Bird Box Movie Review

Susanne Bier’s Bird Box, based on a 2014 novel by Josh Malerman, imagines a post apocalyptic world where we all must develop a blind side. How fitting, I suppose, that Sandra Bullock is the headliner. It is she and some of her cast mates that holds this concoction together, at least for a while.

We first meet Bullock’s Malorie as she instructs two young children that they are about to embark on a dangerous trip with her. She is soon rowing and rowing and rowing a boat not so gently down a choppy stream to an unknown destination. They’re all blindfolded.

A flashback to five years earlier finds the pregnant Malorie getting a checkup with her sister (Sarah Paulson). She seems none too excited about her impending delivery. Different complications arise as people start committing suicide suddenly all over the globe. It’s soon discovered opening your eyes and looking at some never seen creatures brings on the self violence.

Our soon to be parent manages to hole up with a group of strangers that includes the home’s boozy owner (John Malkovich), another expectant mom (Danielle Macdonald), and a war vet (Trevante Rhodes) who connects with Malorie. It’s in these initial scenes where Bird Box is at its most engrossing. There’s nothing terribly fresh here as the group figures out how to survive, but there’s some interesting characters and actors playing them to make it worthwhile. Jacki Weaver, Lil Rel Howery, and rapper Machine Gun Kelly are part of the eclectic mix as well.

This gets about an hour’s worth of mileage from its premise and the wrinkle of the sighted having to go blind is a newish twist once they venture out (thank goodness for GPS). Eric Heisserer’s screenplay never concerns itself with what the heck really happened to cause this anyway. We do know birds can sense the monsters. The unexplained phenomena of what did happen isn’t all that important, but total ignorance is a tad surprising. Heisserer did significantly superior work with his adapted script for Arrival.

The picture is as much an allegory about motherhood than it is a science fiction horror thriller. There’s also elements of M. Night Shyamalan’s unfortunate The Happening. It had more unintentional laughs than this, but it also found cooler ways for spellbound victims to off themselves.

Bullock’s performance is committed and she certainly makes this watchable. The Oscar winner has played maternal instinct impressively before (the already mentioned The Blind Side, Gravity) and we see it here. Yet the true gravity of this whole situation never feels as suspenseful as it quite should. Maybe it’s the details left unseen or maybe it’s the familiar themes we’ve seen plenty of times already.

**1/2 (out of four)

Blade Runner 2049 Movie Review

1982’s Blade Runner has been reworked and remastered more in the past three decades plus than most classic albums. Along with Alien, director Ridley Scott created a one two punch of science fiction classics in a span of just three years. While the former spawned a series of sequels and offshoots, it’s not until 35 years later that a proper Blade Runner sequel has arrived.

Mr. Scott serves as executive producer because he was busy making the mediocre Alien: Covenant. So it’s Denis Villeneuve handling behind the camera duties one year after his highly rewarding alien pic Arrival. He proves himself as a natural choice to revisit this dystopian future that’s been an incredible influence on many sci-fi experiences that followed.

That influence has mostly been in its bleak look and astonishing production design. 2049, as the title tells us, takes place 30 years after what we saw in the early 1980s. Our central character is K (Ryan Gosling), a replicant who serves the LAPD like Deckard (Harrison Ford) in the original. These days, K’s kind are programmed to be more obedient and their primary function is in slave labor. K’s day job involves hunting down old school replicants. In the ultra stylish night, he invents a relationship with the gorgeous holograph Joi (Ana de Armas).

One of K’s assignments leads to a startling discovery that suggests replicants have the ability to procreate. The existence of a being of that ilk is troubling to K’s boss (Robin Wright), fearing a war will break out between humans and replicants. The revelation also intrigues Wallace (Jared Leto), the blind owner of the corporation that manufactures the product. He envisions this as a considerable financial opportunity and tasks his chief enforcer (Sylvia Hoeks) to find the now grown child.

This all eventually leads back to Deckard, with Ford completing a trifecta of revisiting signature late seventies and early eighties roles. It also involves his romantic interest Sean Young from the original. She returns in the archival footage manner. 2049 expands the Blade Runner universe and also expands the running time, clocking in nearly 45 minutes longer than part 1. In that respect, the sequel takes a bit longer to get its motor running.

Luckily for us, the visuals that were so special 35 years ago are remarkable here as well. There are sequences that are bleakly beautiful. Those expecting a full update on Deckard’s dealings may be surprised to find he doesn’t appear until about two-thirds through the proceedings. This is Gosling’s picture to carry most of the way and he does so with a quiet intensity.

Like Villeneuve’s Arrival, this is a sci-fi venture more steeped in its themes than action sequences. Violence comes in short and sudden bursts and that’s in line with two of the filmmaker’s other efforts Prisoners and Sicario. It’s no accident that I’m comparing 2049 just as much to those three movies as I am with the Scott original. Villeneuve succeeds in making this long gestating follow-up his own while clearly valuing an adoration of the first. That doesn’t happen too often as even Scott has fallen short with his return to Alien world. The legions of admirers of what came 35 years ago should be pleased.

***1/2 (out of four)

The Best Picture Wouldn’t Have Been Contenders: 2009-2017

A couple of days back on the blog, I speculated about what films in the 21st century would have been nominated for Best Picture prior to a rule change in 2009. As a refresher, nearly a decade ago, the Academy changed its Best Picture Nominees from a finite five to anywhere between five to ten. In that time frame, the magic number most years has been nine (it was actually a finite 10 for 2009 and 2010 before the fluctuation change). My recent post selected two pictures from 1990-2008 that I believe would have been nominated. You can find that post here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2018/08/03/the-best-picture-coulda-been-contenders-1990-2008/

Today comes the inverse of that column. What if the rule had never been altered? What if the last nine Oscar ceremonies honored just five features?

In making these picks, there’s obviously one extremely easy selection – the movie that won. In naming the other four, I’m looking at factors such as number of other nods it received. For instance, if a Director won that award for their work and the Picture went to something else, that director’s film is in.

So let’s get to it in this alternative Oscar universe. I’ll be reminding you all the pictures recognized and then showing my final five.

2009

The Actual Nominees:

The Hurt Locker (Winner), Avatar, The Blind Side, District 9, An Education, Inglourious Basterds, Precious, A Serious Man, Up, Up in the Air

Had It Been Five:

The Hurt Locker, Avatar, Inglourious Basterds, Precious, Up in the Air

2010

The Actual Nominees:

The King’s Speech (W), 127 Hours, Black Swan, The Fighter, Inception, The Kids Are All Right, The Social Network, Toy Story 3, True Grit, Winter’s Bone

Had It Been Five:

The King’s Speech, The Fighter, Inception, The Social Network, True Grit

2011

The Actual Nominees:

The Artist (W), The Descendants, Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, The Help, Hugo, Midnight in Paris, Moneyball, The Tree of Life, War Horse

Had It Been Five:

The Artist, The Descendants, The Help, Hugo, Midnight in Paris

2012

The Actual Nominees:

Argo (W), Amour, Beasts of the Southern Wild, Django Unchained, Les Miserables, Life of Pi, Lincoln, Silver Linings Playbook, Zero Dark Thirty

Had It Been Five:

Argo, Les Miserables, Life of Pi, Lincoln, Silver Linings Playbook

2013

The Actual Nominees:

12 Years a Slave (W), American Hustle, Captain Phillips, Dallas Buyers Club, Gravity, Her, Nebraska, Philomena, The Wolf of Wall Street

Had It Been Five:

12 Years a Slave, American Hustle, Gravity, Nebraska, The Wolf of Wall Street

2014

The Actual Nominees:

Birdman (W), American Sniper, Boyhood, The Grand Budapest Hotel, The Imitation Game, Selma, The Theory of Everything, Whiplash

Had It Been Five:

Birdman, American Sniper, Boyhood, The Grand Budapest Hotel, The Imitation Game

2015

The Actual Nominees:

Spotlight (W), The Big Short, Bridge of Spies, Brooklyn, Mad Max: Fury Road, The Martian, The Revenant, Room

Had It Been Five:

Spotlight, The Big Short, Mad Max: Fury Road, The Martian, The Revenant

2016

The Actual Nominees:

Moonlight (W), Arrival, Fences, Hacksaw Ridge, Hell or High Water, Hidden Figures, La La Land, Lion, Manchester by the Sea

Had It Been Five:

Moonlight, Arrival, La La Land, Lion, Manchester by the Sea

2017

The Actual Nominees:

The Shape of Water (W), Call Me by Your Name, Darkest Hour, Dunkirk, Get Out, Lady Bird, Phantom Thread, The Post, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Had It Been Five:

The Shape of Water, Dunkirk, Get Out, Lady Bird, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

And there you have it with my posts on the “what if” Best Picture happenings in Oscar world!

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.

Sicario: Day of the Soldado Box Office Prediction

Not your traditional summer sequel involving superheroes, dinosaurs or animated characters, Sicario: Day of the Soldado arrives in theaters next weekend and hopes to serve as counter programming to said seasonal blockbusters. The pic is a follow-up to 2015’s Sicario, Denis Villeneuve’s critically acclaimed crime thriller that garnered three Oscar nominations. Benicio del Toro and Josh Brolin (this summer’s reigning sequel king) reprise their roles from the original, though Emily Blunt does not appear (she’s been busy with A Quiet Place and Mary Poppins Returns). New costars include Isabela Moner, Jeffrey Donovan, Catherine Keener, and Matthew Modine. As for Villeneuve, he’s moved onto Arrival and Blade Runner 2049 and Italian director Stefano Sollima is now on board. The original’s screenwriter, Taylor Sheridan (who also is responsible for Hell or High Water and Wind River), is back penning this sequel.

Sicario opened in the fall of 2015 and its first wide release weekend brought in $12.1 million with an eventual gross of over $46 million domestically (it earned $85 million total worldwide against a reported budget of $30 million). Soldado may manage to slightly outpace that debut number of part 1 and a sequel is apparently already in the works. That premiere could put it in a battle for third place with the weekend’s other newcomers (Uncle Drew) and behind Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom and Incredibles 2.

Sicario: Day of the Soldado opening weekend prediction: $13.8 million

For my Uncle Drew prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2018/06/19/uncle-drew-box-office-prediction/

Oscar Watch: Blade Runner 2049

24 hours can change the dynamic considerably at this time in the Oscar season. When I made my weekly Oscar predictions yesterday, Richard Linklater’s Last Flag Flying was ranked 8th in my Best Picture possibilities with Blade Runner 2049 outside at #13.

Yesterday, support for Flag wavered a bit with a mixed critical reaction stemming from the New York Film Festival. On the other hand, Blade has sharpened its chances with reviews coming out this morning. Denis Villeneuve’s continuation of Ridley Scott’s classic sci-fi pic from 35 years ago is drawing raves (it’s at 97% currently on Rotten Tomatoes). The word “masterpiece” has been thrown around by some critics.

Bottom line: its chances for a Best Picture nomination have risen dramatically. Just last year, Villeneuve’s Arrival scored eight nominations, including Picture and Director. That could happen here again. While I doubt any of the actors (including Ryan Gosling and the return of Harrison Ford in the role of Deckard) will hear their names called, there are other races in play. This includes Adapted Screenplay, Production Design, Editing, both Sound categories, and Visual Effects (where it will almost certainly be named).

And then there’s Cinematography. Again, a nomination for its cinematographer Roger Deakins seems virtually assured. If so, it will mark his 14th nomination. The list of films he was nominated for? The Shawshank Redemption, Fargo, Kundun, O Brother, Where Art Thou?, The Man Who Wasn’t There, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, No Country for Old Men, The Reader, True Grit, Skyfall, Prisoners, Unbroken and Sicario. Number of wins? 0. There’s definitely a feeling that Mr. Deakins is long overdue for his gold statue and the 14th time could be the charm.

When I made my box office prediction for 2049 earlier this week, I compared my $44.1 opening weekend estimate to Mad Max: Fury Road from two years ago. As of this morning, I’m thinking the opportunity is there for it to come close to Fury‘s 10 Oscar nominations too.

My Oscar Watch posts will continue…

Blade Runner 2049 Box Office Prediction

Blogger’s Note (10/04/17): I have revised my estimate up from $44.1 million to $52.1 million

Arriving 35 years after Ridley Scott’s now classic science fiction work, Blade Runner 2049 hits theaters next weekend. The sequel has been in development for pretty much the entire 21st century. The reported $185 million production is headlined by Ryan Gosling as an LAPD officer in a dystopian future who ends up teaming with original Blade Runner Deckard, played by Harrison Ford. Denis Villeneuve, hot off his Oscar nominated hit Arrival, handles directorial duties with Mr. Scott executive producing. Costars include Jared Leto, Ana de Armas, Robin Wright, and Dave Bautista. 

Fans of the 1982 original are many as Blade Runner has become a beloved genre pic. One legitimate question: are younger audiences familiar enough with the source material? It may not matter much as early word-of-mouth for 2049 is very encouraging. Official reviews won’t be out until next week, but screenings have indicated this is a satisfying visual feast like its predecessor.

So how high can this open? The current October opening record belongs to Gravity at $55 million. Even with the positive buzz, I don’t see 2049 running that high. Tracking has indicated $40-$45 million and that sounds about right. In fact, a $45 million opening would match the debut of 2015’s Mad Max: Fury Road, another entry in a franchise that was dormant for decades and made a rousing return.

I’ll put this just under that mark for what should be a solid opening for Columbia Pictures, as it’s likely to perform well overseas too.

Blade Runner 2049 opening weekend prediction: $44.1 million

For my The Mountain Between Us prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2017/09/27/the-mountain-between-us-box-office-prediction/

For my My Little Pony: The Movie prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2017/09/28/my-little-pony-the-movie-box-office-prediction/