Oscar Watch: Dumbo

Disney’s live-action version of their 1941 classic Dumbo arrives in theaters on Friday and the review embargo was lifted today. Tim Burton’s take on the flying elephant is the first of four Mouse Factory updates on their animated tales hitting screens in 2019.

The advance word out is quite mixed with a Rotten Tomatoes score of just 51%. No one seriously expected this would contend for Best Picture, but previous Disney updates in recent years have fared well with Oscar voters with technical nods.

Burton’s own Alice in Wonderland in 2010 won Best Art Direction (now Production Design) and Costume Design and landed a nomination in Visual Effects. Costume Design nods were received by Maleficent in 2014 and by Cinderella the following year. In 2016, The Jungle Book emerged victorious in Visual Effects. Beauty and the Beast nabbed nods for Production and Costume Design.

That’s a solid track record. Where’s that leave Dumbo? Tough to say at this juncture. Even the negative skewing reviews have praised the visuals. Yet there will be a lot of competition and that includes the other three live-action updates arriving later: Aladdin, The Lion King, and Maleficent: Mistress of Evil. Even more potentially serious competitors include Avengers: Endgame and the next Star Wars.

Costume Design and Production Design remain more realistic possibilities. Bottom line: Dumbo could continue the recent tradition of this sub genre getting down the line category attention, but competition will be key. My Oscar Watch posts will continue…

Dumbo Box Office Prediction

Blogger’s Note (03/27): My Dumbo prediction has dropped from $65.6 million to $55.6 million.

With Tim Burton at the helm, Disney’s live-action rendering of Dumbo flies into theaters next weekend. The elephant tale (based on the Mouse Factory’s 1941 animated feature) is headlined by Colin Farrell, Michael Keaton, Danny DeVito, Eva Green, Alan Arkin, and plenty of CG effects.

This is the first live-action remake from the studio in two years, following up on the monstrous success that was Beauty and the Beast. That lapse in their sub genre won’t apply to 2019 as there’s three more on the way – Aladdin in May, The Lion King in July, and Maleficent: Mistress of Evil this October.

It’s also not Burton’s first foray remaking Disney classics. 2010’s Alice in Wonderland was a huge hit that grossed $116 million for its start. When it comes to Beauty, Aladdin, and Lion King, they have the advantage of being based on 90s efforts as opposed to a title released 50 years prior.

Expectations for Dumbo aren’t quite as lofty and they’re in the $60-$70 million premiere range. That sound about right and I’ll put it right in the middle of those numbers, similar to what Cinderella achieved in 2015.

Dumbo opening weekend prediction: $55.6 million

For my Hotel Mumbai prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2019/03/24/hotel-mumbai-box-office-prediction/

For my Unplanned prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2019/03/24/unplanned-box-office-prediction/

For my The Beach Bum prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2019/03/24/the-beach-bum-box-office-prediction/

Widows Movie Review

Like Michael Mann’s Heat over two decades ago, Steve McQueen’s Widows is a heist movie more concerned with the personalities of the people planning them. The similarities don’t stop there. It’s got a sprawling cast with many familiar faces and an overall somber tone. This is a genre marked mostly by its entertainment value. Heists are fun onscreen with the numeric Ocean’s being the highest profile recent examples.

Unlike Heat, its central planner doesn’t pull these crimes because he’s great at it and doesn’t have a personal life. Here it’s the personal lives that lead to the planning in the first place. And in this one, it’s “she’s”. Veronica Rawlings (Viola Davis) works for the Chicago Teachers Union and is married to career thief Harry (Liam Neeson). What I’m about to write isn’t exactly a spoiler considering the title. Harry and his crew have a job go awry and they’re all killed. Besides Veronica, the widowed women include business owner Linda (Michelle Rodriguez), abused spouse Alice (Elizabeth Debicki), and new mom Amanda (Carrie Coon).

Their mourning period is disrupted by their husband’s past illegal dealings. Windy City crime lord Jamal Manning (Brian Tyree Henry) was ripped off by them and he’s ready to collect. He’s running for an alderman spot against corrupt politico Jack Mulligan (Colin Farrell). Mulligan fancies himself a man of the people and lives close to the dilapidated neighborhood he wishes to represent. He might as well live on another planet. Manning wants to enter government life to get away from a life of crime, but seems to understand that they go hand in hand in this transactional and blood soaked Chicago.

Veronica, Linda, and Alice are put in a desperate spot. A clue left behind by Harry leads them to plan a robbery of Mulligan’s dirty money while trying to keep his political opponent off their backs (Amanda chooses to not to participate). Mulligan and Manning have enforcers on their team. The former’s is his controlling and ruthless father (Robert Duvall). The latter’s is his henchman (Daniel Kaluuya), who’s sadistic and seems to genuinely enjoy his works of depravity.

There are many subplots in Widows and McQueen manages to pull it off in mostly satisfying fashion. Some work better than others. The relationship of Veronica and Harry is a complicated one that’s given emotional heft by a shared loss. The same can be said for Alice’s character. She’s been a victim her whole life it seems. There’s an empowerment element with her that makes her perhaps the easiest character to root for. Rodriguez’s story has less meat on the bones. They pick up another conspirator in Belle (a memorable Cynthia Erivo), a driven woman who serves as the driver.

You’ll not be surprised to find the performances are first-rate, particularly Davis, Debicki, and Kaluuya (there’s not a mediocre one in the bunch). The score, editing, and cinematography are also noteworthy. McQueen wrote the script along with Gillian Flynn, known for her twisty works like Gone Girl. She’s created compelling female characters there and elsewhere and she does so here. If there’s an issue, it’s that her proclivity for twists reaches a tad too far with one (which I won’t spoil). I found it unnecessary and you’ll likely recognize what I’m referring to upon viewing.

And Widows is worth viewing as it gives us some characters you want to follow. There’s nothing remarkable about the heist they’re trying to pull. The acting and technical work often does fit that description.

*** (out of four)

Widows Box Office Prediction

Widows is Steve McQueen’s follow-up to 2013’s Oscar winning 12 Years a Slave and it boasts an impressive cast and its own awards buzz. Viola Davis headlines the heist thriller alongside Michelle Rodriguez, Elizabeth Debicki, Cynthia Erivo, Colin Farrell, Brian Tyree Henry, Daniel Kaluuya, Jacki Weaver, Carrie Coon, Robert Duvall, and Liam Neeson.

Opening next weekend, the film sits at 96% on Rotten Tomatoes. It could potentially contend in Best Picture, Actress (Davis), Supporting Actor (Kaluuya) and its Adapted Screenplay from Gone Girl and Sharp Objects writer Gillian Flynn. So how will that translate to box office bucks?

I believe the likelihood is that Widows will succeed in appealing to action fans and manage to bring in a sizable female audience. Yet it should also be the type of performer that experiences solid holds from weekend to weekend and not necessarily have a huge opening. Mid teens appears to be the correct forecast for its start.

Widows opening weekend prediction: $15.8 million

For my Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2018/11/06/fantastic-beasts-the-crimes-of-grindelwald-box-office-prediction/

For my Instant Family prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2018/11/07/instant-family-box-office-prediction/

Oscar Watch: Widows

Five Oscars ago, Steve McQueen’s 12 Years a Slave took home Best Picture and it’s been five years for his follow-up to debut. That picture is Widows, a heist drama based on a 1983 British miniseries and it’s premiered at the Toronto Film Festival.

Reviews for the film are encouraging, but I’m not too sure they’re strong enough for a realistic shot at Best Picture, Director, or Adapted Screenplay (by the director and Gone Girl writer Gillian Flynn) nods.

As for the actors involved, that could be a different story. An impressive supporting cast includes Michelle Rodriguez, Colin Farrell, Jacki Weaver, Robert Duvall, and Liam Neeson. Most of the ink, however, has been reserved for its star Viola Davis. She won Supporting Actress just two years back for Fences. It appears she could factor into the lead Actress race this time around, though competition could be steep. If there’s anything chance at supporting players being recognized, both Daniel Kaluuya (nominated for last year’s Get Out) and Elizabeth Debicki have been singled out in some reviews.

Bottom line: Widows is doubtful for Best Picture, but Davis and maybe a supporting performance or two could be in the mix.

The film opens domestically on November 16. My Oscar Watch posts will continue…

Roman J. Israel, Esq. Movie Review

Like his directorial debut Nightcrawler, Dan Gilroy combines a myopically focused central character with Los Angeles landscapes in Roman J. Israel, Esq. Denzel Washington is Roman, the secret weapon in a small law firm known for its justice fighting pursuits. He’s a behind the scenes legal guru who’s uncomfortable in the courtroom and dealing with people in general.

When the public face of the firm suffers a heart attack, Roman (who I’ll refer to as that but always uses his full name and title) must go job searching. He pairs up with George Pierce (Colin Farrell), who runs a more successful operation that puts dollar signs over the virtuous work Roman is used to. It creates an opportunity for him to expand his wallet, as he struggles with the morality of his more high scale surroundings and assignments.

Part of the conscience searching is represented by Maya (Carmen Ejogo), a civil rights activist inspired. She works in an underpaid environment that her new friend would flourish in. Yet he also is effective with George until a questionable ethical decision about a murder case changes things.

Gilroy created a masterwork in 2014 with Nightcrawler. In that, Gilroy wrote Jake Gyllenhaal his best role as a strange but ingenious man whose work comes before all else. That traits apply to Roman and we have Washington providing a unique and always watchable performance. With big glasses, an Afro, and an extensive music collection constantly filling his ear buds, we’ve never seen Denzel quite like this and he seems to relish it.

Unlike Nightcrawler, this picture doesn’t totally work. The court case involved is practically an afterthought. The interpersonal relationships between Roman with George and Maya feel a tad underserved. This may be because the central figure here can’t get too close to anyone, but the film sometimes feels as distant as he is.

Washington almost makes it all worth it anyway, but ultimately Roman J. Israel, Esq. is well meaning and also slightly disappointing.

**1/2 (out of four)

 

The Killing of a Sacred Deer Movie Review

I’m not an attorney, but I’ve heard of the legal term known as Clean Hands. I might have heard it first from Judge Judy. Regardless, in layman’s speak, it means a defendant claims that a plaintiff can’t argue for equal remedy because they’re engaged in bad acts as well. I realize a lawyer might challenge my interpretation, but I’m reviewing a movie and I’m not on trial. Clean Hands could have been a more appropriate name than what I’m writing about, but instead we have the more pretentious The Killing of a Sacred Deer from director Yorgos Lanthimos.

The aggrieved party in our story is teenager Martin (Barry Keoghan), whose father died three years ago in a surgery performed by Dr. Steven Murphy (Colin Farrell, reuniting with his The Lobster director). The two befriend each other after the incident and Martin is eventually ingratiating himself with the doc’s family – wife Anna (Nicole Kidman), teen daughter Kim (Raffey Cassidy), and younger brother Bob (Sunny Suljic). Martin seems a bit strange and too eager to please, but his motives turn out far darker. He blames the doctor for his loss and plans to exact revenge.

Lanthimos isn’t interested with playing in the run of the mill revenge fantasy thriller genre. No family pet is harmed in the making of his screenplay with Efthymis Filippou, though there is one. Instead Martin wants to harm the family and any one of them will do. He also manages to capture the heart of Kim while he moves forward with his acts.

The Killing of a Sacred Deer is a dark and unsettling experience that sometimes struggles to earn the pain we go through watching it. From a technical standpoint, it’s often expertly rendered with a Kubrick like sense of clinical precision and a loud and evocative score. Farrell and Kidman (just seen together in The Beguiled) are just fine as the parents facing increasingly difficult circumstances and choices, but it’s Keoghan who electrifies plenty of his scenes. His misguided Martin gets under everyone’s skin, including ours.

That said, the style of Deer is frequently more potent than its subject and I struggled with whether it was worth it in the end. For all its bells and whistles, it kind of is a typical revenge fantasy with art house touches. Dr. Murphy may have made his mistakes, but there’s a Clean Hands defense when he discovers Martin’s bad acts. For this viewer, I offer a mixed defense of the picture itself.

**1/2 (out of four)