You People Review

You People begins with podcaster Ezra (Jonah Hill) and his cohost Mo (Sam Jay) having a chat about the former’s relationship status. They compare it to the various albums of Drake as far as his moods (looking for love Drake vs. party boy Drake). It sounds like the idea of a conversation you’d have in a movie screenplay before the scribes try for authenticity. Hill and cowriter/director Kenya Barris (creator of sitcom black-ish) rarely get to the authenticity part as this race and family relations concoction feels overly workshopped. There are glimpses in the third act, but what a waste of talent for so much of it.

Ezra’s heart is taken by Amira (Lauren London) after mistaking her for his Uber driver. The couple’s meet cute quickly elevates to an engagement and the meet the parents business complicates the bliss. His are Julia-Louis Dreyfus’s doting Jewish mom Shelley and hubby Arnold (David Duchovny), whose lines are 90% describing 90s rapper Xzibit. Hers are devout Muslim Akbar (Eddie Murphy) and wife Fatima (Nia Long). Ezra’s streaming show is about cultural interactions. Those of the in-laws could fill a season’s worth of content.

The problem is it’s not profound and feels rather tame. A lunch table talk about the ebony and ivory aspects of Forrest Gump is shrimpy in its impact. Same goes for when Ezra is stuck in the car with his future father-in-law as a Jay-Z/Kanye track using a forbidden word comes up. These are sitcom level situations with the humor stuck in bland-ish gear.

A cast filled with familiar faces do add some welcome laughs. Small contributions from Mike Epps as Akbar’s degenerate brother and Molly Gordon as Ezra’s exasperated sister help. Barris and Hill manage to inject a little emotion in the waning moments that could satisfy ardent rom com devotees.

For the most part, You People is listless. The biggest surprise is the term applies to Murphy’s performance. The legend is usually the spark plug even in his mediocre pics. This recalls his lethargic work in Beverly Hills Cop III more than anything else. When that’s the comparison I’m making with his filmography, the heat is off when it comes to his normal firepower.

** (out of four)

Oscar Predictions: You Hurt My Feelings

Director Nicole Holofcener reunites with her Enough Said star Julia Louis-Dreyfus for You Hurt My Feelings, which has screened at Sundance. The comedy is drawing satisfactory notices in Utah with a 100% Rotten Tomatoes rating. Look for distributor A24 to mount an awards campaign as the year rolls along.

Enough Said was able to nab Louis-Dreyfus a Golden Globe Best Actress nod in Musical/Comedy and that could certainly occur again. She stands the best chance among costars that include Tobias Menzies, David Cross, Amber Tamblyn, Michaela Watkins, Arian Moayed, and Owen Teague.

Holofcener is already an Academy nominee for cowriting the adapted screenplay for 2018’s Can You Ever Forgive Me? I wouldn’t count on a second writing mention. While critics are being kind, this has the feel of a Globe Predictions post with its lead’s chances. My Oscar Predictions posts will continue…

Black Panther: Wakanda Forever Review

Black Panther: Wakanda Forever does a commendable job in its treatment of Chadwick Boseman’s 2020 passing. What remains in the sequel feels bloated (161 minutes) and is a significant decline from its 2018 predecessor. The MCU in 2022 has been in a relative rut (Doctor Strange in the Multiverse and Thor: Love and Thunder) and Forever extends that.

I will start by accentuating the aforementioned positive. Director and co-writer Ryan Coogler and his team were obviously faced with a sad and unenviable task of handling the title character’s real life death. King T’Challa’s absence is addressed immediately. The departure is the emotional ripple that causes genuine waves of emotion in the beginning and especially the end.

However, we are left to wonder if the filmmakers would’ve been better off recasting the role. Boseman’s presence and the idea of having a central protagonist is missed in the follow-up. The narrative of Wakanda often feels pulled into too many directions. I found myself wishing to untangle it and cut loose ends.

The plot comes into focus one year after T’Challah’s funeral. Sister Shuri (Letitia Wright) is haunted that her tech skills couldn’t save her sibling. Queen Ramonda (Angela Bassett) rules the country with an iron fist. Other nations, including the United States, are jealous of their vibranium hoarding ways. It turns out the precious metal is also present under the surface in the underwater land of Talokan. Their ruler is Namor (Tenoch Huerta) and his legion of Avatar looking subjects are grappling with how to handle their valuable commodity. Namor decides that Wakanda either needs to join him in declaring war on the rest of the world (who want that sweet vibranium) or become a nemesis of the subsurface society.

Namor, as written, is a fairly decent antagonist. Like Michael B. Jordan’s Killmonger in the original, his motives to be “the bad guy” are rather understandable. The Marvel Cinematic Universe has had plenty of forgettable villains. Namor isn’t one, but Huerta also isn’t much of a threatening presence. This is especially true when comparing Namor to Killmonger as there is no comparison.

My biggest gripe is the one item that also hindered the third act of 2018’s adventure. The action sequences are frequently handled in clumsy fashion. They are too dimly lit or the CG happenings are confusing.

There are some welcome returns with Winston Duke as the warrior M’Baku and Danai Gurira as Okoye, leader of Wakanda’s all female fighting force. Lupita Nyong’o is back as Nakia, T’Challah’s love interest. She is summoned back to her native land by Ramonda and Bassett is given a couple of potent monologues as the mourning Queen.

Then there’s Martin Freeman back on duty as CIA agent Everett Ross. This time around, he’s teamed with his boss and ex-wife Val (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) as they are at odds in their views on how to deal with Wakanda. The screenwriters should have dealt them off the page. They could have been eliminated altogether and the only difference would be a thankfully shorter runtime.

For all the working in water happening during Wakanda Forever, the real waterworks occur as Mr. Boseman is honored and those are powerful moments. Too much of the rest doesn’t work at 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…

Oscar History: 2013

Recapping the Oscar Season of 2013, a few things stick out. The big winners were 12 Years a Slave and Gravity, which cleaned up in the tech races. The big loser was American Hustle, which came away with zero victories despite 10 nominations (tying it for most nods with Gravity, which won 7 of them). Another take: it was a packed year for Best Actor with some deserving gents left out.

As I have done with previous years, let’s take a deeper dive in the 86th Academy Awards in the major races:

Steve McQueen’s 12 Years a Slave unsurprisingly came away with the Best Picture prize in a field that yielded eight other films. They were David O. Russell’s American Hustle, Paul Greengrass’s Captain Phillips, Jean-Marc Vallee’s Dallas Buyers Club, Alfonso Cuaron’s Gravity, Spike Jonze’s Her, Alexander Payne’s Nebraska, Philomena from Stephen Frears, and Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street. 

That’s a solid grouping of pictures and there’s probably no obvious omissions from my end in 2013.. That said, many young girls may protest Frozen not making the cut though it did win Best Animated Feature. And certainly Inside Llewyn Davis from the Coen Brothers had its ardent admirers.

There was a Picture/Director split with Cuaron emerging victorious for Gravity. The filmmaker would achieve the same feat five years later when he won for Roma but Green Book took Best Picture. Other nominees were McQueen, Payne, Russell, and Scorsese.I would argue that Greengrass and Jonze could have made the final five.

In the aforementioned crowded Best Actor derby, Matthew McConaughey took gold for his work in Dallas Buyers Club. The four other contenders were Christian Bale for Hustle, Bruce Dern in Nebraska, Leonardo DiCaprio for Wall Street, and Chiwetel Ejiofor in 12 Years a Slave. Note that all nominees came from Best Picture hopefuls.

Let’s start with Tom Hanks, who I absolutely feel should have gotten in for his remarkable performance in Captain Phillips. The clip I’ve included below proves it and then some. You could say the same for Joaquin Phoenix in Her. Others worth noting: Oscar Isaac in Inside Llewyn Davis, Hugh Jackman in Prisoners, and Robert Redford for All Is Lost. 

Cate Blanchett was the latest actress to be honored for her work in a Woody Allen picture as she took Best Actress for Blue Jasmine. The other nominees were Amy Adams (American Hustle), Sandra Bullock (Gravity), Judi Dench (Philomena), and the ever present Meryl Streep (August: Osage County).

I’ll mention three others left out worthy of consideration: Brie Larson in Short Term 12, Julia-Louis Dreyfus for Enough Said, and Emma Thompson in Saving Mr. Banks. For the latter, it was a bit unexpected that she was left out.

McConaughey’s Dallas Buyers costar Jared Leto won Supporting Actor over Barkhad Abdi (Captain Phillips), Bradley Cooper (American Hustle), Michael Fassbender (12 Years a Slave), and Jonah Hill (The Wolf of Wall Street). Again, all nominees stemmed from Picture contenders.

Some others that didn’t quite make it: Daniel Bruhl in Rush, Steve Coogan for Philomena, Paul Dano in Prisoners, and Will Forte in Nebraska.

Another big 12 Years victory was Lupita Nyong’o in Supporting Actress. She took the prize despite competition from Sally Hawkins (Blue Jasmine), Jennifer Lawrence (American Hustle), Julia Roberts (August: Osage County), and June Squibb (Nebraska).

Despite it being a voice only performance, I would say Scarlett Johansson in Her deserved a spot and the same could be said for Margot Robbie in Wall Street.

And there you have it, folks! My look back at the Oscar landscape in 2013. I’ll have 2014 up in due time…

Onward Box Office Prediction

The 22nd Pixar pic in the past quarter century debuts next weekend with Onward. The fantasy flick comes from director Dan Scanlon, who also made the sequel Monsters University in 2013. Tom Holland and Chris Pratt lead a voice cast that includes Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Octavia Spencer, Ali Wong, Lena Waithe, Mel Rodriguez, Wilmer Valderrama, Tracey Ullman, Dave Foley, and John Ratzenberger.

Per usual for Pixar, reviews are strong with a current 85% Rotten Tomatoes score. Some critics have said this isn’t quite in the league of their classics. Interestingly, this is the first selection from the studio not to open in either summer or fall (with the vast majority having premiered in June or November).

That could have the effect of making Onward not seem like the event debut that most Pixar offerings are. There is also some family competition from holdovers Sonic the Hedgehog and The Call of the Wild. Still, Disney knows how to market their product. Only three of the Pixar titles that had wide releases have made under $50 million out of the gate. I expect this will top that, but $60 million could be a slight reach. I’ll say mid 50s is the likely scenario – on par with non-Pixar Mouse Factory pictures such as Big Hero 6 and Ralph Breaks the Internet. 

Onward opening weekend prediction: $54.3 million

For my The Way Back prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2020/02/27/the-way-back-box-office-prediction/

Oscar Watch: Onward

Pixar Studios is booking box office real estate early in 2020 with the release of next weekend’s Onward, which had its premiere at the Berlin Film Festival. The animated adventure follows two elf brothers voiced by Tom Holland and Chris Pratt. Early reviews have been mostly positive with a current Rotten Tomatoes score of 81%.

That said, many critics are saying that it’s not in the same league as other Pixar classics. And several of them have managed to win the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature. So where will Onward stack up?

Since the inception of the category in 2001, Pixar has seen 13 of its 18 titles nominated for the award. 10 have emerged victorious, including Toy Story 4 two weeks ago. There have been two years where the studio has put out more than one feature. In 2015, Inside Out took the Oscar while The Good Dinosaur went without a nomination. The same happened in 2017 with Coco winning and Cars 3 missing a nod.

I say this because 2020 will also see a double release with Onward next weekend and Soul in June. It’s certainly possible that Pixar will save its awards campaigning for the latter instead. However, reviews for the former are decent enough that it could nab a slot among the five (depending on competition over the next ten months). Also worth mentioning is that Dan Scanlon, who directs here, made one of the other titles to go without a nomination with 2013’s Monsters University. My Oscar Watch posts will continue…

Downhill Box Office Prediction

A remake of the acclaimed 2014 Swedish comedic drama Force Majeure, Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Will Ferrell headline Downhill this weekend. From directors Nat Faxon and Jim Rash, the pic debuted last month at the Sundance Film Festival to mixed reaction. Costars include Miranda Otto, Zoe Chao, and Zach Woods.

Downhill is the first official release from the newly coined Searchlight Pictures (formerly Fox Searchlight), which is now owned by Disney. I’m not sure this release gets the moniker off to a solid start. With just 47% on Rotten Tomatoes, this is slated to roll out on a smallish 1500 screens over the long Valentine’s/President’s Day weekend.

Despite its well-known two leads, the muted buzz and lack of theaters has me thinking double digits is out of reach or even $5 million.

Downhill opening weekend prediction: $4.1 million (Friday to Monday estimate)

For my Sonic the Hedgehog prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2020/02/06/sonic-the-hedgehog-box-office-prediction/

For my Fantasy Island prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2020/02/06/fantasy-island-box-office-prediction/

For my The Photograph prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2020/02/08/the-photograph-box-office-prediction/

Enough Said Movie Review

Who knew the pairing of Tony Soprano and Elaine Benes would result in something this rewarding? Nicole Holofcener’s Enough Said is a romantic comedy which employs relatively few of the clichés we’ve come to expect in the genre. There is one giant exception and it hinges on a fairly amazing coincidence between the picture’s central characters. At the end of the day, though, it doesn’t matter much because this is a thoughtful, honest, often emotional, and incredibly well-acted movie.

Julia Louis-Dreyfus is really only known for her TV work – “Seinfeld”, “The New Adventures of Old Christine”, and “Veep”. James Gandolfini played one of the most iconic television roles in history, but has had an impressive filmography as well. Putting these two together in a rom com doesn’t sound like an automatic recipe for success. It is.

Enough Said focuses on Eva (Louis-Dreyfus), a middle-aged divorcee and mother of one whose daughter is getting ready to go to college. Albert (Gandolfini) is a middle-aged divorcee and father of one who daughter is getting ready to go to college. The two meet at a party and begin dating. Eva is a masseuse who meets a new client (Catherine Keener) at the same party. It turns out later that she is Albert’s ex-wife and this complicates Eva’s view of her budding relationship.

The film is refreshing in its realistic dialogue. Its funny moments aren’t forced and feel natural. I particularly liked how many of the characters first question to Eva about being a masseuse is whether clients often become aroused. I have a feeling masseuses probably get that question all the time. There are some nicely developed supporting characters including Eva’s not so happily married friends played by Toni Collette and Ben Falcone. In a lesser movie, Eva and Albert’s exes might be portrayed as “bad guys”, but not here. Director and writer Holofcener seems to respect her audience and she gives us characters that are flawed, but also just good people trying to make things work out.

The screenplay is a huge plus and the last few minutes of Enough Said pack more emotional punch that I could’ve anticipated. Yet it’s Louis-Dreyfus and Gandolfini that make this film special. Louis-Dreyfus has proven a master of sitcom acting which requires different beats and style than movies. She is terrific here as well and I would love to see her continue to seek out roles on the big screen.

Sadly, we all know that Gandolfini died last year shortly before this picture’s release. Those of us who came to know him and love him and sometimes loathe him as Tony Soprano knew his intensity and brilliance at playing that character. His portrayal of Tony is legendary. However, he was so much more than that and capable of playing much different roles and that is evidenced here. We don’t see Tony Soprano in the character of Albert. We see Gandolfini brilliantly stepping into the part of a regular guy who gets a second shot at love. These two TV titans have been blessed with great writing on the small screen back in the day. They get another chance here in this.

And it gives an audience one more chance to remember the talents of a man who left too soon. Enough said.

***1/2 (out of four)