Daily Streaming Guide: March 18th Edition

Continuing on with my Daily Streaming Guide for worthy titles available on various services – let’s call today the Alex Garland Edition. He’s the director behind both science fiction titles that are highly worthy of a look:

Netflix

We begin with his intelligent 2015 effort about artificial intelligence – Ex Machina starring Domhnall Gleeson, Oscar Isaac, and Alicia Vikander. Made for a reported lowly $15 million, this is the type of sci-fi that Stanley Kubrick probably would have been proud of. Machina even won the Oscar for Visual Effects over high-profile features like Mad Max: Fury Road and Star Wars: The Force Awakens. It also features one of the greatest out of nowhere dance sequences in cinematic history in my view.

Hulu

Garland’s excursion into high minded sci-fi continued with Annihilation, his 2018 follow-up. The visually stunning experience featuring Natalie Portman and Isaac (again) has themes that will stick with you post credits. And just like Ex Machina features a scene that floored me, so does this. The former involved dancing. The latter involves a human and a bear sharing the same voice. You’ll see what I mean. It’s terrifying and thrilling simultaneously.

I’ll be back at it soon, folks! Until then…

Annihilation Movie Review

In 2015, screenwriter and author Alex Garland announced himself as quite a special director with Ex Machina. With a visual style that drew fair comparison to Stanley Kubrick and a compelling story to go with it, that picture was one of the year’s highlights. There is no sophomore slump to be had with Annihilation, a challenging and eye-popping sci-fi experience that sticks with you after the credits roll (as did his first picture).

Lena (Natalie Portman) is a biology professor and Army vet whose husband Kane (Oscar Isaac) has been missing for a year after taking on a mysterious mission. He turns up one day after that disappearance, but doesn’t seem himself. A health scare causes him to be quarantined and causes Lena to search for answers. She finds some of them from psychologist Dr. Ventress (Jennifer Jason Leigh). It turns out Kane was part of a secret expedition to The Shimmer, a stretch of land that’s been evacuated and is undergoing government testing for bizarre activity within its perimeters. Many military personnel have entered it. Kane is the first to return.

Dr. Ventress and Lena figure out that some scientific experience may be better served to investigate The Shimmer, as opposed to military might. They assemble an all female squad that includes a physicist (Tessa Thompson), a paramedic (Gina Rodriguez), and a geologist (Tuva Novotny) to join them. Other than the doctor, the rest of the team is unaware of Lena’s familial connection to The Shimmer.

The world that these five women enter is a beautiful, eerie, and dangerous one. There are surprises to be found in The Shimmer – so much so that saying too much would enter spoiler territory. All of the characters that enter it have backstories that cause them to take on such a risky mission. Lena’s is an obvious one – to find out what happened to her husband. Some of the others are a bit more subtle.

Annihilation, like Ex Machina, has certain sequences that are stunning. There’s a scene involving a highly abnormal creature (you’ll know when you see it) that is truly tension filled and weirdly wonderful. The production design and look of The Shimmer is a triumph. Portman’s central character is a complicated one. She’s not just the concerned wife looking for answers. Lena has her own demons and they tie directly into her mission. That holds true for all of the women. Leigh and Rodriguez are particular standouts in their supporting work.

After Ex Machina, I certainly anticipated Annihilation to be a visually glorious experience and it is. Yet we’ve also seen Garland’s abilities to tell a tale packed with food for thought afterwards. Annihilation has something to say about rebirth, marriage, disease, depression, and more. You may not even realize it all until later. In the meantime, I remained transfixed on the unique world it created to explore those issues.

***1/2 (out of four)

Oscar Watch: Annihilation

Alex Garland’s Annihilation hits theaters tomorrow and the science fiction thriller has been subject to some glowing reviews. It stands at 88% currently on Rotten Tomatoes. The film is the follow-up to director Garland’s 2015 debut Ex Machina, which nabbed two Oscar nominations. Machina won for Visual Effects (which was a bit of a surprise) and got a nod for Original Screenplay.

Annihilation is based on a novel and would compete in Adapted Screenplay. It’s unlikely this would compete for the big prizes like Picture, Director, or any of the acting races. Visual Effects could be a different story as critics have taken notice of that aspect of its production. Like Machina, it could find itself a contender in that category.

That said, distributor Paramount doesn’t seem very confident with Annihilation. That’s despite the positive critical reaction. The picture appears unlikely to make much noise at the box office and one wonders if the studio will push it for awards consideration at all. With the February release date, it’s possible Oscar voters will have simply forgotten Garland’s sophomore effort come voting time. Time will tell.

My Oscar Watch posts will continue…

 

Annihilation Box Office Prediction

Blogger’s Note part 2 (02/20): I am once again revising my estimate. Now to $10.4 million

Blogger’s Note (02/15): I’m losing faith a bit for Annihilation debut. Revising down from $14.4 million to $12.4 million

Three years ago, screenwriter Alex Garland made his directorial debut with the acclaimed sci-fi pic Ex Machina, which garnered an Original Screenplay Oscar nomination and won for Visual Effects. Next Friday, his sophomore effort Annihilation debuts. Based on the novel from James VanderMeer, Natalie Portman stars in the $55 million production combining sci-fi, horror, and action elements. Costars include Jennifer Jason Leigh, Gina Rodriguez, Tessa Thompson, and Machina lead Oscar Isaac.

While Annihilation is hitting theaters in the U.S., Canada, and China, it’s slated to roll out on Netflix in other international markets. Early critical buzz is pretty solid so far, but it could struggle to break out stateside. Audiences are likely to still be flocking to Black Panther, which will be in its second weekend of release (and doing its own annihilation of competitors).

Fans of Machina, the genre, and Portman may be enough to get this between $10 million on the low end and $15 million on the high end. I’ll project roughly in the lower end of that range.

Annihilation opening weekend prediction: $10.4 million

For my Game Night prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2018/02/14/game-night-box-office-prediction/

Todd’s FINAL 2015 Oscar Predictions

Here we are folks! After numerous posts prognosticating on what and whom will be nominated for the Academy Awards honoring 2015’s best, we will all collectively find out tomorrow morning. This Oscar season has been filled with much intrigue and a great deal of uncertainty.

Many questions abound:

  • Will the performances of Rooney Mara (Carol) and Alicia Vikander (The Danish Girl) be recognized in lead Actress or Supporting Actress? That query alone makes predicting both of those races tricky this year. I will go with both being recognized in Supporting, but if Oscar voters go lead with one or both, it changes the whole dynamic. There’s also the possibility that Vikander could be honored in Supporting for Ex Machina and not Danish, which adds to the confusion.
  • Will the Academy nominate their first Star Wars pic (The Force Awakens) since the original 38 years ago? It’s already become the highest grossing film of all time and could certainly lead to even more eyeballs watching the telecast. That said, I have it narrowly missing the cut.
  • Will Leonardo DiCaprio finally win the gold statue for his work in The Revenant? Precursor awards including the Golden Globes point to yes. A nomination seems assured.
  • Is Spotlight truly the front runner or not? Many other possibilities are out there for an “upset” win. It is, at best, a soft front runner.
  • I’ll finally note that my predictions reflect a belief that Straight Outta Compton will be shut out. This goes against what several other predictors are saying and many have it being recognized in Best Picture. Another high profile offering that I have coming up empty: Black Mass.

As I’ve done for the last several weeks, I’m listing my predicted nominees and other possibilities in each category by likelihood of being nominated. Just because I have something listed as #1 doesn’t mean I’m predicting it to win (I’ll have my first blog post up predicting the winners this weekend). In parentheses after each entry is how far each predicted nominee/possibility has fallen from my previous predictions last week. On Thursday evening, I’ll have a post up letting you know how well (or not so much) I did.

Let’s get to it, shall we? My FINAL predictions:

Best Picture

As I see it, there are 21 films vying for anywhere from 5-10 spots. The magic number is usually 9 (last year it was 8). I’m going with 9 this year, though I believe 10 is more probable than 8. And strangely enough, my predicted nine has stayed the same over the course of the last month or so. Straight Outta Compton, Sicario, and even The Force Awakens have made some waves of late, but I still have them narrowly missing.

  1. Spotlight (No Change)
  2. The Big Short (No Change)
  3. The Revenant (+3)
  4. Mad Max: Fury Road (-1)
  5. The Martian (No Change)
  6. Carol (+1)
  7. Bridge of Spies (+1)
  8. Room (-4)
  9. Brooklyn (No Change)

Other Possibilities:

10. Straight Outta Compton (No Change)

11. Star Wars: The Force Awakens (No Change)

12. The Hateful Eight (No Change)

13. Sicario (+1)

14. Inside Out (-1)

15. Steve Jobs (+1)

16. Ex Machina (+2)

17. Trumbo (No Change)

18. Beasts of No Nation (-3)

19. Son of Saul (+1)

20. The Danish Girl (-1)

21. Creed (No Change)

Best Director

Tuesday’s Directors Guild of America usually provides a reasonably reliable snap shot of at least three or four of the nominees that will end up being recognized here. Their picks were Tom McCarthy, Ridley Scott, George Miller, Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, and Adam McKay. Of those, McKay seems the most vulnerable (with Miller and Scott behind). I’ll keep my prediction for Todd Haynes in and there’s certainly a chance there’s a shocker nominee as we sometimes see in this category.

  1. Tom McCarthy, Spotlight (+1)
  2. Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, The Revenant (+1)
  3. Ridley Scott, The Martian (+1)
  4. George Miller, Mad Max: Fury Road (-3)
  5. Todd Haynes, Carol (No Change)

Other Possibilities:

6. Steven Spielberg, Bridge of Spies (+1)

7. Adam McKay, The Big Short (-1)

8. Denis Villenueve, Sicario (+5)

9. Lenny Abrahamson, Room (-1)

10. F. Gary Gray, Straight Outta Compton (+1)

11. John Crowley, Brooklyn (-2)

12. Quentin Tarantino, The Hateful Eight (-2)

13. J.J. Abrams, Star Wars: The Force Awakens (-1)

14. Jay Roach, Trumbo (Previously Unranked)

15. Cary Fukanaga, Beasts of No Nation (-1)

16. Alex Garland, Ex Machina (Previously Unranked)

17. Laszlo Nemes, Son of Saul (-2)

18. Ryan Coogler, Creed (Previously Unranked)

19. Danny Boyle, Steve Jobs (Previously Unranked)

20. Tom Hooper, The Danish Girl (Previously Unranked)

Best Actor

This race is increasingly looking like ‘The Leo Show” with Mr. DiCaprio likely to nab (finally) his first Oscar. Only Leo seems to be a totally safe bet (though it would be a surprise to me if Redmayne and Fassbender don’t get in and probably Cranston too). I would say numbers 5-8 are practically interchangeable while anything 9 or below would be a fairly big surprise.

  1. Leonardo DiCaprio, The Revenant (No Change)
  2. Eddie Redmayne, The Danish Girl (No Change)
  3. Michael Fassbender, Steve Jobs
  4. Bryan Cranston, Trumbo (No Change)
  5. Matt Damon, The Martian (+1)

Other Possibilities:

6. Steve Carell, The Big Short (-1)

7. Will Smith, Concussion (No Change)

8. Johnny Depp, Black Mass (No Change)

9. Ian McKellen, Mr. Holmes (No Change)

10. Michael Caine, Youth (No Change)

11. Michael B. Jordan, Creed (+1)

12. Geza Rohrig, Son of Saul (-1)

Best Actress

As previously discussed, all the rules go out the window if either Rooney Mara or Alicia Vikander are recognized here instead of in Supporting Actress. That said, I feel pretty confident about Larson, Ronan, and Blanchett. The rest? Not so much.

  1. Brie Larson, Room (No Change)
  2. Saoirse Ronan, Brooklyn (No Change)
  3. Cate Blanchett, Carol (No Change)
  4. Jennifer Lawrence, Joy (+1)
  5. Charlotte Rampling, 45 Years (-1)

Other Possibilities:

6. Charlize Theron, Mad Max: Fury Road (+1)

7. Helen Mirren, Woman in Gold (+1)

8. Emily Blunt, Sicario (+3)

9. Blythe Danner, I’ll See You in My Dreams (+1)

10. Sarah Silverman, I Smile Back (-1)

11. Maggie Smith, The Lady in the Van (Previously Unranked)

Best Supporting Actor

Bottom line: I feel like Rylance and Stallone are the only safe bets here. This category has been wide open for quite some time and all 12 performers listed here could get in. Very curious to see how this works out come tomorrow.

  1. Mark Rylance, Bridge of Spies (No Change)
  2. Sylvester Stallone, Creed (+1)
  3. Idris Elba, Beasts of No Nation (-1)
  4. Paul Dano, Love and Mercy (+1)
  5. Christian Bale, The Big Short (-1)

Other Possibilities:

6. Michael Keaton, Spotlight (No Change)

7. Michael Shannon, 99 Homes (No Change)

8. Mark Ruffalo, Spotlight (No Change)

9. Tom Hardy, The Revenant (No Change)

10. Jacob Tremblay, Room (+1)

11. Benicio del Toro, Sicario (-1)

12. Jason Mitchell, Straight Outta Compton (Previously Unranked)

Best Supporting Actress

Rooney Mara and Alicia Vikander seem like safe bets – as long as they’re nominated here and not in Actress. Kate Winslet (fresh off a Globe win) and Jennifer Jason Leigh should play here, too. The fifth slot is truly up for grabs, I feel.

  1. Alicia Vikander, The Danish Girl (No Change)
  2. Rooney Mara, Carol (No Change)
  3. Kate Winslet, Steve Jobs (+1)
  4. Jennifer Jason Leigh, The Hateful Eight (-1)
  5. Helen Mirren, Trumbo (+1)

Other Possibilities:

6. Jane Fonda, Youth (-1)

7. Kristen Stewart, Clouds of Sils Maria (No Change)

8. Rachel McAdams, Spotlight (+1)

9. Joan Allen, Room (-1)

10. Alicia Vikander, Ex Machina (No Change)

11. Elizabeth Banks, Love and Mercy (No Change)

12. Marion Cotillard, MacBeth (Previously Unranked)

Best Original Screenplay

  1. Spotlight (No Change)
  2. Inside Out (No Change)
  3. Bridge of Spies (+1)
  4. The Hateful Eight (-1)
  5. Sicario (+1)

Other Possibilities:

6. Ex Machina (-1)

7. Straight Outta Compton (No Change)

8. Love and Mercy (No Change)

9. Son of Saul (+2)

Best Adapted Screenplay

  1. The Big Short (No Change)
  2. Carol (No Change)
  3. Room (No Change)
  4. Steve Jobs (+1)
  5. Brooklyn (-1)

Other Possibilities:

6. The Martian (No Change)

7. The Revenant (+1)

8. Beasts of No Nation (+1)

9. Trumbo (-2)

10. Mad Max: Fury Road (Previously Unranked)

11. Anomalisa (No Change)

Best Animated Feature

  1. Inside Out (No Change)
  2. Anomalisa (No Change)
  3. Shaun the Sheep Movie (No Change)
  4. Kahlil Gabran’s The Prophet (No Change)
  5. The Peanuts Movie (+1)

Other Possibilities:

6. The Good Dinosaur (-1)

7. When Marnie Was There (No Change)

8. Minions (Previously Unranked)

Best Documentary Feature (First Time Predictions)

  1. Amy
  2. The Look of Silence
  3. Winter on Fire
  4. Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief
  5. He Named Me Malala

Other Possibilities:

6. Listen to Me Marlon

7. Best of Enemies

8. The Hunting Ground

9. Where to Invade Next

10. Heart of the Dog

Best Foreign Language Film (First Time Predictions)

  1. Son of Saul
  2. Mustang
  3. A War
  4. The Brand New Testament
  5. Embrace of the Serpent

Other Possibilities:

6. The Fencer

7. Labyrinth of Lies

8. Theeb

9. Viva

Best Production Design

  1. The Danish Girl (No Change)
  2. Mad Max: Fury Road (+1)
  3. Bridge of Spies (+1)
  4. Carol (-2)
  5. The Revenant (+4)

Other Possibilities:

6. Brooklyn (-1)

7. The Martian (Previously Unranked)

8. Star Wars: The Force Awakens (+3)

9. The Hateful Eight (-3)

10. Cinderella (-3)

Best Cinematography

  1. The Revenant (No Change)
  2. Mad Max: Fury Road (No Change)
  3. The Hateful Eight (No Change)
  4. Bridge of Spies (+1)
  5. Sicario (-1)

Other Possibilities:

6. Carol (+1)

7. Son of Saul (+2)

8. The Martian (-2)

9. The Assassin (-1)

10. Spotlight (Previously Unranked)

Best Costume Design

  1. The Danish Girl (No Change)
  2. Carol (No Change)
  3. Cinderella (+1)
  4. Brooklyn (-1)
  5. Far from the Madding Crowd (No Change)

Other Possibilities:

6. Mad Max: Fury Road (+6)

7. The Hateful Eight (-1)

8. Suffragette (-1)

9. The Revenant (No Change)

10. Mr. Holmes (Previously Unranked)

Best Editing

  1. Mad Max: Fury Road (No Change)
  2. The Big Short (No Change)
  3. Spotlight (+2)
  4. The Revenant (No Change)
  5. Bridge of Spies (+2)

Other Possibilities:

6. The Martian (-3)

7. Sicario (+3)

8. Steve Jobs (-2)

9. Star Wars: The Force Awakens (+3)

10. The Hateful Eight (-1)

11. Room (-3)

Best Makeup and Hairstyling

  1. Mad Max: Fury Road (No Change)
  2. The Revenant (No Change)
  3. The 100 Year Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared (+1)

Other Possibilities:

4. Black Mass (-1)

5. Mr. Holmes (No Change)

6. Concussion (No Change)

7. Legend (No Change)

Best Sound Mixing

  1. Mad Max: Fury Road (No Change)
  2. The Revenant (+3)
  3. Star Wars: The Force Awakens (No Change)
  4. Sicario (No Change)
  5. The Martian (-3)

Other Possibilities:

6. The Hateful Eight (No Change)

7. Bridge of Spies (Previously Unranked)

8. Jurassic World (-1)

Best Sound Editing

  1. Mad Max: Fury Road (No Change)
  2. Star Wars: The Force Awakens (No Change)
  3. The Revenant (No Change)
  4. The Martian (No Change)
  5. The Hateful Eight (+1)

Other Possibilities:

6. Sicario (-1)

7. Jurassic World (+1)

8. Bridge of Spies (Previously Unranked)

Best Visual Effects

  1. Mad Max: Fury Road (No Change)
  2. Star Wars: The Force Awakens (No Change)
  3. Jurassic World (No Change)
  4. The Martian (No Change)
  5. The Revenant (Previously Unranked)

Other Possibilities:

6. Ex Machina (-1)

7. The Walk (No Change)

8. Ant-Man (Previously Unranked)

9. Avengers: Age of Ultron (-1)

10. In the Heart of the Sea (-4)

Best Score

  1. The Hateful Eight (No Change)
  2. Carol (+1)
  3. Star Wars: The Force Awakens (+2)
  4. Bridge of Spies (-2)
  5. The Danish Girl (-1)

Other Possibilities:

6. Spotlight (No Change)

7. Mad Max: Fury Road (+1)

Best Original Song

  1. “See You Again” from Furious 7 (+2)
  2. “Til It Happens to You” from The Hunting Ground (-1)
  3. “Writing’s on the Wall” from Spectre (+4)
  4. “Simple Song #3” from Youth (No Change)
  5. “So Long” from Concussion (-3)

Other Possibilities:

6. “Love Me Like You Do” from Fifty Shades of Grey (-1)

7. “Earned It” from Fifty Shades of Grey (-1)

These FINAL predictions reflect a belief that the following pictures will receive this number of nominations:

10 Nominations

The Revenant

9 Nominations

Mad Max: Fury Road

8 Nominations

Carol

7 Nominations

Bridge of Spies

6 Nominations

The Martian

5 Nominations

The Danish Girl, The Hateful Eight

4 Nominations

The Big Short, Brooklyn, Spotlight, Star Wars: The Force Awakens

3 Nominations

Room, Sicario, Steve Jobs

2 Nominations

Inside Out, Trumbo

1 Nomination

Beasts of No Nation, Cinderella, Concussion, Creed, Far from the Madding Crowd, 45 Years, Furious 7, The Hunting Ground, Joy, Jurassic World, Love and Mercy, The 100 Year Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared, Spectre, Youth

And there you have it, folks! My final Oscar predictions! I’ll have an update posted tomorrow. Until then…

 

Ex Machina Movie Review

Alex Garland’s Ex Machina shares similar themes of romance with an artificial intelligence being to that of Spike Jonze’s Her. Oh, but the tone is quite different. This low budget sci-fi feature announces a director with a visual style not unlike Kubrick and one suspects we’ll be seeing lots more from Garland in the future. We’ve seen similar material before, but never presented in the manner it is here and that makes Ex Machina an exciting experience.

The pic gets right into the plot as computer programmer Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson) is selected by his boss Nathan (Oscar Isaac) to travel to his gorgeous remote estate. Nathan is the founder and CEO of Bluebook, the largest search engine site in the world. Caleb is unsure of why he’s given this assignment but soon finds out that is to judge whether Nathan’s AI design Ava (Alicia Vikander) passes the Turing test. In other words, Caleb is to determine whether Ava passes for a human.

We witness their interaction through a series of sessions, with the eccentric, alcoholic, and probably dangerous Nathan monitoring their every moment of conversation. Almost. Intermittent periods of power blackouts allow Caleb and Ava to speak more frankly and Caleb soon discovers than Nathan’s intentions could be more sinister than he’s leading his employee to believe. As their sessions grow, Caleb develops an attraction for Ava and she becomes more and more human to him. She reciprocates his feelings.

The themes of the human race dealing with artificial intelligence in a sexual way are, once again, becoming a more common theme in cinema. Where Ex Machina succeeds is generating considerable tension in the dynamic between its two test subjects (there’s never much doubt Caleb is being tested too) and Nathan. Some of the movie’s most significant developments occur in the blackout periods generated by lost power and by Nathan’s love of hard liquor. We are constantly second guessing Nathan’s motives and soon begin to question Ava’s.

Isaac is given the juicy role here and he delivers another terrific performance once again. Gleeson is the straight man who convincingly plays the truly strange new world he’s found himself in. Yet Ex Machina hinges on the work of Vikander, who excels at creating this manufactured woman who quickly tugs at Caleb’s emotions.

There is no doubt that Garland is a real talent and he delivers a tight and often claustrophobic universe to let his three main players interact in (the only other major supporting player is Sonoyo Mizuno as Nathan’s non English speaking housemaid). With each subsequent session, the suspense escalates and we’re never quite sure where it’s all leading up to. When it does, the ending feels a tad predictable but also feels appropriate. This is not the sci-fi experience we’ve grown used to with an over reliance of effects. They’re here, but Ex Machina earns its worthiness from a director who confidently knows how to tell this story.

***1/2 (out of four)

Ex Machina Box Office Prediction

A legitimate wild card this weekend at the box office could be Ex Machina, a British science fiction tale that’s been on the receiving end of positive reviews and impressive per screen averages in limited release. It opens nationwide Friday, though I’ve yet to see a screen count which makes a prediction a little more complicated. Domhnall Gleeson and Oscar Isaac are among the cast in the directorial debut of Alex Garland, writer of 28 Days Later and Dredd.

The critically acclaimed feature (it sits at 88% on Rotten Tomatoes) made nearly $800,000 on just 39 screens last weekend for a sparkling $20k per screen average. That could bode well for filmgoers looking for a more serious sci fi offering before the summer onslaught begins with Avengers next weekend.

Again, without a screen count, it’s a tricky projection but I’ll estimate Ex Machina finds its way into the top five.

Ex Machina opening weekend prediction: $7.1 million