No Time to Die Review

The five film run of Daniel Craig as perhaps the world’s most famous cinematic character comes to a close in No Time to Die, the 25th feature in the nearly 60-year-old 007 franchise. It began 15 years ago with Casino Royale, which I list at #2 in the canon behind only From Russia with Love (Sean Connery’s second entry).

For those who think the dedicated team behind the series have no time for surprises, be prepared. Like the midsection poker sequence in Royale that stands as one of the finest in Bond history, there’s times where they go all in. There’s also moments that harken back to the Roger Moore days and, in this case, I mean it as a compliment. By the time we reached Craig’s third and deservedly praised Skyfall in 2012, the pics had achieved a level of seriousness that risked becoming too dour.

Despite its considerable flaws, 2015’s follow-up Spectre thankfully remembered that the action and plots in this cinematic universe can be silly. 007’s 25th adventure isn’t afraid to display that. The threat to the world here involves passing a weaponized virus only through that individual’s DNA and those related to them. It’s a little ridiculous and I once again mean that in a good way.

This is not quite the triumph that Casino Royale was. In fact, I’d also rank this a smidge behind Skyfall. The villain is not particularly memorable. Like all Craig films that followed the first, no romantic entanglement will rival the one he had with Eva Green’s Vesper Lynd. Yet Die achieves the unlikely feat of bringing those fun Moore elements dashed with Timothy Dalton’s more weighty tone. The result is that Craig’s time as the super spy (the longest in terms of actual time but not volume of titles) is easily the most satisfying since Sean Connery’s.

From the jump, we realize Die is going to be a little different. The pre-title sequence begins with a franchise first: an eerie and gorgeously rendered flashback that sheds light on the childhood of Madeleine Swann. As you may recall, she’s Bond’s love interest from Spectre played by Lea Seydoux. Her connections to that criminal enterprise led by Blofeld (Christoph Waltz) is expanded upon. In the present day, James and Madeleine are making a romantic go of it. A visit to Vesper’s tomb disrupts both their safety and Bond’s trust in his current relationship.

This all occurs in the lengthy prologue before we hear Billie Eilish’s title cut. Let’s dispense with that. Ms. Eilish has some quality tunes, but her contribution is forgettable and not the kind of Bond tune you’ll be humming leaving the theater or rushing to download for the ride back.

In the serialized fashion we’ve come to expect from Craig’s tenure (something unique only to his), we jump five years to Bond in retirement. And (gasp) he’s no longer 007. MI6 is still going strong but relations with their U.S. counterparts are strained. It’s not the new 007 (Lashana Lynch) or M (Ralph Fiennes) or even his beloved Moneypenny (Naomie Harris) or Q (Ben Whishaw) that convince Bond to emerge from his Jamaican R&R. Felix Leiter (Jeffrey Wright), along with a new eager associate (Billy Magnussen), recruit him for a mission that involves dismantling SPECTRE. Bond hooks up (not literally as Bond’s libido seems to be catching up with his age) with another agent (Ana de Armas) to do so. This culminates in a wonderfully fabulous and bizarre action set piece in Cuba.

All this activity soon puts James in the same space with Madeline again and with Blofeld. And we soon meet Safin (Rami Malek), the head baddie with his own troubled history with the criminal organization. I won’t wax rhapsodic about Safin as I mentioned he’s a pretty weak villain. On the other hand, No Time to Die is not really focused on his story. This Bond story, more than any other besides Skyfall, is really about Bond. That gives us one more opportunity to soak in Craig’s terrific performance that’s spanned this quintet. One could argue the series goes too far in making it all about him. With Craig in control, you’ll hear few complaints from me (heck even Quantum of Solace had some cool stuff in it).

No Time to Die has Cary Fukunaga taking over directorial duties from Sam Mendes, who helmed the previous two. He presides over some amazing looking chases and battles that rank right at the top of what we’ve seen previously. On a slightly contradictory note, there’s one during the climax that was a little too video game oriented for my taste. The screenwriters (with an assist from Phoebe Waller-Bridge) also remember to bring the humor. As much as Safin isn’t much of a memorable character, he does get a moment with a toddler that left me chuckling for a good minute or two after their interaction. The makers also don’t forget that these pictures can be quite weird in their production design. Safin’s Poison Garden is a glorious example.

Additionally, the team isn’t afraid to bring a rare level of emotion to the proceedings. However, it’s not that out of place for Craig’s service. We witnessed a love story in Casino Royale that went beyond his typical dalliances. His connection to Judi Dench’s M (particularly in Skyfall) went far deeper than the same character giving James his orders in the past. In No Time to Die, Mr. Craig’s mission involves the striking visuals that we’re used to. What’s different is that over the five adventures connected to each other, I felt like these missions developed a familial bond that shook the foundation of a franchise in a stirring fashion.

***1/2 (out of four)

Oscar Predictions – Venom: Let There Be Carnage

Tom Hardy is back to his dualistic ways in Venom: Let There Be Carnage this weekend. The sequel to the 2018 Marvel Comics property officially had its review embargo lifted today and the results are a bit surprising. While plenty of critics aren’t being overly kind, the 58% Rotten Tomatoes rating is an improvement over its predecessor’s 30% score.

Sony is hoping audiences are primed for more of Hardy and his black goo. The only awards possibility lies in the Visual Effects race. And if part 1 couldn’t manage a nod, I doubt this will either.

There is serious competition with other comic book based pics including Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings and the upcoming Eternals and Spider-Man: No Way Home. It’s also a safe bet that Dune and The Matrix Resurrections will make the cut. Perhaps Carnage will surface in the ten finalists vying for five slots, but I wouldn’t count on it getting in. My Oscar Prediction posts for the films of 2021 will continue…

Oscar Predictions: No Time to Die

The 15 year era of Daniel Craig as one of cinema’s most famous characters concludes with No Time to Die. James Bond will return… but not with arguably his best incarnation since Sean Connery. Prior to the October 8 stateside bow, the embargo lifted this evening and the results are encouraging.

007’s 25th adventure stands at 89% on Rotten Tomatoes (with 35 reviews out at press time). Many critics are calling it a surprisingly emotional swan song for Craig’s contribution to the British super spy series. There’s also hints that it resembles more of the Roger Moore era of the canon than one might expect (a direction it seemed to be taking with predecessor Spectre). Ana de Armas is drawing raves for her very short amount of screen time. The consensus on Rami Malek’s main villain seems a bit mixed. There’s some complaints about the length (a Bond high 163 minutes).

Yet no one seems to be arguing that it’s a rather fitting conclusion to Craig’s tenure in the part. So will Oscar take notice? Skyfall, the third pic in the actor’s five appearances, probably came close to a Best Picture nod. It did earn five nominations – winning Sound Editing and Original Song (Adele’s title track) with mentions in Sound Mixing, Score, and Cinematography. 2015’s follow-up Spectre (which had less laudatory reviews) managed a sole nomination in Song with Sam Smith’s “The Writing’s on the Wall” where it scored an upset victory.

I wouldn’t be shocked if an internet campaign is mounted for Craig to get a Best Actor slot (kind of as a tribute to the whole run). It’s highly unlikely to materialize. I do believe Die will make it three in a row for the songs with Billie Eilish’s title tune work. Whether she wins is a question mark (Beyonce has a ditty from King Richard that might serve as its main competition). Cinematography and Sound are two other feasible possibilities.

Bottom line: while I don’t foresee this factoring into the biggest races, tech and musical recognition could be coming its way. My Oscar Prediction posts for the films of 2021 will continue…

No Time to Die Box Office Prediction

***Blogger’s Note Part III (10/06): I have revised my No Time to Die prediction from $104.1 million down to $94.1 million, which would still set a COVID era record.

***Blogger’s Note Part II (10/03): With the news that Venom: Let There Be Carnage has grossed approximately $90 million out of the gate, it’s go big or go home for No Time to Die! I’m re-upping my estimate from $84.1 million to a COVID era best $104.1 million***

**Blogger’s Note (10/01): A week before its stateside premiere, I have decided to significantly increase my prediction (partly due to the apparent over performance of Venom: Let There Be Carnage). I’m going from $72.1 million to $84.1 million**

Ladies and gentlemen, the second frame of October finally marks the weekend for Daniel Craig’s swan song as 007 in No Time to Die. The 25th official entry in the James Bond franchise was gearing up for release in April of 2020 (Billie Eilish’s title track had already dropped) when COVID scuttled the plans. It experienced several more delays before at last settling on October 8. Craig is back for his fifth and final appearance along with series returnees Lea Seydoux, Ralph Fiennes, Naomie Harris, Ben Whishaw, Jeffrey Wright, Rory Kinnear, and Christoph Waltz. On the job for the first time are Rami Malek as the main villain, Lashana Lynch, Craig’s Knives Out costar Ana de Armas, and Billy Magnussen.

Anticipation is certainly present with the culmination of Mr. Craig’s service as the British super spy – one rivaled by only Sean Connery. He’s actually had the longest run as the character in terms of time, though not actual volume of pictures. It seems like eons since moviegoers have had their Bond fix. With the frequent pushbacks, the just shy of a six-year wait is the second lengthiest break between 007 adventures (beaten by the sabbatical of 1989’s Licence to Kill and 1995’s Goldeneye at nearly six and a half years).

Fifteen years ago, Craig defied expectations with the critically acclaimed Casino Royale. It made $40 million for its start but legged out very impressively. Sequel (and it was the first true Bond sequel) Quantum of Solace debuted two years later with $67 million. 2012’s Skyfall marked a high point at the box office as it grossed over a billion dollars worldwide. The premiere stateside is a series best $88 million. Three years later, Spectre kicked off with $70 million.

So where will this golden era of 007 culminate in terms of opening weekend? There’s certainly a range of possibilities. First things first: it will have no trouble eclipsing what Craig’s first foray achieved a decade and a half ago. I do believe the COVID times will prevent the record setting starting number of Skyfall managed (but you never know). It’s hard to totally factor in the excitement for its star’s last go-round. A video of Craig bidding adieu to his costars and crew has been widely circulated on social media in recent weeks.

My hunch is that a premiere in the range of Quantum and Spectre is most likely stateside (I’m sure its overseas haul will be massive). I’m tempted to say a low to mid 60s gross just under them could occur. However, I’ll err on the side of over performance and project low to mid 70s. (PER ABOVE: I have increased estimate from $72.1M to $84.1M to $104.1 million)

No Time to Die opening weekend prediction: $94.1 million

Venom: Let There Be Carnage Box Office Prediction

Arriving one year after its COVID delay, Tom Hardy returns as the Marvel Comics title character in Venom: Let There Be Carnage. The sequel includes returnees Michelle Williams and Reid Scott along with newcomers Naomie Harris, Stephen Graham, and Woody Harrelson (who did briefly cameo in the original’s post credits scene). Andy Serkis, certainly no stranger to CG effects, takes over directorial duties from Ruben Fleischer.

Three years ago, Venom surpassed expectations with a then October best opening weekend of just over $80 million. That record was beaten a year later by Joker. The overall domestic gross of $213 million guaranteed a follow-up.

After witnessing the recent robust performance of Marvel’s Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, Sony actually pushed up the release date by two weeks.

Carnage kicks off a month where studios are hopeful for pleasing returns with heavy hitters like No Time to Die, Halloween Kills, and Dune. I don’t envision this getting to $80 million like its predecessor. A more realistic expectation would be part II nabbing about 75% of what part I achieved out of the gate.

That would be $60 million and I’ll say it goes just under that.

Venom: Let There Be Carnage opening weekend prediction: $58.7 million

For my The Addams Family 2 prediction, click here:

The Addams Family 2 Box Office Prediction

For my The Many Saints of Newark prediction, click here:

The Many Saints of Newark Box Office Prediction

James Bond: An Oscar History

Of the six actors to have played the most famous spy in cinematic history, only one of them has ever been nominated for an Oscar. That would be, of course, Sean Connery and he was victorious in 1987 for his supporting work in The Untouchables. It is worth noting that the last two Bonds (Pierce Brosnan, Daniel Craig) have Golden Globes nods in the Musical/Comedy category for The Matador and Knives Out, respectively.

With the recent death of Sir Connery, this got me thinking… how many actors from the nearly 60 year old franchise have been recognized by the Academy? And how much Oscar attention has the series itself received? For the first question, it was rather limited until Craig took over the role. For the second question, 9 out of the 24 official 007 entries have managed to get on awards voters radar screens. So let’s break it down, shall we?

Goldfinger (1964) was the third feature in the franchise and it marked the first nomination and win for the Bond catalogue. The pic took the Best Sound Effects trophy. One year later, Thunderball won for its Visual Effects. Connery’s final official appearance in 1971’s Diamonds Are Forever resulted in a nod for its sound.

When Roger Moore took over the part, his debut saw the first theme song nominated courtesy of Paul McCartney’s title track to 1973’s Live and Let Die. There would also be song nods for both The Spy Who Loved Me (1977) and For Your Eyes Only in 1981. Spy would mark the first Bond flick to score multiple mentions with its score and art direction. And Moore’s 1979 space opus Moonraker was nominated for its visual effects.

George Lazenby’s one-off appearance in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, Timothy Dalton’s two 1980s pictures, and the 1990s-early 2000s four film Pierce Brosnan run yielded zero Oscar mentions. Same goes for Craig’s first two outings Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace. 

So it had been over 30 years since a Bond adventure had been recognized on Oscar night when 2012’s Skyfall landed a franchise record 5 nominations. It won two with Adele’s theme song and its sound editing. The other nods were Score, Sound Mixing, and Cinematography. The song love would continue with 2015’s Spectre when Sam Smith won for his tune.

Add that up and we have 15 total nominations for the series and 5 wins.

We move to the thespians and their fortune at the big show. As mentioned, before the recent run of Craig titles, it was a bit limited. In fact, the number of actors who are Oscar nominees from the Craig run nearly equals everything that came before it. Giancarlo Giannini appeared in Casino and Quantum and he was a Best Actor nominee in 1975 for Seven Beauties. Ralph Fiennes (otherwise known as M) is a double nominee for Schindler’s List and The English Patient. Naomie Harris (or Moneypenny) achieved a Supporting Actress mention for 2016’s Moonlight. Albert Finney showed up in Skyfall and he was nominated five times in his long career. Craig’s original “M” was Judi Dench and she dates back to the Brosnan era. She’s a one-time winner with 6 other nominations.

That’s just the good guys. In the Craig era, the villains come with serious awards cred. Javier Bardem from Skyfall had taken Supporting Actor five years earlier in No Country for Old Men and is a two-time Best Actor nominee for Before Nights Falls and Biutiful. Christoph Waltz (Spectre) is a double Supporting Actor winner with Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained. And the next pic – the oft delayed No Time to Die – has Rami Malek as its main baddie. In 2018, he gave his acceptance speech for Bohemian Rhapsody. 

Going back to the beginning, From Russia with Love featured Lotte Lenye (a 1961 nominee for The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone) and Robert Shaw (nominated three years after Russia for A Man for All Seasons). And that’s actually the extent of performers from the Connery era nominated for Oscars… sort of. The legend did return to the role in 1983’s Never Say Never Again, though it is not considered part of the “official” catalogue. It does boast three Academy players with Klaus Maria Brandauer (Out of Africa), Max Von Sydow (Pelle the Conquerer and Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close), and Kim Basinger (Supporting Actress recipient for 1997’s L.A. Confidential).

Telly Savalas costarred with Lazenby in Secret Service and he was nominated seven years earlier for his work in Birdman of Alcatraz. In the Moore era, there’s just Topol. He’s best known his nominated work in Fiddler on the Roof and he costarred in For Your Eyes Only. In the Dalton double feature, we have Benicio del Toro as he was a henchman in Licence to Kill. Over a decade later, he would win Supporting Actor for Traffic and get another nod for 21 Grams. Things picked up a bit with Brosnan. In addition to Dench, a trio of actresses were on their way or had already achieved nominations. Halle Berry co-headlined Die Another Day one year after winning Actress for Monster’s Ball. Minnie Driver had a small role in Goldeneye and would have her breakout part (along with Supporting Actress inclusion) two years later with Good Will Hunting. And Rosamund Pike was also in Die Another Day a decade plus before her Actress nod for Gone Girl. 

A final word. Not one of the 24 released 007 features has achieved any acting, directing, writing, or picture nominations of its own. Skyfall probably came the closest as some prognosticators wondered whether it could be the first to nab a Picture nod. It didn’t materialize, but its five nominations indicate it might have come the closest. Indeed, Daniel Craig’s time as Bond has seen him costar with the most Academy friendly costars. Let’s see if the next performer to play the iconic spy gets to act alongside that same kind of pedigree.

Black and Blue Box Office Prediction

Moonlight Oscar nominee Naomie Harris is a rookie officer up against dirty cops in next weekend’s racially tinged action thriller Black and Blue. It comes from Deon Taylor, who directed this summer’s thriller The Intruder. Costars include Tyrese Gibson, Frank Grillo, and Reid Scott.

Late October is typically not a time period where new products post impressive debuts. Buzz is quiet and reviews are middling with a current 57% Rotten Tomatoes score. None of the cast members are much of a draw. Blue will be lucky to attract even the $7.6 million achieved last October by The Hate U Give. It had similar subject matter, but far better critical reaction.

I believe that means mid single digits is probable.

Black and Blue opening weekend prediction: $4.8 million

For my Countdown prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2019/10/16/countdown-box-office-prediction/

For my The Current War prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2019/10/20/the-current-war-box-office-prediction/

Rampage Movie Review

A genetically deformed gorilla, wolf, and alligator walk into a major metropolitan area and destroy buildings. That was the concept of the video game in which Rampage was based upon and the movie adaptation doesn’t burden itself with over ambition in bringing it to the screen. Throw in Dwayne Johnson and lots of CG effects and what do you get? A fairly middling experience that will probably manage to thrill teenage boys whose fathers spent their quarters on the game at the arcade in the 1980s.

Davis Okoye (Johnson) is a primatologist. He’s great with animals and doesn’t really enjoy interacting with people, as the screenplay incessantly reminds us. He’s developed a particular bond with George, an albino gorilla who lives at the sanctuary where Davis works. They’re practically a comedy team as Davis has taught him tricks like flipping the bird. The duo’s future nightclub act is disrupted when a canister of debris containing genetic mutation material lands near George and causes him to grow into a destructive beast. This nasty stuff is also consumed by the aforementioned wolf and alligator.

I could go into further plot detail on the specifics, but here’s the bottom line. Rampage is all about getting that trio of monsters en route to Chicago where they can flick tanks and helicopters into buildings with ease. Davis teams up with an engineer (Naomie Harris) and an outlaw government figure (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) to not only stop the creatures, but prevent the military from overreacting to the potential carnage. And there’s Malin Ackerman and Jake Lacy as the sister/brother duo who run the evil corporation that made the stuff that turned funny George into bad George.

Unfortunately for us, there’s about an hour of filler before Rampage reaches its Windy City destination. That time is a bit of a strain. Since it’s Dwayne Johnson playing a primatologist, it will come as no shock that he’s also ex-Special Forces. We get a bit of his background (including some anti-poaching messages) and same goes for Harris’s character who used to work at the conglomerate that wreaked this havoc.

By the time we arrive at the gorilla and wolf and alligator warfare, we’re greeted with some decent set pieces in the Transformers vein. Yet that even manages to overstay its welcome and the CG, while decent, has seen stronger offerings (it’s nothing compared to the animal work in the latest Planet of the Apes pics).

This is Johnson’s second collaboration with Brad Peyton, who directed him in San Andreas. That was another so-so spectacle that was easily digestible and forgettable. The makers of and actors in Rampage do seem to know this is silly junk food and earn some points for never taking it seriously. And there’s certainly been other video game adaptations that have been way worse. We’re talking faint praise, I suppose, but Rampage can only do so much with the simple concept of “smash building, smash car, and repeat.”

**1/2 (out of four)

Rampage Box Office Prediction

Pairing Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson with a bunch of CG animals in an adventure flick? If that sounds like a recipe for box office success, that’s because Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle became Sony’s biggest hit at the end of 2017. And next weekend’s Rampage (while it won’t approach the numbers of that franchise follow-up) looks poised to bring in generous earnings.

The Warner Bros release is based loosely on the 1980s video game. It marks Johnson’s third collaboration with director Brad Peyton following Journey: The Mysterious Island and San Andreas. Both of those titles managed to top the century mark ($103 million and $155 million respectively) and this should do the same. Costars include Naomie Harris, Malin Ackerman, Joe Manganiello, Jake Lacy, and Jeffrey Dean Morgan. Perhaps more importantly, other costars are giant gorillas, wolf’s, and alligators.

The question is whether Rampage falls more in line with $27 million debut of Journey 2 or the $54 million accomplished by Andreas. The former seems a bit low to me while the latter is high. I’ll project a mid to possibly high 30s opening is more the ticket.

Rampage opening weekend prediction: $36.6 million

For my Truth or Dare prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2018/04/03/truth-or-dare-box-office-prediction/

Collateral Beauty Movie Review

David Frankel’s Collateral Beauty starts with a pretentious name and goes downhill from there. It’s a film dealing with weighty subjects in a manner that is borderline offensive and cheats the audience and its talented actors of quality. When you can’t get past an incredibly contrived concept, it makes any semblance of emotional resonance that the screenplay is trying to beat into you fail badly. And it does.

Howard (Will Smith) is an advertising exec who’s mourning the loss of his young daughter. He can’t get past the loss and he’s cut off communication with the world, including his coworkers. There’s three of them that are focused on and they’re all given their own soap opera subplots. Whit (Edward Norton) is a divorcee trying to reconnect with his own little girl. Claire (Kate Winslet) is the workaholic wanting to become a mother. Simon (Michael Pena) is terminally ill and trying to hide his diagnosis from everyone.

The trio make the tough decision to try to push Howard out of the company. In order to do so, the script invents quite a remarkably ridiculous way to do so. You see – Howard writes letters to issues he’s grappling with – Love, Death, Time. When his coworkers are at their wit’s end, they make the puzzling decision to hire an acting troupe to portray those emotions, catch Howard’s reaction to them on camera, and exploit his response for the company’s gain. It’s even more contrived than it sounds. So we have Helen Mirren as Death, Keira Knightley as Love, and Jacob Latimore as Time. Howard also reaches out to a grief counselor (Naomie Harris) who’s experienced similar life issues.

This is the type of picture that some may not want to criticize due to its subject matter. Yet Collateral Beauty deserves scorn, especially because so many other films have dealt with similar themes in far more mature and satisfying ways. There’s not a performance here worthy of praise and that’s remarkable considering the cast. Smith is stuck playing one note throughout and even Mirren (one of our finest actresses) is annoying. No actors could make this dialogue work to be fair. It’s as if screenwriter Allan Loeb took a bunch of sympathy and encouragement cards and self-help manuals, cut them up, threw them in the air, and let treacly word piles form. The result is ugly.

* (out of four)