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)

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…

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)

Blockers Box Office Prediction

Like its direct competitor A Quiet Place that also opens next weekend, Blockers made quite an impression with journalists and festival goers when it debuted at South by Southwest earlier this month. The raunchy comedy about parents trying to prevent their daughters plan to lose their virginity on prom night marks the directorial debut of Kay Cannon, best known for penning the Pitch Perfect franchise. The cast includes John Cena, Leslie Mann, Ike Barinholtz, Kathryn Newton, Graham Phillips, and Hannibal Buress.

Its festival premiere caused some buzz and it now stands at 91% currently on Rotten Tomatoes. The Universal release has now been pegged as a potential sleeper at the box office. Competition is light in the genre and the solid reviews should help. As I see it, the ceiling for Blockers is likely the $17 million achieved in February by Game Night, another comedy that received kudos from the critical community.

I’m not sure it will reach quite that high. I’ll project an opening in the low to mid teens and it could continue to play in subsequent weekends, just as Game Night has.

Blockers opening weekend prediction: $15.2 million

For my A Quiet Place prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2018/03/27/a-quiet-place-box-office-prediction/

For my The Miracle Season prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2018/03/30/the-miracle-season-box-office-prediction/

For my Chappaquiddick prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2018/03/30/chappaquiddick-box-office-prediction/

Daddy’s Home 2 Movie Review

Daddy’s Home was a rather unremarkable comedy that managed to elicit a few laughs and coast on the talents of Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg. It also made a boatload of money and so we enter the territory of the likely unplanned sequel that often feels that way.

The concept, just as in part 1, is pretty simple. The 2015 original pitted softie stepdad Brad (Ferrell) against harder edged real dad Dusty (Wahlberg) vying for the kids attention. Part 2 finds them in a seemingly happy place as Co-Dads. That is until their papas travel to see them for Christmas. And wouldn’t you know it? They exhibit some of the opposite traits that caused Brad and Dusty their problems. John Lithgow is the squishy and overly attentive Brad dad and Mel Gibson is the alpha male and barely attentive Dusty dad. Their presence threatens to upend the recent harmony of their sons. As in the first, there’s an abundance of physical hijinks that follow… most of it directed toward Ferrell. Kids get drunk. They discover girls. Lots of father/son bonding and non bonding happens. The 1980s holiday relief anthem “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” gets more attention than it’s been granted in some time.

Like in the original Home model, the jokes here are mostly predicable and bland with a few genuinely funny parts sprinkled in. Anyone looking for sincere character motivations and real emotion in a Yuletide pic should look elsewhere. In fact, Gibson’s character is kind of an inexplicable monster when you stop and really think about it. It’s  not much worth doing so.

Daddy’s Home 2 isn’t bad and neither was its predecessor. It is utterly forgettable and a little more so than what preceded it. In my review of #1, I stated that when I think of Ferrell and Wahlberg together – my mind goes to the often inspired The Other Guys. I called Daddy’s Home “The Other Movie”. This is the other other one.

** (out of four)

Ferdinand Box Office Prediction

Next Friday, the makers of the animated Ferdinand hope to siphon some youngsters and their parents away from Star Wars: The Last Jedi. The 20th Century Fox title (which happens to be the former studio of Luke Skywalker and company) is based on the 1936 children’s novel The Story of Ferdinand, which tells the tale of a kindly bull. John Cena provides the voice of said bull with Kate McKinnon, Anthony Anderson, Bobby Cannavale, Gina Rodriguez, and Peyton Manning also lending their sounds. Carlos Saldanha, who made some of the Ice Age and Rio features, directs.

Competition is significant. Many kids should be preoccupied with Disney’s franchise juggernaut that opens the same day. And there’s also Coco, which should still be pulling in some coin in weekend #4.

That said, Fox employed a similar strategy two years ago when Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Road Chip opened directly opposite Star Wars: The Force Awakens. That gamble resulted in an OK $14.2 million debut yet it experienced small declines over the following holiday weekends.

Ferdinand has the benefit of not being at the tail end of a waning franchise, as Chipmunks was. That might cause it to make a bit more out of the gate and probably hold better in future frames. I’ll go high teens for its start.

Ferdinand opening weekend prediction: $18.6 million

For my Star Wars: The Last Jedi prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2017/12/04/star-wars-the-last-jedi-box-office-prediction/