Political legal drama The Mauritanian, which tells of the true life trial of a Guantanamo Bay prisoner, hits theaters on February 19th and its embargo lifted this week. Kevin Macdonald, who directed Forest Whitaker to a Best Actor Oscar in The Last King of Scotland, is behind the camera with a cast headlined by Jodie Foster, Tahar Rahim, Shailene Woodley, Benedict Cumberbatch, and Zachary Levi.
Critical reaction thus far is quite mixed with a 55% score on Rotten Tomatoes. Distributor STX Entertainment has already announced the category placements of Rahim for lead actor and two-time winner Foster for Supporting Actress. They are the two performers getting the most praise for their work.
However, the subject matter and the so-so feedback will present a challenge for The Mauritanian to reach audiences and awards voters. Two years ago, the similarly themed The Report had a much better Tomatoes rating (82%) and a thought that Annette Bening could contend in Supporting Actress. That never materialized and I’d be surprised if this ends up being a player in a couple of months. My Oscar Watch posts will continue…
Mixing the typical comic book movie issues with a little Big and even a touch of the recent InstantFamily, the DC Comics adaptation of Shazam! is able to produce crowd pleasing results. As the DCU must turn to their less iconic characters for feature attention, I would say the title hero here is somewhat equivalent to the MCU’s Ant-Man. He’s sarcastic. He’s not as serious. In fact, if the knock on this overall universe is that it’s too dark (think BatmanvSuperman: DawnofJustice or JusticeLeague), Shazam! is practically translucent.
Billy Batson (Asher Angel) is a foster kid jumping between temporary dwellings after being separated from his mom as a toddler. The young teen seems to find a decent home with five other children and kindly caregivers. Yet he’s still searching from mom.
In a prologue circa 1974, we meet another youngster by way of Thaddeus Sivana. He experiences a mystical meetup with Shazam in the form of Djimon Hounsou in heavy old age makeup. Trying to find a human worthy of inheriting his considerable superpowers, he deems him not properly pure of heart. Sivana grows up to be Mark Strong with a myopic focus on battling the eventual Shazam.
That turns out to be Billy. When he is called for his own encounter with Hounsou, he gets the job. This means when he utters “Shazam!”, he turns into Zachary Levi (who could have been cast as Superman). He’s still a teen embodying a comic book strongman and that takes a lot of learning. One of his foster siblings (Jack Dylan Grazer) is in on the secret.
A lot of exposition must be established here and Shazam! probably doesn’t need to be over two hours long. The mommy and daddy issues explored are quite familiar to genre fans. The film does manage to find slightly different angles. Just as InstantFamily showed the true heroism of foster parents, so does this. Levi is a hoot as our crime fighting man child. Strong is fine, but he doesn’t exactly alter the general rule that the villains in many of these pics aren’t as interesting as they should be.
Shazam! works best when it’s focused on Billy/Shazam while he works with his new family and not while grappling with Savani and his monstrous CGI creatures that represent The Seven Deadly Sins. Director David F. Sandberg has crafted an origin story with a lot of heart among the usual action and it fosters enough appreciation to make this rewarding.
Blogger’s Note (04/04): On the eve of its premiere, my estimate has changed from $59.5 million to $52.5 million
The DC Extended Universe adds another cinematic hero to its stable with the release of Shazam! next weekend. The tale of a teenager who morphs into a superhero was first introduced in comic book pages nearly 80 years ago. David F. Sandberg directs with Zachary Levi as the title character and Asher Angel as his younger self. Costars include Mark Strong, Jack Dylan Grazer, Djimon Hounsou, and Grace Fulton.
Said to heartfelt and funny, Shazam! is already a winner with critics and sporting a 92% Rotten Tomatoes score. DC, while not quite up to MCU levels, has been hitting its stride lately with mega performers like WonderWoman and Aquaman. There were previews of this that surprisingly managed to outdo what Jason Momoa’s creation did late last year. However, that was during the hustle and bustle of the holiday season.
The range expected is $40-$60 million. I have a hunch its good word of mouth will propel it to the upper reaches of those expectations. It’s feasible the range could be surpassed, but I’ll say high 50s.
The DC Extended Universe branches out to lesser known source material on April 5 with the release of Shazam! The superhero tale puts a teenage boy in the body of an adult crime fighter with David F. Sandberg (Annabelle: Creation) directing and Zachary Levi in the title role.
The character has been around since 1940 and this big screen treatment is receiving praise based on its early screenings. Critics are calling this sweet and funny and continuing in the more lighthearted vein that DC has employed lately with hits like WonderWoman and Aquaman.
With a 93% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, could Shazam! resonate with Oscar voters? It’s doubtful. If the aforementioned DC efforts couldn’t land a single nod, it’s tough to envision any for this.
Bottom line: Shazam! should be another box office success for the revitalized franchise, but don’t expect awards chatter to follow. My Oscar Watch posts will continue…
Sony Pictures is hoping family and faith-based audiences make the journey to The Star next weekend. The animated tale is centered around some talking animals and their adventures as the first Christmas is occurring. Some familiar faces in both the film and music world provide voices including Steven Yeun, Gina Rodriguez, Keegan-Michael Key, Tyler Perry, Kristin Chenoweth, Zachary Levi, Tracy Morgan, Anthony Anderson, Mariah Carey, Kelly Clarkson, Kris Kristofferson, Christopher Plummer, Ving Rhames, Gabriel Iglesias, Patricia Heaton, and even Oprah Winfrey.
Made for a small reported budget of just $18 million, The Star will hope to shine brightly with its intended audience before Pixar’s Coco arrives just five days later for the Thanksgiving holiday.
Prognosticating for this one is a little tricky. I could certainly see it exceeding expectations with a gross high in the teens. However, I believe a more likely scenario is an opening weekend in the lower double digits to maybe lower teens with hope that it holds over well the following holiday weekend (even with the Coco competition).
The Star opening weekend prediction: $10.3 million