Daily Streaming Guide: March 20th Edition

For today’s Daily Streaming Guide, let’s call this one the “in-between” movies. Three pictures that arrived at midpoints between career highlights for certain huge directors and stars. And all three are recommendable watches that stand on their own.

HBO Streaming

The sci-fi tale The Abyss hit theaters in 1989 from director James Cameron. Its release came in-between two acclaimed sequels from the filmmaker: 1986’s Aliens and 1991’s Terminator 2: Judgment Day. Cameron had two massive blockbusters in a row with the first Terminator and Aliens. This represented more of a gamble and the aquatic thriller divided critics and audiences. While it isn’t a classic like some of the director’s other efforts, The Abyss is well worth viewing (deservedly winning an Oscar for Best Visual Effects). Even South Park ended up parodying one of its memorable near death scenes in their landmark trilogy “Imaginationland”.

Netflix

1981’s Nighthawks is a gritty NYC crime thriller that arrived in-between the creation of Sylvester Stallone’s two iconic characters. It came five years after Rocky and its first sequel and one year prior to First Blood (aka Rambo). It also features Billy Dee Williams (in-between stints as Lando in The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi) with Rutger Hauer as the main baddie (a year prior to his more famed villainous turn in Blade Runner). As far as watching Stallone in non Rocky and Rambo material, this is on the higher end of material.

Amazon Prime

1974’s The Conversation was nominated for three Oscars, including Best Picture. Yet it’s also the movie in-between Francis Ford Coppola’s two masterpieces: The Godfather and its sequel. Gene Hackman is featured in one of his best roles as a surveillance expert caught up in a government conspiracy. In multiple ways, The Conversation is a film ahead of its time. In an era rich with great pictures, this is an often overlooked gem.

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

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…

Solo: A Star Wars Letdown

There aren’t a whole lot of films that could open to over $100 million at the box office and legitimately be considered a major disappointment. Those pictures generally belong in the Marvel Cinematic Universe or other massive franchises. For instance, if next month’s Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom only makes that figure, that would be bad news for Universal Pictures and the series long-term viability.

Of course, there is no franchise bigger than that of Star Wars. Spanning over four decades and now on its 10th feature, there had yet to be a true example of an entry coming in well below expectations. Until now. Solo: A Star Wars Story, just a week ago or so, was projected to set the Memorial Day weekend record by outpacing the $139 million earned in 2007 by another Disney property, Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End.

It didn’t. Like… at all. The current four-day estimate (final numbers tomorrow) puts Solo at $103 million. I had pegged it at $151 million. Oops. That actually puts it at just #7 as far as the holiday goes. That’s not only behind Pirates, but after Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, XMen: The Last Stand, Fast & Furious 6, XMen: Days of Future Past, and even The Hangover Part II. Ouch.

So the natural question… why? Predicting where the money earned by moviegoers at the box office is a tricky proposition… I try to estimate it every week. Sometimes I’m great at it and sometimes not (this would obviously be a case of the latter). Solo is the second stand-alone effort in the franchise behind 2016’s Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. While they’re not expected to make the coin that the official episodes take in, Rogue debuted to $155 million in three days just a year and a half ago.

This latest entry focuses on an iconic character that has more name recognition than all the people (with a notable exception or two) in Rogue One put together. Sure there’s backlash about an actor other than Harrison Ford playing him, but that wasn’t expected to spark a hugely worrisome backlash as far as box office numbers.

Could it be the reviews? That might be a bit of it. Solo stands at 70% on Rotten Tomatoes and that’s low for this franchise. Yet that rating isn’t terrible or anything. My own review used the word ambivalent for my overall reaction to it:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2018/05/27/solo-a-star-wars-story-movie-review/

And therein could lie the true key. Looking over the lengthy history of the series, Star Wars films have truly been Event Pictures. Ones that are breathlessly awaited and spawn endless speculation prior to their releases. The original trilogy saw three-year gaps between releases. It was then 16 years before the second and considerably less regarded trilogy arrived and they also saw three-year waits between servings. Those like me that remember the buildup to 1999’s The Phantom Menace (no matter how much it disappointed upon release) would argue it rivaled and probably exceeded that of The Force Awakens in 2015.

Since Disney took over the release reigns, we have been guaranteed a Star Wars pic a year. That tremendously dilutes the Event Picture status. Rogue One had the benefit of arriving a year after Force Awakens set every box office record. The Last Jedi didn’t match the grosses of Awakens… to the tune of $316 million less. That said, its $620 million haul is nothing to be too worried about.

Solo arriving only five months later and with so-so buzz left it as the least anticipated Star Wars experience to date. The barely nine figure gross out of the gate showed that audiences were a bit ambivalent about it.

Will that cause the Mouse Factory to rethink the release date pattern? It’s probably a good thing that Episode IX won’t be out until December 2019. The official episodes, by the way, will always have an anticipation factor that the stand-alone variety will not. And Disney might want to consider making those side projects feel a little more special or that ambivalence might continue to grow.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi Movie Review

Star Wars: The Last Jedi is an experience of seemingly big moments in the most famous and loved franchise in history. There are instances of enormous satisfaction here and smaller developments and touches that work.

Jedi is also a little deceiving. When the credits rolled, I slowly began to realize the seismic occurrences witnessed weren’t necessarily all that. There are major developments with some historic characters, but there’s also examples of stagnation with some principals and truly furthering the action along. There is no other series of pictures where the positive aspects are magnified to legendary status and the flaws are portrayed as crimes against humanity. If Jar Jar Binks were to be tried in a court of fanatics, his demise would come slowly and with pain.

In the cycle of endless chatter that accompanies each episode, the 8th appears primed to garner both emotions. To this writer, some of its shortcomings were more obvious than what we saw in episode VII, The Force Awakens.

The knock on Awakens was simple and I believe mostly misguided. When J.J. Abrams and Disney took over the reigns from George Lucas, complaints were registered that it was essentially a remake of the 1977 original. This is a fair point to a small degree but I walked away from Awakens highly energized and quite pleased with the new crop of characters mixed with the ones we’ve grown up with. I didn’t feel it was just an effective ripening of our collective member berries. It stood on its own.

When we last left our heroine Rey (Daisy Ridley), she was standing on a lush mountain top seeking the help of one Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill). An Awakens surprise was that Luke loomed in the story, but didn’t say a word and didn’t appear until the final frames. He’s present here and he’s plenty conflicted about whether he wants to help his Force bearing wannabe apprentice. While Daisy and Luke work all that out, Chewbacca gets to hang out with seriously adorable creatures called Porgs. They’ll make great Christmas toys.

Meanwhile, Finn (John Boyega) awakens from his slumber caused in the previous installment to befriend Rose (Kelly Marie Tran), a maintenance worker who becomes his right-hand girl. Poe (Oscar Isaac) is still the cocky fighter pilot who drives his superiors crazy. They include Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) and another high ranking official played by Laura Dern.

Of course, there’s also the First Order. Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), who made his mom a widow, is back. He’s still experiencing family conflict drama that would probably keep his ship’s psychiatrist busy if there was one. Kylo is still under the command of Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis) and he’s developed a telepathic type communication with Ren. It’s their dynamic that gives Jedi some of its most significant and powerful moments. Much credit is due to the superb work of Ridley and Driver, which was the case the first time around.

Not all character arcs work as well. It mostly does with Luke and Jedi features Hamill’s most convincing work as Luke. Isaac’s Poe is still a bit of a one trick pony, but the talented actor is granted more screen time to shine. Boyega’s Finn is sidelined with subpar subplots. He’s also saddled by teaming up with a thief played by Benicio del Toro. The Oscar winning actor plays his role so over the top that it’s a tad distracting. I’d say the same for Domhnall Gleeson as First Order General Hux. Finn and company have a whole segment on a new planet filled with degenerates and a lush casino. A triumph of production design, yes, but it also felt like filler.

The Last Jedi has a lot of humor in it, more so that I expected from its new director Rian Johnson. The reliance of it may disappoint some die hards, but I found most of it welcome. By its nature, some of the most dramatic moments succeed just because they’re present. Luke walking into the Falcon? Check. Luke and Leia reuniting after years apart? Check. So for those who complained about episode VII’s nostalgia peddling, it’s a bit unavoidable I say.

Bottom line: my Last Jedi reaction was a little more mixed than when I saw Awakens. It’s easily better than anything Lucas gave us in episodes I-III. For those hoping this would be the Empire of the new trilogy, you can transfer that hope to IX.

*** (out of four)

Oscar Watch – Star Wars: The Last Jedi

The most eagerly anticipated review embargo of 2017 ended early this afternoon as critical reaction is pouring in for Star Wars: The Last Jedi. Opening Friday, it’s pretty much a foregone conclusion that episode VIII of the vaunted franchise will generate the year’s biggest debut (and very possibly the second highest of all time after predecessor The Force Awakens).

So my attention now turns to its Oscar viability. At this moment, The Last Jedi stands at 93% on Rotten Tomatoes. That’s quite an impressive number (Force Awakens ended up at 93%) and it’s likely the Jedi number will fluctuate over the next couple of days. Still, many reviews have indicated it’s the strongest entry in the series since 1980’s The Empire Strikes Back – generally and rightfully considered the best of the lot. Other reviews, while positive, haven’t gone that far.

It’s worth noting that only the 1977 original managed a Best Picture nomination. Simply put, I don’t see that changing here nor do I see any of the actors getting recognition.

The Force Awakens ended up garnering five nods two years ago: Original Score, Editing, Sound Editing, Sound Mixing, and Visual Effects. It won zero. My estimate is that Jedi will not reach that number. Composer John Williams will face competition with himself and I see his work for Steven Spielberg’s The Post being nominated instead. Editing could be a stretch as some reviewers are already nitpicking its pacing. It could certainly nab nominations in both Sound categories and Visual Effects is a given. Like Force Awakens, I believe it won’t emerge victorious in any of the races it gets in for.

Bottom line: Star Wars: The Last Jedi, even with its general consensus that it improves over Awakens, is unlikely to be an Academy player in any significant manner other than technical stuff.

Oscar Watch – Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

As you may have heard, there’s this movie coming out on Friday called Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. It’s the first spin-off in the heralded franchise (taking place between Episodes III and IV) and the eighth entry overall in the series.

At noon sharp, the review embargo on Rogue lapsed and we’ve seen a flood of critical reactions come in this afternoon. The verdict? Pretty darn good so far. It stands at 82% at press time on Rotten Tomatoes with several reviewers calling it an action-packed ride geared more towards adult and mega-fans. Not all write-ups have been totally positive. The bottom line is this: Rogue One will not get a Best Picture nomination at this year’s Academy Awards nor will its director, Gareth Edwards.

However, that wasn’t really expected. The real question is whether or not it receives any nominations. If it didn’t, Rogue One would the first Star Wars entry not to do so. Let’s take a trip down franchise lane, shall we?

1977’s Star Wars received a whopping nine nominations and won six. The three it missed out on were all biggies and they were all to Woody Allen’s Annie Hall: Picture, Director, and Original Screenplay. 1980’s The Empire Strikes Back was nominated for three and was victorious in Sound Mixing. The rest of the sequels and prequels – 1983’s Return of the Jedi, 1999’s The Phantom Menace, 2002’s Attack of the Clones, 2005’s Revenge of the Sith, last year’s The Force Awakens – received a total of 14 nominations (all in technical and musical score races) and won zero.

My feeling is that Rogue One has little chance of breaking the no nomination streak. I’ve got it currently predicted for three categories: Sound Editing, Sound Mixing, and Visual Effects. It also stands a shot at Original Score. Yet like the five pics before it, I would estimate it also will not win in those races.

My Oscar Watch posts will continue…

Top 25 Highest Grossing Actresses of All Time (15-11)

Here we go with part 3 of the Top 25 Highest Grossing Actresses in box office history with numbers 15-11!

In case you missed parts one and two covering 25-16, here they are:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2016/06/09/top-25-highest-grossing-actresses-of-all-time-25-21/

https://toddmthatcher.com/2016/06/10/top-25-highest-grossing-actresses-of-all-time-20-16/

Let’s get to it:

15. Michelle Rodriguez

Career Earnings: $2 billion

Franchises: Fast and the Furious

Highest Grossing Picture: Avatar (2009) – $760 million

Number of $100M+ Earners: 6 (Avatar, The Fast and the Furious, Fast and Furious, Fast & Furious 6, Furious 7, S.W.A.T.)

Lowest Grosser: Battle in Seattle (2008) – $224,000

Overall Rank: 79

14. Angelina Jolie

Career Earnings: $2.1 billion

Franchises: Kung Fu Panda, Tomb Raider

Highest Grossing Picture: Maleficent (2014) – $241 million

Number of $100M+ Earners: 10 (Maleficent, Kung Fu Panda, Kung Fu Panda 2, Kung Fu Panda 3, Mr. and Mrs. Smith, Shark Tale, Wanted, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, Salt, Gone in 60 Seconds)

Lowest Grosser: Hell’s Kitchen (1999) – $11,000

Overall Rank: 68

13. Carrie Fisher

Career Earnings: $2.2 billion

Franchises: Star Wars

Highest Grossing Picture: Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015) – $936 million

Number of $100M+ Earners: 4 (Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi, Star Wars: The Force Awakens)

Lowest Grosser: The Time Guardian (1989) – $12,000

Overall Rank: 61

12. Sigourney Weaver

Career Earnings: $2.2 billion

Franchises: Alien, Ghostbusters

Highest Grossing Picture: Avatar (2009) – $760 million

Number of $100M+ Earners: 4 (Avatar, Ghostbusters, Ghostbusters II, The Village)

Lowest Grosser: The Guys (2003) – $21,000

Overall Rank: 60

11. Kathy Bates

Career Earnings: $2.3 billion

Franchises: None

Highest Grossing Picture: Titanic (1997) – $658 million

Number of $100M+ Earners: 4 (Titanic, The Blind Side, The Waterboy, Valentine’s Day)

Lowest Grosser: A Little Bit of Heaven (2010) – $15,000

Overall Rank: 58

I’ll get into the Top Ten tomorrow!