The Fate of the Furious Movie Review

The Fate of the Furious 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 Point Break, or Point Brake 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 Furious 7, 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 Die Another Day? 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 Tokyo Drift. Not yet though and that’s some kind of testament to its durability.

*** (out of four)

Beauty and the Beast Movie Review

Any challenges of adapting one of Disney’s classics that happens to be one of their best mostly fall by the wayside in Beauty and the Beast. 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 Gods and Monsters 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.

*** (out of four)

Beauty and the Beast Box Office Prediction

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:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2017/03/10/the-belko-experiment-box-office-prediction/

 

The Girl on the Train Movie Review

The Girl on the Train isn’t skillfully made enough to realize its own trashiness. This differs greatly from David Fincher’s Gone Girl, 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.

**1/2 (out of four)

Oscar Watch: The Girl on the Train

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.

My Oscar Watch posts will continue…

 

The Girl on the Train Box Office Prediction

Just last year, the novel The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins became a massive bestseller and Universal Pictures wasted no time in getting the big screen adaptation to eager audiences. The book has been described as the “next Gone Girl” and the studio would love to replicate that film adaptation’s success here.

The thriller is directed by The Help‘s Tate Taylor and stars Emily Blunt with a supporting cast that includes Rebecca Ferguson, Haley Bennett, Justin Theroux, Luke Evans, Allison Janney, Edgar Ramirez, Lisa Kudrow, and Laura Prepon.

Train should undoubtedly bring in fans of the source material (including a hefty female demographic). Yet reaching the heights of Gone Girl seems like a fairly unlikely prospect. Two years ago in the same first October weekend, the David Fincher effort earned just over $37 million out of the gate. It wouldn’t shock me to see this top $30M for its opening weekend, but I believe a mid-high 20s gross is more probable. If Train manages solid audience buzz, it could keep chugging along with smallish drops in future weekends.

The Girl on the Train opening weekend prediction: $28.2 million

For my The Birth of a Nation prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2016/09/28/the-birth-of-a-nation-box-office-prediction/

For my Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2016/09/28/middle-school-the-worst-years-of-my-life-box-office-prediction/

High-Rise Movie Review

Ben Wheatley’s HighRise is less a movie about plot than its theme. Based on a 1975 novel by J.G. Ballard, this parable about classism uses the title structure in dark and devious ways to show that its inhabitants are not best left to their own devices. Set in the year that the source material was penned, we can practically detect the stale cigarette smoke odor and lord knows what else in the fibers of its shag carpeting. However, the subject matter is timeless and familiar.

The newest tenant of the London 40 story building where we spend the bulk of our time is Dr. Robert Laird (Tom Hiddleston). He moves to this property built by famed architect Anthony Royal (Jeremy Irons), who lives on the rooftop penthouse with bodyguards, an entitled wife, lush gardens, and a white horse. The decadence of the property dilutes with each floor. If you’re up high, there’s costumed parties where the doctor is out-of-place. The lower dwellings are crowded and dirty with parties that are just as lively, if not wilder (it is the seventies after all). Our lead character is in the middle range – 25th floor to be precise. Dr. Laird becomes acquainted with both sides. He strikes up a fling with a single mom (Sienna Miller) right above him. Below him, he befriends the pregnant wife (Elisabeth Moss) of the unhinged Richard (Luke Evans), who begins to document the increasingly more unhinged happenings at the property.

Royal’s creation is built with indoor pools, gyms, and a supermarket. There’s little reason for the tenants to venture elsewhere and even the good doctor finds reasons not to go to work. The mix of all societal types together descends into violence, squalor, orgiastic violence, and orgiastic squalor. It’s not pretty to look at most of the time and yet it’s often hard to look away. Some of that credit belongs to a director in Wheatley who’s clearly a talent and some impressive cinematography and art direction. The cast is first rate as well, with Hiddleston leading the way in another role in which he shows some morality mixed with the opposite.

The problem with HighRise is that once you get the message of what it’s trying to say (it’s hard to miss), it mostly just repeats itself. The images are often both beautiful and hideous to behold. I would be lying if I said I felt it equals a wholly satisfying experience. The irony is that this may be the exact type of picture where the “higher floor” cinephile types may exaggeratingly extol its virtues. The “lower floor” moviegoing types (those who just wish to have an entertaining time) may wish they were anywhere else but this building. The “middle floor” types may find themselves, well, in the middle. My apartment may have been on the 25th floor, too.

**1/2 (out of four)