Wonder Woman 1984 Review

I wish Wonder Woman 1984 wasn’t the disjointed viewing experience that it mostly is. I wish it had the humor that landed in the 2017 pic and the sweet love story between its heroine and her man that was well-developed. Here the humor seems forced as does the interplay between Gal Gadot’s title character and WWI pilot Steve Trevor (Chris Pine). This is a sequel that feels like busywork and it’s devoid of, yes, some of the wonder that made the original a bright spot in the DC Extended Universe.

1984 means leg warmers and action sequences set in shopping malls. It also means part 2 picks up nearly seven decades later. Gadot’s Diana fills her days as an anthropologist at the Smithsonian and her nights pining for the long departed Steve. Of course, she also does some Wonder Woman stuff in between. When she thwarts a jewel heist in one of those sprawling shopping structures, it turns out the thieves were really after some black market artifacts that weren’t on display. That includes an ancient “Dreamstone” of Latin origin that grants wishes no matter how dangerous they might be. For Diana, it means bringing her lost love back. This is handled by Pine returning in the form of some random DC dude. While Pine’s courtship with Diana was a high point the first time around, the actor is now relegated to gawking in wide eyed disbelief at rocket ships and escalators. His participation here never smacks of anything more than plot device mechanics and that’s a letdown. He does get a reverse Pretty Woman style sequence in which he tries on pirate looking shirts and fanny packs in front of his nonplussed girlfriend. So there’s that.

Of course, this “Dreamstone” leads to nefarious actions from others. Max Lord (Pedro Pascal) is a failed businessman who’s known for cheesy infomercials. His acquiring of the artifact allows him to amass significant power and oil. He also has a young son that he’s desperately trying to impress and that results in some mawkish moments. And there’s Kristin Wiig as Barbara. She’s Diana’s supremely unconfident geologist coworker. Barbara feels invisible until her interaction with the Stone makes her as tough and beautiful as her fellow employee. Unfortunately her power trip partners her with the megalomaniac Max and his misguided plans. For Wiig, Barbara is one of those characters who immediately becomes attractive once her big glasses and frumpy dress go by the wayside. She’s simply not a memorable villainess. There are shades of Michelle Pfeiffer’s Catwoman from Batman Returns, but she’s not written nearly as potently.

Pascal’s Max is another story. I can’t say he’s not memorable because the performer portraying him goes way over the top in doing so. I think Pascal knows how much he’s hamming it up and his go for broke attitude does provide a bit of fun. That’s welcome because it’s in short supply. I might volley back and forth on whether he’s actually great or kinda terrible here, but it’s a performance worth mentioning. That’s more than I can say for everyone else.

For two and a half hours, 1984 often forgets to bring the joy. There’s a make it up as we go along vibe that wasn’t as noticeable when Patty Jenkins helmed the first (she returns here and is one of three cowriters).

Wonder Woman 1984 is all about how you can’t get ahead by cheating and lying (a prologue featuring some familiar faces from part 1 makes that message clear). The following 150 minutes hammers it home with convenient and haphazard storylines that, ironically, sometime feel like cheats. I wish this came close to the quality of Gadot’s first stand-alone venture, but we are left waiting and wanting in 1984. 

** (out of four)

Oscar Watch: Wonder Woman 1984

After experiencing COVID-19 related delays, Warner Bros. is finally unveiling their superhero sequel Wonder Woman 1984 on Christmas in theaters and HBO Max. Needless to say, this is certainly one of the most anticipated 2020 releases as the 2017 predecessor was a critical hit and massive blockbuster (making over $800 million worldwide). Patty Jenkins returns as director with Gal Gadot back in the title role and Chris Pine reprising his role. Costars include Kristin Wiig, Pedro Pascal, Robin Wright, and Connie Nielsen.

Two and a half weeks ahead of its unveiling, the review embargo has lifted and signs are encouraging. The current Rotten Tomatoes meter stands at an impressive 89% (just slightly lower than the 93% achieved by part 1). There are some gripes about over length, but reviewers are mostly calling it a nostalgic blast. Could the second coming from the warrior goddess also known as Diana garner any awards attention?

It is worth noting that Wonder Woman 2017 received no Oscar nominations. That said, the amount of eye-popping blockbusters in 2020 is smaller than any other year in recent memory. This could mean that 1984 could pop up in technical races including Makeup and Hairstyling, Production Design, Sound, and Visual Effects. The first two categories could be a bit more doubtful while Sound and Visual Effects seem like solid possibilities. Gadot’s hero will compete with another Warner Bros. superhero property in those races with Birds of Prey (released just before the pandemic outbreak).

I do not expect that this will play in the big awards derbies. There was some chatter three years ago that part 1 could get a Best Picture nod, but it never materialized. Black Panther still stands as the only superhero property to play in that race and Wonder Woman 1984 is highly unlikely to be the second. My Oscar Watch posts will continue…

 

Top 25 SNL Alumni Performances: Numbers 10-6

We have reached the top ten in my personal favorite performances from the dozens of Saturday Night Live alumni. Today’s list covers numbers 10-6 and if you missed my previous editions, you may find them here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2020/06/21/top-25-snl-alumni-movie-performances-numbers-25-21/

https://toddmthatcher.com/2020/06/22/top-25-snl-alumni-movie-performances-numbers-20-16/

https://toddmthatcher.com/2020/06/24/top-25-snl-alumni-performances-numbers-15-11/

Let’s get to it!

10. Randy Quaid, National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (1989)

Ahhh, Cousin Eddie. One of the funniest supporting characters in film history with Quaid’s performance as the black sheep of the Griswald family. He was great in Vacation as well, but his work in the Yuletide classic gets the nod. Quaid only appeared in one ill-fated season of the show from 1985-86.

9. Kristin Wiig, Bridesmaids (2011)

Wiig is one of the greatest SNL performers period and her first starring role was a blockbuster showcase for her immense talents. Her costar Maya Rudolph deserves a shout out for her performance as well.

8. Eddie Murphy, The Nutty Professor (1996)

Beyond his terrific work as Sherman Klump and Buddy Love, this update of the Jerry Lewis tale also finds the versatile star hilariously playing nearly every member of the Klump clan under Rick Baker’s amazing makeup work. This was deservedly a major comeback vehicle for Murphy.

7. Robert Downey Jr., Iron Man (2008)

People tend to forget that Downey was a cast member in the forgettable 1985-86 season that Quaid was a part of. There’s other performances that I could have included here (including other Avengers work), but I’ll give his first appearance in his signature role the attention it warrants.

6. John Belushi, National Lampoon’s Animal House (1978)

This is the first breakout role for a SNL cast member and it’s absolutely one of the best with Belushi’s iconic performance as John Blutarsky (or Bluto). You can still find his photo chugging Jack Daniels in many a college dorm across the country.

We will reach the top 5 in short order! Stat tuned…

Daily Streaming Guide: March 28th Edition

In these times, it’s certainly important to laugh and today’s Streaming Guide gives us two goofy comedies currently available on HBO’s viewing services:

2010’s MacGruber is a feature-length treatment starring Will Forte’s inept MacGyver type character that he originally debuted on SNL. It was not a hit upon release, but has found many fans over the past decade. I found it to be frequently uproarious with memorable supporting turns by Kristin Wiig and Val Kilmer. There’s also an, ummm, love scene between Forte and Wiig that won’t leave your psyche anytime soon.

2004’s Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story was a blockbuster a decade and a half ago. Headlined by Vince Vaughn and Ben Stiller, this silly sports tale about something we all played in gym hits more than it misses. In hindsight, the inspirational scene with Lance Armstrong towards the end seems… dated. Yet this is certainly good for some laughs.

That does it for now, folks! Until next time…

Oscar Watch: Where’d You Go, Bernadette

The fact that acclaimed filmmaker Richard Linklater’s latest effort lifted its review embargo one day before release could be seen as a red flag. Considering his previous pic Last Flag Flying didn’t particularly connect with critics or audiences might have been seen as a harbinger of things to come for Where’d You Go, Bernadette.

Reaction out today confirms the suspicions. The Cate Blanchett led mystery comedy, based on Maria Semple’s 2012 bestseller, holds just a 35% Rotten Tomatoes score at press time. Five years after Linklater’s Boyhood won and was nominated for multiple Oscars, it appears this will be quickly forgotten in the slow August frame.

Blanchett has managed some praise for her work. It’s been 15 years since she won Supporting Actress for Martin Scorsese’s The Aviator and 6 years since she took gold for her leading role in Woody Allen’s Blue Jasmine. She’s been nominated five other times.

I wouldn’t anticipate this will be #8. And overall – If Oscar watchers are looking for Bernadette come nominations time, they’ll be left wondering where it went. My Oscar Watch posts will continue…

Where’d You Go, Bernadette Box Office Prediction

Acclaimed director Richard Linklater brings his adaptation of a 2012 bestseller to the big screen with Where’d You Go, Bernadette. Based on Maria Semple’s comedic mystery, the pic casts two-time Oscar winner Cate Blanchett in the title role of an agoraphobic wife and mother who disappears. The story finds her daughter (Emma Nelson) tracking her whereabouts. Costars include Billy Crudup, Kristin Wiig, Judy Greer, Laurence Fishburne, Steve Zahn, and Megan Mullaly.

It’s been five years since Linklater’s Boyhood bowed to critical praise and multiple Academy nominations. Since then, his efforts Everybody Wants Some!! and Last Flag Flying have underwhelmed at the box office. The late summer release date here is curious as Bernadette is foregoing the festival circuit that often builds buzz for titles such as this.

Without that kind of chatter, the film will rely on fans of its source material. That could be a challenge for it to break out of mid single digits territory.

Where’d You Go, Bernadette opening weekend prediction: $5.6 million

For my The Angry Birds Movie 2 prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2019/08/06/the-angry-birds-movie-2-box-office-prediction/

For my Good Boys prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2019/08/07/good-boys-box-office-prediction/

For my 47 Meters Down: Uncaged prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2019/08/08/47-meters-down-uncaged-box-office-prediction/

For my Blinded by the Light prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2019/08/11/blinded-by-the-light-box-office-prediction/

How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World Box Office Prediction

Dreamworks Animation closes out its animated trilogy next weekend with the release of How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World. The critically acclaimed franchise began in 2010 with a sequel that followed four years later. Dean DeBlois, maker of the first two, returns to direct the third installment that comes with a reported budget of nearly $130 million. Actors providing voices include Jay Baruchel, America Ferrera, Cate Blanchett, Craig Ferguson, Gerard Butler, F. Murray Abraham, Jonah Hill, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, and Kristin Wiig.

Nearly a decade ago, the original Dragon debuted to $43 million and legged out nicely to an overall $217 domestic gross. The 2014 follow-up topped the opening of part 1 with $49 million. However, it ended up taking in $177 million total. While the studio certainly hopes for robust stateside sales, the series has been a juggernaut overseas (Dragon 2 made $621 million worldwide). The Hidden World is out in numerous foreign markets already and taken in $85 million thus far.

I’ll project this threequel gets in the range of what preceded it and put it in the middle of what they accomplished.

How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World opening weekend prediction: $44.7 million

For my Fighting with My Family prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2019/02/14/fighting-with-my-family-box-office-prediction/

Oscar Watch – How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World

We are just two days into the new year, but it’s already time for my first Oscar Watch post of 2019. That’s because How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World comes out in Australia tomorrow before its stateside release on February 22. Early reviews are out and the third and final installment of the Dreamworks Animation franchise is receiving solid ones. The action fantasy sequel stands at 100% currently on Rotten Tomatoes.

In 2010, the original Dragon nabbed a Best Animated Feature nod at the Oscars. Four years later, part 2 accomplished the same. Both pictures lost to titles coming from the mighty Mouse Factory – Toy Story 3 and Big Hero 6, respectively. The Disney competition will be fierce this year with Toy Story 4 and Frozen 2.

That said, even at this extraordinarily early date, the latest Dragon already looks like a serious contender for a nomination given the history of the series. My Oscar Watch posts will continue…

Downsizing Movie Review

Director Alexander Payne and his writing partner Jim Taylor enter new genre territory with Downsizing, but it’s filled with the themes found in their previous efforts. A central character searching for meaning in life, marital strife, and classism are on display. Unlike prior features, science fiction elements and a bigger budget are in the mix. This is a story loaded with intriguing prospects  that doesn’t lead to a totally rewarding whole.

A prologue shows the advent of a monumental discovery by Norwegian scientists – the ability to shrink humans to only five inches tall. The reasoning to do it is to save the Earth by significantly reducing pollution and overpopulation. Not all citizens who choose to go through the procedure are hardcore environmentalists. There’s also the added bonus that downsizing is a financial boon. Every dollar in big world translates to about a grand in the smaller one.

This is the primary reason why occupational therapist Paul (Matt Damon) and his wife Audrey (Kristin Wiig) choose their new path. The Omaha couple agree to downsize and populate the colony of Leisureland. In Nebraska, they’re scraping by. They will be millionaires post op. A surprise happens on the way to the procedure. Paul goes through with it, but Audrey backs out and leaves him.

Lonely Paul must adjust to his tiny new surroundings and life. His eventual divorce agreement causes him to trade his Leisureland mansion for an apartment (albeit a pretty nice one). Up to this point, Downsizing is pretty nifty. The leadup and explanations of how this new world works are fascinating. There’s some prejudice involved with the full size humans meeting those about to become small. Should they get full voting rights, for instance? We also discover there’s nefarious governments that forcibly shrink their dissidents.

Further exploration of themes like these could have made a potentially rich experience. Downsizing goes a different direction. Paul’s upstairs neighbor is a party animal played with expected gusto by Christoph Waltz. It’s through this freewheeling character that Paul meets Ngoc Lan (Hong Chau), a Vietnamese political activist who was punished by that government. She’s an amputee and cleaning lady with a heart of gold. Ngoc Lan takes Paul to the slums of Leisureland where he begins to medically assist its poor residents. He also begins to fall for his companion.

The picture, at this juncture, largely abandons its sci fi leanings and concentrates on issues of self-worth, love, and political themes. Of course, all these things have been present in many great science fiction efforts. However, the tone of Downsizing is a shifty one. There’s moments of satire that aren’t biting enough and an earnestness that can come off cloying. That latter description could sometimes apply to Damon’s work. Payne has directed a number of actors to Oscar nominations. His lead here displays the same syrupy conviction in which he once bought a zoo. Chau is a different story. She creates a character whose backstory might have been really rewarding if shown onscreen. Unfortunately, Ngoc Lan eventually becomes just the love interest to the blander protagonist.

Payne and Taylor deserve a degree of credit for crafting this odd concoction. There’s some original thoughts here and some sequences are truly impressive, especially the downsizing procedure itself. That said, the emotional payoff the filmmakers are reaching for never quite reached me. There are moments in About Schmidt, Sideways, The Descendants and Nebraska that did so more often and with an appreciated higher level of subtlety. So while I admire Downsizing for some big ideas, the overall impact is smaller.

**1/2 (out of four)

Downsizing Box Office Prediction

Director Alexander Payne’s latest Downsizing hits screens next Friday for a holiday release. The science fiction dramedy features Matt Damon, Kristin Wiig, Jason Sudeikis, Christoph Waltz, and Hong Chau.

Payne has seen his last three films – Sideways, The Descendants, Nebraska – all nab Best Picture nominations. Downsizing was once seen as an Oscar contender until it premiered at the Venice Film Festival months ago to mixed reviews (it stands at a muted 64% on Rotten Tomatoes). In fact, its only Academy chatter is focused on costar Chau, who could manage a Supporting Actress nod.

The near complete lack of awards chatter has muted the buzz for this project. The pic also has plenty of competition for its intended adult audience, including The Greatest Showman and various other genuine Oscar hopefuls.

Add that up and I feel Downsizing will experience a debut in the low double digits or teens. That would a bit under another Damon flick from an acclaimed director released over Christmas from six years ago, Cameron Crowe’s We Bought a Zoo. 

Downsizing opening weekend prediction: $11.7 million (Friday to Monday estimate)

For my Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2017/12/11/jumanji-welcome-to-the-jungle-box-office-prediction/

For my The Greatest Showman prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2017/12/12/the-greatest-showman-box-office-prediction/

For my Pitch Perfect 3 prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2017/12/12/pitch-perfect-3-box-office-prediction/

For my Father Figures prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2017/12/14/father-figures-box-office-prediction/