On droids and big budgets 

click to enlarge PHOTO SUBMITTED - Star Wars droids R2D2 and BB8.
  • Photo submitted
  • Star Wars droids R2D2 and BB8.

Hands up if you found yourself arguing with a friend, family member or loved one about Star Wars: The Last Jedi at least once over the holidays. Popular opinion seems divided on the continued adventures of Rey, Poe, Finn and that C-rate droid BB-8, but no one is arguing with the box office take. By Jan. 1 of this shiny new year, The Last Jedi had tractor-beamed in over $1 billion at the international box offices and over $500 million domestically. (Not to mention whatever Disney is making with the official Star Wars Coffee-Mate deal they have with Nestlé — the spiced latte bottle looks like Chewbacca roadkill.)

Expectations are always high for a franchise this loved, but remember this: beside fuelling the galaxy's most lucrative merchandise empire, Star Wars really is a story for children, and while it's possible for a film to make you feel eight years old again, it's rarely the ninth sequel in a series that does it. Taken as an adventure story (with some timely themes of a working-class uprising), The Last Jedi delivers some fun action, a solid lightsaber battle, cute animals and characters worth rooting for (with a couple dumb parts that suck but shouldn't ruin if for you). And most importantly: kids like it.

Kids also like droids but for my money, unless it is a chase scene, the BB-8 droid is pretty lame compared to classic mech droid R2D2. R2 played an integral narrative function in the original films — he was essentially a Hologramic SuperVCR that could record, encrypt and play back recorded video messages. And shoot a spare lightsaber out in times of need. Two flicks in, BB-8 seems far less important and way more of a merchandise gimmick.

Space operas aside, there are new films opening at the Village 8. And while January and February have traditionally been considered the cinematic doldrums — a lifeless pool where studios dump their worst flicks — things have been on the upswing this past decade, ever since 300 came out in February 2006 and surprised everyone. Keep an eye out for Marvel's Black Panther on Feb. 16, it's one of the most anticipated flicks of the year.

In the meantime, we have Insidious: The Last Key, the fourth entry into a forgetful but effective horror franchise from Blumhouse pictures. There were no pre-screenings but expect constantly building tension and near-perfectly executed (if somewhat recycled) scenes of jump terror, overall unease, and drawn out gore.

Rated PG-13 in the U.S. (and 14A here) it looks good enough to take a date to, that's for sure.

Interesting tangent, Blumhouse's Insidious franchise comes from a company that specializes in low-budget horror flicks like Paranormal Activity, Oujia, The Purge and Split. Blumhouse offers a good model of what cinema can look like outside of the superhero-tentpole Hollywood model. All of their films cost less than $10 million to make, and they all make money (except Jem and the Holograms). They won an Oscar in 2015 for bankrolling Whiplash and they'll likely take some hardware home this year for Get Out, one of the best films of 2017.

Consider this: in 2017, Blumhouse released 10 films, with a combined total budget somewhere around $30 million. Those films took in around $686 million.

On the other hand, Netflix, another company to watch when it comes to the films of tomorrow, just made and released a high-concept Will Smith movie called Bright that's so bafflingly bad you can't help but kind of love it. Smith and an Orc (Joel Edgerton stealing the show) play unenthusiastic cop partners in a weird future where magic exists and the world is racist towards orcs and fairies and Mexican gangbanger stereotypes. The whole place is run by rich, snobby elves.

Bright is a bit of a dumpster fire, and to make matters worse Netflix apparently spent $90 million dollars on it, (three times the entire 2017 Blumhouse budget blown on one stinking pile.) Claiming Bright has been their "most-viewed movie" in all 190 countries they operate in, Netflix has already greenlit a sequel with Will Smith and director David Ayer to return. The concept has potential but Ayer didn't do well this time around.

The other film opening at the Village 8 this week is Molly's Game, writer-director Aaron Sorkin's (Moneyball, The Social Network) based-on-the-true account of a young woman who runs some of the world's most exclusive high-stakes poker games, and the trouble that comes with them. With ace talent like Jessica Chastain and Idris Elba onscreen, and Sorkin's penchant for making less-than-interesting things appear interesting, this has big potential to be the first Doldrum Buster of 2018.

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