Amsterdam Review

David O. Russell’s Amsterdam exasperates more than it fascinates. Opening with the tagline “A lot of this actually happened”, the brief explorations of American history between the World Wars hint at a compelling narrative. Wanting to go down a Wikipedia rabbit hole afterwards doesn’t necessarily make for a gratifying experience.

Dr. Burt Berendsen (Christian Bale) is a member of New York high society through marriage. His snooty in-laws and high maintenance wife (Andrea Riseborough) ship him off to what will become World War I in 1918. Under the command of the kindly Bill Meekins (Ed Begley Jr.), the good doc practices his skills for an all black regiment. They must wear French uniforms since the American forces aren’t integrated. That’s a part that actually happened. Burt makes fast friends with Harold Woodsman (John David Washington). They fight together and are seriously wounded together. Burt is given a glass eye that’s often used for screwball comedy effect. Their injuries introduce them to peculiar nurse Valerie (Margot Robbie), who takes the soldier’s battle scars (such as the metal embedded in their flesh) and turns it into surrealistic art. Burt, Harold, and Valerie form a close bond including the romantic sort for the latter two. The trio live a joyous existence in the title city until Burt returns to the Big Apple. Harold eventually follows suit to become an attorney. The men stay friends and colleagues while Valerie’s whereabouts are unknown.

Fifteen years later, the U.S. is in a depression. Our two New Yorkers have an even more pressing issue. Former war commander Meekins (now a Senator) turns up dead and mysteriously so. His daughter Elizabeth (Taylor Swift, in a performance that will surely generate memes) enlists dad’s former soldiers to investigate. This snooping leads to a vast government conspiracy – some of which falls under the actually happened headline. The case additionally leads them back to Valerie and an all-star cast beyond Bale, Washington, and Robbie.

Chris Rock is a member of the French uniformed clad force. Michael Shannon and Mike Myers are intelligence officers amusingly masquerading as bird experts. Zoe Saldana, in the picture’s most underdeveloped role, helps perform autopsy work and is a potential love interest for Burt. The most intriguing character is General Gill Dillenbeck (Robert De Niro), a combat hero being recruited for fascist propagandist purposes. Russell’s screenplay gives De Niro a noteworthy role to play with (this is the fourth collaboration between them). The legendary actor has done some of his finest 21st century work with the filmmaker.

The political potboiler aspects kick into gear when Dillenbeck pops up for the second half. That’s when Amsterdam improves. The first half feels like Russell’s attempt to do a Wes Anderson or Coen Bros type whimsical comedy and he fails the test. There’s a lot of characters crowding the scene. Rami Malek is an affluent textile magnet with connections to Valerie. Anya Taylor-Joy is his wife, who has a funny fangirl crush on Dillenbeck. Alessandro Nivola and Matthias Schoenaerts are detectives assigned to track the lead trio.

Once Russell gets to what Amsterdam is really about (with some unmistakable current events overtones), I realized lots of these famous faces and subplots could’ve been jettisoned for a more focused approach. Of all the names, Bale (always committed) and De Niro come out best. The director’s eye for the solid material keeps getting dislodged – like Burt’s fake one. This makes it questionable as to whether it’s worth seeing. More of the stuff that actually happened and not the forced whimsy would have been a reasonable start.

**1/2 (out of four)

Amsterdam Box Office Prediction

David O. Russell’s Amsterdam will need to rely on star power to bring in audiences when it opens October 7th. Considering the middling word-of-mouth and so-so trailers and TV spots, that could be an uphill battle. The comedic mystery is the filmmaker’s first picture since 2015’s Joy. It boasts an impressive cast led by Christian Bale, Margot Robbie, and John David Washington. Other familiar faces include Zoe Saldana, Anya Tayl0r-Joy, Robert De Niro, Chris Rock, Rami Malek, Alessandro Nivola, Mike Myers, Michael Shannon, Taylor Swift, Timothy Olyphant, Andrea Riseborough, and Matthias Schoenaerts.

From 2010-2013, Russell had a trilogy of Oscar and audience friendly titles. The Fighter, in addition to multiple Academy nods, made $93 million domestically. Silver Linings Playbook, in addition to multiple Oscar nods, took in $132 million. American Hustle, in addition to its several award nominations, earned $150 million.

Times have changed. The aforementioned Joy, which drew a more mixed reaction than Russell’s predecessors, grossed $56 million. In the seven years that have followed, the director has been embroiled in some concerning stories about his personal life.

20th Century Studios didn’t bother to screen Amsterdam for the film festival circuit a couple of weeks back. Critical reaction has skewed toward the negative with a 36% Rotten Tomatoes rating. Despite the pedigree, the red lights glowing indicate a high profile flop. This might not manage double digits.

Amsterdam opening weekend prediction: $8.4 million

For my Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile prediction, click here:

Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile Box Office Prediction

Oscar Predictions: Amsterdam

From 2010-13, David O. Russell made three pictures (The Fighter, Silver Linings Playbook, American Hustle) that collectively earned an astonishing 25 Oscar nominations. This included acting wins for Christian Bale, Melissa Leo, and Jennifer Lawrence. The filmmaker himself has yet to receive a gold statue and his previous effort (2015’s Joy) nabbed just 1 Academy nod for its lead Lawrence.

His latest is Amsterdam and the comedic mystery will be lucky to garner any attention during awards season. It was a curious decision when Russell’s first feature in seven years skipped the festival circuit of Venice, Telluride, and Toronto. Now we may know why.

Early reviews for the October 7th release are not encouraging. There’s only a handful of official reviews which show a 20% Rotten Tomatoes rating. Yet we also have plenty of social media reaction claiming this is a high profile disappointment. The impressive cast is led by Bale, Margot Robbie, and John David Washington with tons of other familiar faces including Robert De Niro, Zoe Saldana, Taylor Swift, Anya Taylor-Joy, Rami Malek, Michael Shannon, and Chris Rock (to name some). I wouldn’t expect any to compete in the acting derbies. Bale and De Niro are getting some decent notices, but it shouldn’t matter (maybe Bale could show up at the Globes for Best Actor in a Musical/Comedy if competition is light).

As I see it, Costume Design and/or Production Design are the only possibilities for Amsterdam to be an Academy player. It’s entirely feasible that it won’t show up at all. My Oscar Prediction posts will continue…

Summer 2002: The Top 10 Hits and More

In the turbulent months that followed the terrorist attacks of 9/11, domestic audiences needed some escapism at the box office. In the Christmas season of 2001, they found it with Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone and Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring. 

By summer 2002, moviegoers turned out in record-setting droves for the first big screen treatment of an iconic superhero.

20 years later, that’s one thing that hasn’t changed as Spidey continues to dominate the charts. It all started with a memorable upside down kiss. Before we go there, there’s plenty more to discuss for the cinematic summer of two decades past.

As I do every season on the blog, I’m recounting the top 10 hits, other notable features, and flops from 30, 20, and 10 years ago. If you missed my post covering 1992, it’s right here:

Summer 1992: The Top 10 Hits and More

Let’s begin with that top 10!

10. Mr. Deeds

Domestic Gross: $126 million

When Adam Sandler remade Frank Capra, the result was another blockbuster for the star and a needed one after his previous pic Little Nicky was a rare commercial flop.

9. Minority Report

Domestic Gross: $132 million

The first and still only collaboration between Tom Cruise and Steven Spielberg is a prescient sci-fi tale and its reputation has grown since its release. It’s my personal favorite film of 2002.

8. xXx

Domestic Gross: 142 million

Riding high off the success of the previous summer’s The Fast and the Furious, Rob Cohen and Vin Diesel reunited for this over the top action flick. A sequel would follow three years later without Diesel’s involvement (Ice Cube starred instead), but Vin would return to the role in 2017.

7. Lilo & Stitch

Domestic Gross: $145 million

This Disney animated effort performed just fine (if not in the stratosphere of some 90s gems) and spawned numerous direct-to-video follow-ups. A live-action version is being planned.

6. Scooby-Doo

Domestic Gross: $153 million

Critics might have thought it was a dog, but crowds lapped up this live-action/animated hybrid based on the very 1970s cartoon. Scoob and the gang would return two years later for part 2. Fun fact: James Gunn of Guardians of the Galaxy fame wrote the script.

5. Men in Black II

Domestic Gross: $190 million

Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones teamed up again for the sci-fi comedic spectacle from Barry Sonnenfeld. This fell short of the original’s $250 million domestic haul and the reviewers weren’t impressed, but that didn’t prevent a third offering that will be discussed in my summer of 2012 post.

4. Austin Powers in Goldmember

Domestic Gross: $213 million

Mike Myers continued to flex his box office mojo alongside Beyonce, Michael Caine, and Mini-Me in this threequel that I believe surpassed the quality of predecessor The Spy Who Shagged Me. 

3. Signs

Domestic Gross: $227 million

After the more mixed reaction that Unbreakable garnered, M. Night Shyamalan’s Signs with Mel Gibson and Joaquin Phoenix was more of a return to crowd favorite status. What followed was several pics from him that drew considerably more ambivalent to negative vibes.

2. Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones

Domestic Gross: $302 million

$302 million is just dandy for nearly any movie, but this second prequel from George Lucas fell well short of the $431 million achieved by The Phantom Menace three summers prior. Many consider this the worst of the nine officials episodes. I’m one of them.

    1. Spider-Man

Domestic Gross: $403 million

When Sam Raimi’s spin on the webslinger kicked off the summer, it did so with the largest opening weekend of all time at $114 million (breaking a record that had just been set by the first Potter). Two sequels followed for the Tobey Maguire/Kirsten Dunst trilogy and, as we all know, the character has never left us. Spider-Man: No Way Home recently brought all 3 Spideys (Maguire, Andrew Garfield, Tom Holland) into its MCU Multiverse.

Now let’s move to some other notable titles from the season:

The Bourne Identity 

Domestic Gross: $121 million

While outside the top ten, Paul Greengrass’s action thriller with Matt Damon as an amnesiac spy is more influential than the bulk of the flicks above it. Damon would return to the role three times.

The Sum of All Fears

Domestic Gross: $118 million

Right behind Damon is his buddy Ben Affleck who took over the role of Jack Ryan (previously played by Alec Baldwin and Harrison Ford) in the Tom Clancy adapted hit.

Road to Perdition

Domestic Gross: $104 million

His follow-up to Best Picture winner American Beauty, the Depression era crime drama from Sam Mendes cast Tom Hanks against type as a hitman with Paul Newman as his underworld boss. This only nabbed a Cinematography Oscar, but reviews were mostly strong. It also provides a juicy role for pre-007 Daniel Craig.

Insomnia

Domestic Gross: $67 million

Hanks wasn’t the only legend stretching in a villainous turn. Robin Williams memorably did the same as he was pitted against Al Pacino’s detective in this chilly thriller from Christopher Nolan (three years before Batman Begins).

Unfaithful

Domestic Gross: $52 million

Adrian Lyne made a movie about another fatal attraction and Unfaithful earned Diane Lane an Oscar nomination as the cheating wife of Richard Gere.

And now for some movies that didn’t perform so well…

Reign of Fire

Domestic Gross: $43 million

This dragon centered fantasy arrived before Matthew McConaughey and Christian Bale would be Oscar winners a few years later. Critics weren’t kind and the box office failed to generate much fire.

Windtalkers

Domestic Gross: $40 million

John Woo’s financial win streak blew over with this World War II action drama headlined by Nicolas Cage that only managed 32% on Rotten Tomatoes.

K-19: The Widowmaker 

Domestic Gross: $35 million

Seven years before her Oscar winning The Hurt Locker, Kathryn Bigelow’s 1960s set submarine thriller with Harrison Ford was a pricey disappointment.

Halloween: Resurrection

Domestic Gross: $30 million

Michael Myers and Jamie Lee Curtis’s Laurie Strode are about to team up for the final (?) time in Halloween Ends in October. In 2002, this was the sequel to the successful Halloween H20 from 1998. This one was not so successful and it’s considered by many aficionados as the weakest of the whole franchise.

Bad Company

Domestic Gross: $30 million

One is a double Oscar winner and the other is one of greatest stand-ups of all time, but this cinematic pairing of Anthony Hopkins and Chris Rock in Joel Schumacher’s action comedy was met with a shrug.

Blood Work 

Domestic Gross: $26 million

Ten years after Unforgiven won Best Picture after its summer release, Clint Eastwood’s mystery didn’t work for critics or crowds.

The Adventures of Pluto Nash

Domestic Gross: $4 million

Speaking of legendary stand-ups, Eddie Murphy reached a career low point as sci-fi comedy Nash stands as one of cinema’s most notorious flops. Its budget was a reported $100 million and that’s not a misprint above… it made an embarrassing $4 million.

2012 is up next!

22 for ’22: Oscars Early Look

It’s been an entire week since The Slap… check that, the 94th Academy Awards where CODA parlayed its Sundance buzz from January 2021 all the way to a Best Picture victory.

That also means I’ve managed to wait a whole week without speculation for the next Academy Awards which will hopefully be a slap free zone. So what are some titles that could be vying for attention?

On May 27th and after numerous delays, Top Gun: Maverick will find Tom Cruise returning to his iconic role some 36 years after the original. There’s a decent chance it could be up for similar prizes that its predecessor landed like Sound, Film Editing, and Song (courtesy of Lady Gaga apparently). Visual Effects is a possibility as well.

My weekly Oscar prediction posts won’t begin until mid to late August. In the meantime, you’ll get individualized write-ups for pics that open or screen at festivals.

Yet for today – I feel the need. The need to identify 21 other 2022 titles that might end up on the Academy’s radar. Enjoy!

Armageddon Time

Despite acclaimed movies like The Lost City of Z and Ad Astra, James Gray has yet to connect with awards voters. This drama, rumored to be centered on his Queens upbringing, is the next hopeful and features a stellar cast including Anne Hathaway, Anthony Hopkins, and Jeremy Strong. Release Date: TBD

Avatar 2

The 2009 original amassed nine nominations and won took home three. The first sequel (there’s three more on the way) arrives in December from James Cameron. Will it capture the critical and box office magic of part one? That’s impossible to know at this juncture, but one can safely assume it’ll be up for some tech categories like Sound and Visual Effects. Release Date: December 16th

Babylon

Damien Chazelle is no stranger to the big dance. Whiplash was a BP nominee and J.K. Simmons won Supporting Actor. Chazelle took Director for his follow-up La La Land along with Emma Stone’s Actress victory and it almost famously took BP. First Man nabbed four nominations, but missed the top of the line races. Babylon is a period drama focused on Hollywood’s Golden Age and should be right up the Academy’s alley. The cast includes Brad Pitt, Margot Robbie, and Tobey Maguire. Release Date: December 25th

Canterbury Glass

Robbie also turns up in David O. Russell’s latest ensemble piece. Anytime he’s behind the camera, Oscar nods typically follow (think The Fighter, Silver Linings Playbook, American Hustle). Slated for November, the dramedy also features Christian Bale, John David Washington, Rami Malek, Zoe Saldana, Robert De Niro, Mike Myers, and… Chris Rock. Release Date: November 4th

Elvis

Arriving in June but with a Cannes unveiling in May, Baz Luhrmann’s musical bio of The King stars Austin Butler in the title role and Tom Hanks as The Colonel. If this doesn’t contend for the major awards, I would still anticipate potential tech recognition (Production Design, Sound, etc…). Release Date: June 24th

Empire of Light

Sam Mendes was likely in the runner-up position in 2019 for Picture and Director (behind Parasite) with 1917. His follow-up is an English set romance starring Olivia Colman (who would be going for her fourth nomination in five years), Michael Ward, and Colin Firth. Release Date: TBD

Everything Everywhere All at Once

From two filmmakers known collectively as Daniels, Once is already out in limited release with spectacular reviews (97% on RT). The sci-fi action comedy might be too bizarre for the Academy, but I wouldn’t count it out as its admirers are vocal. Picture, Director, Actress (Michelle Yeoh), and Original Screenplay are all on the table. Release Date: out in limited release, opens wide April 8th

The Fabelmans

Steven Spielberg directs a semi-autobiographical tale and cowrites with his Lincoln and West Side Story scribe Tony Kushner. The cast includes Michelle Williams, Seth Rogen, and Paul Dano. Needless to say, this is a major contender on paper. Release Date: November 23rd

Killers of the Flower Moon

Alongside The Fabelmans, this might be the most obvious nominee from a personnel standpoint. Martin Scorsese helms this western crime drama featuring Jesse Plemons, Lily Gladstone, and his two frequent collaborators Leonardo DiCaprio and Robert De Niro. Apple TV just became the first streamer to get a BP victory with CODA. This could be the second in a row. Release Date: November

Poor Things

In 2018, The Favourite scored a whopping ten nominations. Based on an acclaimed 1992 novel, Poor Things is Yorgos Lanthimos’s follow-up and it reunites him with Emma Stone along with Willem Dafoe, Ramy Youssef, and Mark Ruffalo. The plot sounds bizarre but it could also be an Oscar bait role for Stone and others. Release Date: TBD

Rustin

One of Netflix’s contenders is George C. Wolfe’s profile of gay civil rights activist Bayard Rustin (played by Colman Domingo). In 2020, Wolfe directed Viola Davis and Chadwick Boseman to nods for Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom. Look for Domingo to be a competitor and the supporting cast includes Chris Rock (maybe he will be back at the show), Glynn Turman, and Audra McDonald. Release Date: TBD

See How They Run

The 1950s set murder mystery could provide 27-year-old Saoirse Ronan with an opportunity to land her fifth nomination. Sam Rockwell, David Oyelowo, Adrien Brody, and Ruth Wilson are among the supporting players. Tom George directs. Release Date: TBD

She Said

Five years after the scandal rocked Hollywood, She Said from Maria Schrader recounts the New York Times sexual misconduct investigation into Harvey Weinstein. Zoe Kazan, Carey Mulligan, and Patricia Clarkson lead the cast. Release Date: November 18th

The Son

Florian Zeller won Best Adapted Screenplay in 2020 for The Father along with Anthony Hopkins taking Best Actor. This follow-up (based on the director’s play) finds Hopkins reprising his Oscar-winning part in supporting fashion. Other cast members seeking awards attention include Hugh Jackman, Laura Dern, and Vanessa Kirby. Release Date: TBD

TAR

It’s been a while since we’ve seen Todd Field behind the camera. Previous efforts In the Bedroom and Little Children received 8 nominations between them. A decade and a half following Children comes this Berlin set drama with Cate Blanchett, Noemie Merlant, and Mark Strong. Release Date: October 7th

Three Thousand Years of Longing

Scheduled for a Cannes bow in May, Longing is a fantasy romance from the legendary mind of George Miller (who last made Mad Max: Fury Road which won six tech Oscars). Idris Elba and Tilda Swinton star. Release Date: TBD

The Whale

Darren Aronofsky directed Mickey Rourke to a comeback narrative nod for 2008’s The Wrestler. Two years later, his follow-up Black Swan earned Natalie Portman a statue. Brendan Fraser is hoping for the same treatment with The Whale as he plays a 600 pound man attempting to reconnect with his daughter. Costars include Sadie Sink, Hong Chau, and Samantha Morton. I’d expect Makeup and Hairstyling could also be in play with this. Release Date: TBD

White Noise

Not a remake of the Michael Keaton supernatural thriller from 2005, this is Noah Baumbach’s follow-up to Marriage Story. Based on a 1985 novel, it’s the filmmaker’s first picture based on other source material. Marriage landed three acting nods (with Laura Dern winning Supporting Actress). The cast here includes frequent Baumbach collaborator Adam Driver, real-life partner Greta Gerwig, Raffey Cassidy, Andre Benjamin, Alessandro Nivola, and Don Cheadle. This could be Netflix’s strongest contender. Release Date: TBD

The Woman King

Expect this West Afrian set historical epic from Gina Prince-Bythewood to be heavily touted by Sony with awards bait roles for leads Viola Davis and Thuso Mbedu. The supporting cast includes John Boyega and Lashana Lynch. Release Date: September 16th

Women Talking

Based on a 2018 novel, Sarah Polley writes and directs this drama focused on eight Mennonite women and their story of abuse. The sterling cast includes Frances McDormand, Jessie Buckley, Ben Whishaw, Claire Foy, and Rooney Mara. Release Date: TBD

And that’s just a small preview of the features that could materialize for the 95th Academy Awards! As always, the speculation on this site will continue throughout the year and into the next. Stay tuned…

Summer 2001: The Top 10 Hits and More

My annual recounting of the cinematic seasons that preceded 30, 20, and 10 years prior continues on the blog today with the summer of 2001! It was a frame dominated by an animated jolly green giant that kicked off a massive franchise for its studio.

As is tradition, I’ll run through the top 10 domestic grossers as well as other notables pics and some flops. If you missed my post covering 1991’s May-August output, you can find it here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2021/06/26/summer-1991-the-top-10-hits-and-more/

Let’s get to it!

10. Dr. Dolittle 2

Domestic Gross: $112 million

Eddie Murphy returned as the doc who talks to animals in this sequel that managed to cross the century mark, but failed to approach the $144 million earned by its 1998 predecessor. This would mark the end of Eddie’s involvement in the franchise, but a direct to DVD third helping came in 2006.

9. Lara Croft: Tomb Raider

Domestic Gross: $131 million

Angelina Jolie (fresh off an Oscar for Girl, Interrupted) headlined the video game adaptation that, despite weak reviews, spawned a sequel and an eventual reboot with Alicia Vikander that will soon get its own follow-up.

8. The Fast and the Furious

Domestic Gross: $144 million

We first saw Vin Diesel and Paul Walker and those souped up whips 20 years ago. Unless you’ve been living under a rock (or haven’t heard of The Rock), this begat a franchise which is still running strong today. F9 is currently the #1 movie in America in this series that has topped a billion bucks.

7. American Pie 2

Domestic Gross: $145 million

Universal quickly green lighted this sequel to 1999’s smash hit comedy. The gross out gags in part 2 (which resulted in another theatrical effort in 2003 and numerous direct to DVD entries) stands as the largest worldwide earner of the bunch.

6. Planet of the Apes

Domestic Gross: $180 million

Tim Burton’s reimagining of the 1968 classic didn’t result in the new franchise that 20th Century Fox hoped for. Critics had their knives out for Mark Wahlberg’s lead performance and the surprise ending that didn’t pack the wallop of Charlton Heston’s encounter with the Statue of Liberty. The studio would get their successful trilogy a decade later beginning with Rise of the Planet of the Apes (which will be covered in 2011’s blog post).

5. Jurassic Park III

Domestic Gross: $181 million

Joe Johnston took over directorial duties from Steven Spielberg is this threequel. Sam Neill was back in this dino-tale that (while profitable) failed to reach the heights of the first two commercially. A reboot 14 years later would get the series back in billion dollar good standing.

4. Pearl Harbor

Domestic Gross: $198 million

Michael Bay’s romantic war epic failed with reviewers but still approached $200 million domestically and $450 million worldwide. Its six Golden Raspberry nominations topped its four Oscar nods.

3. The Mummy Returns

Domestic Gross: $202 million

Brendan Fraser and Rachel Weisz returned for this adventure sequel to the 1999 hit that topped part 1 domestically by nearly $50 million. Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson would join the fun here and was rewarded with his spin-off (The Scorpion King) the next year. A third Mummy landed with disappointing results in 2008.

2. Rush Hour 2

Domestic Gross: $226 million

It was the best of times for director Brett Ratner and stars Chris Tucker and Jackie Chan as this action comedy built upon the grosses of the 1998 original. A third would follow six years later.

1. Shrek

Mike Myers as the title character ogre, Eddie Murphy stealing scenes with his voice work as Donkey, and Cameron Diaz as Princess Fiona proved that Disney wasn’t the only animation game in town. Shrek even competed for the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival in this DreamWorks game changer that resulted in three sequels and a stage musical.

And now for some other notables flicks from the summer that was:

The Princess Diaries

Domestic Gross: $108 million

Disney’s live-action fairy tale served as a breakout role for Anne Hathaway and a return to the studio for Julie Andrews for the first time since Mary Poppins. A 2004 sequel followed.

The Others

Domestic Gross: $96 million

With its own Sixth Sense style twist ending, this gothic horror pic with Nicole Kidman earned solid reviews and got genre fans to turn out.

Legally Blonde

Domestic Gross: $96 million

Shrek isn’t the only feature to spawn a Broadway treatment. So did this Reese Witherspoon hit which also resulted in a sequel and a third Blonde that is slated for May 2022.

Cats & Dogs

Domestic Gross: $93 million

Dr. Dolittle wasn’t the only animal game in town. This kiddie pic featuring featuring talking creatures also began a franchise.

A.I.: Artificial Intelligence

Domestic Gross: $78 million

Long planned as a project for Stanley Kubrick (who passed away in 1999), Steven Spielberg directed this sci-fi visual feast with Haley Joel Osment. The film elicited strong reactions from critics and crowds (both positively and negatively). It may not have reached $100 million domestic, but it’s still a picture people like to debate about today and that’s more that can be said for most titles on this list.

Swordfish

Domestic Gross: $69 million

Hugh Jackman and John Travolta headlined this action pic which somewhat underperformed expectations. This is mostly known as the film that paid Halle Berry an extra $500,000 to go topless during a few seconds of screen time.

Moulin Rouge!

Domestic Gross: $57 million

Baz Luhrmann’s postmodern musical with Nicole Kidman and Ewan McGregor scored 8 Oscar nominations and has its legions of fans that have endured over the past two decades.

Sexy Beast

Domestic Gross: $6 million

This crime drama is mostly known for its menacing supporting turn from Sir Ben Kingsley, who was rewarded with an Oscar nod.

Ghost World

Domestic Gross: $6 million

Terry Zwigoff’s dark comedy (based on a late 90s comic book) earned raves for its screenplay and for costars Thora Birch, Scarlett Johansson, and Steve Buscemi.

And now for some pictures that did not meet expectations:

America’s Sweethearts

Domestic Gross: $93 million

Yes, it may have approached $100 million, but this rom com starring Julia Roberts and featuring John Cusack, Billy Crystal (who cowrote), and Catherine Zeta-Jones didn’t come near what her previous blockbusters like My Best Friend’s Wedding, Notting Hill, and Runaway Bride managed.

Atlantis: The Lost Empire

Domestic Gross: $84 million

Disney’s animated sci-fi adventure was a letdown that didn’t recoup its reported $100 million budget domestically. A hoped for franchise with TV spin-offs and Disneyland ride attraction never rose to the surface.

Scary Movie 2

Domestic Gross: $71 million

This rushed horror spoof follow-up to the 2000 surprise smash couldn’t get close to the $157 million of the original. However, this didn’t stop several sequels from following that achieved greater success.

Evolution

Domestic Gross: $38 million

Director Ivan Reitman and supernatural comedy sure worked well in 1984 with Ghostbusters. Not so much here in this DreamWorks flop with David Duchovny which earned less than half its budget in North America.

Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within

Domestic Gross: $32 million

Tomb Raider was an example of a video game adaptation that made money. Not so here with this rendering of the popular role playing fantasy series that didn’t score with audiences.

Ghosts of Mars

Domestic Gross: $8 million

It wasn’t a good day at the box office for this science fiction flop from director John Carpenter and Ice Cube.

Pootie Tang

Domestic Gross: $3 million

Moviegoers didn’t turn out for this comedy written and directed by Louis C.K. that originated from a sketch on The Chris Rock Show (who costars). Despite the failed run at the box office, it has since become a cult hit.

And that does it for 2001, folks! Look for my post about summer 2011 in the coming days…

Top 25 SNL Alumni Performances: Numbers 5-1

The list of my personal top 25 cinematic performances from the many alumni at Saturday Night Live reaches the top 5 today! If you missed my previous entries covering numbers 25-6, you can find them all at the following links:

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/

https://toddmthatcher.com/2020/06/25/top-25-snl-alumni-performances-numbers-10-6/

Let’s get to my overall favorites, shall we?

5. Chevy Chase, National Lampoon’s Vacation (1983)

Chase’s finest and funniest work belongs to his doofus dad role as Clark Griswold in this classic that spawned three sequels, including the cherished Christmas Vacation. This is one of the pictures that can be rewatched endlessly and much of that is due to Chase’s signature performance.

4. Mike Myers, Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery (1997)

Myers successfully translated his SNL character Wayne Campbell to the silver screen in 1992’s blockbuster Wayne’s World alongside his costar Dana Carvey (who nearly made the list for his work in that film). Yet the most hilarious work from Myers comes here as both the title character and (especially) nemesis Dr. Evil. Two sequels would give Myers an opportunity to play even more deliriously over the top parts.

3. Will Ferrell, Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy (2004)

After the back to back hits of Old School and Elf, Ferrell developed his most iconic character with his arrogant and clueless news anchor. Anchorman has deservedly became an all-time comedy classic.

2. Eddie Murphy, Coming to America (1988)

Let’s face it – this list could have been dominated by Eddie. I had Trading Places and The Nutty Professor in the top 25, but could have included 48 Hrs., Beverly Hills Cop, Bowfinger, Shrek, Dreamgirls, or Dolemite Is My Name as well. However, my personal favorite is this 1988 humorous fairy tale when Murphy was at the peak of his power. This is the first pic that gave him the opportunity to portray multiple characters and he certainly makes the most of it.

1. Bill Murray, Groundhog Day (1993)

Just as with Murphy, many movies from Murray could have made the cut. You already saw Ghostbusters and Lost in Translation on here and other contenders included Caddyshack, Scrooged, What About Bob?, Kingpin, Rushmore, and Zombieland. Overall, I go with Groundhog Day as his finest hour and #1 on the whole list. Simply put, I find Groundhog Day to be perfection and the quintessential vehicle for its versatile star.

And there you have it, folks! It’s been fun putting together the list and I hope you enjoyed reading it…

Summer 1999: The Top 10 Hits and More

My recap of the summer seasons from 30, 20, and 10 years ago continues with 1999. It was a banner year for film in general with many acclaimed features hitting theaters at the turn of the century.

If you missed my previous post recounting 1989, you can find it here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2019/07/10/summer-1989-the-top-10-hits-and-more/

As with other look backs, I’ll give the top 10 highest earners along with other notable pics and some flops. Interestingly, the list begins at #10 with probably the most high profile misfire:

10. Wild Wild West

Domestic Gross: $113 million

The July 4th holiday weekend had literally become reserved space for Will Smith. Independence Day in 1996 and Men in Black the following year both came out in that frame and ended up as their summer’s biggest blockbusters. This update of a 1960s TV series cast the Fresh Prince with Kevin Kline and reunited him with MIB director Barry Sonnenfeld. Critics and audiences weren’t impressed.

9. Notting Hill

Domestic Gross: $116 million

Julia Roberts and Hugh Grant were a rom com match in heaven with this well reviewed pic from the writer of Four Weddings and a Funeral. Our lead actress isn’t finished yet…

8. The Blair Witch Project

Domestic Gross: $140 million

Truly a phenomenon upon release, this handheld camera indie supernatural horror tale was made for a reported $60,000. Many audience members thought it was a real documentary and it scared up nearly $250 million worldwide and spawned two lesser regarded follow-ups.

7. Runaway Bride

Domestic Gross: $152 million

I told you we weren’t done with Julia Roberts. This rom com reunited her with her Pretty Woman director Garry Marshall and costar Richard Gere. It might not have captured the acclaim of that flick, but it made plenty of cash.

6. The Mummy

Domestic Gross: $155 million

Loosely updating the 1932 classic, The Mummy managed to turn Brendan Fraser into a temporary action star. Two sequels followed and a spin-off (The Scorpion King) that turned Dwayne Johnson into an action hero.

5. Big Daddy

Domestic Gross: $163 million

20 summers ago marked the height of Adam Sandler’s box office potency. Big Daddy remains his biggest live action grosser of all time.

4. Tarzan

Domestic Gross: $171 million

Disney was still knocking traditional animated hits out summer after summer. Tarzan managed to nab Phil Collins an Oscar for a song contribution.

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=FajOWorHwZg

3. Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me

Domestic Gross: $206 million

The original Powers came out two summers prior. While it performed decently in theaters, it became a massive hit with its home video release. Due to that, this sequel made more in its opening weekend than part 1 achieved in its entire theatrical run. A third edition arrived in 2002.

2. The Sixth Sense

Domestic Gross: $293 million

An unexpected smash, this is the movie that introduced the world to M. Night Shyamalan and the line “I see dead people”. Bruce Willis didn’t get an Oscar nod, but the picture itself did. So too did Shyamalan’s direction, screenplay, and the supporting performances of Haley Joel Osment and Toni Collette.

1. Star Wars: Episode 1The Phantom Menace

Domestic Gross: $431 million

Its reputation certainly hasn’t grown through the years, but George Lucas’s return to the cherished franchise after 16 years easily ruled the summer. We’re still haunted by Jar Jar two decades later.

And now more some other notable titles from the ‘99 season:

American Pie

Domestic Gross: $102 million

The raunchy teen comedy was a surprise smash that introduced us to a new group of young actors and spawned three theatrical sequels and four direct to DVD sequels.

The Haunting

Domestic Gross: $91 million

Jan de Bont followed up mega hits Speed and Twister with this critically unappreciated remake of The Haunting of Hill House. It didn’t reach the heights of those blockbusters, but came close to the century mark domestically.

Deep Blue Sea

Domestic Gross: $73 million

Renny Harlin’s tale involving sharks that could potentially cure Alzheimer’s (yes it’s absurd), Sea is best known for a killer death scene involving Samuel L. Jackson.

The Thomas Crown Affair

Domestic Gross: $69 million

Arriving smack dab in the middle of his Bond run, this remake of Steve McQueen’s heist film was a solid midsize performer.

Bowfinger

Domestic Gross: $66 million

The box office grosses were decent, but Bowfinger gave us a satisfying pairing of two comedic legends in Eddie Murphy and Steve Martin.

Eyes Wide Shut

Domestic Gross: $55 million

The swan song of Stanley Kubrick (who died shortly before release), this dreamlike sexual drama with then married Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman polarized audiences and critics.

South ParkBigger, Longer and Uncut

Domestic Gross: $52 million

The landmark Comedy Central show from Trey Parker and Matt Stone got the big screen treatment and translated well to the multiplex, even nabbing an Oscar nod for Best Original Song (“Blame Canada”).

The Iron Giant

Domestic Gross: $23 million

A commercial failure at the time, this animated pic marked the debut of Brad Bird who went onto helm Pixar classics. Its reputation has grown significantly in time.

Now… let’s recount some flops:

Mickey Blue Eyes

Domestic Gross: $33 million

Hugh Grant had a $100 million plus earner with Notting Hill, but this mob themed comedy was not a hit.

Mystery Men

Domestic Gross: $29 million

Ben Stiller had the previous summer’s largest comedy with There’s Something About Mary. This failed superhero spoof didn’t even make half its budget back stateside.

The Astronaut’s Wife

Domestic Gross: $10 million

This Johnny Depp sci fi thriller is not a title discussed often in his filmography or Charlize Theron’s. There’s a reason.

Dudley DoRight

Domestic Gross: $9 million

The Mummy provided Brendan Fraser with a franchise. This cartoon remake couldn’t hit double digits.

And that wraps my recap! Look for 2009 on the blog shortly…

Bohemian Rhapsody Movie Review

Bryan Singer’s Bohemian Rhapsody hits many familiar notes and plot points as it explores the great showman that was Freddie Mercury and his iconic band Queen. There’s strain in his family – his actual one and the one that consists of his band mates. There’s the rise to fame and corruption of it. We have relationships strained to the point of apparent breakdown before reconciliation. Truth be told, many of these story arcs are so well-worn that you may feel you already know the words to them in the screenplay before they’re spoken.

However, it manages to succeed in a couple of meaningful ways. More than most music biopics, Rhapsody often captures the sheer magic that was Mercury. In the performance of Rami Malek, we have more than a fine impersonation (with the assistance of fake teeth). His work here captures the magnetism that Queen’s front man had. Additionally, the film builds its tale around their music that culminates in a Live Aid set that plays like a phoenix rising through the ashes.

We first meet the awkward looking Freddie handling luggage at Heathrow in London. He’s shy to a point, but also brimming with confidence in his vocal abilities as he rightly should. Freddie takes advantage of a lead singer opening in the band Smile and dubs it Queen. The rest, as they say, is history.

Regarding that history, Rhapsody has taken its licks for alternating some of the band’s timeline and events. It’s fair criticism, but the aim here is more of a celebration of the tracks that Mercury, Brian Ferry (Gwilym Lee, who nails the guitarist’s look and stance), Roger Taylor (Ben Hardy), and John Deacon (Joseph Mazzello) create. Segments are featured around the title track, “We Will Rock You”, and “Another One Bites the Dust”. Freddie’s relationship with Mary (Lucy Boynton) is chronicled through the creation of “Love of My Life”. She’s his one-time fiancee who realizes his homosexuality perhaps before he does. Yet their bond is stronger than the physical.

The screenplay from Anthony McCarten also delves into the group’s business dealings. There’s a cheeky scene about the release of “Rhapsody” that allows Mike Myers (as a very 1970s looking record exec) to reference his famous head banging scene in Wayne’s World. We see the hangers-on that nearly deep six the band. Contrary to early reports, we do glimpse Freddie’s promiscuity and substance abuse and eventual AIDS diagnosis.

It’s not the movie’s nature to go too far down that rabbit hole. If you are expecting that, you may walk away disappointed. I walked away impressed by its achievement in capturing what made Freddie and his musical family so special. I didn’t walk away sensing any of the well-publicized behind the scenes drama that resulted in director Singer being replaced well into the shooting schedule by Dexter Fletcher. And I certainly left marveling at Malek’s commitment in bringing Freddie to the screen, with the loud and gorgeous sounds of his live performance in front of a billion plus people ringing in my ears.

*** (out of four)

Oscar Watch: Bohemian Rhapsody

The review embargo is officially lapsed for next weekend’s Bohemian Rhapsody, the highly publicized Queen biopic headlined by Rami Malek as Freddie Mercury. Critical reaction appears to mostly match the social media buzz that emerged a couple of weeks back.

In short – Malek gives a bravura performance as the legendary frontman while the picture itself is more of a mixed and conventional bag. At the moment, its Rotten Tomatoes score stands at just 50%. Don’t expect this to come anywhere near a Best Picture nod. In my weekly prediction posts, I’ve had this hovering in the bottom rungs of 25 possibilities. I anticipate it falling out completely on Thursday.

Malek, on the other hand, is still viable. He could especially find himself making the final five if Rhapsody soars at the box office. Yet I believe it’s a legitimate question as to whether the reviews risk pushing him out of contention.

Bottom line: Bohemian getting Best Picture attention isn’t real life. That’s just fantasy, but Malek’s nomination could still happen.

The film opens November 2. My Oscar Watch posts will continue…