Bumblebee Movie Review

Steven Spielberg has executive produced all five Transformers movies prior to Bumblebee and he holds that title here. Yet it’s in this prequel/spin-off that his influence feels the most pronounced. In the case of this franchise, that’s a welcome development. Michael Bay’s quintet of loud metal on metal action orgies that began in 2007 are generally nonsensical explosion excuses with occasional jaw dropping moments. Travis Knight, taking over directorial duties, gives Bumblebee a heart and the loudest audio belongs to the terrific 80s soundtrack.

This is a prequel and the happenings occur in 1987, which explains The Smiths, Duran Duran, and Tears for Fears providing the tunes. A prologue on the planet Cybertron shows our title character (voiced by Dylan O’Brien) being sent to Earth by Optimus Prime in order to escape death by The Decepticons. He crash lands, of all places, right in the middle of a military training exercise in California where no nonsense Colonel Jack Burns (John Cena) assumes him to be a hostile creature. Bumblebee manages to transform into that iconic 1967 Volkswagen Beetle, but not after being rendered mute when his voice box is disabled. By the way, this all happens in like ten minutes. Pacing is not an issue in this picture, unlike other bloated Transformers flicks.

That Beetle ends up in a junkyard frequented by Charlie (Hailee Steinfeld), a gear head who’s just turned 18. It’s her storyline that brings the Spielberg vibes front and center. She’s experienced parental loss as her beloved father has passed. She’s an outcast in the suburbs. Charlie has an awkward pending romance with her neighbor (Jorge Lendeborg Jr.). There’s also a resistance to diving (even though she’s a terrific diver) that we correctly assume will figure into the plot. She also works at a low rent amusement park that looks straight outta Adventureland. When she commandeers the Volkswagen, she discovers the giant yellow extraterrestrial and befriends him. Their relationship is quite E.T. like, if that alien had tires strapped to his back and communicated through radio waves playing Steve Winwood.

Knight, maker of the acclaimed Kubo and the Two Strings, is making a Transformers experience that could have been made in the 80s. And it mostly works. There’s only so much he can do with the fight scenes after the Decepticons (voiced by Angela Bassett and Justin Theroux) track Bumblebee to this planet. The tech team here manages to make them easier to follow than Bay’s mashups. So when Colonel Burns and other dumber than they should be government types get involved in the plot, I found myself actually caring a bit. That’s due to screenwriter Christina Hodson’s establishment of Charlie as a full fledged character and Steinfeld’s work elevating her. Her charming interaction with Bee is enough to warrant something the Transformers epics don’t get and that’s a recommendation.

*** (out of four)

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse Movie Review

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. SpiderMan: Into the SpiderVerse 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. Guardians of the Galaxy and Deadpool introduced a different dynamic that is evident here. Yet SpiderVerse 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.

***1/2 (out of four)

Bumblebee Box Office Prediction

Times have changed in significant ways for the Transformers franchise that started eleven years ago. They manifest themselves with the release next weekend of Bumblebee, a prequel to the multi-billion series. For starters, Michael Bay is not in the director’s chair for the first time after making the first five. Travis Knight, most known for the acclaimed animated Kubo and the Two Strings, takes over those duties. Hailee Steinfeld headlines the 1980s set tale alongside John Cena, Jorge Lendeborg Jr., John Ortiz, and the voice of Dylan O’Brien as the title Autobot.

A second major difference: Bumblebee is unexpectedly getting very good reviews with a current Rotten Tomatoes rating of 97%. Nearly every sequel since the 2007 original has been critically lambasted while still bringing in the bucks. Positive word-of-mouth should only help, but competition is fierce as the holidays approach. Two days before this debuts, Mary Poppins Returns is out and will take away family audiences. Opening directly against it is Aquaman, which will siphon away action fans.

Which brings us to point #3 – expectations have fallen for the franchise and Paramount hopes its best revenge is better than anticipated returns. This will almost surely have the smallest premiere of the series. That’s even with the caveat that four of the five Transformers pics got early jumps and opened during the middle of the week. The series showed rust in the summer of 2017 when The Last Knight had a $44 million traditional Friday to Sunday rollout and a $130 million domestic haul (by far the lowest of the quintet).

Add all that up and I’m not convinced the pleasing critical (ahem) buzz gets this beyond mid 20s considering its venerable competitors.

Bumblebee opening weekend prediction: $26.2 million

 

For my Aquaman prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2018/12/11/aquaman-box-office-prediction/

For my Mary Poppins Returns prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2018/12/10/mary-poppins-returns-box-office-prediction/

For my Second Act prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2018/12/14/second-act-box-office-prediction/

For my Welcome to Marwen prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2018/12/15/welcome-to-marwen-box-office-prediction/

Oscar Watch: Bumblebee

Alright, stay with me here. You might be thinking it’s silly to see a post with Bumblebee and Oscar Watch in the same title. However, let us not forget that the Transformers franchise (despite mostly negative reviews) has garnered seven nominations from the Academy over the last decade plus.

In 2007, the original film received three nods (Best Visual Effects, Sound Editing, Sound Mixing). Two years later, sequel Revenge of the Fallen got a Sound Mixing mention. In 2011, Dark of the Moon nabbed the same three category nods as part one. Follow-ups Age of Extinction and The Last Knight went empty-handed in the Academy’s tech categories.

This brings us to Bumblebee, the 1980s set prequel that opens on December 21. Critical reaction has been surprisingly strong and it stands at 100% at the moment on Rotten Tomatoes. Many reviews suggest it’s the best of the series.

Last week, the pic made the shortlist of 20 entries eligible for Best Visual Effects. Therefore, it’s got a chance and the sound races could come into play as well. My feeling is that some other high-profile blockbusters will get in before this. Yet I wouldn’t totally count it out based on the positive notices.

Bottom line: this franchise has shown its ability in three categories to get attention. Bumblebee has an outside chance at recognition. My Oscar Watch posts will continue…

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse Box Office Prediction

An iconic superhero swings into theaters in yet another iteration next Friday when SpiderMan: Into the SpiderVerse debuts. This time around, the friendly neighborhood character is animated in a world where multiple individuals can don the spandex. Phil Lord (part of the team behind The Lego Movie) shares writing credit along with co-director Peter Ramsey. Shameik Moore and Jake Johnson both provide voice work for Spidey. Other actors behind the mic include Hailee Steinfeld, Mahershala Ali, Liev Schreiber, Brian Tyree Henry, and Lily Tomlin.

Sony Pictures certainly has reviews on their side as this stands at 100% on Rotten Tomatoes. Some critics even claim it’s the overall best of the series (this is now the seventh stand-alone entry focused on the Marvel web slinger). It appears destined for an Oscar nod in Best Animated Feature.

I believe the raves and familiarity with its title character should propel this to pleasing returns. With projections in the $30-$40 million range, I’m estimating SpiderVerse will premiere on the high-end of that spectrum and likely top it.

SpiderMan: Into the SpiderVerse opening weekend prediction: $43.4 million

For my The Mule prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2018/12/05/the-mule-box-office-prediction/

For my Mortal Engines prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2018/12/06/mortal-engines-box-office-prediction/

Oscar Watch: Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

Over the past 16 years, we’ve witnessed numerous iterations of the famed web slinging superhero Spider-Man. From Tobey Maguire to Andrew Garfield to Tom Holland and two franchise reboots, the character has been omnipresent in our multiplexes. So the idea of an animated version might have seemed like overkill when Sony announced SpiderMan: Into the SpiderVerse, which creates a world in which multiple people can be the iconic character.

Critical reaction out today suggests otherwise. SpiderVerse stands at 100% on Rotten Tomatoes with over 30 reviews in. Some write-ups claim it’s the best Spidey feature since 2004’s SpiderMan 2. Select others claim it’s the best of the whole bunch (this will be seventh stand-alone entry).

Will Oscar notice? It seems highly likely. That would mean a nod in Best Animated Feature. It marks a fourth near “sure thing “ in that race, including current box office champ Ralph Breaks the Internet and Isle of Dogs. The raves bestowed upon this suggests it could even stand a better chance at winning than those pictures. Yet it could be a tall order to overcome the Pixar juggernaut involving other superheroes – Incredibles 2.

Bottom line: SpiderVerse is into the Animated Feature mix in a major way. It’s out stateside on December 14. My Oscar Watch posts will continue…

Oscar Watch: Support the Girls

Opening this weekend in limited release is Support the Girls, a working class comedy from indie director Andrew Bujalski. It premiered at the South by Southwest festival earlier this spring and reaction was quite positive. More reviews are now rolling out and with over a dozen in, it stands at 100% on Rotten Tomatoes.

Particular raves have gone to Regina Hall, who plays the caring manager of a low rent Hooters type sports bar. Nearly every reaction I’ve seen lauds her work and singles her out. Other costars include Haley Lu Richardson, James Le Gros, and AJ Michalka.

Support may be deemed too small to gather any Oscar buzz and a nomination for Hall is an extreme long shot. However, don’t be surprised if several critics point her out as someone whom Academy voters should pay attention to. That would put her in similar company to recent comedic turns that were ignored like Emma Stone in Easy A, Hailee Steinfeld in The Edge of Seventeen, and Hall’s Girls Trip costar Tiffany Haddish.

My Oscar Watch posts will continue…

Blockers Movie Review

Perhaps Emoji decoding will be a term that is looked upon as a dated reference years from now when one views Blockers with fresh eyes. However, it’s one that’s used to humorous effect in 2018 in a comedy that lands more comedic punches than it misses. This is a raunchy confection laced with an often surprising amount of sweetness. Director Kay Cannon, making her directorial debut after writing the Pitch Perfect franchise, is careful to mix them well and she’s got a game cast along the way.

The plot is straightforward: three high school seniors make a pact to lose their virginity on prom night. In the 1980s when these types of flicks were more prevalent, it would usually be just the boys plotting these actions. In Blockers, it’s the girls. Julie (Kathryn Newton) is ready to do the deed with her beau and she’s got ultra clingy single mom Lisa (Leslie Mann) constantly breathing down her neck. Kayla (Geraldine Viswanathan) has overprotective pops Mitchell (John Cena) and a date who amusingly uses his culinary skills for mind expanding purposes. Sam (Gideon Adlon) has a strained relationship with her party boy dad Hunter (Ike Barinholtz) and a fedora clad prom partner that doesn’t match her personal preferences.

When the trio of parents discover their daughters plans, they set out to disrupt the deflowering scheme and go to humiliating lengths to do just that. At one point, that means butt chugging at an after party for a certain wrestler turned thespian. Not exactly high brow stuff, but a funny sight gag nonetheless.

At other junctures, Blockers deftly portrays its teens as both naive due to their age and occasionally more intelligent than their over reactive folks. They’re not bad kids solely focused on sex, even though their elders focus is centered on stopping that for varying reasons. The whole coddling storyline with Mann and Cena’s characters is a well-worn one. However, both performers shine in their sometimes familiar scenarios. Barinholtz’s arch with his daughter is little more unique and a bit fresher – and he winningly avoids making his character one-dimensional. Of the three young women, Viswanathan is an actress to keep an eye on in the future.

There’s sex, drugs, and Hailee Steinfeld songs in Blockers, where sin and sentiment manage to coincide well most of the time. The thumbs up emoji applies.

*** (out of four)

Pitch Perfect 3 Box Office Prediction

Blogger’s Note (12/20/17): I am revising my PP3 estimate from $40.6 million for the four-day to $33.6 million.

The Bellas are back for the holidays as Pitch Perfect 3 hits theaters next Friday. Anna Kendrick, Rebel Wilson, Hailee Steinfeld, Brittany Snow, Anna Camp, Alexis Knapp, and Hana Mae Lee are among returnees alongside Elizabeth Banks and John Michael Higgins. Newcomers to the series include Ruby Rose and John Lithgow. Trish Sie directs.

The 2012 original was a sleeper hit which grossed $65 million and then became more of a sensation once it became available for home viewing. The summer 2015 sequel shocked all prognosticators with a $69 million opening weekend (topping its predecessor’s entire domestic run) and $184 million overall.

It’s no surprise therefore that Universal Pictures wanted a third helping of accapella comedy. Two and a half years later, Pitch 3 faces competition even in its own musical genre with Hugh Jackman’s The Greatest Showman debuting two days prior. That said, the Bellas appear to have a built-in audience and it could be dangerous to underestimate them.

I still believe Pitch 2 could turn out to be the high water mark in the franchise. A debut in the low to mid 40s would probably put part 3 in the #3 spot behind the second weekend of Star Wars and the first for Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle. Yet with its reported smallish budget of $45 million, that should still be music to the studio’s ears.

Pitch Perfect 3 opening weekend prediction: $33.6 million (Friday to Monday estimate)

For my Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2017/12/11/jumanji-welcome-to-the-jungle-box-office-prediction/

For my The Greatest Showman prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2017/12/12/the-greatest-showman-box-office-prediction/

For my Downsizing prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2017/12/13/downsizing-box-office-prediction/

For my Father Figures prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2017/12/14/father-figures-box-office-prediction/

The Edge of Seventeen Movie Review

We’ve seen plenty of coming of age teen dramedies since the 1980s and beyond. It’s the kind of thing John Hughes cornered a market on three decades ago. I have a feeling Kelly Fremon Craig’s The Edge of Seventeen would’ve made him smile. It presents teens who are smart and complicated. High schoolers who are capable of being wholly self-absorbed yet most of it stems from insecurity. Our central character Nadine (Hailee Steinfeld) means well most of the time, at least in her own mind. And she’s the prime example of the traits listed above. With a truly impressive performance from an actress who broke out at age 14 in the Coens True Grit, both Steinfeld and Craig’s screenplay make Nadine feel authentic. You root for her even when you’re exasperated by her. Many a parent with teens could surely relate.

Nadine is an outsider – a high school junior with only one real friend Krista (Haley Lu Richardson). She’s always been a bit of a loner and the loss of her beloved father four years ago complicated it. Her overwhelmed Mom (Kyra Sedgwick) has a tough time figuring how to deal with her, while her super popular older brother Darian (Blake Jenner) seems to have life all figured out. When Darian and Krista begin dating, Nadine’s abandonment issues only worsen.

Throughout the picture, she turns to various people to try and alleviate her social awkwardness. This includes slightly nerdy student Erwin (Hayden Szeto), who’s crushing on her and too cool for school student Nick (Alexander Calvert), who she’s crushing on. Both relationships present with their own versions of humorous and recognizable awkwardness. Nadine also confides in her teacher Mr. Bruner (Woody Harrelson). He’s nowhere near the uncaring educator you’d witness in other genre pics nor the always wiser than thou teach you may have seen before. He clearly cares about Nadine, but his advice and comebacks are often genuinely surprising. There’s a subtly played moment where his pupil realizes her teacher has a life outside of the classroom and it feels just right. Most pleasingly, the role serves as another reminder that Harrelson has morphed into one of the most interesting character actors working today. He’s a pleasure to watch.

So is Steinfeld and the rest of the cast. The Edge of Seventeen might be more satisfying to viewers who have surpassed the age in the title by a few years. There may be more satisfaction for adults who can pick out their own remembrances of what it was like to be that age, when the highs couldn’t have seemed higher and the lows were literally the end of the world. Kelly Fremon Craig has crafted a perceptive, occasionally laugh out loud funny, and genuinely emotional snapshot of someone in that time period.

***1/2 (out of four)