“Lady Bird”

A review in 23 words:

By turning all the “coming-of-age” tropes sideways, Lady Bird takes what could have been a stereotypical story and makes it compelling.

Final Verdict: 👍 

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Dear Lucasfilm: Can we please keep "Star Wars" Christmas?

I have been accused, quite possibly fairly, of being a grinch. It's not that I don't like the holiday season, I just get grinchy when Christmas music gets played outside the acceptable confines of Black Friday through about 10pm Christmas Day.

For the past decade, Christmas has diminished in its importance for my family. My parents have yet to recover from the cataclysm that was "The Recession". My father is now too old, too experienced, and therefor too damned expensive, that getting work is still a struggle. And since America criminally undervalues education, my mother's income as a teacher isn't enough for them to survive. Christmas has become a tragic symbol of our struggle to try to get the family together, if only once a year.

Between Christmases without the parents, celebrations occuring on different days due to work schedules, and a long standing moratorium on giving presents, my joy for the day itself has slowly eroded away—by my late teens my favorite part of Christmas was the watching someone as they would open that awesome gift they didn't know they wanted. But now, the only reason Christmas was the time of year we'd get together was the fact that it was the only time my dad could get away from whatever office he was working at and my mom, my sister, and I would be off from school. It could've been April for all we cared. The Christmas season stopped being special.

And then The Force Awakens happened.

For the past two years, having had Star Wars for Christmas, it's given me something to look forward to. While my parents aren't the biggest fans, yet Star Wars is something that my sister and I have shared since we were kids. Star Wars at Christmas time offered me the joy of something new to share with her, and with my friends. I love "Star Wars Christmas".

But time and again, Lucasfilm keeps trying to shoehorn Star Wars back into May. I mean, I get it. Star Wars is the film that gave us the idea of the summer blockbuster. Up until The Force Awakens, every film had been released in May. There's tradition there. But having all the films release in December is letting us build a new one. And I want to keep this one.

So please, dear Lucasfilm/Disney/Santa, can we please keep Star Wars Christmas?

Let's Play A Guessing Game: "The Last Jedi" Edition

Back in 2015 I made a few predictions about the story and plot of The Force Awakens, and I ended up getting some right.

Unlike The Force Awakens, where I was watching and reading everything Lucasfilm put out in order to try and figure out as much as I could, with The Last Jedi, I've been actively avoiding trailers and errata in order to go in spoiler free. With that in mind, this time I only have three predictions, and only one concerns the plot:

  1. We won't get a solid answer concerning Rey's background. Some mysteries need a third movie. When The Force Awakens first came out, I was certain that she was a secret Skywalker. But the more I've thought about it, the less certain I've become. I think she's connected to the Skywalker's, but that could mean anything from being Luke's daughter or the theorized Kenobi love child. While I expect us to get hints to her parent's identity in this film, I don't think we'll get solid answers until the next one. [Watch as I'm wrong and Luke says "Rey, I am your father." in this movie.]
  2. Somebody loses an hand. It's tradition. In the second movie of a Star Wars trilogy, someone gets a hand chopped off by a lightsaber. If I was going to make a guess for bonus points, I'd say it's KyloBen. Because the last two times, it was the Skywalker who loses the hand. {Again, if Rey loses a hand...]
  3. Princess Leia's Theme will close out the end credits. A worthwhile tribute to the late Carrie Fisher.

As for the box office side of things, as I wrote awhile back, the average Star Wars saga film will open to $207 million, and would gross $705 million total in the domestic box office. I think The Last Jedi will perform slightly higher, and will open closer to $215 million, with a total gross of $730 million.

What the Hell Happened to Logan?

Long story short, it involves getting sick, family coming to visit, and a computer dying. So a lot of stuff has happened, so let's just dig right in to the last month's worth of news.

Rian Johnson to direct a new, standalone Star Wars trilogy

This was inevitable. Star Wars needs to exist without having the Skywalker's at the center.

Normally, news like this would've been announced after The Last Jedi had come out to rave reviews and a stellar box office start. The fact that Lucasfilm announced it months before the release speaks volumes about the working relationship that Johnson built up with Kathleen Kennedy, the head of Lucasfilm, but also the caliber of film that he put together. I know it help throw my own hype for The Last Jedi into overdrive.

Amazon working on a Lord of the Rings TV series

If anyone at Amazon ever reads this: Hire Me.
I seriously have most of the books you'd need for research sitting on a bookshelf.

While I am excited by the prospects of a Lord of the Rings television series, early details on the project describe it as a Fellowship of the Ring prequel series. This could mean a lot of things—from The Silmarillion and The Hobbit, t0 simply expanding upon the appendices in The Return of the King. This definitely can be handled right, but I'm cautious. Are they not going to make The Lord of the Rings? Is this supposed to be an anthology series? I can't wait until we can get more details. But, again: Hire me.

EA shits the bed

The Battlefront II microtransaction fiasco got so much attention, that a Reddit post by EA got over half-a-million downvotes, it made headlines in the mainstream press, and even lead to some governments investigating whether or not loot boxes are a form of gambling. The negative press got so bad that Disney stepped in and told EA to right the ship.

Frustration has been building up in the gaming community for a while over microtransactions, DLC, and "pay-to-win" schemes intended to make publishers and developers more money—and EA is often at the core of many of these complaints. While most can and will forgive cosmetic microtransactions, Battlefront II's would actually impact gameplay and were a complete mess. The fact that iconic heroes like Darth Vader or Luke Skywalker were locked behind a 40+ hour grind and/or a paywall, lead to all the complaints being dialed up to eleven. The negative press got so bad that EA removed to ability to purchase items in-game only hours prior to the game's official launch. But all this didn't stop the many cries of "Boycott!"

The Disney-Fox Merger

Expected to be announced tomorrow, but rumors have been swirling around for awhile that Disney is going to buy 21st Century Fox from News Corp. Murdoch keeps news and sports—his bread and butter—Disney gets everything else. This news has fans everywhere salivating. Will we see Wolverine in The Avengers? Will the Fox Fanfare play in front of Star Wars films again? How many merger jokes will be in Deadpool 2?

While fanboys and fangirls everywhere have much to be excited about, having one less major studio around is troubling. A shrinking Hollywood might be good for Wall Street, but not really for the people trying to make a living creating the content we consume.

And Finally:

Doug Jones wins in Alabama. Parliament throws a wrench into Teresa May's Brexit plans. It's almost like December rolled around and 2017 went "Oh shit! I should probably work on cleaning up some of that mess that 2016 left."



Back in January 2016, I visited a friend stationed in Hawaii. This was due more to luck of timing rather than actual planning. The Force Awakens had loosened its grip on the universe, and I had no side jobs lined up, so I was able to take the time off work on a whim. This of course had the side effect of having no itinerary other than "see Oahu".

My friend serves in the Navy, and a side perk of Navy dress uniform is free addmitance to the U.S.S. Missouri, so that moved Pearl Harbor to the top position in my non-existant plan. But the first stop that day was the Arizona.

As you get close to the U.S.S. Arizona memorial, the air reeks of oil. It gets up in your nose and overwhielms any other smell. No salt-tinged sea breeze, just oil.

To call the Arizona a memorial is almost a disservice. It is a tomb. You wander in a dazed silence knowing that the bodies of one thousand seven hundred and seventy-seven men—killed in an instant as an explosion ripped through the hull—lay buried beneath the waves. But the smell of oil lingers, more permanant than the stench of death itself.

My friend took my picture, so I'd have something to show and share. I didn't really want him to. This isn't a memory or a place you visit and plaster all over Facebook. I've never shared the photo. I don't need it to remember. I have the smell.


A review in 31 words:

Like all Pixar films, Coco will make you laugh, you’ll pretend you didn’t cry, but inevitably you will curse Disney for playing a 20-minute Frozen short before the main film.

Final Verdict: 👍

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“Justice League”

 A review in 49 words:

A somewhat entertaining but mediocre film. If you are a fan of DC’s animated work, you might find it enjoyable enough to be worth the money spent on a ticket. If you aren’t a DC fan and want to see a movie this weekend, go see Thor. Ragnarok instead.

Final Verdict: 👎

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"Thor: Ragnarok"

A review in 47 words:

10 years of universe building allows the filmmakers to dive deep into the crazy-silly aspects of a character and the worlds they visit, while still delivering the action and “hero fights” we expect. It has just as much Taika as you can Waititi.

Simply put: Fun.

Final Verdict: 👍

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"Blade Runner 2049"

A review in 45 words:

The story and visuals make Blade Runner 2049 a worthy sequel to the 1982 film. It doesn’t pander to the fans of the original, nor does it alienate those who’d never seen it. The film dares us to ask what it means to be human.

Final Verdict: 👍

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50 Words or Less

I'm trying something new. Whenever I catch a movie in the theater, I'll sit down and write a review of the film. But, seeing as I'm incredibly lazy and don't actually want to write some long-winded, in-depth reviews, I'm going to write short reviews. Like, really short reviews. As in reviews nine words shorter than this paragraph.

I'm calling this project 50 Words or Less. The reviews will be posted here on A Rant In Progress and at 50words.reviews. If you want to stay up-to-date, you can also follow @50WordsReviews on Twitter.

These reviews will use an easy to understand, emoji-based ratings system:

Must See 🎟
Thumbs Up 👍
Thumbs Down 👎
Avoid at all costs 🚫

Apple’s Billion-Dollar Bet on Hollywood Is the Opposite of Edgy

Lucas Shaw for Bloomberg:

"However, Apple isn’t interested in the types of shows that become hits on HBO or Netflix, like Game of Thrones—at least not yet. The company plans to release the first few projects to everyone with an Apple device, potentially via its TV app, and top executives don’t want kids catching a stray nipple. Every show must be suitable for an Apple Store. Instead of the nudity, raw language, and violence that have become staples of many TV shows on cable or streaming services, Apple wants comedies and emotional dramas with broad appeal, such as the NBC hit This Is Us, and family shows like Amazing Stories. People pitching edgier fare, such as an eight-part program produced by Gravity filmmaker Alfonso Cuarón and starring Casey Affleck, have been told as much."

So, a whole lotta 'meh'.

The 'New' United States of America

Evidently it's map week on my website. Ben Blatt at Slate:

"Most state borders were drawn centuries ago, long before the country was fully settled, and often the lines were drawn somewhat arbitrarily, to coincide with topography or latitude and longitude lines that today have little to do with population numbers. I wanted to know what the country might look like if we threw out all of the East’s ancient squiggles and the West’s rigid squares, and reconstituted the country as a union of states of equal population."

Some of the maps he came up with are hilarious.

Predicting "The Last Jedi"

The trailer for The Last Jedi is out! Tickets are on sale! I've unsubbed from r/StarWars because I'm on spoiler alert! That means it's time to start guessing how much The Last Jedi is going to make at the box office!

Back when The Force Awakens came out, we all knew it was going to be big, but we were struggling with how to define it. When you're working on box office projections, you look at the soon-to-be-released film, compile a list of similar films to compare it to, and then use the box office performances of those films to come up with a guess of how the film in question will perform. For example, I would bet that 99% of people coming up with box office projections for Blade Runner 2049, a sequel to an 80s sci-fi thriller, compared it to Mad Max: Fury Road, a sequel to an 80s spec-fi action film.

There was nothing for The Force Awakens.

There was some who immediately wanted to compare it to Avatar. It too was a major blockbuster that had a December release, so surely The Force Awakens would perform similarly. A smaller opening weekend compared to your summer blockbuster—Avatar only made $87 million opening weekend—but it'll make up for that with long legs. But that comparison didn't feel right. Compared to The Force AwakensAvatar had been a quiet release. Star Wars hype was everywhere leading up to December. With every trailer, the fanbase would get more excited—from what we could tell, every problem and quibble we had about the prequels was being addressed. Industry tracking about audience awareness indicated that 100% of Americans knew that a new Star Wars film was coming out. You would've had to live in the mountains with no internet or human contact for at least five years to not know that a new Star Wars film was coming out. The hype was real.

Yet people still persisted in comparing The Force Awakens to other December releases. No December release had an opening weekend over $100 million, they'd say. Maybe Star Wars can, but there's no way in hell it'll cross $200 million. The most it could do was $175 million, and that's if the pun-intended stars aligned. r/boxoffice was convinced that anyone who thought it could hit $200 million on it's opening weekend was a fanboy, and had no idea what they were talking about. It's not that these people were necessarily wrong or foolish. They were trying to apply conventional wisdom to a film that increasingly looked like it would have an unconventional performance. I bucked the conventional wisdom. and sometime in November I had settled around a $215 million opening weekend. But as the opening day approached, I had good reason to doubt my numbers. A contact in-the-know offered insight into Disney's internal numbers: The Force Awakens had already sold $175 million in tickets for opening weekend, and we were still a week-and-a-half from release. After the initial sale of tickets in October, ticket sales had seemingly flatlined, but as we approached opening day, people were buying tickets almost as fast as theaters were putting them on sale. To this day I'm surprised this info never leaked—there's a reason why I noted that my $215 million estimate was conservative.

A few weeks before The Force Awakens opened, I was talking with the theater's then programmer and its former programmer—these were the guys who scheduled the showtimes and did the internal box office projections for our location1—and one posited the theory that we needed use a "historical comp" for The Force Awakens. Conventional box office prediction looks at recent releases; anything older than three to four years is out of date. Even comparing The Force Awakens to Avatar was pushing it, and the only reason Avatar was even brought up was that people were struggling to come up with recent films that felt like an accurate comparison. During our conversation, we concluded that the only film that had the same cultural awareness and hype was The Phantom Menace.

The only thing you can use to predict Star Wars is Star Wars.

When Rogue One was getting closer to release, I decided to test this theory. Management at the theater was prepping for Rogue One to be only slightly smaller than The Force Awakens. I argued that The Force Awakens was a statistical outlier. Since we couldn't find good comparisons for The Force Awakens, we then shouldn't use it to make predictions. It was its own beast, and to even think that anything would come close again in the near future was foolish. I decided that the best comparison film was, of all things, Revenge of the Sith. I felt that Revenge of the Sith had two things going for it. 1) It had been received warmly by the fanbase. 2) The latter two prequel films had little appeal in the general audience. Rogue One's marketing, and Disney's own expectations, made me think that they were expecting this film to appeal mainly to the fans, and not so strongly with the general audience. And since the fans had been energized by The Force AwakensRogue One would be greeted by an appreciative audience.

BoxOfficeMojo has a handy little feature that lets you adjust a film's box office gross as if it had been released a different year. The tool is by no means scientific, but it's good enough for what I needed. I adjusted Revenge of the Sith to get a 2016 estimate and got this: Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith - $380,270,577 Actual / $513,157,600 Adjusted to 2016Rogue One would go on to gross $532,177,324, a variance of $19,019,724, or 3.574%. So, while not perfect, it's pretty damn good.

At the time, I hadn't thought to try and use Revenge of the Sith to estimate an opening weekend gross for Rogue One. How audiences see movies has changed since 2005—over time, opening weekends have increasingly represented larger and larger chunks of the total gross. So, instead of looking at Revenge of the Sith's opening weekend numbers, a better idea would be to apply a multiplier to the anticipated total gross. If you've never followed box office results before, a multiplier is basically another way of saying how much of the film's total was made on opening weekend. For example, a multiplier of 2 would mean that a film's total gross will be double what it made opening weekend. A multiplier of 3 would mean its total gross would be three times the opening weekend numbers. In short, a higher multiplier is better. The average 'well-performing' blockbuster typically has a multiplier in the 3.0-3.5 range. So, if we take the adjusted Revenge of the Sith gross, and divide it by your average multiplier, 3.3, you would get an approximate opening weekend total of $155,502,300Rogue One made $155,081,681. So while the math is by no means perfect, it can at least get us in the ballpark.

So now, for The Last Jedi, the trick is figuring out what exactly we should use as a comparison. So let's look at all the Star Wars films, in release order and with adjusted grosses:

Star Wars: The Force Awakens - $936,662,225
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story - $532,177,324
Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith - $380,270,577 Actual / $513,157,600 Adjusted to 2016
Star Wars: Attack of the Clones - $302,191,252 Actual / $449,906,100 Adjusted to 2016
Star Wars: The Phantom Menace - $431,088,295 Actual / $733,743,200 Adjusted to 2016
Star Wars: Return of the Jedi - $252,583,617 Actual / $700,506,300 Adjusted to 2016
Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back - $209,398,025 Actual / $682,158,400 Adjusted to 2016
Star Wars: A New Hope - $307,263,857 Actual / 1,234,649,200 Adjusted to 2016

Here's that info as a handy dandy chart:

"Star Wars" Box Office Grosses (Adjusted)

Total Grosses adjusted using BoxOfficeMojo.com

While we might be quick to jump on the first obvious trend—that the second film each trilogy sees a considerable drop—I think using that to deduce potential box office numbers for The Last Jedi is a trap. The drop from A New Hope to The Empire Strikes Back is a whopping 44.75%, and Attack of the Clones sees an equally stunning 38.78% drop from The Phantom Menace. If The Last Jedi were to see a similar drop from The Force Awakens, the box office gross would only be $545 million. There are easy explanations for the earlier drops. Not only did The Empire Strikes Back receive a mediocre response upon its releaseA New Hope was such a massive hit, anything following was going to see a considerable drop. And Attack of the Clones was not only poorly received, but many in the fanbase felt like they’d been burnt by The Phantom Menace. However, a $545 million gross would align this film with the performances of Revenge of the Sith and Rogue One. If this ends up being the final result, I see two possible reasons: Critics and the fans find The Last Jedi to be lacking, or the potential gross of the average Star Wars film is around $550 million. Either way, a result like this would be troubling for Disney and Lucasfilm.

However, I think we can take a more optimistic appraisal. First, both The Force Awakens and Rogue One were well received by fans and critics alike, so there's definitely more goodwill going into The Last Jedi. Secondly, Deadline already has tracking indicating that presale tickets are outperforming Rogue One, and are "just under" The Force Awakens. Finally, I think we should look more closely at the box office performances of The Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi, and The Phantom Menace. Why these three films instead of any of the others is simple. Both A New Hope and The Force Awakens are such extreme examples, that it's best to consider them to be statistical anomalies—including them would only skew the results. Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith had been released to a leery fanbase and disinterested public after The Phantom Menace. While there is definitely an instinct to lump in The Phantom Menace with the other prequels, from a box office perspective, the film was largely unaffected by the scorn it developed among the fanbase. And Rogue One was intended to be a "smaller" release compared to the "Saga" films. That leaves The Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi, and The Phantom Menace. If these three films are indicative of the average performance of a Star Wars saga film, than the average potential domestic gross is around $705 million.

But how about the opening weekend? The Force Awakens had a multiplier of 3.78 and Rogue One had a multiplier of 3.43. I would hazard a guess that The Last Jedi will perform closer to Rogue One than it will to The Force Awakens—it was the sequel many had been waiting over 30 years for, it was destined to over-perform. So let’s guess that a typical Star Wars film performs with a 3.4 multiplier. So, a $705 million gross with a 3.4 multiplier gets us an opening weekend number of $207 million.

The method used to get these numbers is by no means scientific, but this gives us decent guidance for The Last Jedi, and possibly for future Star Wars releases.

The Soviet Military Program that Secretly Mapped the Entire World

Greg Miller at National Geographic:

"During the Cold War, the Soviet military undertook a secret mapping program that’s only recently come to light in the West. Military cartographers created hundreds of thousands of maps and filled them with detailed notes on the terrain and infrastructure of every place on Earth. It was one of the greatest mapping endeavors the world has ever seen."