The Rental Movie Review

Well-known actors crafting nifty little suspense thrillers tinged with horror has become a thing lately (think John Krasinski’s A Quiet Place and Joel Edgerton’s The Gift). Dave Franco gets in on it with The Rental, which is swift in its running time and plentiful with twists that you see coming and some that are nicely rewarding. It also features a quartet of solid performers whose weekend getaway gives them far more than they bargained for.

Charlie (Dan Stevens) finds a swanky vacation house to nab for the weekend with help from his trusted assistant Mina (Sheila Vand). They’re celebrating something going right with their business and it’s good reason to let their hair down with Charlie’s wife Michelle (Alison Brie, the director’s real life spouse). Mina happens to be dating Charlie’s brother Josh (Jeremy Allen White) so he tags along with his puppy. Pets aren’t allowed at the establishment, but that turns out to be the least of their issues. For instance, there might be a psycho around and it’s not safe to be in the shower.

Upon arrival, the foursome confront the property’s caretaker Taylor (Toby Huss). The first problem is a racially tinged one. Mina, who’s of Middle Eastern descent, tried to rent the place and was promptly denied. Charlie had no such trouble. They decide to overlook that and the first night becomes an alcohol and designer drug filled party. This is where the aforementioned “twists” that follow are somewhat predictable in nature. However, the actors have a real chemistry with one another and you’ll want to see where it all leads.

Without venturing into spoiler territory, The Rental isn’t its eventual genre for about two thirds of its brisk 88 minutes. Credit is due to Franco and Joe Swanberg’s script for keeping the audience engaged in the dynamics of the four principals. Of them, it’s Vand who has the best role and she’s quite impressive.

When we arrive at the final third, the build up has been sturdy enough that we care about the fates of the characters as they navigate their way through dense fog and deeply personal conflicts. Franco has crafted a lean and effective directorial debut and its title is worth the price of one.

*** (out of four)

Oscar Watch: If Beale Street Could Talk

One of the most eagerly awaited titles screening at the Toronto Film Festival has premiered in the form of If Beale Street Could Talk, the third directorial feature from Barry Jenkins. As you may recall, his second film Moonlight took home the Academy Award for Best Picture in 2016 in rather memorable fashion over La La Land.

Beale Street is based on a James Baldwin novel and set in mid 70s Harlem. The pic sports a large ensemble cast led by Stephan James and Kiki Layne alongside Regina Hall, Colman Domingo, Teyonah Parris, Pedro Pascal, Diego Luna, Ed Skrein, and Dave Franco. Early reviews suggest this could be a player in multiple categories, including Best Picture and Director. In down the line races, it could be recognized for its score from Nicholas Britell as well as Cinematography, Editing, and Production Design. Jenkins could also contend for his Adapted Screenplay. While most critical reaction is strong, some have said it doesn’t quite match up to Moonlight. That said, we shall see if that particular buzz changes in the coming weeks and I feel pretty secure marking it for Picture consideration.

As for the cast, that’s a little murkier. James and Layne are receiving positive notices, but both the lead acting races seem awfully crowded. Both Hall and Parris could contend in Supporting Actress, but that too is far from guaranteed.

Bottom line: If Beale Street Could Talk likely did what it needed to do to be in the Picture and Director mix, while acting nods are a bit less clear.

The film opens domestically on November 30. My Oscar Watch posts will continue…

The Disaster Artist Movie Review

The Disaster Artist begins with filmmakers J.J. Abrams and Kevin Smith and actors Adam Scott, Danny McBride, and Kristen Bell extolling the strange virtues of The Room. That terrible movie became one of the most unlikely cult hits of the 21st century. The rest of the picture details its strange maker Tommy Wiseau (James Franco) and the process to bring it to a midnight theater showing near you.

Just as The Room was Wiseau’s warped vision all his own, this is clearly a passion project for Franco. I suspect many of the other well-known actors who turn up in parts large and small are devotees of the unintentionally hilarious 2003 film that Franco is recounting. Like Tim Burton’s Ed Wood, this is a good movie about a bad director. Not as good, but it’s an entertaining watch that doesn’t probe too far into its subject’s real story. Truth be told, maybe we don’t really wanna know.

Tommy Wiseau wouldn’t want it any other way. We first meet him in San Francisco circa 1998 as he pours his heart into Marlon Brando’s monologue from A Streetcar Named Desire at an acting class. His rendering is quite awful, but it’s his devil-may-care attitude and blind commitment that gets the attention of Greg (Dave Franco). He’s a fellow student who’s more reserved. Tommy is too, but in a much different way. His age is a mystery and he’s not about to tell it. A European accent (where in that continent… who knows?) counters his contention that he hails from New Orleans. Most interestingly, Tommy seems to have a limitless supply of money and no one knows why.

His new pal Greg manages to ignore those puzzling personal aspects and they road trip it to L.A. to move in together and pursue their dreams. Although he seems to have some prospects, Greg can’t catch a break. Tommy’s overall bizarre vibe is an immediate red X to casting agents. The only solution is to finance his own feature.

And The Room is birthed throughout a long shooting process with a director who has no clue what he’s really doing. We see Wiseau torment his cast and crew because he read somewhere that’s how Alfred Hitchcock did it. Those who know The Room will revel in revisiting Wiseau (who casts himself as the romantic lead) and his humorously questionable line readings. There’s his screenplay that inexplicably brings up cancer subplots that go nowhere and sex scenes that would be deemed too horrible for 2am Cinemax play.

Franco, who also serves behind the camera, is obviously enamored with getting his portrayal of Tommy’s mannerisms and his journey to make this project as accurate as possible. Even if you’re not familiar with Wiseau’s cinematic opus, one YouTube viewing of an interview with him and you’ll know Franco nails it. The star/director, in addition to casting his brother, finds roles for Dave’s real life wife Alison Brie and his frequent costar Seth Rogen as a perpetually bemused script supervisor. Yet just as the real Tommy made his personal relationships and the shooting experience all about him, so is the case with The Disaster Artist.

That devotion from Franco is enough to make this a worthwhile experience. If you’re looking for any insight into what really made Tommy who he is, you won’t find it here. The ultimate irony is that Wiseau did end up succeeding in a town where that’s nearly an impossible feat. He didn’t know that the earnest drama he thought he was making would result in Rocky Horror Picture Show style late night screening madness. What kind of man could achieve this? We may never know, but it’s a fun question for Franco and others to ponder.

*** (out of four)

The Lego Ninjago Movie Box Office Prediction

The second spin-off from 2014’s blockbuster (get it?) The Lego Movie, next weekend we have The Lego Ninjago Movie. It’s based on the popular toy line with a martial arts flavor. The animated action/comedy features the voices of Dave Franco, Justin Theroux, Kumail Nanjiani, Michael Pena, Fred Armisen, Olivia Munn, and Jackie Chan.

Ninjago will attempt to retain a good portion of the family audience and Lego lovers that populated The Lego Movie. That feature opened to $69 million in February 2014 with an eventual $257M domestic haul. First spin-off The Lego Batman Movie couldn’t quite match those numbers. It made $53 million for its start and ended up with $175M.

My feeling is that this will continue the downward trend, but still post respectable earnings. It will also have the benefit of having nothing in the way of major family audience competition for several weeks, so holdovers could be pleasing. As for its opening, Ninjago could find itself in a fierce battle for #1 with Kingsman: The Golden Circle. It’s also worth mentioning that It will only be in weekend #3 and still posting big numbers.

The Lego version of Batman was off nearly 25% out of the gate from The Lego Movie. If you applied that here, we’re talking an approximate $40 million debut. That sounds just about right and perhaps a tad under.

The Lego Ninjago Movie opening weekend prediction: $38.6 million

For my Kingsman: The Golden Circle prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2017/09/13/kingsman-the-golden-circle-box-office-prediction/

For my Friend Request prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2017/09/17/friend-request-box-office-prediction/

Nerve Movie Review

Henry Joost and Ariel Shulman’s techno thriller Nerve boasts a fairly cool concept that is mostly squandered under typical genre cliches. These are the directors responsible from 2010’s documentary (?) Catfish, where revelations about the dark side and fictitious nature of the Internet seemed somewhat new and novel. This pic takes its story from a 2012 novel where online game Nerve dares its players to complete tasks that increasingly become deadlier.

Vee (Emma Roberts) is a shy Staten Island high school senior with a domineering and trampy BFF (Emily Meade) and meek other BFF (Miles Hezier) that has a serious crush on her. She’s also got a single mom (Juliette Lewis) whose character is written as a complete moron when you stop and think about it. There’s also her dead brother and that unexplained backstory seems a bit unneeded.

Back to the game that shares its title with the movie. Vee decides to get out of her comfort zone and become a Player (the other option is being a Watcher and there’s a bunch of them). It starts out innocently when she has to kiss a stranger named Ian (Dave “The Other Franco” Franco). He turns out to be a Nerve Player as well and the two are directed by the unseen forces to team up.

The screenplay by Jessica Sharzer attempts to make some broad points about Internet fame and the youth culture’s obsession with their social media devices. At first, the concept of Nerve (both the film itself and the game) is kinda fun for us to watch and be voyeurs to, like when Vee has to decide whether to steal a pricey dress from Bergdorf’s.

Yet as the challenges for Vee and Ian become more risky, Nerve becomes far less believable, considerably less enjoyable and far more trapped in the cliches of any run of the mill thriller. None of the cast necessarily shines, but everyone is essentially playing a stereotype so it’s probably not their fault. As a huge fan of 90s hip hop, I did appreciate the Wu-Tang Clan references due to Vee hailing from Staten Island, so there’s that. There’s also the sight of The Other Franco serenading a restaurant to Roy Orbison. At least some solid music interrupts the mostly disappointing Nerve on occasion.

** (out of four)

 

Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising Movie Review

As has been discussed on the blog before, comedy is typically the genre that lends itself least to sequels. A major reason: most of ’em aren’t made with a planned follow-up in mind and therefore contrivances must be invented for them to exist.

This general rule applies to Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising, which arrives two years after the success of the original. In 2014, the teaming of Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne vs. Zac Efron’s wild frat next door was a mostly effective raunchy pic with a couple of gags (air bags) that soared. $150 million domestic later, returning director Nicholas Stoller and his stars picked a pretty simple premise for another installment. Put a sorority there instead of a frat and watch similar hijinks ensue!

This happens when college freshman Shelby (Chloe Grace Moretz) goes to pledge at sororities and discovers they aren’t allowed to hold the wild bashes that their male counterparts are. So she enlists some other girls and Beastie Boys’s it beside the Radners (Rogen, Byrne) who are now expecting their second child. Kappa Nu is formed with an assist from Teddy (Efron), who’s still a bit salty from what went down when he inhabited the property. He’s also painfully still a man-child and the screenplay does get some decent mileage out of that (his changed friendship with frat bro Dave Franco is an example).

As with the first Neighbors installment, games of one upmanship (or upgirlship I guess) go down. The Radners are terrified because the house is in escrow as they’re set to become suburbanites and the new tenants might not appreciate the newly minted party pad. Shelby and her newfound sisters are determined to stay. And if that all sounds a lot like 2014, it is. Same story, different gender.

Rising gets a some solid chuckles out of exploiting the physique of both Mr. Efron and Mr. Rogen. The best moments come from our lead couple acting as de facto parents to Teddy, yet they’re few and far between. This is due to the familiar tale of Kappa Nu and their schemes that involve some serious felonies that the frat guys would’ve balked at.

There have been plenty of comedic #2’s far worse than this. The trio of Rogen, Byrne, and Efron do give it their all and don’t just go through the motions. Still – this one feels mostly uninspired despite the talent involved and keeps that general comedy sequel rule intact.

**1/2 (out of four)

Nerve Box Office Prediction

**Blogger’s Note (07/28) – Mid-week numbers have necessitated a major upgrade in my Nerve prediction. I’m keeping the original post below with my (extremely) low ball estimate, but I now will predict numbers of a $10.8M Friday to Sunday gross and $16.3M Wednesday to Sunday gross. 

The team behind the creepy 2010 documentary Catfish and its MTV series spin-off returns to theme of online high jinks in the thriller Nerve, out Wednesday next week. Based on a 2012 YA novel, the pic is directed by the aforementioned Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman and stars Emma Roberts, Dave Franco, and Juliette Lewis.

This pic seems to be flying quite a bit under the radar and I just don’t envision this being able to break out. It appears to me that Lionsgate likely has a flop on their hands. For a movie about social media based gaming – unless this somehow involves capturing Pokemon, I don’t expect Nerve to strike much of one with audiences.

Nerve opening weekend prediction: $4.4 million (Friday to Sunday), $5.4 million (Wednesday to Sunday)

For my Jason Bourne prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2016/07/20/jason-bourne-box-office-prediction/

For my Bad Moms prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2016/07/20/bad-moms-box-office-prediction/

Now You See Me 2 Box Office Prediction

Three summers ago, the magic caper Now You See Me came out of nowhere with a $29 million opening and eventual $117M domestic gross. This was probably never looked at by Summit Entertainment as a potential franchise, but those numbers mean sequel and Now You See Me 2 is out next weekend. Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg), Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Alfred (Michael Caine), and Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman) are all back, as are Woody Harrelson and Dave Franco. Lizzy Caplan and Harry Potter himself (Daniel Radcliffe) join the party. Jon M. Chu, whose varied credits include Justin Bieber: Never Say Never and G.I. Joe: Retaliation, takes over directorial duties from Louis Leterrier.

Unlike 2013, NYSM2 comes with expectations and also with stiff competition. Another sequel to a summer 2013 hit, The Conjuring 2, should have the leg up for opening weekend earnings and there’s also the high-profile Warcraft competing for eyeballs.

While I have the Conjuring follow-up slightly outdoing its predecessor out of the gate, I’ll predict this sequel comes in a bit under what the original accomplished for what will still be a pretty decent debut.

Now You See Me 2 opening weekend prediction: $24.1 million

For my The Conjuring 2 prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2016/06/01/the-conjuring-2-box-office-prediction/

For my Warcraft prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2016/06/01/warcraft-box-office-prediction/

Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising Box Office Prediction

Seth Rogen, Zac Efron, and Rose Byrne are back experiencing homeowner drama in a hopefully funny way with Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising, out next weekend. This time, it’s the ladies turn to wreak havoc on Mr. Rogen’s famiy with Chloe Grace Moretz leading the way. Nicholas Stoller returns to direct with Dave Franco and Ike Barinholtz back in supporting roles.

Two years ago, Neighbors turned into a major summer hit with a $49 million opening and $150 million domestic gross. A sequel was quickly greenlit and here we are today with the follow-up hoping to match its predecessor’s numbers.

It could be tough to do. There is some genre competition with Russell Crowe/Ryan Gosling’s The Nice Guys opening on the same day. Additionally, many comedic sequels open under the original in general. The fact that only two years has passed could help though. Reviews have been decent as it stands at 66% on Rotten Tomatoes, just under the 73% of the first.

I’ll predict Neighbors 2 rises to just under $40M, about $10M less than what came before it and it’ll probably manage to just reach triple digits when all is said and done.

Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising opening weekend prediction: $38.2 million

For my The Angry Birds Movie prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2016/05/11/the-angry-birds-movie-box-office-prediction/

For my The Nice Guys prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2016/05/11/the-nice-guys-box-office-prediction/

Unfinished Business Box Office Prediction

Three comedy performers known for appearing in successful raunchy R rated comedies headline Unfinished Business, out Friday. They are Vince Vaughn, Dave Franco, and of course, Tom Wilkinson (??). The picture follows the trio on a European business trip gone wrong. Sienna Miller costars.

While Vaughn and Franco have been involved in genre hits like Wedding Crashers and Neighbors, it’s very hard to imagine this entry joining that company or doing anywhere near their box office numbers. Commercials for Business have done little to inspire confidence. Vaughn, meanwhile, has been on a bit of a losing streak lately. His reunion with Wedding Crashers costar Owen Wilson, The Internship, petered out at only $44 million domestically. His last pic Delivery Man only earned $7.9 million out of the gate.

I simply don’t see Unfinished Business doing anything other than lackluster business in its debut and believe it too will fail to reach double digits for its premiere.

Unfinished Business opening weekend prediction: $8.4 million

For my Chappie prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2015/02/28/chappie-box-office-prediction/

For my prediction on The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2015/02/28/the-second-best-exotic-marigold-hotel-box-office-prediction/