma, 3x The Dead Don’t Die, and 1x Detective Pikachu.  Joanie scored a fourth place finish going all in on Elton John with 7x Rocketman and 1x John Wick 3.  And Goat got fifth with 2x Secret Life of Pets 2, 2x Rocketman, 3x Booksmart, and 1x blank, making them the only one to take advantage to the lack of empty screen penalty this week.

At the bottom end of the list were those who bet on a MiBI + Shaft double anchor, except for Po who doubled down on Shaft, but was somewhat redeemed by four screens of The Dead Don’t Die.

All of that leaves the season scoring looking like this:

  1. Goat Water Picture Palace – $161,356,780
  2. Wilhelm’s Qeynosian Kinetoscope – $159,861,866
  3. Too Orangey For Crows – $151,473,600
  4. SynCaine’s Dark Room of Delights – $150,188,181
  5. Joanie’s Joint – $137,658,042
  6. Ben’s X-Wing Exp(r)ess – $133,577,881
  7. Miniature Giant Space Hamsterplex – $131,561,839
  8. Cyanbane’s Neuticles Viewing Party – $131,081,909
  9. Po Huit’s Sweet Movie Suite – $126,711,141
  10. Vigo Grimborne’s Medieval Screening Complex – $117,754,888

It is a tight race at the top.  But it is also just week two and there are some weeks ahead where you may end up with lineups that add up to more than your total score right now.

For the alternate scoring, the list looks like this:

  1. Wilhelm’s Qeynosian Kinetoscope – 17
  2. Goat Water Picture Palace – 16
  3. SynCaine’s Dark Room of Delights – 13
  4. Too Orangey For Crows – 12
  5. Miniature Giant Space Hamsterplex – 10
  6. Joanie’s Joint – 9
  7. Ben’s X-Wing Exp(r)ess – 9
  8. Vigo Grimborne’s Medieval Screening Complex – 9
  9. Po Huit’s Sweet Movie Suite – 7
  10. Cyanbane’s Neuticles Viewing Party – 6

The alternate scoring isn’t very useful early on in the season, with lots of ties and wild changes in position, but at about the mid point it starts to shape up.

All of which leads us to week three where the elephant in the room is Toy Story 4.  Add Pixar magic to good pre-screening reviews and parents needing a summer movie to get the kids out of the house and the total looks like it will pass $150 million.  It will dominate so hard that it has, of course, been split into three days, leaving the week three picks as:

  1. Toy Story 4 FRI – $519
  2. Toy Story 4 SAT – $473
  3. Toy Story 4 SUN – $390
  4. Child’s Play – $170
  5. Secret Life of Pets 2 – $133
  6. Aladdin – $128
  7. Men in Black International – $124
  8. Rocketman – $63
  9. Dark Phoenix – $47
  10. Anna $46
  11. Godzilla – $35
  12. Shaft – $34
  13. John Wick 3 – $33
  14. Late Night – $28
  15. Avengers Endgame – $23

There is pretty much Toy Story 4 and then everything else.  There is no winning this week without some Pixar on your side.  It will be in all the theaters.

Still, there are two other new titles, Child’s Play and Anna.

Child’s Play is a remake of the 1988 horror flick of the same name that introduced the horrible Chucky doll to the world.  This title restarts the seven film franchise, with the change being that the new Chucky won’t be a doll possessed by a serial killer, but a robot doll run amok.  Chucky is said to be WiFi and Blue Tooth enabled, so no doubt that will play into things.

The studio has also been playing up the fact that it is opening against Toy Story 4, putting out posters of Chucky with objects implying that he had killed Woody, Buzz, and other members of the regular Toy Story cast.

The long range forecast for Child’s Play sat at $18 million for opening weekend the last I checked, but horror films are often a surprise during the summer, and a franchise like this has some additional draw, so I wouldn’t be surprised if it did better, positioned as a counter play to the obvious favorite.

And then there is Anna.  This is a Luc Besson title, which gives it a bit of a cult following as an opener.  He is responsible for such classics as Nikita, Leon: The Professional, and The Fifth Element. On the other hand, his followers in the states don’t number enough to guarantee success, as we saw with Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets two summers back.

The current long range forecast has the film pegged at about $4.5 million.  It hasn’t been marketed heavily and there hasn’t been much said or written about it, and what has been said makes it sound a lot like Nikita. The IMBd has it tagged with “one woman army.”  Oh, and there are no reviews yet, always a bad sign, but if you go look for reviews you’ll probably see them for the 2013 film of the same name, which got poor reviews, which people might not notice is the right film.

But it does play against the dominant title of the week, it has Helen Mirren in it (though she is almost unrecognizable in her role), and the Nikita formula worked for Luc Besson before, spawning an American remake and at least one TV series, though the sexy female assassin card has been played a lot since, most recently in Red Sparrow and Killing Eve I suppose.  Maybe it breaks out by being a new alternative this week, but it seems more likely to falter.

Which brings us to the big question of the week, which day of Toy Story 4 to go with?   It is summer, so who knows.  Friday will get the preview numbers rolled in, Saturday will no doubt be big on its own, and then there is always Sunday.  So if you want a full lineup of screens you can have Friday, Saturday, or Saturday and Sunday, all of which will leave you enough room in your budget for filler.

But you have to ask yourself, if there is no penalty for blank screens, do you just go with Friday and Saturday and leave the rest of the lineup empty?  If Toy Story 4 exceeds, that might be the way to go.

Or maybe you just take Friday, 1x Child’s Play, and 6x Anna and hope she breaks out and gets the best performer this week.

Make your picks soon.  The league locks late Thursday night Pacific time.

Summer Movie League – Pets and Phoenix Falter

The first week of our summer Fantasy Movie League is in the books and was marked by the two big releases falling short of projections.

Both the Secret Lives of Pets 2 and Dark Phoenix opened up last week, projected to be $50+ million and $40+ million respectively, but neither made their mark.  Instead SLP2 was just past $46 million and Dark Phoenix only crossed the $32 million mark.

Instead, the anchor of the week for the perfect pick was 3x Aladdin, which ended up somewhat over the modest projections for it going into its third week.  The perfect pick of the week ended up being 3x Aladdin, 1x John Wick 3, 1x Avengers: End Game, and 3x A Dog’s Journey, the latter also being the best performer of the week.  That was worth $101 million.

Nobody in our league went with the perfect pick, or even anchored on 3x Aladdin, and the scores sorted out as follows:

  1. Goat Water Picture Palace – $91,105,328
  2. Vigo Grimborne’s Medieval Screening Complex – $80,360,143
  3. Wilhelm’s Qeynosian Kinetoscope – $79,555,422
  4. Miniature Giant Space Hamsterplex – $77,230,126
  5. Po Huit’s Sweet Movie Suite – $76,936,780
  6. Ben’s X-Wing Exp(r)ess – $75,985,803
  7. Too Orangey For Crows – $74,604,906
  8. SynCaine’s Dark Room of Delights – $69,881,816
  9. Joanie’s Joint – $65,313,730
  10. Cyanbane’s Neuticles Viewing Party – $62,588,778

Goat led the pack anchored on SLP2 and Aladdin, but was boosted by six screens of A Dog’s Journey, which earned an extra $2 million per screen by being the best performer.

I was apparently the only one who decided to see if the lack of penalty for empty screens would make it worthwhile to pile on higher priced features.  If you use the Cineplex Builder it will always give you a full lineup as it does not seem to adapt to the rules of individual leagues.

Different Rules are Different

But I went with 1x SLP2, 4x John Wick 3, and 1x Bharat.  Not a huge pick, but enough for third place, though that was in part because I got the $2 million bonus per screen for having picked the worst performer of the week, Bharat.   I was also the only one to do that.  Not suspicious at all.

And so it goes, one week in.  Being the first week, the one score list is all I need, but now we are on to week 2 and four new releases.  Here are the overall choices:

  1. Men in Black International – $536
  2. Secret Life of Pets 2 – $352
  3. Shaft – $334
  4. Aladdin – $271
  5. Dark Phoenix – $205
  6. Godzilla – $143
  7. Rocketman – $130
  8. Late Night – $96
  9. John Wick 3 – $80
  10. Avengers: Endgame – $56
  11. MA – $55
  12. The Dead Don’t Die – $28
  13. Detective Pikachu – $26
  14. Book Smart – $11
  15. A Dog’s Journey – $11

First up on the new titles is Men in Black International, which is expected to top the week, if only just.  Well, it is expected to get to nearly $40 million, but that doesn’t feel like much after the pre-summer blockbusters that have already launched.  Still, it is a soft week, so it will be king.

On the plus side, Men in Black is a well known franchise and people really liked the first one.  On the downside, the two sequels did not bring much new to the franchise, as the Honest Trailers review of the series points out.  And there is Will Smith playing the genie in Aladdin rather than wearing the dark suit.  Oh, and the reviews so far stink.  Still, if you’ve already seen Godzilla, John Wick 3, and Avengers: Endgame what other options do you have?

I guess there is Shaft.  They got apparently the only person worthy of playing John Shaft, Samuel L. Jackson, to take the starring role… and I say that because he was who they tapped for the Shaft reboot of the same name back in 2000 as well.  I believe this is actually a sequel to the film from 19 years ago, and takes place 20 years down the line in the story as well as in reality, so SLJ makes perfect sense.  But the original Shaft films were very much of their time back in the early 70s and I am not sure how well that translates to 2019.  That it took nearly 20 years to get a follow on doesn’t bode well.

Shaft is currently pegged at about $23 million, which would mark it for 3rd place in the box office this weekend.

Then there is Late Night, which stars Emma Thompson as the only female late night talk show host on the air who turns to Mindy Kaling when her ratings begin to drop off.  The film is being distributed by Amazon Studios, isn’t expected to be big enough to get make the long range tracking list, is priced into 8th place in between John Wick 3 and Rocketman, and will probably be on Amazon Prime in a month in any case.  Somebody projected $5 million for it.

And finally there is The Dead Don’t Die, which might seem like a Game of Thrones reference, but isn’t.  As a low budget zombie film, you might dismiss it, having seen it priced way down the list, just ahead of the aging Detective Pikachu.  It might not even crack $2 million.

But then you go and look at the cast… which includes Bill Murray, Adam Driver, Tilda Swinton, Steve Buscemi, Danny Glover, Rosie Perez, Carol Kane, Selena Gomez among others… and you wonder how this cannot simply make more than that.  Seriously, the name didn’t register with me, but once I looked it up I wanted to go see it, and zombie films are not really my thing.  Even with mixed reviews it feels like it is priced too low to me.

So with that in mind my early week lineup is 1x Men in Black, 1x Aladdin, and 6x The Dead Don’t Die.

Picks lock late night tomorrow, so get yours in soon.  Next week we will face the juggernaut of Toy Story 4, guaranteed to be a 3 day split.

The FML Summer Season Kicks Off

The Summer Fantasy Movie League Season starts this week, so it is time to get going on our picks.

As I noted in the post last week, there are a few special rules for this league that differentiate it from the standard league.  They are:

  • Thursday night lock – Get your picks in by 11pm Pacific
  • No empty screen penalty
  • $2 million bonus for the worst performing film

The first is to remove the insight that comes from being able to see the Thursday night preview numbers, which tend to come out right before the Friday morning lock time.

The other two are just meant to stir things up a bit.  I wasn’t sure I was going to go with them both, but then I forgot about them until the new season unlocked on Monday night, and at that point I was stuck with them.

Of the two, I think the lack of penalty for an empty screen… by default an empty screen deducts $2 million from your score… will be the more interesting.  It may end up distorting the league, but my hope is that it will lead to tension between piling on for the obvious winners of the week and filling out all the screens in the hope of getting that best performer boost that often goes to middle or low priced titles.

And the $2 million bonus per screen to worst performing title picks is just a wild card, something I hope will boost some scores by surprise.

As I said, at this point we’re stuck with those changes, so we’ll see how they go.  I will definitely try to compare what the perfect pick for this league is with what the standard rule set gets.

Here in the first week we have the following lineup:

  1. The Secret Life of Pets 2 – $664
  2. Dark Phoenix – $540
  3. Aladdin – $277
  4. Godzilla – $251
  5. Rocketman $209
  6. Ma – $128
  7. John Wick 3 – $77
  8. Avengers: Endgame – $54
  9. Detective Pikachu – $49
  10. Bharat – $27
  11. Booksmart – $25
  12. Brightburn – $12
  13. The Hustle – $8
  14. A Dog’s Journey – $6
  15. The Intruder – $5

The big opening this week is The Secret Life of Pets 2.  I feel like we’re getting a bit cheated on the opening week with a title that isn’t big enough to get chopped up into Fri/Sat/Sun.  Still, school is out already some places and is wrapping up for summer this week where I live, so throwing out a kids movie seems like a good bet.  Louis C.K., persona non grata at the moment, is out as the lead voice talent, but Patton Oswalt is in to replace him.  I’m not sure kids care about that.

The original grossed $104 million its opening weekend in 2016, landing on the Independence Day holiday week in the US.  Long range forecasts have this in around $65-70 million, which feels a bit conservative to me.  The studio has been advertising the hell out of this release.  When I have played Words with Friends over the last week I was seeing ads for SLP2 constantly… like 6-10 times in a row before seeing a different ad… then back to it again.  So it seems like a strong pick.

Also opening this week is Dark Phoenix, which was being called X-Men: Dark Phoenix at one point, to emphasize its lineage.  However, at some point that stopped and now I have to get reminded every time I see the title that it is a super hero movie.

Anyway, summer super hero movie.  Seems like a safe bet.  I am not sure how strong/popular the X-Men franchise is at the moment, but it has Jennifer Lawrence as Mystique and Sophie Turner (Sansa Stark) as Jean Grey, who is the titular role as the Dark Phoenix and is being turned out by Disney who seems to own every property these days.  But the long range forecast only has it at $50 million… ONLY $50 million… so something is amiss here.

The other new opener this week is Bharat, an Indian film, which will have some draw in the US.

Against those three are past strong releases now a few weeks in, including Aladdin, Avengers: Endgame, Detective Pikachu, John Wick 3, and Rocketman.  There are a lot of strong possible picks without getting down into filler.  And without the empty screen penalty you can eschew the low end if you so desire.

My initial, use all the screens pick was 1x SLP2, 1x Aladdin, 1x Bharat, 1x Brightburn, and 4x The Intruder, the latter which I suspect might be the worst performer.  That is a conventional lineup that works for the standard league rules as well.  But with no empty screen penalty I am considering 1x SLP2, 1x Aladdin, 1x Avengers: Endgame, 1x The Intruder, and 4x empty.

The lack of an empty screen penalty might be a mistake.  We shall see.

Anyway, get your picks in by tomorrow evening.  For those wishing to join in this season I will put another link to the league in the comments.  You will need to create an account on the Fantasy Movie League site in order to join.

Also, I said something about a TAGN Discord, so we have that here now.  As those who joined the Blaguast Discord last August will know, I do tend to be on Discord when I am home.  We’ll see if having that will be useful.  If you want to join in on that, the link is here.

Spring 2019 FML Results

The long spring FML league… it ran 14 weeks, which felt like two weeks too many to me… finished up the past weekend.  The summer league is here now, and I will get to that in the next post.  But I figured I would spend a few minutes on the spring run.

While I did not write about it as it progressed, a small group of regulars played almost every week.  I think eight people managed to get a pick in almost every week, and the top five players for the season were fairly tightly packed score-wise, at least compared with other seasons.

I did almost all of my picks on Monday evening when week’s unlocked, usually based purely on gut response to pictures rather than any research at all.  This failed me a few weeks.  I was particularly down on Aladdin in week 13, which cost me.

On the other hand, I got the perfect pick in week 12, a big win that revived my otherwise modest fortunes.  Overall the scores for the top ten players for the season ended up looking like this:

  1. Miniature Giant Space Hamsterplex – $1,425,273,371
  2. Goat Water Picture Palace – $1,410,622,811
  3. Wilhelm’s Qeynosian Kinetoscope – $1,379,179,921
  4. Too Orangey For Crows – $1,372,973,416
  5. grannanj’s Cineplex – $1,367,523,445
  6. SynCaine’s Dark Room of Delights – $1,335,897,444
  7. Joanie’s Joint – $1,288,023,932
  8. Vigo Grimborne’s Medieval Screening Complex – $1,058,566,243
  9. Darren’s Unwatched Cineplex – $1,019,273,600
  10. I HAS BAD TASTE – $448,199,463

Week 13 was important to Miniature Giant Space Hamsterplex.  They went with Aladdin while Goat and I avoided it, a situation that vaulted the Hamsterplex into first.  Even Goat’s win in week 14 was not enough to catch back up.

The alternate scoring was a bit different:

  1. Miniature Giant Space Hamsterplex – 102
  2. Goat Water Picture Palace – 102
  3. Too Orangey For Crows – 92
  4. grannanj’s Cineplex – 89
  5. Wilhelm’s Qeynosian Kinetoscope – 84
  6. SynCaine’s Dark Room of Delights – 80
  7. Joanie’s Joint – 76
  8. Darren’s Unwatched Cineplex – 55
  9. Vigo Grimborne’s Medieval Screening Complex – 49
  10. I HAS BAD TASTE – 22

Goat and Hamster, close in the overall scores, ended up tied for the alternate scoring.

Goat won three of the weeks, but five people won at least two weeks during the season, and two others won one week a piece.

The alternate scoring smoothed out my perfect pick week, pushing me down to fifth place.

Overall, choosing the winner came down to the final week.  A slightly better pick would have gotten Hamster a win in both measures, while grabbing the perfect pick would have put Goat back in first place in the overall scoring.

With that covered, it is time to move on to the summer 2019 league and a look at the opening week, which I will cover in the next post later today.

Plans for a Summer FML League

The time has come, the spring Fantasy Movie League season is coming to a close, and the summer season is upon us.  It is time to fire up the TAGN League for summer blockbusters.

I actually feel like we’re a week too late.  Maybe two weeks too late.  Regardless of what the calendar makers say, for me summer runs from Memorial Day to Labor Day in the US.  That is certainly when the big summer movies hit the screens and have their runs.  A big Memorial Day release can sometimes still be found on budget theater screens at the far end of summer.

For whatever reason, FML ran the spring league for 14 weeks, putting it through Memorial Day and the weekend beyond.  That means the summer league doesn’t get to start with big box office draws like Aladdin, which launched last week, and Godzilla: King of Monsters.

Add in John Wick 3 and Avengers: End Game having already launched and you start to wonder if we’ve been robbed of the big weeks one expects during summer.

But we shouldn’t fret.  I think we got all of those early because the summer is still full of titles that will no doubt bring in big numbers.  Headliners for some of the summer weekends include:

  • June 7 – X-Men: Dark Phoenix
  • June 14 – Men in Black: International
  • June 21 – Toy Story 4
  • July 5 – Spider-man: Far from Home
  • July 19 – The Lion King
  • August 2 – Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw

That is a lot of sequels, spin-offs, and remakes.  But there are also the smaller titles that could break out and become horribly over-done dynasties of their own some day.  And then there are the horror movies that always seem to do much better than I predict.  Will they fool me again this summer?

Anyway, my tentative plans for the summer league include the following:

  • Thursday night lock so we all have to pick before the preview numbers hit
  • No empty screen penalty
  • $2 million bonus for the worst performing film

I am sold on the first one, while the other two I am putting out there just to shake things up a bit.  If people scream in the comments about either I may put them back the way they were.

Otherwise things will be about the same as the last season I ran, including the main an alternate scoring method.

I had mentioned possibly breaking up the summer into three shorter sprints.  However, just because FML gives you a field that shows the duration of a season doesn’t mean that you can edit it.  It looks like we are stuck with 13 weeks unless I am missing something.

In the mean time the spring league looks like it might have a surprise winner.  Goat had led the whole season, only to be upset last week by Miniature Giant Space Hamsterplex.  Goat (and I) bet against Aladdin, which went on to do better than expected, with an exceptionally strong Sunday.

I will post the winners for spring next week in addition to the opening week post for the summer season.

If you are interested in playing, I will post a link to join the TAGN league in the comments on this post and in next week’s post.  The links expire after a few days and you will need to create an account at the FML site to play.

I am also considering creating a Discord server for the blog where, among other things, movie discussion could be a channel.  Discord is light and, if you already have it, one more server on your list isn’t a big deal. (I actually created one ages ago, I’ve just never invited anybody to it.)

As always, if you have any suggestions for the season let me know in the comments.

Catch 22 on Hulu

I was interested to see the opening of the just released Hulu series Catch 22, and was not disappointed.

The thing is, Catch 22 is a complicated topic.  There is, of course, the sprawling 1961 novel by Joseph Heller which I first read in high school and have re-read several times since.  Clocking in at 472 pages in the 70s pocket paperback version I still have on my shelf (published in the UK under the Corgi imprint) and over 500 pages in the 50th anniversary paperback version I picked up a few years back (the German language version I set myself to read one summer in the late 80s is only 441 pages, but it is in the smallest font size I’ve ever seen in a paperback, so would probably swell to 600 pages in a legible font size), the novel wanders through a series of characters with intertwined stories and strange players who come and go and the whole thing is told out of chronological order. It is not a work that lends itself easily to other mediums.

Not that it has not been tried.

There is, of course, the 1970 film version that attempted to take on the novel, compressing it down into just two hours.

I love the film.  It is, at best, an imperfect vehicle, a sketch of what the book contains, but a beautiful sketch.  The audio commentary on the DVD version I own of director Mike Nichols talking to Steven Soderbergh about the trials of making the film is an epic tale on its own.

In video you can capture a sweeping landscape or a vision of chaos with a pass of the camera, summing up in seconds what might take several paragraphs.  But a film has trouble telling the audience things, passing on relevant details, without having characters say them aloud.  The importance of a breathtaking vista or a harrowing bomb run can be lost without somebody explaining aloud what is going on.

And since the characters cannot possibly speak every line in the novel and keep things in a reasonable time frame… I had an abridged audio book version of Catch 22 that was six hours long… huge sections of the novel had to be lopped off for the film version.

But here is the thing.  For all its faults, the film is my baseline for everything.  This is because long before I ever picked up the book I had seen the film.  Or at least part of the film.  After its theatrical run it made its television debut in… by my recollection… 1974 on a Sunday night.  This was back when showing newer movies on TV was kind of a big deal and would get weeks of ad spots on the network to herald its coming.  And my dad, ever the poor judge of what was appropriate, let me sit up and watch part of it.

This is probably why Alan Arkin is Yossarian in my head.  Well, that and the audio book I mentioned was read by him, which no doubt reinforced the whole thing.  Seeing just the first half of the movie set most of the characters in my head, so when I think of them I think of the people who played them in the film.  This was helped by the fact that the cast was an ensemble of well known actors.  So when I read the book I already had faces in my head for many of the roles.

Which leads me back to Hulu.  A mini-series has more time to deal with a book as complex as Catch 22, and so I was glad to see that it started somewhere besides the isle of Pianosa, the central location where the film grounded itself.

Instead it starts at the US Army Air Corps training base in Santa Ana with Yossarian and Clevinger and Lt. Scheisskopf (and his wife) and the obsession with marching in formation.  This is a major story arc in the book that is alluded at the very end of the film when you see the base turned out to march as Yossarian runs for the ocean.

We were going to get more of the story than the film gave us.  The mini-series was going to find its own way through the novel.  They even avoided using the name Yossarian, which is uttered, mumbled, and shouted throughout the film, referring to the lead character as Yoyo, his nickname.  I was good with that.

The whole thing emphasizes different aspects of the story than the film does.  Chaplin Tappman is a passing character.  The relationship with Orr is not as key.  Lt. Col. Korn has a much less aggressive role.  And they decided to include the tale of Maj. ____ DeCoverley and the great big siege of Bologna and the bomb line.

On the other hand, I was a bit dismayed at the introduction of the cast standing in formation in Santa Ana.  They were a series of actors so similar in appearance that I could not tell one from the other.  This was, perhaps, intentional, in order to emphasize the interchangeability of men in war, where  death leads to a replacement, where turnover in the squadron in the book highlights Yossarian’s alienation.  The only person who stood out was Christopher Abbott, who plays Yossarian.  I can see the point of that, signalling right away the main character.  And Abbott does a credible job in the role, though his version of the character is somewhat more subdued that the sometimes manic Alan Arkin performance in the film.

Christopher Abbott as John Yossarian

And things start off well.  After training Yossarian and his class from Santa Ana all end up in the Mediterranean theater together, during which the mini-series can tell its own version of the story, even throwing in early on the dead man in Yossarian’s tent, something an avid fan of the book will no doubt remember.

But it cannot stay away from scenes covered by the film as well, and at times it comes off poorly in comparison.  Yossarian and Doc Daneeka talking about the circular logic of “catch-22” on the flight line is one of the great early moments of the film.  The same exchanges has to take place in the mini-series.  In cannot go anywhere without setting that down.  But it doesn’t have the same punch.

Likewise, the story leads up to the scene with Yossarian and Arfy, where Arfy has raped and murdered the housekeeper and the sirens are blaring and Yossarian is telling Arfy they are coming to arrest him for this horrible act as the MPs are pounding on the door.  But the scene in the mini-series doesn’t live up to the same one in the film, in part because the mini-series hasn’t built up Arfy enough, but mostly because it simply couldn’t top the performances of Charles Grodin and Alan Arkin.

Those are, of course, my problems and not the problems of the mini-series.  A normal person probably wouldn’t be drawn to those.  But the mini-series has its own issues.

First, there is a seeming need to compress the set by putting characters from the books in different positions in the planes so as to cram everybody into the same scene.  The book is primarily about a group of offices, pilots, navigators, and bombardiers.  But they need to get Nately in the plane with Yossarian and so he ends up as a tail gunner.

While they visually references some of Orr’s quirks… he is clearly fiddling with the gas stove that so infuriated Yossarian in the book… they never establish any real relationship between Orr and Yossarian and, while they set up Orr’s eventual fate, it lacks any real punch.

The mini-series also eschews any attempt at non-linear story telling… even the film kept that aspect of the book in its two hour run… and bowls through events chronologically.  This takes a bit of the bite out of the changing number of missions to be flow, used as a marker in the book to keep the reader sync up with where the story lay at the moment.

Not very far in Milo starts to overwhelm the story.  In the end Yossarian is the cornerstone of the story, and while Milo plays into it, it feels like Milo gets about a third of the mini-series.  And, while it is fun to see his ever expanding empire and the inevitable contract bombing raid for the Germans, in the end he is a metaphor and not a key player.

Meanwhile George Clooney was an odd choice for Scheisskopf.  He is the big name in the production and his being in that role causes somebody who is at best a secondary character in the book to suddenly overshadow those around him.  I know he wanted to be in the mini-series, but that wasn’t the spot.  He is also too old for the role, starting off the whole things as a Lieutenant in the army.  He was originally supposed to be cast as Col. Cathcart, which I think he could have pulled off well enough.  Instead we have his outsized presence in an unsuitable role.

Then there is Maj. ____ DeCoverley, who is bizarrely played by Hugh Laurie.  I am a huge fan of Hugh Laurie, but he is a man of words and some sophistication, and plays his character as such, while Maj. ____ DeCoverley is so named because he is gruff and intimidating to the point that people are afraid to ask him his first name.  He is, as readers may recall from the end of the loyalty oath crusade in the book, not a man of subtlety or sophistication.  So I appreciate the inclusion, which is pretty much required as part of the great big siege of Bologna story line, which the film omits, but I am not sure it was well cast.

And finally, the whole story goes off the rails somewhere in episode five, leaving the original tale behind to forge its own story, stopping every so often to cram in some scene from the book to ground its otherwise odd turns.  It reminds me a bit of the end of Game of Thrones on HBO, only the team doing the mini-series had the ending rather than having to make it up.  That they chose to make it up seems… worse maybe?

Add in some unnecessary stumbles… when a man with sergeant’s strips on his sleeves shows up and introduces himself as Lieutenant Newman I rolled my eyes so hard I may have detached a retina… and the end, the whole thing feels unsatisfying, leaving off with Yossarian’s essential problems unresolved.  He still has more missions to fly and people are still trying to kill him.  I don’t know.  Maybe they are planning a season 2.  But they’ve already pass through so much of the book that I don’t know what they would do with six more episodes.

It isn’t all bad.  I was certainly on board with it for the first three episodes and had to sit on my hands and not spoil thing for my wife, who watched that far with me, as I spotted this and that from the books while the story moved along.

It was certainly adequate visually.  I suspect that the production had access to maybe three actual B-25 bombers for the filming… well short of the full squadron of flying examples the film had… in addition to a T-6, a C-47, and a JU-52.  From that they were able to CGI the flying scenes well enough.

The choice to keep the story line completely linear was probably correct.  Cutting back and forth in time is jarring enough without having to keep track of where you are across multiple episodes.

And Giancarlo Giannini as the old man in the brothel was an inspired choice.  Maybe the only right choice for that role.

But overall I am not feeling it.  I binged through it in an evening and morning and am not thinking about a re-watch.  Clearly many of my issues are because of the lens through which I viewed the series, a lens distorted by familiarity with both the book and the film.  I cannot see it independently of that context.  And the reviews for it seems to be overwhelmingly positive.  So maybe it is good and it is just grumpy old me who cannot see it.

FML – Moving from Winter to Spring

This week saw the final round of the Winter/Awards season for Fantasy Movie League.

While I am still holding out for the summer blockbuster season before I return to focusing on the league as a regular feature here, if you wanted to join in for a practice season now would be a good time.  I will put a link in the comments after this post goes live.  The links expire, so I don’t want to put it in the post in advance.

As for the season just passed, here were the final top ten scores.

  1. Goat Water Picture Palace – $964,413,237
  2. SynCaine’s Dark Room of Delights – $941,196,773
  3. Wilhelm’s Kul Tiras Kino – $861,126,227
  4. Darren’s Unwatched Cineplex – $786,513,610
  5. Too Orangey For Crows – $784,396,889
  6. Joanie’s Joint – $739,435,908
  7. Ben’s X-Wing Express – $707,973,439
  8. grannanj’s Cineplex – $696,783,637
  9. Miniature Giant Space Hamsterplex – $682,821,329
  10. Vigo Grimborne’s Medieval Screening Complex – $621,049,944

That is the same people in the top three slots as my mid-season summary, though the final positions changed a bit.

Goat and I were neck and neck, with me behind by a mere $600K, at the end of week ten.  But then I made bad picks on the last two weeks.  Goat and SynCaine both went with the Alita lineup in week 11 and How to Train Your Dragon plus Happy Death Day 2U lineup in week 12 that were both runaway picks, weeks where if you don’t get those you fall way behind.  That lifted Goat and SynCaine well past my score.

That I was even in contention was probably a bigger surprise.  I didn’t win a single week, while SynCaine and Goat won 10 of the 12 weeks combined. I just didn’t make a really bad pick until the end.

And then there is the alternative scoring methodology which, as a reminder, hands out a score to the top ten finishers each week, with first place getting 10 points, second getting 9 points, and so on down the line, which is an attempt to remove the scoring volatility that some weeks show when the FML team is off in their pricing.

  1. SynCaine’s Dark Room of Delights – 96
  2. Goat Water Picture Palace – 85
  3. Wilhelm’s Kul Tiras Kino – 84
  4. Too Orangey For Crows – 69
  5. Darren’s Unwatched Cineplex – 65
  6. Joanie’s Joint – 55
  7. Ben’s X-Wing Express – 48
  8. Miniature Giant Space Hamsterplex – 44
  9. Vigo Grimborne’s Medieval Screening Complex – 41
  10. grannanj’s Cineplex – 37

In that scoring SynCaine came out in first place, well ahead of Goat in second and myself in third.

While SynCaine only won 4 weeks to Goat’s 6, SynCaine also never fell out of the top ten on any week while Goat did so twice.  Despite never winning a week I held on to third place by consistently staying in the top five finishers every week, save for the final two, where I placed sixth.

And so it goes, another season down.

The Spring season will be a long one, running 14 weeks, ending after the US Memorial Day weekend. That seems late, and puts the start of the Summer Blockbuster season out until the first week of June.

If I had been paying closer attention I could have changed the duration of the Spring season for the TAGN league.  However, now that the season has started, we’re stuck with 14 weeks.  No changing after a season goes live.

I am thinking about possibly changing the Summer season.  I could cut it up into two or three shorter seasons; maybe two six week seasons (or a six and a seven) or three four week seasons (or two fours and a five to line things up).  That would let people come and go on vacation without them messing up a whole season as well as stopping that inevitable second half drag where anybody who started off with a couple of bad weeks feels they are totally out of contention.

Anyway, feedback on that idea is welcome.