Daily Streaming Guide: March 21st Edition

My Daily Streaming Guide rolls along today with three new movies worthy of your binge watching consideration:

Amazon Prime

From 2007, David Fincher’s Zodiac finds the filmmaker in his dark and visually stylish wheelhouse. The man behind Seven and Fight Club meticulously details the case of the Zodiac Killer in the late 1960s and early 1970s with a top-notch cast including Jake Gyllenhaal, Mark Ruffalo, and Robert Downey Jr. (one year before his first appearance as Tony Stark in the MCU).

Netflix

Speaking of stylish, Nicholas Winding Refn’s Drive from 2011 has it in spades. It also defies genre placement. Ryan Gosling doesn’t have much dialogue, but this is one of his finest roles as a stunt performer who moonlights in underground criminal circles. A contemplative pic with violent outbursts, Drive is a stunner.

Hulu

On the cinematic front, J.J. Abrams is best known for revitalizing the Star Trek and Star Wars series. His stand-alone 2011 effort Super 8 has a Stranger Things vibe before that landmark show existed. With a heavy Spielberg influence, it would have been right at home being released in 1985. It’s a lot of fun and there’s a humdinger of a trash crash sequence.

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

Oscars 2019: The Case of Adam Driver

My Case of posts for the acting contenders at this year’s Oscar brings us to the third performer in Best Actor… Adam Driver in Marriage Story. Here’s his story:

The Case for Adam Driver

2019 capped off an amazing decade for Driver. In addition to his high-profile role in the HBO series Girls, his filmography over the past few years has been remarkable. To give you an idea, here’s some of the directors he worked with in the 2010s: Clint Eastwood, the Coen Brothers, Martin Scorsese, Spike Lee, Steven Soderbergh, Jim Jarmusch, Steven Spielberg, J.J. Abrams, Rian Johnson, Terry Gilliam, and Spike Lee. The latter filmmaker helped Driver get his first Oscar nod last year in Supporting Actor for BlacKkKlansman. 2019 saw his best year yet with his final portrayal as Kylo Ren in Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker and critical praise for the political drama The Report. Yet it’s his role as the divorcing husband to Scarlett Johansson in frequent collaborator Noah Baumbach’s Marriage Story that garnered his greatest reviews thus far.

The Case Against Adam Driver

He’s still young enough that there’s little overdue for a win sentiment happening. Marriage Story has fallen behind in numerous categories with the exception of Laura Dern in Supporting Actress. Joaquin Phoenix has swept the key precursors.

The Verdict

Driver will likely place second in the voting behind the rising of Phoenix over the past few weeks.

My Case of posts will continue with the third competitor in Best Actress… Saoirse Ronan in Little Women!

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker Movie Review

We talk about the Star Wars franchise the same way we speak of politics or sports. With passion and fervent opinions and disagreements. Perhaps we are giving it too much credit, but it’s become an American cinematic pastime. No group of films has inspired as much thought and re-thought. So we arrive at the ninth episode, The Rise of Skywalker, with all that baggage and more. After all, this one is tasked with closing out the saga that began at a time far, far away in 1977. Returning to direct with that weight on his shoulders is J.J. Abrams, who kickstarted the series for new owner Disney four years ago with The Force Awakens.

He does so two years following The Last Jedi from Rian Johnson, which sharply divided fans and critics by going in unexpected directions. Even Luke Skywalker himself, Mark Hamill, didn’t jive with the choices Johnson made with his character shuddered on an island and not wishing to utilize his Jedi skills. That was one compliant from some diehard fans, among others. You could say they had their knives out for it, so to speak.

I found The Last Jedi to be flawed and disjointed, but also filled with great moments. There aren’t many of them here in Skywalker. As I ponder it, episodes VII-IX do follow a similar arc as the iconic I-III. The Force Awakens was tasked with introducing new and exciting characters from these galaxies. It also had to mix in Luke and Leia and Han Solo and Chewie. I felt, for the most part, that it did so successfully. That especially applies to Rey (Daisy Ridley) and Kylo Ren (Adam Driver). In fact, their little therapy sessions from The Last Jedi were highlights of the whole trilogy. The common critique of Awakens is that it was a rehash of the first Star Wars. While this is with some merit, it didn’t take away my immense enjoyment of it.

As mentioned, The Last Jedi was more of a mixed bag. Yet with Johnson’s sometimes confounding but often daring choices, it was also the boldest. This is where a comparison with 1980’s The Empire Strikes Back seems fair. Don’t get me wrong. It’s nowhere in its league, but it did take what happened in the predecessor and take it in unexpected directions.

And now The Last Skywalker. Like 1983’s Return of the Jedi, this trilogy finale has to wrap it all up. Allow me to throw in this disclaimer – I don’t hold Return of the Jedi anywhere near the regards of what came before it. While I feel there are terrific moments, there’s a lot that didn’t work me and not just the Ewoks. It often felt a little tired and unsure of what to do with itself for a chunk of the running time. That applies to Skywalker and there’s aren’t as many terrific moments.

The similarities don’t end on just a quality level. Ultimately, the main plot here finds Rey facing a choice of whether to stay a Jedi or follow her lineage to the dark side… just as Luke did in Jedi. By the way, those lineage inquiries are addressed. Another complaint in Rian Johnson’s script was how he handled that aspect. Rey’s supporting cast is around with Finn (John Boyega) and Poe (Oscar Isaac) marshaling support to take on Kylo. And as the trailer suggested, Emperor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid) is back in the mix, too. So is Billy Dee Williams as cocky fighter pilot Lando. His return isn’t exactly as pined for as what we got with Luke, Leia, and Han. As for Leia, Carrie Fisher does return utilizing unused footage from Awakens and Last Jedi. It’s handled delicately.

There are new players with Richard E. Grant joining Domhnall Gleeson as one of Kylo’s top lieutenants. Abrams throws some small parts to Keri Russell and Dominic Monaghan (who both starred in his TV shows). The short shrift is given to Rose (Kelly Marie Tran), who had more of a presence in Last Jedi, but is basically ignored. That’s not exactly a problem as this is the Rey and Kylo show. Once again, both Ridley and Driver’s performances are first rate. Truth be told, though, Johnson wrote their dynamic better the last time around.

For the major detractors of The Last Jedi, perhaps this episode will feel like a return to Star Wars normalcy. I’m happy to listen to an argument that Johnson’s effort pairs well with the return of Abrams, but it would take lots of convincing. Skywalker often reeks of a course correction. This is becoming more common with franchises. We just saw Terminator: Dark Fate ignore the three pictures ahead of it. The X-Men series had to get creative with their timeline and do away with it under specific circumstances.

Those franchises aren’t Star Wars. The meeting between Han Solo and his son Kylo in The Force Awakens was a memorable, emotional, and surprising one. Whatever Mark Hamill and others might think about his treatment in The Last Jedi, a brief reunion with his sister in it was marvelous. In Skywalker, Abrams goes for a lot of those moments. And it felt, well, forced. The visual splendor and incredible production design (and the rousing John Williams score) is intact. A few scenes with Rey and Kylo work. Ultimately, I suspect my feelings about The Rise of Skywalker will be somewhat similar to Return of the Jedi – as an inferior product to its two predecessors.

**1/2 (out of four)

Oscar Watch – Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker

One day before its galactic release, the review embargo for Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker has expired and the news is not so great. The ninth chapter of the ginormous franchise sits at 59% on Rotten Tomatoes. For all the talk about the mixed reaction to predecessor The Last Jedi in 2017, its RT score was 91%. Even last year’s mostly disregarded spin-off Solo: A Star Wars Story managed 70%.

So… what does that mean for Oscar attention? Well, any remote possibility of Skywalker playing in top line categories like Picture is gone. Yet possibilities for tech nods remain intact. When counting the eight official episodes and spin-offs Rogue One and Solo, the series as a whole has gathered 34 total nominations and won seven. Six of them went to the 1977 original with another for 1980’s sequel The Empire Strikes Back. That’s right… it’s been almost 40 years since a Star Wars pic has nabbed a competitive gold statue. And I don’t expect that streak to end here.

In this currently trilogy, 2015’s The Force Awakens received five nominations: Score for the legendary John Williams, Visual Effects, Editing, and both Sound categories. The Last Jedi got the same nods minus Editing. I anticipate Skywalker will probably be recognized for the same four as Jedi and win none. Interestingly, there’s a solid chance it loses three of them (Score and the Sounds) to 1917. As for Visual Effects, that could go to The Irishman or another epic Disney franchise finale Avengers: Endgame. 

My Oscar Watch posts will continue…

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker Box Office Prediction

Blogger’s Note (12/19): Hours before its opening, I am revising my estimate down from $206.4M to $191.4M

The ninth episode in the galaxy is not far, far away as Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker arrives in a theater near you next weekend. Capping the third trilogy of the landmark franchise, the film finds J.J. Abrams returning to the director’s chair after Rian Johnson (currently having his own box office hit with Knives Out) handled duties on previous entry The Last Jedi in 2017. The familiar faces introduced four years ago in The Force Awakens return with Daisy Ridley, Adam Driver, John Boyega, and Oscar Isaac headlining. Stars from the original trilogy are back including Carrie Fisher (via unreleased footage from previous efforts), Mark Hamill, Anthony Daniels, and two cast members making their respective first appearances since 1983’s Return of the Jedi and 2005’s Revenge of the Sith – Billy Dee Williams as Lando Calrissian and Ian McDiarmid as Palpatine. Other notable performers returning include Domhnall Gleeson, Lupita Nyong’o, and Kelly Marie Tran. Newcomers to the series are Naomi Ackie, Keri Russell, and Richard E. Grant.

Disney took over the reigns of George Lucas’s creation a few years back and the results have been billions more into the Mouse Factory’s considerable coffers. That said, the last two years have shown some chinks in the once impenetrable armor. The aforementioned Last Jedi divided audiences and critics and came in $300 million under Awakens. A few months later in May of 2018, prequel and spinoff Solo: A Star Wars Story was the first picture in the series that was a genuine disappointment and actually lost money.

In Star Wars world, “disappointing” numbers are relative. The Last Jedi took in $220 million for its start on this same weekend two years ago, ending its run at $620 million domestically (that’s still good for #9 all-time). Yet, as mentioned, that’s considerably below the $936 million that Awakens achieved. It continues to stand at #1 overall in terms of stateside dollars.

Estimates for Skywalker show a pretty wide range. Some are as low as $175 million. Only in this franchise and the Marvel Cinematic Universe would that number be called low. Despite the mixed Jedi reaction and Solo grosses, I have a hard time buying that this last entry of the trilogy could come in with $45 million less than its predecessor.

The more reasonable anticipation is that this manages to top $200 million. There is certainly more serious family competition than Last Jedi had with Jumanji: The Next Level being in its second frame (it was the inverse in 2017 with predecessor Welcome to the Jungle arriving the week after Jedi).

My projection here gives Skywalker the seventh biggest debut ever, in between MCU titles The Avengers and Black Panther. 

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker opening weekend prediction: $191.4 million

For my Cats prediction, click here:

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

For my Bombshell prediction, click here:

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

Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark Box Office Prediction

Blogger’s Note (08/07): My prediction has increased from $10.7 million to $14.3 million

Based on a series of Alvin Schwartz horror novels geared towards children, Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark opens in theaters next weekend. Co-produced by Guillermo del Toro, the film comes from director André Øvredal who mostly recently made the critically appreciated The Autopsy of Jane Doe. Cast members include Zoe Colletti, Michael Garza, Gabriel Rush, Austin Abrams, Dean Norris, Gil Bellows, and Lorraine Toussaint.

The concoction of the horror genre marketing to a young audience is a risky one. I’m not confident this mix will result in pleasing box office earnings and I wouldn’t expect the “Stranger Things” crowd to turn out. Even though we’re talking PG-13 here vs. an R rating, I’ll project this performs similarly to what Overlord (which boasted its own known producer J.J. Abrams) did last year.

Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark opening weekend prediction: $14.3 million

For my Dora and the Lost City of Gold prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2019/07/31/dora-and-the-lost-city-of-gold-box-office-prediction/

For my The Kitchen prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2019/07/31/the-kitchen-box-office-prediction/

For my The Art of Racing in the Rain prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2019/07/31/the-art-of-racing-in-the-rain-box-office-prediction/

For my Brian Banks prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2019/08/04/brian-banks-box-office-prediction/

Summer 2009: The Top 10 Hits and More

Today we continue with my recaps of the movie summers from 30, 20, and 10 years ago. I’ve already covered 1989 and 1999 and if you missed them, you can find them right here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2019/07/10/summer-1989-the-top-10-hits-and-more/

https://toddmthatcher.com/2019/07/23/summer-1999-the-top-10-hits-and-more/

Looking over the 2009 list, it’s a reminder of how one thing in particular has changed in just a decade. In the summer of 2008, Iron Man came out and kickstarted the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Two seasons later, Iron Man 2 followed. In every summer since, there’s been a massive MCU title often ruling the charts. 2009 is the last year not to feature one.

Instead, one of the most indelible images from 10 years past is Mike Tyson belting out a Phil Collins classic.

As I’ve done with previous entries, I’ll recount the top ten hits along with some other notable pics and flops. Let’s get to it!

10. G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra

Domestic Gross: $150 million

Hasbro was kind of the MCU of this summer by bookending the top 10. Based on their popular set of action figures, Cobra spawned a sequel and introduced many moviegoers to Channing Tatum.

9. The Proposal

Domestic Gross: $163 million

What a year for Sandra Bullock. First she has this huge rom com with Ryan Reynolds and months later gets her Oscar winning turn in The Blind Side. Not to mention Betty White is in this!

8. Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian

Domestic Gross: $177 million

While it couldn’t match the $250 million earned by its 2006 predecessor, the Ben Stiller led  family adventure sequel still did enough for a part 3 to eventually follow.

7. XMen Origins: Wolverine

Domestic Gross: $179 million

The first of three spinoffs for Hugh Jackman’s iconic clawed character, this is generally considered the worst of them. It still made a pretty penny and gave us a first glimpse at Ryan Reynolds as Wade Wilson, aka Deadpool.

6. Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs

Domestic Gross: $196 million

The third of these five animated tales, Dinosaurs stands at the largest grosser by a mere $1 million over 2006 predecessor Ice Age: The Meltdown.

5. Star Trek

Domestic Gross: $257 million

J.J. Abrams was able to bring this long running film and TV milestone to the next generation in a critically acclaimed way. His reboot remains the highest grossing entry in the canon of Trek. Two sequels so far have followed.

4. The Hangover

Domestic Gross: $277 million

The breakout comedy of the summer made stars out of Bradley Cooper and Zach Galifianakis in particular and had the aforementioned Mike Tyson musical moment of glory. Two lesser regarded sequels followed.

3. Up

Domestic Gross: $293 million

Pixar had another smash hit with this tale of aging and wonder that contains my personal favorite sequence of any of their titles. The opening montage of a couple’s journey through life is simultaneously beautiful and devastating.

2. Harry Potter and the HalfBlood Prince

Domestic Gross: $301 million

This sixth Potter pic set up the two part franchise finale and it stands at the third biggest grosser behind the eighth and final entry and the first film in 2001.

1. Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen

Domestic Gross: $402 million

The follow-up to the 2007 original, Michael Bay’s metallic action extravaganza is the high point in terms of box office dollars overall and largest opening, even though critics mercilessly crucified it.

And now for some other notable flicks from the summer that was 10 years ago:

Angels & Demons

Domestic Gross: $133 million

The sequel to The Da Vinci Code, the return of Tom Hanks as Robert Langdon performed decently, but nowhere near the $217 million achieved by its predecessor. The next sequel Inferno bombed.

Inglourious Basterds

Domestic Gross: $120 million

Quentin Tarantino’s revisionist World War II saga become his best earning pic at the time and earned a slew of Oscar nods, including a win for scene stealer Christoph Waltz.

District 9

Domestic Gross: $115 million

Made for a mere $30 million, Neill Blomkamp announced himself a serious force of sci-fi nature with heralded work that nabbed a Best Picture nod.

Public Enemies

Domestic Gross: $97 million

This gangster tale from Michael Mann was headlined by Johnny Depp and Christian Bale as they took a break between their respective pirate and bat franchises. It was a slight box office disappointment as it couldn’t quite match its $100 million budget back domestically.

Julie & Julia

Domestic Gross: $94 million

Meryl Streep got her umpteenth Oscar nod playing famed chef Julia Child in this Nora Ephron dramedy that proved to be a nice August hit.

Bruno

Domestic Gross: $60 million

There was enough goodwill left over from Sacha Baron Cohen’s smash Borat to propel this satire about a fashion journalist to a $30 million opening weekend. It fell off quickly after that impressive start.

Drag Me to Hell

Domestic Gross: $42 million

Following on the heels of his SpiderMan trilogy, this horror comedy brought Sam Raimi back to his Evil Dead roots. Box office dollars were just ok, but critics appreciated it.

(500) Days of Summer

Domestic Gross: $32 million

Made for a tiny $7.5 million, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel charmed audiences with this rom com from Marc Webb. He would take over the Spidey franchise from Raimi shortly thereafter.

The Hurt Locker

Domestic Gross: $17 million

Kathryn Bigelow’s intense tale of bomb technicians in Iraq made a name for Jeremy Renner. While its box office earnings weren’t that potent, the real reward came later when it won the Oscar for Best Picture and Bigelow became the first female to be awarded Best Director.

We move to pictures that failed to meet expectations or were outright flops.

Terminator Salvation

Domestic Gross: $125 million

The Governor of California sat this one out and this McG directed franchise entry couldn’t match the opening of part 3 from six years prior. Today it’s perhaps best known for a secretly recorded onset argument between McG and star Christian Bale.

The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3

Domestic Gross: $65 million

A remake of a 1974 Walter Matthau action flick about hijacked subway cars, Tony Scott’s collaboration starring Denzel Washington and John Travolta fell short of anticipated blockbuster status.

Funny People

Domestic Gross: $51 million

Judd Apatow had made two huge comedies with The 40 Year Old Virgin and Knocked Up. This one centered on the world of stand-up with Adam Sandler and Seth Rogen. It was more personal and divided critics and crowds alike.

Land of the Lost

Domestic Gross: $49 million

Based on a loopy 1970s TV series, Will Ferrell had a rare bomb with this critically derided prehistoric pic. It didn’t earn half of its $100 million price tag back stateside.

Year One

Domestic Gross: $43 million

Yet another prehistoric comedic failure, the talents of director Harold Ramis and Jack Black and Michael Cena couldn’t get reviewers or audiences on its side.

Imagine That

Domestic Gross: $16 million

Families ignored this particular Eddie Murphy headliner that stands as one of his lowest grossing efforts.

And that does it for my seasonal summer recaps! A year from now… look for 1990, 2000, and 2010 coming your way.