Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark Movie Review

Based upon Alvin Schwartz’s three horror short tale collections from the 1980s and early 1990s (with some celebrated illustrations by Stephen Gammell), Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark has caught the attention of Guillermo del Toro. He has, of course, turned his monster material into Oscar winning work. Mr. del Toro didn’t direct this and he shares a producer and story credit. However, this reminds one of Steven Spielberg’s output at the time when Schwartz’s works were originally being released. Films like Poltergeist, Gremlins, and The Goonies came from other filmmakers, but they might as well have been made by Spielberg because his fingerprints are all over them. Andre Øvredal directed this and he’s proved his genre chops previously with effective material like The Autopsy of Jane Doe. Yet you get the feeling this is del Toro’s vision through and through.

Set in 1968 when political upheaval and the Vietnam War were true scary stories of their own, this brings us to a small Pennsylvania town in a year where Night of the Living Dead is just out. Teenage Stella (Zoe Colletti) is obsessed with the living dead as a horror enthusiast and aspiring writer. Her seemingly only friends are Auggie (Gabriel Rush) and Chuck (Austin Zajur) and the trio gets their kicks by playing Halloween themed pranks on the school bullies. They are soon joined in this quest by drifter Ramon (Michael Garza), who appears to be living out of his car. Their exploits lead them to an alleged haunted house once lived in by the wealthy and mysterious Bellows family. Their daughter Sarah was a writer like Stella. The difference is that Sarah’s writing hasn’t stopped after death and her words describe the PG-13 horror antics that follow.

This plot line allows for a small number of Schwartz’s old tales to come to life. And the CG creature effects due to that are as solid as we’d expect from anything with del Toro’s name attached. A couple of sequences radiate with a ghoulish vibe that impresses. Those moments are scary, but there’s not a lot of them. The screenwriters occasionally bring the turbulent late 1960s happenings to the mix, but that feels a bit clumsy and tacked on as they don’t really commit to it.

Instead we have a novel concept from source material of anthological form. Perhaps Sarah and Schwartz’s short stories could have worked a little better had this been adapted into a series on Netflix or another streaming service. After all, it’s probably Stranger Things and its retro goldmine of success that sped up the green light here. There’s no doubt that the those involved (particularly one) have deep affection for what they’re adapting. Despite its moments, it’s the format that’s limiting.

**1/2 (out of four)

The House with a Clock in Its Walls Movie Review

Sporting the 1980s Universal Pictures logo followed by the Amblin Entertainment one, The House with a Clock in Its Walls does feel like a Spielberg picture at times. Not one that he would’ve directed, but one that he got executive producer credit on. This is Eli Roth’s homage to that era and he’s working in PG territory, which is two MPAA ratings below his typical bailiwick. Like some eighties titles (think Back to the Future or Night of the Creeps), this is set in the 1950s. It’s a more innocent time for evil spirits to haunt and inanimate objects to become animated and agitated.

Lewis (Owen Vaccaro) is a ten-year-old whose parents perished in an accident. He’s sent to live with estranged uncle Jonathan (Jack Black, reveling in his own brand of spirited antics). Jonathan lives in a large and spooky manor adorned with countless ticking clocks. There’s also furniture and paintings that come to life and strange sounds behind the old walls. Florence (Cate Blanchett) is the platonic friend neighbor who spends plenty of time at the clocked crib.

It turns out Lewis’s new caretakers have some supernatural abilities of the warlock and witching variety. They use their abilities for good, but Jonathan’s late magic show partner (Kyle MacLachlan) might have some evil tricks up his sleeve if he’s summoned back to existence. Jonathan’s only rule to Lewis is not to open a dusty book that could do just that. We know the next chapter.

The Spielberg touches are clear. Parental loss and being an adolescent outsider are explored. They’re coupled with the science fiction elements we also anticipate. There’s some solid makeup work and special effects to behold. And like some 80s era flicks (think Gremlins or Poltergeist), there’s some creepy moments sprinkled in. They are not as scary as those aforementioned titles that caused PG-13 to exist. However, Clock has enough of them to make this fun for kids. As for the older folks who grew up on all this stuff (like its director), it’s lovingly made and passably entertaining. It won’t make your 3D nostalgia glasses mist up like Super 8 or Stranger Things might have, but it’s worth the time spent.

*** (out of four)

Summer 1988: The Top 10 Hits and More

We are in the midst of the blockbuster summer season of 2018. As I do every year on the blog, I’m recounting the summers of 30, 20, and 10 years ago with the top 10 moneymakers and other notable features and flops. We begin with 1988 and unlike the current 2018 crop that is dominated by big-budget sequels, it was surprising to find that there were a host of follow-up flops three decades ago. Sequels make up just 20% of the top ten here.

The seasons of 1998 and 2008 will be posted shortly, but here’s what what was happening 30 years ago at the cinema:

10. Bull Durham

Domestic Gross: $50 million

Writer/director Ron Shelton’s sports comedy came as Kevin Costner was experiencing a string of hits in the late 80s and early 90s. Considered one of the finest sports films ever made, it also featured showcase roles for Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins and was nominated for an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay.

9. Rambo III

Domestic Gross: $53 million

The third go-round for Sylvester Stallone as John Rambo earned only a third of what Rambo: First Blood Part II achieved three summers prior and received mostly negative reviews. The star would revise the character 20 years later in Rambo.

8. Willow

Domestic Gross: $57 million

Ron Howard’s fantasy adventure (with a story conceived by George Lucas) was considered only a moderate success at time of its release and critical notices were mixed. It has since gone on to garner cult status.

7. A Fish Called Wanda

Domestic Gross: $62 million

This acclaimed heist comedy was an unexpected critical and audience darling with a screenplay from the legendary John Cleese. Both he and “Monty Python” cohort Michael Palin starred alongside Jamie Lee Curtis and Kevin Kline, in a rare comedic role that won an Oscar for Supporting Actor. Nine years later, the cast reunited for the less regarded Fierce Creatures. 

6. Cocktail

Domestic Gross: $78 million

Coming off his iconic role in Top Gun two years earlier, Tom Cruise propelled this bartender tale to major success despite poor reviews (even Cruise admitted it wasn’t so good years later). It did provide The Beach Boys with a big comeback hit in the form of “Kokomo”.

5. Die Hard

Domestic Gross: $83 million

It might be #5 on the list, but Die Hard is easily the most influential film of the summer of ’88. Rightfully considered the quintessential action movie, it served as a springboard for Bruce Willis’s film career and gave us an unforgettable villain in Alan Rickman’s Hans Gruber. Four sequels and numerous knock-offs would follow.

4. Crocodile Dundee II

Domestic Gross: $109 million

Paul Hogan’s Aussie creation struck box office gold in 1986 when the first Dundee made $174 million and was an unexpected smash. The sequel didn’t measure up to the first commercially or critically, but it still managed to edge past the $100 million mark.

3. Big

Domestic Gross: $114 million

Tom Hanks earned his first Oscar nomination (several would follow) for Penny Marshall’s classic comedy about a teenager wanting to be an adult. It also earned an Original Screenplay nomination.

2. Coming to America

Domestic Gross: $128 million

Eddie Murphy was about the biggest box office draw in the world circa 1988 and this serves as one of his classics. There’s been long rumored plans for a sequel, but whether or not it ever materializes is a legit question three decades later.

1. Who Framed Roger Rabbit

Domestic Gross: $156 million

This landmark blending of live-action and animation from director Robert Zemeckis combined beloved characters from the Warner Bros and Disney catalogs, winning three technical Oscars. The title character would appear in some animated shorts in the following years, but a traditional sequel surprisingly never followed.

And now for some other notable features from the summer:

Young Guns

Domestic Gross: $45 million

This Western about Billy the Kid and his gang cast many of the hot young stars of the day, including Emilio Estevez, Kiefer Sutherland, Lou Diamond Phillips, and Charlie Sheen. A sequel would follow two years later.

Midnight Run

Domestic Gross: $38 million

Serving as Robert De Niro’s first major foray into comedy (blended with action), Midnight Run found him brilliantly cast alongside Charles Grodin in this effort from Beverly Hills Cop director Martin Brest. Its status has only grown in subsequent years.

And now we arrive at some of the pictures that didn’t fare so well and we have 5 sequels that couldn’t match the potency of what came before them:

The Dead Pool

Domestic Gross: $37 million

Clint Eastwood’s fifth and final appearance as Dirty Harry was met with mixed reviews and lackluster box office. It’s got perhaps the best supporting cast of the lot, however, including Patricia Clarkson, Liam Neeson, and Jim Carrey a few years before he became a phenomenon.

Big Top Pee-Wee

Domestic Gross: $15 million

While Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure earned $40 million and introduced moviegoers to Tim Burton, this sequel underwhelmed. Star Paul Reubens would, um, pick up notoriety three years later for another experience in a movie theater.

Arthur 2: On the Rocks

Domestic Gross: $14 million

The 1981 original earned Academy Award nominations and a fantastic $95 million domestic haul. By the time the sequel followed seven years later, audiences weren’t interested in the comedy starring Dudley Moore and Liza Minnelli.

Poltergeist III

Domestic Gross: $14 million

The franchise began in 1982 with acclaim and huge dollars. A sequel diminished those returns and by the time part 3 hit screens, crowds were tuned out. Tragically, Heather O’Rourke (who famously played Carol Anne) died months before its release at the age of 12.

Caddyshack II

Domestic Gross: $11 million

Part 1 was a comedy classic. Part 2 was anything but. Chevy Chase was the only returning cast member to return and there was no repeating the magic with Jackie Mason, Robert Stack, Randy Quaid, and Dan Aykroyd.

And finally…

Mac and Me

Domestic Gross: $6 million

A notorious bomb, this E.T. rip-off received plenty of ink on account of its awfulness. There is a silver lining, however, as Paul Rudd has hilariously incorporated it into segments on Conan O’Brien’s show over the years.

And there you have the summer of 1988 in a nutshell! I’ll be back with 1998 soon…

Box Office Predictions: May 29-31

For the last week of May, we have two more entries into the Summer Box Office Derby: disaster action pic San Andreas starring Dwayne Johnson and the Bradley Cooper/Emma Stone rom com Aloha. You can read my detailed prediction posts on each of them here right here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2015/05/22/san-andreas-box-office-prediction/

https://toddmthatcher.com/2015/05/23/aloha-box-office-prediction/

As I see it, Andreas should easily dominate the weekend. The wild card is Aloha, but I have it grossing in the high teens for a fourth place debut. All holdovers will likely experience the typical hefty declines for the post Memorial Day weekend. Current champ Tomorrowland may have the most pronounced dip due to lackluster buzz (more on that below) and I’m predicting all currently released top five dwellers will fall over 50% from the four day holiday frame. It could be quite a tight race for the #2 spot.

And with that, my predictions for the weekend’s top five:

1. San Andreas

Predicted Gross: $43.4 million

2. Tomorrowland

Predicted Gross: $19.1 million (representing a drop of 55%)

3. Pitch Perfect 2

Predicted Gross: $18.5 million (representing a drop of 51%)

4. Aloha

Predicted Gross: $18.2 million

5. Mad Max: Fury Road

Predicted Gross: $15 million (representing a drop of 52%)

Box Office Results (May 22-25)

It was a disappointing Memorial Day weekend at the box office as Brad Bird’s polarizing Tomorrowland topped the charts with a ho-hum $42.7 million, just under my $44.6M projection. The Disney fantasy has received both mixed reaction from critics and audiences alike and its long term prospects don’t look great.

On the flip side, last week’s champ Pitch Perfect 2 continued its truly magnificent run with $38.3 million over the holiday weekend (above my $32.8M estimate), bringing its two weeks total to $125.7M, nearly double what the original made in its whole domestic run.

Mad Max: Fury Road also held up better in its second weekend with $31.3 million, ahead of my $25.5M prediction. The acclaimed reboot has amassed $94.7M.

Avengers: Age of Ultron took $28.2 million (in line with my $26.6M estimate) and the Marvel title’s four week total stands at $411.4M.

Finally, the horror remake Poltergeist had a fair start with $26.3 million, not quite matching my prediction of $29.3M. Look for it to drop quickly, as most horror titles tend to do.

And that’s all for now, folks! Until next time…

Box Office Predictions: May 22-25

The four day Memorial Day weekend at the box office promises to be a fascinating one as Disney’s Tomorrowland and horror reboot Poltergeist enter the marketplace in competition with holdover hits Pitch Perfect 2, Mad Max: Fury Road, and Avengers: Age of Ultron. It could easily create a situation where all top five films over the holiday frame post numbers north of $25 million. You can read my detailed prediction posts on Tomorrowland and Poltergeist here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2015/05/15/tomorrowland-box-office-prediction/

https://toddmthatcher.com/2015/05/16/poltergeist-box-office-prediction/

My predictions reflect a belief that Tomorrowland will manage to top the charts, though it could face competition from Pitch Perfect 2. That musical comedy sequel performed way above expectations this weekend (more on that below) and depending on its drop, could contend for the #1 position, especially if Tomorrowland doesn’t meet projections. That said, I do have Pitch losing over half its audience due to its front loaded amazing start.

My estimate for Poltergeist is a bit on the low end compared to others and I have it debuting third. As for other holdovers, Avengers: Age of Ultron and Mad Max: Fury Road could find themselves in a close race for the four spot, but I’ll give the slight edge to Marvel’s heroes.

And with that, my top five predictions for the four day, Friday to Monday holiday weekend:

1. Tomorrowland

Predicted Gross: $44.6 million

2. Pitch Perfect 2

Predicted Gross: $32.8 million (representing a drop of 52%)

3. Poltergeist

Predicted Gross: $29.3 million

4. Avengers: Age of Ultron

Predicted Gross: $26.6 million (representing a drop of 31%)

5. Mad Max: Fury Road

Predicted Gross: $25.5 million (representing a drop of 43%)

Box Office Results (May 15-17)

As mentioned above, Pitch Perfect 2 had a shockingly great opening with $69.2 million. This marks the largest opening ever for a musical and third biggest comedic debut in history. Even more impressively, it made more in its first three days than its 2012 predecessor made in its entire domestic run ($65M). Perfect soared above my $42M projection and you can rest assure a third edition will be forthcoming.

Mad Max: Fury Road had to settle for a second place start far behind Pitch, but its $45.4 million haul is nothing to be ashamed of. And neither, ladies and gentleman, was my prediction… $45.4M million! Gold star! This is a solid debut for a reboot of a franchise that had been dormant for thirty years and its international grosses have impressed as well.

Avengers: Age of Ultron dropped to third after two weeks on top with $38.8 million, just above my $36.8M prediction. The Marvel tale has amassed $372M so far. The Reese Witherspoon comedy flop Hot Pursuit was fourth with $5.7 million in its sophomore frame, below my $7.2M estimate. The critically drubbed flick’s gross is at just $23M. Furious 7 was fifth with $3.6 million and I incorrectly had it outside the top five (its overall is at $343M). I had holdover The Age of Adaline at fifth with $4.1 million, but it was seventh with $3.1M (current earnings: $37M).

And that’s all for now, folks! Enjoy your holiday weekend!

Poltergeist Box Office Prediction

This Friday, yet another remake/reboot of a classic horror entry comes to us as Poltergeist is released. 20th Century Fox is hopeful that the brand name will bring moviegoers in over the long Memorial Day weekend. It’s been 33 years since the Tobe Hooper directed and Steven Spielberg produced original and this reboot stars Sam Rockwell, Rosemarie Dewitt, and Jared Harris.

The high profile May release is a bit surprising and one wonders if this might have been better geared toward an October rollout. Truthfully, this seems to be flying a bit under the radar and is likely to settle for a second place debut at best behind Tomorrowland and maybe behind holdovers Pitch Perfect 2 and Mad Max: Fury Road. Certainly this could over perform, but that possibility is not reflected in my estimate.

Poltergeist opening weekend prediction: $22.5 million (Friday to Sunday prediction), $29.3 million (Friday to Monday prediction)

For my Tomorrowland prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2015/05/15/tomorrowland-box-office-prediction/

Summer 2015 Movies: The Predicted Century Club

The 2015 Summer Movie Season officially kicks off two weeks from today when Avengers: Age of Ultron blasts into theaters. It will compete for the largest domestic opening of all time (where it needs to beat its predecessor) and is highly likely to be the season’s highest earner. That got me to thinking – while Ultron is poised to gross $500 million or higher, it’s been the $100 million mark that studios still like to brag about. This prompted me to look at the past five summer flick seasons and how many pictures reached that milestone.

In 2010, it was 13 movies that reached the mark: Toy Story 3, Iron Man 2, Twilight Saga: Eclipse, Inception, Despicable Me, Shrek Forever After, The Karate Kid, Grown Ups, The Last Airbender, The Other Guys, Salt, Robin Hood, and The Expendables.

Things improved in 2011 with 18 films reaching the century club: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2, Transformers: Dark of the Moon, The Hangover Part II, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, Cars 2, Thor, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Captain America: First Avenger, The Help, Bridesmaids, Kung Fu Panda 2, X-Men: First Class, The Smurfs, Super 8, Horrible Bosses, Green Lantern, Bad Teacher, and Cowboys and Aliens.

The low mark was the following year in 2012 with just 12: The Avengers, The Dark Knight Rises, The Amazing Spider-Man, Brave, Ted, Madagascar 3, Men in Black 3, Ice Age: Continental Drift, Snow White and the Huntsman, Prometheus, Magic Mike, and The Bourne Legacy.

Yet the high mark came the following summer in 2013 with 19: Iron Man 3, Despicable Me 2, Man of Steel, Monsters University, Fast and Furious 6, Star Trek Into Darkness, World War Z, The Heat, We’re the Millers, The Great Gatsby, The Conjuring, Grown Ups 2, The Wolverine, Now You See Me, Lee Daniels’ The Butler, The Hangover Part III, Epic, Pacific Rim, and This is the End.

2014 dipped with 14: Guardians of the Galaxy, Transformers: Age of Extinction, Maleficent, X-Men: Days of Future Past, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, The Amazing Spider-Man 2, Godzilla, 22 Jump Street, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, How to Train Your Dragon 2, Neighbors, Lucy, The Fault in Our Stars, and Edge of Tomorrow. 

That averages out to 15 pictures earning $100M plus per summer over this decade.

So where do I have 2015 matching up? Not breaking records, but in good shape. My predictions for the year’s $100M earners is 16 and they are as follows (in order of release date): Avengers: Age of Ultron, Mad Max: Fury Road, Pitch Perfect 2, Tomorrowland, San Andreas, Spy, Jurassic World, Inside Out, Ted 2, Magic Mike XXL, Terminator: Genisys, Minions, Ant-Man, Trainwreck, Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation, and Fantastic Four. 

Of course, there’s always sleepers. And there’s others that I could have predicted but think will fall short: the Reese Witherspoon/Sofia Vergara comedy Hot Pursuit, horror remake Poltergeist, the film version of Entourage, the Adam Sandler video game inspired action comedy Pixels, the Vacation reboot, and the NWA biopic Straight Outta Compton are among them.

As predicted, summer 2015 should see its number of century club inductees on the slightly high end without reaching the heights of 2013. And as always, you’ll see box office predictions every Saturday from me on each and every one of ’em!