Dolemite Is My Name Movie Review

There are plentiful amounts of F bombs thrown out in Dolemite Is My Name. They are the kind that you associated with Eddie Murphy years ago. The F no longer stands for the family fare he starred in that bombed at the box office. Think Pluto Nash. Or Meet Dave. Or Imagine That. No, this belongs in a small sub genre of pictures where some of the players here have had involvement before. Dolemite tells the true story of a man breaking into the movie business with wide eyed spirit and contagious tenacity. The quality of the material produced is secondary.

Murphy is Rudy Ray Moore, who’s working at a record shop in L.A. when we begin. He has dreams of stardom, but the general consensus is that his time has passed. Rudy just won’t let that happen as he develops a comic persona that is one part rhyming (he ended up being a huge influence in the hip hop community), one part glorious 70s outfits of the era, and all parts raunchy as hell.

He achieves success in the underground comedy world where his records sell, but a screening of the Billy Wilder pic The Front Page gives him another idea. Rudy doesn’t see humorous material on the screen for the black audience and he’s going to be the one to give it to them. Obtaining financing (even at the height of the blaxploitation genre) is next to impossible so he’s creative in his methods.

Surrounding Rudy is a colorful (especially the clothes) and eclectic group of collaborators who aren’t entirely sure what they’ve gotten themselves into. They include actor D’Urville Martin (Wesley Snipes, having a ball). He never fails to remind others that he had a big part in Rosemary’s Baby and only joins the picture when he’s allowed to direct. Keegan-Michael Key is the screenwriter who thinks he’s making the kind of serious drama he writes for the stage. When kung fu and set shattering sex scenes take precedence, that notion is dispelled. Da’Vine Joy Randolph is a scene stealer as Lady Reed, Rudy’s stand-up partner plucked out of a Southern bar.

Screenwriters Larry Karaszewski and Scott Alexander have travelled this road before with Tim Burton’s Ed Wood. Murphy gave one of his finest performances 20 years ago in Bowfinger, where his costar Steve Martin was a director with unbridled and naive enthusiasm. The Disaster Artist with James Franco mined similar territory. So while Dolemite does feel familiar in its beats, it has its own brand of passion for its unlikely star.

We have the headliner to thank for it. This is Live From Netflix and is indeed Eddie Murphy’s show. The performer seems more inspired than he has in some time. It might help if you’re a Dolemite devotee (Murphy and many of the cast members are). Yet this is an entertaining watch either way as we watch a legend in his element.

***1/2 (out of four)

Joker Movie Review

When Batman ruled the summer three decades ago, Tim Burton’s take on the Caped Crusader was deemed too dark by some. That seems quaint now with the harder edged comic book adaptations that have come our way recently and it especially applies to Joker. This stand-alone origin pic from Todd Phillips wears its influences overtly with Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver being the most obvious. It’s a grim tale focused on mental health in which Joaquin Phoenix dominates every frame of celluloid he’s in and that’s pretty much every moment. Much of the time, we are simply waiting for his character to snap. The tension is palpable as his involuntary cackles providing the soundtrack. Heath Ledger might still be the best Joker, but this film has the most Joker. And Phoenix runs a somewhat close second.

It’s 1981 in a gamy Gotham City and Arthur Fleck is a clown for hire with hopes of becoming a stand-up. He gets a load of meds from the government that don’t seem to stem the tide of a slow boiling rage (with a makeup infused smile, of course). He dreams of killing it (in the humorous sense) on a national talk show hosted by Robert De Niro’s Murray Franklin. Arthur watches the show with his ailing mother (Frances Conroy), whose screws may also not be fully tightened. And there’s a fledgling romance with a single mom (Zazie Beetz) whose apartment inhabits the same floor of a dingy high rise.

Joker is centered on classism almost as much as Arthur’s derangements. Among our central character’s first criminal acts involves a trio of WASPy Wayne Enterprise employees. This is just as billionaire Thomas Wayne (Brett Cullen) is exploring a Mayoral run and the eventual Bat Dad might have some surprising connections to the eventual Bat nemesis. Some have accused Joker of romanticizing the man. I didn’t see it that way, but there’s certainly a sense of the have nots sticking it to the haves.

We have grown accustomed to high tech and CGI infused violence in this genre. Not here. The bloodshed is sudden, in your face, and occasionally shocking. Just like in Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master, Phoenix undergoes a metamorphosis by losing a ton of weight. Arthur looks as sick as his mind is. Like Ledger in The Dark Knight, it’s hard to take your eyes off him as he dances, laughs in a disturbing elevated pitch, and heads toward the breakdown. This is Joaquin Phoenix’s demented sandbox to play in and I dug the opportunity to witness this darkness without a dawn in its sights.

***1/2 (out of four)

The Addams Family Box Office Prediction

Blogger’s Note (10/10): My estimate has risen from $21.7 million to $26.9 million

Snapping into theaters over a half century after the TV series and over a quarter century after the two film versions of that show, an animated version of The Addams Family debuts next weekend. Originally based on the Charles Addams comics, this iteration of the macabre clan sounds like something Tim Burton should have his fingerprints all over. And indeed, he was once attached to direct it. However, it’s Conrad Vernon and Greg Tiernan (who last made the R rated Seth Rogen/Evan Goldberg toon Sausage Party) shepherding the project. Voices of the family include Oscar Isaac, Charlize Theron, Chloe Grace Moretz, Finn Wolfhard, Nick Kroll, Snoop Dogg, Martin Short, Catherine O’Hara and Bette Midler, in addition to Allison Janney and Elsie Fisher.

Attempting to reach a kiddie audience pre Halloween (and a week before Maleficent: Mistress of Evil is out), it could be a somewhat tough sell for youngsters unfamiliar with the source material. That applies to the small screen 1960s version and the 1990s big screen one. In fact, this may not hit the $24 million achieved by 1991’s first live action Addams out of the gate (1993 sequel Addams Family Values didn’t fare as well).

I do envision this managing a debut of over $20 million, but perhaps not by much. That would likely put it in third place behind Joker and Gemini Man.

The Addams Family opening weekend prediction: $26.9 million

For my Gemini Man prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2019/10/01/gemini-man-box-office-prediction/

For my Jexi prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2019/10/02/jexi-box-office-prediction/

Summer 1989: The Top 10 Hits and More

In what has become tradition on this little blog of mine, the summer season brings us a lot of nostalgia on the silver screen. In the present, that means a slew of sequels and remakes and reboots coming on a near weekly basis. For these purposes, it means taking a look back on the movie summers of 30, 20, and 10 years ago.

As has been written in previous years, I’m listing the top ten hits as well as other notable pics and some flops. One thing is for sure about 1989. It will forever be known as the summer of the Batman and that blockbuster influenced what has become the predominant genre of the 21st century.

A recap of 1999 and 2009 will follow soon, but we start with what audiences were watching three decades ago.

10. Uncle Buck

Domestic Gross: $66 million

John Candy had one of his most notable headlining roles in this John Hughes family friendly comedy that also introduced the world to Macaulay Culkin. No sequel followed, but a short-lived TV series did.

9. Turner & Hooch

Domestic Gross: $71 million

Shortly before Tom Hanks started collecting Oscars and doing primarily dramatic work, he was still known for comedy in the late 80s. This one teamed him with a dog in a buddy comedy that followed the similarly themed with K9 with Jim Belushi from three months earlier. This one made a bit more cash.

8. When Harry Met Sally

Domestic Gross: $92 million

Rob Reiner’s romantic comedy (scripted by Nora Ephron) is considered one of the genre’s landmarks. Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan headlined with a diner scene that has become quite iconic.

7. Dead Poets Society

Domestic Gross: $95 million

Robin Williams seized the day and an Oscar nomination for his portrayal of an unorthodox English teacher in Peter Weir’s film, which also nabbed a nod for Best Picture.

6. Parenthood

Domestic Gross: $100 million

Ron Howard’s dramedy sported an ensemble cast with Steve Martin and a crowd pleasing vibe. This is a rare pic that spawned two TV shows. The one from 1990 flopped while the 2010 version ran six seasons. Parenthood marks appearance #1 in the top ten for Rick Moranis.

5. Ghostbusters II

Domestic Gross: $112 million

The eagerly awaited sequel to the 1984 phenomenon was a disappointment critically and commercially when considering the original’s $229 million haul. That said, it gives us appearance #2 for Rick Moranis. A direct sequel will follow in 2020.

4. Honey, I Shrunk the Kids

Domestic Gross: $130 million

And we reach the trifecta for Rick Moranis as Disney had an unexpected smash hit here. It stood as the studio’s largest grossing live-action feature for five years. Two less successful sequels followed.

3. Lethal Weapon 2

Domestic Gross: $147 million

Of the four action comedy pairings of Mel Gibson and Danny Glover, part 2 stands as the franchise’s top earner. This one threw Joe Pesci into the mix with sequels that followed in 1992 and 1998.

2. Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade

Domestic Gross: $197 million

While Harrison Ford’s third appearance as his iconic character didn’t match the grosses of Raiders of the Lost Ark in 1981, it did earn more than 1984 predecessor Temple of Doom. Pairing Indy with his dad played by Sean Connery, the character wouldn’t make it to the screen again until Steven Spielberg and Ford teamed up again 19 years later.

1. Batman

Domestic Gross: $251 million

As mentioned, 1989 was dominated by Tim Burton’s take on the Caped Crusader. While the casting of Michael Keaton in the title role was controversial upon announcement, it turned out quite well (as did Jack Nicholson’s turn as The Joker and a funky Prince soundtrack). Three sequels and multiple reboots followed.

And now for some notable pictures outside of the top ten:

The Abyss

Domestic Gross: $54 million

James Cameron was riding a high after The Terminator and Aliens when he made this sci-fi aquatic adventure. Known just as much for its difficult production as its Oscar winning visuals, it had a mixed reaction that has grown more positive through the years.

Weekend at Bernie’s

Domestic Gross: $30 million

Turns out corpses are hilarious in this low budget comedy that turned into enough of a hit that a sequel followed four summers later.

Road House

Domestic Gross: $30 million

It may not have had critics on its side or been a huge success originally, but Patrick Swayze’s turn as a midwestern bouncer became a serious cult hit subsequently.

Do the Right Thing

Domestic Gross: $27 million

A cultural milestone, Do the Right Thing served as the major breakout for Spike Lee and was named by numerous critics as the greatest film of 1989.

sex, lies, and videotape

Domestic Gross: $24 million

Winning the Cannes Film Festival, Steven Soderbergh’s provocative debut helped usher in a wave of independent films that followed in the 90s.

It wasn’t all success stories in the summer of 1989 and here’s some that failed to meet expectations:

Star Trek V: The Final Frontier

Domestic Gross: $52 million

Captain Kirk himself directed this installment after Leonard Nimoy made its two well received predecessors. This one was met with ambivalence and stands at the second lowest earner of this particular Trek franchise.

The Karate Kid Part III

Domestic Gross: $38 million

In 1984, the original made $90 million and the 1986 sequel made $115 million. Three summers later, moviegoers had tired of Ralph Macchio and Pat Morita in their signature roles. Yet TV watchers are currently tuned to a series reboot with Macchio back as Daniel.

Licence to Kill

Domestic Gross: $34 million

Timothy Dalton’s second turn as 007 was a stateside flop and is the lowest grossing Bond flick when adjusted for inflation. Its star would never return in the role and the six year gap that followed when Pierce Brosnan reinvigorated the series with Goldeneye stands as the lengthiest gap in its near 60 years of existence.

Lock Up

Domestic Gross: $22 million

Sylvester Stallone had plenty of hits during the decade, but this one casting him as a tortured convict wasn’t one of them.

Casualties of War

Domestic Gross: $18 million

Brian de Palma was coming off a massive hit with The Untouchables, but this Vietnam War drama with Michael J. Fox and Sean Penn didn’t find an audience.

Pink Cadillac

Domestic Gross: $12 million

Three summers later, Clint Eastwood entered Oscar territory with Unforgiven. This action comedy with Bernadette Peters is one of his forgotten efforts and stalled with critics and crowds.

I hope you enjoyed this look back on the 1989 summer period and I’ll have 1999 up soon!

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…

Dumbo Box Office Prediction

Blogger’s Note (03/27): My Dumbo prediction has dropped from $65.6 million to $55.6 million.

With Tim Burton at the helm, Disney’s live-action rendering of Dumbo flies into theaters next weekend. The elephant tale (based on the Mouse Factory’s 1941 animated feature) is headlined by Colin Farrell, Michael Keaton, Danny DeVito, Eva Green, Alan Arkin, and plenty of CG effects.

This is the first live-action remake from the studio in two years, following up on the monstrous success that was Beauty and the Beast. That lapse in their sub genre won’t apply to 2019 as there’s three more on the way – Aladdin in May, The Lion King in July, and Maleficent: Mistress of Evil this October.

It’s also not Burton’s first foray remaking Disney classics. 2010’s Alice in Wonderland was a huge hit that grossed $116 million for its start. When it comes to Beauty, Aladdin, and Lion King, they have the advantage of being based on 90s efforts as opposed to a title released 50 years prior.

Expectations for Dumbo aren’t quite as lofty and they’re in the $60-$70 million premiere range. That sound about right and I’ll put it right in the middle of those numbers, similar to what Cinderella achieved in 2015.

Dumbo opening weekend prediction: $55.6 million

For my Hotel Mumbai prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2019/03/24/hotel-mumbai-box-office-prediction/

For my Unplanned prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2019/03/24/unplanned-box-office-prediction/

For my The Beach Bum prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2019/03/24/the-beach-bum-box-office-prediction/

The Disaster Artist Movie Review

The Disaster Artist begins with filmmakers J.J. Abrams and Kevin Smith and actors Adam Scott, Danny McBride, and Kristen Bell extolling the strange virtues of The Room. That terrible movie became one of the most unlikely cult hits of the 21st century. The rest of the picture details its strange maker Tommy Wiseau (James Franco) and the process to bring it to a midnight theater showing near you.

Just as The Room was Wiseau’s warped vision all his own, this is clearly a passion project for Franco. I suspect many of the other well-known actors who turn up in parts large and small are devotees of the unintentionally hilarious 2003 film that Franco is recounting. Like Tim Burton’s Ed Wood, this is a good movie about a bad director. Not as good, but it’s an entertaining watch that doesn’t probe too far into its subject’s real story. Truth be told, maybe we don’t really wanna know.

Tommy Wiseau wouldn’t want it any other way. We first meet him in San Francisco circa 1998 as he pours his heart into Marlon Brando’s monologue from A Streetcar Named Desire at an acting class. His rendering is quite awful, but it’s his devil-may-care attitude and blind commitment that gets the attention of Greg (Dave Franco). He’s a fellow student who’s more reserved. Tommy is too, but in a much different way. His age is a mystery and he’s not about to tell it. A European accent (where in that continent… who knows?) counters his contention that he hails from New Orleans. Most interestingly, Tommy seems to have a limitless supply of money and no one knows why.

His new pal Greg manages to ignore those puzzling personal aspects and they road trip it to L.A. to move in together and pursue their dreams. Although he seems to have some prospects, Greg can’t catch a break. Tommy’s overall bizarre vibe is an immediate red X to casting agents. The only solution is to finance his own feature.

And The Room is birthed throughout a long shooting process with a director who has no clue what he’s really doing. We see Wiseau torment his cast and crew because he read somewhere that’s how Alfred Hitchcock did it. Those who know The Room will revel in revisiting Wiseau (who casts himself as the romantic lead) and his humorously questionable line readings. There’s his screenplay that inexplicably brings up cancer subplots that go nowhere and sex scenes that would be deemed too horrible for 2am Cinemax play.

Franco, who also serves behind the camera, is obviously enamored with getting his portrayal of Tommy’s mannerisms and his journey to make this project as accurate as possible. Even if you’re not familiar with Wiseau’s cinematic opus, one YouTube viewing of an interview with him and you’ll know Franco nails it. The star/director, in addition to casting his brother, finds roles for Dave’s real life wife Alison Brie and his frequent costar Seth Rogen as a perpetually bemused script supervisor. Yet just as the real Tommy made his personal relationships and the shooting experience all about him, so is the case with The Disaster Artist.

That devotion from Franco is enough to make this a worthwhile experience. If you’re looking for any insight into what really made Tommy who he is, you won’t find it here. The ultimate irony is that Wiseau did end up succeeding in a town where that’s nearly an impossible feat. He didn’t know that the earnest drama he thought he was making would result in Rocky Horror Picture Show style late night screening madness. What kind of man could achieve this? We may never know, but it’s a fun question for Franco and others to ponder.

*** (out of four)