Allied Movie Review

Allied is director Robert Zemeckis’s throwback to old school romantic thrillers and especially if those features were allowed to be a bit more risqué and violent. In case you’re unclear about its influences, our two beautiful leads literally meet in Casablanca  in the year that landmark picture was released.

Those two leads are Brad Pitt’s Air Force commander Max Vatan and Marion Cotillard’s French Resistance agent Marianne  Beauséjour. When we open, the two are paired on a rather unconventional blind date. They’ve been set up from the get go to pretend they’re married. They are on a mission to assassinate Nazis officers. Marianne is of the belief that getting emotionally involved in her work is a necessity. Max disagrees. For a while at least. Soon, the pretend couple is a real couple and it leads to marriage and a child.

Mr. and Mrs. Vatan experience about a year of wedded bliss. His spy game is still going strong while she’s settled into motherhood. The bottom falls out when Max is told his wife is actually a German spy. He doesn’t believe it, but it initiates what’s referred to as a “blue dye” mission. P.S. – Blue Dye would have been a cooler title than Allied. The mission entails Max passing on false information to her and waiting a few days to see if it ends up in the enemy’s hands.

Steven Knight’s screenplay does a commendable job at keeping us guessing just who Marianne really is. The World War II look and feel is one that’s familiar, but the production design and other technical aspects are first-rate.

A pic like Blue Dye (err Allied) hinges on the chemistry of its leads. There are supporting characters here, but they’re relegated to smallish parts. Lizzy Caplan pops up as Max’s sister (whose sole character trait seems to be that she’s a lesbian) and Jared Harris is Max’s superior. Luckily, Pitt and Cotillard form a nice partnership. There’s a sensuous scene in a sandstorm that’s memorable.

Mr. Pitt is in leading man mode and is solid. Cotillard has the more challenging role and proves again her abilities. Zemeckis has certainly made some genuine classics. Allied isn’t. It’s content to be an homage to other classics. Yet it’s a well-made one that generates enough suspense to make it effective.

*** (out of four)

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 Box Office Prediction

The summer of 2017 kicks off as it has numerous times before in recent seasons – with a major Disney/Marvel production expected to post gargantuan box office numbers. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 follows up the blockbuster that turned out to be the biggest hit of summer 2014.

James Gunn returns to direct, as does the superhero cast of Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, and the vocal work of Bradley Cooper and Vin Diesel (as Baby Groot this time around). Also back are Glenn Close and Michael Rooker. Joining the mix in the sequel are Tango (Sylvester Stallone) and Cash (Kurt Russell)!

There is little doubt that Vol. 2 will post impressive results and quite easily outdo what its predecessor opened at three summers ago. Flashback to 2014 and Guardians was actually considered a risk. Strong reviews and word-of-mouth propelled it to a $94 million premiere and $333 million overall domestic haul. Expectations for the opening here are much higher. $150 million seems to be the low bar. Critical reaction to the sequel has been mostly encouraging and it stands at 85% on Rotten Tomatoes, with most reviewers saying it doesn’t quite match the freshness of the original.

A better comparison to its potential could be last summer’s Captain America: Civil War, opened the 2016 season with $179 million or Iron Man 3, which started off summer 2013 with $174 million. I’m predicting Guardians won’t quite reach those numbers, but come close.

My Vol. 2 projection puts it at the 9th largest domestic opening of all time, in between Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. My estimate gives it the 5th highest debut in both the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the month of May and second biggest 2017 bow after March’s Beauty and the Beast. 

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 opening weekend prediction: $166.4 million

Box Office Predictions: April 28-30

It’s the final weekend before the summer onslaught of high-profile wannabe blockbuster hits screens. Our final April weekend brings the Emma Watson/Tom Hanks thriller The Circle and rom com How to Be a Latin Lover. You can peruse my detailed prediction posts on each here:

As I see it, The Circle should be in for a second place showing behind the third weekend of The Fate of the Furious, which should manage to stay on top before Marvel’s Guardians slays all competitors when May hits.

As for Latin Lover, it certainly has the chance to over perform and could potentially nab the #3 spot. However, my estimate has it rounding out the top five with holdovers The Boss Baby and Beauty and the Beast above it.

There is another debut this weekend and that’s Sleight, the BlumHouse Tilt horror pic. I don’t have a theater count for it yet. Right now, I’ll predict $2.4 million though I could choose to revise once more information is available.

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

1. The Fate of the Furious

Predicted Gross: $20.2 million (representing a drop of 47%)

2. The Circle

Predicted Gross: $16.3 million

3. The Boss Baby

Predicted Gross: $8.6 million (representing a drop of 32%)

4. Beauty and the Beast

Predicted Gross: $6.5 million (representing a drop of 35%)

5. How to Be a Latin Lover

Predicted Gross: $6.3 million

Box Office Results (April 21-23)

In a weekend where six new titles rolled out wide (or semi-wide), there some surprises here and there. One item that wasn’t surprising: The Fate of the Furious easily remained #1 with $38.4 million, a bit under my $43.2M projection. The eighth pic in the franchise has taken in $163M in ten days.

The Boss Baby held in second with $12.7 million (above my $9.2M estimate) for $136M overall. Beauty and the Beast remained third with $9.6 million (above my $7.8M forecast) to bring its total to $470M. That puts it at #10 for all-time domestic earners and climbing.

Other holdovers held up better than my predictions. Going in Style was fourth with $4.9 million (I said $3.5M). It’s made $31M. Smurfs: The Lost Village was fifth at $4.8 million (I said $3.6M) and it’s earned $33M.

Yes, that means none of the newcomers cracked the top five. Disney’s nature doc Born in China was sixth with $4.7 million, in line with my $5.2M estimate. In seventh was the Katherine Heigl/Rosario Dawson thriller Unforgettable. It also made $4.7 million and that’s way below my generous $12.9M projection. I mistakenly felt a decent female audience might turn out for it. Not so.

Then there’s Gifted. I had it outside the top ten, but it expanded its theater count and posted $4.5 million for eighth. Its total is $10M.

The Promise opened in ninth with $4 million (I said $3.2M). The Christian Bale/Oscar Isaac Armenian genocide drama looks to be a big money loser for its studio.

The Lost City of Z was 10th as it expanded its theater count with $2.1 million (below my $3.7M prediction). Found footage horror flick Phoenix Forgotten opened dismally in 11th with $1.8 million, not matching my take of $3.4M.

Finally, Brie Larson action comedy Free Fire was DOA in 17th place with just $994k (I said $2.3M).

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


How to Be a Latin Lover Box Office Prediction

How to Be a Latin Lover hits stateside screens next weekend and it’s not out of the realm of possibility that it could be a decent sleeper hit. The rom com stars Eugenio Derbez, who’s a massive movie star in Latin America. Lover boasts a supporting cast of recognizable faces including Salma Hayek, Rob Lowe, Kristen Bell, Michael Cera, Raquel Welch, and Rob Riggle.

In 2013, Derbez directed and starred in Instructions Not Included, which shocked domestic box office prognosticators when it made nearly $8 million on only 347 screens. It eventually made $44M in the U.S. Lover is bound to be a huge hit in Mexico when it premieres on May 5.

I don’t quite expect Instructions numbers here. Then again, no one saw Instructions coming either. I’ll say it manages between $5-possibly $7 million for a respectable showing.

How to Be a Latin Lover opening weekend prediction: $6.3 million

For my The Circle prediction, click here:

Prince: An Appreciation

I’m not sure I could have written this post a year ago.

It was an early Thursday afternoon on April 21st last year when I got a call from a colleague. A body had been found at Paisley Park. Those were the extent of the details known at that moment.

I remembered nearly seven years earlier that TMZ had been the first entity to report the news of Michael Jackson’s passing. They had it before CNN and the AP, etc…

My thought process immediately had me typing in that website to see what was happening. And there it was. Prince was dead.

For me, this was not your typical announcement of a celebrity’s passing. It was far more than that. To those who read this blog, you know I’m a huge movie fan, as well as a music lover. We all are in our own way (at least most of us).

As I’ve stated before on here, there are casual movie watchers and there are casual listeners of the songs playing on the radio. And good for you! I’m not wired that way. From a young age, I was transfixed by the world of film and continue to be right now.

When it comes to music, I come from a family that loves it. From hearing James Brown and Ray Charles and Chuck Berry from my dad to hearing the pop icons of the 1980s like Michael Jackson and Madonna and so many others from my older siblings, it’s always been part of my life. When the music of the early to mid 1990s was popular in my formative years, I was right there along with it. Mildly obsessive about it. The exploding genre of hip hop music at the time was a gold mine of greatness. Artists like Dr. Dre and Snoop Doggy Dogg and Wu-Tang Clan and 2Pac and Biggie and Outkast. Bands like Nirvana that upset the apple cart of rock and roll. Even the 90s R&B artists like Boyz II Men and TLC and Mariah Carey were busy spinning their gems on my CDs (which at that time was best kept in a giant case you lugged around everywhere).

And then there was Prince. As much as I adored all the aforementioned artists and bands and many more that I haven’t mentioned, Prince Rogers Nelson was and is in a category by himself. This applies to the man as an artist in general and what he meant to a young kid growing up in Northwest Ohio.

On the day he died, I wrote this on Facebook:

It’s difficult to describe what it’s like when you feel a connection with an artist. My brother and sister Troy Thatcher and Dawn Hammer are responsible for allowing me as a young lad to grow up listening to Prince. I saw him in concert 14 times and it was a connection shared with my siblings and sister in law Nicole. I remember certain times according to which albums of his were out. Young years with Purple Rain, Sign O The Times and Batman. Grade school jamming to the Diamonds and Pearls and Symbol album. High school parties putting on P. Control. My high school graduation cake had a rendering of Prince on it. It is honestly a family bond that my brother and sisters and I share together. Because of him. You know how those security questions ask you favorite musician? I’ll give you one guess. His creativity and his musical talent is in a class of its own. He is the greatest live performer… Period. For those not as familiar with his music, just pay attention to what other musicians say about him today. He had given me hours and hours and hours of joy, both on stage and with earbuds in. Some of my greatest memories with people I love involve Prince. He taught me growing up that being creative and even a little strange and different from your peers is cool. I love the genius that is Prince. There’s no past tense. His legacy and his music and his influence will go on forever.
That explains it pretty well. There have been a number of days over my life dedicated to watching Prince perform live. In Columbus. In Cleveland. In Detroit. In Las Vegas. In high school, his albums The Gold Experience, Chaos and Disorder, and Emancipation were released. No matter what was happening that day, I’m confident all I could think about was getting to the music store and buying them. I remember in grade school and junior high is when Diamonds and Pearls and the Symbol album were giving us classics like “Cream”, “Gett Off”, “My Name is Prince”, “Seven”, and “Sexy MF”. To a 12 and 13 year-old, this stuff was risque, funky, and I couldn’t stop listening. Even at that age, I also knew it was genius. It was really that era that caused me to look back at his past releases, which is rightly considered the golden era of his discography. You know, stuff like Dirty Mind, 1999, Purple Rain, Parade, and Sign O The Times. It was then I realized why my brother and sister loved him so much in the 1980s.
The first time I saw him in concert was December 27, 1997. This is the setlist from the show in Auburn Hills:
Note that he did two encores and played 34 songs. I was transfixed from the moment he walked out onstage. As mentioned in my Facebook post, he was the greatest live performer to ever grace a stage.
The last time I saw him was November 10, 2006 in Las Vegas at the Rio Hotel on the second night of a residency that went on for months.
Here’s that setlist:
It was a smaller venue and we were right up against the stage. During a guitar solo, I will sheepishly confess that I may have taken the opportunity to give him a friendly pat on the leg while he ripped away on the chords. There was also a moment during a guitar solo where he bent down and came face to face with my sister. I thought she was going to faint.
So… there was a family connection with Prince. With my sister and brother especially. Everyone in high school growing up knew I was rather obsessed with him as well. At the time, he was going by that unpronounceable symbol that I used to constantly doodle on my notebooks. O ( + >
And at that time especially… he was considered pretty damn weird. He was not at the peak of his record sales. That time had passed. He had confounded many fans with the name change. In some ways, I’m almost glad I wasn’t at an age during the Purple Rain era where I would have followed him religiously. To me, the era where he came most vividly into my consciousness was just as important. I was able to cherish what he’d done before and breathlessly look forward to what was next. To me, the name change wasn’t that bizarre. And years later, recognizing that he basically did it to get out of a record contract he deemed unfair adds to the cool factor of the whole thing.
So let’s go back, shall we? He was considered pretty damn weird. I know I didn’t realize it at the time, but we all feel pretty weird in our teens. And here was a guy that embraced his persona and didn’t seem to care what anyone thought of him. He was around to make amazing music and play it live better than anyone else.
Here was someone who could somehow and someway pull off wearing high heels and make every woman desire him (at 5’2″ no less!). Here was someone whose beef with his record company is that they wouldn’t let him release more music. How cool is that? Here is someone who embraced (and later rejected) the Internet as a source of releasing his material. He was way ahead of his time in that respect.
Prince is someone who could balance funk, rock and roll, ballads, R&B, and about every other genre all into one album and it was shockingly brilliant.
In junior high and high school, I didn’t fully know it. Yet he was an inspiration. He was an inspiration to be yourself. He was inspiration to embrace a weird idea that being a 16 year-old more into writing movie reviews than being into sports was actually cool. And it helped me embrace the way I was at the time and am today.
So… in case you can’t tell, I’m more than just a casual Prince fan.
On April 20, 2016 – if you’d told me I’d be visiting Paisley Park in the fall, I would have said you’re crazy. And then April 21st happened. This led to his recording studio and home in Chanhassen, Minnesota being turned into a museum. In November of last year, my sister and I found ourselves inside Prince’s inner sanctum. We saw all three of his recording studios, his two concert venues inside the facility where he would entertain, and even his Ping Pong table. Everywhere you looked there were gold and platinum albums. And the first item we saw was a miniature model of Paisley Park located in the Atrium where his ashes are contained inside a small purple box. It was emotional and it was also a joyous celebration of his existence.
Prince died too young. The circumstances of his passing are truly sad. I have found myself on several evenings since April 21st with my earbuds in reminding myself of his work. I have found myself glued to YouTube now that it’s not too difficult to find videos and concert footage. I have smiled at the realization that some of the concert footage (Detroit 2004, performance of “DMSR”) is from a show I was at.
I remember in high school, some of my friends thought it was weird that I was so into Prince… or The Artist Formerly Known as Prince at that juncture. There was some teasing here and there. I couldn’t help it. At that vulnerable teenage time, I think I even got into little arguments with them: “But he’s so great!! You don’t understand!”
The funny part is… I’ve talked to some of my peers that may have teased and joked with me back then. To a person, they pretty much now say – “Ugh, you were right!”
I don’t say that to pound my chest at all. It has nothing to do with me. As I see it, it just took some folks a little while to realize how amazing Prince is.
And we saw how much people loved him on April 21st last year. Some of the tributes were remarkable. Many of them were more poetic and musically beautiful than anything I could create.
Creativity is what fueled Prince. His creativity created a body of work that has entertained and entranced millions around the world. In my case, Prince helped teach me that being creative and a little weird sometimes in is OK. In fact, it’s more than OK. As I said a year ago, it’s cool.
And Prince was the coolest inspiration this guy could have.
Prince Rogers Nelson:
June 7, 1958-April 21, 2016

The Circle Box Office Prediction

Next weekend brings the techno thriller The Circle, based on a 2013 bestseller by Dave Eggers. The pic casts Emma Watson as an employee at a powerful Internet corporation where everything is not as it seems. There’s some other heavy hitters among the cast: Tom Hanks, John Boyega of the new Star Wars trilogy, Patton Oswalt and Bill Paxton in his final film appearance.

The source material in which it’s based has its fans. It also doesn’t hurt that Watson is fresh off the mega blockbuster Beauty and the Beast (and Hanks never hurts either). The Fate of the Furious should still manage a three-peat in this final April weekend, but I have a feeling The Circle has a better chance of over performing than underperforming.

I’ll predict a mid teens to high teens debut is likely.

The Circle opening weekend prediction: $16.3 million

For my How to Be a Latin Lover prediction, click here:

Lion Movie Review

Garth Davis’s Lion, simply by the nature of its true origins, is both heartwarming and heart wrenching. Yet this doesn’t completely excuse some faults in the rendering of its tale. It tells the incredible story of Saroo (Sunny Pawar), a five-year old boy circa 1986 in a poor Indian village who becomes separated from his mother (Divian Ladwa) and older brother Guddu (Abhishek Bharate) one fateful evening.

The lost journey leads the child many miles away in Calcutta where Saroo is placed in an orphanage that is more like a prison. He doesn’t know the language of the new land he’s stranded in and knows his mother only as “mum”. One of the amazing realizations while viewing Lion is the remembrance of lack of technology in the 1980s that basically made it impossible for Saroo to be reunified with his family.

While Calcutta couldn’t be more of a foreign land to him, he’s soon taken to a much more faraway land in Australia when a kind couple (David Wenham and Nicole Kidman) adopt him. They treat him well and he’s a good kid, which isn’t the case with the troubled second child they adopt a year after Saroo.

The film eventually flashes forward to 20 years later and Saroo is now played by Dev Patel. In his late 20s, he still resides in Australia and is embarking on a career in hotel management. Lucy (Rooney Mara) is his American girlfriend. He’s still close with his adoptive parents (though not without some complications) and there’s still issues with his younger brother. The memories of his former life still consume him, however. A chance suggestion of Google Earth now having the ability to possibly locate his Indian village feeds his obsession.

Thus begins Saroo’s journey home. While he focuses myopically on finding his long-lost mother and brother, it has dramatic consequences with the current individuals in his life. Lion‘s plot is inherently fascinating. The screenplay by Luke Davies succeeds better in exploring some relationships than others. Saroo and Lucy’s is rather uninteresting, while his dynamic with Kidman provides some fine moments. Kidman’s mother is complicated and caring and the actress gives a touching performance. The same can be said for both versions of Saroo with Patel and Pawar.

When Lion reaches its conclusion with a moment we’ve been pining for, it is powerful and includes some unexpected revelations. An epilogue left me curious as to whether a documentary about the subjects may have been more potent. The answer is probably yes, but the picture does a competent and admirable job of telling a remarkable story.

*** (out of four)

My Top Ten Prince Albums

Well this wasn’t easy! Prince had nearly 40 studio albums in a career that didn’t even span 40 years. Pretty much every release he put out has at least three (in most cases more) genuinely great tracks.

Yet for those looking for the starter kit on his cream of the crop works, here’s my personal top 10 Prince Albums of All Time:

10. Diamonds and Pearls (1991)

Key Tracks: “Diamonds and Pearls”, “Cream”, “Gett Off”, “Money Don’t Matter 2Nite”, “Strollin”

9. Lovesexy (1988)

Key Tracks: “Anna Stesia”, “Alphabet St”, “Glam Slam”, “When 2R In Love”, “I Wish U In Heaven”

8. Around the World in a Day (1985)

Key Tracks: “Raspberry Beret”, “Pop Life”, “Paisley Park”, “America”, “Condition of the Heart”, “The Ladder”

7. The Gold Experience (1995)

Key Tracks: “Dolphin”, “Gold”, “(Eye) Hate U”, “P. Control”, “Endorphinmachine”, “The Most Beautiful Girl in the World”

6. Dirty Mind (1980)

Key Tracks: “When You Were Mine”, “Uptown”, “Dirty Mind”, “Head”, “Partyup”, “Gotta Broken Heart Again”

5. The Symbol Album (1992)

Key Tracks: “Seven”, “My Name is Prince”, “Sexy MF”, “The Morning Papers”, “The Max”, “Damn U”, “The Continental”, “Love 2 the 9’s”

4. Parade (1986)

Key Tracks: “Kiss”, “Sometimes It Snows in April”, “Mountains”, “Anotherloverholenyohead”, “Girls and Boys”, “New Position”, “Under the Cherry Moon”

3. 1999 (1982)

Key Tracks: “1999”, “Little Red Corvette”, “Delirious”, “DMSR”, “Something in the Water (Does Not Compute)”, “Let’s Pretend We’re Married”, “Free”, “Lady Cab Driver”, “International Lover”

2. Purple Rain (1984)

Key Tracks: All of them… “Let’s Go Crazy”, “Take Me With U”, “The Beautiful Ones”, “Computer Blue”, “Darling Nikki”, “When Doves Cry”, “I Would Die 4 U”, “Baby, I’m a Star”, “Purple Rain”

1. “Sign o’ The Times”

Key Tracks: “Sign o’ the Times”, “Housequake”, “The Ballad of Dorothy Parker”, “U Got the Look”, “Forever in My Life”, “Adore”, “Hot Thing”, “Strange Relationship”, “The Cross”, “If I Was Your Girlfriend”, “I Could Never Take the Place of Your Man”, “Starfish and Coffee”, “Slow Love”


Box Office Predictions: April 21-23

It is one busy post Easter weekend at the box office as six films roll out in wide or semi release. They are: romantic thriller Unforgettable with Katherine Heigl and Rosario Dawson, DisneyNature production Born in China, Armenian Genocide drama The Promise with Christian Bale and Oscar Isaac, found footage horror pic Phoenix Forgotten, British action-comedy Free Fire, and period piece adventure The Lost City of Z with Charlie Hunnam and Robert Pattinson. You can peruse my detailed prediction posts on each of them here:

Before we get to the newbies, one thing seems for certain: The Fate of the Furious will easily repeat at #1 after its near $100M opening over Easter (more on that below). I foresee a drop in the mid 50s for it.

I see Unforgettable having little trouble placing highest among the debuts for a decent second place showing. Then it’s family holdovers The Boss Baby and Beauty and the Beast in third and fourth with Born in China rounding out the top five.

And here’s where it gets really interesting! I’m not expecting much out of Phoenix Forgotten or The Promise and have them opening in range with where Smurfs: The Lost Village and Going in Style should be at in their third weekends. I also believe The Lost City of Z will do fairly well on only 500 screens and actually have it in sixth. Bottom line: for the numbers 6-10, I have them separated by only half a million bucks.

Notice I didn’t mention Free Fire. That’s because I actually have it outside the top ten at $2.3M (which would probably put it 11th). That said, I’ve yet to screen a theater count for it and that could change the dynamic.

So… lots to chew on this weekend and here’s a projected top ten:

1. The Fate of the Furious

Predicted Gross: $43.2 million (representing a drop of 56%)

2. Unforgettable

Predicted Gross: $12.9 million

3. The Boss Baby

Predicted Gross: $9.2 million (representing a drop of 43%)

4. Beauty and the Beast

Predicted Gross: $7.8 million (representing a drop of 43%)

5. Born in China

Predicted Gross: $5.2 million

6. The Lost City of Z

Predicted Gross: $3.7 million

7. Smurfs: The Lost Village

Predicted Gross: $3.6 million (representing a drop of 47%)

8. Going in Style

Predicted Gross: $3.5 million (representing a drop of 45%)

9. Phoenix Forgotten

Predicted Gross: $3.4 million

10. The Promise

Predicted Gross: $3.2 million

Box Office Results (April 14-16)

The Fate of the Furious did manage to score the second highest April opening ever and the second highest debut of the franchise, though it did come in quite a bit under my expectations. Fate made $98.7 million, just topping the $97.3M achieved by Fast & Furious 6 (and well under the series pinnacle of $147.1M that Furious 7 did). While well below my $122.7 million projection, it’s still a solid opening that should leave the Fast brand in good order.

The Boss Baby dropped to second with $16 million (I said $15M) for a $116M tally with Beauty and the Beast in third at $13.7 million (I said $14.6M) for a $454M overall haul.

Smurfs: The Lost Village continued its ho-hum run in fourth with $6.7 million (I said $7.8M) in its sophomore frame for just a $24M total. Going in Style, also in weekend #2, rounded out the top five with $6.2 million (I went with $7.2M) for $23M overall.

Finally, Gifted expanded in theater count and was sixth with $3 million, under my $4.6M forecast.

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