Disney’s The Little Mermaid surfaces in theaters over this Memorial weekend and it hopes to dominate the box office like the Beauty and the Beast and The Lion King live-action versions did. Rob Marshall, Oscar-winning director of Chicago who recently helmed Mary Poppins Returns, is behind the camera. Halle Bailey stars as Ariel with Melissa McCarthy, Jonah Hauer-King, Daveed Diggs, Awkwafina, Jacob Tremblay, Noma Dumezweni, and Javier Bardem among the supporting players.
The musical fantasy is, of course, a remake of 1989’s classic that won Oscars for Score and Original Song (“Under the Sea”). Another tune (“Kiss the Girl”) was also in contention. 34 years ago, Best Animated Feature didn’t exist at the Academy Awards. If it had, Mermaid almost certainly would’ve won (unless you think All Dogs Go to Heaven might have managed a shocking upset).
Could this Mermaid swim into contention for the 96th ceremony? Over the past decade, several efforts in this sub-genre have been nominated in different races. 2015’s Cinderella was up for its Costume Design. 2016’s The Jungle Book won Visual Effects. The following year it was Beauty and the Beast mentioned in Costume Design and Production Design. The Lion King in 2019 received a Visual Effects nod and 2021’s Cruella won Costume Design and contended in Makeup and Hairstyling.
Reviews for Mermaid are mixed with a 69% Rotten Tomatoes score. That’s better than The Lion King (52%) for example but nowhere near Jungle Book (94%). Some of the criticism is for its visual look and I’m skeptical it places among the final five. I’m also not feeling the love in the other aforementioned categories.
Original Song could be the saving grace. There are three new ditties in the remake with Bailey performing the ballad “For the First Time”. I would think it would be the track that the Mouse Factory campaigns for.
A lot of critics are praising Bailey herself. I highly doubt she is a possibility for Best Actress at the Oscars. However, a nom in Musical/Comedy at the Golden Globes is doable depending on the competition in the next few months. My Oscar Prediction posts will continue…
Back in 1989, Disney’s animated underwater musical fantasy The Little Mermaid helped usher in a new golden era for the studio. Over the past few years, the Mouse Factory has made a habit out of releasing live-action renderings of those classics. This includes the pics that immediately followed Mermaid in Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, and The Lion King.
It’s Ariel’s turn this Memorial Day weekend with Halle Bailey in the title role. Melissa McCarthy is Ursula and other supporting players include Jonah Hauer-King, Daveed Diggs, Awkwafina, Jacob Tremblay, Noma Dumezweni, and Javier Bardem. Rob Marshall, Oscar winning maker of Chicago as well as Mary Poppins Returns, directs.
Disney has mostly seen boffo results with this subgenre. This include four premieres over nine figures: 2016’s The Jungle Book ($103M), 2017’s Beauty and the Beast ($174M) and Aladdin ($116M) and The Lion King ($191M) from 2019. For Aladdin, that number represents the four-day Memorial weekend haul. Mermaid looks to swim in a similar financial pool as that effort. Anything below $100M would be a letdown.
I figure Mermaid will easily accomplish that goal. The original is beloved enough that the grown-ups who saw it 30 plus years ago should eagerly take their young ones. I’ll say the extended Friday to Monday gross may get beyond $130M.
The Little Mermaid opening weekend prediction: $132.1 million (Friday to Monday estimate)
When it comes to the quality of humor in Renfield, the ska’s the limit. There are lame jokes about how ska music sucks. The impression I get from this horror comedy is they could’ve let Nicolas Cage vamp as Dracula for an hour and a half and it would’ve been better. It wouldn’t take much as this is a mighty, mighty letdown.
Renfield (Nicholas Hoult) has been the servant to Cage’s Dracula for over 100 years and he’s finally ready to hang it up. The decades old duo now reside in subterranean New Orleans. The famed vampire depends on his employee for victims to gorge on. The more innocent they are (he requests a busload of cheerleaders or group of nuns), the more power he has. Renfield, meanwhile, stays nourished by feasting on bugs. His emotional nourishment comes from a 12-step group focused on co-dependency.
If this concept sounds like a clever angle on this oft told story, it is. Director Chris McKay and screenwriter Ryan Ridley can’t figure out how to make it enjoyable. Much of the runtime takes the light away from Cage, whose performance is easily the strongest. Instead we get a yawn inducing main plot teaming Renfield up with Awkwafina’s determined bayou cop Rebecca. She’s trying to bring down the Lobo crime family led by matriarch Bellafrancesca (Shohreh Aghdashloo) and hotshot son Teddy (Ben Schwartz). That storyline is filled with wretched overacting (not the glorious kind that Cage brings) with the Lobo’s as the worst offenders. There are shades of Eddie Murphy’s middling (but better) Vampire in Brooklyn in the Mob business. Awkwafina, on the other hand, underplays her part. It’s almost as if she’s not there. The script barely attempts romantic sparks between her and Renfield and there’s a family dynamic involving her FBI agent sister that is completely tacked on. I suspect her sibling might have had a larger role in the original draft and was cut. Hoult is a talented performer in need of a sharper role.
The action sequences are sloppily shot and edited though if it’s spurting blood you want, your thirst might be occasionally quenched. Cage is game and provides some laughs, but he’s trapped in the rubbish. Does this come off as a giant missed opportunity? No doubt.
Reviews are out for this Friday’s Renfield and the general consensus is that it doesn’t suck. From The Lego Batman Movie and The Tomorrow War maker Chris McKay, Nicolas Cage stars as Dracula with Nicholas Hoult as his title character employee. Awkwafina, Ben Schwartz, Adrian Martinez, and Shohreh Aghdashloo costar.
With a 72% Rotten Tomatoes score, the bulk of the praise is going to Cage for his unsurprisingly demented work as the iconic vampire. Universal is certainly not looking at this as an awards contender, but it’s fair to wonder whether a tech race like Makeup and Hairstyling could be in play. Horror comedies have seen past successes there, including 80s winners An American Werewolf in London and Beetlejuice. In recent years, the genre has been underrepresented. I wouldn’t expect Renfield to change that, but it’s at least possible. My Oscar Prediction posts will continue…
Universal Pictures is hoping horror and comedy fans add Renfield to their cinematic menu when it debuts April 14th. Nicholas Hoult stars as the title character and beleaguered assistant to Nicolas Cage’s Count Dracula. Chris McKay, who made The Lego Batman Movie and The Tomorrow War, directs. Costars include Awkwafina, Ben Schwartz, Adrian Martinez, and Shohreh Aghdashloo.
Early critical reaction is encouraging with an 89% Rotten Tomatoes rating. Will audiences sink their teeth into it? Renfield arrives on the same day as The Pope’s Exorcist with Russell Crowe and it could siphon away genre fans looking for a scary experience minus the laughs. Both pics hit multiplexes a week before Evil Dead Rise and some fright fest fans may simply wait for that.
Decent word-of-mouth could get this to high teens or even $20 million in the best case scenario. I’ll say double digits to low teens is likelier given the competition.
Renfield opening weekend prediction: $12.2 million
For my The Pope’s Exorcist prediction, click here:
We’re not yet a third of the way into 2022 and it’s at least feasible that three of the five eventual Best Animated Feature nominees will have been released. DreamWorks Animation’s The Bad Guys opens this Friday and with a 92% Rotten Tomatoes score, it shouldn’t be counted out for inclusion.
It joins the already out Turning Red (Disney) and Apollo 10 1/2 (Netflix) as viable contenders for the prize. None are shoo-in nominees, but all three had their chances assisted today with the announcement that Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse has been pushed to 2023.
Bottom line: there’s two-thirds of the year left for other hopefuls to emerge, but The Bad Guys has a fighting shot to make the cut. My Oscar Predictions posts will continue…
Having already premiered to decent grosses overseas, DreamWorks Animation is hoping for good returns for The Bad Guys when it debuts domestically on April 22nd. From first-time director Pierre Perifel, the crime comedy features the voices of Sam Rockwell, Marc Maron, Anthony Ramos, Craig Robinson, Awkwafina, Richard Ayoade, and Zazie Beetz.
Based on a series of children’s graphic novels, Guys arrives during an April with other high-profile family offerings. Sonic the Hedgehog 2 will be in its third weekend with Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore in its sophomore frame.
That should dilute the money that this brings in. Impressive reviews (94% currently on Rotten Tomatoes), however, could help this open or perhaps exceed its expected $10-15 million range. I’ll give it the slight benefit of the doubt.
The Bad Guys opening weekend prediction: $16.7 million
Benjamin Cleary’s Swan Song is told through the eyes of two characters in a near future setting. In years approaching, it seems that our contact lenses serve as cameras allowing remote bystanders to witness the interactions of others. This comes into play with a tale of clones and impending loss.
Cameron Turner (Mahershala Ali) is facing a quandary that’s slightly less believable than his disposable camcorders. Diagnosed with a terminal illness, he struggles with how to tell his wife Poppy (Ali’s Moonlight costar Naomie Harris in another fine performance). With a young child and another on the way, an alternative solution is presented. Kindly Dr. Scott (Glenn Close) can make an exact copy of him. Cameron would face his final days at a lush and remote medical facility. Poppy and the rest of the family would have no idea.
At Dr. Scott’s locale, he meets patient #2 Kate (Awkwafina). He would be third. Away from it, Cameron is introduced to her engineered doppelgänger. That interaction helps push him to the yes column. Yet when he meets the clone called Jack (also played by Ali, naturally) – doubts are cast.
Song features plenty of flashbacks showing Cameron’s existence in healthier days. This includes his meet cute with Poppy involving a candy bar. It gets more dramatic when his eventual spouse is dealt a devastating loss.
The new technology would prevent that from happening and Cleary’s screenplay mostly succeeds in navigating the sticky wicket ethical issues presented. A two-time Oscar winner given his first sole leading role, Ali is excellent. He has the assignment of playing two characters. They may be the same person, but they have different motivations at various times. That’s not an easy feat to pull off and Ali passes the test impressively with subtle grace.
Swan Song is indeed with a tearjerker that manages to earn them with much credit to its lead(s). Cleary is not overly clear about how this enterprise of Xeroxing yourself came to be. It actually works in the picture’s favor. I’m not sure those explorations could have been more revelatory from those we’ve seen in other sci-fi tales with similar themes. Instead we are presented with Cameron’s predicament in real time and with the understandable conflicts he undergoes as his decision clock winds down before our eyes.
Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is planted firmly in mid-tier Marvel territory and that’s to say it’s quite an enjoyable origin spectacle with humorous moments sprinkled in. The formula is adhered to, but there’s enough quality entertainment to make it worthwhile. We expect an abundance of Daddy issues in our MCU tales and we sure get it. What makes it new(ish) is the patriarchal villain is given dimensions that prevent another franchise feature where the bad guy is the weakest character (an attribute that also pertained to Black Panther).
Shaun (Simu Liu) has a fascinating backstory for a San Francisco valet. He’s rather aimless in his pursuits and seems content parking whips of the wealthy with his bestie Katy (Awkwafina, providing sturdy comic relief). He grew up overseas as Shang-Chi, the heir to his father Wenwu’s (Tony Leung) world conquering dynasty. Dad is an immortal ruler who fooled around and fell in love with Ying Li (Fala Chen). Shang-Chi is the first born with sister Xi Xialing following. After some past associates of Wenwu off Mom, our teenage title character is eventually given the choice to exact revenge or abandon his birthright. He chooses the latter but can’t escape his upbringing when Papa comes calling.
That’s when Shang-Chi is forced to show Katy that he’s a well trained martial arts master and superhero in waiting during a meticulously choreographed action sequence aboard a bus. He also tracks down his estranged sister (Meng’er Zhang) who now runs an underground fighting circuit. They’re reunited with Wenwu, whose wrists are adorned with the ten rings that give him his otherworldly powers. If you need some context for MCU purposes, think of them as like Infinity Stones but they… actually just think Infinity Stones and you should be fine.
Wenwu is convinced that their departed matriarch is still alive and being held captive in Ta Lo, a mystical place filled with CG beasts that’s only reachable through an ever shifting forest. His kids aren’t buying it and they put it upon themselves to stop Dad, his henchmen, and his Stones (sorry… Rings) from their nefarious land acquisition. In Ta Lo, they are subject to more training from their aunt (the welcome sight of Michelle Yeoh).
Like the karaoke ditties that Shaun and Katy drunkenly belt after a day’s work, this material has been covered better before. We are in rare MCU territory with nearly all never before seen characters (though there’s a few recognizable surprise appearances that I won’t spoil). The faces may change yet their circumstances remain the same. Part of Rings is told through flashbacks that feel familiar. They’re brief enough that they generally don’t weigh down the forward momentum.
Shang-Chi and Xi Xialing are clearly being set up for further duty in this universe and I’d say the jury is still out on how effective they’ll be as leaders of the new Marvel school. Tony Leung, a legend in Chinese cinema, makes for a compelling villain with more layers than your run-of-the-mill MCU antagonist.
By the time we reach the climax, Rings is hampered with some indecipherable and visually unappealing CG mayhem. That serves as an unfortunate drag on the proceedings, but much of what precedes it is a pleasurable intro to some new players that I’m anxious to see again.
Playing at AFI Fest ahead of its December 17th streaming premiere on Apple TV, early word is out for the futuristic drama Swan Song. Marking the feature length directorial debut for Benjamin Cleary (who won the Oscar for Live Action Short Film in 2015 for Stutterer), Mahershala Ali stars as a terminally ill man faced with decision of cloning himself. Naomie Harris, Glenn Close, and Awkwafina costar.
Based on a rather small sampling of critical reaction, the buzz seems mixed. Some reviewers are hailing it as an effective weepie while others are more soft in their praise. The bulk of write-ups are quick to point out the fine work from Ali and Harris. This isn’t their first collaboration. Five years ago, Ali knocked out all competitors to win Supporting Actor for Moonlight. Two years later, he would again be victorious in the same race for Green Book. Harris made the cut in Supporting Actress for Moonlight, but ultimately lost to Viola Davis for Fences.
With two gold statues to his name, it’s hard to fathom this is Ali’s inaugural sole lead cinematic part. Apple will probably mount an awards push for him and Harris. However, I suspect it could be too late in the game for either to have a legit chance and the varied reaction to the quality of the pic itself won’t help. My Oscar Prediction posts for the films of 2021 will continue…