Matt at the Movies: Tinseltown News & New Releases
Oscars campaign changes, the Dune 2 trailer, Judy Bloom forever, and Sisu makes sure some Nazis have a bad day.
Hello my fellow cinephiles and moviegoers!
I'm currently recovering from surgery, so I thought it would be a nice change of pace to check in on the state of Hollywood while also diving into some new releases hitting the big screen this week. We’ll introduce the pulse meter to gauge excitement surrounding each release and link up trailers so you can sneak a peek for yourself. First, we’ll start off with some news and musings hitting the industry this week.
News & Notes
Andrea Riseborough made big headlines this Oscar season with her nomination for To Leslie, but to some it was for all the wrong reasons. The tweets, exclusive showings to elite audiences, and costar Marc Maron using his massive podcast audience to generate support left a bad taste in many Academy voters' mouths. Oscar campaigning has been a staple since the rise of Miramax (I see you Shakespeare in Love), so don’t hate the actress, hate the game.
However, since the Riseborough Fall, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has ushered in sweeping changes, particularly to put a stop to publicly discussing individual voting preferences in a way that may alter voting patterns. Also, film companies are now banned from sending materials or schwag to voting members on nominated films, which has been allowed for several years. Basically, private tactics appear to be fully intact but using social media to explicitly disclose your preferences is now off the table. We’ll see how this plays out, but one can’t help but think these changes are about optics over substance. At least it’s a start.
The Dune: Part Two trailer dropped Wednesday and the internet is abuzz. The second installment will include much more screen time fror three of Hollywood’s current “it” list members. In additional to Timothy Chamalet returning in the lead role as Paul Atreides, this star studded affair will feature much more screen time for Zendaya as his love interest Chani, while introducing new additions Florence Pugh (Princess Irulan) and new best actor nominee Austin Butler (Elvis) as Feyd-Rautha from House Harkonnen. The first film was released simultaneously on streaming platforms and in theaters during the pandemic and managed to rake in over 400 million dollars worldwide. Expect this new release to join the billion dollar club with the potential for a Best Picture nomination. Speaking of the box office, let's follow the money trail a little further into the Arrakian sandworm hole.
It seems that both big ticket movies and franchises are performing above expectations (excluding Shazam! Fury of the Gods) as both Avatar: The Way of Water and The Super Mario Bros. Movie topped a billion in worldwide sales. First Quarter 2023 projections show a 28% increase in gross receipts over 2022 and one can’t help but believe Hollywood is firmly back on track. Even films with mid-tier budgets and adult-oriented fare such as Knock at the Cabin, Cocaine Bear, and A Man Called Otto performed above expectations. As mentioned in last week’s piece, horror is still a cash cow, and all ages are flocking for a scare.
So what does this mean long term? I think you’ll be seeing fewer films hit streaming platforms and theatres simultaneously. Hollywood will push for longer theatrical runs along with longer waits for home viewing options.
One genre casualty of the movie market war is the low-to-mid budget comedy, specifically romantic comedies which seem to be going directly to streaming these days. Comedy is very segmented and niche these days, and regrettably 95% of these movies are algorithm trash that are punishments to sit through. Think high school detention, but without your friends.
Who will step up to fill the shoes of early aughts comedy creators such as Adam McKay and Judd Apatow? That remains to be seen.
Our final topic is the iconic Judy Bloom. She’s having quite the week as her documentary Judy Bloom Forever debuted on Amazon Prime alongside the theatrical release of the big screen adaption of her beloved novel, Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret. Filmed in several locations in and around Charlotte, this coming of age tale focuses on the turbulent times of adolescence as eleven year old Margaret changes both physically and mentally. This is a big win for North Carolina as it tries to recreate the healthy local film industry that suffered greatly after the passage of the anti-trans House Bill 2 in 2016. Fingers crossed this trend continues and puts our state back on the map as a filming destination.
This week we have two new full scale action movies with high body counts. We’ll link up the trailers, provide some background, and give you the pulse meter of surrounding buzz to decide if it’s worth your time to see in theaters. War is the focus today as we preview The Covenant and Sisu.
6/10 (slightly elevated after a brisk dog walk)
Spill the Tea
Guy Ritchie made a career diving into the underworld of London’s lower-middle class with charismatic English characters who try to make their mark in the world of crime. Lock, Stock and Two Barrels, Snatch, and my personal favorite RocknRolla put Ritchie on the directing most wanted list (marrying Madonna didn’t hurt, either). If you love London gangster movies, I highly recommend listening to the crew over on The Big Picture podcast who created a list of the greatest “Garbage Lad Movies.”
He’s branched out into famous IP (Sherlock Holmes, The Man From U.N.C.L.E., King Arthur: Legend of the Sword) to various levels of success. Recently, he’s returned to his roots with a rewatchable classic in The Gentlemen and an honorable mention for my top ten list of 2021 with Wrath of Man. For The Covenant, he wields the star power of one of Hollywood’s most unique actors, Jake Gyllenhaal.
Army Sergeant John Kinley (Gyllenhaal) is wounded in Afghanistan and his interpreter Ahmed (Dar Salim) goes above and beyond to bring him to safety. A deal to bring Ahmed along with his family to the states has fallen through and they are in grave danger within their homeland. Kinley travels back to repay his debt and bring the family to the US before they are captured by the Taliban. Action abounds, but the connection between the two main characters draws you in root for their survival.
This movie seems like an elevated middle eastern war film comparable to 12 Strong or 2013’s Lone Survivor featuring Mark Wahlberg but not quite at the level of Oscar winning Hurt Locker. Good action and a heartfelt story that could be enjoyed in the theater or in the comfort of your couch.
9/10 (Buckle up)
Spill the Tea
This over-the-top gorefest is set in 1944 Finland during the fleeting reign of Nazi Germany. The studio behind the John Wick franchise worked behind the scenes with Finnish director Jalarmi Helander to deliver a one man wrecking crew of carnage.
Ex-soldier Aatami (Jorma Tommila) has nothing left and travels to war torn northern Finland to prospect for gold. He hits a vein and must transport his haul to the nearest city to cash in.
He is discovered by Nazi troops and that take his gold. Similar to Wick, the Nazis don’t know who they messed with,as Aatami is no ordinary miner. Tommila’s imposing 6’4'' frame gives him a larger than life presence, and no situation seems impossible for him to handle.
The odds are stacked against him but he seems determined to retrieve his gold, whatever the cost. The revenge is the cherry on top.
This quote from Lionsgate Films says it all, “While there is no direct translation for the Finnish word ‘sisu’, this legendary ex-commando will embody what sisu means: a white-knuckled form of courage and unimaginable determination in the face of overwhelming odds.” If you want to shut your brain off, enjoy some insane action, and watch a modern day Viking slaughter an army of Nazis, get to the theaters to see this glorious action adventure.
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