Monthly Archives: December 2017

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them Movie Review

Now that Harry Potter’s wand has been cinematically retired (at least until Warner Bros figures out how to eventually resuscitate him), it’s J.K. Rowling to the rescue with Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. This is the first entry in the wizardry world with a screenplay directly from the famed author who created it. This expands greatly on her 2001 novel (which is when Harry debuted onscreen) to create another franchise meant to draw youngsters into its spell, as well as Potter fans of all ages.

In order to achieve that goal, David Yates is back directing. He’s responsible for the last four features in the Potterverse. Our central character this time around is Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne), a magizoologist from London who comes to New York City circa 1926 with a briefcase full of creatures. It’s not clear immediately why he’s in the Big Apple, but his back story tells us of his time at a little school called Hogwarts where he was expelled and was tutored by a much younger Dumbledore.

Wizards need to be registered stateside and Newt finds himself generating the skepticism of Tina (Katherine Waterston), who works for MACUSA, the Magical Congress of the United States of America (obviously). She’s frustrated with her job, which is headed by its President (Carmen Ejogo) and enforced by Colin Farrell’s head of security. Newt and Tina team up to protect his various beasts and those who wish to destroy them. It’s not a two-person team as Newt befriends aspiring baker and World War I vet Jacob (Dan Fogler). Tina’s mind reading sister Queenie (Alison Sudol) is also involved and is the apple of Jacob’s eye. Before we continue with the rest of the review, let me declare that the subplot of Jacob and Queenie’s flirtation and budding romance was my favorite thing about the movie. Fogler serves as the general comic relief here anyway and does so quite wonderfully. Sudol shines in her first role. Their chemistry has genuine magic and if there was ever a case for a rom com spin-off of a hoped for multi-billion dollar franchise, this is it.

Moving on, that’s a small but very winning part of the two-hour plus running time. I wish I could say the chemistry between Newt and Tina was as impressive, but it’s not. Tina is a bit of a blank slate in this first installment and it certainly remains to be seen whether Redmayne’s Newt will come anywhere close to being as beloved as you know who. He’s got a long way to go. Not even Harry Potter could have sold doing a “mating dance” with a titillated CG rhino and neither can Newt. On the other hand, Beasts has its own version of a Star Wars-like cantina scene with Ron Perlman’s cool voicing of a nefarious creation and it’s a highlight.

There are other performances worthy of note, including Ezra Miller as an abused teen with mysterious powers and Samantha Morton as his wizard hating adopted mom doing the abuse. Our main villain Grindelwald is mostly just spoken of but not seen (kind of like Voldemort was for a bit), but we know he’ll play a bigger role as the series moves along.

Fantastic Beasts is heavy on effects (most of them eye-catching) and creating the visually arresting template for sequels. I didn’t think it reached a Sorcerer’s Stone level of quality as far as part 1’s, but Rowling is generally successful in making us curious about what comes next with this real and generated crop of characters.

*** (out of four)

2017: The Year of Tiffany Haddish

Like yesterday’s Year of 2017 honoree Kumail Nanjiani, Tiffany Haddish started 2017 as a stand-up comic not known to a large swath of the American public. Yet as the year draws to its close, Haddish is now quite well-known due to her scene stealing performance in the summer’s comedic sleeper hit.

Alongside Regina Hall, Queen Latifah, and Jada Pinkett Smith, it was Haddish who garnered the most buzz in Girls Trip, which surprised all prognosticators when it grossed $115 million. It was 2016’s Keanu that gave Haddish her first notable role, but that picture was largely ignored. Yet her raw, profane and outlandish Dina character gave the actress a showcase filled with standout moments.

Critics groups and Hollywood have certainly taken notice. Haddish became the first African American comic to host “Saturday Night Live” this fall. In 2018, she will reunite with Trip director Malcolm D. Lee for Night School with Kevin Hart.

Expect to see lots of Haddish in the coming years and 2017 was unquestionably her breakout.

Battle of the Sexes Movie Review

A glossy and often relevant retelling of one of the most famous matches ever, Valerie Faris and Jonathan Dayton’s Battle of the Sexes is centered on both the tennis court and the court of public opinion. Both matters are firmly on the focused mind of Billie Jean King (Emma Stone), the famed pro who was demanding equal pay for women in 1973 when the picture is set.

King and her fellow female players aren’t getting near that, so they start a league of their own, under the sponsorship of Virginia Slim cigarettes (it was a different time). Another player sees an opportunity to cash in on the publicity and that’s Bobby Riggs (Steve Carell), a former champion now in his mid 50s who spends most of his time as a compulsive gambler (though he doesn’t see it that way). His challenge to King to meet on the court generated a divide among the sexes and many eyeballs on the eventual event – apparently about 90 million.

The court of public opinion doesn’t extend to gender issues. King is married to Larry (Austin Stowell) who helps run her fledgling empire. Yet when she meets free spirit hairdresser Marilyn (Andrea Riseborough), a romance quickly develops. King is smitten, but she knows it must stay in the closet to protect her career.

Battle of the Sexes tells this tale entertainingly and somewhat superficially. The themes of gender equality are ones that render four decades later. Stone has the most material to work with in her nuanced and strong portrayal of King. There’s not much nuance to Carell’s Riggs, though he’s certainly fun to watch.

The screenplay doesn’t delve too deep into his story, but Carell plays it well enough to avoid him becoming a total caricature. King seems to know Bobby isn’t quite the chauvinist louse he purports to be. The same cannot be said for Bill Pullman’s Jack Kramer, a prominent former pro turned announcer who doesn’t understand anything about women’s liberation. The pic is peppered with familiar faces in smaller parts, including Elisabeth Shue as Bobby’s wealthy and frustrated wife and Alan Cumming as the team’s outfit designer who quickly figures out Billie’s affair.

King would eventually earn the Presidential Medal of Freedom due to her advocacy for gay rights and equal pay. Sexes sees her at the advent of that life’s work. We see her drive as she tirelessly practices to beat a man at his game when so few think it’s possible. In fact, hearing Howard Cosell’s actual play-by-play during the game is both a treat and a stark reminder that it was a different era. We know eventually that King’s relentless work ethic will be applied elsewhere and for an even greater cause. Battle doesn’t delve overly deep into how she got there, but it serves up its replay of history admirably enough.

*** (out of four)

Insidious: The Last Key Box Office Prediction

The first new wide release of 2018 is out next Friday when Insidious: The Last Key enters theaters. This is the fourth chapter in the franchise that began in 2011. Like Chapter 3, it’s a prequel to the events of the first two. In other words, no Patrick Wilson or Rose Byrne (the stars of the originals). James Wan, director and 1 and 2, produces with Adam Robitel behind the camera. Leigh Whannell, who’s served as writer for all of them, costars along with Lin Shaye, Angus Sampson, Josh Stewart, and Bruce Davison.

One factor that could assist The Last Key is the absence of horror flicks in the marketplace at the moment. That said, this franchise has been losing its luster. The 2011 original debuted to $13 million but legged out very nicely for its genre with an eventual $54 million gross. The 2013 sequel was the pinnacle with a terrific $40 million opening weekend and $83 million total tally. Chapter 3 in 2015 premiered to $22 million, but ended up as the lowest earner of the series with $52 million. 

I don’t see a compelling reason why part 4 will rebound. For comparison sake, I could see this performing similarly to 2014’s Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones, which opened in the first weekend of January to just over $18 million. Like this, that was an entry in a franchise whose steam had dissipated. That number seems to be where Key fits best.

Insidious: The Last Key opening weekend prediction: $18.6 million

 

2017: The Year of Kumail Nanjiani

It was early in 2017 when The Big Sick started garnering buzz from its screening at the Sundance Film Festival. Nearly one year later, the unique rom com was a smashing box office success and established its star/co-writer as a fresh and exciting new voice on the big screen.

Kumail Nanjiani was best known for his role on HBO’s “Silicon Valley” and stand-up. He had appeared in numerous supporting roles in comedies such as Central Intelligence and Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates, but The Big Sick was something else entirely.

The Pakistani born performer penned the screenplay with wife Emily V. Gordon. Loosely based on their relationship and their dealings with her illness and cultural issues, the pic resonated with critics and audiences. The reported $5 million production took in $43 million stateside with a sizzling 98% Rotten Tomatoes score. Sick could soon attract Oscar attention, especially for Best Original Screenplay and Holly Hunter in Supporting Actress.

For Nanjiani, the year began with a festival screening that turned his movie into an audience favorite throughout the year. 2017 ends with his many new fans eager to see his next move.

2017: The Year of Gal Gadot and Patty Jenkins

At the beginning of summer 2017, if you’d told most box office prognosticators like me that Wonder Woman would outdo the Guardians of the Galaxy and Spider-Man that season, they would have thought your Lasso of Truth was defective.

That’s exactly what happened this year as the highest profile female comic book adaptation yet turned into the summer’s biggest hit. It will end up as the 3rd highest earner of the calendar year after Star Wars: The Last Jedi and Beauty and the Beast. 

Much of the credit goes to Gal Gadot, who was first seen as the character in last year’s not so well received Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. However, the inclusion of Gadot’s Wonder Woman and her take on the iconic character was seen as one of the film’s bright spots.

Her solo pic was not expected to gross $412 million domestically, but that it did. That’s more than the aforementioned Marvel heroes and also Thor. And, yes, it’s bigger than November’s Justice League, which also included her character.

Much credit is also due to Patty Jenkins, who crafted one of the most critically acclaimed comic adaptations. It’s even generating some Oscar buzz. Her directorial effort marks (by far) the most box office bucks a female director has ever achieved.

While Justice League was a slight damper on Wonder Woman’s cinematic portfolio thus far, it certainly should not tamper excitement for the sequel coming in November 2019. And you can credit the director and lead actress for making that happen in 2017.

Box Office Predictions: December 29-January 1

Well folks – here we are as 2017 closes out with another four-day holiday weekend and it’s enough to make a great mathematician’s head spin.

Blogger’s note: I am not a great mathematician. Nevertheless, I will plow forward with estimates as there’s no new releases. Yet there are a multitude of holiday holdovers looking to match or even surpass what they accomplished this past Christmas weekend.

You have to travel all the way to 2006 for the last time Christmas and New Year’s Day fell on a Monday. When that occurred 11 years ago, the bulk of pictures significantly exceeded the three-day grosses from the December 22-24 frame. Most even experienced an uptick from the Yuletide four-day frame. We should see that happen again as moviegoers have lots of free time during this end of year period, they’re using those gift certificates, and the kiddos are off school.

Here’s how I have the top 10 looking to close out another year on the box office charts:

**Please note that the increases noted would be from the three-day Christmas grosses (22-24) to the four-day New Year’s weekend predictions…

1. Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Predicted Gross: $77.8 million (representing an increase of 9%)

2. Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle

Predicted Gross: $58 million (representing an increase of 59%)

3. Pitch Perfect 3

Predicted Gross: $25.1 million (representing an increase of 26%)

4. The Greatest Showman

Predicted Gross: $14.9 million (representing an increase of 69%)

5. Ferdinand

Predicted Gross: $12.5 million (representing an increase of 71%)

6. Coco

Predicted Gross: $9.8 million (representing an increase of 82%)

7. Darkest Hour

Predicted Gross: $7.3 million (representing an increase of 88%)

8. Downsizing

Predicted Gross: $6.1 million (representing an increase of 23%)

9. The Shape of Water

Predicted Gross: $5.7 million (representing an increase of 90%)

10. All the Money in the World

Predicted Gross: $5.2 million

Box Office Results (December 22-25)

It was indeed a bustling Christmas weekend as some newbies rose above expectations while others fell considerably short. There were also impressive expansions of awards contenders.

Yet as anticipated, Star Wars: The Last Jedi easily took the top spot in weekend #2. However, it did so with numbers far short of my estimate. The eighth episode of the beloved franchise took in $99 million (well short of my $129 million estimate) for an overall tally of $395 million.

Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle gave Sony reason to celebrate with an estimated (final number still not in on Wednesday at noon for some reason) $55.4 million over the four-day. This tops my $40.5 million prediction. Since its Wednesday debut, Jungle has amassed $72 million (above my $55.1 million take). It would appear this franchise will continue on.

Pitch Perfect 3 opened in third to a decent $26.4 million. Still, that’s under my $33.6 million forecast and well under what its predecessor achieved two years ago.

Hugh Jackman’s The Greatest Showman posted fourth with $14.4 million for the four-day and $19 million since its Wednesday start. These are a touch under my respective estimates of $16.1 million and $22.4 million. That’s a tad underwhelming, but I see it holding up well this weekend.

Ferdinand rounded out the top five with $10.1 million (I said $11.2 million) for a $29 million overall tally.

Coco was sixth with $8.1 million (I said $8.8 million) as the Pixar flick has grossed $164 million total.

Debuting in seventh and quite disappointingly was Matt Damon’s Downsizing at just $7.6 million compared to my $11.7 million prediction. With mixed critical reaction and poor word-of-mouth, look for this to diminish fast.

Darkest Hour, which boasts Best Actor Oscar front-runner Gary Oldman as Winston Churchill, was 8th as it expanded its theater count. It grossed $5.5 million and I incorrectly had it outside the top 10.

Besides Downsizing, the other new flop of the weekend was Owen Wilson/Ed Helms comedy Father Figures. The poorly reviewed pic opened ninth at just $5.4 million (under my $8.6 million estimate).

The Shape of Water (another Oscar contender) took 10th as it opened wider with $4.4 million. Again, I missed the mark and had this outside the top 10.

And that does it for now, ladies and gents! It’s been quite a treat bringing you my box office predictions for 2017 and it will continue into 2018! Until then…