Oscar Watch: Coming 2 America

The long awaited sequel Coming 2 America begins streaming on Amazon Prime tomorrow as Eddie Murphy and Arsenio Hall return as their characters (plural) made famous in the 1988 classic. This was originally scheduled for the summer of 2020 before the COVID-19 pandemic changed its theatrical rollout plan and its release date.

Its review embargo lifted today and the results are mixed with a current 52% score on Rotten Tomatoes. Don’t get me wrong – no one was thinking America would vie for Best Picture or additional top line races in 2022. That’s unlike 2019’s collaboration between Murphy and Coming director Craig Brewer. That film received far better critical reaction and some chatter of a Best Actor nod for its star that never came to fruition.

There are, however, categories down the line where this could contend. The obvious one is Makeup and Hairstyling. Part 1 was nominated and lost to Beetlejuice. The original also picked up a nod for Costume Design where Dangerous Liaisons emerged with the gold. Both of those races are most certainly in play for part 2 as well as Production Design (which could be a stretch). If it manages recognition for its costumes, Ruth Carter (who won in 2018 for Black Panther) would be back in the mix.

Bottom line: audiences have waited over 30 years for the return of Eddie and Arsenio as royalty, barbers, preachers, and an atrocious R&B crooner. It could also return in the same races come Oscar time next year. My Oscar Watch posts will continue…

Tom & Jerry To The Rescue (?)

An age old cat and mouse contest is widening the eyeballs of box office prognosticators and theater owners courtesy of Tom & Jerry. The mix of live-action and animation reboot of a cartoon dating back to 1940 premiered simultaneously in multiplexes and HBO Max yesterday. This is how Warner Bros. is handling all their product in 2021 as we have already witnessed with The Little Things and Judas and the Black Messiah (and soon Godzilla vs. Kong). Reviews for the pic are certainly not rosy with a current Rotten Tomatoes score of 23%. And with the uncertainty of the box office for nearly a year, expectations weren’t much either.

Let’s be clear: in non COVID times, Tom & Jerry heading toward a $13-$14 million opening would be considered pretty disappointing. How times have changed. When considering that millions of subscribers could simply cue it up from the comfort of home and with around half of theaters still shuttered, an estimated $12 million start is impressive. Should this number hold, it would mark the second biggest opening gross of the Coronavirus era (behind only Wonder Woman 1984).

That’s more than The Croods: A New Age managed over Thanksgiving and it legged out to over $50 million domestically. There’s no reason to think the iconic cat and mouse won’t do the same. This is also music to the ears of Disney as they prepare to release their animated Raya and the Last Dragon next weekend (along with a Disney Plus rollout).

However, this news really must be encouraging to theaters chains and owners. This is a sign that family audiences in particular will turn up for new product even if it’s available on the couch. As for material outside of that genre, the jury is still out and lots of attention should turn to the aforementioned battle of two other famous creatures (Godzilla vs. Kong) in one month. One thing seems clearer today: the outlook for theaters, while still in flux, got a little rosier.

Chaos Walking Box Office Prediction

The sci-fi adventure Chaos Walking, on its surface, seems to have a lot going for it. It’s based on a well regarded series of YA novels by Patrick Ness (who cowrote the screenplay). Doug Liman, maker of successful pics like The Bourne Identity, Mr. and Mrs. Smith, and Edge of Tomorrow, directs. The two stars are instantly recognizable faces from recent franchises blockbusters: Daisy Ridley (Rey from Star Wars) and Tom Holland (the current Spider-Man). And Lionsgate ponied up a reported $125 million to make it.

Yet closer inspection reveals a different story as it opens next Friday in multiplexes. Chaos was originally slated for release all the way back in pre-COVID March 2019. Poor test screenings allegedly forced reshoots which were overseen by Don’t Breathe director Fede Alvarez. The pandemic has shifted the drop date once again from January of this year to early March.

Now it appears the high budget Walking is limping its way into theaters in already uncertain times. In addition to its stars, the supporting cast includes Mads Mikkelsen, Demian Bichir, Cynthia Erivo, Nick Jonas, and David Oyelowo. I’m not even confident that the awareness level of its existence is enough to bring in the intended audience. This has been looked at as a potential major flop for some time and I don’t foresee this exceeding any expectations upon release.

Chaos Walking opening weekend prediction: $3.9 million

For my Raya and the Last Dragon prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2021/02/23/raya-and-the-last-dragon-box-office-prediction/

Raya and the Last Dragon Box Office Prediction

A totally different kind of COVID test arrives in theaters March 5 with the release of Disney’s Raya and the Last Dragon. It’s the latest traditionally animated feature from the Mouse Factory and it hits multiplexes and Disney+ on the same day. The fantasy adventure is co-directed by Don Hall (who made Big Hero 6 for the studio) and Carlos Lopez Estrada (maker of the decidedly non Disney pic Blindspotting). The predominately Asian-American voice cast includes Kelly Marie Tran, Awkwafina, Gemma Chan, Daniel Dae Kim, Sandra Oh, Benedict Wong, and Alan Tudyk.

Raya marks the highest profile release of 2021 thus far on the big screen. The question is whether family audiences will mostly opt to shell out thirty bucks to watch it on the tube. All things considered – that’s probably less money than a night out for a clan of four to view it. And the Disney+ model is already familiar to subscribers with recent products such as Mulan and Soul.

In these uncertain pandemic days, it is difficult to find any real comps for opening weekend estimates. The Croods: A New Age debuted over Thanksgiving weekend and took in a better than anticipated $14 million over the five-day frame with nearly $10 million of it from the traditional Friday to Sunday portion. Yet that’s not exactly a reliable comp as Croods was a sequel to a well known property out during a holiday period. Still… this is Disney…

As I’ve said repeatedly with any box office guesstimates for nearly a year, we are in unpredictable territory. However, I’ll say Raya makes between $11-$14million and I’ll go a bit on the higher end of that range.

Raya and the Last Dragon opening weekend prediction: $13.2 million

For my Chaos Walking prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2021/02/24/chaos-walking-box-office-prediction/

The Marksman Box Office Prediction

Liam Neeson headlines the first new wide release of 2021 with The Marksman next weekend. The action pic casts Neeson as a former Marine (with a particular set of skills I assume) protecting a young boy from harm by a Mexican cartel. Robert Lorenz, a frequent collaborator of Clint Eastwood, directs. Costars include Katheryn Winnick, Juan Pablo Raba, and Teresa Ruiz.

It goes without saying, but the COVID-19 pandemic is still causing many theater closures and limited audiences for fresh product. This looks to continue into the foreseeable future. That has made the forecasting of pictures quite a dubious proposition and I took a break for the last couple of months.

I shall try again. This is not Neeson’s first foray into available multiplexes during COVID. In October, Honest Thief debuted to $3.6 million stateside. Considering the circumstances, that was pretty decent. I suspect The Marksman won’t quite hit that target, but it should come pretty darn close.

The Marksman opening weekend prediction: $3.2 million

Oscar Watch: Malcolm & Marie

As if Netflix doesn’t have enough competitors this Oscar season, a new one comes into the fold in the form of Malcolm & Marie. The drama comes from director Sam Levinson, who’s best known for creating the acclaimed HBO series Euphoria. Shot this year in COVID-19 times and hitting Netflix on February 5, the title characters are played by John David Washington and Euphoria star Zendaya (who earned a surprise Emmy last year for the series).

While the official review embargo is not up, social media reactions are out and they’re encouraging. Most of all, the buzz suggests a first Oscar nod could be coming for Zendaya. The general feeling (and one I concur with at press time) is that four slots could be filled already: Viola Davis (Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom), Vanessa Kirby (Pieces of a Woman), Frances McDormand (Nomadland), and Carey Mulligan (Promising Young Woman). We now have another strong contender in the mix. I had yet to list her even in my top ten thus far and that will certainly change when my new estimates hit on Monday.

As for Washington, I’m far less certain. It all depends on just how hard Academy voters fall for the picture as a whole. If they do, Picture, Director, and especially Original Screenplay could be possibilities. If they don’t, the attention could focus solely on Zendaya. And there’s time for the chatter to increase with the extra two months before nominations are revealed.

Bottom line: Malcolm & Marie has immediately established itself as a player in Best Actress and maybe more. My Oscar Watch posts will continue…

Oscar Watch: Wonder Woman 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…

 

Oscar Watch – The Croods: A New Age

Seven and a half years after DreamWorks Animation had a prehistoric animated comedic hit on their hands with the original, The Croods: A New Age hits theaters this Wednesday. It will surely be a different box office story in these COVID times as part 2 will follow with its PVOD unveiling in time for Christmas. The toon is directed by Joel Crawford and returns the vocal stylings of Nicolas Cage, Emma Stone, Ryan Reynolds, Catherine Keener, and Cloris Leachman. New faces behind the mics include Peter Dinklage, Leslie Mann, and Kelly Marie Tran.

The review embargo ended today and the results are mostly positive with a 75% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. That’s in line with the 72% achieved by its predecessor. In 2013, part 1 managed a Best Animated Feature nod. It was defeated by a massive Pixar front runner by the name of Frozen. 

2020 could see history repeat itself with the caveman family. One could argue that it’s easier to slide into the final five this year and A New Age looks to do so. Yet there is once again a heavy favorite to win the prize and that is Soul from (you guessed it) Pixar. Other acclaimed titles such as Wolfwalkers and Over the Moon appear to be likely nominees and Pixar has another hopeful with Onward (though after the snub of Frozen II from last year, it’s not a guarantee that one makes it in).

Croods could easily fill the fourth or fifth slot come nomination time, but I wouldn’t chisel its inclusion in pen just yet. My Oscar Watch posts will continue…

James Bond and the U.S. Presidency: A History

A fascinating factoid is out now that the U.S. Presidential Election of 2020 is in the rearview. As fans of the James Bond franchise are aware, we are now approaching the 60th anniversary of the series in 2022. The release of No Time to Die will mark the 25th official feature in the 007 canon when it (hopefully) debuts in 2021. As you are likely aware, the fifth and final Daniel Craig appearance as the British super spy was originally slated for April 2020 before its COVID-19 related delay.

Why am I saying all of this as it relates to the election that just happened? Well, it turns out that the Trump presidency will be the first since the series began in which no James Bond picture was released. That means there have been 10 U.S. Presidencies in a row where 007 appeared on the silver screen… from Kennedy to Obama. Until now. This will clearly resume when No Time is released in plenty of time for when Joe Biden sits in the Oval Office.

Based on this interesting little nugget of trivia info, I thought it might be fun to run through the movies that were released under each former POTUS and take stock with how their administrations matched up with Bond’s adventures onscreen:

The Presidency of John F. Kennedy

The Bond Pictures: Dr. No (1962)

It seems more than appropriate that this franchise started under JFK’s tenure. President Kennedy was a self-professed fan of the Ian Fleming novels. The producers of Bond actually chose From Russia with Love to be the second in the series because JFK singled it out as a favorite book. Sadly, the last movie the President ever watched at the White House was From Russia (months before its actual US release, though it was out in the UK). That was on November 20. Two days later is when Kennedy took the fateful trip to Dallas.

The Presidency of Lyndon Johnson

The Bond Pictures: From Russia with Love (1963), Goldfinger (1964), Thunderball (1965), You Only Live Twice (1967)

I would say it’s hard to argue that Johnson’s time in the White House isn’t the most impressive when it comes to the 007 catalogue. This was, of course, the heyday of Sean Connery’s time in the role which turned him into an international superstar. The first two titles on the board are often cited as the greatest of the bunch (my personal favorite is Russia).

The Presidency of Richard Nixon

The Bond Pictures: On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969), Diamonds Are Forever (1971), Live and Let Die (1973)

Nixon wins having the most Bonds during his time in office. There were three as his Presidency marked George Lazenby’s one off in Service, Connery’s return in Diamonds, and Roger Moore’s first outing with Live. I would also say the trio is all somewhat underwhelming to a degree (though I know the Service diehards will not appreciate that statement).

The Presidency of Gerald Ford

The Bond Pictures: The Man with the Golden Gun (1974)

Pretty slim picking for Mr. Ford with Moore’s second go-round as 007. This is deservedly considered one of the weakest in the franchise.

The Presidency of Jimmy Carter

The Bond Pictures: The Spy Who Loved Me (1977), Moonraker (1979)

The best of times and worst of times for Roger Moore matched with the Carter Administration. I would easily call Spy the finest Moore pic in his run while Moonraker is the low point.

The Presidency of Ronald Reagan

The Bond Pictures: For Your Eyes Only (1981), Octopussy (1983), A View to a Kill (1985), The Living Daylights (1987)

It’s appropriate that some of the titles here incorporate the Cold War activities happening in Reagan’s 1980s era. The list here includes two solid Moore outings (yes, I think Octopussy is quite good) and the middling finale of View. It also marks Timothy Dalton’s fairly pleasing debut in Daylights. As a side note, while not considered an official Bond pic in the canon sense, Sean Connery returned to his signature part with 1983’s Never Say Never Again.

The Presidency of George H.W. Bush

The Bond Pictures: Licence to Kill (1989)

The last one term President until now had just one 007 flick. I maintain that Licence may be just the most underrated one of the whole series. It was Dalton’s swan song for his brief tenure.

The Presidency of Bill Clinton

The Bond Pictures: Goldeneye (1995), Tomorrow Never Dies (1997), The World Is Not Enough (1999)

The Clinton Era matches with the Pierce Brosnan era as the franchise was revitalized financially with these three blockbusters which were all decent in quality.

The Presidency of George W. Bush

The Bond Pictures: Die Another Day (2002), Casino Royale (2006), Quantum of Solace (2008)

A mixed bag. I consider Brosnan’s finale of Day to be the worst James Bond adventure of all time. On the other hand, Daniel Craig’s emergence in Royale is second only to From Russia with Love in my opinion. Quantum was just OK and the weakest of the Craig pics.

The Presidency of Barack Obama

The Bond Pictures: Skyfall (2012), Spectre (2015)

Bond reached a billion dollars in the Obama era with Skyfall, rightfully considered one of the strongest of the two dozen pictures. Spectre didn’t match its quality, but was still pretty good.

The Presidency of Donald Trump

As I said… nada. No Time to Die would have been the one Trump time release if not for the pandemic. It will instead be unveiled when President Biden is in office and there could be even be a new 007 under his Presidency depending on how quickly the studio casts a new spy.

 

Let Him Go Box Office Prediction

Focus Features is hopeful that an adult audience will turn out this weekend with their dramatic thriller Let Him Go. From director Thomas Bezucha, Diane Lane and Kevin Costner headline as a couple mourning the loss of their son and trying to save their grandchild from a dangerous situation. Costars include Lesley Manville, Will Brittain, and Jeffrey Donovan.

Originally slated for August before the inevitable COVID-19 delay, Go has screened for critics and the results are pretty positive. The Rotten Tomatoes score stands at 74% based on nearly 20 reviews. Costner has been particularly visible as of late with strong ratings for his Paramount Network TV show Yellowstone. In a different reality, the pic could serve as shrewd counter programming for older viewers who might turn out.

The obvious question: will they do so during these times? The decent critical reaction might help, but I question whether this gets beyond $2 million out of the gate. I’ll put it right at that number and anything above would likely be considered a pleasant surprise.

Let Him Go opening weekend prediction: $2 million