As SNL just wrapped its 46th season last night, today seemed like a good opportunity to showcase an alumni deserving of awards consideration from a decade ago. In the summer of 2011, Paul Feig’s Bridesmaids became the comedy smash of the season. It was noticed by the Academy. Melissa McCarthy landed a nod in Supporting Actress while Kristin Wiig and Annie Mumolo were nominated for their Original Screenplay.
I would contend that Wiig should have been a double nominee in lead actress, especially considering that 2011 was a rather weak year in that race. Meryl Streep took the gold for The Iron Lady in what’s widely thought of as one of her least impressive victories. She triumphed over Glenn Close (Albert Nobbs), Viola Davis (The Help), Rooney Mara (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo), and Michelle Williams (My Week with Marilyn).
Bridesmaids is perhaps the most impressive SNL cast member starring debut in history (an argument could also be made for Eddie Murphy in 48 Hrs.). Wiig’s drunken scene on an airplane headed to Vegas alone is worthy of awards attention and her work would have marked a fine occasion for the Academy to throw a rare bone to the comedic genre.
Last Christmas is an example of immense talent behind the scenes and blaring over the soundtrack resulting in a holiday concoction that just does not come together. It tries hard and it has attractive leads. Director Paul Feig has made rom coms successfully with Bridesmaids and shown range with 2018’s twisty humorous thriller A Simple Favor. Emma Thompson lends her writing skills and plays the over top mother to the lead character. And the film’s title is the eponymous 80s Wham! classic which plays frequently, in addition to numerous other tracks from the band and George Michael’s solo career.
This picture should work. My faith that it would did not last long. Emilia Clarke sheds her Game of Thrones image as Kate, an aimless Londoner who immigrated from Yugoslavia with her parents and sister. She spends her days working at a year round Christmas shop run by a quirky store owner who goes by Santa (Michelle Yeoh). In fact, nearly everyone is quirky in this screenplay. Even the homeless people at the shelter where Kate volunteers when she finally starts to have a heart. They’re homeless, but ya know… they’re fun homeless.
Speaking of having a heart, that’s a big plot point and I guess that’s all I can say without going into spoiler territory. Kate’s outlook on life begins to change when she meets the elusive Tom (Henry Golding of Crazy Rich Asians and the aforementioned A Simple Favor). Their potential courtship is interrupted by occasional forays into commentary on immigration, mental health, a bizarre romance between Santa and a customer, and whatever George Michael ballad or uptempo tune fits the moment.
The result is a tonal mess even with the singer’s beautifully toned voice playing. I’m not a Scrooge. Thompson appeared in Love Actually and I ate that extravagant Yuletide offering right up. Despite the heart being in the right place of the filmmakers, Last Christmas mostly left me praying for my time back.
Just as our collective world has changed around us in the past few days and will continue for the foreseeable future, so will this little movie blog of mine. Simply put – a lot of us (myself included) are going to be home for awhile. Therefore, the best use of this blog at the moment is shifting away from box office predictions and Oscar speculation.
Beginning right now, I’m going to post a Daily Streaming Guide recommending movies currently streaming on Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime. It’s likely that I’ll throw in Disney+ and HBO in from time to time. Hopefully this will assist my readers in identifying some worthy pictures to view at home. Let’s get to it, shall we?
1984’s Purple Rain turned Prince into a global musical superstar. The soundtrack that accompanied it is a nine-track masterpiece in which every song demands repeat listens. Here’s a fair warning – the film itself is of its time. This is a kind way of saying that there’s some dialogue and attitudes that wouldn’t pass muster in 2020. That said, I would recommend it as a time capsule to witness a genius at a juncture of his creative peak. The performances alone with his band The Revolution that include the title tune, “Let’s Go Crazy”, “Darling Nikki”, and more are worth the price of streaming.
Keeping with the musical theme, Cameron Crowe’s 1989 teen romance Say Anything… is known mostly for a shot of John Cusack holding up a boom box blaring Peter Gabriel’s “In Your Eyes”. It’s an iconic scene, but the picture itself is among the most intelligent and insightful experiences dealing with young love. Just as 80s icon John Hughes wrote teens as human beings as opposed to walking hormones, Crowe’s screenplay accomplishes the same.
For something more recent, Paul Feig’s A Simple Favor from 2018 belongs more in the guilty pleasure space. A charcoal black comedy starring Anna Kendrick and Blake Lively, this twisty thriller knows it’s ridiculous and is simply a whole lot of fun. This might be best enjoyed with a dry martini or two on standby.
I’ll be back at it tomorrow, folks! Until then – be well and stay safe!
The Yuletide rom com Last Christmas presents itself in theaters next weekend from Bridesmaids director Paul Feig. If you’re hoping it features the classic Wham! holiday track in its soundtrack, you’re in luck as it plays (as well as some unreleased songs by the late lead singer George Michael). Game of Thrones star Emilia Clarke and Henry Golding of Crazy Rich Asians fame headline. Costars include Golding’s Rich mother Michelle Yeoh and Emma Thompson (who co-wrote the script).
While its two leads don’t really have a track record opening a film, this should succeed in bringing in a female audience (and perhaps some fans of Mr. Michael). Even though the genres are different, this could premiere with similar numbers to Feig’s previous effort A Simple Favor ($16.1 million).
I’ll say that range is likely as Christmas hopes to leg out solidly in the weeks ahead.
Last Christmas opening weekend prediction: $16.9 million
Stephanie (Anna Kendrick) is the type of character who would be in the book club that reads something like ASimpleFavor. Yet the cyclone level of twists in the story might only be thought up by someone like Emily (Blake Lively) after drinking too many of her patented mid afternoon dry martinis. Paul Feig’s satiric thriller is, alas, based on a novel by Darcey Bell that probably has been read in those clubs.
This takes the issues of female empowerment found in GoneGirl or TheGirlontheTrain (also from literary works) and casts a black comedic cloud over it. It occasionally risks collapsing under its sheer volume of plot turns. And somehow it rarely ceases to be a hoot with two dynamic lead performances.
We meet Stephanie on her daily vlog filled with cooking tips and child rearing tips. She’s a single mom whose husband died in a car accident along with her brother. Her instinct is to do it all, including hoarding over school parenting projects. She doesn’t blink when Emily, whose kid attends school with Stephanie’s, starts asking her to be an unpaid nanny. Emily has a hectic job as PR manager for a fashion designer, the already mentioned drinking problem, and has-been writer turned professor husband Sean (Henry Golding from summer smash CrazyRichAsians). The two end up bonding with Stephanie deeming Emily her “best friend” (there’s a bracelet involved).
Then one day Emily vanishes and Stephanie’s daily posts become a darker (though always humorous) search for a missing person. Her protective nature draws her close to Sean, so much so that the authorities begin to question their motives. What follows is a relentless stream of genre clichés: insurance claims, alternate identities, unknown twins, and love triangles, just to name some. This is kitchen sink level stuff. It’s borderline exhausting, but you get the feeling that Feig and screenwriter Jessica Sharzer know it and are furiously winking. The director is known for his straight up comedies such as Bridesmaids, TheHeat, and Spy. While this does venture into paperback adapted material, it does it with tongue in cheek planted wit. This is more in tone with 1998’s under appreciated WildThings than something like GoneGirl.
Kendrick and Lively are the show here and their chemistry makes it work. Stephanie’s desperation for companionship is sold by Kendrick, who thinks she’s found someone special beyond her unseen blog watchers. She’s done so with Emily, whose back story is filled with too many secrets to keep track of (you will lose count). Lively has a ball revealing them. So do we once we realize keeping up with it all is secondary to its ridiculous and fun nature.
Director Paul Feig is best known for his comedies featuring Melissa McCarthy like Bridesmaids, The Heat, Spy, and Ghostbusters. He changes things up next weekend with the release of thriller A Simple Favor. It’s based on the debut novel from Darcey Bell released last year. The cast is headlined by Anna Kendrick, Blake Lively, and Henry Golding (fresh off his breakthrough role in the summer blockbuster Crazy Rich Asians).
Favor could have the benefit of appealing to a female audience in the midst of more male-driven fare such as The Predator and White Boy Rick, which both open the same day. The current forecast is in the $12-$15 million area. I feel that Kendrick, Lively, and the intended demographic could cause this to debut on the high-end of that range and perhaps exceed it.
A Simple Favor opening weekend prediction: $17.9 million
After over a quarter century of dormancy, the Ghostbusters have been rebooted with a female team and an appreciation for what came before it. Maybe too much appreciation. The 2016 iteration may not be ‘fraid of no ghosts, but perhaps it is of its own 1984 shadow and what followed it.
The concept here isn’t much different. Take a talented director (Paul Feig) and fill the leading roles with SNL related stars. Here it’s Melissa McCarthy (a favorite SNL host) along with former cast member Kristin Wiig and current ones Kate McKinnon and Leslie Jones. They’re the new Ghostbusters and the New York City setting is the same. Wiig is a Columbia professor who once cowrote a paranormal related book that she’s trying to forget about. McCarthy is her coauthor who’s now stuck in a dead-end job at a technical college along with McKinnon (she handles gadgets). Jones is an MTA employee who finds that ghosts are real in the bowels of the city’s subway. The NYC setting provides one of the most abnormal moments here when the team chows down on Papa Johns pizza. In New York City?!?!?! Product placement is vital, people…
Ghouls and goblins begin to sprout up in the Big Apple and soon the foursome find themselves in business, even if the city’s leaders don’t wish to acknowledge the presence of them or those they’re hunting. The Annie Potts secretarial duties are handled by a game Chris Hemsworth, showing off the same occasional comedic abilities he showed in another subpar 80s relaunch last summer, Vacation.
And there’s cameos by way of the franchise before it – both in human and special effects form. They serve more to make us nod in knowing appreciation than actually laugh. As for the Ghostbusters themselves? McCarthy and Wiig acquit themselves fine and have their strong moments, as does Jones. The weakest link is McKinnon, whose over the top antics work well in five minute SNL sketch bursts but seem out of place and rather annoying here.
Perhaps what hinders Ghostbusters from being a satisfactory experience is the fact that the melding of science fiction and comedy felt fresh over 30 years ago with Ivan Reitman’s original. Since then, we’ve seen everything from Men in Black to more obvious (and less pleasing) knock offs like Evolution and The Watch to name just a couple. The injection of a gender change isn’t enough to make this feel new and the CG effects add nothing out of the ordinary either. It is the ghosts of genre past that ultimately haunts what we see here.
One of the biggest summer 2016 mysteries will be answered next weekend when the Ghostbusters reboot hits theaters. 32 years after the original became a smash hit (with a less beloved sequel that followed five years later), the Columbia Pictures property is a hopeful franchise yet again. This follows years (decades in fact) of rumors about the comedic paranormal team making a return to the big screen. A third go round with the original cast never materialized, so the series has undergone a makeover with Paul Feig taking over directorial duties and a female ghostbustin’ cast donning the iconic uniforms.
Like they did in 1984 – the Ghostbusters have a strong “Saturday Night Live” connection consisting of frequent host Melissa McCarthy and current and former cast members Kristin Wiig, Kate McKinnon, and Leslie Jones. Chris Hemsworth takes over secretarial duties in the part made famous by Annie Potts. OG ‘Busters Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, and Ernie Hudson (along with Sigourney Weaver and Potts) are said to cameo.
This is the fourth collaboration between Feig/McCarthy. They’re previous pics (Bridesmaids, Heat, Spy) have grossed $169M, $159M, and $110M, respectively. This is a whole new ball game that comes with a different set of expectations, however. For starters – the budget is a reported $154 million with a studio likely hoping for a domestic haul in the $200 million range.
That could be a challenge. The word of mouth for Ghostbusters has not been overwhelmingly positive and underwhelming trailers had a little something to do with it. The first trailer even earned headlines for being the most disliked trailer in YouTube’s history. Buzz aside, it’s been marketed relentlessly in recent weeks.
The release poses a whole bunch of questions that won’t be answered until its opening: will younger viewers turn out for a franchise that’s laid dormant for nearly 30 years? Will the negative trailer reaction greatly hinder its potential? If and when the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man returns, is it the same one from the original or his offspring?
Ghostbusters, even with the lengthy time passed between entries, is still a massive brand name and the name alone should get it to a $40 million opening. How much above that number seems to be the real question. I’ll predict that it falls just under $50M in the opening weekend. How it plays out in subsequent weekends will answer the question for the studio as to whether those grosses make them feel good.
Ghostbusters opening weekend prediction: $47.3 million
After her terrific breakout role in 2011’s Bridesmaids, the filmography of Melissa McCarthy has nagged at me in one significant way. While her character in Bridesmaids was hilariously rough around the edges, what stood out was her innate likability. It’s a trait that was lacking in varying degrees in all her follow up work – Identity Thief, The Heat, and Tammy.
This situation is rectified in Spy, which teams McCarthy up for the third time with director Paul Feig after Bridesmaids and The Heat (they’ll collabo again next summer in the Ghostbusters reboot). Spy finds McCarthy playing more to her strengths and it’s a welcome sight. Yet it doesn’t totally mask that this effort is a fairly generic 007 genre spoof where the laughs are hit or miss.
McCarthy is Susan Cooper, a CIA analyst whose job consists mostly of assisting debonair agent Bradley Fine (a game Jude Law) by talking in his earpiece and helping him out of international intrigue jams. She’s head over heels for her assigned agent as well, which leads to a humorous fancy dinner scene with him where she’s a bit out of her element. Circumstances soon lead to Susan becoming a field agent responsible for tracking Rayna (Rose Byrne), who’s in possession of a nuke. Our newly minted spy must also work with rough and tumble agent Ford (Jason Statham, showcasing real comedic chops) who is far worse at his profession than he believes. His anecdotes about previous missions provide some of the larger laughs, such as when he had to reattach his arm with his other arm.
Spy follows the playbook of Bond spoof to a tee – various exotic locations, big and complicated action sequences, etc… McCarthy’s character, who gets to don various disguises, gives the actress the most she’s had to work with in a bit. The pic fits the bill as a lazy afternoon couch viewing experience and not much more.
One problem is that Feig has learned one unenviable trait from former colleague Judd Apatow. His movies are about 20 minutes too long and Spy’s premise doesn’t deserve the padded two hour running time. There is filler mixed with genuinely solid set pieces. Flaws aside, it’s nice to see McCarthy shine in a manner she’s not been afforded since her Oscar nomination for her standout part four years ago. I hope her material continues to improve.
Ever since Bridesmaids some four years ago, Melissa McCarthy has become a potent box office force and while her comedies have yielded financially pleasing returns, critics haven’t always been on her side – see last summer’s Tammy. This Friday’s Spy is a notable exception as it boasts a terrific 96% on Rotten Tomatoes. The action comedy pairs her yet again with her Bridesmaids and The Heat director Paul Feig. The supporting cast includes Jason Statham, Rose Byrne, Jude Law and Allison Janney.
McCarthy’s star power plus the critical love should lead to a very nice debut for Spy. As I see it, the question is whether or not it manages to top the $39 million earned by The Heat to create McCarthy’s largest domestic opening of all time. I am predicting it’ll just manage to get there and its solid word of mouth should continue its healthy run forward for the weeks to come.