Last November, The Banker was scheduled to have its rollout at the AFI Film Festival. The period drama tells the true story of two of the first African-American bankers in the United States, as played by Anthony Mackie and Samuel L. Jackson. Yet the picture hit a hiccup on its way to the festival. One of the film’s coproducers was hit with sexual abuse allegations and the premiere was canceled. The original awards friendly December release date was indefinitely postponed. I wrote about it here:
Now The Banker is at last ready for its close up. It opens this weekend on limited screens before a debut on Apple TV two weeks later. That streaming service is attempting to get in the Netflix game with features that Oscar voters could notice.
I wouldn’t bank on this being that movie. In addition to a now unfriendly release date, critical reaction is mixed with a current 69% Rotten Tomatoes score. While Mackie and Jackson are getting solid notices, I just can’t picture The Banker being fresh on the minds of the Academy at the end of the year. My Oscar Watch posts will continue…
The AFI Film Festival is ongoing and it serves as the final opportunity for releases to stake their claim for Oscar consideration in the fest format. George Nolfi’s The Banker had been selected to close the proceedings tomorrow evening. Not only was this a chance for it to enter into awards chatter, but it’s also among the first feature films that will be shown on Apple TV’s new streaming service. In other words, while Netflix looks to have a banner 2019 when it comes to various contenders like The Irishman, Marriage Story, The Two Popes, and Dolemite Is My Name – this picture marks a way for Apple TV to get into the game.
However, the surprise announcement came this afternoon that AFI organizers are pulling its gala screening. Details are rather scarce as reports indicate there’s potential allegations surfacing about a member of the family played by Anthony Mackie’s character. Expect those details to be fleshed out in short order. Mackie and Samuel L. Jackson star in this true tale of two African American businessmen in the 1960s. Costars include Nicholas Hoult, Nia Long, Jessie Usher, and Colm Meaney.
The Banker is scheduled for a December 6th theatrical release prior to Apple’s streaming rollout early next year. That early December slot put in contention for nominations and now its release at this juncture now appears to be in doubt. I was planning to do an Oscar Watch post on it by the end of the week, but it looks like that’s in the vault for the foreseeable future. My Oscar Watch posts will continue…
The Los Angeles based AFI Fest is the last major calendar year opportunity for Oscar hopefuls to strut their stuff and there’s always a few premieres to go along with it. In 2019, that includes Clint Eastwood’s Richard Jewell and The Banker with Samuel L. Jackson and Anthony Mackie. The opener is Queen & Slim from director Melina Matsoukas, who’s been known for her visionary music videos for Beyonce and Rihanna.
Slim centers on a couple (Daniel Kaluuya of Get Out fame and newcomer Jodie Turner-Smith) whose first date becomes intertwined with a police brutality incident. Early critical reaction is strong and it stands at 100% on Rotten Tomatoes. Indications are that this could turn into a cult hit and perhaps even a real one, with an insightful and politically charged screenplay from Lena Waithe. She’s known primarily for acclaimed TV projects Master of None and The Chi.
Despite the praise, Oscar attention could be… well, slim. Anything arriving this late in the game would need to be a game changer for Picture visibility and some reviews are positive but with some reservation. Turner-Smith is garnering a lot of chatter, but it could be a leap to think she’ll factor into an already crowded Best Actress race.
Bottom line: look for Queen to become a conversation piece upon its November 27th release. I’m just not confident that will include talk about Academy nods. My Oscar Watch posts will continue…
Kristen Stewart seems to have found another acclaimed indie role with the premiere of Seberg today at the Venice Film Festival. From director Benedict Andrews (best known for Una), the pic casts Stewart as actress Jean Seberg (best known for 1960’s Breathless), whose career was put in jeopardy by her association with an African-American activist played by Anthony Mackie. Costars include Jack O’Connel, Margaret Qualley, and Vince Vaughn.
Reviews for the film itself are a bit shaky. Yet it’s Stewart once again being singled out for her strong work. The Twilight performer has had a run of applauded roles in titles such as Cloudsof SilsMaria and PersonalShopper. The Academy has yet to take notice and I’m skeptical they will here considering competitors in higher profile material. My Oscar Watch posts will continue…
**There’s really no way to write a review of Avengers: Endgame without some minor spoilers. You may wish to read this post viewing…
The word “epic” can be overused by those who review movies like me, but it unquestionably applies to Avengers: Endgame. It’s epic in its running time (none of the other 21 MCU pics run three hours) and epic in the number of well-known thespians reprising their superhero and villain characters. It doesn’t seem feasible that so many characters could manage to coexist in this vast universe without seeming like a gimmick. If you happen to think predecessor InfinityWar was overcrowded, you’ll get whiplash here. Truth be told, there are moments when this borders on playing like a greatest hits reel based on what’s preceded it during the last eleven years.
Yet Endgame figures out a rewarding way to stick the landing and honor the dozens of faces that we’ve spent billions of dollars visiting since 2008. At the conclusion of InfinityWar, bad guy Thanos (Josh Brolin) had collected his precious Infinity Stones and decimated half the intergalactic population into dramatic looking dust particles. What’s left is mostly the core of the OG Avengers – Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Bruce Banner/Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), and Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson). There’s others as Rocket (voice of Bradley Cooper) is the sole surviving Guardian of the Galaxy. And we have the two notable characters that were MIA last summer – Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) and Ant-Man (Paul Rudd).
One might think this whole saga might be about the original band and some newer friends taking on Thanos. You would be wrong. Endgame has plenty of time bending tricks up its endless story arch sleeves. The first is an unexpected resolution that comes very early. However, that climax is just a set-up to further complications.
This is indeed a time travel movie in which the screenwriters almost sheepishly concede the contrived nature of such a device. The survivors set upon a course of multiple back in time ways to retrieve the Stones and bring back their loved ones. It doesn’t happen overnight and the lengthy nature of the plan coming together provides funny and poignant moments. Tony is off the grid with his beloved Pepper (Gwyneth Paltrow) and a new addition. Bruce is in full Hulk mode, but kindler and gentler. Thor is rounder and drunkenly grappling with his losses. Hawkeye is a full-blown vigilante. When the gang revs up their figurative DeLoreans, it gives us a chance to revisit lots of MCU personnel. And it’s a LOT of former players. Some are genuinely surprising. During this lengthy stretch, the film walks a fine line of not devolving into nostalgic sugar shock amidst the action sequences. By the final act, it rises above it.
We know the battle scenes will be well choreographed and well-directed (with the Russo Brothers handling duties once again). The final one is rather jaw dropping with the mixing of so many known quantities. Thanos is one of the stronger villains in MCU history and he remains so here, though there’s nothing fresh to add about his character. His daughter Nebula (Karen Gillan), on the other hand, continues her evolution as a fine addition to the roster.
The comic relief comes more from Thor as opposed to Ant-Man or Rocket and Hemsworth is up to the task. Captain America and Black Widow are given their emotional moments that we’re invested in from their backstories. To this writer, it’s Tony who’s always been the damaged beating heart of this franchise. The Marvel Cinematic Universe simply wouldn’t exist as it is without Downey Jr.’s brilliant work. That’s never changed. The quality of the movies he’s appeared in has. His performance has always been fantastic. If we’re ranking, I would put Endgame as an overall experience just under the first Avengers in 2012 and InfinityWar. I can’t promise that thinking about all the shifting time plot points might raise as many questions as answers. I won’t deny that its emotional payoff is real and we have Downey and an amazing group of technicians bringing these comics to life to thank for it.
Last year, Marvel’s BlackPanther became the first comic book pic to score a Best Picture nomination. While it didn’t win, it took home three gold trophies from its seven nods. This weekend, box office records are highly likely to break with the release of Avengers: Endgame. The 22nd MCU title had its review embargo lift hours ago… try to your best to avoid spoilers.
The verdict? A 98% Rotten Tomatoes score thus far. Some critics are going as far as saying it’s the best overall entry in the massive franchise. Others write ups, while positive, don’t go that far. One thing seems certain as Endgame is classified as an epic experience.
Could lightning strike two years in a row for Marvel with Academy voters? Here’s the advantage: this fourth Avengers saga is seen as the culmination of not just its three predecessors, but also the many other pictures MCU blockbusters over the past 11 years. That lifts its chances for recognition as Oscar could see this as an “atta boy” for the whole series.
That said, I’m doubtful. The first three Avengers flicks garnered a grand total of two nominations. The 2012 original and last year’s InfinityWar both received Visual Effects nods. Neither won. The middle child (2015’s AgeofUltron) got no love. Last year, Disney was undoubtedly more focused on getting BlackPanther recognition and they succeeded. In 2019, they could put together a more robust campaign for Endgame.
A third calling in Visual Effects is probably inevitable, but anything else from the Academy is questionable and maybe even doubtful. Yet I wouldn’t totally count out some Disney marketing campaign magic. My Oscar Watch posts will continue…
This current massively successful phase of the Marvel Cinematic Universe draws to a close next weekend with the release of Avengers: Endgame. There’s an excellent chance that it achieves the largest opening weekend gross of all time with the grand finale. Endgame follows up directly with last summer’s Avengers: Infinity War, which is the current record holder with $257 million.
Anthony and Joe Russo return in the directors chairs with a core group of familiar heroes battling Josh Brolin’s Thanos. They include Robert Downey Jr.’s Iron Man, Chris Evans as Captain America, Chris Hemsworth’s Thor, Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow, Brie Larson as Captain Marvel, Mark Ruffalo’s Hulk, Paul Rudd’s Ant-Man, and Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye. That’s just scratching the surface, by the way. The events (spoiler alert if you’ve been in a year-long coma) of InfinityWar dissolved numerous other beloved characters into dust including Chadwick Boseman’s Black Panther, Tom Holland’s Spider-Man, Benedict Cumberbatch’s Doctor Strange and the majority of the Guardians of the Galaxy (Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista) save for Bradley Cooper voicing Rocket. It’s quite likely you’ll see them again. And also in the roles we’ve seen them in before… there’s Gwyneth Paltrow, Karen Gillan, Danai Gurira, Tessa Thompson, Don Cheadle, Jon Favreau, Anthony Mackie, Elizabeth Olsen, Paul Bettany, and Evangeline Lilly. Oh… and Letitia Wright and Sebastian Stan and Tom Hiddleston.
Whew. Back to the numbers crunching. When early tickets went on sale a couple of weeks ago, Endgame smashed every record in sight. Its YouTube trailer views are off the charts. Audiences know this is the culmination of what we’ve paid billions of dollars for over the past decade plus. Yes, there’s a three-hour runtime which is unprecedented for the MCU.
I have a feeling that won’t matter when it comes to reaching a premiere level we’ve yet to witness. No other movie is daring to compete against it and most holdovers will be earning $10 million and less. In other words, multiplexes will clear a ton of real estate for this.
Initial estimates put Endgame around $250 million, but the buzz has this inching upwards. I believe that’s a correct assumption. While I don’t believe this will hit $300 million (as the rosiest projections suggest), a gross just north of $285 million seems feasible. If it achieves that mark, the endgame here will indeed set records.
Avengers: Endgame opening weekend prediction: $289.6 million
A remake of an acclaimed 2011 Mexican pic with the same name, the action thriller MissBala hits theaters next weekend. Catherine Hardwicke, best known for making the original Twilight, directs with a cast led by Gina Rodriguez. She plays a tourist to our Southern border neighbor who gets mixed up with law enforcement and drug cartels. Ismael Cruz Cordova and Anthony Mackie are included in the supporting cast.
This is Rodriguez’s first headlining role after her successful TV career and co-starring parts in DeepwaterHorizon and Annihilation. Bala arrives in what is traditionally a sleepy box office weekend that will include a highly rated game between the New England Patriots and L.A. Rams on Sunday. It’s the only new release out as studios don’t expect large openings during this frame.
I believe this could struggle to reach double digits and I’ll say it falls under it.
Nineteen year old actress Amandla Stenberg is most known for her work as Rue in the original HungerGames and the 2017 romance Everything, Everything (she also headlined this summer’s box office flop TheDarkestMinds). The Toronto Film Festival has screened TheHateUGive, George Tillman Jr.’s crime drama where Stenberg’s character witnesses the shooting of her childhood best friend.
Early reviews suggest it could be a breakout role for the performer. The supporting cast includes Regina Hall, Common, and Anthony Mackie. The pic is based on last year’s YA novel by Angie Thomas. Tillman Jr. has seen many of his pics achieve financial success, such as SoulFood, Barbershop and Notorious. Awards recognition has alluded him.
Bottom line: TheHateUGive will need to get noticed by audiences in order for that recognition to have any chance. While reviews are strong, I’d say Oscar nods are a long shot and that includes Stenberg.
The film is slated for release on October 19. My Oscar Watch posts will continue…
A decade into its multi-billion dollar cinematic universe, Avengers: InfinityWar invites viewers to marvel at its gathering of superhero titans to fight another – a villain from planet Titan who reverses one frequent MCU debit (a weak villain). It’s an experience that yields many positive results packed with the action and humor we’ve come to anticipate from the best of this franchise. This movie is massive and it feels that way. The 19th entry in the MCU that started with 2008’s IronMan, here we have nearly all the significant characters from its catalog banding together. If you ever wondered how Thor (Chris Hemsworth) would get along with the Guardians of the Galaxy, the answer is humorously provided. How do the egos of Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) and Doctor Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) and Star-Lord (Chris Pratt) meld? You’re about to find out. What happens when the original Avengers and others pick up their weapons alongside Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) in Wakanda? Giddyup!
All of this runs the risk of InfinityWar coming off as gimmicky, but it mostly doesn’t. That’s because directors Anthony and Joe Russo and screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely do a remarkable job sticking these giants into the blender and creating something that goes down smooth. This is not necessarily a sequel to 2015’s Avengers: AgeofUltron or 2016’s CaptainAmerica: CivilWar (essentially the third Avengers flick). Rather it’s a follow-up to almost every MCU title. It’s important to know what happened in the actual Avengers pics and CivilWar, but I’d suggest having knowledge of the Guardians, Panther, and so on. Lucky for Disney and Marvel Studios, you probably do. The gathering of these comic book and box office behemoths leads InfinityWar to often feel like the continuation of a long running TV serial – albeit one with huge stars and an unlimited budget.
What brings all the characters together is Thanos (Josh Brolin). He has the proportions of the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) and a similar sized ambitions of world destruction. Thanos is hell-bent on collecting the Infinity Stones, six potent gems that would render him all-powerful and capable of wiping out populations of many galaxies. After the breakup of the Avengers in CivilWar two years ago, it’s Thanos that causes Mr. Stark and Captain America (Chris Evans) to put their differences aside. Thus begins the jigsaw puzzle of matching up Guardians and Asgardian gods with Wakanda kings and mystical doctors and your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man (Tom Holland).
As you may recall, Thanos has history with one particular character – Gamora (Zoe Saldana). She’s his adopted daughter after he decimated her home planet when she was a little girl. For those who might have assumed the Guardians of the Galaxy would have a glorified cameo in this universe, that is certainly not the case. It’s Gamora’s backstory with Thanos that puts meat on his character’s bones and assists in making him one of the franchise’s best villains. Brolin, for his part, gives the performance his menacing all in crafting him.
Delving too far into what happens in InfinityWar would feel like cheating in any review. Part of the fun here is discovering just how these dozens of heroes and villains coexist. Some general observations: Thor alongside Groot and Rocket is a joy, as is witnessing Groot as a bratty teen with its attention rooted to a video game device. The return to Wakanda and its whip smart inhabitants feels welcome just weeks after Panther’s stand-alone effort. And after 10 years of Tony Stark onscreen in numerous MCU titles, Downey Jr.’s portrayal of him is still as strong as ever. There’s never been a moment in the decade where it felt like Downey was slumming it. He’s the heart of this franchise.
The conclusion of InfinityWar leaves a lot open for the sequel that will arrive next year. When the credits roll before the inevitable post-credits sequence, we witness something both powerful and perhaps not as powerful as it seems after careful thought (saying more would be a spoiler). There’s no doubt, however, that this comic book all-star game is a winner.