Space Jam Review

For reasons I cannot really explain, I never saw 1996’s Space Jam until yesterday. Followers of my blog know I’m a bit of a movie lover (hence the blog). Yet there’s plenty of films I haven’t watched. Gone with the Wind springs to mind. I still haven’t caught up with Demi Moore’s take on The Scarlet Letter and it came out a year before this one.

However, I was 17 when Michael Jordan’s collaboration with the Looney Tunes was released in theaters and it was a huge hit. I’m also a massive basketball fan and was an ardent admirer of #23 (who had just won his fourth NBA Championship in the months prior to Jam‘s release). Hell, I even had the soundtrack on CD. It featured Seal’s cover of “Fly Like an Eagle”. There was also “Hit ‘Em High” and it featured the divine hop hop quintet of B-Real, Coolio, Method Man, LL Cool J, and Busta Rhymes. The biggest hit causes some trepidation nowadays as the picture opens with the crooning of R. Kelly and “I Believe I Can Fly”.

It seems a bit silly to recount the plot all this time later, but here goes. Space Jam takes place in that strange time known as Michael Jordan’s first retirement. That’s when the superstar chose to play baseball and ended up in the Minor Leagues. That aforementioned first scene set to Kelly’s syrupy ballad is actually a touching one that features MJ as a young tyke on the court with his father. Followers of Jordan know why the sequence likely had some emotional resonance with him.

The comedy begins in another animated realm where Mr. Swackhammer (voiced by Danny DeVito) lords over his minions in a place titled Moron Mountain. That locale is part of an amusement park in need of more sizzling attractions. Swackhammer decides he wants to recruit the Looney Tunes characters (against their will) to join the party. When Bugs Bunny, Porky Pig, Sylvester, Tweety Bird, the Tasmanian Devil and others are given the proposition – they challenge the newly formed Monstars to a basketball game. If they win, they’re free to go and resume their normal cartoon hijinks.

Swackhammer won’t go down without some creative team building so he steals the bodies of NBA stalwarts like Charles Barkley, Muggy Bogues, and Patrick Ewing to join his squad. Bugs and company have an ace up their sleeve, however, with the greatest of all time.

The blend of animation and live-action still holds up quite well from the mid 90s. At the time, it was quite cutting edge. This Jam runs just 88 minutes and mostly flies by. Jordan isn’t asked to do Shakespeare here. He plays a version of himself and does it well. The screenplay even has some fun with his many corporate connections by name dropping his many commercial brands (from Hanes to McDonald’s) at one point. Wayne Knight (fresh off being decimated by Dinos in Jurassic Park) plays MJ’s pushy but good-hearted publicist. Jordan’s family (Theresa Randle is his wife) appear intermittently but aren’t really a focus. MJ has a game to win after all and he takes it personally.

Having the Looney Tunes posse allows for plenty of humorous moments. No, this isn’t them at the height of their glory, but they still deliver. Interestingly enough, I found myself wanting the script to delve more into certain subplots. Having been a viewer of Inside the NBA for many years, I have no doubt that Charles Barkley could have been utilized to better effect (the dude’s hilarious).

My overall reaction to Space Jam is that I totally get why it’s become so appreciated. Is it a classic? No. Does it take its limited premise and make it amusing? Yes. In 2021, Lebron James has become the face of his league and that’s warranted the just out sequel. I won’t wait 25 years to watch it and my review of A New Legacy is coming to the blog soon.

Not everything has changed in the last quarter century by the way. Bill Murray shows up out of nowhere at a couple of key times. You’re a Google search away from reading stories about the legendary actor doing that all over the world. Google may not have been a thing 25 years ago, but Mr. Murray popping up unexpectedly to make things better is timeless.

*** (out of four)

Oscar Watch – Space Jam: A New Legacy

Lebron James will not become the first NBA superstar to score a Best Actor nomination and no, his former teammates Shaquille O’Neal (Kazaam) and Kyrie Irving (Uncle Drew) didn’t do so. #23 headlines the long in development sequel Space Jam: A New Legacy this Friday and reviews only have the live-action/animated mix at 42% on Rotten Tomatoes.

There is, however, one category where Oscar attention is at least feasible and that is Visual Effects. Even some of the negative critical posts mention the solid special effects. The original Jam 25 years ago couldn’t manage to get in the VFX derby. Back then, there were only three nominees and 1996’s winner was Independence Day over Dragonheart and Twister.

Could the expansion to five give LeBron’s iteration a shot? Doubtful. Warner Bros. already has three stronger hopefuls with Godzilla vs. Kong, Dune, and the fourth Matrix and it’s questionable whether much of a campaign would be done here.

Bottom line: Legacy could make the shortlist of possibilities for inclusion at the end of 2021. I would be surprised if it makes the starting lineup. My Oscar Watch posts will continue…

Space Jam: A New Legacy Box Office Prediction

Lebron James will attempt to wear the box office crown when the long in development sequel Space Jam: A New Legacy dribbles its way into multiplexes on July 16th. Directed by Malcolm D. Lee, the live-action/animated sports flick pairs the 4-time NBA champ with Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Porky Pig, and plenty of other Warner Bros toons legends. James is, of course, following in the Nike sneakers of Michael Jordan who starred in the 1996 original. Current basketball stars who either appear or lend their voices include Kyrie Irving, Chris Paul, Draymond Green, Klay Thompson, Damian Lillard, and James’s Lakers teammate Anthony Davis. Don Cheadle, Sonequa Martin-Green, and Zendaya also join the party.

With a reported budget north of $150 million, Warner is hopeful that fans of the ’96 pic and a new generation of sports viewers will turn out. Legacy will also stream on HBO Max simultaneously so there is the risk that some families could just opt to watch at home.

Jordan’s foray into film a quarter century ago has developed staying power in subsequent years. There’s a nostalgia factor at work here. It doesn’t hurt that the sequel has been promoted endlessly over the past few weeks during the NBA playoffs. Jam will almost surely have to settle for #2 due to the sophomore frame of Black Widow. However, this should open right on pace with the number most associated with its leading man in the low to mid 20s range.

Space Jam: A New Legacy opening weekend prediction: $22.7 million

For my Escape Room: Tournament of Champions prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2021/07/07/escape-room-tournament-of-champions-box-office-predictions/

Is In the Heights Out of Oscar Contention?

Ten days ago, Jon M. Chu’s In the Heights went into its premiere weekend as the first bonafide Best Picture contender of 2021. Sporting a Rotten Tomatoes rating of 96%, the musical (adapted from a play co-created by Lin-Manuel Miranda) was projected to gross around $20 million in its opening frame. And then reality happened.

The pic was a major box office disappointment and earned just $11.5 million out of the gate (landing at #2 behind the third weekend of A Quiet Place Part II). Even then not all hope was lost. With solid word-of-mouth and awards buzz, perhaps Heights would hold well in subsequent weekends.

And then reality happened again. Heights appears to have dropped to sixth place in its sophomore outing with a drop of over 60%. What a difference a week and a half can make. There’s really no positive spin for its box office performance. It’s simply very underwhelming. Furthermore, the bulk of publicity received for Heights in recent days was either for its disappointing numbers or controversy emerging from its casting choices (something for which Miranda issued an apology for).

At this juncture, it’s a legitimate question whether Heights is still a viable contender at the Oscars. Much of that could depend on if Warner Bros makes a robust effort to campaign for it. I would say its inclusion in the big categories is now iffy at best. This applies to Best Picture, Adapted Screenplay, Anthony Ramos in Actor (which was probably always a long shot), and Olga Merediz in Supporting Actress. Down the line categories such as Sound and Original Song are more questionable as well.

The studio could shift its focus to fall contenders including Denis Villeneuve’s Dune, Sopranos prequel The Many Saints of Newark, and King Richard with Will Smith. Bottom line: Heights isn’t finished in the Oscar derby, but it is hard to say that it’s not wounded.

The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It Review

Remember those Brady Bunch episodes when they went to Hawaii and Bobby found the evil tiki that ruined part of their vacation? Similar happenings occur in The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It to the Warren bunch – our happily married demonologists Ed (Patrick Wilson) and Lorraine (Vera Farmiga). It involves a satanic totem that wreaks even more havoc than Greg wiping out while surfing or Alice throwing her back out during a hula lesson. The latest Conjuring franchise pic delves deeper into the occult than previous entries and it is again based loosely on a true story.

This centers on the 1981 case of Arne Johnson (Ruairi O’Connor), who was the first American to claim demonic possession as a defense during trial. As we learn in the pretty effective opening sequence, his curse was passed like a hot potato from 8-year-old David Glatzel (Julian Hilliard). That little boy is exorcised by the Warrens and church officials in a body twisting procedure, but his malady is transferred to his sister’s boyfriend. That results in Arne returning home from work and his dogs are barking. His feet are fine. Arne works in a boarding kennel and those pups know something is off with him. The rest of Connecticut figures it out shortly after when he brutally stabs his boss.

Ed and Lorraine are naturally sympathetic to Arne’s forthcoming legal proceedings and seek to discover the backstory of how this came to be. Lorraine’s clairvoyant abilities unveils a tale of witchcraft. Meanwhile, Ed is hampered by heart problems. In fact, he experiences more ticker palpitations than you might as a viewer.

In 2013, the original Conjuring emerged as one of the finest horror pics in recent years. None of the official sequels or spinoffs have come too close to matching it and that holds. Michael Chaves takes over directorial duties from James Wan. Like the first two, this is well-made and doesn’t suffer from the cheap knockoff vibe that, say, Annabelle had. To be fair, even the Annabelle follow-ups improved. The last time we saw the Warrens was in 2019’s Annabelle Comes Home and I would say it had more pure entertainment value than this.

That’s not to say Devil is bad. It’s just another so-so example of creaking sound effects and jump scares that intermittently possesses a genuine scare. This even gets a little gooey towards the conclusion with its love conquers all theme. You can’t blame the filmmakers. Ed and Lorraine, in real life apparently and certainly on screen, have been through a lot. It’s too bad they weren’t in Hawaii back in the seventies. Maybe Alice would have had a far more pleasant hula lesson.

**1/2 (out of four)

June 18-20 Box Office Predictions

F9 is likely to give us the biggest box office premiere since late 2019 and Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker… but that’s not coming until late next week. For this weekend, we could see another frame like this latest one where no picture reaches the teens. We have one newcomer and that’s action comedy sequel Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard with Ryan Reynolds, Samuel L. Jackson, and Salma Hayek reprising their roles from the 2017 original. You can peruse my detailed prediction post on it here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2021/06/08/hitmans-wifes-bodyguard-box-office-prediction/

Bodyguard opens on Wednesday and I’m projecting its five-day count gets it high teens. That likely means low double digits for the traditional Friday to Sunday frame. That should be enough for it to open at #1 due to the disappointing returns for In the Heights this past weekend (more on that below).

We could see a showdown for the runner-up slot between A Quiet Place Part II and Heights. Both should experience declines in 30s range (there’s certainly the chance that the latter doesn’t fall that far due to solid word-of-mouth). Peter Rabbit 2: The Runaway may stay in fourth position after its lackluster start and that would put The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It in fifth.

So as we await the return of Vin Diesel and his space bound vehicles, here’s how I have the top five shaking out:

1. The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard

Predicted Gross: $12.6 million (Friday to Sunday); $17.7 million (Wednesday to Sunday)

2. A Quiet Place Part II

Predicted Gross: $7.9 million

3. In the Heights

Predicted Gross: $7.7 million

4. Peter Rabbit 2: The Runaway

Predicted Gross: $6.6 million

5. The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It

Predicted Gross: $6.1 million

Box Office Results (June 11-13)

In a surprise development, A Quiet Place Part II returned to the top spot in its third frame with $12 million (ahead of my $9.4 million forecast). I had it pegged for third and the soft debuts of the newbies prevented that. The critically acclaimed horror sequel made some history along the way by becoming the first feature in the COVID era to reach $100 million. Its current total is $109 million.

Back to those disappointing newcomers as In the Heights came in on the very lowest end of expectations with $11.5 million… or not even half of my $26.8 million projection. Despite mostly glowing reviews and awards buzz, Heights simply didn’t come close to maximizing its potential. There’s plenty of theories as to why (including the fact that its streaming on HBO Max and the challenge of audiences going to theaters for non-sequels), but it’s tricky for Warner Bros to spin this. As mentioned, its best hope is for sturdy legs in the weekends ahead.

The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It dropped from 1st to 3rd with $10.3 million compared to my $8.7 million prediction. The 57% drop isn’t too shabby for its genre and it’s taken in $44 million during the first ten days of release.

Family audiences didn’t hop to the multiplexes for Peter Rabbit 2: The Runaway. It placed fourth with $10.1 million. I was far generous at $15.9 million. Considering the 2018 original took in $25 million out of the gate, this is another hard one for its studio to explain away.

Lastly, Cruella rounded out the top five with $6.7 million (I said $6.3 million) for an overall tally of $55 million.

And that does it for now folks! Until next time…

In the Heights Box Office Prediction

With a rousing 99% score on Rotten Tomatoes, the musical In the Heights reaches theaters and HBO Max on June 11 and expectations have risen. After being pushed back nearly a full year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Jon M. Chu directs a large cast including Anthony Ramos, Corey Hawkins, Leslie Grace, Melissa Barrera, Olga Merediz, Daphne Rubin-Vega, Gregory Diaz IV, and Jimmy Smith. It is based on the stage production created by Quiara Alegria Hudes and Lin-Manuel Miranda (who also appears).

Critics have taken to the adaptation with many claiming it is the feel good picture of the season. Miranda’s name associated with anything is a bonus. A female and Latino audience could turn out in large numbers. Heights is also 2021’s first release that could be a major Oscar contender in multiple categories, including Best Picture. The fact that HBO Max subscribers may opt for home viewing is always a factor, but the streaming arrangement with Warner Bros has already produced satisfying theatrical starts for other titles.

Three years ago, Chu had an unexpected summer smash with Crazy Rich Asians. It opened to $26.5 million and legged out tremendously to a $174 million domestic haul. I could easily see his follow-up earning about the same for its premiere weekend, but I’ll put it just a tad under.

In the Heights opening weekend prediction: $26.8 million

For my Peter Rabbit 2: The Runaway prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2021/06/05/peter-rabbit-2-the-runaway-box-office-prediction/

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

America’s favorite paranormal investigating peeps The Warrens (Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson) are back in theaters and on HBO Max next week in The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It. This is the second sequel to the 2013 horror hit and the eighth overall entry in the Conjuring Universe. Michael Chaves (who made the previous series effort The Curse of la Llorona) takes over directorial duties from James Wan, who produces and shares a story credit. Costars include Ruairi O’Connor, Sarah Catherine Hook, and Julian Hilliard.

Originally scheduled for a September 2020 premiere before its COVID delay, Devil will attempt to reach an opening weekend gross commensurate with its predecessors. That could be a helluva task. Both pics with Conjuring in the title made just over $40 million for their starts. The first two Annabelle spin-offs took in over $30 million out of the gate. Another spin-off, The Nun, actually holds the series record with $53 million. Yet the past two flicks couldn’t match up. The third Annabelle made just over $20 million while the aforementioned la Llorona hit $26 million.

Those dwindling earnings could continue here. I’m a bit surprised that Warner Bros is releasing this just one week after A Quiet Place Part II, which should still be making loud noises at multiplexes. Furthermore, some fans with Max subscriptions will opt to view it in the comfort of their home. This franchise, on the other hand, has often shown an ability to over perform (The Nun hitting $50 million plus was not anticipated). Yet for the reasons described, I believe Devil could end up having the lowest domestic debut of the whole bunch.

The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It opening weekend prediction: $19.8 million

For my Spirit Untamed prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2021/05/27/spirit-untamed-box-office-prediction/

Those Who Wish Me Dead Review

Taylor Sheridan’s Those Who Wish Me Dead is the second recent Warner Bros/HBO Max venture that would have felt more common as a mid 90s release. Take an Oscar winner/nominee and put them in a generic thriller where you’re saving a kid from generic assassins or solving the crimes of a demented mass murderer. Let the guilty pleasures commerce. In the serial killer genre, we saw it early this year with Denzel Washington and The Little Things. This one reminds me of titles like The Client with Susan Sarandon or The River Wild with Meryl Streep (the latter especially since it deals with forces of nature).

I’ll confess that I’ve developed a soft spot for material like this. It takes me back to a simpler time a quarter century ago where blockbusters didn’t primarily involve CG spectacles. And, yes, when movies like this took up whole shelves at Blockbuster and were rated R for non-gimmicky reasons.

Hannah (Angelina Jolie) is a smokejumper in Montana assigned to desk duty due to a wildfire that ended in tragedy. That demotion places her in a lookout tower with gorgeous natural settings that clash with her unnatural hair extensions. The monotony of her assignment takes a turn when she comes across Connor (Finn Little). The preteen is on the run from assassins (Nicholas Hoult and Aiden Gillen) who offed his forensic accountant dad. Why did his father meet his demise? The screenplay doesn’t much delve into that, but you might be interested to know that Tyler Perry has something to do with the dirty deed.

As Hannah attempts to bond with Connor, the killers frantically try to find them. Jon Bernthal is Ethan, a local sheriff with ties to the boy and he happens to be Hannah’s ex-boyfriend. He helps run a survivalist school with his expectant wife Allison (Medina Senghore) and they make it tricky for the bad guys to complete their business. This is an example of where Sheridan’s screenplay (with Michael Kortya and Charles Leavitt) hints at more compelling directions it might have gone in. When Allison gets to show her abilities while in danger and quite pregnant and on horseback, I couldn’t help but think a script about her handling these thugs would have been more rewarding.

With Jolie, she doesn’t have much of a character to work with. Her backstory involving past career missteps is thin. Her rapport with Little (in a solid performance) does have some highlights. Sheridan has created far more memorable moments in his previous written and directed works like Sicario and Hell or High Water. He’s continually shown an ability to make his scouted locations a gripping participant. That holds true with the Montana wilderness and the fire that eventually rips through it.

With Those Who Wish Me Dead, this is where words like serviceable get overused. It is, however, accurate. I found myself reasonably entertained during its brisk 100 minutes and the 90s throwback feeling makes it easier to forgive lapses in logic. This is hardly a towering achievement, but the inferno didn’t bore.

*** (out of four)

Oscar Watch: In the Heights

Jon M. Chu’s musical drama In the Heights was originally slated to hit theaters last June, but the COVID-19 pandemic altered the plan. Based on the stage musical created by Quiara Alegria Hudes and Lin-Manuel Miranda, the film now dances into multiplexes and HBO Max on June 11. The review embargo lifted today and it appears we have a legitimate Best Picture hopeful before us.

The Rotten Tomatoes meter sits at 97% with many critics imploring audiences to see it on the biggest screen possible. Many reviewers also note that it’s the perfect tonic after a rough year. Heights has a sprawling cast and that ensemble stands a terrific shot at SAG recognition next year. It could perform very well in the Musical/Comedy categories at the Golden Globes… if there is a ceremony next year (and that’s a big if right now).

As for the Oscars, many possibilities exist. Director Chu’s previous effort was the smash hit Crazy Rich Asians, but it was completely ignored by the Academy. That’s unlikely to happen here. Best Original Song (with Miranda proving some new material) and Sound could certainly be in play.

When it comes to the big competitions, the feel good nature of Heights could absolutely lift it to a Best Picture nomination. It might be a bit more of a reach for Chu to make the final five in directing, but it’s at least feasible. Two cast members receiving immediate kudos are Anthony Ramos (in what could be quite a crowded Best Actor derby) and Olga Merediz in Supporting Actress.

Bottom line: expect this anticipated summer hit musical to be on the minds of voters in the forthcoming awards season. My Oscar Watch posts will continue…