Dune Review

Denis Villeneuve’s Dune arrives nearly three decades after David Lynch’s oft criticized version of Frank Herbert’s mid 60s sci-fi novel. It is source material that I’m frankly not familiar with so take that for what it’s worth. With the director of Arrival and Blade Runner 2049 at the controls, this is a technically masterful and consistently stunning looking experience. I also must admit that I didn’t get swept up in it no matter how amazing the desert landscapes appear (and do they ever).

Set 10,000 years in the future, the dense plot (as in often hard to follow) introduces us to the royal family of Caladan. Duke Leto (Oscar Isaac) is the leader of House Atreides, a land with a plentiful supply of water and bagpipes. His concubine is Lady Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson) who possesses the powers of Bene Gesserit, a sisterhood of mystical beings thought to bear children with God-like abilities. Their offspring is Paul (Timothee Chalamet). One problem: the Lady was supposed to have a girl who eventually delivers this story’s version of The One, but she skipped a step.

The Atreides are ordered by Empirical decree to take over Arrakis, a planet with hardly any water (I’m uncertain about bagpipes). However, it is the only land with spice and that substances serves many purposes. First, it gets you high and gives one visions that might play into the plot later. Most importantly, it fuels interstellar travel and is therefore an extraordinarily valuable commodity. It’s what Gollum would be droning on endlessly about if this were another epic adventure. House Harkonnen and their rotund ruler (Stellan Skarsgard), the current Arrakis deed holders, are not going to give up those property rights without a fight.

We sense where all this is heading due to Paul’s visions of Chani (Zendaya). She’s a native of Arrakis and their citizens called the Fremen have learned to use their planet’s sandy and almost unlivable terrain to their advantage. They will need to accept Paul as their captain and that development… will or won’t happen in part two. Yes, part one is a subtitle here. Like some Marvel products that preceded this, you may find yourself realizing that not a lot really happens in this origin tale by the time two and a half hours has lapsed.

I recognize this may sound like sacrilege to the book’s devotees. There is plenty to praise in this immensely gifted director’s adaptation. The cast is uniformly top notch from Chalamet on down (FYI – Zendaya is a part II kinda thing because her participation is limited). Ferguson is perhaps the standout in a sprawling ensemble that includes Josh Brolin (as a trusted Atreides warrior), Javier Bardem (as a Fremen warrior), and Charlotte Rampling as a Reverend Mother of the Bene Gesserit.

Dune worshipers forgive me. While I spent time marveling at the look and anticipating the unearthing of giant sandworms, I would put this behind Arrival and the Blade Runner follow-up without hesitation. Saying it feels like half a movie is easy criticism. That doesn’t mean it’s not true. It is tempting to recommend Dune based on spectacular work of composer Hans Zimmer and cinematographer Greig Fraser and the sound and visual effects artists. Yet I often found myself a bit shocked by my lack of awe in the story itself.

**1/2 (out of four)

Summer 2012: The Top 10 Hits and More

My look back at the cinematic summers of 30, 20, and 10 years ago culminates with 2012. A decade ago, the Marvel Cinematic Universe went from a successful franchise to the phenomenal juggernaut that it remains today. That’s due to the release of a little something called The Avengers. On a side note, it’s worth mentioning that the biggest grosser 30 years ago (Batman Returns), two decades ago (Spider-Man), and in this post all share comic book roots.

Before we get to Iron Man and company, I’ll recount the other features in the top ten moneymakers before covering additional notable titles and some flops. If you missed my write-ups about the seasons of 1992 and 2002, you can find them here:

Summer 1992: The Top 10 Hits and More

Summer 2002: The Top 10 Hits and More

10. Prometheus

Domestic Gross: $126 million

Some three decades after Alien terrified audiences, Ridley Scott returned to the franchise. However, this was more of a mixed bag in terms of critical and audience reaction. The production design and Michael Fassbender’s performance were praised while the script drew its share of critics. Nevertheless Scott would be back in the mix five years later with Alien: Covenant. 

9. Snow White and the Huntsman 

Domestic Gross: $155 million

Hot off the Twilight franchise and hot off playing Thor in The Avengers, Kristen Stewart and Chris Hemsworth battled Prometheus costar Charlize Theron’s evil stepmom in this fantasy adventure. Reviews were so-so but it performed well enough to warrant a less appreciated prequel The Huntsman: Winter’s War in 2016.

8. Ice Age: Continental Drift 

Domestic Gross: $161 million

The fourth entry in the animated franchise featuring the vocal stylings of Ray Romano and John Leguizamo kept the grosses hot. Sequel Collision Course would follow four years later.

7. Men in Black 3

Domestic Gross: $179 million

The third teaming of Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones (with Josh Brolin playing a convincing younger version of him) earned $11 million less than 2002’s part II. That sequel made less than the 1997 original. The series was revamped in 2019 with Men in Black: International with none other than Chris Hemsworth, but audiences tuned out.

6. Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted

Domestic Gross: $216 million

Ben Stiller and Chris Rock returned for the third time voicing their respective lion and zebra. Spin-off Penguins of Madagascar came out two years later while a proper fourth entry never materialized from DreamWorks.

5. Ted

Domestic Gross: $218 million

Moving from Fox’s hugely successful animated sitcom Family Guy the big screen, Seth MacFarlane’s story of Mark Wahlberg and his crude talking bear Ted was the breakout comedy of the season. Follow-ups A Million Ways to Die in the West and the Ted sequel were not as well received.

4. Brave

Domestic Gross: $237 million

The first Pixar film led by a female hero is also the inaugural studio entry (co)directed by a woman. It would go on to win Best Animated Feature at the Oscars.

3. The Amazing Spider-Man

Domestic Gross: $262 million

After not moving forward with a fourth title directed by Sam Raimi and starring Tobey Maguire, the Spidey franchise was rebooted with Marc Webb behind the camera and Andrew Garfield donning the red. The dollars followed although reviews were mixed and a 2014 sequel was widely considered a disappointment.

2. The Dark Knight Rises

Domestic Gross: $448 million

While perhaps not quite reaching the heights of 2008’s The Dark Knight, the culmination to Christopher Nolan’s trilogy sent Christian Bale’s Caped Crusader off in stirring fashion and with hugely profitable earnings.

1. The Avengers

Domestic Gross: $623 million

Setting record after record upon release, the melding of Iron Man, Thor, Captain America, Hulk, Black Widow, and Hawkeye transfixed filmgoers. It’s been Marvel’s world and we’ve been living in it ever since.

And now for some other pics worthy of discussion:

Magic Mike

Domestic Gross: $113 million

Steven Soderbergh’s saga of male exotic dancers was based loosely on Channing Tatum’s real life experiences. It turned him into a superstar while giving Matthew McConaughey a memorable showcase. The micro budgeted pic (a reported $7 million) spawned a 2015 sequel and there’s a third scheduled to hit HBO Max next year.

The Bourne Legacy

Domestic Gross: $113 million

Audiences weren’t clamoring for Jeremy Renner to replace Matt Damon in this franchise, but the stateside and overseas grosses were still pretty acceptable. That said, Renner’s tenure lasted this pic and this pic only.

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

Domestic Gross: $46 million

While it performed even better overseas, this British import with Judi Dench  was a sleeper hit stateside that begat a 2015 sequel.

Moonrise Kingdom 

Domestic Gross: $45 million

Wes Anderson scored with critics and crowds with this coming-of-age dramedy that premiered at Cannes and then found an audience in the weeks that followed.

Beasts of the Southern Wild

Domestic Gross: $12 million

This indie drama from Benh Zeitlin was truly a little movie that could. Shot for under $2 million, it eventually nabbed Oscar nods for Picture, Director, Actress (Quvanzhane Wallis at age 9), and Adapted Screenplay.

They’re not all winners so let’s get into some critical and/or commercial failures from the period:

Dark Shadows

Domestic Gross: $79 million

Johnny Depp’s box office happy days were beginning to fade as his 8th collaboration with Tim Burton was perhaps the least memorable. This horror comedy failed to enlighten viewers.

Battleship

Domestic Gross: $65 million

Action fans weren’t taken with this Peter Berg directed board game adaptation starring Liam Neeson and Rihanna with a bloated budget of over $200 million.

Total Recall

Domestic Gross: $58 million

And your action sci-fi fans weren’t signing up for Colin Farrell taking over for Arnold Schwarzenegger in this unneeded remake.

Rock of Ages

Domestic Gross: $38 million

Based on the Broadway musical, there was a deaf ear turned to this adaptation despite Tom Cruise getting solid notices for his performance. Lucky for him, he’d rule this current summer with Top Gun: Maverick. 

That’s My Boy

Domestic Gross: $36 million

Adam Sandler and Andy Samberg’s comedic partnership drew a 20% Tomatoes meter and ambivalence from usually devoted Sandler fans.

The Watch

Domestic Gross: $35 million

That wasn’t the only high-profile comedic flop as this sci-fi mashup with Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn, and Jonah Hill fared even worse in numbers and rotten reviews (17% RT).

And that’ll close it out, ladies and gents! It’s been a pleasure revising these cinematic seasons of days past.

Dune Box Office Prediction

Coming nearly a year after its anticipated arrival, Denis Villeneuve’s Dune is out in theaters and HBO Max on October 22. The sci-fi epic, with a budget of at least $165 million, comes with high hopes from Warner Bros (so much so that Part One follows its title). Based on Frank Herbert’s 1965 novel (beloved by genre fans), this is its second adaptation behind the 1984 version helmed by David Lynch. Arrival and Blade Runner 2049 maker Villeneuve employs a sprawling cast including Timothee Chalamet, Rebecca Ferguson, Oscar Isaac, Josh Brolin, Zendaya, Stellan Skarsgard, Dave Bautista, Jason Momoa, and Javier Bardem.

Critical reaction is mostly strong as it stands at 89% on Rotten Tomatoes. Dune is expected to contend for numerous Oscars including Picture and Director and multiple tech races. It could easily lead next year’s ceremony in terms of nominations. Reviews all seem to agree on one item: that it’s meant to be watched on the big screen. The studio has still stuck to its 2021 strategy of simultaneously premiering their product in multiplexes and HBO’s streaming service.

Sci-fi fans have been breathlessly awaiting Dune for years. This is nothing new to Villeneuve as the same could be said for 2017’s Blade Runner follow-up. However, it debuted to a disappointing $32.7 million and failed to reach $100 million domestically (despite similarly solid reviews).

Could the same fate await Dune? That’s definitely a possibility. Beyond its core audience (which is fairly sizable), this could struggle to find a younger crowd. We have seen this year that they are the driving force for pleasing returns in the COVID era market.

If No Time to Die could manage just $55 million and with the inevitability that some fans will opt for home viewing, I have a tough time envisioning Dune majorly surpassing expectations. That’s about $40 million and I do believe the decent buzz and event picture status should put it right in that range of mid 30s for the floor and high 40s (maybe even $50 million) for the ceiling.

Dune opening weekend prediction: $42.8 million

For my Ron’s Gone Wrong prediction, click here:

Ron’s Gone Wrong Box Office Prediction

Oscar Predictions: Dune

The arrival of Dune at the Venice Film Festival has been a breathlessly anticipated one. Denis Villeneuve’s epic version of Frank Herbert’s 1965 sci-fi novel is one of 2021’s most buzzed about projects. And that’s after it held the same status in 2020 before its COVID delay. The $165 million futuristic tale held its Italian screening and the results are fascinating to behold.

Dune currently has an 85% Rotten Tomatoes rating. Some reviewers are calling it quite special and the kind of technical achievement that we witnessed 20 years ago with the Lord of the Rings trilogy. In fact, there seems to be no question that it looks amazing. There was never much doubt that this would contend in several tech races including Visual Effects (where it should be the front runner), Sound (same), Cinematography, Editing, Costume Design, Makeup and Hairstyling, Production Design, and Score.

Whether this breaks through in above the line races is less clear. The mixed to negative critical reaction is mostly focused on its narrative shortcomings. That’s why I feel Adapted Screenplay could be a reach (not to mention that it looks quite competitive anyway). My hunch at the moment is that Dune, primarily due to its technical wizardry, should still manage a Best Picture nod. If it does, I would say Villeneuve makes it in for his direction and that would give him nomination #2 after 2016’s Arrival. I will extend a caveat: if Dune is considered to be a box office disappointment when it comes out October 22, that could hinder its chances in the big dance.

As for the cast, Timothee Chalamet and Rebecca Ferguson are being praised for their work. Yet I suspect none of the sprawling ensemble will hear their names among the final five.

My Oscar Predictions posts for the films of 2021 will continue…

Oscar Watch: Flag Day

It’s a family affair at the Cannes Film Festival with the premiere of Sean Penn’s latest directorial effort Flag Day. The drama features the two-time Best Actor winner as a con man with a complicated relationship with his daughter (played by his real life child Dylan Penn). Costars include Josh Brolin, Katheryn Winnick, Eddie Marsan, and Regina King.

This is the first time Mr. Penn has directed himself, but the early reviews are quick to point out the solid work of the other Penn. Critical reaction is mixed (it’s at 80% at the moment on Rotten Tomatoes). Yet some of the positive reviews are far from raves. It’s certainly an improvement over his last excursion behind the camera. 2016’s The Last Face also debuted in the French Riviera and ended up with an 8% Tomatoes meter. Audiences ignored it. That’s a far cry from 2007’s Into the Wild which probably came quite close to a Best Picture nod.

Flag Day may have some mainstream appeal (it opens August 13th domestically). However, the so-so reaction makes me question whether it can gain any traction with awards voters. My Oscar Watch posts will continue…

Oscar History: 2014

Six years ago in Oscar history began an impressive two year run for filmmaker Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu with Birdman emerging as the big winner of the evening. The film took Best Picture and Director over its major competitor – Richard Linklater’s Boyhood. This was a ceremony in which the largest category did have some suspense. Birdman took the prize over the aforementioned Boyhood and six other pics: American Sniper (the year’s top grosser), The Grand Budapest Hotel (marking Wes Anderson’s first and only Picture nominee), The Imitation Game, Selma, The Theory of Everything, and Whiplash. 

In this blogger’s perfect world, Dan Gilroy’s Nightcrawler would have been recognized. It was my favorite movie of that year so get used to seeing it pop up in this post. Other notable selections from 2014 left on the cutting room floor: David Fincher’s Gone Girl, Bong Joon-ho’s Snowpiercer, and Bennett Miller’s Foxcatcher. 

Mr. Miller did have the notable distinction of being nominated for Best Director despite his work not showing up in Best Picture (very rare these days). As mentioned, Inarritu took the gold over Miller as well as Linklater, Anderson, and Morten Tyldum (The Imitation Game). Gilroy, Fincher, and Joon-ho might have warranted consideration in my view as well as Chazelle’s bravura debut in Whiplash. 

One could argue that Nightcrawler isn’t your prototypical Picture contender. However, Jake Gyllenhaal being left out of the five Actor contenders stands as one of the noteworthy snubs in recent history. It was Eddie Redmayne emerging victorious for The Theory of Everything over his closest competitor Michael Keaton (Birdman). Other nominees: the three C’s of Steve Carell (Foxcatcher), Bradley Cooper (American Sniper, picking up his third nomination in a row), and Benedict Cumberbatch (The Imitation Game).

There is a voluminous list of solid performances beyond just Gyllenhaal’s that were left wanting. It includes Ben Affleck (Gone Girl), Chadwick Boseman (Get On Up), Bill Murray (St. Vincent), David Oyelowo (Selma), Joaquin Phoenix (Inherent Vice), Timothy Spall (Mr. Turner), and Miles Teller (Whiplash).

In Best Actress, Julianne Moore triumphed for Still Alice after four previous nominations without a win. She took the honor over Marion Cotillard (Two Days, One Night), Felicity Jones (The Theory of Everything), Rosamund Pike (Gone Girl), and Reese Witherspoon (Wild). Moore’s selection was one of the easiest to project as she’d been a sturdy frontrunner all season.

Looking back, how about Emily Blunt in Edge of Tomorrow? Its action genre trappings probably prevented consideration, but she might have made my quintet. Amy Adams won the Golden Globe for Actress in Musical/Comedy, but missed here.

Another easy (and absolutely deserved) winner was J.K. Simmons in Supporting Actor for Whiplash over Robert Duvall (The Judge), Ethan Hawke (Boyhood), Edward Norton (Birdman), and Mark Ruffalo (Foxcatcher).

I will yet again mention Nightcrawler as I might have considered Riz Ahmed. There’s also Josh Brolin in Inherent Vice.

Boyhood nabbed its major race victory in Supporting Actress with Patricia Arquette. Other nominees were Laura Dern (Wild), Keira Knightley (The Imitation Game), Emma Stone (Birdman), and the always in contention Meryl Streep for Into the Woods.

As for others, I’ll start with (surprise) Rene Russo in Nightcrawler. Others include both Melissa McCarthy and Naomi Watts for St. Vincent in addition to Jessica Chastain (A Most Violent Year) and Katherine Waterston (Inherent Vice).

My Oscar History will continue soon with 2015 as Mr. Inarritu will dominate the director race yet again while the Academy chose to spotlight something in Best Picture!

Summer 2010: The Top 10 Hits and More

Today on the blog, we come to the third and final replay of the cinematic summers from 30, 20, and 10 years ago. If you missed my posts covering 1990 and 2000, you may find them right here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2020/07/18/summer-1990-the-top-10-hits-and-more/

https://toddmthatcher.com/2020/07/25/summer-2000-the-top-10-hits-and-more/

This brings us to 2010 where sequels ruled the top 3 slots and a couple of other significant franchises were born. We also all had our collective minds blown by Christopher Nolan’s brand of time shifting sci-fi action.

As I have with previous entries, I’ll recount the top ten hits, some other notable titles, and the flops of the season. Let’s get at it!

10. The Other Guys

Domestic Gross: $119 million

The buddy cop comedy marked the fourth collaboration in six years between director Adam McKay and his lead Will Ferrell after Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy, Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby, and Step Brothers. It also marks Ferrell’s first teaming with Mark Wahlberg and the pair would go on to make two successful and family friendlier Daddy’s Home pics.

9. The Last Airbender

Domestic Gross: $131 million

Based on the Nickelodeon animated series, the fantasy adventure marked a departure from M. Night Shyamalan’s twisty suspense thrillers. It did, however, maintain the filmmaker’s recent trend of critically savaged titles (arriving two years behind the lambasted The Happening). It couldn’t match its reported $150 million budget stateside.

8. Grown Ups

Domestic Gross: $162 million

Adam Sandler continued to prove himself review proof with this comedy where he recruited buddies Kevin James, Chris Rock, David Spade, and Rob Schneider for another sizable hit. A sequel followed three years later.

7. The Karate Kid

Domestic Gross: $176 million

Produced by his parents Will and Jada, this retooling of the 1984 blockbuster starred Jaden Smith with Jackie Chan as his mentor. Shot for just about $40 million, it grossed over $300 million worldwide. Surprisingly, a planned sequel never materialized.

6. Shrek Forever After

Domestic Gross: $238 million

Typically a gross of $238 million is quite an achievement, but not necessarily in this case for the Dreamworks animated franchise. Forever grossed less than its three predecessors and generated mixed critical reaction.

5. Despicable Me

Domestic Gross: $251 million

At the start of summer 2010, not many would have have projected this original Illumination Entertainment animated tale would outdo Shrek. Yet that’s exactly what occurred and two sequels and the Minions spin-off franchise have followed.

4. Inception

Domestic Gross: $292 million

Coming hot off the heels of 2008’s The Dark Knight, Christopher Nolan had another huge earner in his collaboration with Leonardo DiCaprio. It might have been a challenge to follow the plot, but audiences gave it their best and a worldwide take over $800 million occurred. Multiple Oscar nominations, including Best Picture (though not Nolan’s direction), resulted.

3. The Twilight Saga: Eclipse

Domestic Gross: $300 million

2010 found audiences still enraptured by the Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart and Taylor Lautner vampire romance. The third entry in the series set a midnight earnings ($30 million) opening record that stood for a year before Harry Potter swept it away.

2. Iron Man 2

Domestic Gross: $312 million

The Marvel Cinematic Universe was still in its infancy a decade ago as this was the third pic of the bunch. Part 2 posted fine numbers, but was considered a bit of a letdown compared to the first edition. It did mark the first appearance of Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow and a buff and whip cracking Mickey Rourke as the main villain.

1. Toy Story 3

Domestic Gross: $415 million

Pixar easily ruled the season with the third flick in the studio’s startup series. Arriving 15 years after the original, the return of Woody and Buzz was a critical darling that earned a Best Picture nomination and lots of love from all ages. Part 4 would follow in 2019.

And now for some other noteworthy pictures from the time frame:

Salt

Domestic Gross: $118 million

Arriving two years after her action hit Wanted, this spy thriller hovered just outside the top 10 and managed to just outgross its $110 million budget in North America.

The Expendables

Domestic Gross: $105 million

Sylvester Stallone led a band of action heroes in this early August title that tapped the nostalgia of moviegoers. A pair of sequels followed that would bring in more genre heavy hitters like Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Bruce Willis, Wesley Snipes, Chuck Norris, and Harrison Ford.

Eat Pray Love

Domestic Gross: $80 million

This adaptation of a 2006 bestseller starring Julia Roberts brought in a sizable female audience and hit just over $200 million worldwide against a $60 million budget.

Dinner for Schmucks

Domestic Gross: $73 million

Steve Carell and Paul Rudd headlined this midsize hit that got mixed reviews. It has since turned into a bit of a cult favorite in subsequent years.

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World

Domestic Gross: $31 million

There’s no question that I could have put this teen action romance in the misfires column as it made just a fraction of its $85 million price tag. However, the Edgar Wright title has since achieved significant status as an impressive original work with a major following.

The Kids Are All Right

Domestic Gross: $20 million

This domestic dramedy became a major awards player and was nominated for Best Picture with acting nods going to Annette Bening, Julianne Moore, and Mark Ruffalo.

MacGruber

Domestic Gross: $8 million

Just as with Pilgrim, this SNL spin-off with Will Forte was a financial bomb. Yet it has also turned into a cult classic and there’s a rumored sequel or TV spin-off in the making.

Winter’s Bone

Domestic Gross: $6 million

This indie mystery is notable for introducing Jennifer Lawrence to critics, if not a wide audience. Bone would earn the star her first Oscar nomination in addition to a Best Picture nod. Of course, Ms. Lawrence would break out in the next two years with the X-Men and Hunger Games series and her Oscar victory happened in 2012 with Silver Linings Playbook. 

And now for some movies that didn’t match their expectations:

Robin Hood

Domestic Gross: $105 million

With a budget that may have been as high as $200 million, Robin Hood reunited Russell Crowe with Ridley Scott. A decade earlier, they made Gladiator which was a giant hit that won Best Picture. As for this version of the oft told saga, it’s largely forgotten.

Sex and the City 2

Domestic Gross: $95 million

The second installment cinematically of the beloved HBO series, part 2 made more than $50 million below its predecessor from 2008. Critics also savaged it.

Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time

Domestic Gross: $90 million

A hoped for franchise for Disney, the $150 million fantasy pic couldn’t hit the century mark in North America. Lead Jake Gyllenhaal has since expressed his regret for doing it.

The A-Team

Domestic Gross: $77 million

A year after his breakthrough in The Hangover, this action pic based on the 1980s TV series didn’t quite turn Bradley Cooper (alongside Liam Neeson) into an action star. Audience mostly found it, well, expendable.

Knight and Day

Domestic Gross: $76 million

Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz couldn’t provide enough star power for this action comedy to get near its budget north of $100 million.

Cats & Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore

Domestic Gross: $43 million

Perhaps nine years was too long a break between sequels. The original family tale was an unexpected hit at $93 million in 2001, but the long gestating sequel didn’t gross half that number.

Jonah Hex

Domestic Gross: $10 million

This DC Comics based title with Josh Brolin in the title role and Megan Fox was an instant flop, barely making eight figures against a $47 million budget. It also held a sad 12% Rotten Tomatoes rating.

And that wraps up my looks at the summers of decades past, folks! I’ll have 1991, 2001, and 2011 recaps up in a year’s time…

A Marvel Cinematic Oscar History: Best Supporting Actor

Continuing with my series showcasing the voluminous amount of Oscar nominees and winners that have appeared in the 25 Marvel Cinematic Universe pictures (including the upcoming Black Widow and The Eternals), we arrive at Best Supporting Actor.

If you missed my previous posts covering the lead performers in Actor and Actress, you can find them here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2020/04/12/a-marvel-cinematic-oscar-history-best-actor/

https://toddmthatcher.com/2020/04/14/a-marvel-cinematic-oscar-history-best-actress/

Supporting Actor, of the four acting categories, contains the most nominees at 36. However, there are only 4 wins represented. As a reminder, the MCU has given us 110 total nominees and 20 golden recipients.

Let’s start with the four gentlemen who made a trip to the podium:

Sam Rockwell, who costarred in Iron Man 2, took gold in 2017 for Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri 

Tommy Lee Jones, who appeared in Captain America: First Avenger, emerged victorious in 1993 for The Fugitive

Benicio del Toro, who memorably appeared in Guardians of the Galaxy, won in 2000 for Traffic

J.K. Simmons, who popped up in Spider-Man: Far From Home reprising his role as J. Jonah Jameson from the original Spidey trilogy, won in 2014 for Whiplash

And now the 29 additional performers who received nods:

Tony Stark himself, Robert Downey Jr., received a nomination in 2008 for Tropic Thunder

Jeff Bridges, the Iron Man villain, is a four-time nominee for 1971’s The Last Picture Show, 1974’s Thunderbolt and Lightfoot, 2000’s The Contender, and Hell or High Water in 2016

Samuel L. Jackson, who has played Nick Fury in numerous MCU entries, got a nod in 1994 for Pulp Fiction

Edward Norton, who was the Hulk before Mark Ruffalo, is a two-time nominee for 1996’s Primal Fear and 2014’s Birdman

Tim Roth, bad guy in Norton’s The Incredible Hulk, for 1995’s Rob Roy

William Hurt, whose MCU appearances also began in The Incredible Hulk, for 2005’s A History of Violence

Sam Rockwell was nominated a year after his Billboards win in 2018 for Vice

Anthony Hopkins, Thor’s dad, for 1997’s Amistad and last year’s The Two Popes

Stanley Tucci, also of Captain America: First Avenger, in 2010 for The Lovely Bones

Mark Ruffalo is a three-time nominee: 2010’s The Kids Are All Right, 2014’s Foxcatcher, and in 2015 for Spotlight

Jeremy Renner, aka Hawkeye, in 2010’s The Town

Ben Kingsley, from Iron Man 3, is a two-time mention for 1991’s Bugsy and 2001’s Sexy Beast

Benicio del Toro also received a nomination for 2003’s 21 Grams

Bradley Cooper, Rocket from Guardians of the Galaxy, for 2013’s American Hustle

Djimon Hounsou, who first appeared in Guardians, for both 2003’s In America and 2006’s Blood Diamond

John C. Reilly, another Guardians performer, for 2002’s Chicago

Josh Brolin, aka Thanos, for 2008’s Milk

Sylvester Stallone, who appeared in the Guardians sequel, for 2015’s Creed

Matt Damon, who had a cameo in Thor: Ragnarok, for Invictus in 2009

Jude Law, from Captain Marvel, received a nomination 20 years earlier for The Talented Mr. Ripley

Jake Gyllenhaal, villain for Spider-Man: Far From Home, for 2005’s Brokeback Mountain

And that does it for now, folks! I’ll have Supporting Actress up in short order…

 

 

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)

Avengers: Endgame Movie Review

**There’s really no way to write a review of Avengers: Endgame without some minor spoilers. You may wish to read this post viewing…

The word “epic” can be overused by those who review movies like me, but it unquestionably applies to Avengers: Endgame. It’s epic in its running time (none of the other 21 MCU pics run three hours) and epic in the number of well-known thespians reprising their superhero and villain characters. It doesn’t seem feasible that so many characters could manage to coexist in this vast universe without seeming like a gimmick. If you happen to think predecessor Infinity War was overcrowded, you’ll get whiplash here. Truth be told, there are moments when this borders on playing like a greatest hits reel based on what’s preceded it during the last eleven years.

Yet Endgame figures out a rewarding way to stick the landing and honor the dozens of faces that we’ve spent billions of dollars visiting since 2008. At the conclusion of Infinity War, bad guy Thanos (Josh Brolin) had collected his precious Infinity Stones and decimated half the intergalactic population into dramatic looking dust particles. What’s left is mostly the core of the OG Avengers – Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Bruce Banner/Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), and Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson). There’s others as Rocket (voice of Bradley Cooper) is the sole surviving Guardian of the Galaxy. And we have the two notable characters that were MIA last summer – Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) and Ant-Man (Paul Rudd).

One might think this whole saga might be about the original band and some newer friends taking on Thanos. You would be wrong. Endgame has plenty of time bending tricks up its endless story arch sleeves. The first is an unexpected resolution that comes very early. However, that climax is just a set-up to further complications.

This is indeed a time travel movie in which the screenwriters almost sheepishly concede the contrived nature of such a device. The survivors set upon a course of multiple back in time ways to retrieve the Stones and bring back their loved ones. It doesn’t happen overnight and the lengthy nature of the plan coming together provides funny and poignant moments. Tony is off the grid with his beloved Pepper (Gwyneth Paltrow) and a new addition. Bruce is in full Hulk mode, but kindler and gentler. Thor is rounder and drunkenly grappling with his losses. Hawkeye is a full-blown vigilante. When the gang revs up their figurative DeLoreans, it gives us a chance to revisit lots of MCU personnel. And it’s a LOT of former players. Some are genuinely surprising. During this lengthy stretch, the film walks a fine line of not devolving into nostalgic sugar shock amidst the action sequences. By the final act, it rises above it.

We know the battle scenes will be well choreographed and well-directed (with the Russo Brothers handling duties once again). The final one is rather jaw dropping with the mixing of so many known quantities. Thanos is one of the stronger villains in MCU history and he remains so here, though there’s nothing fresh to add about his character. His daughter Nebula (Karen Gillan), on the other hand, continues her evolution as a fine addition to the roster.

The comic relief comes more from Thor as opposed to Ant-Man or Rocket and Hemsworth is up to the task. Captain America and Black Widow are given their emotional moments that we’re invested in from their backstories. To this writer, it’s Tony who’s always been the damaged beating heart of this franchise. The Marvel Cinematic Universe simply wouldn’t exist as it is without Downey Jr.’s brilliant work. That’s never changed. The quality of the movies he’s appeared in has. His performance has always been fantastic. If we’re ranking, I would put Endgame as an overall experience just under the first Avengers in 2012 and Infinity War. I can’t promise that thinking about all the shifting time plot points might raise as many questions as answers. I won’t deny that its emotional payoff is real and we have Downey and an amazing group of technicians bringing these comics to life to thank for it.

***1/2 (out of four)