Oscar Watch: Cats

Yes, readers, the words Oscar and Cats are in the same post title, so get on board! Truthfully, this shouldn’t be surprising at all. The adaptation of the long-running Broadway musical comes from director Tom Hooper. His last three films (The King’s Speech, Les Miserables, The Danish Girl) garnered a total of 24 nominations and 8 wins, including Speech nabbing Best Picture. Each one of them gave us one acting winner – Colin Firth in Speech, Anne Hathaway in Miserables, and Alicia Vikander for Danish. 

So to say Cats had potential awards pedigree is not an understatement. Had being the objective term. One day before its release, the review embargo is up. Note to everyone: Oscar contenders don’t lapse their embargo 24 hours before release.

This has proven accurate as the Rotten Tomatoes score for Cats is currently… 19%. Some reviews are of a mixed nature while others are deeming it an unmitigated disaster. Weeks ago, the prospect of a Jennifer Hudson nod in Supporting Actress seemed at least feasible. There will be no second nomination for the Dreamgirls winner.

That said, Cats is definitely contending in one race. Earlier this week, the Academy released their shortlist for Visual Effects nominees. Ten pictures were named and this is one of them. This seems potentially amusing as a number of reviews say the visual look is ugly and garish. I don’t expect this to make the final five and I foresee chatter as to how this got on the shortlist over material like Ad Astra and Spider-Man: Far From Home. Could this show up in other races like Production Design or Makeup and Hairstyling? That seems like a reach.

The one category where Cats did seem like a genuine player was Best Original Song via “Beautiful Ghosts”. That track is sung by costar Taylor Swift and it seemed like a good excuse for the Academy to get her on the stage. Surprisingly, “Ghosts” was excluded from the 15 finalists that were also named this week.

I’ve ended dozens and dozens of these Oscar Watch posts with “My Oscar Watch posts will continue…”. Indeed they will. However, this appears to be the final one of 2019. Have no fear as the Sundance Film Festival is around the corner in January and there’s always Oscar bait at that event. Therefore, my Oscar Watch posts will continue… in 2020. And in the meantime, my predictions for this year’s Academy nominees will continue as well.

Cats Box Office Prediction

One of the longest running Broadway musicals of all time gets the big budget screen treatment next weekend with the unleashing of Cats. The rendering of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s work comes from the Oscar-winning director of The King’s Speech Tom Hooper, who also made the Les Miserables adaptation in 2012. Performers donning the fur include James Corden, Judi Dench, Jason Derulo, Idris Elba, Jennifer Hudson, Ian McKellen, Taylor Swift, Rebel Wilson, and Francesca Howard.

When the Cats trailer was posted a few months back, it was greeted with a certain amount of derision. Even with that negative buzz and a review embargo that doesn’t lapse until right before its release, these musicals with hefty price tags have shown their muscle before during the holiday season.

In 2017, The Greatest Showman was met with mixed reviews. Its $8.8 million opening on the same pre Christmas weekend was a disappointment, but it legged out to an amazing $174 million domestically. Five years back, Into the Woods took in a joyous $45 million over its extended Christmas rollout.

This is not expected to reach the highs of Woods or lows of Showman out of the gate. Competition is fierce with Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker premiering on the same day. That said, Universal Pictures has perhaps smartly scheduled this as counter programming for female and older crowds. On the other hand, Bombshell (also out next Friday) is searching for the same audience.

I believe this manages low to mid teens haul for starters as it hopes for positive word-of-mouth afterwards and nine lives of profitability in subsequent frames.

Cats opening weekend prediction: $14.5 million

For my Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2019/12/10/star-wars-the-rise-of-skywalker-box-office-prediction/

For my Bombshell prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2019/12/11/bombshell-box-office-prediction/

Hobbs & Shaw Box Office Prediction

Blogger’s Note (07/31): My estimate has dropped from $82.6 million to $72.6 million

Two of the most popular characters from the venerable Fast and Furious franchise get their  own spin-off (the first of the long running series) with Hobbs & Shaw next weekend. The action extravaganza comes with a reported $200 million budget and is headlined by the title characters respectively portrayed by Dwayne Johnson and Jason Statham. David Leitch (co-director of John Wick and sole director of Atomic Blonde and Deadpool 2) is behind the camera. Costars include Idris Elba, Vanessa Kirby, and Helen Mirren (reprising her maternal role from 2017’s last entry The Fate of the Furious).

Despite the absence of Vin Diesel and other actors associated with the franchise that started 18 years ago, Hobbs & Shaw is likely to perform similarly to other pics in the canon. The largest opening was accomplished in 2015 with Furious 7 with a gross of $147 million. Tragically, part of the reason its start was significantly more than the others was due to the untimely death of Paul Walker and that picture representing his swan song. Follow-up Fate of the Furious two years later landed the second highest start of the eight features at $98 million.

This might fall a bit under those gaudy numbers and I think low to mid 80s is most feasible. That would put it in line or a just bit below the $86 million accomplished by Fast Five in 2011.

Hobbs & Shaw opening weekend prediction: $72.6 million

The Mountain Between Us Movie Review

As the poet Rihanna said, The Mountain Between Us is about two individuals who find love in a hopeless place. Or perhaps “Crash Into Me” by Dave Matthews Band is a more appropriate musical metaphor here. Either way, I’d take listening to either track over watching this survival tale again. Based on a 2011 novel by Charles Martin, this melodrama finds Kate Winslet and Idris Elba falling for one another under snow drenched and deadly circumstances.

Alex (Winslet) is a photojournalist racing back home because she’s to be married the next day. Dr. Ben (Elba) is a brain surgeon hustling back to perform surgery on a child. They’re both in Boise dealing with a weather related flight cancellation so the strangers team up and hire a charter flight out. Their pilot and his dog take them wheels up, but not for long. The plane crashes. Alex, Ben, and the canine survive. She’s injured. They’re on a mountain. It’s freezing. Let the survival games ensue.

The film quickly and efficiently puts the two leads and their furry friend in their predicament and wastes little time doing so. We are left with nearly two hours of the duo deciding whether to stay on their mountain perch, repel down for any signs of life, and the other developments we have come to anticipate in the genre (we know that the dog is unlikely to be the only animal around). All the while, we are asked to buy that Alex and Ben are developing a bond deeper than the “I want to live” variety.

It’s a tough sell. That’s somewhat surprising considering that Winslet and Elba are two fine actors and their chemistry is sufficient. It’s the mawkish screenplay that’s the main issue. The script never succeeds in making either lead particularly compelling or three-dimensional. There’s only so much mileage you get from two solid actors acting cold for a couple of hours. The material never rises to their talents. It’s actually Raleigh and Austin (the names of the dogs who were used here) who come out best and give perhaps the sturdiest performances in the movie. Maybe two hours of Raleigh/Austin on his own braving the elements would have been more engaging.

** (out of four)

Avengers: Infinity War Movie Review

A decade into its multi-billion dollar cinematic universe, Avengers: Infinity War invites viewers to marvel at its gathering of superhero titans to fight another – a villain from planet Titan who reverses  one frequent MCU debit (a weak villain). It’s an experience that yields many positive results packed with the action and humor we’ve come to anticipate from the best of this franchise. This movie is massive and it feels that way. The 19th entry in the MCU that started with 2008’s Iron Man, here we have nearly all the significant characters from its catalog banding together. If you ever wondered how Thor (Chris Hemsworth) would get along with the Guardians of the Galaxy, the answer is humorously provided. How do the egos of Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) and Doctor Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) and Star-Lord (Chris Pratt) meld? You’re about to find out. What happens when the original Avengers and others pick up their weapons alongside Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) in Wakanda? Giddyup!

All of this runs the risk of Infinity War coming off as gimmicky, but it mostly doesn’t. That’s because directors Anthony and Joe Russo and screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely do a remarkable job sticking these giants into the blender and creating something that goes down smooth. This is not necessarily a sequel to 2015’s Avengers: Age of Ultron or 2016’s Captain America: Civil War (essentially the third Avengers flick). Rather it’s a follow-up to almost every MCU title. It’s important to know what happened in the actual Avengers pics and Civil War, but I’d suggest having knowledge of the Guardians, Panther, and so on. Lucky for Disney and Marvel Studios, you probably do. The gathering of these comic book and box office behemoths leads Infinity War to often feel like the continuation of a long running TV serial – albeit one with huge stars and an unlimited budget.

What brings all the characters together is Thanos (Josh Brolin). He has the proportions of the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) and a similar sized ambitions of world destruction. Thanos is hell-bent on collecting the Infinity Stones, six potent gems that would render him all-powerful and capable of wiping out populations of many galaxies. After the breakup of the Avengers in Civil War two years ago, it’s Thanos that causes Mr. Stark and Captain America (Chris Evans) to put their differences aside. Thus begins the jigsaw puzzle of matching up Guardians and Asgardian gods with Wakanda kings and mystical doctors and your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man (Tom Holland).

As you may recall, Thanos has history with one particular character – Gamora (Zoe Saldana). She’s his adopted daughter after he decimated her home planet when she was a little girl. For those who might have assumed the Guardians of the Galaxy would have a glorified cameo in this universe, that is certainly not the case. It’s Gamora’s backstory with Thanos that puts meat on his character’s bones and assists in making him one of the franchise’s best villains. Brolin, for his part, gives the performance his menacing all in crafting him.

Delving too far into what happens in Infinity War would feel like cheating in any review. Part of the fun here is discovering just how these dozens of heroes and villains coexist. Some general observations: Thor alongside Groot and Rocket is a joy, as is witnessing Groot as a bratty teen with its attention rooted to a video game device. The return to Wakanda and its whip smart inhabitants feels welcome just weeks after Panther’s stand-alone effort. And after 10 years of Tony Stark onscreen in numerous MCU titles, Downey Jr.’s portrayal of him is still as strong as ever. There’s never been a moment in the decade where it felt like Downey was slumming it. He’s the heart of this franchise.

The conclusion of Infinity War leaves a lot open for the sequel that will arrive next year. When the credits roll before the inevitable post-credits sequence, we witness something both powerful and perhaps not as powerful as it seems after careful thought (saying more would be a spoiler). There’s no doubt, however, that this comic book all-star game is a winner.

***1/2 (out of four)

Oscar Watch – Avengers: Infinity War

This weekend is all about Avengers: Infinity War at the box office as it barrels toward a potentially record-setting debut. The film looks, at the least, poised to set the all-time opening weekend record for the Marvel Cinematic Universe. This is the 19th picture in the MCU as the multi-billion dollar franchise is about to hit its ten-year anniversary. 

Infinity will certainly make its mark financially, but could Academy voters take notice? In short – probably not. The pic stands at 85% currently on Rotten Tomatoes. That’s a bit below the original Avengers from 2012 (92%) and a bit above 2015 sequel Age of Ultron (75%). No MCU title or any comic book adaptation has managed a Best Picture nomination and I see no reason to think this will.

Having said that, the Marvel folks stand their best opportunity yet to score a nod in the biggest category of them all. And that would be Black Panther, which was released in February. It stands a real shot. Looking through the Oscar history with this franchise, The Avengers scored a Best Visual Effects nomination in 2012 and lost to Life of Pi. No nominations were given to Ultron.

Bottom line: Infinity War could find itself in the mix for Visual Effects and possibly even the Sound categories. Yet any real MCU love from voters will go to King T’Challa.

Avengers: Infinity War Box Office Prediction

It may feel like winter in many parts of the country even though it’s spring, but next weekend is essentially the start of the summer box office in 2018 when Avengers: Infinity War invades theaters. This is the 19th picture in the Marvel Cinematic Universe that began a decade ago with 2008’s Iron Man and the third installment of the Avengers franchise that kicked off in 2012 (an untitled fourth installment is out next summer).

After 10 years of these superheroes populating our screens in one form or another, Infinity War is the picture that brings them all together. That means we have the Avengers we’re used to seeing together: Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Captain America (Chris Evans), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner). They’ve got a whole lot of company this time around, including Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman), Spider-Man (Tom Holland), Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), Ant-Man (Paul Rudd), War Machine (Don Cheadle), Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen), Falcon (Anthony Mackie), Loki (Tom Hiddleston), Bucky (Sebastian Stan), and the whole Guardians of the Galaxy gang (Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, and the vocal work of Bradley Cooper and Vin Diesel). Josh Brolin is main villain Thanos. Other actors from the MCU returning include Gwyneth Paltrow, Idris Elba, Paul Bettany, Letitia Wright, Danai Gurira, Benicio del Toro, Cobie Smulders, Angela Bassett, Tessa Thompson, and Jon Favreau. Brothers Anthony and Joe Russo (who directed 2016’s Captain America: Civil War) are behind the camera. Whew…

The gathering of the entire MCU is one impressive selling point and there’s been developments that have even increased the anticipation for Infinity‘s release. Last summer’s Spider-Man: Homecoming was well-received, as were Guardians and Thor sequels. Yet perhaps more than anything else, this February’s Black Panther turned into a phenomenon – becoming the third highest grossing domestic earner of all time.

Projections have steadily increased in the past few weeks. It is not outside the realm of possibility that Infinity War could have the largest stateside opening of all time. In order to do so, it would need to surpass the $247 million achieved by 2015’s Star Wars: The Force Awakens. To accomplish the 2nd biggest debut, it would need to exceed the $220 million of last year’s Star Wars: The Last Jedi. It will almost certainly achieve the record for an MCU premiere, which is currently held by the original Avengers at $207 million.

I believe this will pass Jedi and rather easily. Getting to the Awakens number is doable, but I’ll project it falls a bit under that milestone.

Avengers: Infinity War opening weekend prediction: $240.2 million