Annabelle Comes Home Review

The first Annabelle spinoff in 2014 felt like a cheap and quick money grab after the success of The Conjuring the year before and I’d say it stands as the worst experience in this cinematic universe. Three years later, Annabelle: Creation managed to slightly improve on its predecessor as it told the 1950s set backstory of the demonic doll. Some horror aficionados felt it was a significant improvement, but I wouldn’t go that far. Annabelle Comes Home, which takes place about a year after the events of The Conjuring, accomplishes what very few trilogies can. I think this is the best of the trio and about on the level with The Conjuring 2 as far as effectiveness. That means it’s nowhere near the quality of the film that kicked the whole shebang off, but it’s well-crafted and feels like some effort got put into it.

Paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga) are back and they basically bookend this latest haunting. The real focus is their daughter Judy (Mckenna Grace) as she deals with that supremely creepy looking title doll. Her parents have recently acquired Annabelle and locked her in a case that explicitly warns others to keep it closed. When the Warrens go off somewhere investigating what will probably be a Conjuring flick someday, Judy is left in the care of high school babysitter Mary Ellen (Madison Iseman). Her friend Daniela (Katie Sarife) joins the party and is curious if there are evil spirits lurking in the Warren household. She’s also desperate to connect with her recently deceased father.

As we know, Daniela has found the right house to do just that. Her actions unlock a whole lotta spirited occurrences which come with the franchise’s now well-known and precise sound effects editing. Home marks the directorial debut of Gary Dauberman, who wrote the first two Annabelle‘s and The Nun (he also penned both It pics). This walks a sometimes pleasurable line between the terrorized babysitter premise while being steeped in Conjuring lore. We briefly see several other spirits awakened and that includes a dog who’s a bad boy and a board game with a mind of its own.

Yet Annabelle Comes Home never turns into Ouija or Cujo. Most of the focus is on Annabelle. And despite her still scary appearance, no Conjuring sequel/spinoff has quite nailed the key objective: being consistently scary itself. With the exception of Annabelle’s first 2014 starring role, they look good and sound really good. They’re also far cries from what started it all.

**1/2 (out of four)

Top 25 SNL Alumni Movie Performances: Numbers 25-21

It’s time for another list on this here blog of mine and Saturday Night Live has been on the mind lately. With The King of Staten Island garnering solid reviews and serving as a launching pad for the film career of current cast member Pete Davidson, I’ve decided to compile my own personal list of top 25 performances from the 45 years of SNL alumni.

And this is sure to be a list where many moviegoers would have their own choices that do not reflect my own. Obviously SNL has a rich history of performers that have made the transition to the big screen and there are lots of notable comedic (and some dramatic) highlights.

A couple of notes before we start with numbers 25-21:

  • There are couple well-known actors that I chose to leave on the cutting room floor due to their very brief tenures on the show. Ben Stiller was a cast member for only 4 episodes and Laurie Metcalf was a not ready for prime time player for exactly 1 show. That didn’t seem like enough to include them. In short, if you lasted a season or more on SNL, you are eligible.
  • This list is undeniably dominated by men. That’s just a fact. On the other hand, if I did a list that included TV (which I may after this), you would certainly see a more substantial presence of former female performers. Think Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, and their acclaimed small screen work.
  • We have a couple of cinematic legends like Eddie Murphy and Bill Murray and I could have chosen plenty of their roles for inclusion. I tried to limit that, but you will see them make quite an impact in the top 25.

And with that, let’s get to the list!

25. Jan Hooks, Pee Wee’s Big Adventure (1985)

OK, maybe this is cheating a little bit since Ms. Hooks (who was brilliant on SNL) gets about three minutes of screen time in Tim Burton’s team-up with Paul Reubens for his iconic character. Yet her work as the cheery tour guide with the southern drawl is so memorable that I couldn’t leave it off. Six words: “There’s no basement at the Alamo!”

24. Bill Hader, It Chapter Two (2019)

Hader has been one of the most versatile cast members in recent times and has had memorable film roles in Superbad and Trainwreck, among others. I include this horror sequel because he was the undeniable bright spot in an otherwise inferior sequel.

23. Will Forte, MacGruber (2010)

Count me in as one of the ardent defenders of this SNL spin-off featuring Forte doing a feature length version of his idiotic MacGyver like role. MacGruber was a box office flop upon release but has since turned into a deserved cult classic (with a rumored sequel happening).

22. Tina Fey, Mean Girls (2004)

Before her fantastic work on 30 Rock, Fey wrote this hit comedy that has spawned a massive following and a Broadway musical. Her work as a teacher here served as a springboard to an impressive TV and movie career.

21. Billy Crystal, When Harry Met Sally… (1989)

Crystal has certainly had his share of hits, but I’ll give the nod to his romantic leading man role opposite Meg Ryan in Rob Reiner’s blockbuster.

That does it for now, folks! I’ll continue the list with numbers 20-16 in short order…

It Chapter Two Movie Review

It bloats. That would be Chapter Two of the saga that was adapted from Stephen King’s novel to monstrous box office results in 2017. A rumination on childhood friendship and fears that happened to feature a demented clown (with a humdinger of a performance by Bill Skarsgard and his creepy eyes as Pennywise), it was easy to see why It cashed in. Set in the 1980s (when the book was released) as opposed to the 1950s, the pic had a retro vibe fitting the Stranger Things and Steven Spielberg mold. Featuring fine performances by its band of teens called The Losers, the scariest parts of It often involved what adults were capable of doing to the group as opposed to Pennywise in clown or other forms.

In Chapter Two, it’s The Losers who are the adults. They come together 27 years after the events of chapter one in the town of Derry, Maine. This was choreographed at the conclusion of It two years back, but the grownup Losers only have scant memories of warding off Pennywise in 1989. We as the audience remember it well, but it takes around an hour of the nearly three hour running time for nearly all of them to recall. And that’s a slog.

On the positive side, the casting here is impressive. James McAvoy is de facto leader Bill, now a successful horror author who can’t ever write a satisfactory ending to his works (something King himself is often accused of). In my It review, I speculated that Amy Adams could inhabit the part of Beverly, the lone female of the club who continues to suffer from physical abuse started by her demented father. Jessica Chastain got the role and she’s another obvious choice. The most memorable performances here, however, come from Bill Hader as Richie, now a standup comic and James Ransone as hypochondriac Eddie. They’re responsible for some much needed comic relief and occasional moments that are genuinely funny. And while Jay Ryan might not exactly physically resemble the younger overweight New Kids on the Block loving Ben (who still has a crush on Beverly), the casting club found a performer whose eyes match his youthful counterpart Jeremy Ray Taylor.

Of course, there’s also Skarsgard having a ball as Pennywise. It comes in many forms and in many situations. It comes at night. It comes during daytime. It comes as a creepy old lady who lives in Beverly’s old apartment. It comes as a giant spider. It comes as famous lumberjacks. It comes in ways that display decent CG and dodgy CG. It’s a mixed bag of appearances.

Chapter Two is overstuffed and overlong. It’s as if director Andy Muschietti and screenwriter Gary Dauberman (the team behind the first chapter) wanted to be as faithful as possible to King’s book and leave as little out as possible. A tightening of the screws might have been a wiser course of action. King himself (who cleverly cameos) has stated in interviews that the why of why monsters do what they do is fairly incidental. The time spent linking Pennywise to Native American rituals and the creature’s background feels just that. That Stephen King might be onto something.

The long continuation of this story does certainly feature a couple of spine tingling sequences, fine acting, and amusing bits. Unfortunately it does not represent a hefty portion of its 169 minutes and that’s why this chapter just can’t match the more tightly contained first one.

**1/2 (out of four)

October 11-13 Box Office Predictions

Blogger’s Note (10/10): My Joker estimate has risen from $39.8 million to $44.8 million. My   Addams Family estimate is up from $21.7 million to $27 million. My Gemini Man projection has dropped from $24.8 million to $22.8 million.

After a record setting October beginning, Joker looks to repeat in the top spot with more significant competition in its sophomore frame. The contenders for the throne are Ang Lee’s action thriller Gemini Man starring Will Smith and the animated version of The Addams Family. There’s also the Adam DeVine technological comedy Jexi, which will be lucky to hit the top five. You can peruse my detailed prediction posts on the newcomers right here:

I am on the lower end of expectations with Gemini and Addams. My respective projections in the mid 20s and low 20s puts them in second and third positions behind Joaquin Phoenix’s villainous character.

So how will Joker fare in the follow-up weekend? Looking to some decent comps, both Logan and Venom fell 56% in their second outings. It seems reasonable that this will drop that much. I don’t see it falling the 68% of, say, Watchmen. I’ll say 58-60% is most feasible.

Abominable looks to place fourth and my $3.5 million forecast for Jexi puts it behind Downton Abbey in the five spot race.

And with that, my take on the weekend ahead:

1. Joker

Predicted Gross: $44.8 million

2. The Addams Family 

Predicted Gross: $27 million

3. Gemini Man

Predicted Gross: $22.8 million

4. Abominable

Predicted Gross: $7 million

5. Downton Abbey

Predicted Gross: $4.4 million

Box Office Results (October 4-6)

Joker decimated the all-time October premiere record with a sizzling $96.2 million, rising above my $89.6 million projection. The Warner Bros stand-alone comic book pic was not affected by various controversies that preceded it and audience curiosity was clearly at a fever pitch.

Abominable dropped to second place with $11.9 million, in line with my $12.5 million prediction for a two-week tally of $37 million. That’s on the smaller end of the spectrum when it comes to Dreamworks Animation’s early autumn offerings.

Downton Abbey was third with $7.9 million (I said $8 million) for a bountiful $73 million haul thus far.

Hustlers was fourth with $6.3 million, just under my $6.7 million. The Jennifer Lopez hit is nearing the century mark at $91 million.

I incorrectly had It Chapter Two outside of the high five, but it was fifth with $5.3 million to float its gross to $202 million.

Renee Zellweger Oscar hopeful Judy expanded its theater count to over 1400 and was sixth with $4.5 million. I had it making a tad more at $5.9 million. Total is $9 million.

And that does it for now, folks! Until next time…

October 4-6 Box Office Predictions

The new month’s box office kicks off with Warner Bros not clowning around and hoping for the best October opening ever with Joker. The Joaquin Phoenix led hard R rated comic book adaptation has received a ton of publicity (both pro and con) over the last few weeks. This certainly isn’t a picture that’s sneaking into theaters and you can peruse my detailed prediction post on it here:

In order to set the record, Joker needs to top the $80.2 million premiere by Venom last year. I’m estimating that it will do so by nearly $10 million. It’s worth noting that forecasts are varying wildly with guesstimates as low as $65 million and others saying it could top $100 million.

No other studio chose to debut anything against it so the rest of the top five will be filled with holdovers. Here’s one to keep to an eye on: the Renee Zellweger Oscar hopeful Judy has the highest per screen average this past frame. That was in just under 500 theaters and word is that it’ll expand to approximately 1500 venues. If that holds, the pic could make a home in the top five over It Chapter Two and Ad Astra.

And with that, my look at the weekend ahead:

1. Joker

Predicted Gross: $89.6 million

2. Abominable

Predicted Gross: $12.5 million

3. Downton Abbey

Predicted Gross: $8 million

4. Hustlers

Predicted Gross: $6.7 million

5. Judy

Predicted Gross: $5.9 million

Box Office Results (September 27-29)

As expected, Dreamworks Animation’s Abominable debuted atop the charts with a so-so $20.6 million, right on target with my $20.7 million forecast. That’s on the low end of where these family friendly toons have premiered in late September over the last few years.

Placing second, Downton Abbey did show a front loaded nature as it fell to $14.3 million in weekend #2, below my $17.4 million projection. The two-week haul, however, is a magnificent $58 million.

Hustlers displayed a fine hold in third with $11.3 million compared to my $9.5 million prediction. The Jennifer Lopez flick has amassed $80 million.

It Chapter Two was fourth and is nearing the double century mark, earning $10.2 million (I was under at $8.3 million) to bring its tally to $193 million.

Ad Astra rounded out the top five with $10 million (I said $10.3 million) for $35 million overall.

Rambo: Last Blood was sixth with $8.5 million, a bit above my $7.8 million take. Total is $33 million.

And that does it for now, folks! Until next time…

September 27-29 Box Office Predictions

It’s the weekend before Joker hopes to set the all-time October weekend record and September ends with the release of Dreamworks Animation’s Abominable hoping to nab first position. You can peruse my detailed prediction post of it here:

I look for the newcomer to have a debut in similar range with other late similar genre September titles such as Open Season, Storks, and Smallfoot. A low 20s start should be solid enough for the top spot.

Downton Abbey, after a sizzling premiere that easily blasted past Brad Pitt and Sylvester Stallone’s newbies, should move down a slot with a dip in the low to mid 40s range. It is worth wondering how much of its business was front loaded due to fan anticipation.

Ad Astra managed to slightly outdo Rambo: Last Blood and I believe their sophomore drops will track with different stories. Comparing Astra to First Man (which had a 48% dip) and Blood to the last Rambo flick (it fell a steep 60%), Mr. Pitt should manage a third place showing. Mr. Stallone, on the contrary, could fall out of the top 5 altogether when factoring in holds by Hustlers and It Chapter Two (I’m actually projecting J-Lo will vault up a spot to four over Pennywise).

And with that in mind, here’s my take on our top 6 ahead of us:

1. Abominable 

Predicted Gross: $20.7 million

2. Downton Abbey 

Predicted Gross: $17.4 million

3. Ad Astra 

Predicted Gross: $10.3 million

4. Hustlers 

Predicted Gross: $9.5 million

5. It Chapter Two 

Predicted Gross: $8.3 million

6. Rambo: Last Blood 

Predicted Gross: $7.8 million

Box Office Results (September 20-22)

The Abbey faithful turned out in gigantic numbers for its cinematic rendering with $31 million, easily topping my $20.8 million take. It gives Focus Features its finest start of all time and will be a massively profitable venture considering a small budget.

Ad Astra narrowly took second with $19 million. The Brad Pitt space opera did manage to launch above my $16.9 million projection, but it’s still considered a so-so beginning due to a budget in the $100 million range.

Sylvester Stallone’s second most famous character settled for third as Rambo: Last Blood sliced up $18.8 million, a tad under my $20.4 million prediction. Look for this critically reviled sequel to fade quickly.

After two weeks floating atop the charts, It Chapter Two was fourth with $17 million (I said $18.9 million). Its three week tally is $178 million.

Hustlers rounded out the top five with $16.8 million, in line with my $16.2 million projection. The film has earned over 62 million one dollar bills presently.

And that does it for now, folks! Until next time…

September 20-22 Box Office Predictions

Well… this could be one fascinating weekend as three new titles open in the general same money-making range with two holdovers also anticipated to be in that ballpark. We have Sylvester Stallone returning as his #2 signature character in Rambo: Last Blood, Brad Pitt in the sci fi drama Ad Astra, and the cinematic rendering of the beloved PBS British period piece program Downton Abbey. You can peruse my detailed prediction posts on each of them here:

If you’d told me even a week ago that I’d be forecasting Abbey to take the #1 spot over Sly and Brad, I probably wouldn’t have believed it. Yet its approximate 3000 plus screen count (higher than I assumed) and the dedication of its fan base has gotten me there.

I have Abbey ever so slightly topping Rambo. As for Astra, I’m a bit skittish about my projection. It’s received solid reviews and Pitt is coming off the blockbuster Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. Considering the competition, however, I see it debuting just slightly higher than last fall’s First Man. 

That puts Astra in fourth behind the third weekend of It Chapter Two and just ahead of the sophomore outing for Hustlers (which performed fantastically for its start).

Here’s how I have the top five shaking out:

1. Downton Abbey 

Predicted Gross: $20.8 million

2. Rambo: Last Blood 

Predicted Gross: $20.4 million

3. It Chapter Two 

Predicted Gross: $18.9 million

4. Ad Astra 

Predicted Gross: $16.9 million

5. Hustlers 

Predicted Gross: $16.2 million

Box Office Results (September 13-15)

Despite a terrific start for Hustlers, It Chapter Two managed to stay atop the charts for the second time with $39.6 million. That’s just ahead of my $38.4 million forecast and it’s scared up $152 million thus far.

Jennifer Lopez easily achieved the best premiere of her career (with Oscar buzz attached) as Hustlers made $33.1 million. I was close at $31.5 million. Word-of-mouth and critical appreciation clearly assisted it in reaching that pole position.

Angel Has Fallen was third with $4.4 million (I said $3.4 million) for $60 million overall while Good Boys followed at #4 with $4.2 million (I said $3.2 million). It’s up to $73 million.

The Lion King rounded out the top five and I incorrectly didn’t have it there. The Disney smash earned $3.6 million for a tally of $534 million.

This brings us to The Goldfinch. Once an awards hopeful, poor reviews grounded it to an awful eight place showing with $2.6 million. I was more generous with a $5.7 million prediction.

And that does it for now, folks! Until next time…

September 13-15 Box Office Predictions

It Chapter Two looks to stay atop the charts as Hustlers could surprisingly give it a run for its money. We also have John Crowley’s drama The Goldfinch with Ansel Elgort and Nicole Kidman debuting. Both newbies premiered at the Toronto Film Festival over the weekend to vastly differing results. You can peruse my detailed prediction posts on the newcomers here:

Hustlers has been showered with major critical acclaim and reviews suggesting costar Jennifer Lopez could be in line for her first Oscar nomination. I believe it has a legitimate chance at hitting $30 million or over, but I’m putting it just a tad under. We shall see if this gets revised up as buzz continues to build.

The Goldfinch had the opposite reaction. It looked like Oscar bait (unlike Hustlers), but critics have not been kind. My estimate for it has steadily dwindled down. It should secure third place, but with a quiet start.

Pennywise’s return to the silver screen opened on the lower end of expectations. Our first It chapter dipped 51% in its sophomore frame. I believe the sequel will experience a drop more in the mid 50s range.

And with that, my take on the top five:

1. It Chapter Two

Predicted Gross: $38.4 million

2. Hustlers

Predicted Gross: $31.5 million

3. The Goldfinch

Predicted Gross: $5.7 million

4. Angel Has Fallen

Predicted Gross: $3.4 million

5. Good Boys

Predicted Gross: $3.2 million

Box Office Results (September 68)

It Chapter Two dominated our first autumn movie weekend. The lengthy horror sequel took in $91 million. As mentioned, that is at the lower end of projections and below my take of $109.7 million. The pic still managed to grab the second biggest September haul and #2 overall horror starting gross of all time behind… It (which floated to $123.4 million out of the gate).

Angel Has Fallen was second with $5.9 million. My prediction? $5.9 million! Total is $53 million.

Good Boys took third at $5.4 million (I said $4.9 million) and it stands at a solid $66 million.

The Lion King was fourth with $4.3 million compared to my $3.8 million estimate for an overall massive tally of $529 million.

Hobbs & Shaw rounded out the top five with $3.8 million, ahead of my $3 million forecast. It’s up to $164 million.

And that does it for now, folks! Until next time…

The Goldfinch Box Office Prediction

Based on a 2013 novel by Donna Tartt that elicited mixed reaction, The Goldfinch arrives in theaters next weekend. The drama is director John Crowley’s follow up to his Oscar nominated 2015 effort Brooklyn. Ansel Elgort headlines with a supporting cast that includes Oakes Fegley, Aneurin Barnard, Finn Wolfhard (currently also costarring in It Chapter Two), Sarah Paulson, Luke Wilson, Jeffrey Wright, and Nicole Kidman.

The film will have its premiere this weekend at the Toronto Film Festival. Interestingly, it skipped both Telluride and Venice. Those earlier screenings could have provided the opportunity for any awards chatter and I’m curious to see if Warner Bros knew that might not materialize.

For those unfamiliar with the source material, I’ve found the trailers to be a bit too mysterious and a tad lackluster. We’ll see if reviews this weekend could possibly change the dynamic, but I currently see The Goldfinch struggling to reach double digits. That unimpressive result would put it in third place behind the aforementioned It sequel and Hustlers.

The Goldfinch opening weekend prediction: $5.7 million

For my Hustlers prediction, click here:

Oscar Watch: It Chapter Two

Two years ago, Andy Muschietti’s adaptation of the Stephen King novel It broke box office records in the horror genre and became an instant audience favorite. Yet it didn’t end up registering with awards voters in any fashion… not even for Pennywise’s creepy makeup job.

This weekend, the eagerly awaited sequel arrives and the review embargo has floated away. Chapter Two holds a decent 79% Rotten Tomatoes score, but that’s beneath the 86% achieved by its predecessor. A consistent theme in much of the critical reaction is that many parts work, but that it’s also overlong and doesn’t quite measure up to chapter one.

If It couldn’t garner Oscar attention, don’t expect this to. I will make make one further prediction. Another common factor in the reviews is praise for Bill Hader’s performance and he’s said to be a scene stealer. Don’t be surprised to see some chatter and wishful thinking for a Supporting Actor nod that will never come to pass. My Oscar Watch posts will continue…