Spider-Man: Far From Home Movie Review

For the MCU superhero who spends the most time flying through the air, the two stand-alone Spider-Man pics often feel the most grounded. Looking back on my review of predecessor Homecoming, I used that same word and stated that it worked best in its scenes with Peter Parker out of the suit. It helps that Tom Holland is the most suited for the role over Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield.

Nearly anything would appear more down to earth after the gargantuan epics that were the last two Avengers movies (in which Spidey appeared along with the full and massive roster of heroes). In Far From Home, the scales seem significantly smaller for a while. When Endgame culminated (and stop reading if you haven’t seen it), Peter’s mentor Tony Stark/Iron Man had once again saved the world but lost his life doing it. This is the first MCU title since and the planet is still mourning the Avengers head honcho. It’s more personal for Peter and he’s looking forward to a European class trip over the summer. He wants to hang up the Spidey gear and concentrate on capturing the affections of his crush MJ (Zendaya).

So when Peter trots off to Venice with MJ, his trusty best friend Ned (Jacob Batalon), and other classmates, he does so after ignoring persistent phone calls from Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson). Yet Fury is a hard man to scorn and he tracks him down. It turns out Mr. Stark saw Peter as his ultimate successor (he’s gifted his glasses which serve other purposes besides looking cool). And there’s work to do as havoc wreaking creatures called the Elementals are endangering the populace. Enter a new character that goes by Mysterio (Jake Gyllenhaal). He’s from another dimension (multi-verse if you will) and steps into the shoes of new mentor for our vacationing web slinger.

Naturally (and the trailers didn’t really hide this), Mysterio is not totally as advertised and that sets up more duties for Spidey when he’s just wishing for MJ’s love and some R & R. For the first half of Home, it feels light and even more so considering the stakes of Infinity War and Endgame. That’s not unwelcome as the chemistry between Holland and Zendaya is charming and appropriately awkward. Speaking of romance, Tony’s right hand man Happy (Jon Favreau) is back with Aunt May (Marisa Tomei) eyeing him as her potential full time man.

The world, however, isn’t going to save itself and the second half is filled with the Marvel CG action set pieces we expect. Of course, they’re expertly crafted but they can’t help but feel a little smaller after the Avengers extravaganzas. There is some Doctor Strange style sequences that seemed more appropriate in that MCU offering.

Far From Home eventually hints at larger universes that we already know exist. Spidey will enter back into them and he’s fighting large scale battles here in the end. Just like Homecoming, the quieter moments work better and that especially applies to ones with Peter and MJ. The MCU does continue a winning streak of more than passable villains and Gyllenhaal seems to be savoring his crack at it. The MCU also has a trend of some sequels topping their originals (think Thor and Captain America). I’d actually put this a slight notch below its direct predecessor and that’s still enough to make this a suitably passable entry.

*** (out of four)

Abominable Box Office Prediction

Dreamworks returns to the September animation game next weekend with Abominable. The kiddie adventure comes from director Jill Culton and features the voices of Chloe Bennet, Albert Tsai, Sarah Paulson, and Eddie Izzard. It premiered days ago at the Toronto Film Festival to mostly solid reviews and sports a current Rotten Tomatoes score of 89%.

As mentioned, September (especially the later part of the month) has been fertile ground for animated features. While the Hotel Transylvania and Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs franchises have seen debuts above $30 and $40 million, there’s also been several with starts in the $20-$25 million range. This includes Open Season (which Culton also made), Storks, The Lego Ninjago Movie, and last year’s Smallfoot.

That’s precisely where I see Abominable landing and probably on the lower end of that scale.

Abominable opening weekend prediction: $20.7 million

September 20-22 Box Office Predictions

Well… this could be one fascinating weekend as three new titles open in the general same money-making range with two holdovers also anticipated to be in that ballpark. We have Sylvester Stallone returning as his #2 signature character in Rambo: Last Blood, Brad Pitt in the sci fi drama Ad Astra, and the cinematic rendering of the beloved PBS British period piece program Downton Abbey. You can peruse my detailed prediction posts on each of them here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2019/09/11/rambo-last-blood-box-office-prediction/

https://toddmthatcher.com/2019/09/11/ad-astra-box-office-prediction/

https://toddmthatcher.com/2019/09/13/downton-abbey-box-office-prediction/

If you’d told me even a week ago that I’d be forecasting Abbey to take the #1 spot over Sly and Brad, I probably wouldn’t have believed it. Yet its approximate 3000 plus screen count (higher than I assumed) and the dedication of its fan base has gotten me there.

I have Abbey ever so slightly topping Rambo. As for Astra, I’m a bit skittish about my projection. It’s received solid reviews and Pitt is coming off the blockbuster Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. Considering the competition, however, I see it debuting just slightly higher than last fall’s First Man. 

That puts Astra in fourth behind the third weekend of It Chapter Two and just ahead of the sophomore outing for Hustlers (which performed fantastically for its start).

Here’s how I have the top five shaking out:

1. Downton Abbey 

Predicted Gross: $20.8 million

2. Rambo: Last Blood 

Predicted Gross: $20.4 million

3. It Chapter Two 

Predicted Gross: $18.9 million

4. Ad Astra 

Predicted Gross: $16.9 million

5. Hustlers 

Predicted Gross: $16.2 million

Box Office Results (September 13-15)

Despite a terrific start for Hustlers, It Chapter Two managed to stay atop the charts for the second time with $39.6 million. That’s just ahead of my $38.4 million forecast and it’s scared up $152 million thus far.

Jennifer Lopez easily achieved the best premiere of her career (with Oscar buzz attached) as Hustlers made $33.1 million. I was close at $31.5 million. Word-of-mouth and critical appreciation clearly assisted it in reaching that pole position.

Angel Has Fallen was third with $4.4 million (I said $3.4 million) for $60 million overall while Good Boys followed at #4 with $4.2 million (I said $3.2 million). It’s up to $73 million.

The Lion King rounded out the top five and I incorrectly didn’t have it there. The Disney smash earned $3.6 million for a tally of $534 million.

This brings us to The Goldfinch. Once an awards hopeful, poor reviews grounded it to an awful eight place showing with $2.6 million. I was more generous with a $5.7 million prediction.

And that does it for now, folks! Until next time…

Men in Black: International Movie Review

You won’t need one of those neuralyzer doohickeys to forget Men in Black: International, which extends the rust developed from part two of the franchise on. Will Smith has moved on from this series to dealing with aliens in Netflix pics and being the man in blue in Disney remakes. Tommy Lee Jones has retired as well. So the Marvel Cinematic duo of Chris Hemsworth and Tessa Thompson from Thor: Ragnarok don the sunglasses in this reboot. Their chemistry was better with the MCU team and that movie had a funnier alien in the guise of Jeff Goldblum.

Hemsworth is the hunky Agent H, top operative at the U.K. MiB branch run by Liam Neeson’s High T. Thompson is essentially a fangirl of the super secretive force who’s been aware of their existence since childhood. She recruits herself to the suit and is assigned by Emma Thompson’s Agent O (reprising her Men in Black 3 part) to travel overseas and partner with her Thor. The plot involves stopping a nasty species that goes by the Hive. One of the baddies is an arms dealer played by Rebecca Ferguson that had an inter species love affair with H. Some of the other villains are kept secret for most of the running time, though you’ll see it coming from a galactic mile away. And there’s Kumail Nanjiani voicing the CG creation Pawny. He gets in a few mildly amusing lines.

F. Gary Gray has taken over directorial duties from Barry Sonnenfeld and he doesn’t have to top a high bar of its predecessors. 1997’s original was a fun summer blockbuster melding science fiction and comedy with genuine chemistry from the two leads. I struggle to recall anything about the first sequel. #3 was a slight improvement if only for Josh Brolin’s uncanny impression of a young Tommy Lee Jones.

I doubt many have much of an affinity for this franchise beyond what came 22 years ago. And while International does indeed trot the globe from Paris to London and Morocco and New York to Italy, it mostly feels flat.

** (out of four)

Jojo Takes Toronto

Buckle up Oscar prognosticators because we are in for a heckuva awards season over the next few months!

One week after Joker took the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival and increased its Oscar chances for Best Picture, Taika Waititi’s Jojo Rabbit has emerged victorious in the People’s Choice Award in Toronto.

A very solid argument can be made that this particular designation is even more key in determining an eventual BP nod. Why? The odds are certainly in its favor. 10 out of the last 11 winners have received a nod in the big race come Oscar time. Four of them – 2008’s Slumdog Millionaire, 2010’s The King’s Speech, 2013’s 12 Years a Slave and last year’s Green Book – ended up winning BP.

What makes the Jojo victory surprising is the mixed critical reaction it’s garnered. The buzz for this award was centered on titles like Parasite (which was a runner-up), Marriage Story (another runner-up), and A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood. Conventional wisdom in the last few days has been that Jojo is an on the bubble BP contender at best. The Toronto audience love shows that its admirers are passionate. And that might be enough to overcome the naysayers.

There is no doubt that this is exactly the kind of prize Jojo needed to keep its Oscar viability alive. And now Jojo and Joker have more in common than their alphabetical proximity. They’re contenders.

My Jojo Rabbit review can be found here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2019/09/10/jojo-rabbit-movie-review/

The Sisters Brothers Movie Review

Jacques Audiard’s The Sisters Brothers tries to be many things at once – a traditional western, a revisionist one, a comedy, a family drama, and a good fashioned hunt for gold in the mid 19th century. It never succeeds totally at any of them as it’s shifty in tone. That said, I couldn’t help but admire it, be mostly entertained throughout it, and be impressed by one performance in particular. There’s also a dynamite score by Alexandre Desplat.

Based on a 2011 novel by Patrick deWitt, we are introduced to Eli (John C. Reilly) and Charlie (Joaquin Phoenix) Sisters. They’re legendary (at least in Charlie’s mind) gunslingers tasked with killing a man named Warm (Riz Ahmed) who’s allegedly ripped off their boss who goes by the Commodore (Rutger Hauer, turning up briefly in one of his final roles). The Commodore also enlists the services of pompous detective John Morris (Jake Gyllenhaal) to deliver Warm to his judgment day. Unfortunately for the Sisters, Warm and Morris form a bond as the former has a formula that makes panning for gold an easier and therefore more lucrative enterprise. It’s also extremely dangerous as it burns the hell out of your skin.

The activity of living itself is extremely dangerous in this picture. Eli and Charlie being chased by bandits is just an everyday occurrence. Charlie seems to thrive off it when he’s not drowning himself in whiskey. Eli has grown weary of his outlaw existence.

Gyllenhaal and Phoenix’s characters think they’re most sure of themselves. One trying to be a civilized gentleman in a world that’s crude and unrefined. One who thrives on being crude and unrefined with a myopic focus on wearing the most important black hat. Reilly and Ahmed’s roles have more dimension and are a bit more intriguing. That applies especially to Reilly. He’s a gentle soul in a rough setting. And Reilly’s take on him makes him a fascinating watch. Eli’s interplay with a lady of the night is unexpected and it’s probably the best scene of all. Phoenix doesn’t have as much nuance to work with, but he certainly brings his talents to the game. Gyllenhaal’s Morris is quirky in pleasing ways, but there’s not enough screen time for him to really get rolling.

The Sisters Brothers won’t be remembered as excelling at any of the genres it attempts. It has enough solid moments in all of them to keep it engrossing as it rides along.

*** (out of four)

Oscar Watch: A Hidden Life

In his near half century as an acclaimed director, Terrence Malick has only made ten features and his latest is the World War II era drama A Hidden Life. The Fox Searchlight pic debuted early this summer at the Cannes Film Festival and has continued to Toronto before its December release.

Some critical reaction indicates it could be an awards player while other reviews haven’t been quite as effusive. The Rotten Tomatoes score is at 74%. Malick has seen two of his works attract Academy attention in the last two decades with 1998’s The Thin Red Line and 2011’s The Tree of Life. Both received Picture nods and nabbed direction calls for Malick.

With Jojo Rabbit garnering a heavily mixed response in Toronto, perhaps Fox (now owned by Disney) could shift its marketing focus to Life. I wouldn’t count their campaign abilities out, but this will definitely need a strong push to contend. My Oscar Watch posts will continue…