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Oscar Watch: Mary Poppins Returns

Disney’s Christmas box office smash is expected to be Mary Poppins Returns, the sequel to the 1964 classic original. It comes from Rob Marshall, who directed 2002’s Best Picture winner Chicago. Even with the Oscar pedigree behind it, it was a legitimate question as to whether this would garner any awards chatter or just settle for raking in tons of dough.

The film has screened for the Screen Actors Guild and journalists. While official reviews are under embargo, the buzz indicates it’s in many ways a worthy follow-up to what came over a half century prior. This especially applies to Emily Blunt, taking over the iconic title role from Julie Andrews (who won the Oscar as Poppins). Best Actress is crowded this year. At this juncture, I’d say Lady Gaga (A Star Is Born), Glenn Close (The Wife), and Olivia Colman (The Favourite) are locks or darn close to it. That leaves two spots and plenty of contenders to fill them. The showings for Poppins indicate Blunt is a prime contender to get one. As a side note, she could be in excellent shape for Actress at the Golden Globes for Musical/Comedy.

As for other performers, it’s certainly possible Blunt gets all the attention. Lin-Manuel Miranda seems a longshot in Supporting Actor. In Supporting Actress, it’s another category that is already filling up. Yet if anyone could sneak in, it’s Meryl Streep (who would be going for an unprecedented 22nd nod). Marshall has already directed her to one of them before in Supporting Actress for 2014’s Into the Woods.

Before its unveiling, the pic was already thought to be a contender in numerous down the line races: Costume Design, Production Design, Score, Original Song, Visual Effects and both Sound categories. That still holds true.

When it comes to Best Picture, that’s much more of a question mark. I’d say chances have undoubtedly improved, but it could depend on how others rise and fall in the coming weeks.

Bottom line: with Blunt leading the charge, Mary Poppins Returns could have awards voters singing its praises. My Oscar Watch posts will continue…

The Dark Knight Legacy: 10 Years Later

Ten years ago tomorrow, The Dark Knight was unleashed into theaters. Looking back at the summer of 2008, you could argue that the two most important superhero pics in recent memory were released in that short time frame. Two months earlier in May of that year, Iron Man kicked off the Marvel Cinematic Universe which now stands at 20 films strong. Yet it was The Dark Knight that set box office records and brought critical appreciation of the genre to new heights. In a genre that has exploded in the 21st century, many consider this to be the crown jewel. I believe it’s certainly up on the Mount Rushmore.

A decade prior to its release, Batman had run into some trouble at multiplexes with the deservedly derided Batman and Robin. It was a disappointment both commercially and with reviewers. Joel Schumacher’s two run experiment with the iconic character had dissolved into campy non-fun. In the new century, Christopher Nolan was brought in to resurrect the franchise after making Memento and Insomnia. 

2005’s Batman Begins would achieve that goal, but that was not apparent immediately. Despite glowing reviews, Begins started with $48 million at the box office and $206 million overall domestically. Those are solid numbers but some context is needed. That’s nearly $50 million less than 1989’s Batman made 16 years earlier. In other words, it wasn’t obvious that the eventual sequel would turn into a phenomenon.

That’s what happened. The Dark Knight had the advantage of pitting Christian Bale’s Caped Crusader against his most known foe, The Joker. Many questioned whether Heath Ledger (coming off an Oscar nomination for Brokeback Mountain) had the goods to fill Jack Nicholson’s shoes. Early trailers indicated the answer was yes. And he nailed it with an unforgettable performance. As we know, Ledger never got to witness the acclaim. He died six months before the picture’s release and it added a tragic level of publicity leading up to the premiere.

Once Knight was released, expectations were sky-high and it earned $158 million out of the gate. That was an opening weekend record which has since been surpassed by 14 movies including its sequel The Dark Knight Rises and seven other comic book themed experiences.

The Dark Knight still stands as the 10th highest grossing movie of all time and fourth biggest superhero effort behind Black Panther, Avengers: Infinity War, and The Avengers. It received eight Oscar nominations – something previously unheard of for something in its genre. That stands as another portion of its legacy. While Ledger would posthumously win Best Supporting Actor for his work, many figured The Dark Knight should and would nab a Best Picture nomination. It didn’t. And that caused the Academy to expand Best Picture from a finite five nominees to anywhere between five and ten (nine has been the major number most years in the decade following).

While no comic book film has managed a Best Picture nomination since then (Black Panther could change that this year), that rule change has perhaps allowed non-traditional awards material like District 9, Nolan’s own Inception, Gravity, The Grand Budapest Hotel, Mad Max: Fury Road, Arrival, and Get Out to garner nods.

And The Dark Knight, for many moviegoers, proved what comic book lovers had known all along. This material, done right, could truly be a work of art.

The Non-Sequel Actors

Next weekend sees the release of two high-profile sequels: The Equalizer 2 and Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again. The pair of part II’s have something rather interesting in common: they serve as the first sequels that their stars Denzel Washington and Meryl Streep have ever appeared in. Pretty surprising huh? Both have been mega-stars for decades and have never followed up on a character until now.

This got me thinking: what other major actors have never been in a sequel? And it’s not an easy list to cobble together.

Some actors are known for their cases of sequelitis. We know Samuel L. Jackson has appeared in a multitude of them, including Marvel Cinematic Universe pics and franchises ranging from Star Wars to xXx to Incredibles. He was John McClane’s sidekick in Die Hard with a Vengeance. And looking early in his filmography, 1990 saw him appearing in The Exorcist III and The Return of Superfly. There’s also Patriot Games from 1992 and Kill Bill: Vol. 2 from 2004. Son of Shaft will be out next year. Dude loves his m****f***ing sequels!

Sylvester Stallone has made a career of out of them. Creed II will mark his 15th sequel by my count. There’s the Rocky, Rambo, and Expendables series and there’s also Staying Alive (which he directed and had a cameo in), Spy Kids 3-D: Game Over, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, and the just released Escape Plan 2: Hades.

Eddie Murphy has returned in the following series: 48 Hrs., Beverly Hills Cop, The Nutty Professor, Dr. Dolittle, and Shrek. There could be a part II of Coming to America on the horizon.

Harrison Ford has the famous series like Star Wars, Indiana Jones, and the Jack Ryan pictures. There’s also More American Graffiti, Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues, and last year’s Blade Runner 2049.

OK, back to thespians who don’t constantly appear in sequels. Leonardo DiCaprio? Well, who can forget one of his first roles as Josh in 1991’s Critters 3? 

Matthew McConaughey has a similar situation. Since he’s become known, no sequels (not even returning in Magic Mike XXL). Yet one of his first roles was in Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation. 

Unlike his 80s comedic counterparts Bill Murray, Chevy Chase, Dan Aykroyd, and Steve Martin (all in plenty of them), I couldn’t immediately think of any sequel that John Candy did. Yet he provided a voice-over in the 1990 Disney animated follow-up The Rescuers Down Under. 

With Marlon Brando, I guess it depends on how you look at it. He refused to come back for a flashback cameo in The Godfather Part II. Yet he did appear in 2006’s Superman Returns… with a caveat. That footage was culled completely from his work nearly three decades earlier in Superman and it happened two years after his death.

So here’s the deal… it is really tough to come up with performers in the modern age who haven’t appeared in at least one sequel. However, here’s five of them and feel free to list others in the comments!

Warren Beatty

He’s famously picky about his projects and he’s never played the same man twice. There were rumors that he wanted to do another Dick Tracy, but it never materialized.

Annette Bening

Beatty’s wife has had a long and distinguished career free of sequels. She was originally cast as Catwoman in 1992’s Batman Returns but dropped out due to pregnancy.

Russell Crowe

The Oscar winner has yet to return to a role, though I’d certainly sign up for The Nice Guys II. P.S. – I do not count Man of Steel as a sequel.

Jodie Foster

She declined to return as Clarice Starling in 2001’s Hannibal after an Oscar-winning turn in The Silence of the Lambs ten years earlier. That was her biggest chance at a sequel and there are none before or after.

Jake Gyllenhaal

His first role was as Billy Crystal’s son in City Slickers, but he was nowhere to be found for part II or any other sequel. However, that long streak ends next summer with Spider-Man: Far From Home.

And there you go! As I said, feel free to chime in with your own non-sequel actors…

Jurassic Park Turns 25: A Look Back

A quarter century ago on this day, Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic Park was unleashed in theaters and it was indeed a game changer. For those not old enough to remember its release, it’s a bit difficult to describe just how groundbreaking its visuals were at that time in the early 1990s. The idea that realistic dinosaurs could roam the silver screen didn’t seem possible. However, Spielberg’s wizardry and the geniuses at Industrial Light & Magic proved us all wrong.

The scene above had audiences expressing the same reaction as Sam Neill, Laura Dern, and Jeff Goldblum. Mouths open. Jaws dropped. As we have learned in the 25 years since, amazing visuals aren’t enough to make a film great. That said, if any picture could claim greatness due to its effects, this is the one.

Yet Jurassic Park was special for more reasons than just that. Based on Michael Crichton’s bestseller, the cinematic adaptation tapped into a childhood fascination with Earth’s first dwellers that struck a chord. The concept seems so simple now: mix Steven Spielberg with dinosaurs and what could possibly go wrong? That recipe worked rather flawlessly, but let’s take some stock here.

Just a year and a half earlier, Mr. Spielberg made Hook. And when you think of that concept – America’s most commercially successful director taking on the Peter Pan story? What could possibly go wrong? Well, plenty did. Hook has its vocal defenders, but I fall into the camp of deeming it a major disappointment (particularly on subsequent viewings).

Jurassic arrived at a time where it was feasible to question Spielberg’s magic touch. Those queries went away with the first look at the dino creations and the suspenseful and masterfully directed picture that followed.

In terms of box office numbers, some may not know this franchise opener’s relationship to Batman, but there is one. Jurassic Park opened with $47 million dollars. At the time, that stood at the largest domestic debut in history by beating out the $45 million made the summer before by Batman Returns. 

In 1995, it would be Batman Forever that would top the Jurassic record with $52 million.

Two summers after that, Jurassic follow-up The Lost World would snatch the record back with $72 million.

The original Jurassic now stands as the 247th largest opening and was surpassed by all three sequels that followed (and will certainly also be topped by next Friday’s Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom).

The original’s total domestic gross ended up being $357 million. A 2013 3-D re-release for its 20th anniversary added another $45 million to bring the overall haul to $402 million. And that is second only to Jurassic World from 2015 ($652 million).

The Lost World topped out at $229 million with Jurassic Park III at $181 million. When we adjust for inflation, Park tops World by a margin of $839 million to $724 million.

Looking back at 1993, it’s safe to say no director had a single better year in film history than Spielberg before or since. Not only did Jurassic Park set a new standard for visual effects and break every box office record, but he released another picture at the end of the year. That would be Schindler’s List. The Holocaust drama was nominated for twelve Oscars and won seven, including Best Picture and Spielberg’s first statue for directing (he’d win again five years later for Saving Private Ryan).

So as we await the fifth installment of this franchise, it felt worthy to take a moment and acknowledge the seismic happening that occurred 25 years ago today. The unleashing of the dinosaurs. The advent of visual effects in a way we’d never experienced. A year unparalleled for a filmmaker. Welcome to Jurassic Park… 25 years later.

Box Office Predictions: April 27-29

We are in the midst of the spring season currently, but in Hollywood it becomes summer this weekend as Avengers: Infinity War blasts into theaters. The Disney/Marvel property brings together the MCU superheroes of the past decade and looks to break numerous records. You can peruse my detailed prediction post on it here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2018/04/17/avengers-infinity-war-box-office-prediction/

As my estimate outlines, I anticipate Infinity falling just short (about $7 million) of the all-time opening record achieved by Star Wars: The Force Awakens in December of 2015. That easily gives it the #2 premiere (well above the $220 million that Star Wars: The Last Jedi made this past December).

All of the oxygen in this late April frame should be sucked up by Iron Man, Captain America, Black Panther, the Guardians of the Galaxy, Thor, and more. This means holdovers may experience some rather rough declines, including Rampage. I also have a feeling Super Troopers 2 (after an opening that exceeded all expectations) is an example of a front-loaded gross and its sophomore fall could be significant. A Quiet Place should drop to second while Amy Schumer’s I Feel Pretty may lose around half of its middling debut audience.

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

1. Avengers: Infinity War

Predicted Gross: $240.2 million

2. A Quiet Place

Predicted Gross: $11.8 million

3. Rampage

Predicted Gross: $9.1 million

4. I Feel Pretty

Predicted Gross: $7.6 million

5. Super Troopers 2

Predicted Gross: $5.6 million

Box Office Results (April 20-22)

A Quiet Place crept back up into the top spot as the acclaimed horror pic took in $20.9 million, on pace with my $21.6 million projection. Its three-week total stands at a terrific $131 million.

Rampage dropped to second and held up better than I figured in weekend #2 with $20 million compared to my $17 million forecast. The Dwayne Johnson adventure has made $65 million thus far. As mentioned, it could be in for a healthier drop this weekend considering the competition.

Amy Schumer’s I Feel Pretty debuted in third with a just OK $16 million, in line with my $16.2 million prediction. This is lower than the comedian’s previous outings, Trainwreck and Snatched.

While Pretty was a comedy that opened on the lower end of estimates, Super Troopers 2 was fourth and blew away most prognostications. The sequel to the 2002 cult hit made a strong $15.1 million, nearly tripling my $5.2 million estimate.

Truth or Dare rounded out the top five in its sophomore frame with $7.7 million. I was close at $7.9 million. The low-budget Blumhouse horror offering sits at $30 million in its first two weekends.

Due to my low ball take on Troopers, I incorrectly had Blockers fifth. It came in seventh with $6.8 million (I said $5.9 million) for $48 million overall. Ready Player One was sixth with $7.4 million and it’s up to $126 million.

Finally, the Paula Patton thriller Traffik opened in ninth with $3.9 million – a bit above my $3 million take.

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

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.

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.