Oscar Watch: Spirit Untamed

In 2002, the horse drawn animated adventure Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron managed a Best Animated Feature nomination (ultimately losing to Spirited Away). Nearly two decades ago, the pic received mostly positive reviews with a 70% Rotten Tomatoes rating and decent box office. Since then, a Netflix series focused on the main character led to Spirit Untamed, which opens in theaters today. It features the voices of some familiar faces like Jake Gyllenhaal and Julianne Moore

So how are its odds to race to awards voters ballots? Not good. Untamed has mostly stalled with critics and its Tomato meter is a mere 44%. We already have solid contenders to make the final cut (Raya and the Last Dragon and The Mitchells vs. The Machines) and there’s plenty more on deck for the second half of the year including the soon to be released Luca from Pixar.

Bottom line: I can’t imagine Dreamworks Animation will mount a spirited campaign for this one. Gyllenhaal’s only equestrian related Oscar contender should remain Brokeback Mountain. My Oscar Watch posts will continue…

Spirit Untamed Box Office Prediction

All the way back in 2002, the animated horse adventure Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron debuted over Memorial Day weekend and performed fairly well. With Matt Damon voicing the title character, the pic galloped to a Best Animated Feature Oscar nod and a $73 million domestic gross. A Netflix spin-off series has aired since 2017 and Spirit Untamed is a joint venture between Universal and DreamWorks to bring the character back to the big screen. Elaine Bogan and Ennio Torresan Jr. co-direct with a voice cast that includes Isabela Merced, Jake Gyllenhaal, Marsai Martin, Mckenna Grace, Julianne Moore, Walton Goggins, and Eiza Gonzalez.

I will confess to not knowing how popular the streaming series is, but it seems to me that 19 years is a long break between theatrical releases. That could certainly be a nagging problem as to Spirit‘s potential. Additionally, some family audiences might still be checking out Cruella in its sophomore frame.

Untamed stands no shot at reaching what its predecessor accomplished. I’m even skeptical that it reaches $5 million out of the gate and will go a bit under that.

Spirit Untamed opening weekend prediction: $4.4 million

For my The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It prediction, click here:

The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It Box Office Prediction

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)

Tomb Raider Movie Review

Tomb Raider finds Alicia Vikander following in the career footsteps of Angelina Jolie – win yourself a Best Supporting Actress Oscar and headline a big-budget adaptation of a well-known video game. Lara Croft is back in a reboot that finds this London girl’s life as a bike courier interrupted by her tomb raidin’ father’s discoveries on a remote island.

Vikander’s Croft has been separated from father Richard (Dominic West) for seven years after he took off on a mission called Himiko and vanished. His task was to locate the resting place of a mythical queen on a remote island who can destroy the world. When Lara finds clues to the island’s whereabouts, she sails off with Hong Kong captain Lu Ren (Daniel Wu) to find it.

Once there, she finds ruthless archaeologist Mathias (Walton Goggins) also looking for the grave. He’s got a group of mercenaries commanding a slave labor force. This portion of the running time could be deemed “Get Back to Work!” on the Blu Ray, since that line of dialogue is shouted loudly and repeatedly. Lara also discovers a lot of Papa Croft’s motivations on the island when not preoccupied by grand action set pieces. Both Mathias and Richard are guilty of neglecting many a daddy/daughter dance due to their occupations.

One of these days, the protagonist in an adventure will be faced with an extremely long jump over an object that is disintegrating quickly. They will make said jump and clear the crumbling item by about ten feet and be shocked by their solid performance skills. In Tomb Raider and everything else, that hurdle is cleared by approximately one inch and then the fall and then the subsequent Herculean effort to pull oneself back up. The first feature where the hero manages to do it with room to spare will elicit deserved laughter from the audience, if set up correctly.

Moving on, Tomb Raider doesn’t reinvent the wheel but earns some points by embracing its video game heritage. There are segments where it truly feels like the action could be generated by a controller. And it’s a testament to the direction of Roar Uthaug, the sturdy work of Vikander, some gorgeous scenery and well-placed humor that Tomb Raider is as engaging as it is. It’s far from perfect, but it’s more impressive than your typical video game adaptation and that includes both of Jolie’s Croft works.

*** (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/

Tomb Raider Box Office Prediction

Warner Bros hopes to kick off a new franchise nearly two decades after the first one when Tomb Raider debuts next weekend. Based on the iconic video game, it finds Alicia Vikander in the role of Lara Croft that was first portrayed by Angelina Jolie. Directed by the awesomely named Roar Uthaug, the adventure costars Dominic West, Walton Goggins, Daniel Wu, Nick Frost, and Kristin Scott Thomas.

In the summer of 2001, original adaptation Lara Croft: Tomb Raider premiered to $47 million with an eventual $131 million overall gross. The 2003 sequel The Cradle of Life experienced a significant dip with a $21 million opening and $65 million total. That was a long time ago and it will be interesting to see if old and new fans of the many video games will turn out.

There is potential for a bigger than anticipated roll out. In fact, the nearly $50 million generated by the first Raider certainly exceeded projections. Yet I believe this is more likely to earn a touch higher than the sequel 15 years ago.

Tomb Raider opening weekend prediction: $26.4 million

For my Love, Simon prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2018/03/07/love-simon-box-office-prediction/

For my I Can Only Imagine prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2018/03/11/i-can-only-imagine-box-office-prediction/

Maze Runner: The Death Cure Box Office Prediction

Concluding a trilogy started in 2014, Maze Runner: The Death Cure races into theaters next Friday. Based on the James Dashner series of YA books, the sci-fi action pic stars Dylan O’Brien, Kaya Scodelario, Thomas Brodie-Sangster, Will Poulter, Nathalie Emmanuel, Giancarlo Esposito, Walton Goggins, Barry Pepper, and Patricia Clarkson. Wes Ball, who directed the first two installments, returns behind the camera. Reviews are so so thus far with a 40% Rotten Tomatoes score.

The reported $83 million production was originally scheduled for release in February 2017 until an injury suffered by star O’Brien on the set delayed production. The nearly two and a half-year lag time between sequels could be a hindrance to its potential.

In September 2014, the original Runner opened to $32 million with an eventual $102 million domestic haul. Sequel The Scorch Trials arrived one year later to diminishing returns – a $30 million debut and $81 million overall take. Enough of the fan base may stick around, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see Death take in about 25% less out of the gate than its predecessor in 2015.

Maze Runner: The Death Cure opening weekend prediction: $22.8 million

The Hateful Eight Movie Review

Quentin Tarantino’s “worst” picture is far better than most director’s best pictures and so it is with The Hateful Eight, his 8th effort (if you count the two Kill Bill’s as one). Incorporating aspects of Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction, and a little Django Unchained and Kill Bill for good measure, Eight finally gave me a Quentin experience that I wouldn’t award four stars. That doesn’t mean it isn’t well worth the time – far from it. It just means it can’t quite measure up to what he’s given us for the last two decades plus.

The Hateful Eight could be a stage play and it wouldn’t surprise if it is someday. The pic takes place almost exclusively in a stagecoach and in a lodge known as Minnie’s Haberdashery sometime shortly after the Civil War. The stagecoach holds John “The Hangman” Ruth (Kurt Russell), who is transporting his prisoner Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh) to her execution in nearby Red Rock, Wyoming. Along the way they pick up company: bounty hunter and possible war hero Major Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson) and former Confederate militia man Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins). Ruth is dubious of their separate appearances along the journey for two reasons: a nasty blizzard is approaching and there’s a $10,000 bounty on Daisy’s demented head. Nevertheless, they make it to the aforementioned Minnie’s where the owner is nowhere to be found. Instead, they find an old Confederate general (Bruce Dern), a Mexican (Demian Bichir) tasked with looking after the lodge, a mysterious cowboy (Michael Madsen) who claims he’s headed home for Christmas, and the man (Tim Roth) who just happens to the one that’s supposed to hang Daisy in a couple of days.

Inclement weather bounds these eight souls (and a couple more) together at Minnie’s and we soon learn that no one may be who they say they are. It sets up a nearly three hour mystery where the character’s motivations are constantly examined and reexamined. And in a true QT style, there are long monologues by the principles outlining their pasts and what they see going down in the future – with Jackson’s Warren often getting the juiciest and filthiest dialogue. Those of us (like me) who have truly loved the writer/director’s screenplays will relish so much here. We have an abundance of wicked humor mixed with menace. And those of us who cherish his stylized violence will find it in plentiful supply in spots. Heads explode as they should in this man’s oeuvre.

Tarantino knows better than most directors the importance of casting and he uses his company of regulars including Jackson, Roth, Madsen, and Russell (who gave one of the performances of his career in Quentin’s Death Proof) to fine effect. Yet it’s Goggins (who had a smaller role in Django Unchained) and Leigh who pretty much steal the proceedings. They are the characters among the eight whom you may find yourself thinking of the most when the lights come up.

As mentioned, the primarily claustrophobic proceedings are sometimes offset by glorious shots of the Western landscape courtesy of impeccable camerawork by Robert Richardson. There’s also a terrific Ennio Morricone score to boot (we also expect amazing music in QT’s pics and it’s here). The Hateful Eight is divided into chapters just as in Kill Bill and Inglourious Basterds. There’s time shifting like we’ve seen in many of his works. And for the first time, every once in a while it feels like a Tarantino “greatest hits” instead of a singular great movie. Most of the time, it just feels great for fans like me that put him on a higher pedestal than his contemporaries. There’s a reason for it. He deserves it. It may have taken 22 years for me to downgrade one of his pictures from four stars to something slightly less, but Quentin Tarantino and his dialogue are still a bloody treat.

***1/2 (out of four)

The Hateful Eight Box Office Prediction

Quentin Tarantino is back behind the camera with Western whodunit The Hateful Eight, which unspools in cinemas on New Year’s Eve following a limited release on Christmas Day. The titled Eight are Samuel L. Jackson, Kurt Russell, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Tim Roth, Bruce Dern, Walton Goggins, Demian Bichir, and Michael Madsen. The three hour epic hopes to replicate the massive success of Tarantino’s last two efforts, 2009’s Inglourious Basterds and 2012’s Django Unchained.

Both of those pics earned Best Picture nominations and made a killing at the box office. Basterds took in $38 million out of the gate, leading to an overall gross of $120 million. Django marked career highs, with a $63 million debut over a long Christmas week three years ago and an eventual take of $162 million.

The Hateful Eight does (for the most part) have critics on its side with a current rating of 87% on Rotten Tomatoes. Of course, Quentin has a built-in audience of movie lovers who will rush out to see anything he stamps his name on. The pic’s wide release was pushed up by one week to capitalize on its solid buzz (and maybe to avoid direct competition with The Revenant). The release date change does make me wonder if it’s capable of reaching the heights of his two predecessors, partly because people have plans on New Year’s Eve and are often, um, relaxing on New Year’s Day. Also, while reviews are strong, this is not receiving the level of awards buzz that his two predecessors did.

Even with those potential demerits, The Hateful Eight should score an opening in the $25-$30M range for what will likely be a sturdy #2 posting behind the third frame of Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

**Blogger’s note (12/28): with today’s announcement that the film will open on Wednesday (12/30) instead of Friday, my prediction has been altered to reflect that late breaking change.

The Hateful Eight opening weekend prediction: $27.2 million (Friday to Sunday), $36.1 million (Wednesday to Sunday)

Oscar Watch: The Hateful Eight

While its reviews are embargoed for another week and a half or so, Quentin Tarantino’s eagerly awaited The Hateful Eight has conducted industry and critics screenings over the past few days. The celebrated and controversial director’s ninth feature film has been a major question mark as to its Oscar chances ever since the project was announced. Quentin’s last two features, 2009’s Inglourious Basterds and 2012’s Django Unchained, were both nominated for Best Picture so it stood to reason that Eight could follow suit.

The verdict based on word of mouth that’s seeped out? Well, it’s still a bit of a question mark. The Hateful Eight, based on its buzz, seems to be on the bubble of receiving a nod in the big race. Some screenings have indicated a mixed reaction and when it comes to ultra violent awards worthy fare, voters may only recognize Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s The Revenant. Based on these factors, I find it unlikely that Mr. Tarantino will nab his third nomination for Director (after 1994’s Pulp Fiction and Basterds). Where he’s more likely to be honored is in Original Screenplay, for which he’s won twice.

Tarantino pics have a nice history of getting their actors nominated and this is likely to hold true for Jennifer Jason Leigh in Supporting Actress. She could a threat to win. As for the males – Samuel L. Jackson, Kurt Russell, Bruce Dern, and others may cancel themselves out.

The other category where a nomination seems probable is Cinematography, where Robert Richardson’s work shooting in 70 mm is assured to earn him attention.

As the weeks roll along, you can follow how The Hateful Eight tracks as, beginning this weekend, I’ll be doing weekly updates on my Oscar predictions. Stay tuned!