Daily Streaming Guide: March 21st Edition

My Daily Streaming Guide rolls along today with three new movies worthy of your binge watching consideration:

Amazon Prime

From 2007, David Fincher’s Zodiac finds the filmmaker in his dark and visually stylish wheelhouse. The man behind Seven and Fight Club meticulously details the case of the Zodiac Killer in the late 1960s and early 1970s with a top-notch cast including Jake Gyllenhaal, Mark Ruffalo, and Robert Downey Jr. (one year before his first appearance as Tony Stark in the MCU).

Netflix

Speaking of stylish, Nicholas Winding Refn’s Drive from 2011 has it in spades. It also defies genre placement. Ryan Gosling doesn’t have much dialogue, but this is one of his finest roles as a stunt performer who moonlights in underground criminal circles. A contemplative pic with violent outbursts, Drive is a stunner.

Hulu

On the cinematic front, J.J. Abrams is best known for revitalizing the Star Trek and Star Wars series. His stand-alone 2011 effort Super 8 has a Stranger Things vibe before that landmark show existed. With a heavy Spielberg influence, it would have been right at home being released in 1985. It’s a lot of fun and there’s a humdinger of a trash crash sequence.

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

A New Cinematic Universe

The world is different this week. We are all beginning to feel it and know it. The Coronavirus has impacted the economy, our day to day activity, and our way of life. That will continue for the foreseeable future. I have already written once before about COVID-19 and its impact on what this blog focuses on… the movies.

I know it may seem trivial. And, in many ways, it is. Yet this is a movie blog. It’s a blog mostly devoted to box office predictions and that’s certainly what gets the most views on here.

So some thoughts:

The box office, like numerous other sectors of our economic fabric, is going to suffer. When I last wrote about Coronavirus just days ago, the latest James Bond picture No Time to Die had been pushed from April to November. There were other release date changes, but that was the headline.

What we’ve seen in the past 24 hours has been an escalation and an extreme one. A Quiet Place Part II, Mulan, The New Mutants, and F9 have all moved to either indefinite status or to 2021. Other less tentpole titles have followed suit. Expect that to continue over the coming days.

Simply put – the American moviegoing experience is grinding to a halt. There are legitimate questions as to whether theaters will even stay open and with the announcements of the past week, it certainly would not be a massive shock at this juncture.

This blog may change until further notice. And we’re going through a period of time where we will need to get used to change. Again… maybe it sounds trivial and there are larger considerations to work through in our day to day operations…

Nevertheless, on this MOVIE blog… I’ll say this…

Let’s be kind to one another during this time. There will be stories of inspiration in the coming days through this darkness. We will see the humanity of our populace.

We are inspired by movies. Many of us may have some more time in the coming days and weeks to scour the vaults of streaming services and television. If your kids are home from school, maybe it’s time to inspire them with the Star Wars franchise or animated classics or The Goonies if they’ve never seen them. I know they inspired me.

If you’re a die-hard movie buff like I am, maybe it’s time to rewatch the pictures that inspired you. We could all use that lift right now.

Tom Hanks once said, “My job has always been to hold a mirror up to nature”. We’ve certainly seen him do that in many terrific performances. We wish him well. These are new challenges we face and we will prevail. Let’s be proud of the nature of our reflection in the mirror as we get through this.

Oscars 2019: The Case of Adam Driver

My Case of posts for the acting contenders at this year’s Oscar brings us to the third performer in Best Actor… Adam Driver in Marriage Story. Here’s his story:

The Case for Adam Driver

2019 capped off an amazing decade for Driver. In addition to his high-profile role in the HBO series Girls, his filmography over the past few years has been remarkable. To give you an idea, here’s some of the directors he worked with in the 2010s: Clint Eastwood, the Coen Brothers, Martin Scorsese, Spike Lee, Steven Soderbergh, Jim Jarmusch, Steven Spielberg, J.J. Abrams, Rian Johnson, Terry Gilliam, and Spike Lee. The latter filmmaker helped Driver get his first Oscar nod last year in Supporting Actor for BlacKkKlansman. 2019 saw his best year yet with his final portrayal as Kylo Ren in Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker and critical praise for the political drama The Report. Yet it’s his role as the divorcing husband to Scarlett Johansson in frequent collaborator Noah Baumbach’s Marriage Story that garnered his greatest reviews thus far.

The Case Against Adam Driver

He’s still young enough that there’s little overdue for a win sentiment happening. Marriage Story has fallen behind in numerous categories with the exception of Laura Dern in Supporting Actress. Joaquin Phoenix has swept the key precursors.

The Verdict

Driver will likely place second in the voting behind the rising of Phoenix over the past few weeks.

My Case of posts will continue with the third competitor in Best Actress… Saoirse Ronan in Little Women!

Oscars 2019: The Case of Jojo Rabbit

In my blog series laying out the cases for and against the Oscar nominees in major categories, we arrive at the third picture for consideration. That would be Taika Waititi’s Jojo Rabbit. If you missed the first two posts covering Ford v Ferrari and The Irishman, you can find them here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2020/01/14/oscars-2019-the-case-of-ford-v-ferrari/

https://toddmthatcher.com/2020/01/15/oscars-2019-the-case-of-the-irishman/

Let’s hop on it!

The Case for Jojo Rabbit

Viewers who like Jojo REALLY like it. With confusion regarding which handful of contenders like 1917, Parasite, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, Joker, or The Irishman might win, Jojo could nab enough first place votes to sneak in. The satire that blends wild comedy with pathos is certainly unique and it even has comedy legend Mel Brook singing its praises. Taika Waititi is one of the hottest directors of the moment as he followed up Thor: Ragnarok with this and is now attached to an Akira remake and future Star Wars projects.

The Case Against Jojo Rabbit

Despite Waititi’s popularity, he missed out on a Best Director nomination. He was nominated by the Directors Guild. It’s very rare for the Best Picture winner to not have its maker named in the directing final five. That said, it has happened twice this decade with Argo/Ben Affleck and Green Book/Peter Farrelly. There are box office heavy hitters aplenty in the final nine this year and Jojo isn’t one of them with $22 million currently stateside. The 80% Rotten Tomatoes rating is also on the low end of the scale.

The Verdict

There’s no doubt that Jojo winning would be a major upset, though I would say it’s got the best chance of the pictures where the director isn’t nominated. That still doesn’t change the fact that it would rank 6th of out 9. Still, it’s a wide open year…

Up next in my Case of posts… Joker!

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker Movie Review

We talk about the Star Wars franchise the same way we speak of politics or sports. With passion and fervent opinions and disagreements. Perhaps we are giving it too much credit, but it’s become an American cinematic pastime. No group of films has inspired as much thought and re-thought. So we arrive at the ninth episode, The Rise of Skywalker, with all that baggage and more. After all, this one is tasked with closing out the saga that began at a time far, far away in 1977. Returning to direct with that weight on his shoulders is J.J. Abrams, who kickstarted the series for new owner Disney four years ago with The Force Awakens.

He does so two years following The Last Jedi from Rian Johnson, which sharply divided fans and critics by going in unexpected directions. Even Luke Skywalker himself, Mark Hamill, didn’t jive with the choices Johnson made with his character shuddered on an island and not wishing to utilize his Jedi skills. That was one compliant from some diehard fans, among others. You could say they had their knives out for it, so to speak.

I found The Last Jedi to be flawed and disjointed, but also filled with great moments. There aren’t many of them here in Skywalker. As I ponder it, episodes VII-IX do follow a similar arc as the iconic I-III. The Force Awakens was tasked with introducing new and exciting characters from these galaxies. It also had to mix in Luke and Leia and Han Solo and Chewie. I felt, for the most part, that it did so successfully. That especially applies to Rey (Daisy Ridley) and Kylo Ren (Adam Driver). In fact, their little therapy sessions from The Last Jedi were highlights of the whole trilogy. The common critique of Awakens is that it was a rehash of the first Star Wars. While this is with some merit, it didn’t take away my immense enjoyment of it.

As mentioned, The Last Jedi was more of a mixed bag. Yet with Johnson’s sometimes confounding but often daring choices, it was also the boldest. This is where a comparison with 1980’s The Empire Strikes Back seems fair. Don’t get me wrong. It’s nowhere in its league, but it did take what happened in the predecessor and take it in unexpected directions.

And now The Last Skywalker. Like 1983’s Return of the Jedi, this trilogy finale has to wrap it all up. Allow me to throw in this disclaimer – I don’t hold Return of the Jedi anywhere near the regards of what came before it. While I feel there are terrific moments, there’s a lot that didn’t work me and not just the Ewoks. It often felt a little tired and unsure of what to do with itself for a chunk of the running time. That applies to Skywalker and there’s aren’t as many terrific moments.

The similarities don’t end on just a quality level. Ultimately, the main plot here finds Rey facing a choice of whether to stay a Jedi or follow her lineage to the dark side… just as Luke did in Jedi. By the way, those lineage inquiries are addressed. Another complaint in Rian Johnson’s script was how he handled that aspect. Rey’s supporting cast is around with Finn (John Boyega) and Poe (Oscar Isaac) marshaling support to take on Kylo. And as the trailer suggested, Emperor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid) is back in the mix, too. So is Billy Dee Williams as cocky fighter pilot Lando. His return isn’t exactly as pined for as what we got with Luke, Leia, and Han. As for Leia, Carrie Fisher does return utilizing unused footage from Awakens and Last Jedi. It’s handled delicately.

There are new players with Richard E. Grant joining Domhnall Gleeson as one of Kylo’s top lieutenants. Abrams throws some small parts to Keri Russell and Dominic Monaghan (who both starred in his TV shows). The short shrift is given to Rose (Kelly Marie Tran), who had more of a presence in Last Jedi, but is basically ignored. That’s not exactly a problem as this is the Rey and Kylo show. Once again, both Ridley and Driver’s performances are first rate. Truth be told, though, Johnson wrote their dynamic better the last time around.

For the major detractors of The Last Jedi, perhaps this episode will feel like a return to Star Wars normalcy. I’m happy to listen to an argument that Johnson’s effort pairs well with the return of Abrams, but it would take lots of convincing. Skywalker often reeks of a course correction. This is becoming more common with franchises. We just saw Terminator: Dark Fate ignore the three pictures ahead of it. The X-Men series had to get creative with their timeline and do away with it under specific circumstances.

Those franchises aren’t Star Wars. The meeting between Han Solo and his son Kylo in The Force Awakens was a memorable, emotional, and surprising one. Whatever Mark Hamill and others might think about his treatment in The Last Jedi, a brief reunion with his sister in it was marvelous. In Skywalker, Abrams goes for a lot of those moments. And it felt, well, forced. The visual splendor and incredible production design (and the rousing John Williams score) is intact. A few scenes with Rey and Kylo work. Ultimately, I suspect my feelings about The Rise of Skywalker will be somewhat similar to Return of the Jedi – as an inferior product to its two predecessors.

**1/2 (out of four)

Oscar Watch – Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker

One day before its galactic release, the review embargo for Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker has expired and the news is not so great. The ninth chapter of the ginormous franchise sits at 59% on Rotten Tomatoes. For all the talk about the mixed reaction to predecessor The Last Jedi in 2017, its RT score was 91%. Even last year’s mostly disregarded spin-off Solo: A Star Wars Story managed 70%.

So… what does that mean for Oscar attention? Well, any remote possibility of Skywalker playing in top line categories like Picture is gone. Yet possibilities for tech nods remain intact. When counting the eight official episodes and spin-offs Rogue One and Solo, the series as a whole has gathered 34 total nominations and won seven. Six of them went to the 1977 original with another for 1980’s sequel The Empire Strikes Back. That’s right… it’s been almost 40 years since a Star Wars pic has nabbed a competitive gold statue. And I don’t expect that streak to end here.

In this currently trilogy, 2015’s The Force Awakens received five nominations: Score for the legendary John Williams, Visual Effects, Editing, and both Sound categories. The Last Jedi got the same nods minus Editing. I anticipate Skywalker will probably be recognized for the same four as Jedi and win none. Interestingly, there’s a solid chance it loses three of them (Score and the Sounds) to 1917. As for Visual Effects, that could go to The Irishman or another epic Disney franchise finale Avengers: Endgame. 

My Oscar Watch posts will continue…

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker Box Office Prediction

Blogger’s Note (12/19): Hours before its opening, I am revising my estimate down from $206.4M to $191.4M

The ninth episode in the galaxy is not far, far away as Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker arrives in a theater near you next weekend. Capping the third trilogy of the landmark franchise, the film finds J.J. Abrams returning to the director’s chair after Rian Johnson (currently having his own box office hit with Knives Out) handled duties on previous entry The Last Jedi in 2017. The familiar faces introduced four years ago in The Force Awakens return with Daisy Ridley, Adam Driver, John Boyega, and Oscar Isaac headlining. Stars from the original trilogy are back including Carrie Fisher (via unreleased footage from previous efforts), Mark Hamill, Anthony Daniels, and two cast members making their respective first appearances since 1983’s Return of the Jedi and 2005’s Revenge of the Sith – Billy Dee Williams as Lando Calrissian and Ian McDiarmid as Palpatine. Other notable performers returning include Domhnall Gleeson, Lupita Nyong’o, and Kelly Marie Tran. Newcomers to the series are Naomi Ackie, Keri Russell, and Richard E. Grant.

Disney took over the reigns of George Lucas’s creation a few years back and the results have been billions more into the Mouse Factory’s considerable coffers. That said, the last two years have shown some chinks in the once impenetrable armor. The aforementioned Last Jedi divided audiences and critics and came in $300 million under Awakens. A few months later in May of 2018, prequel and spinoff Solo: A Star Wars Story was the first picture in the series that was a genuine disappointment and actually lost money.

In Star Wars world, “disappointing” numbers are relative. The Last Jedi took in $220 million for its start on this same weekend two years ago, ending its run at $620 million domestically (that’s still good for #9 all-time). Yet, as mentioned, that’s considerably below the $936 million that Awakens achieved. It continues to stand at #1 overall in terms of stateside dollars.

Estimates for Skywalker show a pretty wide range. Some are as low as $175 million. Only in this franchise and the Marvel Cinematic Universe would that number be called low. Despite the mixed Jedi reaction and Solo grosses, I have a hard time buying that this last entry of the trilogy could come in with $45 million less than its predecessor.

The more reasonable anticipation is that this manages to top $200 million. There is certainly more serious family competition than Last Jedi had with Jumanji: The Next Level being in its second frame (it was the inverse in 2017 with predecessor Welcome to the Jungle arriving the week after Jedi).

My projection here gives Skywalker the seventh biggest debut ever, in between MCU titles The Avengers and Black Panther. 

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker opening weekend prediction: $191.4 million

For my Cats prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2019/12/11/cats-box-office-prediction/

For my Bombshell prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2019/12/11/bombshell-box-office-prediction/

Oscar Watch: Dumbo

Disney’s live-action version of their 1941 classic Dumbo arrives in theaters on Friday and the review embargo was lifted today. Tim Burton’s take on the flying elephant is the first of four Mouse Factory updates on their animated tales hitting screens in 2019.

The advance word out is quite mixed with a Rotten Tomatoes score of just 51%. No one seriously expected this would contend for Best Picture, but previous Disney updates in recent years have fared well with Oscar voters with technical nods.

Burton’s own Alice in Wonderland in 2010 won Best Art Direction (now Production Design) and Costume Design and landed a nomination in Visual Effects. Costume Design nods were received by Maleficent in 2014 and by Cinderella the following year. In 2016, The Jungle Book emerged victorious in Visual Effects. Beauty and the Beast nabbed nods for Production and Costume Design.

That’s a solid track record. Where’s that leave Dumbo? Tough to say at this juncture. Even the negative skewing reviews have praised the visuals. Yet there will be a lot of competition and that includes the other three live-action updates arriving later: Aladdin, The Lion King, and Maleficent: Mistress of Evil. Even more potentially serious competitors include Avengers: Endgame and the next Star Wars.

Costume Design and Production Design remain more realistic possibilities. Bottom line: Dumbo could continue the recent tradition of this sub genre getting down the line category attention, but competition will be key. My Oscar Watch posts will continue…

Oscar Watch: Captain Marvel

The MCU appears poised to have another blockbuster on their hands this weekend with the release of Captain Marvel. Reviews were embargoed for a little longer than usual for the multi billion dollar franchise, but they’re out and critical reaction has been fairly solid. The Brie Larson led pic stands at 84% currently on Rotten Tomatoes. That’s just a percentage point behind last year’s Avengers: Infinity War – while nowhere near the 97% achieved by Black Panther.

It was, of course, Panther that became the first superhero flick to nab a Best Picture nomination from the Academy. That won’t happen here. The storyline as far as this MCU title’s awards chances is the same as most of them and that’s Visual Effects.

Nine MCU entries have nabbed nods in Visual Effects. Interestingly, none of them have won. Competition this year will be stiff. There’s another franchise effort (Avengers: Endgame) that likely has a better shot. That’s in addition to expected players such as the next Star Wars, The Lion King, and Alita: Battle Angel, to name just some.

Bottom line: Captain Marvel will bring audiences in. Awards chatter is more of a reach. My Oscar Watch posts will continue…

Oscar Watch – Alita: Battle Angel

James Cameron is no stranger to Oscar attention with Titanic winning Best Picture 21 years ago and Avatar picking up a slew of nominations in 2009. In two weeks, he serves as co-writer for Alita: Battle Angel along with Laeta Kologridis. It’s directed by Robert Rodriguez. The pic is based on a well-known series of cyberpunk graphic novels from Japan. Rosa Salazar voices the title character and provides motion capture work for her movements in this mix of live and CG action.

Reviews are out and they’re skewing negative, along with some positive here and there. The Rotten Tomatoes score is currently 44%. A lot of the critics are particularly picking apart the screenplay and that’s not an uncommon knock on Cameron’s writing.

Alita comes with a reported budget upwards of $200 million and it’s being seen as a potential costly flop stateside (foreign grosses could be a different story). While this clearly won’t contend for major categories in awards season, the state of the art visuals have been praised. And it’s worth noting that Cameron’s directorial efforts Aliens, The Abyss, Terminator 2: Judgment Day, Titanic, and Avatar all won Best Visual Effects at the Oscars.

That said, there’s plenty of eye-popping blockbuster feasts on the schedule in 2019 (Avengers: Endgame and the next Star Wars included). With the possibility of negative buzz enveloping it, this may not even be a slam dunk in that category. In that sense, it could be similar to 2017’s Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, which also had poor word-of-mouth and missed out in its most obvious slot for recognition. If this manages a nod, the two Sound races are possible as well.

My Oscar Watch posts will continue…