Men in Black: International Movie Review

You won’t need one of those neuralyzer doohickeys to forget Men in Black: International, which extends the rust developed from part two of the franchise on. Will Smith has moved on from this series to dealing with aliens in Netflix pics and being the man in blue in Disney remakes. Tommy Lee Jones has retired as well. So the Marvel Cinematic duo of Chris Hemsworth and Tessa Thompson from Thor: Ragnarok don the sunglasses in this reboot. Their chemistry was better with the MCU team and that movie had a funnier alien in the guise of Jeff Goldblum.

Hemsworth is the hunky Agent H, top operative at the U.K. MiB branch run by Liam Neeson’s High T. Thompson is essentially a fangirl of the super secretive force who’s been aware of their existence since childhood. She recruits herself to the suit and is assigned by Emma Thompson’s Agent O (reprising her Men in Black 3 part) to travel overseas and partner with her Thor. The plot involves stopping a nasty species that goes by the Hive. One of the baddies is an arms dealer played by Rebecca Ferguson that had an inter species love affair with H. Some of the other villains are kept secret for most of the running time, though you’ll see it coming from a galactic mile away. And there’s Kumail Nanjiani voicing the CG creation Pawny. He gets in a few mildly amusing lines.

F. Gary Gray has taken over directorial duties from Barry Sonnenfeld and he doesn’t have to top a high bar of its predecessors. 1997’s original was a fun summer blockbuster melding science fiction and comedy with genuine chemistry from the two leads. I struggle to recall anything about the first sequel. #3 was a slight improvement if only for Josh Brolin’s uncanny impression of a young Tommy Lee Jones.

I doubt many have much of an affinity for this franchise beyond what came 22 years ago. And while International does indeed trot the globe from Paris to London and Morocco and New York to Italy, it mostly feels flat.

** (out of four)

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom Movie Review

The central theme of the Jurassic franchise is whether the scientific re-creation of dinosaurs for profit is enough reason to justify their existence. Of course, the real reason these movies exist is so we can gaze upon glorious CG creatures that took our breath away 25 years ago in Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic Park. Three years ago, Colin Trevorrow gave us Jurassic World. It did just enough to tap into our nostalgia for the original while keeping another central theme prominent in all series entries – the humans are less interesting than their prehistoric counterparts.

In the inevitable sequel Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, we have a newer problem in that the dinosaurs are becoming increasingly less fascinating. When we left that theme park in 2015, it was in tatters due to the havoc wrought by its main attractions. We’re informed that the dinos still roam the deserted Isla Nublar and there’s a political debate as to what to do with them. That conversation is accelerated as a volcano is about to erupt on the island and incinerate everything. As audience members, let’s just choose to forget that even if the park had become successful and free of T-Rex breakouts, it would’ve only existed for three years because of that volcano. We don’t watch Jurassic pics for logic, after all.

The impending meltdown gets the attention of Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard), the park’s former operations manager, who’s now an advocate for the dinosaurs survival. Her nephews from Jurassic World aren’t seen or mentioned. Perhaps they were smart enough to want nothing to do with all this. She’s recruited by Ben Lockwood (James Cromwell), the ailing former partner of the late John Hammond, to gather up Isla Nublar’s famous residents. Claire recruits her ex-flame and dino whisperer Owen (Chris Pratt) to join her, along with a ragtag group of assistants and military types led by mercenary and hunter Ted Levine. It turns out Lockwood’s assistant (Rafe Spall, a rather bland villain) might have conjured up other ideas for the creatures true purposes. Oh and Lockwood has a granddaughter Maisie (Isabella Sermon). Kids in Jurassic flicks are mandatory. She’s got a spotty British accent and an eventual revelation about her character that is downright bonkers.

Our return to Jurassic World does allow for a couple imaginative action sequences that are well choreographed and filmed by franchise newcomer J.A. Bayona (Trevorrow isn’t behind the camera but has co-writing credit). In the second half, the pic moves to a more insulated setting. This section is less satisfying. While Bayona and company get a wee bit of credit for trying something different, the execution falters.

That’s the real issue here. 25 summers ago, the visuals of Jurassic Park were brand new and stunning. The technology, while still state of the art, isn’t fresh anymore. Human characters here aren’t compelling either. The dynamic between Pratt and Howard is as dull as before. Jeff Goldblum turns up as Dr. Malcolm for the first time since 1997’s The Lost World, but his presence is brief and forgettable. What wowed us a quarter century ago is now a listless undertaking occasionally punctuated by genuine excitement. Put another way, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom has a tough time justifying its existence.

** (out of four)

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom Box Office Prediction

Blogger’s Note (06/15): I am revising my prediction down from $155.4 million to $140.4 million

Arriving three years after its predecessor set a series of box office records, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom looks to flex its dino might next weekend. The fifth picture in the massive franchise that just turned 25 years old, Kingdom is the sequel to Jurassic World and brings back Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard, and Jeff Goldblum (for the first time since 1997’s The Lost World). New cast members include Rafe Spall, Justice Smith, Daniella Pineda, James Cromwell, Toby Jones, and Ted Levine. J.A. Bayona takes over directorial duties from Colin Trevorrow.

The history of this franchise setting opening weekend milestones is significant. Steven Spielberg’s original in 1993 had the largest debut ever at $47 million a quarter century ago. The Lost World would achieve the same honor four years later with $72 million. And, of course, Jurassic World stunned prognosticators in 2015 with $208 million out of the gate, which stood as the greatest premiere until Star Wars: The Force Awakens topped it six months later.

Fallen Kingdom will not and is not expected to break records. Jurassic World seemed to have its stars aligned for a spectacular opening. It had been nearly a decade and a half since the previous installment and the nostalgia factor was off the charts. Mostly positive reviews didn’t hurt and Mr. Pratt was coming off a star making role in Guardians of the Galaxy.

Critical reaction is mixed. The sequel currently sits at 59% on Rotten Tomatoes (World got to 71%). The film is already out in a number of foreign markets and it earned $151 million worldwide over the weekend (a bit above expectations).

The stateside tracking for Kingdom is between $130-$150 million. My general feeling is that this franchise has continually exceeded expectations and may do so here, albeit not by much. Jurassic World was a phenomenon while this is looked at as another summer sequel. It just happens to be one with a huge fan base who love returning to see these CG creatures.

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom opening weekend prediction: $140.4 million

Jurassic Park Turns 25: A Look Back

A quarter century ago on this day, Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic Park was unleashed in theaters and it was indeed a game changer. For those not old enough to remember its release, it’s a bit difficult to describe just how groundbreaking its visuals were at that time in the early 1990s. The idea that realistic dinosaurs could roam the silver screen didn’t seem possible. However, Spielberg’s wizardry and the geniuses at Industrial Light & Magic proved us all wrong.

The scene above had audiences expressing the same reaction as Sam Neill, Laura Dern, and Jeff Goldblum. Mouths open. Jaws dropped. As we have learned in the 25 years since, amazing visuals aren’t enough to make a film great. That said, if any picture could claim greatness due to its effects, this is the one.

Yet Jurassic Park was special for more reasons than just that. Based on Michael Crichton’s bestseller, the cinematic adaptation tapped into a childhood fascination with Earth’s first dwellers that struck a chord. The concept seems so simple now: mix Steven Spielberg with dinosaurs and what could possibly go wrong? That recipe worked rather flawlessly, but let’s take some stock here.

Just a year and a half earlier, Mr. Spielberg made Hook. And when you think of that concept – America’s most commercially successful director taking on the Peter Pan story? What could possibly go wrong? Well, plenty did. Hook has its vocal defenders, but I fall into the camp of deeming it a major disappointment (particularly on subsequent viewings).

Jurassic arrived at a time where it was feasible to question Spielberg’s magic touch. Those queries went away with the first look at the dino creations and the suspenseful and masterfully directed picture that followed.

In terms of box office numbers, some may not know this franchise opener’s relationship to Batman, but there is one. Jurassic Park opened with $47 million dollars. At the time, that stood at the largest domestic debut in history by beating out the $45 million made the summer before by Batman Returns. 

In 1995, it would be Batman Forever that would top the Jurassic record with $52 million.

Two summers after that, Jurassic follow-up The Lost World would snatch the record back with $72 million.

The original Jurassic now stands as the 247th largest opening and was surpassed by all three sequels that followed (and will certainly also be topped by next Friday’s Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom).

The original’s total domestic gross ended up being $357 million. A 2013 3-D re-release for its 20th anniversary added another $45 million to bring the overall haul to $402 million. And that is second only to Jurassic World from 2015 ($652 million).

The Lost World topped out at $229 million with Jurassic Park III at $181 million. When we adjust for inflation, Park tops World by a margin of $839 million to $724 million.

Looking back at 1993, it’s safe to say no director had a single better year in film history than Spielberg before or since. Not only did Jurassic Park set a new standard for visual effects and break every box office record, but he released another picture at the end of the year. That would be Schindler’s List. The Holocaust drama was nominated for twelve Oscars and won seven, including Best Picture and Spielberg’s first statue for directing (he’d win again five years later for Saving Private Ryan).

So as we await the fifth installment of this franchise, it felt worthy to take a moment and acknowledge the seismic happening that occurred 25 years ago today. The unleashing of the dinosaurs. The advent of visual effects in a way we’d never experienced. A year unparalleled for a filmmaker. Welcome to Jurassic Park… 25 years later.

Oscar Watch – Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom

A quarter century after Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic Park thrilled audiences with its eye-popping visuals, the fifth entry in the franchise arrives domestically two weeks from Friday. However, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom is out tomorrow in the United Kingdom, so critical reaction is present. The verdict? Mixed. Kingdom currently sits at 65% on Rotten Tomatoes (predecessor Jurassic World ended up with 71%).

No Oscar prognosticator looked at this as Best Picture material. This series is all about the potential for technical recognition. The 1993 original was nominated for and won three gold statues: Sound Editing, Sound Mixing, and Visual Effects. For those around at the time, Park was an undeniable marvel with said visuals and the sounds of the dinosaurs wreaking havoc. The 1997 sequel managed one nod for Visual Effects and lost to a little something called Titanic.

2001’s Jurassic Park III, no surprise, was ignored by the Academy. On the other hand, it may surprise you to learn that 2015’s World also came up empty with voters. The pic did set box office records at the time, but couldn’t even manage Visual Effects or Sound recognition.

The answer as to why could be simple. In this particular franchise, there’s really little room for improvement when it comes to its technical capabilities. Jurassic Park set a high bar in Isla Nublar  for the CG dinos and their sounds. The Academy has moved onto other impressive tech work for other pictures.

Bottom line: If Jurassic World couldn’t manage down the line nods, don’t expect any for Kingdom.

My Oscar Watch posts will continue…

Hotel Artemis Box Office Prediction

Global Road Entertainment is hoping audiences check into the Hotel Artemis when it debuts next weekend. The futuristic action flick comes from Drew Pearce in his directorial debut (he’s best known for co-writing Iron Man 3). Focusing on an underground hospital for the criminal element, Artemis stars Jodie Foster (in her first film appearance in five years) alongside Sterling K. Brown, Sofia Boutella, Jeff Goldblum, Brian Tyree Henry, Jenny Slate, Zachary Quinto, Charlie Day, and Dave Bautista.

The biggest hurdle for Artemis looks to be if general audiences are even aware of its existence. It seems the marketing campaign has been a bit low-key. Competition is a factor as Hereditary (while a horror pic) could be competing for a similar crowd. Reviews if they’re positive (none yet) could help a bit, but I’ll project there’s a significant amount of vacancy for its showings.

Hotel Artemis opening weekend prediction: $5 million

For my Ocean’s 8 prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2018/05/30/oceans-8-box-office-prediction/

For my Hereditary prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2018/05/30/hereditary-box-office-prediction/

Oscar Watch: Isle of Dogs

It’s been four years since Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel garnered a host of Oscar nominations. His follow-up is the stop-motion animated comedic adventure Isle of Dogs, which hits theaters stateside in March and has made its debut at the Berlin Film Festival. The pic (say its name out loud and pick up on its apparent affection for canines) features a whole bunch of familiar faces providing voice work including Bryan Cranston, Edward Norton, Bill Murray, Greta Gerwig, Scarlett Johansson, Jeff Goldblum, Frances McDormand, Ken Watanabe, Tilda Swinton, Bob Balaban, Courtney B. Vance, Harvey Keitel, Liev Schrieber, and F. Murray Abraham.

Reaction overseas to Anderson’s latest is that he’s delivered another winner. That likely means Dogs will follow in the steps of the director’s Fantastic Mr. Fox, which was nominated for Best Animated Feature by the Academy. It ultimately lost to Pixar’s Up and that powerhouse studio has The Incredibles 2 on deck this year. Additionally, it could be a factor for Mr. Anderson in Original Screenplay.

Yes, it’s early but it could already be a safe assumption that the Dogs will be on display come nomination time next year.

My Oscar Watch posts will continue…