August 2019 Forecast

By Michael Lynderey

August 3, 2019

They're right to hate each other.

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So, with all that Disney stuff out of the way now, the summer of 2019 can really begin! Our first big film is a Fast & Furious branchout, and the remainder of the five-weekend long season contains talking dogs, cartoon birds, evil screenwriters, Gerard Butler blowing away the opposition, Playmobil up the wazoo, a few sharks that Jason Statham did not kill, and that long-awaited high concept, Superbad for pre-teens.

And of course, lots and lots of August horror! Boo!

1. Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw (August 2nd)

Dwayne Johnson has "saved" any number of truant, chain-smoking, near-death franchises with an almost dismissive and deceptively natural ease. Can he save a summer?

Irony aside, I think the Fast & Furious franchise is masterful as hell. It began with an unrelated, same-titled 1955 car chase film, proceeded into a wonderful Vin Diesel/Paul Walker vehicle, part of the classic big budget B-movie summer of 2001, and then eventually drove through seven sequels and counting, including Fast & Furious 6 (2013), a film whose last 30 minutes I often compare in tone and excitement to much of Raiders of the Lost Ark (the good parts).

The films combine increasingly complex stunts with persistent talk of makeshift family and good feeling. In an era of 1960s-created superheroes and weepy YA adaptations set in far-flung, sad, futures, here were real men doing macho things and then posturing their achievements at all who would look. Who can forget the opening fight scene of The Fast & The Furious (2001), as Walker and Matt Schulze engage in a gratuitous exchange of fists and machismo, all set to "watch yo back," I song I have never heard before nor since?

I'm sorry for my gender bias, but this was all manly as hell, and I loved it. What 15 year-old boy wouldn't have?

It escalated from there. Each film topped the previous, almost. The triumphs and tragedies of Diesel, Walker, and the gang, both on screen and off it, are too numerous to recount in anything other than a very long novel.

So let's skip to 2015. I think it was around the last 30 minutes of Fast & Furious Seven that some piston was unplugged, or spark burnt out. Genealogists and historians place this at the exact moment when, seeing reports of chaos on the news, an armcaste-wearing Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson jumped off his hospital bed, ran down to the lobby, commandeered a massive armored truck, and then in a few minutes was seen landing square on an evil flying drone that, unsuspectingly, had been involving itself in a complex fight scene taking place miles away.

This seemed, to me... a little too much.

Then came The Fate of the Furious, 2017, which had some reasonably astonishing action sequences (the New York flying car pile-up will hold up for decades), but decided to input them into plot developments unworthy of soap opera: at a definite risk of spoilers, I can tell you that it was decided that Dominic Toretto (Diesel)'s ex (Elsa Pataky) had in fact been pregnant by him since the 2013 film (you know, as she was when she and The Rock fell down maybe three or four stories fleeing from an explosion and onto a parked car, with The Rock, to be fair, cushioning her fall - very pregnant!). It was also agreed to that this rather humorous gynecological development would then be exploited by a snow-haired new villain, played with understandably vile detachment by Charlize Theron. And that, after Dom's partner Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) had expressed interest in having children just that much earlier in the film, the villain would conveniently kill off Diesel's former flame, so as - yes! - Dom and Letty would now raise the baby together. Remarkably, this is the exact same plot marker that was used four months earlier in the August Wilson adaptation Fences (no, I'm not kidding; and, while we're on the subject, Fences is a film that could have perhaps been improved by at least one good car chase).

So to recap, the world's most implausible pregnancy and convenient murder-adoption were offenses one and two.

Offenses number three to forty seven involved the character of Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham), who had previously murdered the Fast gang's dear friend Han; and who then visited his extremely criminal brother Owen Shaw (Luke Evans) in a highly-guarded hospital, where he clearly blew away any number of guards, nurses, and patients, and that was even before he put a loaded grenade in the hands of a police officer. As it exploded behind him, he drove off into whatever he passes for a sunset.

But Statham's chemistry with Dwayne Johnson's Luke Hobbs was apparently of such undeniable magnitude that it was decided that cinematic facts as established must be re-written, retcons shall't be committed, and the truth will be thoroughly amended: Statham's Shaw, in fact, was a good guy!

A man misunderstood, apparently under the influence of Ms. Theron (well, okay, that's understandable), and one whose crimes would now be forgiven, sort of, I guess, or in any event never brought up again, under any circumstances. The man had redeemed himself, or perhaps he was never guilty at all. Oh, and his brother Owen, who had mowed down random cars with a tank in that Raiders-praised part 6, was also kind of a good dude. Maybe.

And so Fast & Furious ended with Jason Statham and Vin Diesel shaking hands and exchanging manly pleasantries atop a down-home apartment building. The gang looked on in approval. As I viewed this exchange of illogical behaviour (even by human standards!), my eyes popped out of their head and my brain called back to them, "I would tell you to come back, but no, this doesn't make any sense to me either!"

My hateful if factual grumbling aside, Statham and Johnson have now been recruited together into one big feature film, with planet earth yet again threatened by some bad person, and the pair of heroes tasked with saving the poor old lug on which we live just one more time (as Mr. Johnson informs us in the trailer, this would be his fourth time rescuing the world, and he's not even counting Rampage and Tooth Fairy).

Vanessa Kirby, a girl with a gun from Mission: Impossible 6, is recruited to mix it up with the protagonists here, and no less than Idris Elba himself has been cast as the villain of the day, a super-powered rogue with unreasonable demands (the character apparently introduces some element of science fiction into what was previously the totally grounded and plausible Fast & Furious franchise). Action-guru David Leitch, who amassed astronomical body counts as the man behind the camera on John Wick and Deadpool 2, directs here too, and must now settle for PG-13. This is family fare.

As long as general audiences choose to forget Statham's character's history of remarkably illegal murder and pillage, the materials are here for what should be the summer's first real big box office hit in the action genre since, well... John Wick 3 in the middle of May. Recent Fast & Furious films have opened in the near neighborhood of $100m, but let's tentatively assign this spin-off a number identical to its current Rotten Tomatoes score, with room to grow.

Opening weekend: $68 million / Total gross: $200 million

2. The Angry Birds Movie 2 (August 14th)
The Angry Birds pop cultural universe is a mystery to me. I have not played the Angry Birds video game (video game?). I did not encyclopaedically collect the numerous and menacing Angry Birds plush toys. I have not read a children's book written about, nor by, an Angry Bird. And I did not see their big, bold, bright animated motion picture, The Angry Birds Movie, which grossed $107m at the domestic box office in the heady days of May 2016. I'm not sure I've even seen the trailer.

I'll probably watch the sequel, though. But without the knowledge, and with the laziness inherent in me that discourages too much relevant googling, we shall have to play detective with this write-up, based on information I vaguely recall hearing or may simply have completely imagined:

Sean Penn (!) had a little voice role in that first movie, but he's not back for seconds (wait, holy crap - would that make Angry Birds Sean Penn's highest-grossing film? Yep). I also know that Jason Sudeikis returns as the lead bird man, and we can surmise from the mere casting that he plays the role as semi-confident but a little goofy and prone to error, with leadership potential. Josh Gad, a remarkably prolific star actor of movie funny voices, and Danny McBride (the evil screenwriter who retconned Halloween) are other birds, tailored to their screen personas. And Maya Rudolph has a voice role, too, because she always does in these films (she's clocked thirteen voice roles in movies by my count).

We can also spot a deduction from the film's release window: the original title opened on May 20, a hiding-from-bigger-films slot that nevertheless is suited to a mid-range animation blockbuster. The sequel arrives in mid August, on a Wednesday, and for the life of me I can't recall the last time an animated CGI film grossed $100m in the month of August (ok, I just had to betray my laziness and google this one: the answer is, never).

So, will Angry Birds Movie 2 make history? No. But the number I'm giving it would be respectable, if only audiences agree with me.

Opening weekend: $27 million (5-day) / Total gross: $74 million

3. Good Boys (August 16th)
It's the long-awaited Superbad for kids! Rated R. And the jokes write themselves... (in Seth Rogen movies, they just have to). Good Boys is about pre-teens involved in adult going-ons they scarcely understand, although they shouldn't feel too bad: I know as little about topics like drugs and bondage as they do. 11 is a pretty good mental age to be stuck in.

Our star is Jacob Tremblay, who transitioned from an amazing performance as the born-in-captivity in Room (2015) into the first choice for young teen roles across the genre spectrum - like the unlucky Auggie Pullman in Wonder, or the kid who fiddles with alien tech in The Predator, and I think accidentally blows up an unpleasant neighbour.

He leads this film opposite Brady Noon and Keith L. Williams, as they embark on a journey through the tawdry world of slightly older teenagers (they even claim they've met Molly, as must we all). Rogen is one of the producers.

The film premiered at some secret and evil film festival for comedies that I wasn't invited to (SXSW?), where it scored 78% on the old Tomato meter, a number it'll probably roughly keep going into two weekends from now. Roughly. Probably.

Good Boys' marketing angle is obvious. I recently saw Superbad listed on a film website's ranking of forgotten 2000s comedies, but they are totally and offensively wrong: it is still remembered fondly, and in fact every once in a while a new comedy searching for an in with audiences, will stick "From the makers of Superbad" right at the top of the poster (in fact, sometimes someone from Superbad really was involved).

Superbad was out about 12 years ago, right on the same weekend, and we can perhaps do a complex mathematical equation adjusting that film's box office ($33m open/$121m total) for inflation, subtracting for the age of the cast, and deducting a point or two for good weather outside (the world's a much warmer place now, you know). What we get, precisely, is the below.

Opening weekend: $15 million / Total gross: $44 million

4. Dora the Explorer and the Lost City of Gold (August 9th)
Not to be confused, or perhaps it should be, with Allan Quatermain and the Lost City of Gold (1987) or Tarzan and the Lost City (1998). Between all these movies, I hope someone finally found the place.

Those brave adventure stories had final grosses in the low single digits, so the connection is tenuous. This is an adaptation of the Nickelodeon animated series which has run on our television screens since the anniversary-ready date of August 14, 2000, during which time it has produced 176 episodes, none of them seen by me (the number intimidates, but it's an average of 9 per year). As with many animated children's or not quite children's mainstays (SpongeBob, South Park, Simpsons), Dora seems ready to stay on television in perpetuity, never meeting old age, and living through a few too many Christmases than one can actually experience from the ages of about 10 to 13 (even if she celebrates in July, too).

Dora is now in live action, and is played by her physical match, Isabela Moner, who was a female lead in Transformers: The Last Knight (you know, the most expensive, longest, if not most beloved, in the series) and a comic match for Mark Wahlberg and Rose Byrne in the recent and reasonable Instant Family. James Bobin directs, which implies a hint of comedy with some self-referential bent, even if the Muppets he helped bring back in his 2011 film have mostly since died off the big screen once more. Q'orianka Kilcher from The New World (2005) is also on hand. And Dora is joined also by her faithful cousin Diego (Jeffrey Wahlberg, also of the Dorchester Wahlbergs), and parents, who are brought to pixel-sized life by Eva Longoria and Michael Peña. And as the villainous activity is provided by comedic actor Eugenio Derbez, we know he will not accrue too high a body count.

The film opens at a release slot that ready to serve out perhaps a good four or five weekends of legs (common in late summer). Its audience does have just a bit of free time: Dora and the Lost City of Gold is a light adventure film for young teens or older children, though Dora is a few years older than her animated self. She now has mostly teenage companions, who join her in navigating all the way from their suburban high school to the ancient Inca temples next door. In real life, it's a journey every kid should make at least once.

Opening weekend: $17 million / Total gross: $58 million

5. Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark (August 9th)
Guillermo del Toro produces and André Øvredal this adaptation of the book series began by Alvin Schwartz, which in their 1981 debut seem to have been an artsier and more pristine version of the mass-entertainment Goosebumps series that crawled into bookstores one decade later. But every horror reader knows there is room for both.

An evil witch and her supernatural horrors befall the town of Pittsburgh in 1969, and as is often the case, only teenagers are able and willing enough to put a stop to them, if they'll be kind enough to band together and find a little time off from their high school studies. Austin Abrams stars, and here's a good young actor who's distinguished himself as Ben Stiller's son in Brad's Status (2017), along with a seemingly endless number of teen comedies (at nearly 23, he probably has five or six more years of high school films in the docket). Appropriately, filming for all this midnight ghoul-haunting took place in Hamilton, Ontario, a delightfully Pittsburgh-esque town within short driving distance of where I'm writing this.

There are some strong, elemental, horror images associated with Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark and its advertising, like a scarecrow dripping down from its pole in a field of sharp-edged corn stocks, and then what appears to be the film's main monster carrying its own head as its lumbers down an abandoned hallway. These are the hallmarks of youth, the barriers to adulthood that exist in both metaphor and reality, and which one must face and defeat in one form or another. And in a summer with an unusually high number of horror titles begging for morgue space, I hope there is room for this one.

Opening weekend: $14 million / Total gross: $39 million




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6. The Art of Racing in the Rain (August 9th)
They really should have stuck "dog" in that title somewhere.

I'm serious.

Forecast number six leaves me at a loss for things to say or scribble because it is, indeed, yet one more film about a dog, a trigger that means I automatically turn off all the irony, sarcasm, self-hatred, and shallow wit and must simply say something nice.

This is one of those "the dog is borrowing a celebrity voice to self-conversate" films, like A Dog's Purpose and A Dog's Way Home and oh all the way back to, I think, Look Who's Talking 3, where the family pets finally joined in the persistently growing collection of family toddlers, and, too, started generating thought bubbles.

Milo Ventimiglia was a rising star in B-films in the mid 2000s, and has burnished his reputation off the big screen first in Gilmore Girls and then on This is Us, two television series which I've thus far neglected to see it (just kidding - no "thus far" here).

Ventimiglia is now our lead, human department, playing a race car driver who marries Amanda Seyfried and adopted Kevin Costner, as the voice of the canine (...), with child actors subsequently having to be cast the couple's children. The family unit's all here.

The film is based on a popular if elderly (published 2008) book, by Garth Stein, and should perhaps therefore combine its name i.d; concept, still irresistible to us dog people; and the lanky summer days bereft of burly competition, to etch out some decent total. Last August, undeniable dog cuteness didn't really work for the many-pet film Dog Days, nor for the robotic dog movie A.X.L., though prehistoric canine film Alpha grossed $35 million and is highly recommended by me. But they still call it the Dog Days of Summer, so let us try again.

Opening weekend: $13 million / Total gross: $38 million

7. Don't Let Go (August 30th)
David Oyelowo plays a policeman who wakes up one morning stuck in one of those clever thriller plots screenwriters come up with for their pitch meeting.

At the film begins, he receives a phone call from his beloved niece, despite being (at least relatively) certain that she had died along with many other near family members. Supernatural terror may follow. Some plot twist is involved here, and must be dealt with.

Oyelowo has most notably starred as Martin Luther King, Jr. in Selma and most recently in Gringo, a far less noble film, I can surmise. The writing and direction is by Jacob Aaron Estes, who began with the well-received Mean Creek (2004) all those years ago, and has remained mostly in indies since. The niece is Storm Reid of A Wrinkle in Time. And Bryan Tyree Henry, often buffers up films with a supporting role, is given one here.

The film has the last weekend of the summer movie season to itself, and injects another horror-thriller into the proceedings, and one from Blumhouse Productions, which has much experience in the matter. It will be the month's fourth entry in the genre. Let's see if it's the biggest.

Opening weekend: $14 million / Total gross: $35 million

8. Ready or Not (August 21st)
It's nice when we get two takes on the same idea one month apart, giving us the answer to the age old question "who wore it better?"

A human being, being hunted by members of a demented family or country club association, perhaps or especially around a large faroffs house or secluded, quite woodsy rural estate? Yes, please. We'll take two.

The other film, The Hunt, opens in late September. The first take on the material is August's Ready or Not, as the fetching Samara Weaving plays a woman engaged to a very rich man who brings her to his bucolic home estate, where eccentric relatives trade their minor alcoholic drinks for loaded shotguns when the clock strikes midnight (oh, they'll be shooting her, I mean. Bam bam bam.).

What purpose this serves is unbeknownst to me, although I assume by film's end our plucky lead will have culled off most nearby branches from this particular family tree. It's the white Get Out!

Supporting actors are plentiful, include Andie MacDowell, lovely; and Adam Brody, humorous, and in fact is an actor who bizarrely never was given much of a chance at movie stardom (not that it's too late). Weaving, an Australian in the grand tradition of Margot Robbie, herself was quite charismatic and appealing in Netflix's The Babysitter. I want to see her mow down the establishment.

The film will likely gain Fresh reviews on the ratings sites, an assumption I make because nearly every horror film this summer has (I'm serious - Brightburn, Ma, Child's Play, and Annabelle Comes Home all scored between 55% and 69%, and Midsommar and Crawl did even better, if possible. Blame the critics).

Ready or Not opens on August 21, the same weekend as 2013's You're Next, which was also about surprise murders, shady family members, and a country house that quickly became a crime scene and lost all its property value. Different plot, same ingredients. But in short, this film's timing is excellent. At least if it wants to match You're Next's box office.

Opening weekend: $13 million / Total gross: $31 million

9. Angel Has Fallen (August 23rd)
As you surely recall, Gerard Butler's Secret Service agent Mike Banning has already saved the U.S. president (Aaron Eckhart) from North Korean home invaders (in Olympus Has Fallen), and then again in London, from an evil international arms dealer who had successfully blown up any number of other foreign leaders (they should have employed Butler).

Now, in 2019, President Eckhart has retired, and his replacement (no, don't go! It's Morgan Freeman, I swear!) has retained Banning's unique set of skills for himself, at least until poor agent Banning is wrongly pointed to as the ringleader of some dastardly and incomprehensible plot to kill Mr. POTUS.

As we know from the supremely plausible Captain America: The Winter Solider and Spider-Man: Far From Home, it is quite easy to frame a legendary and beloved national hero for murder and conspiracy. Why, Robert Redford did it in Captain America 2 simply by saying it was so! I believe the exact quote was, "Oh, Nick Fury is dead? Yes, I'm pretty sure Captain America did it. Let's say I'm 91.3% sure. Why do you ask? Now let's gross 250 million dollars together."

These Fallen movies always attract solid casts. Freeman has been elevated from Speaker of the House to Vice President to the main man. Tim Blake Nelson, Danny Huston, and Michael Landes are other high-ranking government guys, one or two or all of whom is probably to blame for all this meshugenah. Nick Nolte is Butler's father, and Piper Perabo is his wife, who along with any other intelligent person must assume her husband is innocent.

That original film, Olympus Has Fallen, about a foreign army invading the White House, was a surprise hit, taking a dismissed and ignored March weekend and opening to $30m right on it, with a $98m overall to follow. Critics were not enthused, but this was solid, suspenseful, old-school action, told at a surprisingly epic scale (the same year's White House Down, on the other hand, made the same plot seem so easy any three dudes with a gun could do it). The sequel London Has Fallen ($21m open/$62m close) laid on the absurdity one step too far. And now part three arrives, as it must, in the waning if striking heat of summer, in the mix of late August days that were home to Mechanic: Resurrection and any number of Chuck Norris films in decades well back. The box office descent from 98 to 62 and on down shall continue, I fear.

This is too bad. You have to give Butler points: in the age of CGI aliens and endless, circle-jerking superheroes (that was rude / totally true), Butler is an old-fashioned action star who pursues his craft with determination and focus: Gestorm, Den of Thieves, Hunter Killer, plugging himself into one B-movie after the other as a submarine captain, brawny scientist, police officer, or unloved saviour of presidents, none of them with superpowers to speak of, nor a dedicated comic book fanbase to follow their productions' every move.

He may not inspire cosplayers at cons, but the man has my respect.

Opening weekend: $13 million / Total gross: $30 million

10. 47 Meters Down: Uncaged (August 16th)
Two summers ago here there came another example of a delightful phenomenon, wherein a small and reasonably entertaining film was rescued from a fate of a planned straight-to-video release in the U.S. and sent into thousands of theatres instead (you know, "straight-to-video" - bypassing the big screen and available for rent in your local video store). The most prominent example of such canny decision-making is probably still Toy Story 2 (yes, it grossed $261m after being saved from video), although the Saw franchise, which also almost by passed theatres alltogether, is my favourite.

But let's get back on topic. Even as 47 Meters Down had already been released on video (you know, like on a VHS tape) in other countries, the film opened to $11m and finished with $44m over here, for a remarkable 4.0 multiplier. It starred Mandy Moore and a nice Australian actress named Clare Holt, playing sisters or cousins or at least very close friends intimately acquainted with each other, who are first seen partaking in merriment across the Mexican border - before making the mistake of signing up for some not-completely-sanitary underwater tete-a-tete with a group of sharks, while encased safely in a cage under the sea.

The cage was stuck, then broke off and landed deep down on the ocean floor. Clearly, the women were in trouble, and as they spent the remaining 50 minutes trying to get a way out, some entertainment value was had by all. At film's end, one of the two made it and the other perished, or some such combination.

This is a sequel, but it doesn't feature Mand the survivor going back down under the sea for revenge or anything, or contorting to have herself ''accidentally'' be trapped in the same unlikely predicament, two years later, John McClane-style. No, we've got a new set-up of victims here, roughly three or four young women (the gender is consistent across this franchise), who have found themselves in a shark stronghold and now are having to patiently negotiate their way out.

The cast includes Sophie Nélisse, Corinne Foxx, and Brianne Tju, the latter of whom died (oops) three episodes into the show Scream, and who shall perhaps suffer some equivalent end now. History repeats itself, first as tragedy on television and then as tragedy on a bigger screen.

Everybody in America has learned my rule, by now, that very few first time horror sequels ever outgross their predecessors. Children recite the rule in school, after the pledge of allegiance, and some day the order will change. The rule was most blatantly demonstrated with Scream 2 (1997), which contrived to finish with $101m, just two below Scream (1996) with $103m. It has also been demonstrated again and again in 2019, even in the film Us, the "follow-up" to Get Out, which struggled valiantly but failed to best the final number of that 2017 film. This new shark non-vegetarian eating fest should follow suit, especially because fish are a creature of habit, and always play by the rules.

Opening weekend: $12 million / Total gross: $28 million

11. Playmobil: The Movie (August 30th)
A movie I simply had to include on the docket. Gabriel Bateman (Andy Barclay Vol. 2 in Child's Play) is Charlie and Anya Taylor-Joy is Marla, two reasonably live action humans who are forced to contend with the evils of the German line of building toys Playmobil, which have indeed haunted our toy story shelves since roughly 1974. They are sucked into a nightmare of CGI animation, where they are inconvenienced by a voice cast that includes Daniel Radcliffe, Jim Gaffigan, Wendi McLendon-Covey, and even Meghan Trainor, perhaps with a musical number. It is at that point that Playmobil becomes the sort of errant animated film I look for, sketched into existence on distant lands (it's French), knocked around the release schedule like a ragdoll (sorry, but it was), and then finally let out in the United States in late August. Ballerina in 2017 (voice of Nat Wolff) and Valiant with Ewan McGregor in 2005 also have this all in common. If you look at release schedules long enough, more will appear.

This summer, Playmobil also makes for a lot of release symmetry. Uglydolls, another film based on a popular children's brand, and also starring a smorgasbord of a voice cast (Nick Jonas, Kelly Clarkson), opened on the very first weekend of the summer movie season. And here we have another such film on the very last.

Children's titles often have good legs from late August to the middle of next month (even though in some districts school starts earlier than September, in an act of obscenity against very nature). And there is probably room somewhere here for Playmobil to carve out a number that, for such a brand name, is at least reasonable, and certainly within the ballpark of the glass ceiling that Uglydolls had chiseled out months back.

Opening weekend: $3 million / Total gross: $10 million


     


 
 

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