Can Rocketman Contend?

Something struck me as I was preparing my weekly Oscar predictions that will be up on the blog later today. At this late October date in 2018, Bohemian Rhapsody was about to open. Reviews had trickled out and advance word of mouth was quite mixed. The Freddie Mercury biopic ended up at just 61% on Rotten Tomatoes. Yet it turned out to be a box office phenomenon with a $51 million debut and $216 eventual domestic gross.

Looking over my weekly projections from a year ago, Rhapsody wasn’t even in my top 25 possibilities for Best Picture. And Rami Malek was listed at #6 in Best Actor, just on the outside looking in. He ended up winning. It also emerged victorious in Editing, Sound Editing, and Sound Mixing. The only race in which it was nominated for and didn’t win was Picture. Bohemian Rhapsody, despite its middling critical reaction, was bestowed with four gold statues and that’s more than any other movie last year.

This brings us to Rocketman. The Elton John biopic premiered in May at the Cannes Film Festival just prior to its summer rollout. Reviews were stronger (89% on RT). However, while it was a solid performer financially at $96 million, those aren’t rhapsodic numbers. Maybe it came out too early in the year because Oscar prognosticators (including me) are not seeing it as much of a factor in the awards derby.

Still I can’t help but wonder if we’re shortchanging it considering the Academy love for Bohemian. I currently only have Rocketman slated for nods in both Sound races and Original Song (the Elton and Taron Egerton duet “(Im Gonna) Love Me Again”).

I don’t think it has much of a chance at the moment to break into the Best Picture race (it’s not in my top 15). Taron Egerton is at #7 (even behind Malek at this point a year ago) on my chart. I do ponder, though, whether there’s an outside shot that Rocketman could still be standing as the dust settles.

Rocketman Movie Review

Rocketman, the biopic of legendary piano man Elton John, exists in familiar territory. Yet it manages to do so in an often inventive fashion with a commanding performance by its lead. The pic is directed by Dexter Fletcher, who filled in on Bohemian Rhapsody when Bryan Singer was dumped. They share similar themes of a shy boy coming into his own as an eventual iconic music figure. Unlike Rhapsody, Taron Egerton quite capably and bravely provides the vocal work of the man he’s playing.

The opening finds Elton in a high place both literally and figuratively as he’s about to once again play to a sold out crowd. He’s also at a low in terms of multiple kinds of addiction. Finally asking for help via Alcoholics Anonymous, Lee Hall’s screenplay then provides the framework for flashbacks of his life. It begins with him as the pint sized Reginald Dwight in 1950s England. He’s ignored by his father (Steven Mackintosh) and treated with ambivalence by his mum (Bryce Dallas Howard). His discovery of the piano is a watershed moment. Reginald has natural talent but a laser focus on perfecting the craft.

His most significant encounter comes through Bernie Taupin (Jamie Bell). He writes the songs and Elton provides the melodies. Bernie is often the only figure in his life who genuinely cares about the newly christened Elton. Fighting through timidity, the newly named vocalist gets loud on the mic and with his outfits. Fame, fortune, and drug addiction follow as they so frequently do.

Those plot points are as known as the lyrics to many Elton tunes. Lucky for us, this isn’t just about a musician. It’s a genuine musical with tightly choreographed numbers set to high energy bangers like “Saturday Night’s Alright” and “The Bitch is Back” and contemplative pieces like “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down On Me” and the title track. It has the second best movie scene set to “Tiny Dancer”. It’s a tall order to top Almost Famous.

Elton’s love life and homosexuality are explored from an ill-conceived marriage to a woman to his turbulent romance with manager John Reid (Richard Madden). By the time “I’m Still Standing” rises over the speakers, I felt pretty satisfied with this journey through his career and road to sobriety. There’s certainly a theme of Elton forging through his issues and creating his own reality with his outlandish persona. He may not have written all of the words that skyrocketed him to superstardom, but he provided the unforgettable notes. Rocketman often succeeds at capturing them.

*** (out of four)

Rocketman Box Office Prediction

After a stellar premiere at the Cannes Film Festival, Rocketman plays its way into theaters next weekend. The long planned biopic of legendary piano man Elton John starring Taron Egerton comes on the heels of similar genre entry and smash hit Bohemian Rhapsody. It even shares a director in Dexter Fletcher, who filled in on the Freddie Mercury tale after Bryan Singer was dropped from the project. Costars here include Jamie Bell, Richard Madden, and Bryce Dallas Howard.

The film’s French Riviera rollout resulted in praise for Egerton. An Oscar nod for him (especially after Rami Malek won in 2018 as Mercury) is certainly feasible. Some reviews were mixed, but this currently holds an 88% Rotten Tomatoes score.

As mentioned, the easiest comp is Rhapsody, which debuted to an amazing $51 million in November with $216 million total domestically. However, while buzz is strong here, it likely won’t reach those heights in the busy summer season. I still think mid to high 30s can be reached and that would have Elton’s story still standing tall.

Rocketman opening weekend prediction: $36.1 million

For my Godzilla: King of the Monsters prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2019/05/23/godzilla-king-of-the-monsters-box-office-prediction/

For my Ma prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2019/05/24/ma-box-office-prediction/

Oscar Watch: Rocketman

The Cannes Film Festival is in full swing over in France and the highest profile feature so far has screened (with Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood following next week). That would be Rocketman, a flashy musical biopic featuring Taron Egerton as legendary performer Elton John. Costars include Jamie Bell, Richard Madden, and Bryce Dallas Howard.

Ahead of its May 31st stateside bow, festival goers rewarded the pic with a lengthy standing ovation (with Elton and Egerton attending). This might prove to be an audience pleaser. Some early reviews are glowing while others are more mixed.

Box office could be strong, but will this blast off with awards voters? We have very recent history to consider. I’m referring, of course, to last year’s Bohemian Rhapsody. Despite its rocky critical reaction, that film was a hit with audiences and Oscar voters. The Freddie Mercury biopic ended up winning four gold statues, including Rami Malek’s portrayal of the Queen frontman in Best Actor.

Rhapsody made an astonishing $903 million worldwide. Rocketman may not reach that territory. If it does, it could be impossible to ignore. Yet even if it turns out to be a sizable crowd favorite, Academy voters could nominate this in a variety of categories. That includes Picture, Actor, and the sound races (for which Bohemian was victorious in both). The comparisons between Rhapsody and Rocketman don’t end there. Dexter Fletcher took over directorial duties from Bryan Singer on the former. He is behind the camera again for the latter.

Bottom line: there’s a chance that voters might not honor Mr. John like they did Mr. Mercury, but Cannes reaction at least indicates it’s a possibility. My Oscar Watch posts will continue…

A Dog’s Way Home Box Office Prediction

Sony Pictures is hoping A Dog’s Way Home will be a good boy next weekend when it hits theaters. The film tracks a pup trying to get back to his owner with a cast including Ashley Judd, Edward James Olmos, Alexandra Shipp, Wes Studi, and Bryce Dallas Howard voicing the adorable title character. Charles Martin Smith, who is no stranger to animal tales having made Dolphin Tale and its sequel, directs.

When looking at recent Hollywood canine creations, there’s a wide range of possibilities in comparisons. Two years ago, A Dog’s Purpose took in just over $18 million out of the gate. In the summer of 2017, Megan Leavey disappointed with just under $4 million. This past summer, Dog Days managed just $2.5 million.

My feeling is that this will perform closer to Purpose and not the other features mentioned. However, I’ll say a double digits to low teens range is as far as the opening leash goes.

A Dog’s Way Home opening weekend prediction: $12.8 million

For my The Upside prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2019/01/02/the-upside-box-office-prediction/

For my Replicas prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2019/01/03/replicas-box-office-prediction/

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom Movie Review

The central theme of the Jurassic franchise is whether the scientific re-creation of dinosaurs for profit is enough reason to justify their existence. Of course, the real reason these movies exist is so we can gaze upon glorious CG creatures that took our breath away 25 years ago in Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic Park. Three years ago, Colin Trevorrow gave us Jurassic World. It did just enough to tap into our nostalgia for the original while keeping another central theme prominent in all series entries – the humans are less interesting than their prehistoric counterparts.

In the inevitable sequel Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, we have a newer problem in that the dinosaurs are becoming increasingly less fascinating. When we left that theme park in 2015, it was in tatters due to the havoc wrought by its main attractions. We’re informed that the dinos still roam the deserted Isla Nublar and there’s a political debate as to what to do with them. That conversation is accelerated as a volcano is about to erupt on the island and incinerate everything. As audience members, let’s just choose to forget that even if the park had become successful and free of T-Rex breakouts, it would’ve only existed for three years because of that volcano. We don’t watch Jurassic pics for logic, after all.

The impending meltdown gets the attention of Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard), the park’s former operations manager, who’s now an advocate for the dinosaurs survival. Her nephews from Jurassic World aren’t seen or mentioned. Perhaps they were smart enough to want nothing to do with all this. She’s recruited by Ben Lockwood (James Cromwell), the ailing former partner of the late John Hammond, to gather up Isla Nublar’s famous residents. Claire recruits her ex-flame and dino whisperer Owen (Chris Pratt) to join her, along with a ragtag group of assistants and military types led by mercenary and hunter Ted Levine. It turns out Lockwood’s assistant (Rafe Spall, a rather bland villain) might have conjured up other ideas for the creatures true purposes. Oh and Lockwood has a granddaughter Maisie (Isabella Sermon). Kids in Jurassic flicks are mandatory. She’s got a spotty British accent and an eventual revelation about her character that is downright bonkers.

Our return to Jurassic World does allow for a couple imaginative action sequences that are well choreographed and filmed by franchise newcomer J.A. Bayona (Trevorrow isn’t behind the camera but has co-writing credit). In the second half, the pic moves to a more insulated setting. This section is less satisfying. While Bayona and company get a wee bit of credit for trying something different, the execution falters.

That’s the real issue here. 25 summers ago, the visuals of Jurassic Park were brand new and stunning. The technology, while still state of the art, isn’t fresh anymore. Human characters here aren’t compelling either. The dynamic between Pratt and Howard is as dull as before. Jeff Goldblum turns up as Dr. Malcolm for the first time since 1997’s The Lost World, but his presence is brief and forgettable. What wowed us a quarter century ago is now a listless undertaking occasionally punctuated by genuine excitement. Put another way, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom has a tough time justifying its existence.

** (out of four)

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom Box Office Prediction

Blogger’s Note (06/15): I am revising my prediction down from $155.4 million to $140.4 million

Arriving three years after its predecessor set a series of box office records, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom looks to flex its dino might next weekend. The fifth picture in the massive franchise that just turned 25 years old, Kingdom is the sequel to Jurassic World and brings back Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard, and Jeff Goldblum (for the first time since 1997’s The Lost World). New cast members include Rafe Spall, Justice Smith, Daniella Pineda, James Cromwell, Toby Jones, and Ted Levine. J.A. Bayona takes over directorial duties from Colin Trevorrow.

The history of this franchise setting opening weekend milestones is significant. Steven Spielberg’s original in 1993 had the largest debut ever at $47 million a quarter century ago. The Lost World would achieve the same honor four years later with $72 million. And, of course, Jurassic World stunned prognosticators in 2015 with $208 million out of the gate, which stood as the greatest premiere until Star Wars: The Force Awakens topped it six months later.

Fallen Kingdom will not and is not expected to break records. Jurassic World seemed to have its stars aligned for a spectacular opening. It had been nearly a decade and a half since the previous installment and the nostalgia factor was off the charts. Mostly positive reviews didn’t hurt and Mr. Pratt was coming off a star making role in Guardians of the Galaxy.

Critical reaction is mixed. The sequel currently sits at 59% on Rotten Tomatoes (World got to 71%). The film is already out in a number of foreign markets and it earned $151 million worldwide over the weekend (a bit above expectations).

The stateside tracking for Kingdom is between $130-$150 million. My general feeling is that this franchise has continually exceeded expectations and may do so here, albeit not by much. Jurassic World was a phenomenon while this is looked at as another summer sequel. It just happens to be one with a huge fan base who love returning to see these CG creatures.

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom opening weekend prediction: $140.4 million

Oscar Watch – Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom

A quarter century after Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic Park thrilled audiences with its eye-popping visuals, the fifth entry in the franchise arrives domestically two weeks from Friday. However, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom is out tomorrow in the United Kingdom, so critical reaction is present. The verdict? Mixed. Kingdom currently sits at 65% on Rotten Tomatoes (predecessor Jurassic World ended up with 71%).

No Oscar prognosticator looked at this as Best Picture material. This series is all about the potential for technical recognition. The 1993 original was nominated for and won three gold statues: Sound Editing, Sound Mixing, and Visual Effects. For those around at the time, Park was an undeniable marvel with said visuals and the sounds of the dinosaurs wreaking havoc. The 1997 sequel managed one nod for Visual Effects and lost to a little something called Titanic.

2001’s Jurassic Park III, no surprise, was ignored by the Academy. On the other hand, it may surprise you to learn that 2015’s World also came up empty with voters. The pic did set box office records at the time, but couldn’t even manage Visual Effects or Sound recognition.

The answer as to why could be simple. In this particular franchise, there’s really little room for improvement when it comes to its technical capabilities. Jurassic Park set a high bar in Isla Nublar  for the CG dinos and their sounds. The Academy has moved onto other impressive tech work for other pictures.

Bottom line: If Jurassic World couldn’t manage down the line nods, don’t expect any for Kingdom.

My Oscar Watch posts will continue…

Gold Movie Review

Stephen Gaghan’s Gold tells another fairly recent “inspired by true events” tale of excess and greed. Instead of nefarious Wall Street types (though they’re here), our story takes place in the gold mining industry. Kenny Wells (Matthew McConaughey) is a third generation prospector trying to keep his business Washoe afloat.

A prologue shows happier times for the company in 1981. At that juncture, Kenny’s dad (Craig T. Nelson) is running it successfully and his offspring is merrily working at it. Seven years later, dad has passed and son isn’t so lucky. He runs Washoe from a bar where he indulges in their key product heavily.

Kenny has a dream that leads him to Indonesia to seek out Michael Acosta (Edgar Ramirez), a geologist who’s also run into lean times. They believe there might be gold in them Indonesian mountains. Finding it isn’t easy and Kenny even catches malaria, but eventually their fortunes turn.

As the company becomes an extremely hot commodity, Kenny must stave off the vultures of the corporate world, his competitors, third world governments, and the FBI. He also must battle his own issues, which includes the fact that he’s way out of his league suddenly running an operation of its size.

Gold is McConaughey’s show and we get the full Matthew here. That means effective dramatic moments mixed with comedic and quirky ones. He goes through a physical transformation here as he’s done before. Here, the effects of Kenny’s constant boozing shows. Magic Mike physique Matthew is nowhere to be found.

There’s plenty to admire about the lead actor’s work here. The problem is that none of the other characters are very interesting. Bryce Dallas Howard is Kenny’s wife and their relationship goes through the familiar ups and down that massive success brings. Ramirez’s Michael is a bit of a blank slate for most of the running time.

There are a couple of legit crises after Kenny hits its big. One is quite a surprise in the third act and it left me wishing the screenplay spent more time on it. Another involves shady Indonesian politicos and it might have been another subplot worth exploring. It could have provided a chance to give us characters matching the dynamism of what McConaughey brings.

Yet the screenplay doesn’t go there. While its star provides some memorable moments, too much of the rest of Gold feels standard.

**1/2 (out of four)

Gold Box Office Prediction

Matthew McConaughey packed on some pounds for next weekend’s Gold, but whether it manages to be a heavyweight at the box office is very much in question. The pic casts the Oscar winner as a hapless businessman who strikes you know what in the jungles of Indonesia. Stephen Gaghan makes his first directorial effort since 2005’s Syriana and costars include Bryce Dallas Howard, Edgar Ramirez, Corey Stoll, Stacy Keach, Toby Kebbell, Craig T. Nelson, and Bruce Greenwood.

The early 90s set adventure comedy/drama faces some obstacles in breaking through. First, while it received a very late 2016 limited release for Academy consideration, that didn’t bear fruit. Gold stands at only 43% currently on Rotten Tomatoes. While McConaughey has been a draw in various genres, this may not stand out enough to strike… you get it.

I believe a decent comp for this could be the star’s previous headlining role – last summer’s Free State of Jones, which managed only $7.5 million in its premiere. Bottom line: I don’t see audiences rushing to it and I’m not totally convinced it even reaches the Jones number.

Gold opening weekend prediction: $5.4 million

For my A Dog’s Purpose prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2017/01/18/a-dogs-purpose-box-office-prediction/

For my Resident Evil: The Final Chapter prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2017/01/18/resident-evil-the-final-chapter-box-office-prediction/