Oscar Watch: Happiest Season

Hulu looks to have a holiday hit on their hands when Happiest Season holds its streaming debut on November 25th. The rom com stars Kristen Stewart as her character embarks on a holiday outing with the family of her girlfriend (Mackenzie Davis). Problem is, said girlfriend hasn’t yet come out to said family. Clea DuVall directs with a supporting cast including Alison Brie, Aubrey Plaza, Dan Levy, Victor Garber, and Mary Steenburgen.

The review embargo lifted today and the results indicate a winner. Its Rotten Tomatoes rating stands at 93%. Particular praise has gone to a trio of performances: Stewart, Plaza, and Levy (who’s having quite a year with his multiple Emmys for Schitt’s Creek). When it comes to Oscar, however, I am skeptical that Season has any impact (potentially similar to another acclaimed Hulu comedy Palm Springs).

The Golden Globes, on the other hand, could be a different story. The pic could contend in the Musical/Comedy race, but I especially think Stewart could be recognized in Best Actress. Ms. Stewart has had a number of critically appreciated roles in her post Twilight years. A nod in the Musical/Comedy category would mark her first Globes mention. Oscar may have to wait for another season. My Oscar Watch posts will continue…

The Rental Movie Review

Well-known actors crafting nifty little suspense thrillers tinged with horror has become a thing lately (think John Krasinski’s A Quiet Place and Joel Edgerton’s The Gift). Dave Franco gets in on it with The Rental, which is swift in its running time and plentiful with twists that you see coming and some that are nicely rewarding. It also features a quartet of solid performers whose weekend getaway gives them far more than they bargained for.

Charlie (Dan Stevens) finds a swanky vacation house to nab for the weekend with help from his trusted assistant Mina (Sheila Vand). They’re celebrating something going right with their business and it’s good reason to let their hair down with Charlie’s wife Michelle (Alison Brie, the director’s real life spouse). Mina happens to be dating Charlie’s brother Josh (Jeremy Allen White) so he tags along with his puppy. Pets aren’t allowed at the establishment, but that turns out to be the least of their issues. For instance, there might be a psycho around and it’s not safe to be in the shower.

Upon arrival, the foursome confront the property’s caretaker Taylor (Toby Huss). The first problem is a racially tinged one. Mina, who’s of Middle Eastern descent, tried to rent the place and was promptly denied. Charlie had no such trouble. They decide to overlook that and the first night becomes an alcohol and designer drug filled party. This is where the aforementioned “twists” that follow are somewhat predictable in nature. However, the actors have a real chemistry with one another and you’ll want to see where it all leads.

Without venturing into spoiler territory, The Rental isn’t its eventual genre for about two thirds of its brisk 88 minutes. Credit is due to Franco and Joe Swanberg’s script for keeping the audience engaged in the dynamics of the four principals. Of them, it’s Vand who has the best role and she’s quite impressive.

When we arrive at the final third, the build up has been sturdy enough that we care about the fates of the characters as they navigate their way through dense fog and deeply personal conflicts. Franco has crafted a lean and effective directorial debut and its title is worth the price of one.

*** (out of four)

Oscar Watch: Promising Young Woman

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…

The Lego Movie Collapse

This was a weekend where The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part was expected to easily nab the #1 spot at the box office. That mission was accomplished, but it did so with much less money than any prognosticator figured. The sequel to the 2014 original took in $34 million and that was about $20 million less than expected. I had a feeling it would under perform and forecasted a $48 million debut. However, I never figured a mid 30s premiere.

For some context, the first Lego experience five years ago made $69 million out of the gate and eventually earned $257 million domestically. In 2017, first franchise spin-off The Lego Batman Movie debuted to $53 million ($175 million total). The first sign of trouble came a few months later when The Lego Ninjago Movie came in far under estimates with $20 million in its opening weekend and a lowly $59 million stateside. Yet some attributed the poor Ninjago performance to its limited niche audience.

The Second Part marked a hopeful return to form for Warner Bros considering it was a direct sequel to a picture that made over $250 million. There is no doubt that the number produced this weekend could block future plans for the series. Its best hope ahead could be the President’s Day weekend as the studio hopes it will have a small decline. Any way you cut it, though, part two will seriously come in under its predecessor. We now have two Lego Movie collapses in a row and it will be interesting to see how Warner handles it.

Oscar Watch – The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part

The Lego franchise has made nearly half a billion dollars at the domestic box office for Warner Bros since 2014 and The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part will add to those coffers next weekend. It’s money hauls, however, have not translated to success with Oscar voters.

The Lego Movie was critically acclaimed and seemed assured an Academy nod in Animated Feature four years ago. It was one of the most surprising snubs when it didn’t make the cut. There were two Lego pics in 2017 (The Lego Batman Movie, The Lego Ninjago Movie). Neither of them managed to make the race that year.

While reviews for The Second Part are strong, several critics have said it doesn’t quite match the first part. Competition from animated sequels alone in 2019 (How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World, Frozen 2, Toy Story 4) is serious. Therefore it appears highly unlikely that this will be the year where Lego builds any standing with the awards crowd.

My Oscar Watch posts will continue…

The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part Box Office Prediction

The Warner Animation Group hopes to build back up its near half billion dollar domestic franchise next weekend with the release of The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part. This direct sequel arrives five years after its hit predecessor, though there’s been two spin-offs in the meantime. Mike Mitchell, who made Shrek Forever After and Trolls, takes over directing duties from Christopher Miller and Phil Lord (they wrote the screenplay). Returning voices include Chris Pratt, Elizabeth Banks, Will Arnett (he’s Batman), Charlie Day, Nick Offerman, Alison Brie, and Will Ferrell. Familiar faces joining the voiceover party are aplenty. They include Tiffany Haddish, Maya Rudolph, Channing Tatum, Jonah Hill, Brooklyn Prince, and thespians from the DC Cinematic Universe (Gal Gadot, Margot Robbie, Jason Momoa).

In February of 2014, The Lego Movie earned $69 million out of the gate with an eventual stateside take of $257 million. Our first spin-off, 2017’s The Lego Batman Movie, achieved $53 million for its start and $175 million total. A few months later, The Lego Ninjago Movie was a legitimate disappointment. It premiered with only $20 million and didn’t leg out well ($59 million).

As they were with the first part, reviews are positive as this stands at 93% on Rotten Tomatoes. Several critics, however, have noted it doesn’t quite match up to the original. While this should easily debut at #1, I’ll project that it falls short of the 2014 earnings. Topping $50 million is certainly possible, but I’ll go just shy of that number.

The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part opening weekend prediction: $48.6 million

For my What Men Want prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2019/01/30/what-men-want-box-office-prediction/

For my Cold Pursuit prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2019/01/30/cold-pursuit-box-office-prediction/

For my The Prodigy prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2019/01/31/the-prodigy-box-office-prediction/

The Disaster Artist Movie Review

The Disaster Artist begins with filmmakers J.J. Abrams and Kevin Smith and actors Adam Scott, Danny McBride, and Kristen Bell extolling the strange virtues of The Room. That terrible movie became one of the most unlikely cult hits of the 21st century. The rest of the picture details its strange maker Tommy Wiseau (James Franco) and the process to bring it to a midnight theater showing near you.

Just as The Room was Wiseau’s warped vision all his own, this is clearly a passion project for Franco. I suspect many of the other well-known actors who turn up in parts large and small are devotees of the unintentionally hilarious 2003 film that Franco is recounting. Like Tim Burton’s Ed Wood, this is a good movie about a bad director. Not as good, but it’s an entertaining watch that doesn’t probe too far into its subject’s real story. Truth be told, maybe we don’t really wanna know.

Tommy Wiseau wouldn’t want it any other way. We first meet him in San Francisco circa 1998 as he pours his heart into Marlon Brando’s monologue from A Streetcar Named Desire at an acting class. His rendering is quite awful, but it’s his devil-may-care attitude and blind commitment that gets the attention of Greg (Dave Franco). He’s a fellow student who’s more reserved. Tommy is too, but in a much different way. His age is a mystery and he’s not about to tell it. A European accent (where in that continent… who knows?) counters his contention that he hails from New Orleans. Most interestingly, Tommy seems to have a limitless supply of money and no one knows why.

His new pal Greg manages to ignore those puzzling personal aspects and they road trip it to L.A. to move in together and pursue their dreams. Although he seems to have some prospects, Greg can’t catch a break. Tommy’s overall bizarre vibe is an immediate red X to casting agents. The only solution is to finance his own feature.

And The Room is birthed throughout a long shooting process with a director who has no clue what he’s really doing. We see Wiseau torment his cast and crew because he read somewhere that’s how Alfred Hitchcock did it. Those who know The Room will revel in revisiting Wiseau (who casts himself as the romantic lead) and his humorously questionable line readings. There’s his screenplay that inexplicably brings up cancer subplots that go nowhere and sex scenes that would be deemed too horrible for 2am Cinemax play.

Franco, who also serves behind the camera, is obviously enamored with getting his portrayal of Tommy’s mannerisms and his journey to make this project as accurate as possible. Even if you’re not familiar with Wiseau’s cinematic opus, one YouTube viewing of an interview with him and you’ll know Franco nails it. The star/director, in addition to casting his brother, finds roles for Dave’s real life wife Alison Brie and his frequent costar Seth Rogen as a perpetually bemused script supervisor. Yet just as the real Tommy made his personal relationships and the shooting experience all about him, so is the case with The Disaster Artist.

That devotion from Franco is enough to make this a worthwhile experience. If you’re looking for any insight into what really made Tommy who he is, you won’t find it here. The ultimate irony is that Wiseau did end up succeeding in a town where that’s nearly an impossible feat. He didn’t know that the earnest drama he thought he was making would result in Rocky Horror Picture Show style late night screening madness. What kind of man could achieve this? We may never know, but it’s a fun question for Franco and others to ponder.

*** (out of four)

The Post Movie Review

If you could envision a picture made in a factory for Best Picture consideration, The Post might be it. Two-time Oscar-winning director Steven Spielberg? Check. Three-time winner and most nominated actress ever Meryl Streep? Yep. Two-time recipient Tom Hanks? Indeed. A historical context that has connections to what’s happening today? Present. Luckily, the film itself manages to be an often engrossing experience that is (surprise) quite well-acted and directed. Does it match the high mark of some other journalistic features that cover similar ground? Not in my view.

The Post opens with State Department analyst Daniel Ellsberg (Matthew Rhys) in Vietnam in the late 1960s and his growing realization that the conflict has no end in sight. Ellsberg has access to classified government docs and by the early 1970s, he wishes to expose the top secrets of the U.S. Government’s involvement overseas from the Truman through Nixon administrations. He first leaks some information to the vaunted New York Times, but attention soon turns to The Washington Post, which at this juncture is considered more of a hometown paper. That paper is run by Katharine Graham (Streep) and she’s the first woman to run such an operation. She inherited the Post after the deaths of her father and husband. While the film’s attention is mostly centered on the impending giant story that they may break, we also witness the difficulties Graham experiences as a woman working in a man’s world. This provides some of the best moments and more examples of Streep’s limitless abilities as a performer.

Graham runs in the D.C. social circles and she’s close with many of the figures her journalists look to expose, including Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara (Bruce Greenwood). The paper’s editor is Ben Bradlee (Hanks), a hard charging type who doesn’t think of the corporate exposure landmines that go along with spilling these secrets. Graham must do so because her business is about to go up for public offering and President Nixon isn’t exactly warm-hearted when dealing with media types.

Therein lies the drama with The Post as Graham and Bradlee struggle to do the right thing. The pic clearly reveres it main subjects and the virtuous acts they took. It also adores the bygone and pre-digitized era of the news. There are lovingly crafted shots of the newspapers being developed for print and frenzied reporters furiously typing their copy to meet their deadline. We also witness occasional spurts of dialogue that border on preachy. Screenwriters Liz Hannah and Josh Singer craft a couple of monologues that could warrant a bright red MESSAGE signal across the screen while its actors are speaking.

That said, the story itself is inherently fascinating and it’s told in a well-crafted manner. There are plenty of actors who pop up in supporting roles, including a very nice performance from Bob Odenkirk as an editor who goes way back with Ellsberg and is instrumental in the paper’s expose. This is primarily the Streep and Hanks show, however. And in case you didn’t know, the two can act. Hanks is playing a part made most famous by Jason Robards in All the President’s Men (for which he won a gold statue). It is that movie that you may wish to draw comparisons with. The Post isn’t in that league, but few reach that level of greatness. The Post, rather, is exceedingly competent.

*** (out of four)

 

 

How to Be Single Movie Review

How to Be Single is about four single gals finding their way in the Big Apple and if that sounds like “Sex and the City”, you wouldn’t be wrong. There’s Alice (Dakota Johnson), our central Carrie character. Robin (Rebel Wilson) is the inappropriate Samantha like friend. Lucy (Alison Brie) is the Charlotte-ish hopeless romantic who’s constantly trolling dating sites for true love. And Meg (Leslie Mann) is the career woman (and Alice’s older sister) whose got it together, but realizes she needs a baby. Kind of like Miranda.

Alice is just embarking on her first dip into the single pool when she breaks up with her longtime boyfriend and sees what NYC has to offer. It includes a bartender (Anders Holm) that has the playa life down cold and a sweet widower and dad (Damon Wayans Jr.) still getting over his wife’s death. There’s also the ex-flame (Nicholas Braun) who keeps turning up. Truth be told, none of these relationships are terribly interesting or well-written and Dakota Johnson still seems to be struggling to infuse much personality into her performances. This is also a problem that plagued Fifty Shades of Grey, which was far more dreadful than this.

If anything, How to Be Single is just kind of dull and conventional. It sold itself as a raunch fest, but it’s not. My favorite moments involved Mann and her earnest younger boyfriend (a funny Jake Lacy), yet the script never succeeds in juggling its separate plot lines. More of those characters might have worked. Maybe. The screenwriters might have figured out a way to make them tiresome, too.

** (out of four)

 

How to Be Single Box Office Prediction

One year ago, Dakota Johnson became a huge star over President’s Day Weekend when Fifty Shades of Grey made an astounding $85 million over the Friday to Sunday portion of that frame. Now she’s back on screen on the same weekend with raunchy rom com How to Be Single alongside costars Rebel Wilson, Alison Brie, and Leslie Mann.

The film hopes to capitalize on Johnson and Wilson’s drawing power and ushering in a sizable female audience (while their male counterparts could be distracted with Deadpool or Zoolander No. 2). It also doesn’t hurt that Valentine’s Day falls on Sunday and it could perform well that day.

Single will still be lucky to gross a fourth of the business that Grey did when it spanked all competition last year. That said, I believe it could actually challenge the Zoolander follow-up for #2 (while Deadpool rules the charts). I’m putting it just slightly below what I believe that comedy sequel will do.

How to Be Single opening weekend prediction: $18.7 million

***Please note this prediction is for the Friday to Sunday portion of the weekend and not the full Friday to Monday President’s Day Weekend

For my Deadpool prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2016/02/03/deadpool-box-office-prediction/

For my Zoolander No. 2 prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2016/02/03/zoolander-no-2-box-office-prediction/