A Monster Calls Movie Review

J.A. Bayona’s A Monster Calls finds creative ways to deal with familiar themes and it often does so quite effectively. Based on a novel by Patrick Ness (who also did the screenplay), it tells the coming of age tale of Conor O’Malley (Lewis MacDougall). Conor, as we’re told in the opening sequence, is too old to be a kid and too young to be a grown-up.

It’s at this delicate age in England that he must deal with some heart wrenching experiences. His mother (Felicity Jones) is terminally ill. Conor doesn’t particularly get along with his well-meaning grandmother (Sigourney Weaver) and his father (Toby Kebbell) resides in Los Angeles with his second family. He’s also bullied at school. The boy’s active imagination allows him to conjure up the title character. It arrives in the form of a giant tree come to life (voiced by Liam Neeson), who visits Conor promptly at 12:07. The Monster does not terrorize him, but rather tells him three tales. These are done in animated form. While they begin as fairy tale like yarns, its listener isn’t sure what to make of them as they divert into surprising endings.

We as an audience aren’t sure either and we along with Conor are told that the boy will tell the final fourth tale. A Monster Calls may contain elements you’d find in many fantasy tales, including nifty creature design and impressive special effects. Yet it’s more concerned with themes of grief and how to find ways to cope with it.

A subpar child actor performance runs the risk of spoiling material, but MacDougall shows we needn’t worry about that. He delivers believable and touching work, as do Jones and Weaver in their supporting roles. Much credit is also due to Neeson’s voice over work (look for a cameo from the actor himself that becomes pivotal after the picture’s conclusion).

Bayona and Ness tug at the heartstrings mostly without being cloying and have a splendid visual landscape to go along with it. Is the story anything truly new? Not really, but they find rather inventive ways to tell it and it earns its emotional resonance.

*** (out of four)

Going in Style Box Office Prediction

Call it Grumpy Old Thieves as Going in Style debuts at the box office next weekend. The pic is actually a remake of a 1979 caper comedy with George Burns and Art Carney about some old men cheated out of their pensions who exact the revenge. Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine, and Alan Arkin are the headliners with Zach Braff directing. Costars include Joey King, Ann-Margret, Christopher Lloyd, Kenan Thompson, and Matt Dillon. Theodore Melfi, who recently directed Hidden Figures, is the screenwriter.

Style could work reasonably well as a pleasant diversion for older moviegoers. The box office has been dominated by family fare as of late and comedies have been in rather short supply (CHiPs didn’t exactly set the multiplex on fire).

There’s a possibility that this could put up similar numbers to Last Vegas, which premiered to $16 million. That’s on the higher end of expectations. I believe a more likely scenario is $12-$14 million with the hope from Warner Bros that word of mouth is solid and it does well in subsequent weekends.

Going in Style opening weekend prediction: $12.8 million

For my Smurfs: The Lost Village prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2017/03/29/smurfs-the-lost-village-box-office-prediction/

Smurfs: The Lost Village Box Office Prediction

Columbia Pictures hopes that moviegoers have the blues in a good way next weekend when Smurfs: The Lost Village debuts. This is the third pic in the franchise based on the 1980s cartoon and the studio has made a change-up. While 2011’s The Smurfs and its 2013 sequel were a mix of live-action and animation, The Lost Village cuts the human aspect and is of the fully drawn variety. That means Neil Patrick Harris and Hank Azaria are nowhere to be seen, unlike the first two.

Voice over work is provided by familiar faces that include Demi Lovato, Rainn Wilson, Joe Manganiello, Mandy Patinkin, Michelle Rodgriguez, Jack McBrayer, Ellie Kemper, Danny Pudi, Ariel Winter, and Julia Roberts. Kelly Asbury, who handled directorial duties on Shrek 2, is behind the camera.

The 2011 Smurfs was a hit, opening to $35 million with an eventual $142M domestic haul. Part two did not fare as well, premiering to $17 million and $71M overall.

Competition for family audiences is considerable. Beauty and the Beast will still be bringing in the bucks in weekend #4, Powers Rangers will be in its third frame, and The Boss Baby will be entering its sophomore weekend.

That said, I expect The Lost Village to outdo what the second movie did out of the gate. I anticipate an opening in the low 20s. That likely means a second place showing behind Beauty. Whether or not that’s enough to push forward with planned sequel Smurf & Turf (in which the characters become embroiled in a vicious gangland war) remains to be seen.

Smurfs: The Lost Village opening weekend prediction: $21.7 million

For my Going in Style prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2017/03/29/going-in-style-box-office-prediction/

 

Why Him? Movie Review

John Hamburg’s Why Him? borrows a bit from the Meet the Parents formula and no wonder because it was Hamburg who wrote that picture. He also cowrote that blockbuster’s two sequels, which dwindled in quality with each entry. Him? keeps the downward spiral going. That’s a shame because Mr. Hamburg’s two previous efforts behind the camera, Along Came Polly and I Love You, Man, were both pretty decent. This one never finds its rhythm.

Bryan Cranston is middle class Michigan man Ned Fleming, who travels with his wife (Megan Mullaly) and teenage son (Griffin Gluck) to visit college age daughter Stephanie (Zoey Deutch) over the Christmas holiday. She’s got a new serious boyfriend in the form of Laird Mayhew (James Franco). He’s a super eccentric and ultra foul-mouthed tech gazillionaire with attachment issues. Naturally (and totally understandably), Ned doesn’t approve of the situation.

Why Him? is a cartoon with a hard R rating. There’s drug humor, toilet gags, and lots of sex talk. It’s nothing we haven’t seen before save for a gag involving a moose encased in urine (first time writing that sentence!). Franco is a performer that can be solid and also grating and the latter applies here. Cranston is a fantastic actor saddled with the straight man role. Part of the problem is I think we’re supposed to sympathize with Laird, but he’s such a bizarrely creepy dude that we never really do. The rare laughs come from supporting players. Keegan-Michael Key has a moment or two as Laird’s sidekick, as does Kaley Cuoco doing voiceover work as a Siri like assistant who watches all.

Overall, however, this is just a substandard example of a storyline we’ve seen done better… and from the same guy no less.

*1/2 (out of four)

 

Box Office Predictions: March 31-April 2

It’s been a robust March at the box office and it closes out with the wide release of two new offerings: sci-fi action pic Ghost in the Shell with Scarlett Johansson and Dreamworks animated feature The Boss Baby. You can read my detailed prediction posts on each here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2017/03/23/ghost-in-the-shell-box-office-prediction/

https://toddmthatcher.com/2017/03/23/the-boss-baby-box-office-prediction/

I foresee a close race between the newbies, giving Shell a slight edge. Neither is likely to unseat Disney juggernaut Beauty and the Beast from a third week atop the charts. Power Rangers should drop to fourth in its sophomore frame after a solid opening and I look for it to lose about 50% of its premiere audience. Kong: Skull Island should round out the top five.

Finally, The Zookeeper’s Wife with Jessica Chastain opens on approximately 450 screens at press time. Its reviews have been just so-so (58% currently on Rotten Tomatoes). I didn’t do an individual estimate post for it, but I’ll say $2.1 million, which probably puts it in 11th place.

And with that, my top 5 predictions for the weekend:

1. Beauty and the Beast

Predicted Gross: $48.8 million (representing a drop of 46%)

2. Ghost in the Shell

Predicted Gross: $30.3 million

3. The Boss Baby

Predicted Gross: $28.6 million

4. Power Rangers

Predicted Gross: $20.1 million (representing a drop of 50%)

5. Kong: Skull Island

Predicted Gross: $7.9 million (representing a drop of 46%)

Box Office Results (March 24-26)

Beauty and the Beast continued its amazing run with $90.4 million in weekend #2, besting my $82.5M forecast. The Disney smash achieved the fourth highest second weekend in box office history and brought its total to $319M.

Power Rangers had a sturdy runner-up debut with $40.3 million, powering past my $33.8M projection. That number bodes well for potential sequels in this reboot of a franchise popularized in the 1990s.

Kong: Skull Island was third with $14.6 million compared to my $12.6M prediction. It’s made $133M in three weeks.

Space thriller Life starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Ryan Reynolds opened in fourth with a disappointing $12.5 million, below my $19.1M estimate. A host of similarly themed and better reviewed titles in recent years probably didn’t bode well for this in the long run.

Logan was fifth at $10.3 million (I said $9M) for a $201M tally. Its overall gross puts Logan as standing a solid shot at becoming the highest earning X-Men feature thus far. The record currently belongs to 2006’s X-Men: The Last Stand at $234M.

Get Out was sixth with $8.8 million ($147M total) and I incorrectly had it outside the top 6.

That’s because CHiPs fell victim to poor reviews and word of mouth, opening in seventh place with just $7.7 million (I said $8.4M).

And that’ll do it for now, folks! Until next time…

The Boss Baby Box Office Prediction

Next weekend, Alec Baldwin is The Boss Baby in Dreamworks Animation’s latest feature. Based on a 2010 childrens book, the pic has the SNL hosting record setter voicing a wiser than his years infant. Other voice over work is provided by Tobey Maguire, Steve Buscemi, Jimmy Kimmel, and Lisa Kudrow.

Baby arrives in the midst of a number of titles catering to younger audiences and their families. Beauty and the Beast will be in its third weekend and still posting large earnings. Power Rangers will be in its sophomore frame and Smurfs: The Lost Village will debut the weekend after.

Reviews haven’t been strong so far with just a 27% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. That said, Baldwin has surely been visible as of late with his President Trump impression and Dreamworks has a mostly impressive track record in their animated division.

The competition is likely to be a factor keeping this from truly significant grosses, but I’ll still estimate Baby manages a high 20s to possibly low 30s birth.

The Boss Baby opening weekend prediction: $28.6 million

For my Ghost in the Shell prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2017/03/23/ghost-in-the-shell-box-office-prediction/

Ghost in the Shell Box Office Prediction

Scarlett Johansson is back in action mode next weekend when Ghost in the Shell debuts. Based on a popular Japanese anime property that produced an acclaimed 1995 feature, the science fiction crime thriller looks to challenge the third weekend of Beauty and the Beast for box office supremacy. However, it’s likely to fall quite a bit short with an opening that should still be pretty decent.

Rupert Sanders directs with a supporting cast that includes Takeshi Kitano, Michael Pitt, and Juliette Binoche. The draw beyond the genre’s fanboys is surely Miss Scarlett, who’s proven herself to be a hot commodity in action pics. This applies, of course, to her work in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Yet she also turned 2014’s Lucy into a major hit without the assistance of superheroes. That film debuted to $43 million. I expect Shell to fall at least $10 million short of that in what could be a close race for #2 with The Boss Baby.

Ghost in the Shell opening weekend prediction: $30.3 million

For my The Boss Baby prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2017/03/23/the-boss-baby-box-office-prediction/

Box Office Predictions: March 24-26

**Blogger’s Note (03/23): I am revising my CHiPs estimate down to $8.4 million based on lowered expectations and putrid reviews. That puts it in sixth place.

The moneymaking month of March rolls along at the box office as three new titles hit the marketplace. They are: reboot of 90s cartoon and movie series Power Rangers, Jake Gyllenhaal/Ryan Reynolds led outer space thriller Life, and CHiPs, a comedy based on the 70s/80s TV series. You can peruse my detailed prediction posts on them here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2017/03/15/power-rangers-box-office-prediction/

https://toddmthatcher.com/2017/03/15/life-box-office-prediction/

https://toddmthatcher.com/2017/03/16/chips-box-office-prediction/

I see Rangers having the most power of the newbies and it should land in second with Life coming in third. As for CHiPs, I see it edging out Kong: Skull Island in its third weekend for the four spot.

One thing seems certain: Beauty and the Beast should continue its monstrous run and dominate the charts once again after its record-setting debut (more on that below). I have Belle and company losing a bit over half its massive premiere audience.

And with that, a top 5 predictions for the weekend:

1. Beauty and the Beast

Predicted Gross: $82.5 million (representing a drop of 52%)

2. Power Rangers

Predicted Gross: $33.8 million

3. Life

Predicted Gross: $19.1 million

4. Kong: Skull Island

Predicted Gross: $12.6 million (representing a drop of 55%)

5. Logan

Predicted Gross: $9 million (representing a drop of 49%)

6. CHiPs

Predicted Gross: $8.4 million

Box Office Results (March 17-19)

Beauty and the Beast set the all-time March opening weekend record and the sixth biggest debut of all time with $174.7 million, surpassing my $158.8M prediction. The Disney live-action rendering of their 1991 classic also scored an A Cinemascore grade and looks to dominate the box office easily next weekend before Ghost in the Shell could potentially give it a run for its money in its third frame.

Kong: Skull Island dropped to second with $27.8 million, in range with my $25.6M estimate. The ape tale has amassed $109M in ten days of release.

Logan was third in weekend #3 with $17.8 million. My guess? $17.8M! Hugh Jackman’s final appearance as Wolverine has garnered $184M thus far.

Get Out was fourth with $13.4 million (I said $14.5M) to bring its terrific tally to $133M.

The Shack rounded out the top five with $6 million (I went with $6.3M) for a $42M total.

Finally, The Belko Experiment landed in seventh place with an OK $4.1 million, slightly ahead of my $3.2M projection.

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

Beauty and the Beast Movie Review

Any challenges of adapting one of Disney’s classics that happens to be one of their best mostly fall by the wayside in Beauty and the Beast. Over a quarter century ago, the 1991 Mouse Factory version earned the status of being the first animated feature to receive a Best Picture nomination. It was deserved and Beauty helped usher in a renaissance for the studio with Broadway level music coupled with its tale as old as time storylines.

Our new Beauty doesn’t rock the boat by any means. Is it a factory made production meant to fog up our nostalgia goggles? Sure. Yet it’s crafted with reverence, the music still holds up, and it looks lovely.

It seems silly to recount the plot that’s been around for our collective childhoods in one form or another, but let’s get through it. We have Belle (a strong Emma Watson) living a rather boring existence in 18th century France with her doting dad (Kevin Kline). She’s being pursued by the chauvinistic Gaston (Luke Evans) who wishes to marry her. Her ho hum existence takes a turn when Dad is captured by the Beast (Dan Stevens), who lives in a dilapidated castle that the other French villagers have long forgotten. He was cursed many moons ago for his inability to love. When Belle travels there and trades her father’s freedom for her own, the strange relationship between the title characters commences.

There really isn’t too much new from this reboot compared to 1991. We have a couple more musical numbers, lest you forget the animated version was a mere 85 minutes. Alan Menken returns to do the music and those magnificent staples like the title track and “Be Our Guest” are happily intact. Bill Condon (whose varied filmography includes Twilight pics and more adult fare like Gods and Monsters and Mr. Holmes) directs with an eye on preserving what we appreciated about what came before.

Like the drawn Beauty, the Beast’s castle is filled with inanimate objects who are quite animated. Ian McKellen is clock Cogsworth, Ewan McGregor voices candelabra Lumiere, and Emma Thompson is Mrs. Potts. She acquits herself just fine in the part, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t miss Angela Lansbury singing that iconic dancing tune toward the finale. Speaking of animated, Josh Gad has his proper comic relief moments in the role of LeFou, Gaston’s sidekick.

Disney has unleashed a gold mine with this recent strategy of updating their canon with live-action. Some have worked better than others and Beauty falls on the better side because it had incredibly strong material adapt from. The team behind this recognize it and are content knowing they had something there to begin with.

*** (out of four)

Passengers Movie Review

Morten Tyldum’s Passengers is a gorgeous looking experience starring two gorgeous people that nevertheless comes up empty in its overall execution. We are presented with two souls who are lost in space and find love, but the chemistry between the two giant stars never quite connects.

These subjects come in the form of Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt. They are two among thousands of Earthlings on a very long trip to a new planet. How long you might ask? 120 years, which means the passengers and the crew are in hibernation mode until they reach their destination. Jim (Pratt) is jarred awake one day from his slumber and realizes he’s the only one with his eyes open and there’s 90 years left on the journey. He makes it for a year on his own in the beautifully designed ship (props to the production design team), but his loneliness leads him to wake up talented writer Aurora (Lawrence). She thinks she’s woken up accidentally like Jim and he shares his secrets with the only other talking being on board – an android bartender in the form of Michael Sheen.

The duo spend their time trying to figure why the heck they’re such early risers while also falling in love. Jon Spaihts’s screenplay attempts to grapple with the understandable but also rather cruel choice by Jim to get Aurora up. Yet once certain revelations are brought out, the script follows a rather predictable and dull path.

Lawrence and Pratt are two performers who are rarely dull or predictable, but Passengers doesn’t do them any favors. No matter how hard they try, their characters are under developed and their chemistry is passable at best.

We’ve witnessed the stranded in space genre more recently and in much better fashion, from Gravity to The Martian. Speaking of gravity, there is a scene with a loss of just that that’s nifty. Ultimately though, Passengers doesn’t add much new or intriguing, even if it’s pretty to look at.

** (out of four)