Oscar Watch: The Lion King

Disney’s live-action rendering of its 1994 classic The Lion King is out next weekend and it’s expected to make a killing at the box office. The computer generated saga from director Jon Favreau is among a quartet of Mouse Factory updates of their animated filmography out in 2019.

Reviews are out today and it’s a mixed bag. Even the majority of positive reviews essentially say it’s a carbon copy of the original. Even the majority of negative reviews seem impressed with its state of the art visuals.

The Rotten Tomatoes score stands at 59% and that’s right in range with the 57% that Aladdin received two months ago. That certainly puts this out of Best Picture range. However, I look for this to be a serious player in Visual Effects. If so, it would follow Favreau’s 2016 smash The Jungle Book and it won the award. This has a shot at following suit. My Oscar Watch posts will continue…

The Lion King Box Office Prediction

Disney’s live action reimagining of The Lion King roars into theaters next weekend a quarter century after the classic animated tale. Jon Favreau, who has some experience in the genre with 2016’s $364 million grosser The Jungle Book, directs. The computer animated animal epic features the voices of many recognizable faces. They include Donald Glover, Seth Rogen, Beyoncé, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Alfre Woodard, Billy Eichner, John Kani, John Oliver, and James Earl Jones returning as Mufasa.

Expectations are sky high and it’s easy to see why. The Mouse Factory has achieved massive successes in this unique sub genre and have done so very recently. This May’s Aladdin now stands at over $321 million in domestic earnings. The high water mark is from 2017 with Beauty and the Beast. It opened to $174 million and topped out at $504 million total.

The 1994 original was a phenomenon, taking in $422 million. And that was 25 years ago and would be over $800 million when adjusted for inflation. It still stands as the fourth highest grossing animated feature of all time.

Considering those gaudy numbers, The Lion King is likely to make a killing and set a new record for the studio’s remakes. $200 million is reachable in my view, but I’ll put it a bit under that.

The Lion King opening weekend prediction: $192.7 million

Solo: A Star Wars Story Movie Review

I have an ambivalent feeling about this. And there I am with Solo: A Star Wars Story, which is competently directed and acted, has the impressive battle scenes you expect in this franchise, and manages to be underwhelming at the same time. It is the first occurrence of Disney’s resurgence of the forty-year plus series seeming inconsequential, a feeling that didn’t permeate Rogue One (2016’s first stand-alone entry in the galaxy far far away).

Here is a franchise, more than any other, that elicits strong emotions from its legions of fans both positively and negatively. After all, the original episodes IV-VI trilogy has inspired generations of filmmakers and other blockbusters. Episode I-III sparked a backlash where its multitude of detractors still foam at the mouth speaking of it. Even last year’s The Last Jedi had vigorous supporters and naysayers extolling its virtues or pitfalls.

Solo shouldn’t be picked part in that manner. Oh, it probably will. Yet my reaction is it doesn’t really deserve that much scrutiny. This is basically a breezy heist flick transplanted into a familiar cinematic universe. The backlash of casting a younger actor to fill the shoes of a role Harrison Ford made iconic? It’s not a disaster by any means, but Alden Ehrenreich isn’t memorable either. No surprise but when you hear the words Han Solo after viewing this, you’ll think of the older one with fondness.

The picture shows us a youthful Han wishing to become a pilot and willing to team up with unsavory characters to do so. He has an insubordinate streak that naturally rejects the evil ways of the Empire, but he hardly considers himself a hero. We know better. The love of his current life is Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke), who he’s separated from and makes a vow to rescue from Imperial servitude from villainous Dryden Vos (Paul Bettany). Han needs a ship to make that happen and that costs money. His mission leads him to partner with thief Tobias Beckett (Woody Harrelson) and his crew. Oh and there’s a notable Wookie involved and a swagger filled Lando Calrissian (Donald Glover). And that ship he finds… like you don’t know…

Han’s journeys take him to multiple galaxies with a second half that feels like one continuous action sequence. There are, of course, nods to the franchise lore. Solo, though, feels the most removed from everything we’ve seen before. If it often has the vibe of a cash grab to fill time between traditional episodes, that’s because it kind of is. Ron Howard took over the behind the camera duties after the well-publicized removal of Christopher Miller and Phil Lord months into production. I didn’t have a strange sense of competing visions while viewing it. If anything, Howard certainly seems like the filmmaker here with its workmanlike sensibilities and lack of genuine style.

The cast is filled with familiar faces putting in serviceable performances. Glover gets a couple of moments to shine, but my favorite supporting work came from the more unfamiliar Phoebe Waller-Bridge as the voice of sassy droid L3. Bettany is a decent villain in a series with previous monumental ones. As mentioned, the conventions of the heist genre are all present with double crosses aplenty.

The Star Wars series is one in which the fans rarely forget a detail. Solo: A Star Wars Story is ultimately rather forgettable. Sure it’s an easy watch, but focusing deeply on it seems like giving it too much credit.

**1/2 (out of four)

Oscar Watch – Solo: A Star Wars Story

Since Disney took over the Star Wars franchise, the three released pictures have combined for 11 Oscar nominations in the past three ceremonies. Let’s break them down, shall we?

Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015)

Nominations: Original Score, Sound Editing, Sound Mixing, Film Editing, Visual Effects

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016)

Nominations: Sound Mixing, Visual Effects

Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017)

Nominations: Original Score, Sound Editing, Sound Mixing, Visual Effects

You will note 11 nods, but no wins for the multi-billion dollar series and that all recognition has been in technical races. This Memorial Day weekend, Solo: A Star Wars Story flies into theaters. So the question must be asked: will it manage to score some Academy love as well?

Solo has the lowest Rotten Tomatoes rating (71%) of the bunch. That could serve as a hindrance for even tech nods, especially with MCU heavy hitters like Black Panther and Avengers: Infinity War in the mix, among others.

Perhaps it could play in the Sound races and perhaps Visual Effects, but competition could potentially leave Solo as the solo entry in the franchise with no Oscar attention.

My Oscar Watch posts will continue…

Solo: A Star Wars Story Box Office Prediction

The second stand-alone feature set in a galaxy far, far away – Solo: A Star Wars Story roars into multiplexes this Memorial Day Weekend. Alden Ehrenreich takes over the role of a young Han Solo in the part made iconic by Harrison Ford. Costars include Woody Harrelson, Emilia Clarke, Donald Glover as Lando, Thandie Newton, Paul Bettany, and, of course, Chewbacca. Ron Howard serves behind the camera in a move that garnered much press attention when he took over from Phil Lord and Christopher Miller. They exited the project after creative differences with Disney after months on the job.

Reviews out today are mostly positive with 73% currently on Rotten Tomatoes. That said, that’s the lowest meter of the four entries since the vaunted franchise came back in 2015. Our first spin-off, 2016’s Rogue One, debuted with $155 million one year after the record-breaking grosses of Star Wars: The Force Awakens. These offshoots are not expected to reach the heights of the traditional “episodes”. Solo does certainly have the added bonus of returning a beloved character, even with the natural speculation and some cynicism about another actor playing him.

One thing seems fairly certain: Solo should have no trouble breaking the current Memorial Day record held by 2007’s Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End which made $139.8 million for its start. Given the extra day of grosses, Han and Chewie could exceed that by over $10 million.

Solo: A Star Wars Story opening weekend prediction: $151.3 million (Friday to Monday estimate)

Spider-Man: Homecoming Movie Review

Spider-Man: Homecoming is the third reiteration of the web slinger franchise that began a decade and a half ago. It arrives three years after the first reboot with Andrew Garfield sputtered in its second entry. That franchise faded away being plagued by the same issues that Sam Raimi and Tobey Maguire’s trilogy suffered at its end – too many villains and generally trying to cram too much superfluous material. It’s a pleasure to report that Homecoming doesn’t suffer the same problems.

In fact, our third Spidey helping soars the most when Peter Parker stays grounded. Tom Holland is the title character, getting his stand-alone pic after a brief appearance in last summer’s Captain America: Civil War. Yes, Spidey/Peter is now part of the vast Marvel Cinematic Universe and he’s a pupil of none other than Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.). Well, sort of. After assisting in one epic battle in Civil War, Peter wrongly assumes he’s part of The Avengers. Yet Stark isn’t exactly quick to enlist him, tasking his trusty bodyguard Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau) to keep tabs on him but not involve him in their day-to-day world saving activities.

That leaves Peter doing his Spidey thing on a much smaller scale, busting carjackers and ATM thieves in New York City while hiding his identity from Aunt May (Marisa Tomei) and his high school buddies. That consists mostly of just one classmate Ned (Jacob Batalon), a fellow nerd. Peter also has a serious crush on Liz (Laura Harrier), the lovely captain of the academic decathlon team. There’s another female student, played by Zendaya, that you suspect will become more important as the franchise continues. Homecoming does something that other Spidey flicks never really bothered to do. It makes Peter Parker a credible high school student. Part of the problem in the first two series was that you never bought Maguire or Garfield as underclassmen. With Holland, his youthful exuberance and awkwardness sell it. Of the trio we’ve seen thus far, he is probably the best Spider-Man. He’s definitely the best Peter Parker.

One of Spidey’s busts while waiting for Tony Stark to call with bigger projects leads him to Toomes (Michael Keaton), whose backstory is explained in the opening sequence. He’s a former small business owner gone disgruntled after more powerful interests (Mr. Stark and his empire) took his livelihood away. Toomes retaliates by using some stolen materials to develop weapons. Just as Peter is an everyday guy who becomes a superhero, Toomes is a once normal Joe who becomes a super villain. With Keaton playing him, it’s a pleasure to watch. One often deserved knock on the Marvel Cinematic Universe is that a solid villain is about as common as a Marvel Cinematic Unicorn. As with Loki, this offers an exception and Keaton is the reason why.

The scenes in the high school are handled with a often light, humorous and believable touch. Our grand action set pieces are expertly handled, but not much different than anything else we see multiple times a year (one at the Washington Monument is pretty nifty though). Homecoming does a commendable job at remembering that our hero is a neighborhood Spider-Man. Even though we know a much larger universe awaits him, it’s a treat to watch him working in relatively more grounded reality.

*** (out of four)

Spider-Man: Homecoming Box Office Prediction

It was 15 summers ago when Spider-Man scored the largest domestic opening of all time (at that juncture) and helped kick off the comic book adaptation bonanza that has yet to let up today. We are now on our third web slinger iteration as Spider-Man: Homecoming swings into theaters next weekend.

Of course, this is not our first time seeing Tom Holland as the new Spidey. He first appeared in last summer’s Captain America: Civil War. In this first solo effort, none other than Robert Downey Jr.’s Iron Man is appearing alongside him. Jon Watts directs with a supporting cast that includes Michael Keaton as the villainous Vulture, Marisa Tomei, Donald Glover, Jon Favreau, and Zendaya.

This co-production of Columbia Pictures and Marvel Studios comes with a reported $175 million budget and lofty expectations. The second reboot of the beloved superhero series certainly is benefited by the new Spidey’s place in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and his Avenger friends.

Homecoming is the sixth overall flick headlined by Spider-Man. Let’s take a trip down franchise lane, shall we?

In looking at the opening grosses of the five previous entries, it’s a bit of a web since some opened over long holiday weekends. The 2002 original made the aforementioned record-setting sum of $114 million out of the gate and $403M overall domestically. The 2004 follow-up opened over a five-day July 4th weekend with $88 million from Friday to Sunday, $151 million from Wednesday to Sunday, and $373M when all was said and done. 2007’s Spider-Man 3 (marking the final appearance of Tobey Maguire in the title role) set the franchise record opening of $151 million, but grossed $336M in total – the lowest of the trilogy. Five years later when Andrew Garfield inherited the tights, The Amazing Spider-Man rolled out over a long six-day July 4th frame with $62 million in the traditional weekend and $137 million over the long weekend. It would go on to make $262M. 2014’s sequel made $91 million for its start and a series low $202M overall.

Got all that? OK! So where does Homecoming stand in comparison? Let’s leave its predecessors alone for just a second as it’s unlikely this will match the overall grosses of this summer’s previous comic book tentpoles Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 and Wonder Woman. Both of those pics look to near $400 million domestically and place first and second for the season’s top earners. At one time, projections for the new Spidey were as high as $135 million, but they’ve since steadily declined. I believe this will reach over just over what the first picture accomplished a decade and a half ago.

Spider-Man: Homecoming opening weekend prediction: $117.8 million