Known for his mega budget disaster flicks such as Independence Day and The Day After Tomorrow, director Roland Emmerich tries his hand at a World War II epic next weekend with Midway. Budgeted at $75 million (pretty low considering the reported $165 million price tag for his 2016 dud sequel Independence Day: Resurgence), the cast includes Ed Skrein, Patrick Wilson, Luke Evans, Aaron Eckhart, Nick Jonas, Mandy Moore, Dennis Quaid, and Woody Harrelson.
I do not expect this to be Emmerich’s Saving Private Ryan or Dunkirk. Those WWII efforts had critical acclaim and Oscar buzz. This does not. There will be competition for the adult and action crowd with the debut of Doctor Sleep and second frame for Terminator: Dark Fate.
IMAX elevated pricing could help a bit, but I doubt it. My suspicion is that Midway posts middling to poor numbers in the low teens for an inauspicious start.
The more I thought about it, Ma shares a bit in common with Tate Taylor’s predecessor TheGirlontheTrain in positive and negative ways. They’re both headlined by impressive female performers – Emily Blunt in Train and Octavia Spencer here. And both are hindered by serious messaging tones in a genre that should celebrate its own trashiness. That problem is less pronounced in Ma, but it rears its head enough to make an impact.
The opening finds high school student Maggie (Diana Silvers, recently seen as an object of Kaitlyn Dever’s affection in Booksmart) transplanted to a sleepy small town. Her single mom (Juliette Lewis) is frequently off working at a casino. There’s nothing much to do except find fields to guzzle beer and smoke weed. Maggie finds some friends, including the dreamy Andy (Corey Fogelmanis) and party monster Haley (McKaley Miller). There’s a couple underwritten others who fit various stereotypes. The group needs town elders to buy them the booze and that’s where Spencer’s Sue Ann comes in.
She’s a veterinary technician who’s quite bad at her job. Her boss is played in a small role by Allison Janney, a staple of Taylor’s filmography. Luckily for the kids, she’s skilled at buying their intoxicants. Sue Ann, deemed Ma by the youngsters, befriends them and allows her basement to be the drinking spot. It doesn’t take long for Maggie and company to realize she’s a little too creepily eager to play a part in their lives.
Ma works best early when the motives of Ma are unclear. Her fascination with Andy, her zeal for bumping 70s funk hits amongst a swarm of underage students, and her endless texts and Insta videos to her new buddies set up an effective and pending sense of doom. Without going into serious spoiler territory, Ma’s bizarre behavior is based in her own upbringing and it’s told in flashback sequences. This is where explanatory content didn’t feel totally necessary. The screenplay by Scotty Landes rather clumsily attempts to insert commentary on bullying and harassment. It’s a delicate balance that never quite levels out.
Spencer is great as always and it is fun (again, especially early) to see her play against type. We also have Luke Evans as Andy’s smarmy father who plays a key role in Sue Ann’s past and Missi Pyle as his tawdry girlfriend. Despite some freaky moments, Ma is a mixed bag as we watch this girl on the crazy train go off the rails.
Like the whodunnit paperbacks that Jennifer Aniston’s character reads to distract herself, MurderMystery is a flimsy experience that you’ll quickly forget. It’s not bad while it lasts, but I wouldn’t count on retaining it. Adam Sandler and Aniston team up again after 2011’s middling JustGowithIt and that title aptly describes this. Don’t expect much other than a few amusing moments from the cast and it’s probably best viewed in transit somewhere as a minor distraction.
Sandler is New York cop Nick, who yearns to be a detective but can’t pass the exam. Aniston is his hairdresser wife Audrey. They’ve been married 15 years and she’s bitter that Nick hasn’t made good on his long standing promise of a European vacation (Amazon gift card is more his speed). He finally acquiesces and on the ride over, Audrey befriends the dashing Charles (Luke Evans) who invite the couple to join his family on their luxury yacht.
Charles is nephew to Malcolm Quince (Terence Stamp), a mega billionaire who owns the vessel. He stole Charles’s young fiancée and their nuptials are imminent. Others on the boat are financially dependent on Malcolm, including his son (David Walliams), a Hollywood actress (Gemma Arterton), a Formula One driver (Luis Gerardo Mendez), and a hip hop influenced maharajah (Adeel Akhtar). When Malcolm is killed, Nick and Audrey find themselves aboard a plot akin to her throwaway books.
The body count rises as the head couple become the lead suspects. Nick must utilize his detective skills, which are most certainly not considerable. MurderMystery is often as generic as its name. Sandler is in goofy nice guy mode while Aniston plays exasperated for an hour and a half. They do share a comfortable chemistry that helps as this moves along. Some of the supporting players momentarily rise above the material, including Arterton (her reaction to accusations of being the culprit is genuinely funny).
It’s not exactly high praise to say that this isn’t bad like some of Sandler’s other Netflix excursions. Mildly diverting is more apt. For a watch involving a flight or long train ride somewhere, MurderMystery could fit the bill for Sandler and Aniston admirers if you decide to just go with it.
Luc Besson loves assassins and his latest action thriller Anna features another one in the form of Russian supermodel Sasha Luss. She stars in the reported $30 million budgeted pic with Luke Evans, Helen Mirren, and Cillian Murphy in the supporting cast. As mentioned, the director has played in the genre before with LaFemmeNikita and TheProfessional. His recent filmography includes hits (2014’s Lucy) and big budget flops (2017’s ValerianandtheCityofaThousandPlanets).
Expectations are low here. Its best hope could be for a bountiful European gross. The blockbuster earnings of Lucy were greatly assisted by its lead Scarlett Johansson. No such headliners exist here.
Rolling out on approximately 2150 screens, I think $5 million could even be too high of a mark.
Blumhouse Productions continues its output of ultra low-budget horror pics that could see impressive returns next weekend with the release of Ma. Made for a tiny reported budget of $5 million, Oscar winner Octavia Spencer is cast as a homicidal veterinary aide terrorizing a group of teens. Ma reunites its star with her director from TheHelp, Tate Taylor (whose last effort was TheGirlontheTrain). Costars include Juliette Lewis, Diana Silvers, Luke Evans, McKaley Miller, and Missi Pyle.
The studio has been down this road before with blockbuster efforts like GetOut and HappyDeathDay. I don’t expect Ma to reach their levels. While there’s no direct genre competition, Godzilla: KingoftheMonsters and Rocketman could divert eyeballs elsewhere. Yet this could certainly triple or quadruple its budget out of the gate with an African-American audience and a teenage crowd.
Ma opening weekend prediction: $17.2 million
For my Godzilla: KingoftheMonsters prediction, click here:
TheFateoftheFurious is our eighth – yes, eighth – installment of a franchise that it would have been ridiculous to imagine there being that many entries. We’re a long way from the original 16 years ago that was sort of a drag racing rip-off of PointBreak, or PointBrake as I deemed it in my review. That said, a common thread among the series is its willingness to be knowingly ridiculous while weaving in endless monologues about the importance of family.
The formula took on a different tone in predecessor Furious7, which admirably managed to deal with the death of franchise stalwart Paul Walker in its conclusion. In that sense, Fate ushers in a new chapter. New characters are introduced, old ones are rehashed, and the level of silliness is brought to a level not quite seen before. Yes, cars go fast here. However, part 8 owes more to James Bond flicks when they were less grim (think Roger Moore era with a quarter billion dollar budget).
As I’ve written in previous Furious critiques, plot is secondary but here’s what you need to know: Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) has turned on his team. Sort of. He’s being forced to team up with criminal mastermind Cipher (Charlize Theron), who evades authorities in the air on an invisible plane. See what I mean? Isn’t that the kind of villain 007 might battle in the late seventies? Now on the wrong side of justice, Dominic and Cipher must go against Dom’s “family”, including wife Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) and the familiar players played by Dwayne Johnson (whose goofy character is still good for some funny and bizarre moments), Tyrese Gibson, Ludacris, Kurt Russell, and more. Part 7’s main villain Jason Statham is more of a team player this time around and even Oscar winner Helen Mirren turns up as his mum. Statham is granted a fight scene towards the end where he has to be delicate with some cargo he’s carrying (you’ll see what I mean). The scene is genuinely humorous and quite well choreographed.
The plot is all an excuse for the massive action spectacles and globe trotting we’ve become accustomed to and we have it here in Cuba, New York City, and Russia. The climactic sequence set on Russian frozen tundra employs the usual expensive vehicles, but we also are treated to tanks and submarines. Remember the ice action in Pierce Brosnan’s Bond flick DieAnotherDay? Think that, but it’s not embarrassingly awful.
Our Furious sagas rise and fall on the ability for us to check our brains at the Universal logo. By the third act, I’d succumbed once again to its cheesy charms. Maybe one day this series will truly stall like it briefly did in 2006’s TokyoDrift. Not yet though and that’s some kind of testament to its durability.
Any challenges of adapting one of Disney’s classics that happens to be one of their best mostly fall by the wayside in BeautyandtheBeast. Over a quarter century ago, the 1991 Mouse Factory version earned the status of being the first animated feature to receive a Best Picture nomination. It was deserved and Beauty helped usher in a renaissance for the studio with Broadway level music coupled with its tale as old as time storylines.
Our new Beauty doesn’t rock the boat by any means. Is it a factory made production meant to fog up our nostalgia goggles? Sure. Yet it’s crafted with reverence, the music still holds up, and it looks lovely.
It seems silly to recount the plot that’s been around for our collective childhoods in one form or another, but let’s get through it. We have Belle (a strong Emma Watson) living a rather boring existence in 18th century France with her doting dad (Kevin Kline). She’s being pursued by the chauvinistic Gaston (Luke Evans) who wishes to marry her. Her ho hum existence takes a turn when Dad is captured by the Beast (Dan Stevens), who lives in a dilapidated castle that the other French villagers have long forgotten. He was cursed many moons ago for his inability to love. When Belle travels there and trades her father’s freedom for her own, the strange relationship between the title characters commences.
There really isn’t too much new from this reboot compared to 1991. We have a couple more musical numbers, lest you forget the animated version was a mere 85 minutes. Alan Menken returns to do the music and those magnificent staples like the title track and “Be Our Guest” are happily intact. Bill Condon (whose varied filmography includes Twilight pics and more adult fare like GodsandMonsters and Mr. Holmes) directs with an eye on preserving what we appreciated about what came before.
Like the drawn Beauty, the Beast’s castle is filled with inanimate objects who are quite animated. Ian McKellen is clock Cogsworth, Ewan McGregor voices candelabra Lumiere, and Emma Thompson is Mrs. Potts. She acquits herself just fine in the part, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t miss Angela Lansbury singing that iconic dancing tune toward the finale. Speaking of animated, Josh Gad has his proper comic relief moments in the role of LeFou, Gaston’s sidekick.
Disney has unleashed a gold mine with this recent strategy of updating their canon with live-action. Some have worked better than others and Beauty falls on the better side because it had incredibly strong material adapt from. The team behind this recognize it and are content knowing they had something there to begin with.
Disney’s live-action remake of Beauty and the Beast arrives in theaters next weekend and it looks poised for quite a fantastic opening. Bill Condon serves behind the camera (he directed the last two Twilight installments recently) with Emma Watson as Belle and Dan Stevens as the Beast. Costars include Luke Evans, Kevin Kline, Josh Gad, Ian McKellen, Ewan McGregor, Stanley Tucci, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, and Emma Thompson.
The Mouse Factory has had tremendous success with their reboots of their classic animated tales. 2014’s Maleficent took in $241 million stateside. The following year, Cinderella cleared $200 million. Last year’s The Jungle Book scored even more impressively with $364 million.
Beauty stands a great shot at outdoing them all. For starters, the 1991 original is beloved (it was the first animated feature to nab a Best Picture nomination). The Disney marketing machine has been in high gear and turnout among youngsters and females in particular should be substantial. Reviews (while not gushing) have been solid and it stands at 73% on Rotten Tomatoes.
There is little doubt that this will post 2017’s largest opening so far. Just how high can it go? I am predicting it will achieve one of the top ten domestic premieres of all time. My estimate puts it at #10, right in between The Dark Knight Rises and The Dark Knight for a truly beast mode roll out.
Beauty and the Beast opening weekend prediction: $158.8 million
For my The Belko Experiment prediction, click here:
TheGirlontheTrain isn’t skillfully made enough to realize its own trashiness. This differs greatly from David Fincher’s GoneGirl, which embraced its pulpy source material and had lots of fun with it. Based on a huge bestseller by Paula Hawkins, Train takes itself too seriously to be the guilty pleasure it ought to be. That’s a shame because Emily Blunt’s central performance continues her fine work rolling along.
She plays Rachel, a divorced alcoholic who spends the bulk of her time on the titled mode of transportation. Her boozy travels send her past her old home, where her ex (Justin Theroux) lives with his new wife and old mistress (Rebecca Ferguson) and baby. It is two houses down, however, where Rachel’s chemically imbalanced imagination is running wild. This is where Megan (Haley Bennett) and her husband Scott (Luke Evans) reside and the passenger watching them envisions their relationship to be the one she pines for. Of course, there’s far more beneath the surface and that goes for all the characters involved.
When Rachel realizes there’s more to the facade she’s conjured for the couple, it leads to a mystery and a disappearance that involves Allison Janney’s detective. It leads to questioning Rachel’s whereabouts on a typical blackout drunken evening. I suppose, too, it eventually leads to a twist that is one you’re likely to pick up on earlier than you should. Whether this is designed that way is something I don’t know, but it’s a flaw nonetheless.
Our title character’s abuse of her own body and mind and other abuses I won’t reveal gives Blunt a chance to shine. Her performance is really the only one worthy of note, though Bennett does have a couple moments of her own. The story is told in a flashback style that gives all the women some backlog, but it’s Rachel who merits our attention. If only director Tate Taylor didn’t seem intent on pushing a dour vibe instead of recognizing this is vacation paperback material, this could’ve worked better. Blunt almost makes it worth the trip, but not quite.
Two years ago, David Fincher’s Gone Girl successfully adapted its mega-hit novel source material. It earned $167 million stateside and nabbed an Oscar nomination for its lead, Rosamund Pike. This Friday’s The Girl on the Train has been compared to that title frequently. It’s based on a mystery thriller novel that scored with readers just last year. It’s expected to bring in a large female demographic when it debuts this weekend. It has a female lead (Emily Blunt) with a role some have speculated could garner Academy attention. In my previous Oscar prediction posts (they come out every Thursday folks!), I’ve listed Train as a possibility for Actress (Blunt), Supporting Actress (Haley Bennett), Adapted Screenplay, and even Picture. I will note that I had yet to include any of those nominations within the predicted five (or five to ten regarding Picture).
Well, today the critical reaction was unleashed on The Girl on the Train with numerous reviews rolling in. The verdict? Mixed. Very mixed. EW gave it a rave, but several other prominent writers were not kind at all. I don’t really believe this will endanger its box office prospects (I’ve got it slated for a $28.2M debut). Its Oscar prospects, on the other hand, appear… gone. This Thursday, I’ll have my updated post listing the possibilities for the previously mentioned categories. Blunt and Bennett have received some kind words in even some of the negative reviews. Yet their inclusion in the acting races appears far less likely than last week. Screenplay or Picture? Not a chance.