Antlers Review

As long as you feed The Beast and give it enough of what it wants, that might prevent it from harming others. That’s the prevailing message of Scott Cooper’s Antlers and it’s not a particularly fresh one as the foul stenches and stretches of the storyline play out. It attempts to balance body horror and creature feature elements with an abuse allegory and a tale of moral and environmental decay. With an assist from Guillermo del Toro on the production side, the pic ultimately bites off more than it can chew. This is also an issue for the title character terrorizer who leaves half devoured carcasses lying around.

The setting is the desolate Oregon town of Cispus Falls where lines for store front recovery centers appear to outnumber any other facade. In the opening, Frank Weaver (Scott Haze) has taken his youngest son Aiden (Sawyer Jones) his workplace of an abandoned mine shaft turned meth lab. Frank and his buddy leave the youngster waiting in the truck while they break up their bad deeds below. An attack by an unseen animal force begins the carnage that leaves longstanding marks on the Weaver family.

Flash forwarding above ground and weeks later, Aiden’s older brother Lucas (Jeremy T. Thomas) is an outcast who rushes to collect roadkill as his after school activity. Bringing the critters home with him, what lies behind a locked door shows the current condition of dad and Aiden. It’s not for the faint of heart or those who just feasted.

Lucas’s behavior catches the attention of his teacher Julia (Keri Russell). She’s recently moved back from California after two decades and in with her brother Paul (Jesse Plemons), who’s the Sheriff around these parts. The two share a caring but sometimes strained bond in their family home. Their mother passed long ago and their father more recently. Brief flashbacks and more expository dialogue reveal an abusive past. Julia recognizes signs of mistreatment in her pupil while not imagining the extent of it.

I did appreciate much about the atmospheric touches and gorgeous cinematography in Antlers – even if it’s focused on some grisly occurrences. The Weavers fall prey to an ancient Native American evil spirit known as a Wendigo which causes the cursed subjects to become cannibalistic and ravenous. This is mostly explained by the town’s ex-sheriff played by Graham Greene and it’s not a tale that the picture seems preoccupied in mining for material. There is a tone of seriousness that prevents this from ever becoming campy. Perhaps a little of that could have helped.

There’s no faulting the performances as Russell and Plemons commit and Thomas is believable as the malnourished child who must become an adult before he should. The problem lies with committing to too many ideas and giving the short shrift to all of them. There are worse flaws to be had and Antlers never feels like a regurgitation of previous works (though its themes are familiar). Devotees of highbrow horror might be satiated, but I found myself hungering for Cooper, del Toro, and company to pick a plot line and explore it a little more.

**1/2 (out of four)

Antlers Box Office Prediction

With a production assist from the king of creature features Guillermo del Toro, the supernatural horror tale Antlers crosses into theaters October 29th. From Black Widow and Hostiles director Scott Cooper, the pic is finally hitting screens a year and a half after its COVID postponement. Keri Russell, Jesse Plemons, Jeremy T. Thomas, Graham Greene, Scott Haze, Rory Cochrane, and Amy Madigan star.

The Searchlight pictures production has scored decent reviews and it stands at 79% on Rotten Tomatoes. Coming out Halloween weekend, Antlers is genre material in a market that’s been saturated with it. Last Night in Soho opens against it while Halloween Kills will be in its third frame.

Despite the mostly positive critical reaction, I don’t really see this registering with mainstream audiences. The competition won’t help and there’s no star power to draw crowds in. Furthermore the trailers and TV spots may make it look simply too strange to have widespread appeal. I could see this earning about as much as The Night House, which opened in August to a mere $2.9 million. If so, Antlers won’t approach the top five during its scary weekend.

Antlers opening weekend prediction: $3.2 million

For my Last Night in Soho prediction, click here:

Last Night in Soho Box Office Prediction

For my My Hero Academia: World Heroes’ Mission prediction, click here:

My Hero Academia: World Heroes’ Mission Box Office Prediction

For my The French Dispatch prediction, click here:

The French Dispatch Box Office Prediction

For my A Mouthful of Air prediction, click here:

A Mouthful of Air Box Office Prediction

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/

Free State of Jones Box Office Prediction

In a season of sequels and family entertainment, STX Entertainment is hoping adults will turn out for the Civil War drama Free State of Jones, out next weekend. Focused on the real-life story of a Southerner staging a rebellion against the Confederacy, Jones comes from director Gary Ross, known for Pleasantville, Seabiscuit, and the first Hunger Games pic. Matthew McConaughey stars with Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Keri Russell, and Brendan Gleeson among the supporting cast.

Jones was originally set for release in March prior to its summer push back. The reported $65 million production isn’t your typical summer fare and it may have made more sense with a spring (or especially fall) release date. The studio may be depending on counter programming to lure older audiences into the theaters. Strong reviews could help, but I’m not confident this will break through in a major way.

Even with its well-regarded leading man and accomplished director, I believe Free State of Jones will likely debut in the lower double digits and hope for small declines in further weekends.

Free State of Jones opening weekend prediction: $12.7 million

For my Independence Day: Resurgence prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2016/06/15/independence-day-resurgence-box-office-prediction/

For my The Shallows prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2016/06/15/the-shallows-box-office-prediction/

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes Movie Review

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes generally follows the sequel playbook closely. It’s darker and more action packed. We get new human characters introduced that don’t come close to matching the interest we have in the apes. The saga of Caesar (Andy Serkis) and his struggle of loyalty to his species and the human race is what’s truly fascinating.

In 2011, Rise of the Planet of the Apes reinvigorated a series that had stumbled in 2001 with its original restart that was Tim Burton’s misguided effort. Rise was much better than anyone expected. The freshness of seeing a franchise reborn in a legitimately satisfactory manner has been replaced in its sequel with competency. That and amazing visual effects that improves upon its predecessor.

We begin ten years after the events of Rise and the human race has been decimated by deadly pandemic. A small group of survivors dwells in dystopian San Francisco and must access a dam to provide themselves a power source. The problem is that Caesar and his loyal ape followers have set up their home on the way to that dam. And based on the events that transpired years ago, most of the apes don’t exactly trust humans. And vice versa.

Included among the humans is Malcolm (Jason Clarke), who soon forms a bond with Caesar. Our main ape character has not forgotten that humans can be good people and it is a constant source of contention with Koba, Caesar’s second in command who has no use for them. Keri Russell plays Malcolm’s wife with Kodi Smit-McPhee as his son. Caesar has a wife now and two children of his own. The leader of the human pack is portrayed by Gary Oldman, solid as always with not a whole lot to do expect for an effective crying scene.

The last two Apes pictures have been very successful in realizing Caesar as a fully formed character and represents some of the finest CG work to date. Much of the credit, though, is due to the indispensable Andy Serkis and his work to bring him to life. Matt Reeves (who did Cloverfield) takes over his directorial duties from Rupert Wyatt.

As mentioned, there is more action to be had here and it is certainly well choreographed. There’s a shot of Koba on a tank during a key battle sequence that is magnificent. While the action is solid, it is Caesar’s character arc that keeps us interested and keeps this second entry in the reconfigured Apes universe worth watching.

*** (out of four)

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes Box Office Prediction

This Friday brings us Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, the eighth picture in a franchise over 45 years old and the direct sequel to 2011’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes. There have been a number of changes in the past three years with Clovefield director Matt Reeves behind the camera in place of Rise‘s Rupert Wyatt. We also have a new cast of human actors that includes Gary Oldman, Jason Clarke, and Keri Russell. Andy Serkis does return with his acclaimed motion capture performance of ape leader Caesar.

Three  summers back, Rise was a pleasant surprise to both critics and audiences. It got off to a strong $54 million opening weekend in August 2011 on its way to a $176 million domestic take. This time around, expectations are even higher. And it also seems that critics are even more enthusiastic about Dawn. It currently holds a terrific 94% on Rotten Tomatoes. Nearly all tent pole summer 2014 entries from The Amazing Spider-Man 2 to Godzilla to X-Men: Days of Future Past to How to Train Your Dragon 2 to Transformers: Age of Extinction have either just met expectations or grossed under them. Dawn is in a unique position of following a well-received original franchise entry and having critics gushing about it. This could mean big things for it and I believe it has a fair chance of possibly becoming the season’s largest hit, which I wrote about last week here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2014/06/29/will-the-apes-rule-summer-2014/

As for its opening weekend gross, it should have no problem whatsoever surpassing the $54 million that its predecessor grossed out of the gate. While I don’t see it earning a low to mid 90s haul like Spider-Man 2, Godzilla, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, or X-Men did, it’s within the realm of possibility. I think a better bet is that it grosses in the mid to high 70s and may develop strong legs in subsequent weekends.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes opening weekend prediction: $77.2 million