2022 Oscar Predictions: The State of the Best Actor Race

My detailed look at six of the top Oscar categories – Picture, Director, and the four acting derbies – arrives at Best Actor. If you missed the posts covering the supporting races, you can find them here:

At this late October/early November stage of forecasting in the previous three years, my picks in the lead acting competitions have been more accurate than the supporting ones.

In 2019 at this juncture, I managed to correctly identify four of the five eventual nominees: winner Joaquin Phoenix (Joker), Leonardo DiCaprio (Once Upon a Time in Hollywood), Adam Driver (Marriage Story), and Jonathan Pryce (The Two Popes). The fifth was Antonio Banderas in Pain and Glory and he was listed in Other Possibilities.

Three of five was the story in 2020 and 2021. Two years ago, I had The Father‘s Anthony Hopkins (who won), Chadwick Boseman in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, and Gary Oldman (Mank) pegged with Riz Ahmed (Sound of Metal) and Steven Yeun (Minari) as possibles.

You may remember that Will Smith took gold last year for King Richard. I had him correctly called with two months remaining on the calendar. Same with Benedict Cumberbatch in The Power of the Dog and Denzel Washington for The Tragedy of Macbeth. Andrew Garfield (Tick, Tick… Boom!) was mentioned in Other Possibilities. Javier Bardem (Being the Ricardos) had yet to enter my top ten.

Had a certain slap heard around the world not occurred, it’s totally possible that Will Smith (Emancipation) might be listed in my top 5. However, with his current ban from attending the ceremony, I question whether he could make a return to the ballot so quickly after the controversy. Therefore he’s not in my top 10. We’ll see if the reviews (coming soon) change the dynamic.

We do have a frontrunner and that’s Brendan Fraser in The Whale. Since its Venice and Toronto fest bows, he’s drawn raves. This is also a comeback narrative that the Academy should fall for. I’ve had Fraser listed in 1st for several weeks and I see no reason to change that.

There are two viable runners-up in Colin Farrell (The Banshees of Inisherin) and Austin Butler (Elvis). I’ve been switching them in 2nd and 3rd place over the past few posts. Farrell is 2nd because I think Banshees stands a better shot at a BP nod. You have to go back to 2009 and Jeff Bridges (Crazy Heart) where the Best Actor recipient’s movie didn’t achieve BP inclusion. If Elvis makes the big dance – an argument could be made that Butler is Fraser’s most serious competition to shake the race up.

After those three names, it could be a free for all for the final two slots. The only other performer I had listed in 1st place other than Fraser was Hugh Jackman for The Son. This was before it premiered at the festivals and garnered middling reviews. Now the question is whether Jackman gets in at all.

Someone who has fared well on the fest circuit is Bill Nighy for Living. Sony Pictures will need to mount a spirited campaign, but they’re good at that kinda thing. I’m starting to feel better about Nighy than Jackman.

Diego Calva is the biggest remaining question mark for Babylon. Screenings coming up in two weeks should help answer his viability. There’s a pair of indie performances that could bubble up if critics groups assist – Paul Mescal for Aftersun and Jeremy Pope in The Inspection. One possible hindrance for both of them is their movies are both A24 and that studio could be distracted with crowning Fraser. We could see foreign film leads Song Kang-ho (Broker) and Park Hae-il (Decision to Leave) make a play.

Netflix is apparently going in on a spirited campaign for Adam Sandler in Hustle. I have a hard time seeing that pan out (especially since he couldn’t get in for Uncut Gems). The streamer could also focus on Christian Bale (The Pale Blue Eye) or Adam Driver (White Noise). Bale also has Amsterdam, but it failed with critics and audiences.

Finally… there’s Tom Cruise. A three-time nominee, it’s been 23 years since he was in the mix. And a little pic called Top Gun: Maverick was easily the largest blockbuster of his career and the runaway hit of 2022. I’m not ready to put him in my five. I wouldn’t be shocked if he ends up there.

Here’s my current state of this race:

1 . Brendan Fraser, The Whale (Previous Ranking: 1) (Even)

2. Colin Farrell, The Banshees of Inisherin (PR: 2) (E)

3. Austin Butler, Elvis (PR: 3) (E)

4. Bill Nighy, Living (PR: 4) (E)

5. Hugh Jackman, The Son (PR: 5) (E)

Other Possibilities:

6. Diego Calva, Babylon (PR: 6) (E)

7. Tom Cruise, Top Gun: Maverick (PR: 7) (E)

8. Jeremy Pope, The Inspection (PR: 8) (E)

9. Adam Driver, White Noise (PR: 9) (E)

10. Paul Mescal, Aftersun (PR: Not Ranked)

Dropped Out:

Song Kang-ho, Broker

Best Actress is up next!

November 4-6 Box Office Predictions

Black Adam hopes for a three-peat before Black Panther: Wakanda Forever invades theaters next weekend. In order to do so, it’ll need to fend off Japan’s animated fantasy One Piece Film: Red. We also have the expansion of Oscar hopeful The Banshees of Inisherin and you can peruse my detailed prediction posts on the newbies here:

One Piece is a bit of a mystery heading into the early November frame. I’ve settled on it getting to double digits, but it could certainly climb higher or fall under my projection. Keep an eye on whether my estimate changes throughout the weekend. A gross just north of $10 million should mean runner-up status with Black Adam in the low to possibly mid teens.

Oscar hopefuls like Banshees have faced a tough road and I suspect this will too. It could find itself in a fight with Prey for the Devil for the five spot as I anticipate that horror pic will suffer a large sophomore decline. I’m giving Prey the edge.

Holdovers Ticket to Paradise and Smile should place third and fourth. Finally, there’s also a wider rollout for Armageddon Time. The coming of age drama from director James Gray stars Anne Hathaway, Jeremy Strong, and Anthony Hopkins. I have not done an individual post forecasting its expansion because I don’t believe it will clear $1 million.

This is how I see the top 6 playing out:

1 . Black Adam

Predicted Gross: $14.4 million

2. One Piece Film: Red

Predicted Gross: $10.2 million

3. Ticket to Paradise

Predicted Gross: $6.8 million

4. Smile

Predicted Gross: $3.4 million

5. Prey for the Devil

Predicted Gross: $3.1 million

6. The Banshees of Inisherin

Predicted Gross: $2.2 million

Box Office Results (October 28-30)

As expected, Dwayne Johnson easily ruled the charts as Black Adam took in $27.4 million in weekend #2. That is on pace with my $28.1 million take and the ten-day total is $110 million.

Ticket to Paradise held the two spot with a 40% decline in its sophomore outing at $9.8 million, in line with my $10.4 million prediction. The two-week tally is $33 million.

Prey for the Devil scared up a middling $7.1 million in third. That’s nothing special for the exorcism tale which drew only a C+ Cinemascore grade. It did, however, top my $5.9 million forecast.

Smile was fourth with $5.4 million and I was more generous with $6.5 million. The low budget fright fest has amassed $92 million.

Halloween Ends rounded out the top five with $4 million (I said $4.1 million) for $60 million over three weeks.

Awards bait pics Till and Tár both underwhelmed in their wide premieres. The former was sixth with $2.7 million (not matching my $3.8 million projection). The latter was 10th with $1 million and I was more optimistic at $1.8 million. Respective totals are $3.5 million and $2.5 million.

And that does it for now, folks! Until next time…

The Banshees of Inisherin Box Office Prediction

Director Martin McDonagh reunites with his In Bruges leads Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson in The Banshees of Inisherin. The black comedy set a century ago in Ireland expands to approximately 800 screens next weekend after a solid limited debut. Kerry Condon and Barry Keoghan costar in McDonagh’s follow-up to 2017’s Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri which garnered six Academy nods.

Since its premiere at the Venice Film Festival, Inisherin has been subject to its own awards chatter (all four actors could get nominations). The Rotten Tomatoes meter is 97%. In 58 venues this past frame, Banshees took in over $500,000 with a per screen average approaching $10,000.

That could bode well for the early November buildout. On the other hand, we’ve seen platform release like Tár and Till struggle mightily as their counts grow. Banshees could have a slightly broader appeal. I’ll say anywhere between $2-3 million is the reasonable guesstimate.

The Banshees of Inisherin opening weekend prediction: $2.2 million

For my One Film: Red prediction, click here:

2022 Oscar Predictions: The State of the Supporting Actress Race

The Supporting Actress derby is up next for my deep dives in the six major categories (Picture, Director, the 4 acting competitions). If you missed my current take on Supporting Actor, it’s here:

With two months left to go in the calendar year, it’s a good time to take stock in where we stand in 2022 with the various hopefuls. In 2019 and 2020 in late October, I correctly identified 3 of the 5 eventual nominees in Supporting Actress. Three years ago, that included eventual winner Laura Dern (Marriage Story) as well as Florence Pugh (Little Women) and Margot Robbie (Bombshell). I had Scarlett Johansson listed in Other Possibilities for Jojo Rabbit while not having Kathy Bates (Richard Jewell) yet on the radar. A year later, the trio of Glenn Close (Hillbilly Elegy), Olivia Colman (The Father), and Amanda Seyfried (Mank) were already in my top five. Youn Yuh-jung (Minari) took the gold. Both she and Maria Bakalova (Borat Subsequent Moviefilm) were tagged in Other Possibilities.

The ratio dropped in 2021. I named 2 of the 5 women with Ariana DeBose in West Side Story (who won) and Kirsten Dunst for The Power of the Dog. 2 nominees – Judi Dench (Belfast) and Aunjanue Ellis (King Richard) – were in Other Possibilities while Jessie Buckley (The Lost Daughter) wasn’t in my listed ten.

We arrive at 2022 where Ms. Buckley is in the mix again. She appears in Women Talking alongside a large ensemble of additional actresses. This film gives us the highest probability of seeing double nominees from the same picture. It’s happened three times since 2010. Melissa Leo and Amy Adams were up for The Fighter that year with Leo emerging victorious. In 2011, Octavia Spencer took the statue for The Help with Jessica Chastain also making the cut. Emma Stone and Rachel Weisz were both in the mix for 2018’s The Favourite.

With Women Talking, the Academy could dive a tad deeper with Judith Ivery and Sheila McCarthy (who are standouts). I suspect they’ll go with Buckley and Claire Foy (who was notably snubbed three years ago for First Man). I’ve had the latter listed in first place as she’s got a slightly meatier role.

That brings us to a key caveat in this race. A few weeks back, there was the unexpected announcement that Michelle Williams in Steven Spielberg’s The Fabelmans would be campaigned for in lead actress. She could’ve easily been placed here. If the studio had done that, I would continue to have Williams at #1 and feel confident that she’d win her first Oscar. However, in the Best Actress competition, I only have her in fourth position as of my last forecast.

Back to performers who are eligible in this. As long as The Banshees of Inisherin performs well with voters (and it should), Kerry Condon should make the quintet and could be a threat to win. Truth be told, this seems like a wide open competition without Williams. I could see either Women Talking actress at the podium or Condon. Same goes for Hong Chau as Brendan Fraser’s caretaker in The Whale or Stephanie Hsu as the world altering daughter in Everything Everywhere All at Once. That film offers the possibility of an additional double nomination with Jamie Lee Curtis’s nearly unrecognizable role. As for The Whale, I think Chau is far more likely than costar Sadie Sink.

I’m not as sold on Anne Hathaway in Armageddon Time, which may not make a dent at the ceremony. The many negative reviews for The Son have me questioning the viability of Vanessa Kirby or Laura Dern. Cha Cha Real Smooth might be too small for Dakota Johnson to nab her first Academy mention. Thuso Mbedu in The Woman King seems like a stretch. There’s unseen performances that could rise up like Kate Winslet (Avatar: The Way of Water) or Jean Smart (Babylon). Of all those choices, only Smart is in the top ten.

Critics groups may be integral in weeding out the nominees. This is where we could see Nina Hoss (Tár) or Dolly de Leon (Triangle of Sadness) rise up. Or we could get a nominee from a forthcoming hit such as Angela Bassett (Black Panther: Wakanda Forever) or Janelle Monae (Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery).

Over the past couple of months, all of my five nominees have come from films that I have in my 1o Best Picture hopefuls. That also holds true for Supporting Actor. And, frankly, that usually doesn’t happen. This is partly why I’m putting Carey Mulligan (She Said) in my projections after the studio announced she’ll vie for supporting instead of lead. I’ve got She Said barely missing a BP nod.

Bottom line: nothing is close to being settled in Supporting Actress and the talking about these women could change as we get closer to nomination time.

Best Supporting Actress

Predicted Nominees:

1. Claire Foy, Women Talking (Previous Ranking: 1) (E)

2. Kerry Condon, The Banshees of Inisherin (PR: 3) (+1)

3. Jessie Buckley, Women Talking (PR: 2) (-1)

4. Hong Chau, The Whale (PR: 4) (E)

5. Carey Mulligan, She Said (PR: 7) (+2)

Other Possibilities:

6. Stephanie Hsu, Everything Everywhere All at Once (PR: 5) (-1)

7. Dolly De Leon, Triangle of Sadness (PR: 6) (-1)

8. Nina Hoss, Tár (PR: 8) (E)

9. Jamie Lee Curtis, Everything Everywhere All at Once (PR: 10) (+1)

10. Jean Smart, Babylon (PR: Not Ranked)

Dropped Out:

Janelle Monae, Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery

Best Actor is up next!

Everything Everywhere All at Once Review

It takes a few minutes to get acclimated to Everything Everywhere All at Once, a visionary and visual effects packed gumbo of genres from Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert (the directing duo known as Daniels). For a very brief period of time, I was as skeptical in taking the journey as our central character Evelyn (Michelle Yeoh) is. That didn’t last long. By the time I’d witnessed hot dog fingers, raccoons assisting hibachi meal preparations, and world destroying bagels, Everything had 100% won my heart over. I mean that literally. This is an emotional ride by its third act… in a film with raccoons assisting hibachi meal preparations. It’s cliche to say “you’ve never seen anything quite like this!” Not this time as it’s applicable and glorious.

Evelyn is running a laundromat in poor financial shape alongside her kind but somewhat listless husband Waymond (Ke Huy Quan). This is not exactly their vision of the American dream after they emigrated from China. Evelyn’s ailing father (James Hong) now lives with them, but years ago he strongly felt Waymond wasn’t good enough for his girl. Maybe he was right as Waymond has served his spouse with divorce papers. Evelyn can’t accept daughter Joy’s lesbianism or girlfriend Becky (Tallie Medel). This causes Joy (Stephanie Hsu) to rebel in ways both small and, as we’ll soon learn, hugely reality altering.

This family baggage is all brought to a cluttered cubicle manned with authority by Deirdre (Jamie Lee Curtis), an IRS agent. She takes her auditing duties very seriously and doesn’t like Evelyn’s spin about her washer and dryer location. Everything quickly gets weirder than the awards on Deirdre’s desk (you’ll see). The lackadaisical Waymond seemingly has a personality transplant into some sort of a super spy. Now identifying as Alpha Waymond, he explains to his perplexed wife that he’s come from an alternative world called the Alphaverse. In short, there are infinite dimensions (or Multiverses) where these characters exist. They are created by the choices that Evelyn makes. She’s a movie star in one or a chef in another (where we find that raccoon) and so forth. In some, she’s even inanimate objects. One constant is that the villainous Jobu Tapaki is attempting to destroy the Multiverse. And that deadly bad girl is always a version of Joy.

I’ll interrupt this plot description by coming clean and admitting that there’s no way to properly contextualize this movie. Readers of the previous three paragraphs might be scratching their heads and I get it. During the first half hour or so, that’s how I felt. How on Earth do hot dogs for fingers factor in? You have to see it to believe it. And you have to see it.

Kwan and Scheinert take all these wild ingredients and create a feast for movie lovers. There’s a kitchen sink mentality that can initially be overwhelming. Yet as it barrels along, I realized I didn’t want to leave the kitchen. It manages to be lots of stuff at the same time (maybe there’s a better way to say that). This is a tribute to the cinematic legacy of Yeoh, who’s given the role of a lifetime and still shows off her martial arts prowess at age 59. It’s a welcome return to the screen for Huy Quan nearly 40 years after his iconic child performances in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and The Goonies. For Hsu, this is star making work as the disgruntled daughter and Curtis nails her part as the frumpy and fervent government employee.

When Everything reaches it third act, I was gobsmacked by how moving it became. There are deep themes explored among the wiener digits and badgering cooks. This is about the love and sometimes tough love that families go through. The Daniels go as far to explore meaning of life questions in absurd yet ultimately boldly touching ways. It’s marvelously exhilarating.

**** (out of four)

2022 Oscar Predictions: The State of the Supporting Actor Race

With two months to go for 2022 releases to make their mark with awards voters, it’s a opportune time to assess the six major Oscar races. That would be Picture, Director, and the four acting derbies.

It begins with Supporting Actor. Over the past couple of years, this has been the category that’s confounded me the most during this juncture in the calendar.

That was a different story three years ago. In late October of 2019, I correctly identified 4 out of the eventual 5 nominees. This included winner Brad Pitt for Once Upon a Time in Hollywood as well as Tom Hanks (A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood), Anthony Hopkins (The Two Popes), and Al Pacino (The Irishman). The other nominee – Joe Pesci for The Irishman – was in my #6 spot.

For the unpredictable year that was 2020 (due to constantly shifting release dates because of COVID), I only named 2 of the 5 hopefuls two months out – Sacha Baron Cohen for The Trial of the Chicago 7 and Leslie Odom Jr. for One Night in Miami. I still had eventual victor Daniel Kaluuya (Judas and the Black Messiah) projected for lead actor until the studio announced him for supporting.

In 2021, I made a point to say that the Supporting Actor derby was wide open in late October. And that was evidenced in my only identifying 1 of the eventual Supporting Actor quintet in the Halloween time frame – Ciaran Hinds in Belfast. I had Troy Kotsur (CODA), who would take the gold statue, in 10th place. Bradley Cooper (Licorice Pizza) was in first place and he missed out. Kodi Smit-McPhee (The Power of the Dog), who made the cut, was in 8th place. His costar Jesse Plemons and J.K. Simmons (Being the Ricardos) weren’t listed at all.

Which brings us to 2022 and at this spooky time of year, I would say this competition is up in the air with no obvious frontrunner. 12 months ago, however, I couldn’t have imagined I’d kick off the speculation with this sentence…

The Supporting Actor discussion starts with Ke Huy Quan.

The 51-year-old actor belongs in the mid 80s cinematic Hall of Fame with his turns as Short Round in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and Data in The Goonies. His return to acting in Everything Everywhere All at Once has been met with raves. It’s also undeniable that his win would be a heckuva Academy narrative nearly 40 years after his iconic child performances. I’ve had him listed in first place for weeks and that remains.

In four of the last five years, we’ve witnessed double nominees in Supporting Actor. Last year it was the aforementioned Smit-McPhee and Plemons for The Power of the Dog. In 2020, we had the winner Daniel Kaluuya in Judas and the Black Messiah and his costar Lakeith Stanfield. 2019’s Irishman double duo was Pacino and Pesci. Five years ago, it was Sam Rockwell (who won) and Woody Harrelson for Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.

Martin McDonagh directed Billboards and his follow-up is The Banshees of Inisherin. Brendan Gleeson has sat in the #2 position for several prediction posts in a row. He’s a threat to take the prize. I believe his costar Barry Keoghan may also get in.

Banshees is not the only viable option for double nominees. Ke Huy Quan’s Doom maker Steven Spielberg has The Fabelmans. Before it screened at the Toronto Film Festival, we wondered whether Paul Dano or Seth Rogen (or both) would be the likely nominee(s). Post screening, scene (just one scene) stealer Judd Hirsch bubbled up while Rogen’s viability dwindled. Dano’s work is understated and certainly not as flashy as Hirsch’s brief turn. That leads me to put Hirsch in with Dano on the outside looking in. I’ll admit it’s a coin flip.

Damien Chazelle’s Babylon screens for critics in two weeks. There’s a trio of possibilities with Brad Pitt, Jovan Adepo, and Tobey Maguire. I’ve had Pitt in my 5 previously. It’s fair to speculate whether his recent tabloid headlines could hinder him. We’ll know more once reviews roll in.

Ben Whishaw in Women Talking is a trendy selection and for good reason. I’m not completely sold as voters could opt to focus only on his female cast members Claire Foy and Jessie Buckley (and maybe others) in Supporting Actress. Yet it feels wrong to keep him out right now.

You have to go back to 2013 to find the last time the five contenders all came from Best Picture nominees. I’m not wild about the fact that my projections currently do. There’s a few names that could get in from movies I’m not putting in BP list. We have Eddie Redmayne in The Good Nurse, Brian Tyree Henry for Causeway, Jeremy Strong or Anthony Hopkins in Armageddon Time, Mark Rylance in Bones and All, Micheal Ward in Empire of Light, Don Cheadle in White Noise, and Tom Hanks in Elvis. Of that group, I’m starting to flirt with the idea of Rylance being the guy. He scored an upset win here with Bridge of Spies in 2015 over Sylvester Stallone in Creed and Bones has its ardent admirers. I wouldn’t discount the Redmayne pick as he’s a Best Actor winner in 2014 for The Theory of Everything who was nominated again the following year with The Danish Girl. If Elvis manages a BP nod (not out of the question), this would increase the inclusion of Hanks. I do have Triangle of Sadness in my BP ten and that could mean a third nomination for Woody Harrelson.

Bottom line: I feel pretty confident about Ke Huy Quan and Brendan Gleeson. Everything everywhere else is up in the air.

With that said, here’s my state of the race:

Best Supporting Actor

Predicted Nominees:

1. Ke Huy Quan, Everything Everywhere All at Once (Previous Ranking: 1) (E)

2. Brendan Gleeson, The Banshees of Inisherin (PR: 2) (E)

3. Ben Whishaw, Women Talking (PR: 4) (+1)

4. Judd Hirsch, The Fabelmans (PR: 6) (+2)

5. Barry Keoghan, The Banshees of Inisherin (PR: 5) (E)

Other Possibilities:

6. Paul Dano, The Fabelmans (PR: 3) (-3)

7. Brad Pitt, Babylon (PR: 7) (E)

8. Mark Rylance, Bones and All (PR: Not Ranked)

9. Woody Harrelson, Triangle of Sadness (PR: 8) (-1)

10. Eddie Redmayne, The Good Nurse (PR: Not Ranked)

Dropped Out:

Brian Tyree Henry, Causeway

Tom Hanks, Elvis

My deep dive with the Supporting Actress field is next!

Decision to Leave Review

There is captivation without consummation in Park Chan-wook’s Decision to Leave, a stunning looking and sometimes confounding slice of pulp fiction. Its central romance is unique in the lack of actual sexual activity mixed with an abundance of genuinely felt romantic tension. There’s a dreamy like tone that echo the fantasies likely occurring in the lead detective’s smitten head. In that sense, calling this the filmmaker’s homage to Vertigo is fair. As in Hitchcock’s masterpiece, the fall may kill you.

In South Korea, the fall does kill a man while rock climbing and Detective Hae-jun (Park Hae-il) suspects it’s not an accident or suicide. The deceased’s younger wife Seo-rae (Tang Wei) doesn’t behave as the typical widow. She immediately goes back to work as an elder caregiver by reasoning that a living client takes precedent over a dead spouse. Hae-jun has his suspicions while his wild card partner (Go Kyung-po) is convinced of her guilt.

The interrogation scenes between Hae-jun and Seo-rae display the former’s infatuation with her. He treats her to high end cuisine during the probes while dealing with language barriers (she primarily speaks her native Chinese). Outside of the station, he’s eager to stake her out and eventually welcome her to his world. The detective at first seems happily married to the sweet Jung-an (Lee Hung-hyun), but the bliss appears to be a facade. He lives in a separate apartment during the week where his insomnia allows him to obsess over unsolved mysteries. The latest fixation and enigma is Seo-rae.

What is love (as Haddaway once asked) is ultimately the query of Decision to Leave. I won’t deny being a little confused in moments with its quick excursions into unrelated scenes that take the focus away from the central romance. When a key part of the narrative wraps up midway through, the picture flirts with being anti-climatic during the second half. Chan-wook’s impeccable style behind the camera prevents that from happening. So does some well-placed humor.

Both leads are beguiling with Wei in a star making performance. Decision is open ended as to how the viewer might interpret her actions. Some of Seo-rae’s behavior indicates she may love him too. For Hae-jun, maybe he could find the real answers to his hunches about her if his probing brain wasn’t buried in the sand. Or perhaps having that head in the sand is exactly where it needs to be.

*** (out of four)

Morbius Review

There are some Matrix adjacent fight scenes in Morbius that might have you thinking it should be called Morpheus. They’re nowhere near that level in quality and some of them are such a CG mess that you can’t tell what’s happening. Should our hero and villain bite the red artery or suck the blue vein? Despite its connective tissue to Sony’s Spider-Man Universe (meaning the web slinger and Venom), it’s hard to really care.

Dr. Michael Morbius (Jared Leto) is a world renowned expert in blood disorders. The experience is personal as he has one and makes it his life work to cure himself and others. His childhood friend Milo (Matt Smith) suffers from the same disease and has the money to bankroll Doc Mo’s research. A Costa Rican excursion results in the acquisition of vampire bats. Perhaps some genetic splicing will do the trick!

This is when Morbius is blessed and cursed with the batty sense. He feels better than ever (and looks jacked), but has to feast to keep the strength up. His desire to go full Dracula prevents him from offering the cure to Milo. That puts a strain on their friendship causing Milo to go full overacting bad guy.

While our title character tries to get by on artificial blood, many of the visual effects look pretty fake. There’s no real development of the supporting characters. This includes Adria Arjona as Morbius’s colleague/love interest, Jared Harris as his father figure and medical mentor, and Tyrese Gibson and Al Madrigal as detectives tracking the suckers. Maybe their time was cut. Maybe the filmmakers (with Daniel Espinosa in the director’s seat) are saving some for hoped for sequels. Tyrese is apparently signed for a three-picture deal which explains his curiously fast appearance.

In the first half, Morbius is a passable enough monster mash. Maybe even a little quaint as it sort of feels like a late 90s genre piece before most comic book movies came with $200 million budgets. I’m not sure I buy Leto as a brilliant physician turning down Nobel prizes, but he doesn’t embarrass himself. This sputters as the effects render it increasingly incomprehensible.

By the time it drops in Spidey references in the mid credits sequences, it’s gotten desperate. In this Spider-Verse, Morbius doesn’t reach the specific heights of the venomous creatures preceding it.

** (out of four)

One Piece Film: Red Box Office Prediction

Having grossed nearly $150 million in Japan and other territories, animated fantasy adventure One Piece Film: Red arrives on November 4th. The 15th feature in the franchise that began in 2000, the Toei Animation title comes from director Gorõ Taniguchi.

This is the same studio that gave us Dragon Ball Super: Broly and Dragon Ball Super: Super Hero. The former made nearly $10 million in its opening frame in January 2019 while Super Hero swooped to a remarkable $21 million start in August.

One Piece is currently the highest grosser of the year in Japan. Comparisons to Dragon Ball are tricky since the predecessors in this series have not received wide North American distribution. One Piece: Stampede preceded this and made just over $1 million domestically in 2019.

A further complication is that I’ve yet to see a screen count. The aforementioned Super Hero flew to its $20M+ premiere in 3000 venues. I doubt this will reach those numbers. That said, I’ve underestimated this genre before and it seems sensible to project this could debut right above or right below $10 million.

One Piece Film: Red opening weekend prediction: $10.2 million

For my The Banshees of Ininsherin prediction, click here:

Don’t Worry Darling Review

The halcyon neighborhood in Olivia Wilde’s Don’t Worry Darling looks like something a production designer would mount for a 1950s suburban setting (think Pleasantville or Edward Scissorhands). In the director’s sophomore feature after the winning Booksmart, that begins to make more sense as time passes. The male characters are all about appearance and maintaining a certain Mad Men vibe. Their wives are expected to maintain the home (though there are more frequent opportunities for cocktails given the pined for time period). You don’t need to be a cinephile to suspect this idealized community could be a facade and that dark secrets lurk. You might be reminded of several films with similar themes that were more successful. Meanwhile… that production design and other tech aspects? They’re exquisite. So is the lead performance. They’re also contained in a story that’s often baffling in its narrative design.

Alice Chambers (Florence Pugh) is a resident of Victory, California where everyone seems to have a winning attitude. Her husband Jack (Harry Styles), along with the rest of the townsmen, work at Headquarters where their uniform job description is developing “progressive materials”. Alice and the rest of the spouses have no clue what that means and seem more concerned with the sheets being properly folded and the roast being cooked at the proper temperature. The unofficial ruler of Victory is Frank (Chris Pine). In addition to being the boss at Headquarters (where the ladies are strictly forbidden from visiting), he has daily indoctrination monologues disguised as a radio show. The call letters could be CULT.

The tranquil facade is threatened when Alice’s friend Margaret (KiKi Layne) begins making accusations about the hierarchy. Shortly thereafter, Alice’s experiences have her questioning this reality. That doesn’t sit well with Frank or Jack, who’s climbing up the corporate ladder. She also finds little support from next door neighbor and bestie Bunny (Wilde), who seems perfectly content with the setup. Same with Frank’s doting wife Shelley (Gemme Chan).

Don’t Worry Darling, with a screenplay from Booksmart scribe Katie Silberman, finds influences from many sources. Notable ones include The Matrix, The Truman Show, and obviously The Stepford Wives. For a while (easily the first half), it’s a decently intriguing and gorgeously rendered paranoia thriller. Yet I couldn’t shake where I thought it was headed and once it got there, it felt as empty as Alice’s daytime activities. This is no fault of the actress playing her. Pugh is a firecracker and that’s not matched by her costars. The charisma of Styles, so evident in his role as Biggest Male Pop Star on the Planet, isn’t evident here.

Silberman’s script leaves plenty of questions burning in the Victory sun. When the credits rolled, I was only mildly interested in the light being shed on them. The style is present with Darling. The substance slows down the progression of this material.

**1/2 (out of four)