Knives Out Movie Review

Whodunits aren’t an omnipresent genre on the silver screen these days and rare recent ones like Kenneth Branagh’s Murder on the Orient Express have had a bit of an unnecessary regurgitated vibe to it. Not so with Rian Johnson’s Knives Out, which displays  the writer/director’s enthusiasm for playing in this murderous sandbox to satisfactory effect. Like the 1974 version of Orient Express, we have a 007 involved. 45 years ago, it was Sean Connery and now it’s Daniel Craig. There’s a Marvel superhero (Chris Evans) playing decidedly against type. A captain of the American crime novel industry meets his demise in a stately manner that’s a triumph of production design. Craig and Evans are having a good time here, as is the rest of the cast. Some get better opportunities to shine than others. One of the standouts even has her crowd pleasing moments that involves regurgitation.

The Thrombey family is celebrating the 85th birthday of their patriarch Harlan (Christopher Plummer), a wealthy novelist who won’t allow his capers to be adapted into films or TV specials. This is a source of frustration for son Walt (Michael Shannon), who cares for his publishing empire. The family drama doesn’t stop there. Harlan is prepared to expose family secrets or cut off the gravy train for eldest daughter Linda (Jamie Lee Curtis) and her philandering husband (Don Johnson) and daughter-in-law and would-be life coaching guru Joni (Toni Collette). Evans is the black sheep grandson in a clan where that’s saying something. Everyone has a reason to get rid of Harlan. His most healthy relationship is with a non-family member – caretaker Marta (Ana de Armas). She’s from another country and it could be Brazil or Ecuador and one ending with “guay”. Don’t ask the Thrombeys as they express an admiration for her, but hilariously have no clue where she came from. This is all part of Johnson’s integration of the immigration debate into a screenplay that manages to occasionally weave current events into the foul play happenings.

That foul play means Harlan’s celebration is short-lived. Enter private detective Benoit Blanc as played by Craig and his work is a far cry from James Bond. Adopting a thick Southern drawl and a patient attitude to finding the killer, Blanc nevertheless seems a step ahead of the other policemen investigating. They want to believe Harlan might have committed suicide as the evidence suggests. Yet no whodunit script could make it that simple, could it?

Knives Out clues the audience in on some revelations before they enter Blanc’s consciousness from time to time. Johnson probably could have held some back for stronger pacing results. And some of the performers never quite have the running time to develop their roles. These turn out to be minor criticisms in the grand scheme. De Armas and Evans form the yin and yang of the case and are afforded the most clock time in the game along with Craig. The frequent twists and turns experienced are a hoot as we anticipate what Johnson will throw up on the screen next.

*** (out of four)

Knives Out Box Office Prediction

In his first feature since dividing audiences and critics with Star Wars: The Last Jedi, Rian Johnson has come up with a comedic whodunit in Knives Out. The pic debuted at the Toronto Film Festival back in September and critics have pointed it out as a winner. Its Rotten Tomatoes score is 97%. Daniel Craig leads a cast of familiar faces including Chris Evans, Ana de Armas, Jamie Lee Curtis, Michael Shannon, Don Johnson, Toni Collette, Lakeith Stanfield, Jaeden Martell, and Christopher Plummer.

Rolling out over the long Thanksgiving holiday (with previews scheduled for this Friday to build anticipated word of mouth as an audience pleaser), Knives hopes to generate a #2 debut behind the second weekend of Frozen II. It will likely compete with the sophomore frame of A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood and perhaps Ford v Ferrari for that distinction.

I believe this should serve as a solid option for adults over the Turkey Day period. A start in the mid to high teens for the traditional Friday to Sunday portion and mid 20s for the five-day looks probable. That doesn’t get it near the $28 million earned two years ago in November by Murder on the Orient Express. However, if moviegoers enjoy what they see, Knives should succeed in avoiding sharp declines in the weekends ahead.

Knives Out opening weekend prediction: $18.5 million (Friday to Sunday); $27.7 million (Wednesday to Sunday)

For my Queen & Slim prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2019/11/21/queen-slim-box-office-prediction/

Oscar Watch: Doctor Sleep

When it was released nearly 40 years ago in theaters, Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining was not considered the landmark horror classic that it is today. In fact, the film received zero Oscar nominations. It did score two Razzie nods. That ceremony celebrates the worst in moviemaking each year. Both Kubrick and Shelley Duvall as the terrified wife of Jack Nicholson’s Jack Torrance were singled out for their (apparently) subpar work.

That seems hard to fathom these days with its standing as one of the genre’s best. This weekend comes Doctor Sleep, the sequel to both Stephen King’s 1977 novel and Kubrick’s picture. Reviews are mostly solid, but not across the board and the Rotten Tomatoes score is at 78%.

Truth be told, Sleep was never expected to be an awards player and reaction so far hasn’t done anything to alter that. There is one potential, if unlikely, exception. Critical buzz has heaped praise on the supporting work of Rebecca Ferguson, who’s said to steal the show as a cult leader with psychic powers.

A performance being recognized in the horror space is quite rare. Just last year, there were numerous calls for Toni Collette to get Best Actress attention in Hereditary. It never happened. Ferguson absolutely needs critics groups to bestow her with wins in order to get anywhere on Academy voters radar. If that occurs, she may have a small shot. If so, she would be the sixth performer Oscar nominated from a King adaptation: Sissy Spacek and Piper Laurie in Carrie, Kathy Bates (who won for Misery), Morgan Freeman for The Shawshank Redemption, and Michael Clarke Duncan in The Green Mile.

Bottom line: Ferguson needs a whole lot of outside help to be a factor in the Supporting Actress derby and I wouldn’t count on it. My Oscar Watch posts will continue…

Midsommar Movie Review

Ari Aster has, as the Swedish might say, bollar. Look it up and I suspect you’ll agree. His sophomore effort Midsommar is another cult movie. I don’t mean that in the traditional sense of a picture outside the mainstream that has a devoted following, but that applies too. Aster makes stuff about actual cults and the rituals they participate in. He makes horror movies without the jump scares we’ve grown accustomed to. That applied to his debut Hereditary, which stuck with me more powerfully post credits than this did. Midsommar sometimes fails at the delicate line of laughing at it rather than being creeped out by it. I can’t help but be impressed at the filmmaker’s gusto for trying, however.

Just as in Hereditary, the storyline is focused on grief and a lead female character experiencing it. College student Dani (Florence Pugh) is dealing with a horrific tragedy involving her mentally unbalanced sister and a murder suicide that tears her world apart. Boyfriend Christian (Jack Reynor) seems ill equipped to console her. A mysterious trip to a remote commune in Sweden to decompress seems to be as viable a distraction as any. So off they go with Christian’s roommate Pelle (Vilhelm Blomgren), who grew up in the far off location. They’re joined by other flat mates Josh (William Jackson Harper), who is centering his thesis on the excursion and the constantly vaping Mark (Will Poulter), who seemingly just thinks he’s in for a fun summer getaway. Not even a little bit.

Bizarre sex, hallucinogenic drugs, and disturbing deaths involving rocks roll before our often unbelieving eyes over the next two and a half hours. That’s a lot of running time to spend with these demented country folk. Aster has no qualms about slowing things down and daring us to take it all in. The scenery is beautiful. This is a rare horror film that basks in the daylight. There’s no darkness to shroud the rather infrequent gore.

Midsommar is ultimately about Dani dealing with her stages of grief and stages of a relationship on the fritz. Pugh proves herself up to the task in displaying the range of emotions that the role requires. Reynor has to bare a lot as well, both literally and figuratively. No performance quite rises to the impeccable work of Toni Collette in Hereditary. There are sequences that do succeed in a severe sense of the heebie jeebies. Perhaps the most garishly impressive is early when we witness Dani’s family disbandment.

I suspect Midsommar will find its cult of admirers who declare it brilliant. Others will refuse to buy into what it’s selling. There are stretches where it’s a challenge to accept Dani and Christian wouldn’t have just headed for the hills when they realized what they were getting themselves involved in. I’m more middle of the road when considering its overall impact and that’s at least a couple notches below where Aster’s first cult flick grabbed my attention.

**1/2 (out of four)

Oscar Watch: Knives Out

Good old fashioned whodunnits are rare on the silver screen, but Rian Johnson has one on deck with Knives Out. It’s premiered in Toronto and early reaction indicates a major crowd favorite that has killer box office potential. The Looper and Star Wars: The Last Jedi maker has apparently fashioned a laugh out loud comedy that makes fine use of its all-star cast led by Daniel Craig. We also have Chris Evans, Ana de Armas, Jamie Lee Curtis, Toni Collette, Don Johnson, Michael Shannon, Lakeith Stanfield, and Christopher Plummer onboard.

So when it comes to this genre, will Knives follow in the path of Robert Altman’s Gosford Park (multiple nominations) or Kenneth Branagh’s 2017 version of Murder on the Orient Express (nada). The likelihood is that nods in the major categories could be elusive even if it strikes a chord with crowds. The best hope could be with Johnson’s original screenplay or supporting turns that have been singled out, like Evans and especially de Armas.

The better bet is a nomination for Production Design, which has been praised in every write up I’ve scanned. Bottom line: Knives Out has announced itself as a probable hit and there’s at least a chance that Academy voters could notice. My Oscar Watch posts will continue…

The 2019 Oscar Season Cometh

As the summer season winds down, the movie industry and this blog’s attention will soon turn to the Oscar race. And if you think it’s too early to do that, consider that less than a month from now – an avalanche of Academy hopefuls will be unveiled at film festivals. Toronto, Venice, Telluride, and the New York festivals are on deck. The programmers behind those events have already released the names of many of the pictures premiering. Here are some of the pictures wishing for Oscar glory that are hitting the circuit:

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

Tom Hanks is iconic children’s host Mr. Rogers in director Marielle Heller’s follow-up to last year’s Can You Ever Forgive Me?, which nabbed nods for Melissa McCarthy and Richard E. Grant. Premiering at Toronto.

Ad Astra

James Gray has made multiple critical darlings, but has yet to pop up on the awards circuit radar screen. Could this sci fi drama with Brad Pitt and Tommy Lee Jones change that? Premiering at Venice.

An Officer and a Spy

It will need serious acclaim to overcome the baggage that comes from its maker Roman Polanski, but this historical thriller will attempt to do so in Venice.

Dolemite Is My Name

Prior to its anticipated Netflix launch, Craig Brewer’s biopic of comedian Rudy Ray Moore portrayed by legendary comic Eddie Murphy will bow at Toronto.

Ema

Pablo Larrain has had his pics No and Jackie attract awards nods and this Chilean drama hopes to follow suit. Premiering at Venice.

Ford v Ferrari

Matt Damon and Christian Bale star in James Mangold’s 1960s set tale of the flashy automotive industry. Premiering at Toronto.

Harriet

Cynthia Erica was a breakout in last year’s Widows. This year she has an Academy baity role as abolitionist Harriet Tubman in this historical epic from Kasi Lemmons. Premiering at Toronto.

Jojo Rabbit

This concoction from Taika Waititi is set during WWII with a dark comedic premise finding a young child with an imaginary friend who happens to be Hitler. The filmmaker himself plays Hitler. Scarlett Johansson and Sam Rockwell are among the cast.

Joker

Heath Ledger won a posthumous gold statue as the comic book villain in The Dark Knight. Joaquin Phoenix will attempt the same here. Premiering at Venice.

Judy

It’s been awhile since Renee Zellweger had a role receiving awards buzz. This biopic of Judy Garland could alter that. Premiering at Toronto.

Just Mercy

This drama about a falsely accused prisoner features Michael B. Jordan, Jamie Foxx, and Brie Larson. Premiering at Toronto.

Knives Out

Rian Johnson’s murder mystery has a sprawling cast of hopefuls including Daniel Craig, Chris Evans, Jamie Lee Curtis, Toni Collette, and Michael Shannon. Premiering at Toronto.

Marriage Story

Noah Baumbach is a favorite of the critical community. This drama is headlined by Scarlett Johansson and Adam Driver and hits Venice and other fests before its Netflix premiere.

The Goldfinch

Brooklyn director John Crowley adapts this drama based on a well-known 2013 novel. The cast includes Nicole Kidman and Oakes Fegley. Premiering at Toronto.

The Irishman

Rightly kicking off the New York Festival, Martin Scorsese directs this gangster saga starring Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, and Joe Pesci.

The Laundromat

Oscar winner Steven Soderbergh directs this dramatic thriller with Meryl Streep, Gary Oldman, and Antonio Banderas. Premiering at Venice.

The Personal History of David Copperfield

Lion nominee Dev Patel is the Charles Dickens character with a supporting cast including Tilda Swinton and Hugh Laurie. Premiering at Toronto.

The Two Popes

Jonathan Pryce is Pope Francis and Anthony Hopkins is Pope Benedict in this Netflix effort from director Fernando Meirelles. Premiering at Toronto.

Followers of this blog know that I’ll do Oscar Watch posts on each of these and many others as they screen in the coming weeks. Stay tuned!

 

Summer 1999: The Top 10 Hits and More

My recap of the summer seasons from 30, 20, and 10 years ago continues with 1999. It was a banner year for film in general with many acclaimed features hitting theaters at the turn of the century.

If you missed my previous post recounting 1989, you can find it here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2019/07/10/summer-1989-the-top-10-hits-and-more/

As with other look backs, I’ll give the top 10 highest earners along with other notable pics and some flops. Interestingly, the list begins at #10 with probably the most high profile misfire:

10. Wild Wild West

Domestic Gross: $113 million

The July 4th holiday weekend had literally become reserved space for Will Smith. Independence Day in 1996 and Men in Black the following year both came out in that frame and ended up as their summer’s biggest blockbusters. This update of a 1960s TV series cast the Fresh Prince with Kevin Kline and reunited him with MIB director Barry Sonnenfeld. Critics and audiences weren’t impressed.

9. Notting Hill

Domestic Gross: $116 million

Julia Roberts and Hugh Grant were a rom com match in heaven with this well reviewed pic from the writer of Four Weddings and a Funeral. Our lead actress isn’t finished yet…

8. The Blair Witch Project

Domestic Gross: $140 million

Truly a phenomenon upon release, this handheld camera indie supernatural horror tale was made for a reported $60,000. Many audience members thought it was a real documentary and it scared up nearly $250 million worldwide and spawned two lesser regarded follow-ups.

7. Runaway Bride

Domestic Gross: $152 million

I told you we weren’t done with Julia Roberts. This rom com reunited her with her Pretty Woman director Garry Marshall and costar Richard Gere. It might not have captured the acclaim of that flick, but it made plenty of cash.

6. The Mummy

Domestic Gross: $155 million

Loosely updating the 1932 classic, The Mummy managed to turn Brendan Fraser into a temporary action star. Two sequels followed and a spin-off (The Scorpion King) that turned Dwayne Johnson into an action hero.

5. Big Daddy

Domestic Gross: $163 million

20 summers ago marked the height of Adam Sandler’s box office potency. Big Daddy remains his biggest live action grosser of all time.

4. Tarzan

Domestic Gross: $171 million

Disney was still knocking traditional animated hits out summer after summer. Tarzan managed to nab Phil Collins an Oscar for a song contribution.

3. Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me

Domestic Gross: $206 million

The original Powers came out two summers prior. While it performed decently in theaters, it became a massive hit with its home video release. Due to that, this sequel made more in its opening weekend than part 1 achieved in its entire theatrical run. A third edition arrived in 2002.

2. The Sixth Sense

Domestic Gross: $293 million

An unexpected smash, this is the movie that introduced the world to M. Night Shyamalan and the line “I see dead people”. Bruce Willis didn’t get an Oscar nod, but the picture itself did. So too did Shyamalan’s direction, screenplay, and the supporting performances of Haley Joel Osment and Toni Collette.

1. Star Wars: Episode 1The Phantom Menace

Domestic Gross: $431 million

Its reputation certainly hasn’t grown through the years, but George Lucas’s return to the cherished franchise after 16 years easily ruled the summer. We’re still haunted by Jar Jar two decades later.

And now more some other notable titles from the ‘99 season:

American Pie

Domestic Gross: $102 million

The raunchy teen comedy was a surprise smash that introduced us to a new group of young actors and spawned three theatrical sequels and four direct to DVD sequels.

The Haunting

Domestic Gross: $91 million

Jan de Bont followed up mega hits Speed and Twister with this critically unappreciated remake of The Haunting of Hill House. It didn’t reach the heights of those blockbusters, but came close to the century mark domestically.

Deep Blue Sea

Domestic Gross: $73 million

Renny Harlin’s tale involving sharks that could potentially cure Alzheimer’s (yes it’s absurd), Sea is best known for a killer death scene involving Samuel L. Jackson.

The Thomas Crown Affair

Domestic Gross: $69 million

Arriving smack dab in the middle of his Bond run, this remake of Steve McQueen’s heist film was a solid midsize performer.

Bowfinger

Domestic Gross: $66 million

The box office grosses were decent, but Bowfinger gave us a satisfying pairing of two comedic legends in Eddie Murphy and Steve Martin.

Eyes Wide Shut

Domestic Gross: $55 million

The swan song of Stanley Kubrick (who died shortly before release), this dreamlike sexual drama with then married Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman polarized audiences and critics.

South ParkBigger, Longer and Uncut

Domestic Gross: $52 million

The landmark Comedy Central show from Trey Parker and Matt Stone got the big screen treatment and translated well to the multiplex, even nabbing an Oscar nod for Best Original Song (“Blame Canada”).

The Iron Giant

Domestic Gross: $23 million

A commercial failure at the time, this animated pic marked the debut of Brad Bird who went onto helm Pixar classics. Its reputation has grown significantly in time.

Now… let’s recount some flops:

Mickey Blue Eyes

Domestic Gross: $33 million

Hugh Grant had a $100 million plus earner with Notting Hill, but this mob themed comedy was not a hit.

Mystery Men

Domestic Gross: $29 million

Ben Stiller had the previous summer’s largest comedy with There’s Something About Mary. This failed superhero spoof didn’t even make half its budget back stateside.

The Astronaut’s Wife

Domestic Gross: $10 million

This Johnny Depp sci fi thriller is not a title discussed often in his filmography or Charlize Theron’s. There’s a reason.

Dudley DoRight

Domestic Gross: $9 million

The Mummy provided Brendan Fraser with a franchise. This cartoon remake couldn’t hit double digits.

And that wraps my recap! Look for 2009 on the blog shortly…