March 2020 Forecast

By Michael Lynderey

March 8, 2020

Shoot that poison arrow through my heart.

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If Pixar is sold out, take the whole family to The Hunt! Because if it's March, that means Disney strikes twice, even if at least one of the violent horror films might make a stab at coming in first or even second. Elsewhere, macho he-men named Diesel and Bautista jostle for supremacy with two very different films on the same weekend, Affleck reconnects, and KJ Apa sings a sad song.

1. Onward (March 6th)
The month's first Disney entertainment is this Pixar film about elf-like creatures inhabiting a no-homosapiens magical United States who live out that greatest of American genres, the road trip film; with the partly resurrected corpse of their departed father in tow as they criss-cross Pixar's satires of roadside tropes (a nod to National Lampoon's Vacation's dead carry-on grandma, perhaps?).

There are unicorns with droopy gap teeth, Swamp Gas stations that emit non-pollutant green goo up from the ground, butch bikers (I think we have those too) who are depicted as little pixie creatures, and short green terrors who seem to have replaced the canine as man's best friend, perhaps literally through having eaten them all. The father, who I assume had much unfinished business remaining that he intends to eternally bother his freewheeling kin with, appears only as a pair of pants, the fault of a near-completed magical spell. He has all the best lines in the movie.

As always, Pixar got only the greatest talent, if never to be seen on screen. Tom Holland is lead elf Ian Lightfoot (possibly not to be confused with the current mayor of Chicago, Lori Lightfoot), and he's an actor who's lately followed his co-generationist Josh Hutcherson in going from a massive A-franchise blockbuster starring role to voicing a great many characters, very well, in animated/animatedish films. (though could "out of sight, out of mind" be a warning?).

In the last few months alone, Holland was very endearing as madcap inventor Charlie Buckett in the underrated and underseen Spies in Disguise (the one where Will Smith played an ornery pidgeon), and then gave vocal life to a sweet dog with glasses in Robert Downey, Jr.'s Dolittle (the last time I will mention this film. ever). Now he's in his first Pixar movie, and starring opposite Chris Pratt, the obedient Disney mainstay who also voiced that lego guy and is now elf brother number two.

As usual, I'm at a loss for words in forecasting Pixar (other than the 7 paragraphs above). I mean, what do you say?

Their movies arrive with undeniable and, I hate to say it but have to, tedious levels of anticipation. They make a lot of money. The multitude of people who attend them really, really, like them, and so do their kids, leading to a lot of rewatch action over the years and generations and the long but cruel circle of life. To quote CinemaSins, this has gone on for some time. 25 years, in fact, since their first film.

But, sure, some Pixar movies are less robustly beloved - Cars 2, which actually wasn't bad, scored 39% on the meter, which means the 22 movie Pixar library can't match the MCU's silly and trollish all-Fresh Tomato record for all 23 of their superhero films. Now, with Soul hitting in June, this is in fact the third year in which Pixar has two new films out. (historical af tbh)

So, what to predict for Onward? We've got the strong reviews (86%). The vocal cast's credentials are as A-list as could be. And as a connoisseur of the road movie, the premise appeals even to me, strangely (I assure you, this is not often to happen with myself and a Pixar film). So, $200m? $300m? Let's settle on something modest and see where we go from here.

Opening weekend: $48 million / Total gross: $222 million

2. Mulan (March 27th)
Based on the ancient Chinese legend, passed on from generation to generation to celluloid screen. As in Disney's original animation, Mulan is a wealthy and chique Chinese noble who wishes to enjoy the priviledges of a male wealthy and chique Chinese noble, and who henceforth disguises herself as a boy in order to fight both the Hun hordes (descendants of Attila and co.) and, uh, the Machine Empire. Her richness of experience also includes befriending a friendly red dragon (Eddie Murphy) and falling in love with the manly man who leads her army platoon (and no, neither she nor he have ever seen Yentl, thank you very much. Papa Can You Hear Me doesn't ring them no bell).

So, there are no dragons this time. And this is not just another live action remake, but one that Disney has slotted for the same weekend as Dumbo last year, asserting territorial ownership like the neighborhood canine. The list of modern-day Disney live action versions and reimagined fairy tales began 10 years ago, in fact, when Alice in Wonderland bowed, colored in vivid red, on March 5, and has since grown so exhaustive and pedantic as to not merit recitation here (Pete's Dragon wasn't bad, though). Suffice to say that by the time we got to 2019, the studio's three remakes of the year (3!) run the gamut from a low of a $114m box office total (the poor, abused elephant) to the high point of $543m (hakuna matata indeed), with the middle-released film curiously landing in the box office middle as well (that would be Aladdin, with $355m. And if the story about Aladdin star Mena Massoud of unable to land an audition after the film is true, that's just not right). Notching only 2-3 hours of sleep a fortnight, Disney also remade Lady and the Tramp directly for TV, uploading it in under the cover of darkness to Disney+ (BTW, is it me or are there too many Disney movies on Disney+? Couldn't they, I don't know, throw a porno on there or something?).

In 2020, there is only one remake, as the mouse beats back into the past to digitally pixelize his $120 million-grossing 1998 film into corporeal existence starring real people with real faces. (Pixar live action remakes will be coming by 2025, I say).

Niki Caro (Whale Rider) seems like a pretty good choice as director, and the cast consists mostly of unknowns 'round these parts - Chinese actress Liu Yifei plays Mulan, with Donnie Yen (of a Star Wars movie) as her mentor (again, not the dragon), Yoson An as the man of her dreams, Gong Li as a villainess of the supernatural persuasion (so it's not a totally fantasy-free film), and Tzi Ma, particularly memorable in The Farewell and especially The Ladykillers, as Pa Mulan. Jason Scott Lee, who starred in Disney's 1994 live action Jungle Book, completes the cycle neatly with his role here.
No reviews yet, but we can assume the usual vicious cycle of positive reviews/high box office/rewatch will apply here.

Opening weekend: $62 million / Total gross: $235 million

3. The Hunt (March 13th)
Not to be confused with Amazon's Hunters (originally titled... The Hunt), this is a satire about simple folk from the countryside being kidnapped (against their will) and violently chased down by wealthy and hateful lunatics for entertainment and bloodlust (they just couldn't wait on that Purge to start, huh?).

While the premise is hardly sui generis, The Hunt is also a movie that sight unseen came under some controversy and was shelved from its original release date, after the mass shootings in Texas and Ohio in August.

One reason was the film's violence, some involving guns. But after all, the film was originally slated for September 27, 2019, where it would have opened smack in between Rambo: Last Blood, which to be fair focuses on bloodshed primarily induced by macho-backed fists and implausible booby traps, though also includes the requisite handful of gun deaths (and gosh, as per Rambo film tradition - a whole lot of people die - and we wouldn't have it any other way); and then Joker, where the title character begins his putative life of crime by cold-blooded gun execution of those he deems offensive, whether or not it's all in his head. Last Blood was viewed mostly by us old-school John Rambo fans. But Joker left quite a mark in the culture, grossing $335m on its way to some obscene number of Oscar nominations.

So then, what was it about The Hunt that stood out, necessitating said release cancellation?
Oh, now I remember. As I wrote at the time, "Unfortunately, its release was personally canceled by the Wicked Witch of the West, who crinkled her decaying, deteriorating, musty pores into a haughty, throaty, irrelevant growl, and demanded that the studio take the film off the release schedule. The studio said, "Oh? Ok then - consider it done, ma'am! Any other requests?""

[I don't remember the witch's name, but I believe she also controls the United States' nuclear codes]

(By the way, now, would president Joe Biden ever demand a studio pull a film right off the schedule? Of course not. Well, maybe if he thought The Odd Couple III just wasn't up to par...).

In short, there appears to be nothing about The Hunt that merited its delay as a result of real life violence that other films did not, other than that the cancellation of its release was personally commanded by a dim-witted and very portly individual who ought to have been minding his own business. Fine. That's as good a reason as any. But there are lots of dim-witted individuals on this planet, myself included. Why not listen to one of the others instead?

So, now we have The Hunt. Despite the powers the be that tried to stop us, us simple, good-natured, good-humoured horror fans can at last enjoy another dose of vaguely satirical (we'll take any excuse) fictionalized bloodletting in peace. Isn't that what truth, justice, and the American Way are all about? Didn't Superman die specifically so we could all to have this chance?

As our heroes, it stars Emma Roberts, Ike Barinholtz, and poor Betty Gilpin, who's been looking for a big breakout film role, and may finally get one (in the meantime, check her out as the walking parody in Isn't It Romantic). Hilary Swank plays the chief villainess (have we come all the way for this?).

And it's from Blumhouse, of course, the agile and sainted preservers of horror film dignity, who have, unlike the evil, Fresh™-only Marvel Cinematic Universe, consistently produced films that turn out to be well-reviewed blockbusters (Get Out, the recent and brilliant The Invisible Man) and also total trash, reviled by critics and audiences alike (... Black Christmas).

But I love both. In fact, I usually land on the side of the trash. And - take note MCU! - you have to put out the good with the bad to be really worthwhile. Blumhouse gets that. And I appreciate it. We'll see where on the scale The Hunt lands. But it's time that it finally gets a chance to.

Opening weekend: $15 million / Total gross: $35 million

4. A Quiet Place Part II (March 20th)
Many moons ago, John Krasinski made a little movie about a near-future where alien creature monsters have invaded our close personal space, with these ravenous beasts serving no purpose on planet earth but to hungrily and persisently devour anyone in their path, though the Achilles' heel, the cinema-ready catch, is that they can only find their prey through sound (don't worry, the ones they don't totally eat up are promptly taken in a doggy bag home. Food supply in the winter months can be lacking).

The film was A Quiet Place, which opened in April 2018 with $50m, and had totaled $188m by the time the very last patron was dragged screaming in horror out of the theatre.

Krasinski also starred, the bastard, joining Emily Blunt as a husband-and-wife who lead their offspring to near-redundant safety, and not always successfully (well, with keeping your children alive, you win some, you lose some. In the movie's opening scene, it was the latter).

A good time was had by all. And that box office number is still almost-unthinkable for a straightforward horror film, save for the occasional It, Get Out, or, uh, Happy Death Day, picture. So Krasinski, whose previous feature length directing credits were The Hollas (2016) and 2009's Brief Interviews with Hideous Men (now now; and yes, he was in it), was instantly enshrined alongside Jordan Peele as henceforth a horror maven, with a critic whose name I've misplaced writing, sigh, "our funniest people are making our best horror films" (...).

Now, two years have passed and John Krasinski's back to direct, produce, and write. I won't spoil the previous film but, uh, Emily Blunt returns, along with Millicent Simmons and Noah Jupe as the children (Jupe doesn't much look like he could be this couple's. it happens). For extra effect, this survivor family was pregnant with another child in the previous film, so that's an extra mouth to keep from becoming space feed.

Everyone knows my rule about horror sequels, first-time ones: they rarely if ever outgross the original film (its total). Late last year It: Chapter 2, Zombieland 2: Double Tap, and Doctor Sleep all reiterated that lesson in quick succession. And before that, Happy Death Day 2, Us (Get Out 2? Well, not really), and the pugnacious 47 Meters Down: Uncaged.

All made less than the original, and some came just a million close. But sure, there are exceptions to the rule as with everything, and A Quiet Place II has been spending months trying to make its case at being one: it is being marketed more like a blockbuster March film event than "just" another horror film; the star of the original, Blunt, is a big-name draw and serious thespienne, rather than a delightfully hammy horror actress (though you know which of the two has my vote); as said, Krasinski helms again, rather than some jabroni; and it has a trailer with some real terrific money shots, most pointedly some implausibly perfect reverse driving. Reviews will, perhaps, be great again. Or maybe they won't be. Time and tomatoes will tell.

Now, nevermind sequels, but horror films of late have run an almost unprecedented streak of mere single-digit openings, ever since Black Christmas in December, the kind of wave not seen in perhaps 15 or 20 years, before inflation kicked in. In the past weeks, the masterful The Invisible Man has been shaking life into our genre, and A Quiet Place II should draw more horror people out and back into the theatre, though they won't stop me from abiding my sequel rule and pegging this one down under 188.

Opening weekend: $63 million / Total gross: $152 million


5. I Still Believe (March 13th)
If The Hunt is not really to your taste...

KJ Apa, dyed-burning red Archie of Riverdale, is a nice and likeable young actor with a burly disposition, in the Brenton Thwaites tradition (... google him). Britt Robertson, though long not a teenager herself, is a veteran of several YA series and then many a teenage romance film of the late 2010s (The Space Between Us, The Longest Ride, which wasn't half bad).

They've played love interests before, actually, in A Dog's Purpose, and here they are reunited in a faith-based film about contemporary Christian music singer Jeremy Camp and his wife, Melissa, who was diagnosed with ovarian cancer shortly after their marriage and died not long after. "I Still Believe" is the first song he wrote after her death. I don't believe I've heard it, but I know it'll be at least the first one played at the beginning of the closing credits.

There is, perhaps, not much this particular forecaster can write about a film biopic of a Christian music singer, so I'll say this: Riverdale premiered January 26, 2017, and has in recent times supplied perhaps the biggest collection of teenage actors into the movies (ok, as with Robertson, actors in their 20s, sometimes late 20s). The excellent and 27 year-old Cole Sprouse believably starred as a 17 year-old cystic fibrosis patient in Five Feet Apart ($45m total), and frankly should have been on the shortlist for the new, younger Batman; Charles Melton popped up in Bad Boys 3 and headlined The Sun is Also a Star, and did so well; and Lili Rinehart, the ingratiating and alluring would-be Nancy Drew of the show, Betty, clearly was having a blast as a crooked stripper (yes, she strayed from the law) in Hustlers last year.

Now here is Apa, with a leading role and Gary Sinise and Shania Twain (no relation), making her feature film debut, as his parents. And there is sometime else I can write: the same studio, Lionsgate, previously released I Can Only Imagine, about Christian singer Bart Millard. That film opened with $17m on March 16, 2018, and totalled at eighty three million (dollars) by the time summer was just revving up. In fact, it beat every single other March film (and there were many) but A Wrinkle in Time and Ready Player One. That I haven't seen it yet may or may not speak to my own ignorance. But I know there's an audience out there for this film too.

Opening weekend: $14 million / Total gross: $44 million

6. Bloodshot (March 13th)
Vin Diesel is... Bloodshot, the latest in the action films the man pumps out during breaks from his lifelong pursuit of placing as many Fast & Furious films as possible into the historical record (a noble goal, to be sure, and one I can second).

There'll be more on Fast 9 in May, I guess, though I simply have to note right now that the franchise is beginning to resemble a telenovela punctuated by scenes of rather excellent car chase madness.

To properly forecast Bloodshot, one has to go back to the beginning. Muscular, not supertall, and with a rough and rock-ribbed growl to deliver both macho dialogue and family bromides with, Vin Diesel began the climb on the ladder of rise-to-fame just as the century was starting up. And he's a pleasure to watch in these films. He gave us hints of his potential in Boiler Room and Pitch Black (2000), and then exploded like a firecracker into the bright night sky in 2001, headlining The Fast & The Furious (2001; $40m open), before moving on to the equally excellent action thriller xXx (2002; $44m start). He stumbled a bit with Riddick 2 (2004), and then there was The Pacifier, which Diesel fans often forget quite easily added another $100m of box office onto the national tab. But F + F is the franchise of his life.

Indeed, since these early epics, the man's record has tethered itself to car sports, with periodic excursions into the other kind of action cinema expected of the star of such a franchise. There was A Man Apart (2003; $26m total) and Babylon A.D. (2008; $22m) and Riddick (2013; $42m), and solid drama work playing relatively normal men in Find Me Guilty (2005) and Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk (2016), even if the box office totals for these last two have been, uh, misplaced.

Bloodshot swings back to the non-FF action. Elsewhere on the cast roster, we have Eiza González as a trademark tough-as-nails bombshell, along with Toby Kebbell and the debonair Sam Heughan, who had previously starred in, but not, alas, not as, The Spy Who Dumped Me. If he's starring with Mila Kunis, as in that film, he must be playing a good guy. If he's in a movie with Diesel, it's clear that he won't be.

Diesel and the R rating for strong violence and action go well together, no? - but Bloodshot is PG-13. The film's a comic book adaptation, and also allegedly a superhero movie, which usually means a long, angry write-up from me, but I'm in a charitable mood tonight. The print version is by Valiant Comics, and this is the first ever movie from their strip loins, with the plot as one might expect in a film about a high-end comic book assassin played by Diesel and titled "Bloodshot."

He's a man who's killed (his wife, too, for motivation for later), and then brought back as a super-powered hired hitman by a mystery organization, proceeding to dispatch his targets with both aplomb and shocking skill before discovering, I suppose, the real villain of the piece. (any guesses?) His logic is pretty damn sound. After all, to paraphrase Roger Ebert's review of Jaws 4, what man wouldn't want revenge against the man who killed him?

Opening weekend: $12 million / Total gross: $35 million

7. My Spy (March 13th)
As glimpsed with the pedantic recitation of Vin Diesel's filmography just two slots above... there comes a time in every action star he-man muscle beach resident's life when he must don the apron, head to the kitchen, roll-up the cleanex, and take care of small children who are clearly in desperate need of assistance from a 250 pound stone-made professional in the international espionage business.

Don't get me started on how many diapers The Rock's changed on screen, but Diesel had, and was, The Pacifier, Mark Wahlberg conjured up some Instant Family, and so therefore John Cena made Playing with Fire (which I, uh, do not recommend), and the original granddaddy of them all, Arnold Schwarzenegger, went from taking care of small children in Kindergarten Cop to being pregnant with one in Junior (mazel tov!).

Here wrestler/bodybuilder/bouncer/professional Lee Van Cleef-lookalike Dave Bautista (for this is, indeed, a Dave Bautista film) is the manly man forced to get in the arena and quiet down a fierce little tyke who's come in the way of his macho life business. He's a secret agent. She's a little girl who doesn't take kindly to his grown-up s--t (Chloe Coleman). The chemistry is undeniable.
Between Bloodshot, The Hunt, and My Spy, the 13th is clearly a counterprogramming week to the big, unwatchable, Disneyfied blockbusters of March, and what film exudes counterprogramming joi-de-vivre more than this?

Children (I hope it was children) made Playing with Fire a decent hit three months back - $44m, and yes, John Cena's newly-child-rearing overmuscled fireman really did get a big diaper-changing scene to call his own, with all the bells & whistles that entails in a film such as this. Some of those same children are still out there, still evil, still killing, and we may see them strike again with the numbers here, especially if they're freed again on March break.

Opening weekend: $12 million / Total gross: $33 million

8. The Way Back (March 6th)
In what is presumably based on 1000 true stories, Ben Affleck stars as a beaten-down, alcoholic working man who becomes a basketball coach at his old high school, and proceeds to strike terror into the heart of reinvigorate both his life and the team, leading to the inevitable victory, both on the sports field and at his inner emotional core. Begone to demon in a bottle.

It's what Roger Ebert called the CLIDVIC film (Climb from Despair to Victory), a term I still demand become household known. And it's from Gavin O'Connor, who directed another excellent film about a comeback in both life and sport, Warrior (2011); and also perhaps less memorably helmed Affleck in The Accountant (2016), a thriller which made a whole lot of money ($86m) for an original property with a title that scares very many people.

In its portrait of a coach and his family facing hard times who elevate a forgotten community into triumph and joy, the film harkens back to many a sports drama, but most particularly and recently Kevin Costner in McFarland, USA (2015), about cross-country runners. The supporting cast leans comedic (Al Madrigal, Michaela Watkins), but the serious review acclamation is there (88% Fresh), and Affleck for his part has filled the film's press tour with a lot of candor about his personal life and own addictions. In a season that has few old-school alternatives for adult audiences, this one could slowly gain ground.

Opening weekend: $12 million / Total gross: $36 million



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