Paramount hopes audiences are game for a night of fantasy mixed with action and comedy when Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves debuts March 31st. Based on the role playing game that debuted nearly a half century ago and inspired many filmmakers and scribes, Jonathan Goldstein and John Francis Daley (who made 2018’s Game Night) co-direct. Chris Pine and Michelle Rodriguez headline a cast that also includes Regé-Jean Page, Justice Smith, Sophia Lillis, Chloe Coleman, and Hugh Grant.
With a reported budget north of $150 million, this is a gamble for the studio. While the IP is certainly well-known, a previous cinematic rendering did not fare well. A 2000 version featuring Thora Birch, Marlon Wayans, and Jeremy Irons from New Line Cinema made a sorry $15 million domestically.
Nearly a quarter century later, this Dragons tale appears to have more heat behind it. After premiering at South by Southwest, word-of-mouth is positive and the Rotten Tomatoes score is 86% (the 2000 pic had 10%).
Most forecasts have this between $25-30 million for a so-so start considering the price tag (this will clearly need sturdy overseas earnings to turn a profit). My feeling is this could exceed the current projections and get to the low or mid 30s.
Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves opening weekend prediction: $32.7 million
A year ago, Everything Everywhere All at Once premiered at the South by Southwest, therefore skipping the normal autumn film festivals in favor of the Austin event. It now appears on the precipice of winning Best Picture at the Oscars. We aren’t looking at the same storyline with SXSW in 2023 with its debut picture Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves. Could it have a role at all to play in next year’s awards mix?
It might. Based on the nearly half century old tabletop game that inspired many a filmmaker and writer, Jonathan Goldstein and John Francis Daley (who made 2018’s Game Night) direct. The cast includes Chris Pine, Michelle Rodriguez, Regé-Jean Page, Justice Smith, Sophia Lillis, Chloe Coleman, and Hugh Grant. Early fest reviews are encouraging as the Rotten Tomatoes score is 100% based on the limited reaction. The critical takes indicate this will appeal to die-hards of the source material and neophytes.
I certainly don’t think we’re looking at two years in a row of the likely BP winner coming from SXSW. However, Dungeons (out stateside on March 31) is being particularly praised for its Visual Effects and Production Design. I wouldn’t completely count this out to be a contender in either category (especially the former). My Oscar Prediction posts will continue…
The halcyon neighborhood in Olivia Wilde’s Don’t Worry Darling looks like something a production designer would mount for a 1950s suburban setting (think Pleasantville or Edward Scissorhands). In the director’s sophomore feature after the winning Booksmart, that begins to make more sense as time passes. The male characters are all about appearance and maintaining a certain Mad Men vibe. Their wives are expected to maintain the home (though there are more frequent opportunities for cocktails given the pined for time period). You don’t need to be a cinephile to suspect this idealized community could be a facade and that dark secrets lurk. You might be reminded of several films with similar themes that were more successful. Meanwhile… that production design and other tech aspects? They’re exquisite. So is the lead performance. They’re also contained in a story that’s often baffling in its narrative design.
Alice Chambers (Florence Pugh) is a resident of Victory, California where everyone seems to have a winning attitude. Her husband Jack (Harry Styles), along with the rest of the townsmen, work at Headquarters where their uniform job description is developing “progressive materials”. Alice and the rest of the spouses have no clue what that means and seem more concerned with the sheets being properly folded and the roast being cooked at the proper temperature. The unofficial ruler of Victory is Frank (Chris Pine). In addition to being the boss at Headquarters (where the ladies are strictly forbidden from visiting), he has daily indoctrination monologues disguised as a radio show. The call letters could be CULT.
The tranquil facade is threatened when Alice’s friend Margaret (KiKi Layne) begins making accusations about the hierarchy. Shortly thereafter, Alice’s experiences have her questioning this reality. That doesn’t sit well with Frank or Jack, who’s climbing up the corporate ladder. She also finds little support from next door neighbor and bestie Bunny (Wilde), who seems perfectly content with the setup. Same with Frank’s doting wife Shelley (Gemme Chan).
Don’t Worry Darling, with a screenplay from Booksmart scribe Katie Silberman, finds influences from many sources. Notable ones include The Matrix, The Truman Show, and obviously The Stepford Wives. For a while (easily the first half), it’s a decently intriguing and gorgeously rendered paranoia thriller. Yet I couldn’t shake where I thought it was headed and once it got there, it felt as empty as Alice’s daytime activities. This is no fault of the actress playing her. Pugh is a firecracker and that’s not matched by her costars. The charisma of Styles, so evident in his role as Biggest Male Pop Star on the Planet, isn’t evident here.
Silberman’s script leaves plenty of questions burning in the Victory sun. When the credits rolled, I was only mildly interested in the light being shed on them. The style is present with Darling. The substance slows down the progression of this material.
Much has been written about the behind the scenes happenings with Olivia Wilde’s Don’t Worry Darling over the past several weeks. Her follow-up to 2019’s Booksmart, it has been a favorite of gossip pages. This involves everything from whether or not Shia LaBeouf was fired or quit before filming began or whether Wilde and Florence Pugh are on speaking terms. There was also SpitGate which focused on whether Harry Styles spat on costar Chris Pine at the Venice Film Festival. Spoiler alert: probably not. Will this ink mean pleasing returns when Darling debuts on September 23rd?
Wilde’s sophomore effort stars Pugh and Styles with costars including Wilde, Gemma Chan, KiKi Layne, Nick Kroll, and Pine. Said to be a Stepford Wives like psychological thriller, early reviews have been rather lackluster. Its Rotten Tomatoes meter is 40%.
Pugh is a rising star and, obviously, Styles has his legions of super fans. Yet that translates to music for the latter and we’ve yet to see if his pop star status can translate to big box office numbers. If you subscribe to the “all publicity is good publicity” theory, Darling could manage to top expectations and gross over $20 million for its start. I’m not so sure. I think the current projections of mid to high teens sounds about right.
Don’t Worry Darling opening weekend prediction: $18.9 million
For weeks, there’s been loads of gossip pieces focused on Olivia Wilde’s sophomore effort Don’t Worry Darling (her follow-up to her glowingly received 2019 teen comedy Booksmart). They have everything to do with the director’s romance with costar and pop superstar Harry Styles, Florence Pugh’s decision not to participate in promotion for the picture, and confusion over whether original cast mate Shia LaBeouf quit the project or was fired. Even today, the Venice press conference is generating memes of Chris Pine looking like he’d rather be fighting Thanos somewhere.
None of this chatter has anything to do with the quality of the movie. That’s finally part of the discussion today as it has screened at Lido prior to its September 23rd release. The verdict? I don’t think Warner Bros needs to worry much about its awards campaign spending. They could cut that budget as Darling is posting mostly mediocre reviews (39% on RT at press time). Don’t get me wrong – they’re not all terrible, but none are strong enough to warrant any thought of Oscar nods.
Said to be a so-so Stepford Wives knockoff, Pugh is the beneficiary of the best ink. However, I’d say her performance in December’s The Wonder (which screened at Telluride over the weekend) gives her a better chance at a nomination. We’ll know soon if Darling is a financial success based on the “all press is good press” theory. It’s safe to say that won’t translate to the awards season. My Oscar Prediction posts will continue…
I’ve watched sharper spy games than All the Old Knives, but it’s a durable diversionary thriller with a solid spark between its two leads. From Danish filmmaker Janus Metz Pedersen, Chris Pine and Thandiwe Newton are coworkers and lovers who break up over a seized flight (that old chestnut).
Some explanation is warranted. In 2012, CIA officer Henry Pelham (Pine) is in an office romance with analyst Celia Harrison (Newton). Stationed in scenic Vienna (this a lovely looking picture), the seizure and tragic ending of the hijack leads to suspicions that someone on the team leaked intel to the terrorists. Perhaps it’s Harry or maybe it’s Celia. There’s also higher ups played by Laurence Fishburne and Jonathan Pryce.
In 2020, Harry’s got a few more gray hairs while Celia is married with kids in California. She’s far removed from government employment while her ex is still investigating the near decade old case. This brings the pair together in a near deserted fancy restaurant for an interrogation or a bubbly fueled rekindling… or both.
Knives slashes back and forth between these events as twists fill up as frequently as the former couple’s wine glasses. Surprisingly light on action, the screenplay might get drowned out if there wasn’t adequate chemistry between the stars. Luckily there is and it was enough to keep me guessing. Pine missed the mark once as a better known CIA agent in Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit. This one hits the target more often.
I wish Wonder Woman 1984 wasn’t the disjointed viewing experience that it mostly is. I wish it had the humor that landed in the 2017 pic and the sweet love story between its heroine and her man that was well-developed. Here the humor seems forced as does the interplay between Gal Gadot’s title character and WWI pilot Steve Trevor (Chris Pine). This is a sequel that feels like busywork and it’s devoid of, yes, some of the wonder that made the original a bright spot in the DC Extended Universe.
1984 means leg warmers and action sequences set in shopping malls. It also means part 2 picks up nearly seven decades later. Gadot’s Diana fills her days as an anthropologist at the Smithsonian and her nights pining for the long departed Steve. Of course, she also does some Wonder Woman stuff in between. When she thwarts a jewel heist in one of those sprawling shopping structures, it turns out the thieves were really after some black market artifacts that weren’t on display. That includes an ancient “Dreamstone” of Latin origin that grants wishes no matter how dangerous they might be. For Diana, it means bringing her lost love back. This is handled by Pine returning in the form of some random DC dude. While Pine’s courtship with Diana was a high point the first time around, the actor is now relegated to gawking in wide eyed disbelief at rocket ships and escalators. His participation here never smacks of anything more than plot device mechanics and that’s a letdown. He does get a reverse Pretty Woman style sequence in which he tries on pirate looking shirts and fanny packs in front of his nonplussed girlfriend. So there’s that.
Of course, this “Dreamstone” leads to nefarious actions from others. Max Lord (Pedro Pascal) is a failed businessman who’s known for cheesy infomercials. His acquiring of the artifact allows him to amass significant power and oil. He also has a young son that he’s desperately trying to impress and that results in some mawkish moments. And there’s Kristin Wiig as Barbara. She’s Diana’s supremely unconfident geologist coworker. Barbara feels invisible until her interaction with the Stone makes her as tough and beautiful as her fellow employee. Unfortunately her power trip partners her with the megalomaniac Max and his misguided plans. For Wiig, Barbara is one of those characters who immediately becomes attractive once her big glasses and frumpy dress go by the wayside. She’s simply not a memorable villainess. There are shades of Michelle Pfeiffer’s Catwoman from Batman Returns, but she’s not written nearly as potently.
Pascal’s Max is another story. I can’t say he’s not memorable because the performer portraying him goes way over the top in doing so. I think Pascal knows how much he’s hamming it up and his go for broke attitude does provide a bit of fun. That’s welcome because it’s in short supply. I might volley back and forth on whether he’s actually great or kinda terrible here, but it’s a performance worth mentioning. That’s more than I can say for everyone else.
For two and a half hours, 1984 often forgets to bring the joy. There’s a make it up as we go along vibe that wasn’t as noticeable when Patty Jenkins helmed the first (she returns here and is one of three cowriters).
Wonder Woman 1984 is all about how you can’t get ahead by cheating and lying (a prologue featuring some familiar faces from part 1 makes that message clear). The following 150 minutes hammers it home with convenient and haphazard storylines that, ironically, sometime feel like cheats. I wish this came close to the quality of Gadot’s first stand-alone venture, but we are left waiting and wanting in 1984.
After experiencing COVID-19 related delays, Warner Bros. is finally unveiling their superhero sequel Wonder Woman 1984 on Christmas in theaters and HBO Max. Needless to say, this is certainly one of the most anticipated 2020 releases as the 2017 predecessor was a critical hit and massive blockbuster (making over $800 million worldwide). Patty Jenkins returns as director with Gal Gadot back in the title role and Chris Pine reprising his role. Costars include Kristin Wiig, Pedro Pascal, Robin Wright, and Connie Nielsen.
Two and a half weeks ahead of its unveiling, the review embargo has lifted and signs are encouraging. The current Rotten Tomatoes meter stands at an impressive 89% (just slightly lower than the 93% achieved by part 1). There are some gripes about over length, but reviewers are mostly calling it a nostalgic blast. Could the second coming from the warrior goddess also known as Diana garner any awards attention?
It is worth noting that Wonder Woman 2017 received no Oscar nominations. That said, the amount of eye-popping blockbusters in 2020 is smaller than any other year in recent memory. This could mean that 1984 could pop up in technical races including Makeup and Hairstyling, Production Design, Sound, and Visual Effects. The first two categories could be a bit more doubtful while Sound and Visual Effects seem like solid possibilities. Gadot’s hero will compete with another Warner Bros. superhero property in those races with Birds of Prey (released just before the pandemic outbreak).
I do not expect that this will play in the big awards derbies. There was some chatter three years ago that part 1 could get a Best Picture nod, but it never materialized. Black Panther still stands as the only superhero property to play in that race and Wonder Woman 1984 is highly unlikely to be the second. My Oscar Watch posts will continue…
In the 21st century cinematic universe, the famed web slinger has been reinvented on a number of occasions – from Tobey Maguire to Andrew Garfield to Tom Holland. Spider–Man: IntotheSpider–Verse is the first one that feels truly inventive. Anyone thinking this animated experience would be a sub par spin-off or money grab will find themselves sorely mistaken. This iteration of the iconic hero has a lot of heart, plenty of action, and a warped sense of humor that elicits genuine laughs. Directors Bob Perischetti, Peter Ramsey, and Rodney Rothman (who co-wrote the screenplay along with Phil Lord) have drawn up what is probably the most satisfying Spidey pic on its own terms.
The picture posits the theory that our title character does his Spidey thing in multiple dimensions and in different forms than just Peter Parker. These characters are familiar to fans of the Marvel Comics and even includes Spider-Ham, representing the hero in pig form. He’s here and he’s fabulous. Our primary Spidey here is Miles (voiced by Shameik Moore), a Brooklyn teen with a police officer father and a potentially shady uncle that he admires. Miles attends a prep school and feels lost in his adolescence just like Peter Parker did. He’s a fan of Spider-Man, who is currently fighting Big Apple crime in the manner we’re accustomed to. That’s until bad guy Kingpin (Liev Schrieber) knocks him off, but not before Miles get a radioactive bite that gives him the well-known powers.
What follows is a visually splendid adventure where it’s clear that the makers really adore the character. At the same time, they take him in unforeseen directions that perhaps only the animated format could allow. Miles’s Spidey teams with an aging and out of shape Peter Parker (Jake Johnson) from a different “verse”, along with Spider-Woman (Hailee Steinfeld) and the aforementioned Ham version. There’s others, but part of the fun is watching them appear without me spoiling it.
Plenty of superhero movies take themselves quite seriously and many have succeeded with that tone. GuardiansoftheGalaxy and Deadpool introduced a different dynamic that is evident here. Yet Spider–Verse is not derivative. It manages to take one of the most repeated story arcs in the genre and cleverly turn it on its head. I enjoyed it immensely. The possibilities are many for this particular universe to continue and I’m up for it.
The historical action drama OutlawKing might not immediately strike one as an Oscar hopeful. Yet it’s considered a bit of a thematic sequel to Braveheart, the Mel Gibson epic that also focused on the Scottish battle for independence. That film won Best Picture in 1995. This is also director David Mackenzie’s follow-up to HellorHighWater, which earned a Best Picture nod two years ago. And it was selected to open the Toronto Film Festival, which has kicked off today.
Even with that considerable pedigree, critical reaction suggests this won’t be a major player on the Oscar scene. Mackenzie reunites with Hell star Chris Pine with a supporting cast including Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Florence Pugh, and Stephen Dillane. Early reviews haven’t been too kind thus far, though they have praised its epic scope. Perhaps some down the line tech recognition is possible, but even that could be a reach.
Bottom line: don’t expect Academy voters to crown King with love.
The pic is slated to debut on Netflix on November 9. My Oscar Watch posts will continue…