Men in Black: International Movie Review

You won’t need one of those neuralyzer doohickeys to forget Men in Black: International, which extends the rust developed from part two of the franchise on. Will Smith has moved on from this series to dealing with aliens in Netflix pics and being the man in blue in Disney remakes. Tommy Lee Jones has retired as well. So the Marvel Cinematic duo of Chris Hemsworth and Tessa Thompson from Thor: Ragnarok don the sunglasses in this reboot. Their chemistry was better with the MCU team and that movie had a funnier alien in the guise of Jeff Goldblum.

Hemsworth is the hunky Agent H, top operative at the U.K. MiB branch run by Liam Neeson’s High T. Thompson is essentially a fangirl of the super secretive force who’s been aware of their existence since childhood. She recruits herself to the suit and is assigned by Emma Thompson’s Agent O (reprising her Men in Black 3 part) to travel overseas and partner with her Thor. The plot involves stopping a nasty species that goes by the Hive. One of the baddies is an arms dealer played by Rebecca Ferguson that had an inter species love affair with H. Some of the other villains are kept secret for most of the running time, though you’ll see it coming from a galactic mile away. And there’s Kumail Nanjiani voicing the CG creation Pawny. He gets in a few mildly amusing lines.

F. Gary Gray has taken over directorial duties from Barry Sonnenfeld and he doesn’t have to top a high bar of its predecessors. 1997’s original was a fun summer blockbuster melding science fiction and comedy with genuine chemistry from the two leads. I struggle to recall anything about the first sequel. #3 was a slight improvement if only for Josh Brolin’s uncanny impression of a young Tommy Lee Jones.

I doubt many have much of an affinity for this franchise beyond what came 22 years ago. And while International does indeed trot the globe from Paris to London and Morocco and New York to Italy, it mostly feels flat.

** (out of four)

The Sisters Brothers Movie Review

Jacques Audiard’s The Sisters Brothers tries to be many things at once – a traditional western, a revisionist one, a comedy, a family drama, and a good fashioned hunt for gold in the mid 19th century. It never succeeds totally at any of them as it’s shifty in tone. That said, I couldn’t help but admire it, be mostly entertained throughout it, and be impressed by one performance in particular. There’s also a dynamite score by Alexandre Desplat.

Based on a 2011 novel by Patrick deWitt, we are introduced to Eli (John C. Reilly) and Charlie (Joaquin Phoenix) Sisters. They’re legendary (at least in Charlie’s mind) gunslingers tasked with killing a man named Warm (Riz Ahmed) who’s allegedly ripped off their boss who goes by the Commodore (Rutger Hauer, turning up briefly in one of his final roles). The Commodore also enlists the services of pompous detective John Morris (Jake Gyllenhaal) to deliver Warm to his judgment day. Unfortunately for the Sisters, Warm and Morris form a bond as the former has a formula that makes panning for gold an easier and therefore more lucrative enterprise. It’s also extremely dangerous as it burns the hell out of your skin.

The activity of living itself is extremely dangerous in this picture. Eli and Charlie being chased by bandits is just an everyday occurrence. Charlie seems to thrive off it when he’s not drowning himself in whiskey. Eli has grown weary of his outlaw existence.

Gyllenhaal and Phoenix’s characters think they’re most sure of themselves. One trying to be a civilized gentleman in a world that’s crude and unrefined. One who thrives on being crude and unrefined with a myopic focus on wearing the most important black hat. Reilly and Ahmed’s roles have more dimension and are a bit more intriguing. That applies especially to Reilly. He’s a gentle soul in a rough setting. And Reilly’s take on him makes him a fascinating watch. Eli’s interplay with a lady of the night is unexpected and it’s probably the best scene of all. Phoenix doesn’t have as much nuance to work with, but he certainly brings his talents to the game. Gyllenhaal’s Morris is quirky in pleasing ways, but there’s not enough screen time for him to really get rolling.

The Sisters Brothers won’t be remembered as excelling at any of the genres it attempts. It has enough solid moments in all of them to keep it engrossing as it rides along.

*** (out of four)

Jojo Rabbit Movie Review

Taika Waititi is a tightrope walker when it comes to the execution of Jojo Rabbit, the kind of picture that few directors might be permitted to make. It helps when you’re coming off Thor: Ragnarok, the best received of that sub franchise in the MCU. This is a tale of atrocities and those involved in it. And it’s handled with a primarily light tone that eventually doesn’t shy away from the horrors of Nazi Germany.

The premise, based on a novel from Christine Leunens, sounds high concept in description. A boy with an imaginary friend that happens to be Adolf Hitler. That sentence could provide a visceral reaction for many and it’s up to Waititi to justify it. He does so in large measure.

The boy is Jojo (Roman Griffin Davis), a 10-year-old Hitler youth living with his single mother (Scarlett Johansson) in the waning days of World War II. All he really knows is the propaganda of his nation’s leaders and he’s part of the Nazi youth camps. They’re taught by an alcoholic Captain (Sam Rockwell) and a no nonsense Fräulein (Rebel Wilson). Jojo reveres Hitler so much that he acts as his imaginary companion. Waititi pulls double duty as the monstrous Chancellor and plays him as a total nincompoop. Yet like most fictitious companions (even if they’re based on evil real life figures), Jojo’s Hitler serves to reinforce his misguided feelings toward the Jewish people. Also because he’s lonely.

When he discovers that his mom is sheltering young Jewish Elsa (Thomasin McKenzie) upstairs, his adolescent worldview is shattered. The witless Hitler doesn’t know what to make of it. Therefore Jojo struggles with how to handle this until his humanity starts to shine through.

To call this movie is a delicate balance is an understatement. There are satirical tones, but there’s a lot more heart. Anyone expecting a Mel Brooks style Producers exercise should look elsewhere. The humor is abundant for the first two acts especially, but always imbued with a level of pathos that comes into sharper focus as it goes on.

Jojo Rabbit is mostly an inventive case study in showing one child learning not to hate. It could fall apart without the casting of Davis. He’s rarely off screen and his performance is fantastic. Not fantastic for a child actor. Fantastic. Not many youngsters could pull off the range of emotions he has to go through and he nails it. McKenzie, in many ways, has an equally challenging role as Elsa navigates teaching Jojo not to fear her. The humanity of her character and the actress playing her convinces us and him. As you might imagine, Waititi has a tricky part as well. He’s got some of the best lines and reactions of all in his campy take. The more recognizable actors are all first-rate. In one of the most powerful scenes not involving Jojo, Johansson has a heart to heart about adulthood with Elsa (on the cusp of entering that status). And speaking of highlights, Jojo’s actual best friend Yorki, played by Archie Yates, is a scene stealer.

So… does this all work? Mostly yes. I also can’t deny that Rabbit never quite reaches the emotional impact that it’s trying to land. The concept doesn’t block that possibility. It’s more that the tonal shifts can be somewhat jarring in a couple of cases. It’s practically unavoidable. I never doubted that Waititi’s heart is in the right place and he’s assembled a superb cast to provide numerous laughs and a lot of warmth. Most importantly, it’s told through a child’s eyes who doesn’t recognize his idols are as false as can be until those eyes are opened.

*** (out of four )

September 13-15 Box Office Predictions

It Chapter Two looks to stay atop the charts as Hustlers could surprisingly give it a run for its money. We also have John Crowley’s drama The Goldfinch with Ansel Elgort and Nicole Kidman debuting. Both newbies premiered at the Toronto Film Festival over the weekend to vastly differing results. You can peruse my detailed prediction posts on the newcomers here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2019/09/04/hustlers-box-office-prediction/

https://toddmthatcher.com/2019/09/05/the-goldfinch-box-office-prediction/

Hustlers has been showered with major critical acclaim and reviews suggesting costar Jennifer Lopez could be in line for her first Oscar nomination. I believe it has a legitimate chance at hitting $30 million or over, but I’m putting it just a tad under. We shall see if this gets revised up as buzz continues to build.

The Goldfinch had the opposite reaction. It looked like Oscar bait (unlike Hustlers), but critics have not been kind. My estimate for it has steadily dwindled down. It should secure third place, but with a quiet start.

Pennywise’s return to the silver screen opened on the lower end of expectations. Our first It chapter dipped 51% in its sophomore frame. I believe the sequel will experience a drop more in the mid 50s range.

And with that, my take on the top five:

1. It Chapter Two

Predicted Gross: $38.4 million

2. Hustlers

Predicted Gross: $31.5 million

3. The Goldfinch

Predicted Gross: $5.7 million

4. Angel Has Fallen

Predicted Gross: $3.4 million

5. Good Boys

Predicted Gross: $3.2 million

Box Office Results (September 68)

It Chapter Two dominated our first autumn movie weekend. The lengthy horror sequel took in $91 million. As mentioned, that is at the lower end of projections and below my take of $109.7 million. The pic still managed to grab the second biggest September haul and #2 overall horror starting gross of all time behind… It (which floated to $123.4 million out of the gate).

Angel Has Fallen was second with $5.9 million. My prediction? $5.9 million! Total is $53 million.

Good Boys took third at $5.4 million (I said $4.9 million) and it stands at a solid $66 million.

The Lion King was fourth with $4.3 million compared to my $3.8 million estimate for an overall massive tally of $529 million.

Hobbs & Shaw rounded out the top five with $3.8 million, ahead of my $3 million forecast. It’s up to $164 million.

And that does it for now, folks! Until next time…

Ma Movie Review

The more I thought about it, Ma shares a bit in common with Tate Taylor’s predecessor  The Girl on the Train 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.

**1/2 (out of four)

John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum Movie Review

John Wick: Chapter 3Parabellum brings us back into the franchise where the forecast is usually stylishly rainy and dripping with violence. There’s a 100% chance of Keanu Reeves finding creative ways to kill people. Our third iteration does what you expect from a sequel. It increases the action so Mr. Wick fights more. His poor dog met an unfortunate end in Chapter 1 that kicked all of this off. In Parabellum, dogs don’t die. They fight too.

Just as part 2 picked up immediately after its predecessor, this does as well. As you’ll recall, our title character has been excommunicated by the High Table, the organization that governs the unlimited supply of assassins that populate New York City and beyond. He’s a marked man with a $14 million bounty on his head and a dwindling supply of markers causing people to help him. Those individuals include Oscar winning women like Halle Berry and Anjelica Huston.

Wick can no longer have a safe space in the Continental Hotel, managed by Winston (Ian McShane) and his trusty concierge (Lance Reddick). That place provided many highlights in the first two pictures, but our man branches out here. After an excursion to Rome in #2, Wick’s passport gets him to Casablanca here. That’s where he teams with Berry and does a Clark Griswold style desert journey that does give him a respite from the cool looking rain.

Calling the shots is the Adjudicator (an effective Asia Kate Dillon). She’s in charge of punishing the folks who’ve helped Wick out in the past. This includes Winston and the returning Bowery King (Laurence Fishburne, still having a ball). Our head henchman who wants the collect the Wick murder money is Zero (Mark Dacascos) and his character is quite fun. He may have a task to complete, but he’s also a total fanboy of the legend he’s hunting. Their interplay is an added bonus.

Parabellum is ultimately about how well the action scenes work. Director Chad Stahelski and Reeves once again dig deep into their bag of martial arts inspired tricks. And a decent sized portion of the fight sequences are downright thrilling. Perhaps this series will eventually run of gas and the choreography of Reeves in sadistic motion delivering headshots won’t be as satisfying. Not yet.

*** (out of four)

The Favourite Movie Review

A trio of bold performances carries the striking look and bawdy humor of The Favourite, the latest effort from visionary filmmaker Yorgos Lanthimos. Set in the early 18th century, it takes considerable historical liberties with its Queen and her subjects. It’s all in the service of a semi tragic comedy with the three leads seeking to hold and attain power.

Olivia Colman is Queen Anne, increasingly sickly and dependent on closest advisor Sarah (Rachel Weisz). A war with France is raging and Sarah deftly moves to provide strategic advice. Other than the 17 rabbits she keeps as pets, the Queen typically has that audience of one. That’s until Abigail (Emma Stone), a cousin of Sarah’s, arrives in the luscious grounds to seek employment and eventually stake her claim as a confidante. Her scheming succeeds. This sets up a love triangle and an ever evolving quest for Anne’s affections.

The men in these women’s lives are largely disposable. Harley (Nicholas Hoult) is a thorn on their sides as the politician undermines war efforts and serves as Abigail’s co-conspirator when it fits her needs. Samuel (Joe Alwyn) has social standing important enough for Abigail to take him as a husband and accentuate her lifestyle. They’re tolerated.

This is a period piece that is anything but stuffy. If anything, it’s positively randy in its exploration of sex and greed. From its costume and production design and cinematography, this is a gorgeous looking picture.

Colman has the most dynamic part of the three. Sad and vulnerable and unwell, she’s still the ultimate actor to wield dominance and she never forgets it. While Abigail is more myopic in her thirst for influence, Sarah’s royal connection is a bit more complicated and compelling. Weisz makes the most of her layered role.

The Favourite is short of great, but it is a feast for the eyes about people whose eyes are permanently fixed on their proximity to the throne.

***1/2 (out of four)