The silent days and boisterous evenings of Hollywood in the 1920s and 30s are meticulously depicted in Babylon. From the gourd of Damien Chazelle, this is his version of Boogie Nights in many respects. It focuses on one version of Tinseltown technology fading out in favor of another. In Paul Thomas Anderson’s masterpiece from a quarter century ago, it was X rated material shot on film being transitioned to video. Here it’s the silent era making way for talkies. The adult entertainment is on ample display at the swank and sweaty bashes that feature cocaine and elephants as party favors.
We meet the main principals at an L.A. happening in 1926. Manny Torres (Diego Calva) is an immigrant doing menial work for Kinoscope Studios. At the company’s debauched soirée, aspiring star Nellie LaRoy (Margot Robbie) literally crashes into his consciousness and a years long infatuation is born. Jack Conrad (Brad Pitt) is the already established screen hero whose shooting schedules seem to last longer than his marriages. Jazz trumpeter Sidney Palmer (Jovan Adepo) provides the soundtrack to the sin while cabaret songstress Lady Fay Zhu (Li Jun Li) supplies sultry vocals. Columnist Elinor St. John (Jean Smart) is around to gossip about it.
The night serves as the intro point for Manny and Nellie to mount separate meteoric rises in a shifting industry. She becomes a silent film sensation just as sound (courtesy of The Jazz Singer) is around the corner. Manny’s connection with Conrad opens doors to big jobs as the movie headliner’s career begins a downward slide. Palmer, meanwhile, becomes a popular if exploited attraction in a series of musicals.
For three hours plus, Babylon celebrates and denigrates the excesses of the era. Nellie’s substance fueled rocket ride and downfall is given bulky screen time while others get the short shrift (Jun Li’s Zhu being one example). There is impressive production design to spare where odious actions occur within the walls. Tobey Maguire’s cameo as a whacked out criminal at an underground function displays scenarios that might make Robbie’s and her costars from The Wolf of Wall Street blush.
Chazelle’s message is pretty straightforward when there isn’t vomit and defecate being spewed. As ugly as Hollywood is, the end result can be beautiful. This is evident in a couple of terrific sequences that show the joy and pain of moviemaking. In one we witness Conrad’s war-torn romance catch the light at the perfect time. In another we suffer along with Nellie as she acclimates herself to the noise being introduced to celluloid.
I wish the gifted provider of Whiplash and La La Land could’ve reigned himself in. The aforementioned segments show how special this would have been with a tighter focus. Unfortunately it’s not only septa being deviated from. While Robbie and Pitt both have shining moments, Chazelle’s screenplay never makes Manny a compelling central figure. Calva doesn’t have much to work with considering his blank slate of a character. There are many known faces that pop up in the crowded script including Olivia Wilde and Katherine Waterston as fleeting wives to Conrad. Lukas Haas is the sad sack friend to the frequent divorcee whose character is similar to William H. Macy’s in Boogie Nights. That picture and Babylon take place in different eras of Hollywood shifts. One is brilliant. The other is occasionally inspired and often maddening.
After amassing over $800 million at the box office and becoming the third highest domestic grosser of all time, Disney and Marvel are looking to spin more bucks for Spidey on Labor Day weekend. That’s in the form of Spider-Man: No Way Home – The More Fun Stuff Edition. The revamped version contains 11 minutes of additional footage including more of Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield donning the spandex alongside Tom Holland.
Over Labor Day 2021, the MCU made a killing when Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings took in $94 million over the Monday to Friday frame. In 2022, Hollywood seems to be taking the holiday off. This could allow Marvel to hit #1 again with our webbed heroes. Fun is out on approximately 3000 screens and that wide release could allow for a seventh non-consecutive weekend atop the charts.
That said, I don’t expect this to top $10 million. The, um, less fun (?) iteration is already streaming and has been for some time. I don’t imagine a large audience will turn out for 11 extra minutes.
Spider-Man: No Way Home – The More Fun Stuff Edition opening weekend prediction: $7 million (Friday to Monday estimate)
For my Honk for Jesus. Save Your Soul. prediction, click here:
Spider-Man’s neighborhood grows exponentially in No Way Home, our third iteration of Tom Holland’s web slinger adventures with Jon Watts back directing. Not all the visitors he encounters are of the friendly sort. As you may recall, the conclusion of predecessor Far From Home had the scheming Mysterio (Jake Gyllenhaal) reveal Peter Parker’s identity to the masses. That has serious repercussions as Peter/Spidey’s anonymity is gone and the Daily Bugle and others paint him as a bad guy.
It might be easier to erase that divulgence so Peter visits his old avenging buddy Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) to cast a spell to accomplish that. It doesn’t go as planned and it opens to a portal to a multiverse of characters who knew of Spider-Man’s alter ego. THIS IS WHERE WE GO INTO SPOILERS SO CONSIDER YOURSELF WARNED.
Crashing into this trilogy are the antagonists from Spider-tales of old. As in the Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield entries that we witnessed from 2002-2014. The sinister company consists of the Green Goblin (Willem Dafoe), Doc Ock (Alfred Molina), Electro (Jamie Foxx), Lizard (Rhys Ifans), and Sandman (Thomas Haden Church).
With the great power of the Marvel Cinematic Universe comes a responsibility to tap into our nostalgic leanings and No Way Home does it in heavy doses. Seeing Dafoe’s maniacal Goblin and Molina’s Doc from the first two Maguire installments is a kick. As for the rest, they came from lesser pics (Maguire’s last and both Garfield excursions). That said, Foxx’s characterization is a lot more fun than what we saw in The Amazing Spider-Man 2.
My reviews of Homecoming and Far From Home concentrated on the best moments being the most grounded. Holland (the most effective Spidey in my view) and his interactions with love interest MJ (Zendaya), Aunt May (Marisa Tomei), and bestie Ned (Jacob Batalon) were highlights. That holds true here, but No Way Home is anything but grounded. The third go-round is bigger in every sense.
In many ways, it’s the most satisfying since Maguire’s original double feature. Is it gimmicky? Absolutely and there’s an overload of exposition to plow through in the first act. Yet it also reminds us how unique Spider-Man is in the realm of superheroes. It’s also a plus that the villains in this series are complicated ones (for the genre at least) whose motivations are varied and often understandable.
I could go even further down spoiler territory and it’s fair to say the most amazing moments are ones I won’t delve into. No Way Home does provide humorous retribution for one hero in particular (you’ll know when you see it). This is grand entertainment that occasionally approaches the scale of the wars and endgame of Spider-Man’s former team. He’s got a fresh troupe of buddies to collaborate with to save humanity in this trilogy capper. The teamwork provide multiple thrills.
When Tobey Maguire’s Spider-Man trilogy kicked off nearly 20 years ago, it managed to nab a Best Visual Effects nod (losing to Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers). Two years later, the 2004 sequel won the prize. Since then, the five Spidey features that followed (Maguire’s third, both Andrew Garfield iterations, and the first two Tom Holland MCU flicks) didn’t show up in the race. Will Spider-Man: No Way Home change that?
The 27th entry (and fourth this year) in the Marvel Cinematic Universe debuts Friday and I have it pegged for the fourth best domestic opening of all time (behind Avengers: Endgame, Avengers: Infinity War, and Star Wars: The Force Awakens). The review embargo lifted early this morning and it stands at an impressive 97% on Rotten Tomatoes.
While nearly all critical notices are positive, I don’t think this will be the second MCU title to nab a Best Picture nomination behind Black Panther. While Best Sound is feasible, Home‘s best hope at Academy inclusion is in Visual Effects. MCU movies vying for that prize is not unusual. The inaugural pic in the biggest franchise of all (2008’s Iron Man) made the cut. So have Iron Man 2, The Avengers, Iron Man 3, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Guardians of the Galaxy, Doctor Strange, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, Infinity War, and Endgame. None have won.
So despite the last quintet of web slinger sagas not being honored for their effects, Home should have no problem? I don’t think it’s quite that simple. There are two Warner Bros sci-fi extravaganzas (Dune and The Matrix Resurrections) that should get in. That leaves three slots. Warner has another hopeful with Godzilla vs. Kong. Marvel itself has Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings and Eternals (and Black Widow to a lesser degree) vying for spots. Shang-Chi especially could get in (the Critics Choice Awards included it on their ballot). Don’t Look Up, Finch, and No Time to Die are other possibilities. It’s worth noting that whether Home makes the five, Dune is the very heavy favorite to take gold.
Here’s my hunch: by the time Academy voters cast their final votes, Home appears bound to have heightened box office numbers to their highest achievements in the pandemic era. That fact alone might get it some recognition from the Oscars and that would be for its visuals. Another interesting stat: of the ten current largest stateside premieres ever, only two (Avengers: Age of Ultron and Jurassic World) didn’t score at least one nomination from the Academy. That puts this in a decent position. My Oscar Predictions posts for the films of 2021 will continue…
Bloggers Update (12/16): revising prediction up to $213.7M The Marvel Cinematic Universe is poised for the largest opening weekend of the pandemic era with Spider-Man: No Way Home out December 17th. In fact, it could debut higher than the current two record holders (Venom: Let There Be Carnage and Black Widow) combined. The 27th feature in the massive MCU franchise, this is officially the third entry in this Spider-Verse starring Tom Holland as the web-slinger (though he’s appeared in Avengers tales too). Jon Watts directs again and returning faces include Zendaya, Jacob Batalon, Jon Favreau, Marisa Tomei, and J.B. Smoove. That’s not all. Benedict Cumberbatch’s Doctor Strange is in on the action and villains of previous Spidey series come to the party. They include Alfred Molina, Willem Dafoe, Jamie Foxx, Thomas Haden Church, and Rhys Ifans. There’s also the possibility of other Spider-Men turning up.
This has led to No Way Home having the distinction of being the event film of the year with the most moneymaking potential. It might be the fourth MCU title in 2021 (after Widow, Shang-Chi, and Eternals), but it’s easily the most breathlessly anticipated. Early ticket sales indicate we’ll see grosses not witnessed since 2019. Two and a half years ago, Spider-Man: Far From Home kicked off during the long July 4th weekend and earned $185 million. 2017’s Homecoming made $117 million over a traditional Friday to Sunday rollout.
The pre-Christmas unveiling should prove to be shrewd timing. Some estimates having this going north of $200 million. That would be music to the ears of an industry that needs it after almost two long years. I’m not quite ready to declare $200 million and I’ll hedge with just under it.
Spider-Man: No Way Home opening weekend prediction: $213.7 million
Ahead of its April 17th stateside debut, the revenge thriller Promising Young Woman has screened at Sundance. The pic marks the directorial debut of Emerald Fennell and casts Carey Mulligan in the title role alongside a supporting cast including Bo Burnham, Alison Brie, Clancy Brown, Jennifer Coolidge, Adam Brody, Alfred Molina, Connie Britton, and Laverne Cox.
Early reviews are encouraging with a Rotten Tomatoes rating of 96%. Some critical reaction is effusive enough to make one wonder if Mulligan could nab her second Oscar nod after 2009’s An Education.
In order for that, Focus Features will need to launch an aggressive campaign to keep voters focused on her work in the months that follow. The Sundance buzz, at least, is somewhat promising. My Oscar Watch posts will continue…
One week ahead of its massive launch, the review embargo has lifted for Disney’s Frozen II, the sequel to the 2013 animated smash that grossed over a billion dollars worldwide. Financial expectations are understandably enormous and a big question was whether it matches the quality of the original.
Early critical reaction suggests… not quite. Frozen achieved a 90% Rotten Tomatoes rating while the follow-up is currently at 81%. Part 1 was nominated for two Oscars and won both – Animated Feature and Best Original Song for the omnipresent “Let It Go” as sung by Idina Menzel (or whatever John Travolta called her at the Academy ceremony).
Frozen II is very likely to be nominated in both races like its predecessor. The tune is likely to be the ballad “Into the Unknown”. However, unlike the original, it may not be the favorite to win in either category. The biggest competition in Animated Feature comes from another Mouse Factory sequel with this summer’s Toy Story 4 (which I still believe to be the frontrunner). Another non-Disney sequel, How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World, could also be a factor – albeit less so than Woody and Buzz. In Original Song, there’s serious competitors in the form of Elton John and Taylor Swift tracks from Rocketman and Cats, respectively.
Bottom line: Frozen II should nab the same nods that Frozen did. Victories are another story. My Oscar Watch posts will continue…
Blogger’s Note (11/16): I’ve upgraded my estimate from $113.7M to $126.7M
Today, frozen is the word described by many as what they’re experiencing when they attempt to view Disney Plus on its first day of launch. Next weekend, Frozen II looks to heat up a sleepy box office and continue the Mouse Factory’s stellar year. This is the sequel to the 2013 smash hit that earned over a billion dollars worldwide. The computer animated musical fantasy has Idina Menzel, Kristen Bell, Jonathan Groff, and Josh Gad returning to voice their known characters along with newbies Sterling K. Brown, Evan Rachel Wood, Alfred Molina, Marsha Plimpton, and Jason Ritter. Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee make a return engagement behind the camera.
Six years ago in November, part 1 turned into a phenomenon. Over the long Thanksgiving weekend, the critically hailed Oscar winner took in $93 million and legged out impressively to a domestic haul of $400 million. This time around, expectations are understandably sky high. A gross north of $100 million out of the gate is anticipated.
With its rather short span between entries, Frozen II should achieve that status. I suspect earnings in the neighborhood of what Toy Story 4 ($120.9 million) took in this summer is the range. I’ll put it a few million over that mark.
Frozen II opening weekend prediction: $126.7 million
For my A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood prediction, click here:
Blumhouse Productions hopes to have a sleeper hit on their hands over Labor Day weekend with Don’tLetGo. The supernatural thriller finds David Oyelowo attempting to retroactively prevent the death of loved ones. Jacob Aaron Estes directs with a supporting cast including Storm Reid, Bryon Mann, Mykelti Williamson, Alfred Molina, and Brian Tyree Henry.
The pic premiered eight months ago at the Sundance Film Festival to mixed reaction. Its Rotten Tomatoes score is at 47%. That’s not a great number to generate buzz and Go appears to be lacking it. While it’s a little risky to underestimate Blumhouse, the Labor Day release date isn’t exactly a vote of confidence.
I’ll say this doesn’t manage to achieve double digits over the four day holiday weekend. Mid single digits is possibly where this goes.
Don’tLetGo opening weekend prediction: $4.5 million (Friday to Monday estimate)
Jason Reitman’s TheFrontRunner is a true political story that transfixed the nation three decades ago. The Presidential campaign of Colorado Senator Gary Hart (Hugh Jackman) happened at a time just as cable was set to dominate how we get our news. Newspapers could see it coming and The MiamiHerald, for better or worse, got ahead of the curve by venturing into tabloid territory. The WashingtonPost here is uncertain whether they should veer in that direction. However, they see the sensationalism train beginning to roll and can’t be the highbrow publication to pump the brakes.
It was The Post that exploited a massive Commander-in-Chief scandals a few years prior with Watergate. Here it’s the extramarital activities of Hart. We first witness him in 1984 conceding to Democratic nominee Walter Mondale, who would lose badly to President Reagan. Yet his run wasn’t wasted as he becomes the film’s title four years later. He appears set to top the ticket until three wild weeks occur in 1987. It involves his relationship with a young woman Donna Rice (Sara Paxton) and the media’s fixation on it. The days of reporters looking the other way when it comes to extracurricular activity is finished.
In this screenplay from Reitman, Matt Bai, and Jay Carson, Hart is alternatively seen as a sympathetic figure while not completely ignoring that he was a lousy spouse. Vera Farmiga is wife Lee and she’s given a few moments to shine as his conflicted partner. Her performance, while more limited in time, is the strongest. She emerges as the most fascinating character, but the marriage is given short treatment. This film is more geared towards critiquing our feeding frenzy media landscape. And while the times were a-changin’ thirty years ago, the script never finds an angle to shed any meaningful light on it.
Candidate Hart himself didn’t see the tide turning and felt his personal life was just that. As played by Jackman, he’s an enigma focused on policy proposals and not the show biz acumen that comes with the territory (let’s not forget he’s attempting to succeed the first movie star POTUS). It frustrates staff including his campaign manager (J.K. Simmons). They believe in him, but realize he gets in his own way.
TheFrontRunner tries to say Important Things about a campaign that’s influenced all that have followed. Hart’s foibles in our current environment may be considered quaint. That said, the pic rarely makes its points seem bold or fresh. There’s been fictional politico tales such as PrimaryColors and Bulworth that were more entertaining and perceptive in their take on this particular universe. This lies toward the back of the pack in the genre.