July 2021 Forecast Part Two

By Michael Lynderey

July 6, 2021

Black Widow

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6. Fear Street (July 2-16, Netflix)
I was big on Fear Street in the 1990s, discovering the books, appropriately, a year or two after I uncovered the majesty of its younger cousin Goosebumps, both from the same wonderful man, R.L. Stine. Comparatively, the Fear Streets, which began in 1989, were the tales of what seemed like mature teenagers solving more complex and less goofy mysteries and murders, investigating missing classmates and strange new habits, stepping into the world after dark. Their antagonists, the ones who were dragged off kicking and screaming at the end (sometimes), were psychologically wounded and crazed kids their own age, driven to murder and madness you had to imagine for yourself on the all-seeing canvass of the page. Occasionally, the books dipped into a different kind of evil, an ancient curse, or a restless spirit roaming hungry in the woods.

I read every Fear Street book up to about 1999 or 2000, I think, and then I faded away, and so did they. R.L. Stine published a Fear Street Seniors mini-series with a baker's dozen in 2005, and then six more Fear Street books between 2014 and 2016, but otherwise that world has largely stayed dormant since, waiting.

Many other millennial horror fans have probably spent decades in general and two years in particular anticipating the Fear Street film adaptations, which premier as a trilogy on Netflix this month after many years of false starts and unrealized projects (a Fear Street series and film were optioned in October 1997, part of the Scream era of teen slashers, and it wasn't the last time). A shunned and bizarre TV pilot called "Ghosts of Fear Street" aired on ABC one sunny summer night in July 1998, where I know I viewed it, but that was the only time the books had made it to any screen.

But then came 2019, and Fox made the bold if financially shaky decision to adapt three Fear Streets to film as a trilogy, announcing this fact just weeks before Disney bought the studio and changed everything. But filming did commence, and now Netflix has collected them all. The films are set in 1994, 1978, and 1666, though the timezones will overlap by the end. The first film, which premiered July 2, was generally entertaining, though it felt to me more like a combination of the Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark movie, Goosebumps, and the gory parts of a reasonably violent slasher film, than Fear Street, a group of books that I recall as being more psychological and less humorous, and less inclined to this type of cinematic narrative.

Next week brings summer camp horror in 1978, as Camp Nightwing is beset by a mad slasher who's getting the jump on Jason Voorhees and mommy by a year or two. Then we have 1666, as the trilogy acknowledges the many Fear Street books that were set in Colonial America, not a time period a lot of horror films have braved over the last 70 years (with apologies to The VVitch).

And after the films are streamed and streamed again this summer and in ensuing years, will Fear Street still survive, and thrive, up there on the screen? Yes, I think it lives on. Just as long as there's young people obsessed with terror, horror, and the endless night, they can always find the dark right down the street.

7. Space Jam: A New Legacy (July 16th)
The title is a lie, or at least a fib. This film is not set in outer space, but in virtual space. No matter.

As it was once, so it will be again. A legendary athletic champion of the planet earth must team with various recognizable animated characters, with whom he exchanges witty repartee, in order to win an important game against some kind of malevolent being - a species that foolishly allows its fate to be staked on one single athletic contest as opposed to the old-fashioned way, employing pint-sized flying saucers with death rays for gradual annihilation. The opponent was space aliens in 1996, and, hastily updated to "our" current fears, an evil computer virus (Don Cheadle) in 2021.

Michael Jordan was the human champion then, and this seemed like a spectacularly good idea for a movie when it was sold to my young mind in 1996. However, that was before I discovered slasher films, road trip comedies, seafood porn, and other cinematic delights (like the Fast and Furious movies). So now I'm not so sure. In fact, in the years since the winter of 1996, every time the chance to rewatch the film has materialized, I've passed. Now to further complicate my dilemma, comes the sequel.

Advertising is everywhere and the film is here essentially as the presumptive children's film of the rest of the summer (assuming "children's" don't watch Purge and Candyman movies, which is their loss); the kind of ticket anyone under the age of 11 could not possibly resist but ask for. LeBron James, the star, is, I am reliably informed, a massive, popular celebrity and super sport legend in the field of basketball (you just have to take people's word for it sometimes). And he is paired with Buggs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Sylvester, and Elmer Fudd, all of them adept basketball teammates for Mr. James, just waiting for the very tall man to lead them to victory.

I looked up who directed the original film (it was Joe Pytka! of course. Joe!) and see that the sequel's under the thumbprint of Malcolm D. Lee, whose filmography ranges from the quite humorous Undercover Brother, and the satisfying and underseen Soul Men, to films that were... less... amusing as that. Girls Trip, the recent blockbuster, brought him to this space, his most PG-friendly film yet, and with the Hot Wheels movie apparently also on his plate, that's where he may stay.

Now, even with the HBO MAX thing glaring temptingly in the background, can Space Jam join the $100m club? LeBron James surely commands the unrelenting respect Jordan did back in the golden 1990s, and it seems the little creaturoids who comprise the Looney Tunes are not giving up their cultural hold on the younger youth audience, either, the way cowboys and aliens have receded to the background. Indeed, the film was clearly made with the premise that if something worked once, if replicated as precisely as possible, it will presumably work again, and who are we as a moviegoing audience to mess with such a time-tested equation?

Opening weekend: $38 million / Total gross: $115 million

8. The Boss Baby: Family Business (July 2nd)
Alec Baldwin reprises what could be only the second most definitive role of his career, as the little diaper-wearer with an attitude and a "knack for business." While not readily apparent from the cute posters or oodles or advertising, these films go with the premise that certain babies are ruthlessly intelligent, can hold conversations in perfect, unbroken English, and, most importantly, have been sent to this realm from some high-tech organization up above which assigns them the mission of turning the love of humans more toward babies than to puppies.

Yeah, no kidding. That isn't going to happen.

But the Boss Baby tries again in the sequel, this time confronting a new villain (Jeff Goldblum), an evil baby who wishes to erase childhoods as part of his nefarious plot to---

OK, the rest can be googled or viewed by any interested parties. I will move on to note that, as before, the animated voice cast is excellent, with Lisa Kudrow and Jimmy Kimmel as Boss' unsuspecting parents, James Marsden replacing Tobey Maguire as the boss's grown, quite post-baby brother, and Eva Longoria and Amy Sedaris as other relations in this increasingly complex and growing family tree.

Any new animated film that makes $175m domestic and isn't claimed by Pixar is absolutely guaranteed a sequel, and even though four years have passed (Boss Baby opened to a surprise $50m on March 31, 2017), the film has finally been given one. Universal seems quite enthusiastic with the picture, having moved it up to summer, and into its merry troika that also includes F9 and The Purge 5, all of them enjoying the top three spots at the box office as of this very moment. Universal rules.

Now, sure, there's some same-day streaming action involved here (Peacock, a streaming service I assume all of us have duly subscribed to, does the honours). But the film is playing itself out reasonably well if not at 2017 levels, opening to about $20m, and probably has something in mind like the slow, strong, smooth rides on the numbers charts that Cruella and even sly old Peter Rabbit are enjoying. I think there are a lot of very smart children out there, some of them maybe even intelligent enough that they would accept the challenge of understand the plot.

Total gross: $65 million


9. Stillwater (July 30th)
Matt Damon puts on the baseball hat (not red, no! no!) and the gout and stars in director-co-writer Tom McCarthy's soft reboot of Taken and Liam Neeson.

And I do mean soft - this isn't an action film, but a drama, the tale of an oil rig worker from Oklahoma whose daughter (Abigail Breslin) is accused of murder somewhere in the wilds of France (they call it "Marseiellees," but I can not hope to spell nor pronounce it), and who subsequently journeys all the way to France to mount her legal defense.

If Liam Neeson were in this situation, he would arm himself to the teeth with AKs and grenades, get into France through an underground shipping port running directly through the Barbary Coast to Gdansk, Poland, and then storm the Bastille to rescue his daughter with a couple of old ex-military pals in tow, one of whom would betray him; all while making anti-gun statements in interviews promoting the film.

But Matt DAMON has to be a spoil sport about it and pursue the discredited path of the failed intellectual instead, learning French (!), moving to the country, and hoping that his grasp of the intricate and completely unreasonable local legal system would ever result in his daughter's freedom. What an ---hole!

Of course, Tom McCarthy wrote and directed Spotlight, so there's at least one person who knows what they're doing involved here. We'll just have to put our faith in him instead.

Opening weekend: $6 million / Total gross: $15m

10. Black Widow (July 9th)
A Justice Department staffer investigates mob-related deaths and notices (to her horror!) that two prominent, wealthy men across the country have died from a remarkably similar and extremely rare medical condition. Even against the wishes of her superiors, she digs real deep into this pair of untimely and heinous demises, and discovers that both men had recently wed a much younger spouse. A woman who not only managed to stay out of any stray photo, but in both cases had completely disappeared in the subsequent months. Was the same deranged lady the culprit? And can she be found before she strikes again?

All of that happened in the film Black Widow (1987), a thriller and drama with sexy overtones, some occasionally homoerotic rapport between the two women, and a nice unexpected Hawaiian beach visage for the last 45 minutes, for any tourists who might happen to have been in the audience. Contemporaneous reviews were positive (Roger Ebert almost liked it). Box office was... receptive ($25m). And then, in the spate of the many (many, many) similar thrillers that followed, the film waved goodbye and was largely stricken from the collective memory.

Now, in the extremely futuristic year of 2021, Disney is taking the bold step of directly remaking the 1980s thriller and bringing these ostensibly non-superpowered characters officially into the Marvel Cinematic Universe, previously known for galactic superheroes and battery-powered individuals smashing tiny metropolises to little bits.

In the original, Debra Winger starred as the officer of the law, while Theresa Russell was the woman she slowly became obsessed with, fascinated by the possibility that this mysterious she-creature is easing her way into the lives of the wealthy before easing her way out from rooms containing their freshly-made corpses. The remake's plot is said to hue quite closely to the original, and the new casting feels just right this time, too. Established film star Scarlett Johansson rightly takes over for Winger, who was one of the biggest actresses of the 1980s, as the investigator; while rising ingenue Florence Pugh is the husbandkiller, much like Russell made the original film one of her breakout roles.

And it is in the supporting parts where we might find some of the real pulp juice of the picture. The casting department has certainly procured actors who are varied and memorable: as the wealthy spouses whom Pugh's character marries and then may aim to eliminate, we have David Harbour, Ray Winstone, Rachel Weisz, and, of course, Zach Braff.

Australian director Cate Shortland was previously in charge of the dramas Somersault and Lore and the thriller Berlin Syndrome, all of them well-reviewed for their crackling energy, and certainly preparing her in genre to make an old-fashioned cat-and-mouse suspense film such as this; she should work miracles with scenes where Johansson's character seductively ingratiates herself into Pugh's life, just as the latter may be making designs on putting an end to yet another marriage.

We can at this point peg Black Widow, A Quiet Place II, F9, and The Suicide Squad as the four dominant grossers of the season, and of course I'm thankful that Suicide Squad is the only superhero movie of the group. Black Widow 1987 opened on February 6 and actually came in fourth for the weekend (yes, that $3m open ballooned over 8 times), while Black Widow 2021 should, I imagine, have no trouble coming in at #1 for both its opening frame, and month, and summer, maybe (oh, lord, don't get me started on the possibility it's the biggest movie for the whole year... or the decade of the 2020s). Even with a same-day Disney+ premium cost release (that's $34 for you, again, sir...), the new Black Widow is in fact the presumptive winner of almost every financial achievement trophy, a status it had best be careful not to lose.

And there's every chance it won't. Understandably delayed for over a year, reviews are reasonably solid (as I have to always remind anyone who'll hear my pleas for mercy on this, 25 out of 25 MCU films have come in Fresh out of Rotten Tomatoes, a record I do not find agreeable). Many in the general public have anticipated this remake for quite some time. And the squad of Marvel fans will still turn out to see anything by the studio, even if it's about a tempestuous romance-infatuation-bloodpact, between a dedicated professional and the kind of murderous young she-devil we sadly haven't had play in the movies for quite some time.

Opening weekend: $81 million / Total gross: $250 million



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