The Rental Movie Review

Well-known actors crafting nifty little suspense thrillers tinged with horror has become a thing lately (think John Krasinski’s A Quiet Place and Joel Edgerton’s The Gift). Dave Franco gets in on it with The Rental, which is swift in its running time and plentiful with twists that you see coming and some that are nicely rewarding. It also features a quartet of solid performers whose weekend getaway gives them far more than they bargained for.

Charlie (Dan Stevens) finds a swanky vacation house to nab for the weekend with help from his trusted assistant Mina (Sheila Vand). They’re celebrating something going right with their business and it’s good reason to let their hair down with Charlie’s wife Michelle (Alison Brie, the director’s real life spouse). Mina happens to be dating Charlie’s brother Josh (Jeremy Allen White) so he tags along with his puppy. Pets aren’t allowed at the establishment, but that turns out to be the least of their issues. For instance, there might be a psycho around and it’s not safe to be in the shower.

Upon arrival, the foursome confront the property’s caretaker Taylor (Toby Huss). The first problem is a racially tinged one. Mina, who’s of Middle Eastern descent, tried to rent the place and was promptly denied. Charlie had no such trouble. They decide to overlook that and the first night becomes an alcohol and designer drug filled party. This is where the aforementioned “twists” that follow are somewhat predictable in nature. However, the actors have a real chemistry with one another and you’ll want to see where it all leads.

Without venturing into spoiler territory, The Rental isn’t its eventual genre for about two thirds of its brisk 88 minutes. Credit is due to Franco and Joe Swanberg’s script for keeping the audience engaged in the dynamics of the four principals. Of them, it’s Vand who has the best role and she’s quite impressive.

When we arrive at the final third, the build up has been sturdy enough that we care about the fates of the characters as they navigate their way through dense fog and deeply personal conflicts. Franco has crafted a lean and effective directorial debut and its title is worth the price of one.

*** (out of four)

Oscar Watch: Boy Erased

Among the most anticipated titles from the Telluride Film Festival is Joel Edgerton’s Boy Erased, the second directorial effort from the actor following 2015’s well-regarded thriller The Gift. This one comes packed with Oscar pedigree. Based on a 2016 novel, Erased focuses on the issue of gay conversion therapy. The cast includes Lucas Hedges (recent nominee for Manchester by the Sea) and former winners Russell Crowe and Nicole Kidman. Edgerton also costars.

With its subject matter and impressive cast, it was to easy to look at this as a serious contender. However, buzz out of Colorado is a bit mixed. Some writers have noted their feeling that Boy isn’t as effective as The Miseducation of Cameron Post, which covered the same themes earlier this year. We are early in the reviews process, but first reactions indicate maybe this won’t be a major contender.

As for its cast, the lion’s share of attention was rumored to go to Kidman. Yet she may stand a better chance in the lead Actress category for Destroyer (expect that Oscar Watch post soon). Hedges, meanwhile, still has Ben Is Back on deck and Best Actor is already looking quite competitive.

Bottom line: instead of solidifying its standing as a likely nominee, word out of Telluride raises legitimate questions about its viability.

Boy Erased hits theaters November 2. My Oscar Watch posts will continue…

The Gift Movie Review

Many psychological thrillers have memorable moments, but are hampered by cliched third acts that are utterly predictable. Joel Edgerton’s The Gift is more the inverse. For a long portion of its deliberate running time, it feels like every other genre title that was much more popular over two decades ago (think The Hand That Rocks the Cradle, Single White Female, Unlawful Entry). They’ve been called the “Blank from Hell” movies. Fatal Attraction = Mistress from Hell. Roommate, Cop, Nanny from Hell.

The Gift is the Old Friend from Hell. Yet not really an old friend. Simon (Jason Bateman) and Robyn (Rebecca Hall) are a yuppie couple recently relocated to Los Angeles from Chicago. Upon shopping at a home furnishing store, they’re encountered by Gordo (Edgerton, directing himself in his feature debut). He describes himself as a high school acquaintance of Simon’s though Gordo is hardly recalled by him. Gordon’s soon dropping off housewarming presents with notes punctuated by smiley and frowny faces. Twenty years ago when this kind of film thrived, that particular character trait may have seemed odd. Now everyone does it. Don’t worry, though, because Gordo has plenty of other legitimate quirks. He’s socially awkward and seems fixated on Robyn. It gets to the point where Simon must confront him.

And that’s when the hallmarks of this genre are on full display. Missing dog. A pregnancy to complicate matters. Our heroine in the shower, possibly vulnerable. There are hints of a deeper history between Simon and Gordo the Weirdo as he calls him. Side note: Weirdo was Edgerton’s original title (he wrote it too) and it’s much better than The Gift.

When the connection between them is revealed, The Gift stops being a typical entry in the Blank from Hell canon and becomes something far more interesting. It’s just too bad it takes a while to get there. When it does move into genuinely unexpected territory, I found enough to savor to make this just worthy of a recommendation. The trio of lead performers elevate it as well. Edgerton is a perfectly acceptable Weirdo and Bateman continues to show he’s a pro in non-comedic roles, too. While much of The Gift keeps on giving familiar material, the final parts that intensify the character’s relationships and motivations are a welcome surprise.

*** (out of four)

Box Office Predictions: August 21-23

As we enter the doldrums of late August at the box office, we have three new entries populating the multiplexes: horror sequel Sinister 2, Jesse Eisenberg/Kristen Stewart action comedy American Ultra, and video game inspired Hitman: Agent 47. You can read my detailed prediction posts on each here:

I don’t expect any of them to outdo the second weekend of current champ Straight Outta Compton, which made a boatload of cash this weekend (more on that below). Sinister 2 seems to be the only one with a shot, as horror films do often over perform. I expect both Ultra and Hitman to premiere under double digits.

Compton should actually drop precipitously in its sophomore frame considering many moviegoers likely wanted to rush out and see it. For comparison sake, Eminem’s 8 Mile dipped 62% in its second weekend and Compton could drop close to that (which is nothing against it considering it made way more out of the gate than anybody figured it would).

As for other holdovers, I look for Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation to eek out a third place showing over Ultra and The Man from U.N.C.L.E. taking the five spot in weekend #2 after its disappointing opening.

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

  1. Straight Outta Compton

Predicted Gross: $24.6 million (representing a drop of 59%)

2. Sinister 2

Predicted Gross: $16.2 million

3. Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation

Predicted Gross: $10.4 million (representing a drop of 41%)

4. American Ultra

Predicted Gross: $9.8 million

5. The Man from U.N.C.L.E.

Predicted Gross: $7.1 million (representing a drop of 47%)

6. Hitman: Agent 47

Predicted Gross: $6 million

Box Office Results (August 14-16)

As mentioned, the NWA biopic Straight Outta Compton capitalized on its great reviews, music, and word of mouth and had a massive opening that exceeded all expectations. The film grossed an astonishing $60.2 million, blasting past my $39.3M estimate. With a reported budget of just $29 million, Compton represents another blockbuster for Universal Pictures in 2015.

Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation dropped to second in weekend #3 with $17.1 million, a bit above my $14.9M projection. The hit fifth entry in Tom Cruise’s franchise stands at $138M so far.

The news was not good for The Man from U.N.C.L.E., which stalled with just a $13.4 million opening, under my $18.6M prediction. Audience attention was clearly elsewhere over the weekend and this planned franchise will likely end here.

Speaking of possibly dead franchises, the news kept getting worse for last weekend’s bomb Fantastic Four. It dropped a dramatic 68% in weekend #2 with just $8.1 million, under my predicted $11.1M. The Fox property has taken in an embarrassing $42M in ten days.

Finally, the Jason Bateman/Joel Edgerton suspense pic The Gift took in $6.5 million in its second weekend, right in line with my $6.3M estimate. The critically applauded film has made a respectable $23M.

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

Box Office Predictions: August 14-16

Two high profile releases open up this weekend as the N.W.A. biopic Straight Outta Compton and Guy Ritchie spy thriller The Man from U.N.C.L.E. debut. You can peruse my detailed prediction posts on each right here:

As I see it, these two newbies should take the top two spots on the charts. I look for Compton to dominate with U.N.C.L.E. having a rather lackluster premiere in the runner-up position.

When it comes to holdovers, Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation should drop to third after two weekends in the #1 spot. I look for Fantastic Four to fall hard after its disastrous opening this past weekend (more on that below). The Gift should round out the top five in its sophomore frame.

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

  1. Straight Outta Compton

Predicted Gross: $39.3 million

2. The Man from U.N.C.L.E.

Predicted Gross: $18.6 million

3. Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation

Predicted Gross: $14.9 million (representing a drop of 47%)

4. Fantastic Four

Predicted Gross: $11.1 million (representing a drop of 56%)

5. The Gift

Predicted Gross: $6.3 million (representing a drop of 46%)

Box Office Results (August 7-9)

Let’s get what I got right out of the way. Though I didn’t have it at #1, Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation managed to stay on top with $28.5 million, on pace with my $28.1M prediction. In ten days, the Tom Cruise sequel has taken in $107 million.

Now… to the Fantastic Four. Wow. 20th Century Fox’s reboot hoped to start a new franchise but the critically drubbed comic book pic landed with a thud at $25.6 million, way below my $47.7M estimate. This is a truly horrible opening for its genre and its dismal C- Cinemascore average marks the worst ever for a superhero flick. Most of its publicity was negative, including creative differences with the studio and director Josh Trank. That coupled with possible superhero pic fatigue doomed this project and it’s hard to envision a Fantastic Four 2 coming out ever… or at least anytime in the near future until the studio assesses what went so very wrong.

Thriller The Gift debuted third with a reasonable $11.8 million. I incorrectly had it performing better with $16.8M, but this is still a sturdy opening for a low-budget flick with no big box office draws. Solid reviews likely helped.

Holdovers populated the four and five spots and I incorrectly had them both outside the top five. Vacation was fourth in weekend two with $8.9 million for a $37M total so far and Marvel’s Ant-Man was fifth with $7.9 million for a $147M haul.

Two other newcomers fell considerably below my projections. Meryl Streep’s Ricki and the Flash sputtered with just $6.6 million for a seventh place start (I predicted $11.4M). The stop motion animated pic Shaun the Sheep Movie fared worse with only $4 million for an 11th place showing (I said $8.2M).

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

Box Office Predictions: August 7-9

August brings in four new titles for moviegoers to consider this weekend: the big budget reboot of Fantastic Four, psychological thriller The Gift, Meryl Streep’s comedic drama Ricki and the Flash, and British stop motion animated pic Shaun the Sheep Movie. You can peruse my detailed prediction posts on each of them here:

I actually expect all four newbies to find themselves in the top five. Fantastic Four should have no trouble opening at #1, though I must say the anticipation for this seems less than your typical comic book movie.

After its strong debut, Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation should drop to second, losing about half its audience. My predictions have The Gift having a robust opening at third with Ricki and the Flash and Shaun the Sheep Movie rounding out the top five. Due to its less than anticipated roll out over the weekend, Vacation should fall out of the top five in only its second frame.

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

1. Fantastic Four

Predicted Gross: $47.7 million

2. Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation

Predicted Gross: $28.1 million (representing a drop of 49%)

3. The Gift

Predicted Gross: $16.8 million

4. Ricki and the Flash

Predicted Gross: $11.4 million

5. Shaun the Sheep Movie

Predicted Gross: $8.2 million

Box Office Results (July 31-August 2)

Tom Cruise’s fifth appearance as super agent Ethan Hunt in Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation posted positive results as the critically acclaimed sequel earned $55.5 million, a bit above my $52.3M. This finds the franchise in very good shape and a sixth flick has already been confirmed.

Meanwhile, the critically drubbed Vacation reboot got off to a shaky start with $14.6 million from Friday to Sunday and $21 million since its Wednesday premiere. This is below my respective estimates of $17.1M and $24.7M. With a middling B score from Cinemascore, I don’t see this holding up well as moviegoers mostly rejected a return to Wally World.

As for holdovers, Ant-Man dropped to third after two weeks on top with $12.8 million compared to my $11.4M projection. The Marvel pic has amassed $132 million so far. Minions took fourth with $12.3 million, in line with my $11.8M prediction and its total stands at $287 million. The Adam Sandler dud Pixels was fifth with $10.5 million in weekend two, right on target with my $10.3M estimate. Its weak cume is $45 million. Trainwreck was sixth with $9.6 million (I said $10.2M) and it’s made $79 million in three weeks. Southpaw dipped a bit further in its sophomore weekend than I foresaw with $7.6 million compared to my $9.5M projection for a $31 million total so far.

And that’ll do it for now! Until next time…

The Gift Box Office Prediction

Joel Edgerton directs, writes, and costars in the psychological thriller The Gift, out Friday and I think it stands a fair shot at becoming a summer sleeper hit. The pic, which also features Jason Bateman and Rebecca Hall, has featured some rather effective trailers and TV spots and it could succeed at bringing in a more adult crowd than your typical product you see in the August frame.

So far reviews have been quite strong and it stands at 100% on Rotten Tomatoes. None of the key players are box office draws and Bateman is much better known for comedic roles, but the robust marketing campaign could succeed in bringing in a larger audience than anticipated.

I’ll predict The Gift yields positive returns for its studio, STX Entertainment and manages a debut in the mid to high teens.

The Gift opening weekend prediction: $16.8 million

For my Fantastic Four prediction, click here:

For my Ricki and the Flash prediction, click here:

For my Shaun the Sheep Movie prediction, click here: