Oscar Watch: Dolemite Is My Name

Ahead of its October 25 Netflix release, Dolemite Is My Name introduced itself to critics this weekend at the Toronto Film Festival. Seen as a comeback role for Eddie Murphy, early reviews suggest it’s just that. Murphy plays Rudy Ray Moore, who was instrumental to ushering in the blaxploitation genre of the 1970s with his title character. Craig Brewer, best known for helming Hustle & Flow, directs with a supporting cast including Wesley Snipes, Keegan-Michael Key, Mike Epps, Craig Robinson, Da’Vine Joy Randolph, Snoop Dogg, and T.I.

In 2006, Eddie was seen as the front runner in Supporting Actor for Dreamgirls. He was upset by Alan Arkin’s work in Little Miss Sunshine. This has been eyed as his first chance at Academy attention since. The issue could be significant competition in a Best Actor derby that appears stacked already.

Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski wrote the original screenplay and they’ve specialized in highlighting colorful entertainment figures in Ed Wood, The People vs. Larry Flynt, and Man on the Moon. Once again, they could face trouble nabbing nods as that writing race is jam packed.

So while Dolemite should succeed in garnering the kind of praise its star hasn’t seen for some time, awards chatter might be elusive. There could be one noteworthy exception. Ruth Carter’s costume design has been noted in numerous write ups. Just last year, she became the first African-American to win that category for Black Panther. She could find herself in the mix again. My Oscar Watch posts will continue…

Ant-Man and the Wasp Movie Review

Size matters in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the decade old multi-billion franchise reached its most epic heights in Avengers: Infinity War. The only superhero who’s had their own stand-alone pic not to appear in that gargantuan production was Ant-Man, the character brought to life by Paul Rudd in the summer of 2015. Sequel AntMan and the Wasp follows a traditional Avengers tale like the original did. To say it feels smaller in scope is an understatement. Part one often failed to strike a satisfying mix and surprisingly struggled to make Rudd’s title character a memorable one. Whereas Robert Downey Jr.’s Iron Man and Chris Pratt’s Star-Lord were instantly iconic heroes, it didn’t work that way in AntMan. That’s despite its star’s well-known ability to mix comedy and drama and some nifty visuals that made the third act a treat.

Rarely do we find an MCU effort without parental issues involved and they’re here. Scott Lang/Ant-Man is nearing the end of a two-year house arrest bid based on the events from Captain America: Civil War. His former love interest Hope/heroine Wasp (Evangeline Lilly) and science wiz dad Hank (Michael Douglas) are hiding out as well while conducting experiments to find their mom and wife Janet (Michelle Pfeiffer). She’s been stuck for three decades in the quantum realm that Ant-Man briefly visited in the original. His experience there leads Hope and Hank to believe she’s alive and the search is on. The technology that leads to that mystical place is sought by a low life criminal (Walton Goggins) and his crew. The FBI is curious about it, including the main agent (Randall Park in amusing turn) tasked with monitoring Scott. And then there’s Ghost (Hannah John-Kamen), a molecular challenged young lady who has her own reasons to gain powers. She teams up with a former colleague of Hank’s played by Laurence Fishburne.

If you’re thinking that’s a lot of characters to follow, I haven’t even mentioned Scott’s returning daughter (Abby Ryder Fortson), ex-wife (Judy Greer), and current husband (Bobby Cannavale). There’s also his business partners and occasional fellow crime fighters including Michael Pena and T.I. So while there’s plenty of action to follow, the MCU knows how to make it easy to follow. Compared to Infinity War, the amount of subplots seems practically minuscule.

Wasp finds Rudd settling more comfortably in the role and more humorously. That’s an aspect that was oddly not around much in 2015. Finding Scott with Pfeiffer’s character in his head in one scene provides some genuine laughs. Like in the original, Mr. Douglas appears to be having a ball. He gets his own chance to save the day at one point while his counterparts are engaged in a visually impressive car chase in the streets of San Francisco. Lilly doesn’t just share title credit here. She does have more to do.

AntMan and the Wasp is an improvement over the first. That’s a trait shared by other MCU sequels, especially in the Captain America and Thor series. Peyton Reed returns as director and the whole production feels more confident. It also doesn’t have the burden of being an origin story… something we go through a lot with this constantly growing genre. Like many of its subjects, the importance of what happens in these two hours feels small compared to the grand scale of other stories in this universe. More so than in 2015, however, Ant-Man’s existence in it feels welcome.

*** (out of four)

Ant-Man and the Wasp Box Office Prediction

The 20th entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe crawls into theaters next weekend with AntMan and the Wasp. The sequel to the 2015 original, Paul Rudd is back in the title role along with Evangeline Lilly  as his partner in heroics (aka Wasp). Peyton Reed returns is back directing along with returning cast members Michael Pena, T.I., Bobby Cannavale, Judy Greer, and Michael Douglas. New faces joining the MCU include Walton Goggins, Michelle Pfeiffer, and Laurence Fishburne.

This has been a banner year for Disney’s multi-billion franchise as Black Panther just hit $700 million domestically and Avengers: Infinity War not far behind. While AntMan was certainly a hit, its numbers three years ago weren’t quite on pace with numerous other MCU titles. It opened to $57 million (18th of the 19 series pics) with an eventual stateside gross of $180 million (17 out of 19).

That said, the MCU is on a roll and early word-of-mouth for this follow-up is encouraging. In the past decade, we’ve seen three examples of a direct MCU sequel making $20-$30 million more than the first during opening weekend. They are:

Iron Man 2 ($128 million), Iron Man ($98 million)

Thor: The Dark World ($85 million), Thor ($65 million)

Captain America: The Winter Soldier ($95 million), Captain America: The First Avenger ($65 million)

I feel there is a very strong chance AntMan and the Wasp will do the same and possibly hit that mark of close to $30 million higher than part 1. That would put it at #14 out of the 20 MCU movies between Guardians of the Galaxy and Thor: The Dark World.

AntMan and the Wasp opening weekend prediction: $86.4 million

For my The First Purge prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2018/06/27/the-first-purge-box-office-prediction/

Sleepless Box Office Prediction

Based on a 2011 French feature, Sleepless will attempt to bring audiences in when it debuts next weekend. The action thriller stars Jamie Foxx as a crooked cop embroiled in a kidnapping case. Michelle Monaghan (pulling double duty over MLK weekend with Patriots Day as well), T.I., Dermot Mulroney, David Harbour, and Gabrielle Union costar.

The Open Roads Films product could face a tough road attracting attention. For starters, competition is fierce with the aforementioned Patriots and Ben Affleck’s Live by Night looking to lure similar viewers. If it weren’t for that level of competition, my estimate here would probably be higher. There’s little doubt Sleepless will come in third among them.

Just how far in third is the real question. I don’t believe trailers and TV spots have done much to indicate this is anything more than a wait for On Demand experience. Foxx has his fans, but I suspect that will not be enough for anything other than a low double digits roll out.

Sleepless opening weekend prediction: $10.3 million

For my Patriots Day prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2017/01/04/patriots-day-box-office-prediction/

For my Live by Night prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2017/01/04/live-by-night-box-office-prediction/

For my Silence prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2017/01/05/silence-box-office-prediction/

For my Monster Trucks prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2017/01/05/monster-trucks-box-office-prediction/

For my The Bye Bye Man prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2017/01/05/the-bye-bye-man-box-office-prediction/

Ant-Man Movie Review

Since 2008, the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) has continually exceeded expectations with the product they’ve put out. This was true no more so than in 2008 with the first entry Iron Man, which turned a superhero considered on the B list to A level material. The casting of one Robert Downey Jr. certainly helped. It held true in 2014 when Guardians of the Galaxy, considered the studio’s biggest risk to date, was a comedically charged thrill ride that turned Chris Pratt into a superstar.

We arrive at Ant-Man, directed by Peyton Reed, with some of the same skepticism that surrounded those pictures. This time expectations are not necessarily exceeded. They are merely mostly met and the choice to cast the supremely talented Paul Rudd in the title role doesn’t pay off as much as hoped for.

Rudd is Scott Lang, an expert burglar and safecracker who just got out of prison for some Robin Hood like corporate thefts. His felon status can’t get him a steady job and this estranges him from his beloved little daughter. He reluctantly accepts a theft job “one last time” but all it yields is a strange looking outfit that he believes to be motorcycle gear. It turns out the suit belongs to former S.H.I.E.L.D. scientist Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), who purposely had him lift it. Scott learns the suit is that of the Ant-Man and it has the ability to shrink him to a tiny size. This breakthrough technology was discovered by Pym, who has kept it secret for many years because of the potential danger it could wreak. Pym’s daughter Hope (Evangeline Lilly) works at Pym’s old company along with his former colleague Cross (Corey Stoll). It’s Cross who wishes to use the scientific breakthrough for nefarious warfare purposes and Pym enlists Scott (someone expendable with nothing to lose) to make sure he can’t.

This entails the Ant-Man to learn how to be the Ant-Man and that means getting to work with the actual insects who become his team. It means a number of super cool visual effects as he shrinks to minuscule size. A bathtub being drawn is The Perfect Storm to our hero. And as we also see in the MCU now, they are references to what’s occurred in other films and we get some Avengers exposure, however limited.

As with Iron Man and Thor and Captain America and the Guardians of Marvel’s past, this is the obligatory and needed origin story. The doubts that were expressed upon the film’s announcement centered on whether Ant-Man was a strong enough character to base a movie and hoped for franchise on. I can say the jury, for me, is still deliberating.

Ant-Man is not a straight out comedy yet dabbles into that genre in the same manner Guardians did. The latter did it better. Rudd is a gifted comedic and dramatic performer as we’ve seen time and again yet he never quite makes the instantly gratifying impression that Downey’s Tony Stark or Pratt’s Star Lord did. Douglas seems to be the one actually having the most fun. Lilly isn’t given a whole lot to work with other than her daddy/daughter issues with Pym. Stoll is a serviceable villain at best. Scott’s team of thieving buddies that include Michael Pena and T.I. are given a couple humorous bits.

The whole affair seems to pick up steam in the third act, especially with a delightfully amusing climactic train sequence. Ant-Man is not on the grand scale of what we typically expect from the MCU and that’s ok. Often, however, it can mean its thrills feel minimized. One also wonders how interesting this material may have been had its original director, the highly creative Edgar Wright, not dropped out due to reported creative differences. Having said that, here’s to hoping this sometimes workmanlike production will improve with its sequel like the Captain America and Thor franchises did.

**1/2 (out of four)

Get Hard Movie Review

Get Hard is a limp premise that wastes the pairing of two talented stars of the genre in a sea of dated jokes. In this film’s world, gay and racial humor is displayed in full force and the writers seem to believe it’s edgy just because it exists on the page and its high profile performers are saying the lines. It doesn’t connect and the result is a pic that will soon be easily forgotten on both Will Ferrell and Kevin Hart’s resumes.

James King (Ferrell) is a hedge fund manager who’s engaged to his boss’s (Craig T. Nelson) materialistic and cliched money grubbing daughter (Alison Brie). Darnell (Hart) runs the car wash business that services King’s building. When King is wrongfully convicted of embezzlement, he enlists Darnell to help him cope with his upcoming ten year stint at San Quentin. You see, King assumes Darnell has done hard time because… well, he’s black and he believes statistically there’s a likelihood of it. When Darnell is promised $30,000 to assist with King’s request, he is perfectly OK with misleading him.

This sets up elaborate scenes in which Darnell simulates prison riots and instructs King on how to stand up for himself. Mostly it involves advice on how not to get raped in the joint. Lots and lots of jokes about it, which are all stale. The filmmakers even go as far as putting King in a situation where he must learn to, um, service a man should he have to. It’s more uncomfortable than funny. Like the entire idea of this venture.

Get Hard is not anywhere close to as dangerous as it wants to be. It must waste some of its running time investigating who really is behind the crimes King is charged with and that part is dull. The rest of the way is gay joke, racial joke, gay joke, racial joke. Mixed in occasionally is tired commentary on how corporate America contains the real bad guys, a thread also common in much more rewarding Ferrell fare like The Other Guys and The Campaign. Even what purports to be the pic’s comedic highlights, like Ferrell accidentally getting injured by a weapon, only reminded me of when he did it better like in Old School. And let’s face it – how many times have we already seen Will use his naked body as a punchline? It’s here too! The main side effect of taking the journey to Get Hard in this case is absence of laughter.

*1/2 (out of four)

Get Hard Box Office Prediction

The comedic stylists of Will Ferrell and Kevin Hart converge in Get Hard, the R rated entry that opens Friday. The two stars have been hitting the publicity circuit hard over the past few weeks. Both Ferrell and Hart have their legions of fans and their pairing should result in a solid debut. The premise sells itself with Hart teaching white collar Ferrell how to survive an upcoming prison stint. Alison Brie and rapper T.I. are among the supporting cast. Reviews have not been kind as it sits at only 22% on Rotten Tomatoes, but that shouldn’t hurt it too much.

I do not expect Get Hard to reach the current best $47 millon career best opening for Ferrell that was Talladega Nights or the $41 million that Hart reached last year for Ride Along. A premiere around $30 million seems the most likely scenario.

Get Hard opening weekend prediction: $30.3 million

For my Home prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2015/03/21/home-box-office-prediction/