Widows Movie Review

Like Michael Mann’s Heat over two decades ago, Steve McQueen’s Widows is a heist movie more concerned with the personalities of the people planning them. The similarities don’t stop there. It’s got a sprawling cast with many familiar faces and an overall somber tone. This is a genre marked mostly by its entertainment value. Heists are fun onscreen with the numeric Ocean’s being the highest profile recent examples.

Unlike Heat, its central planner doesn’t pull these crimes because he’s great at it and doesn’t have a personal life. Here it’s the personal lives that lead to the planning in the first place. And in this one, it’s “she’s”. Veronica Rawlings (Viola Davis) works for the Chicago Teachers Union and is married to career thief Harry (Liam Neeson). What I’m about to write isn’t exactly a spoiler considering the title. Harry and his crew have a job go awry and they’re all killed. Besides Veronica, the widowed women include business owner Linda (Michelle Rodriguez), abused spouse Alice (Elizabeth Debicki), and new mom Amanda (Carrie Coon).

Their mourning period is disrupted by their husband’s past illegal dealings. Windy City crime lord Jamal Manning (Brian Tyree Henry) was ripped off by them and he’s ready to collect. He’s running for an alderman spot against corrupt politico Jack Mulligan (Colin Farrell). Mulligan fancies himself a man of the people and lives close to the dilapidated neighborhood he wishes to represent. He might as well live on another planet. Manning wants to enter government life to get away from a life of crime, but seems to understand that they go hand in hand in this transactional and blood soaked Chicago.

Veronica, Linda, and Alice are put in a desperate spot. A clue left behind by Harry leads them to plan a robbery of Mulligan’s dirty money while trying to keep his political opponent off their backs (Amanda chooses to not to participate). Mulligan and Manning have enforcers on their team. The former’s is his controlling and ruthless father (Robert Duvall). The latter’s is his henchman (Daniel Kaluuya), who’s sadistic and seems to genuinely enjoy his works of depravity.

There are many subplots in Widows and McQueen manages to pull it off in mostly satisfying fashion. Some work better than others. The relationship of Veronica and Harry is a complicated one that’s given emotional heft by a shared loss. The same can be said for Alice’s character. She’s been a victim her whole life it seems. There’s an empowerment element with her that makes her perhaps the easiest character to root for. Rodriguez’s story has less meat on the bones. They pick up another conspirator in Belle (a memorable Cynthia Erivo), a driven woman who serves as the driver.

You’ll not be surprised to find the performances are first-rate, particularly Davis, Debicki, and Kaluuya (there’s not a mediocre one in the bunch). The score, editing, and cinematography are also noteworthy. McQueen wrote the script along with Gillian Flynn, known for her twisty works like Gone Girl. She’s created compelling female characters there and elsewhere and she does so here. If there’s an issue, it’s that her proclivity for twists reaches a tad too far with one (which I won’t spoil). I found it unnecessary and you’ll likely recognize what I’m referring to upon viewing.

And Widows is worth viewing as it gives us some characters you want to follow. There’s nothing remarkable about the heist they’re trying to pull. The acting and technical work often does fit that description.

*** (out of four)

Life of the Party Box Office Prediction

Melissa McCarthy is back in theaters after a two-year absence when Life of the Party debuts next weekend. The comedy marks her third collaboration with her husband/director Ben Falcone after 2014’s Tammy and 2016’s The Boss. It’s her first appearance onscreen since the Ghostbusters reboot in the summer of 2016. The pic casts her as a divorced mom who goes back to college and ends up in the same class as her daughter. Costars include Molly Gordon, Gillian Jacobs, Maya Rudolph, Jacki Weaver, Julie Bowen, Matt Walsh, and Stephen Root.

The previous efforts of McCarthy with Falcone has yielded results in the low 20s at the box office. Tammy opened to $21 million with an eventual gross of $84 million. Two years later, The Boss premiered with $23 million and $63 million overall. It certainly is possible that Life could start out in the same range, but I could also see this falling just a tad lower.

I’ll project Life of the Party doesn’t quite reach $20 million, which should easily be enough for it to place second to the third weekend of Avengers: Infinity War.

Life of the Party opening weekend prediction: $19.4 million

For my Breaking In prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2018/05/02/breaking-in-box-office-prediction/

A Futile and Stupid Gesture Movie Review

David Wain’s A Futile and Stupid Gesture centers on a Golden Age of comedy while attempting to tell a conventional biopic story line somewhat unconventionally. At times, it succeeds. In others, it strains itself. The overall effect is a retelling of moments that led millions of us to some of our biggest laughs in print and onscreen, even if the humor here is hit or miss.

The film’s central figure is Doug Kenney (Will Forte) of Chagrin Falls, Ohio (as he constantly reminds us). He grew up in that affluent Ohio suburban setting in the 1950s with uppity parents and a family tragedy that seems to inform his feeling of self-worth. However, he’s got one whip smart sense of humor and it translates to his time at Harvard. He partners with fellow humorist – the ironically pipe smoking Henry Beard (Domhnall Gleeson) and they excel at producing the “Lampoon”, the university’s premier comedy publication. While this Ivy League duo could pretty much get any job, Doug convinces Henry to expand the magazine nationally. Hence the “National Lampoon” and the treasure trove of history that follows.

Kenney and Beard’s venture turns out to be a runaway success that provides a platform for brilliant writers such as Michael O’Donoghue and P.J. O’Rourke and performers Chevy Chase, Gilda Radner, John Belushi, and Bill Murray to shine. It’s obvious to say that “Saturday Night Live” never would have existed without Kenney and Beard and that’s acknowledged here. Some of these later famous faces are given seconds of screen time and others considerably more. In a movie about the advent of ironic comedy in many respects, there’s some casting irony here. Joel McHale is Chevy Chase, an actor who dealt with the well-documented difficult nature of Chevy himself on the set of “Community”. Martin Mull is the narrator of Gesture as the older man who Kenney himself never became. The screenplay gleefully acknowledges the many clichés that come with making a biopic. The drug use, strained romantic relationships, and family drama are presented here, but with a winking eye.

The picture often plays like a greatest hits of Kenney’s accomplishments. His contributions to the big screen were short but monumental with National Lampoon’s Animal House and Caddyshack. The screenplay doesn’t linger long on either and perhaps it could have benefited with more minutes spent on the party atmosphere of the former and the coke fueled chaos of the latter.

A Futile and Stupid Gesture is clearly made by a team who reveres its central subject. It doesn’t delve too far into Kenney’s considerable issues in an attempt to keep the tone fairly light. Yet it also doesn’t fully enjoy the opportunities to spend time with these young upstarts who would become comedy legends. That creates a sometimes unwieldy mix. Forte certainly impresses in the lead and there’s a few memorable supporting turns, including Matt Walsh as the magazine’s beleaguered financier and Ed Helms in a brief, but devastatingly biting scene as interviewer Tom Snyder.

There are segments of Gesture that remind us to thank our lucky stars for the existence of the people chronicled here. It doesn’t fully succeed as a stand-alone movie that ironically apes the biopic genre that it finds itself in, though it tries hard. In fact, it sometimes tries a little too hard to be ironic. The makers of the “Lampoon” shown here probably would have known how to make it a little funnier and let the serious moments be a tad more subtly rewarding.

**1/2 (out of four)

Keeping Up with the Joneses Movie Review

Zach Galifianakis and Isla Fisher are two performers that made themselves known to the moviegoing masses with some outlandish roles where they got to let their freak flags fly in The Hangover and Wedding Crashers, respectively. So it’s a bit disconcerting to see them playing the typical dull suburban married couple in Keeping Up with the Joneses. Typical is a word that can be applied to a lot of what we see here. The film isn’t bad. It’s just ordinary. The leads aren’t bad either. They’re just more boring than we’re used to and a by the numbers screenplay doesn’t help them any.

The aforementioned actors play Jeff and Karen. He is a Human Resources manager whose daily routine consists of handing out stress balls and initiating trust exercises. She is mostly obsessed with the home decor of their lovely abode in a cul-de-sac, including the chic installation of a urinal. Some needed excitement comes to them when new neighbors move across the way and they’re the interesting and impossibly good looking Tim and Natalie Jones (Jon Hamm and Gil Gadot). Tim is the handsome travel writer. Natalie is the gorgeous cooking blogger/social media consultant who also rescues orphans (her LinkedIn page wins).

It’s not long before Karen’s nosiness has her thinking maybe they didn’t quite hit the neighbor jackpot. Turns out she’s right as the Joneses are actually secret government agents investigating nefarious happenings at Jeff’s workplace.

The Joneses real careers means we’re treated to a threadbare subplot involving tracking an arms dealer and some rather tepid action sequences. Yet this is mostly about the chemistry between the four leads as their marriages and friendships develop. It’s just too bad this is contained in a completely unimaginative formulaic manner.

The PG-13 rating does leave the raunch factor to a surprising minimum. This is a script where the sight of two women kissing (oh my!) is treated as a big punchline. Gadot does manage to hold her own playing against these three others known a bit more for the genre (as anyone who’s watched Hamm on SNL can attest to). We see some potential in moments as the bromance between Galifianakis and Hamm grows, but not enough. Greg Mottola, who’s made some fine comedic efforts with Superbad and the underrated Adventureland, is not at the top of his game here. This is the type of picture that the content yet slightly bored suburbanites depicted here might view with some contentment but mostly be bored. And not talk about it much afterwards.

** (out of four)

Office Christmas Party Box Office Prediction

Comedic holiday hijinks ensue next weekend as Office Christmas Party RSVP’s into theaters. The R rated pic features a cast of familiar faces including Jason Bateman, Jennifer Aniston, Olivia Munn, T.J. Miller, Jillian Bell, Courtney B. Vance, Rob Corddry, Vanessa Bayer, Matt Walsh and Kate McKinnon. Josh Gordon and Will Speck handle directorial duties and their previous effort was 2010’s The Switch, which featured Bateman and Aniston.

The Paramount release could benefit from both its cast and the fact that drunken and wild work XMas bashes are something many can relate to. Party comes from a story originated by Jon Lucas and Scott Moore, who wrote The Hangover. It also has no competition in the second weekend of December in its genre.

I’ll predict a decent number of moviegoers attend this Party to the tune of a mid to high teens debut.

Office Christmas Party opening weekend prediction: $18.4 million

For my Miss Sloane prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2016/12/02/miss-sloane-box-office-prediction/

Keeping Up with the Joneses Box Office Prediction

Some familiar faces populate the action comedy Keeping Up with the Joneses, out next Friday. In fact, one of those faces is Zach Galifianakis, who just appeared in Masterminds, which performed poorly. Joneses and Masterminds have this in common: both were delayed by their studios, which usually isn’t a good sign.

This one costars Isla Fisher, Jon Hamm, and Gadot in a tale of a bored suburban couple whose lives are spiced up when a couple of secret agents move next door. Greg Mottola, director of Superbad and Adventureland, is behind the camera.

Keeping Up was originally scheduled to come out in April before its push back. Even with the talent involved, I’m not so sure the marketing campaign has been strong enough (or the trailers quite funny enough) to cause it to break out. There’s not much direct competition in the comedy genre, but there are a host of other pics clamoring for the attention of adult audiences.

This should hover right around low double digits. It should do better than the $6.5 million premiere of Galifianakis’s aforementioned early October effort Masterminds. Unfortunately, that’s not saying a whole lot for this late October release.

Keeping Up with the Joneses opening weekend prediction: $10.1 million

For my Jack Reacher: Never Go Back prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2016/10/11/jack-reacher-never-go-back-box-office-prediction/

For my Ouija: Origin of Evil prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2016/10/12/ouija-origin-of-evil-box-office-prediction/

For my Boo! A Madea Halloween prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2016/10/12/boo-a-madea-halloween-box-office-prediction/

The Darkness Box Office Prediction

Blumhouse Productions specializes in low-budget horror flicks and they’ve got once teed up for early summer with The Darkness, out next weekend. Kevin Bacon and Radha Mitchell star in a tale of a Grand Canyon vacation bringing back a supernatural being. David Mazouz, Matt Walsh, and Jennifer Morrison costar. Greg McLean, who directed Wolf Creek, is behind the camera.

The studio has seen their share of genre successes, including the Paranormal Activity, Sinister, Insidious, and Purge franchises. There’s also been some relative disappointments, such as Dark Skies, Oculus, The Gallows, and The Green Inferno. 

The Darkness doesn’t seem to have much buzz going for it and appears unlikely to light up the box office. I’ll predict this doesn’t reach double digits.

The Darkness opening weekend prediction: $5.6 million

For my Money Monster prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2016/05/04/money-monster-box-office-prediction/