Oscar Watch: Annihilation

Alex Garland’s Annihilation hits theaters tomorrow and the science fiction thriller has been subject to some glowing reviews. It stands at 88% currently on Rotten Tomatoes. The film is the follow-up to director Garland’s 2015 debut Ex Machina, which nabbed two Oscar nominations. Machina won for Visual Effects (which was a bit of a surprise) and got a nod for Original Screenplay.

Annihilation is based on a novel and would compete in Adapted Screenplay. It’s unlikely this would compete for the big prizes like Picture, Director, or any of the acting races. Visual Effects could be a different story as critics have taken notice of that aspect of its production. Like Machina, it could find itself a contender in that category.

That said, distributor Paramount doesn’t seem very confident with Annihilation. That’s despite the positive critical reaction. The picture appears unlikely to make much noise at the box office and one wonders if the studio will push it for awards consideration at all. With the February release date, it’s possible Oscar voters will have simply forgotten Garland’s sophomore effort come voting time. Time will tell.

My Oscar Watch posts will continue…

 

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Death Wish Box Office Prediction

Bruce Willis is back on the big screen next weekend with Death Wish, a remake of the 1974 action pic that starred Charles Bronson. Coming from director Eli Roth, the pic costars Elisabeth Shue, Vincent D’Onofrio, Dean Norris, Kimberly Elise, and Mike Epps.

Willis will be in full vigilante mode and those familiar with Death Wish know it spawned numerous sequels of highly questionable quality. The star of the proceedings has been a bit of a stranger to multiplexes in recent years as many of his films have gone the direct to VOD route.

Competition is certainly there with Jennifer Lawrence’s Red Sparrow debuting against it and also making a play for R rated genre fans. That said, if Den of Thieves could pull in $15.2 million in January, I believe this could put up fairly similar numbers.

Death Wish opening weekend prediction: $14.4 million

For my Red Sparrow prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2018/02/21/red-sparrow-box-office-prediction/

Red Sparrow Box Office Prediction

Red Sparrow, out next Friday, reunites Jennifer Lawrence with her director for the last three Hunger Games installments Francis Lawrence. The spy thriller casts the star as a Russian spy with a supporting cast that includes Joel Edgerton, Matthew Schoenaerts, Charlotte Rampling, Jeremy Irons, and Mary-Louise Parker.

The 20th Century Fox release was originally scheduled for November of last year before the March push back. Reviews have been a bit mixed as it stands at 63% on Rotten Tomatoes at press time.

Lawrence has certainly had her share of massive hits. She’s also had some under performers as of late, including Passengers and mother! Competition is a factor here. Black Panther should still be ruling the charts and Death Wish with Bruce Willis opens directly against it and will try to capture the attention of actions fans.

I could see Red Sparrow performing similarly to another recent female led spy flick, last summer’s Atomic Blonde with Charlize Theron. It opened to $18.2 million. I’ll put this just a touch higher due to Lawrence’s drawing power, but still under $20 million.

Red Sparrow opening weekend prediction: $19.6 million

For my Death Wish prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2018/02/21/death-wish-box-office-prediction/

Box Office Predictions: February 23-25

The domination of Black Panther should continue at the box office in full force this weekend, but we do have some new titles debuting. The Jason Bateman/Rachel McAdams comedy Game Night and Natalie Portman led sci-fi thriller Annihilation hit screens and you can peruse my detailed prediction posts on each of them here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2018/02/14/game-night-box-office-prediction/

https://toddmthatcher.com/2018/02/14/annihilation-box-office-prediction/

There’s also Every Day, a romantic drama based on a YA novel that’s rolling out on roughly 1650 screens. It seems to be flying pretty far under the radar and I didn’t do an individual post on it. I’ll estimate it only generates $2.9 million in sales.

As for the more high-profile newbies, Game Night appears poised for a second place showing. Annihilation is more of a question mark in my mind. Depending on the drop that Peter Rabbit experiences in its third weekend, it could be third or fourth with Fifty Shades Freed rounding out the top five.

Black Panther will easily rule the charts after its historic and record breaking premiere (more on that below). The Marvel phenomenon could top $100 million in its sophomore frame and that would put it fourth all time as far as #2 weekends go. That said, it pretty much blew away all expectations over the long weekend so maybe it gets to over $100 million.

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

1. Black Panther

Predicted Gross: $101.8 million

2. Game Night

Predicted Gross: $16.3 million

3. Peter Rabbit

Predicted Gross: $11.6 million

4. Annihilation

Predicted Gross: $10.4 million

5. Fifty Shades Freed

Predicted Gross: $6.9 million

Box Office Results (February 16-19) 

It was an absolutely incredible debut for Black Panther as the critically acclaimed comic book adaptation smashed the February record and then some. Panther took in $242.1 million over the President’s Day frame, blasting past my $193.8 million estimate. Deadpool was the previous February high at $152 million. Its Friday to Sunday haul of $202 million gave it the fifth largest domestic opening of all time – right behind MCU counterpart The Avengers. Its Monday gross of $40.1 million stands as the highest Monday gross of all time – just edging out Star Wars: The Force Awakens by a few thousand bucks. With an A+ Cinemascore grade, look for Panther to continue its run for the ages into the next several weekends.

Peter Rabbit stayed put in the runner-up position with $23.3 million, hopping a touch over my $20.9 million prediction for a two-week tally of $54 million.

Fifty Shades Freed dropped to third with $19.4 million, a bit ahead of my $17 million estimate. In its two weeks of release, the threequel has taken in $78 million.

Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle took the four spot with $10 million, right in line with my $9.6 million projection for $379 million overall.

The 15:17 to Paris rounded out the top five with $8.9 million (I said $7.9 million) for $26 million thus far.

Stop-motion animated feature Early Man, despite mostly solid reviews, didn’t connect with family audiences. The pic opened in seventh with only $4.2 million compared to my prediction of $5.7 million.

Lastly, the Biblical drama Samson made no impact with moviegoers with just $2.2 million, not even matching my $3.1 million forecast.

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

The Dark Tower Movie Review

Stephen King fans have been eagerly awaiting his series of Dark Tower novels arriving on the big screen. Most of his other heralded works have already made it before the cameras and some of them in multiple iterations. The challenge with bringing forth this particular series is said to be the dense nature of its material. And now that we have a cinematic version of The Dark Tower, I can report a number of decisions made in making it happen are indeed dense. That’s definitely not a compliment.

The picture is an abridged and often aimless experience begging for more backstory and clarity. It’s led by uninspired performances and routine shoot-em-up interruptions. Tom Taylor stars as Jake, a New York City preteen who has vivid dreams about a Man in Black trying to destroy Earth and a gunslinger trying to stop him. Jake’s family and friends think he’s coo coo, but the kid has some legit psychic power. There is a Man in Black (Matthew McConaughey) otherwise known as Walter and he is trying to take over Earth’s domain and the domains of unseen others. There is a gunslinger (Idris Elba) otherwise known as Roland and he teams up with Jake to stop the apocalypse. They also share some Daddy issues.

What follows is a bit of a head scratcher. The Dark Tower hints at a much larger universe that at least sounds kinda interesting. Yet it’s not shown. It suggests a potentially action packed past for Roland, but that’s it. I get that the idea of the movie is to set up future chapters, but it’s hard to anticipate further ones when the first is so unfulfilling.

Taylor’s lead performance is rather dull. Elba has a physical presence, but there’s no meat on the bones of what should be a far more captivating figure. McConaughey can be a terrific actor, but that’s not what we witness. His Man in Black is meant (I think) to be a scary one. McConaughey doesn’t seem to get that. His level of menace displayed here is about equal to his Lincoln commercial work.

The Dark Tower has a 95 minute length that suggests even its makers knew they had a losing hand. It represents a limp start for a building of worlds. And it’s one that may never seen the light because this fails to get it off the ground.

*1/2 (out of four)

Black Panther Movie Review

Ryan Coogler’s Black Panther is certainly part of the massive Marvel Cinematic Universe. It shares some common themes with its predecessors, most notably the Thor franchise with its gorgeous landscapes and dramatic family dynamics. The story of the title character is picked up after his debut in 2016’s Captain America: Civil War.

In other ways, Panther does have the feel of a truly stand-alone experience. The other beings in the MCU are largely ignored. Some of the faults of the MCU features aren’t here. That includes the common and deserved quibbling of weak villains. Quite the opposite here and come to think of it – that’s another thing it shares with the Asgardian God and the baddies (especially Loki) he’s battled. Panther is, of course, also noteworthy for its nearly all African-American cast and setting on the fictional African country of Wakanda.

We’ve seen a whole bunch of superhero origin stories over the past few years. Black Panther is easily one of the most satisfying. It excites you about the character’s inclusion in his larger Avengers world while also priming you for further more self-contained adventures. We’re introduced to some memorable supporting players that often outshine the lead. And just as director Coogler reinvigorated the Rocky series with Creed, he puts a unique stamp on this franchise.

Chadwick Boseman is Black Panther/T’Challa. As you may recall, his father was assassinated in Civil War. That development causes T’Challa to become the king. His nation of Wakanda (besides being a triumph of production design) stands alone due to its abundance of vibranium, a precious alien metal. This substance allows Wakanda to have extremely advanced technology and much of it is overseen by T’Challa’s teenage sister Shuri (Letitia Wright). She is essentially the Q to Boseman’s 007 and Wright is an absolute scene stealer in the part.

The presence of vibranium offers T’Challa the powers to be Black Panther. It also offers a conundrum: keep the vibranium local to his land as his forefathers have or use it to do good worldwide. The flip side is it could do lots of bad everywhere. That’s what Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan) would prefer. He lives over in the U.S. where he works alongside arms dealer Klaue (Andy Serkis, having a ball outside of his normal motion capture suit). They want the substance to wreak havoc and Killmonger travels overseas to do so. And the battle begins.

Black Panther is graced with a large cast of recognizable faces. Lupita Nyong’o is T’Challa’s ex who’s also an international spy for Wakanda. Martin Freeman is a CIA agent unexpectedly thrust into this exotic world. Angela Bassett is the Queen and Forest Whitaker plays one of T’Challa’s mentors. Daniel Kaluuya, who made a splash last year with Get Out, is Panther’s best friend who grows suspicious of his leadership abilities.

That’s a lot of cast to keep up with, but the film manages it rather effortlessly. Boseman is a sturdy anchor, but you may be chatting more about Wright and Jordan after the first credits and mid credits and final credits roll. Jordan’s Killmonger, when his full motivations are revealed, turns out to be one of the strongest comic book villains we’ve seen in some time. He’s not just a tyrant seeking earthly destruction (though he is). There’s a worthwhile back story he’s granted and it ratchets the action up a notch.

Coogler’s Panther is filled with impressive performances and most of the action sequences deliver. Most importantly, its storyline doesn’t feel cookie cutter at all. This is one of the most original MCU tales in many ways while still keeping to the age-old themes created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby decades ago. Fresh with familiarity mixed in proves to be an enticing recipe here.

***1/2 (out of four)

Justice League Movie Review

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice was a bit of a mess and it earned its reputation as such in many ways. However, I found myself seemingly in the minority of those who sort of dug it. Where it failed – it failed significantly. That includes the casting of Jesse Eisenberg as Lex Luthor with his manic and bizarre take on the iconic villain. There were some narrative choices that were questionable. Yet when BvS worked, I felt it worked well and that included Ben Affleck succeeding as Batman.

Justice League is less cluttered. Zack Snyder, directing this DC Universe for the third time, captains a tighter ship with a shorter running time than what’s preceded it… and nearly all recent comic book adaptations for that matter. It is, of course, Warner Bros venture into Avengers territory. There’s a somewhat lighter tone that we first saw in the summer’s Wonder Woman stand-alone feature. The inclusion of The Flash (Ezra Miller) and Aquaman (Jason Momoa) contribute to that. So does the fact that the unusually somber Superman (Henry Cavill) who brooded through much of Man of Steel and BvS is absent much of the time.

As you’ll recall, Superman was dead and buried at the BvS conclusion. Justice League opens with the world missing him and crime on the rise. Batman is doing his level best, but he needs a squad. Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) is still dealing with the loss she experienced in her own movie, but she’s game to help. They recruit the newbies only glimpsed upon in BvS: The Flash, Aquaman, and Cyborg (Ray Fisher). It is their mission to thwart the Earth dominating plans of Steppenwolf (voiced by Ciaran Hinds), a motion capture evil alien. The League incorporates their powers to do so, but they know they must resurrect the Big S to complete the task.

The Avengers had the advantage of having introduced several of its core characters in separate entries. That doesn’t hold true here for half of the Justice League. Miller provides some decent comic relief, Momoa has a memorable moment or two and Fisher’s backstory is a bit blah. Their inclusion feels a little rushed and a little watered down.

Curiously the villain issue of BvS, while highly disappointing, was at least fascinating to witness in a rather bad way. Here the character of Steppenwolf isn’t really interesting at all. Many of these comic book adaptations have suffered the most from bland baddies and this is another.

League finds time to bring back Alfred (Jeremy Irons), Lois Lane (Amy Adams), and Clark’s mama (Diane Lane) in limited fashion. J.K. Simmons turns up briefly as the previously MIA Commissioner Gordon. It is Gadot who shines brightest, which is no surprise considering her rock solid solo spotlight just months prior.

In essence, Justice League feels ordinary too often. It’s got the same flaws as others in the genre. It has the same bright spots with certain performances. There’s action sequences that impress and others with dodgier CG. Call me crazy, but I admired BvS often for its occasional audacity and untidiness. With Justice, it joins a league of plenty others like it.

**1/2 (out of four)

Oscar Watch: Isle of Dogs

It’s been four years since Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel garnered a host of Oscar nominations. His follow-up is the stop-motion animated comedic adventure Isle of Dogs, which hits theaters stateside in March and has made its debut at the Berlin Film Festival. The pic (say its name out loud and pick up on its apparent affection for canines) features a whole bunch of familiar faces providing voice work including Bryan Cranston, Edward Norton, Bill Murray, Greta Gerwig, Scarlett Johansson, Jeff Goldblum, Frances McDormand, Ken Watanabe, Tilda Swinton, Bob Balaban, Courtney B. Vance, Harvey Keitel, Liev Schrieber, and F. Murray Abraham.

Reaction overseas to Anderson’s latest is that he’s delivered another winner. That likely means Dogs will follow in the steps of the director’s Fantastic Mr. Fox, which was nominated for Best Animated Feature by the Academy. It ultimately lost to Pixar’s Up and that powerhouse studio has The Incredibles 2 on deck this year. Additionally, it could be a factor for Mr. Anderson in Original Screenplay.

Yes, it’s early but it could already be a safe assumption that the Dogs will be on display come nomination time next year.

My Oscar Watch posts will continue…

Game Night Box Office Prediction

Jason Bateman and Rachel McAdams are a couple whose night of innocent fun goes horribly wrong in the comedy Game Night, opening next Friday. From John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein, the guys behind Horrible Bosses and the 2015 Vacation reboot, the pic costars Kyle Chandler, Billy Magnussen, Michael C. Hall, Jesse Plemons, and Jeffrey Wright.

Night could manage to appeal to moviegoers looking for a straight comedy in the midst of other genre fare in the marketplace. Black Panther will certainly being tearing up competition in weekend #2 and Annihilation is also out there for sci-fi fans. As far as movies reaching for the funny bone, this stands alone.

I could envision Game Night performing similarly to recent Bateman outings like Horrible Bosses 2 and Office Christmas Party. That would put it in the mid teens range for its start.

Game Night opening weekend prediction: $16.3 million

For my Annihilation prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2018/02/14/annihilation-box-office-prediction/

 

Annihilation Box Office Prediction

Blogger’s Note part 2 (02/20): I am once again revising my estimate. Now to $10.4 million

Blogger’s Note (02/15): I’m losing faith a bit for Annihilation debut. Revising down from $14.4 million to $12.4 million

Three years ago, screenwriter Alex Garland made his directorial debut with the acclaimed sci-fi pic Ex Machina, which garnered an Original Screenplay Oscar nomination and won for Visual Effects. Next Friday, his sophomore effort Annihilation debuts. Based on the novel from James VanderMeer, Natalie Portman stars in the $55 million production combining sci-fi, horror, and action elements. Costars include Jennifer Jason Leigh, Gina Rodriguez, Tessa Thompson, and Machina lead Oscar Isaac.

While Annihilation is hitting theaters in the U.S., Canada, and China, it’s slated to roll out on Netflix in other international markets. Early critical buzz is pretty solid so far, but it could struggle to break out stateside. Audiences are likely to still be flocking to Black Panther, which will be in its second weekend of release (and doing its own annihilation of competitors).

Fans of Machina, the genre, and Portman may be enough to get this between $10 million on the low end and $15 million on the high end. I’ll project roughly in the lower end of that range.

Annihilation opening weekend prediction: $10.4 million

For my Game Night prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2018/02/14/game-night-box-office-prediction/