Amsterdam Review

David O. Russell’s Amsterdam exasperates more than it fascinates. Opening with the tagline “A lot of this actually happened”, the brief explorations of American history between the World Wars hint at a compelling narrative. Wanting to go down a Wikipedia rabbit hole afterwards doesn’t necessarily make for a gratifying experience.

Dr. Burt Berendsen (Christian Bale) is a member of New York high society through marriage. His snooty in-laws and high maintenance wife (Andrea Riseborough) ship him off to what will become World War I in 1918. Under the command of the kindly Bill Meekins (Ed Begley Jr.), the good doc practices his skills for an all black regiment. They must wear French uniforms since the American forces aren’t integrated. That’s a part that actually happened. Burt makes fast friends with Harold Woodsman (John David Washington). They fight together and are seriously wounded together. Burt is given a glass eye that’s often used for screwball comedy effect. Their injuries introduce them to peculiar nurse Valerie (Margot Robbie), who takes the soldier’s battle scars (such as the metal embedded in their flesh) and turns it into surrealistic art. Burt, Harold, and Valerie form a close bond including the romantic sort for the latter two. The trio live a joyous existence in the title city until Burt returns to the Big Apple. Harold eventually follows suit to become an attorney. The men stay friends and colleagues while Valerie’s whereabouts are unknown.

Fifteen years later, the U.S. is in a depression. Our two New Yorkers have an even more pressing issue. Former war commander Meekins (now a Senator) turns up dead and mysteriously so. His daughter Elizabeth (Taylor Swift, in a performance that will surely generate memes) enlists dad’s former soldiers to investigate. This snooping leads to a vast government conspiracy – some of which falls under the actually happened headline. The case additionally leads them back to Valerie and an all-star cast beyond Bale, Washington, and Robbie.

Chris Rock is a member of the French uniformed clad force. Michael Shannon and Mike Myers are intelligence officers amusingly masquerading as bird experts. Zoe Saldana, in the picture’s most underdeveloped role, helps perform autopsy work and is a potential love interest for Burt. The most intriguing character is General Gill Dillenbeck (Robert De Niro), a combat hero being recruited for fascist propagandist purposes. Russell’s screenplay gives De Niro a noteworthy role to play with (this is the fourth collaboration between them). The legendary actor has done some of his finest 21st century work with the filmmaker.

The political potboiler aspects kick into gear when Dillenbeck pops up for the second half. That’s when Amsterdam improves. The first half feels like Russell’s attempt to do a Wes Anderson or Coen Bros type whimsical comedy and he fails the test. There’s a lot of characters crowding the scene. Rami Malek is an affluent textile magnet with connections to Valerie. Anya Taylor-Joy is his wife, who has a funny fangirl crush on Dillenbeck. Alessandro Nivola and Matthias Schoenaerts are detectives assigned to track the lead trio.

Once Russell gets to what Amsterdam is really about (with some unmistakable current events overtones), I realized lots of these famous faces and subplots could’ve been jettisoned for a more focused approach. Of all the names, Bale (always committed) and De Niro come out best. The director’s eye for the solid material keeps getting dislodged – like Burt’s fake one. This makes it questionable as to whether it’s worth seeing. More of the stuff that actually happened and not the forced whimsy would have been a reasonable start.

**1/2 (out of four)

The Menu Box Office Prediction

Searchlight Pictures is hoping moviegoers check out The Menu when it opens November 18th. Mark Mylod, best known for small screens fare like Game of Thrones and Shameless, directs. The black comedy features a large cast of cooks and diners including Ralph Fiennes, Anya Taylor-Joy, Nicholas Hoult, Hong Chau, Janet McTeer, Judith Light, John Leguizamo, Reed Birney, Aimee Carrero, and Arturo Castro.

For the most part, critics like what they were served when this debuted at Toronto. The Rotten Tomatoes score is 88%. That said, The Menu is not generating much awards chatter which could’ve helped in appetizing an older audience.

A debut at or above $10 million would be quite an accomplishment. I don’t think it gets there with $7-9 million being more likely.

The Menu opening weekend prediction: $8.2 million

For my She Said prediction, click here:

Amsterdam Box Office Prediction

David O. Russell’s Amsterdam will need to rely on star power to bring in audiences when it opens October 7th. Considering the middling word-of-mouth and so-so trailers and TV spots, that could be an uphill battle. The comedic mystery is the filmmaker’s first picture since 2015’s Joy. It boasts an impressive cast led by Christian Bale, Margot Robbie, and John David Washington. Other familiar faces include Zoe Saldana, Anya Tayl0r-Joy, Robert De Niro, Chris Rock, Rami Malek, Alessandro Nivola, Mike Myers, Michael Shannon, Taylor Swift, Timothy Olyphant, Andrea Riseborough, and Matthias Schoenaerts.

From 2010-2013, Russell had a trilogy of Oscar and audience friendly titles. The Fighter, in addition to multiple Academy nods, made $93 million domestically. Silver Linings Playbook, in addition to multiple Oscar nods, took in $132 million. American Hustle, in addition to its several award nominations, earned $150 million.

Times have changed. The aforementioned Joy, which drew a more mixed reaction than Russell’s predecessors, grossed $56 million. In the seven years that have followed, the director has been embroiled in some concerning stories about his personal life.

20th Century Studios didn’t bother to screen Amsterdam for the film festival circuit a couple of weeks back. Critical reaction has skewed toward the negative with a 36% Rotten Tomatoes rating. Despite the pedigree, the red lights glowing indicate a high profile flop. This might not manage double digits.

Amsterdam opening weekend prediction: $8.4 million

For my Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile prediction, click here:

Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile Box Office Prediction

Oscar Predictions: Amsterdam

From 2010-13, David O. Russell made three pictures (The Fighter, Silver Linings Playbook, American Hustle) that collectively earned an astonishing 25 Oscar nominations. This included acting wins for Christian Bale, Melissa Leo, and Jennifer Lawrence. The filmmaker himself has yet to receive a gold statue and his previous effort (2015’s Joy) nabbed just 1 Academy nod for its lead Lawrence.

His latest is Amsterdam and the comedic mystery will be lucky to garner any attention during awards season. It was a curious decision when Russell’s first feature in seven years skipped the festival circuit of Venice, Telluride, and Toronto. Now we may know why.

Early reviews for the October 7th release are not encouraging. There’s only a handful of official reviews which show a 20% Rotten Tomatoes rating. Yet we also have plenty of social media reaction claiming this is a high profile disappointment. The impressive cast is led by Bale, Margot Robbie, and John David Washington with tons of other familiar faces including Robert De Niro, Zoe Saldana, Taylor Swift, Anya Taylor-Joy, Rami Malek, Michael Shannon, and Chris Rock (to name some). I wouldn’t expect any to compete in the acting derbies. Bale and De Niro are getting some decent notices, but it shouldn’t matter (maybe Bale could show up at the Globes for Best Actor in a Musical/Comedy if competition is light).

As I see it, Costume Design and/or Production Design are the only possibilities for Amsterdam to be an Academy player. It’s entirely feasible that it won’t show up at all. My Oscar Prediction posts will continue…

Oscar Predictions: The Menu

Mark Mylod’s The Menu is receiving mostly positive orders after premiering in Toronto before its November 18th domestic release. Will awards voters find it appetizing? The black comedy stars Anya Taylor-Joy, Nicholas Hoult, Ralph Fiennes, Hong Chau, Janet McTeer, Judith Light, and John Leguizamo.

The Searchlight Pictures release stands at 89% on Rotten Tomatoes with plenty of critics praising the screenplay. Perhaps the original script from Seth Reiss and Will Tracy could contend. Fiennes, in particular, is being singled out and a Supporting Actor nod is potentially in the mix.

Yet I suspect the Palme d’or winning Ruben Ostlund’s Triangle of Sadness, with its similar subject matter, might achieve Academy attention instead of this. There could be room for both, but I’m uncertain. Where The Menu could make a play is at the Golden Globes in the Musical/Comedy Best Picture derby. That’s also where Taylor-Joy may surface in Best Actress. My Oscar Prediction posts will continue…

The Northman Box Office Prediction

Robert Eggers is an acclaimed director with two critical darlings (The Witch, The Lighthouse) to his credit. His third project is considerably bigger in scale with The Northman, out April 22nd. Budgeted at a rather shocking $90 million, the  Viking epic stars Alexander Skarsgard with a supporting cast including Nicole Kidman, Claes Bang, Anya Taylor-Joy, Ethan Hawke, Bjork, and Willem Dafoe.

Just like with his first two efforts, reviews are on the side of Eggers with a current 88% Rotten Tomatoes score. Yet I’m not seeing a marketing effort from Focus Features that inspires confidence (especially considering that price tag). The Witch is the director’s largest earner with $25 million. The Lighthouse took in $10 million. This should top both of them domestically, but certainly not by as much as its studio is hoping for.

If something like Ambulance couldn’t manage a gross north of $10 million, I’m skeptical that The Northman will. I realize it’s not an apples to apples comparison, but they’re both action oriented pictures with no nexus to known IP.

Perhaps I’m feeling generous in that I’ll say The Northman manages to barely squeak into double digits (with low confidence).

The Northman opening weekend prediction: $10.3 million

For my The Bad Guys prediction, click here:

The Bad Guys Box Office Prediction

For my The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent prediction, click here:

The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent Box Office Prediction

Oscar Predictions: The Northman

To call The Northman a box office gamble is an understatement. This is a fantasy bloodbath about Vikings (budgeted at a reported $90 million) from a filmmaker known for low-budget (though beautifully shot) horror tales. Robert Eggers directs with a cast led by Alexander Skarsgard and supporting players consisting of Nicole Kidman, Claes Bang, Anya Taylor-Joy, Ethan Hawke, Bjork, and Willem Dafoe. Its Oscar prospects are iffy as well.

Ahead of its April 22nd stateside bow, the review embargo is lifted. Like 2016’s The Witch and 2019’s The Lighthouse (the director’s previous movies), this is garnering solid reviews at 88% currently on Rotten Tomatoes. Whether audiences take to it is yet to be determined.

Critics are particularly praising some of the tech aspects. Costume Design, Production Design, Sound, Visual Effects, and Cinematography could all be in play come awards time. Three years ago, The Lighthouse received a Cinematography nod for Jarin Blaschke and he returns behind the camera. For The Lighthouse, Willem Dafoe likely came close to a Supporting Actor nod. I don’t envision any of the cast vying for acting prizes in the third Eggers effort.

Bottom line: don’t expect The Northman to be up for Best Picture or in other major categories. Down the line races could be another story… or it could just as easily end up like 2021’s The Green Knight and come up empty-handed. My Oscar Prediction posts will continue…

Last Night in Soho Review

Edgar Wright’s Last Night in Soho is about romanticism and the death (often the grisly variety) of it. In this ghost story, the filmmaker pays homage to a far gone thrilling and swinging era in mid 1960s London while maintaining that the nostalgia of those who didn’t live through it might be displaced.

Eloise Turner (Thomasin McKenzie) looks at the period from her starry eyes and an ear tuned to its luscious record. She’s only been to present era London as a young girl having grown up in the countryside with her grandmother (Rita Tushingham). Her mother is departed in tragic circumstances that hint she mentally couldn’t handle the glitzy big city life. Her father is as much an apparition as others she encounters.

A college student attending fashion school, Eloise is swiftly out of her element with her snooty dorm mates. Relocating to an upstairs room in a home run by the strict Ms Collins (the late Diana Rigg), her clairvoyance that often includes matriarchal visions moves right along with her. They involve Sandie (Anya Taylor-Joy), an aspiring singer in 1966 whose ambition introduces her to agent Jack (Matt Smith). He’s all charm at first, but darkness lurks with him and many other not so English gentlemen.

As Eloise begins to experience nightly visions of Sandie’s struggles, her own behavior rightfully begins to alarm those in her orbit. That includes John (Michael Ajao), a classmate and potential love interest who’s often the only Londoner that’s kind to her. On the not so nice list is a customer (Terence Stamp) at the local watering hole, a hub of both glamour and glumness 60 years ago, where Eloise works. He might be the key to Sandie’s backstory.

Whether in zombie comedies like Shaun of the Dead or Baby Driver (where he figured out a way to make car chases cool again), Wright is a filmmaker with style to spare. Soho is a glorious visual spectacle that shows its work in explaining how Eloise is so taken with the period. And he may be second only to Tarantino nowadays when it comes to killer needle drops in the soundtrack.

Last Night in Soho may not significantly alter the mix in the spirits genre, but Wright certainly has a flair for it. He cheekily employs some British legends like Rigg and Stamp in this ferocious happening. For the former especially, it’s a delicious final role. McKenzie and Taylor-Joy mirror each other in the quality of their performances that grow more terror struck as the clock ticks. Sandie’s London journey begins with hope and ends with her bridge to stardom falling down. Eloise is there to witness it while gasping in horror. We are there to witness Wright at the top of his game.

***1/2 (out of four)

Last Night in Soho Box Office Prediction

Edgar Wright’s latest vehicle Last Night in Soho zooms into theaters October 29th, four years after his massive success Baby Driver. The psychological horror thriller, set in mid 60s London, features Thomasin McKenzie, Anya Taylor-Joy, Matt Smith, Terence Stamp, and Diana Rigg in her final role.

Soho premiered at the Venice Film Festival in early September and garnered  mixed buzz. The Rotten Tomatoes meter is parked at 70%. The overseas reaction took the pic out of awards contention but Focus Features is hoping horror fans turn out on Halloween weekend.

That could be a challenge. This doesn’t look like your average genre fare and that could keep younger viewers away. It also has Antlers debuting against it and, perhaps most notably, Halloween Kills will be in its third frame. We have seen time and again that original material hoping for an adult crowd has struggled at multiplexes in recent times.

I assume that struggle will apply here. The studio is probably hoping for a $10 million start. Soho may be lucky to reach half of that figure.

Last Night in Soho opening weekend prediction: $5.2 million

For my Antlers prediction, click here:

Antlers Box Office Prediction

For my My Hero Academia: World Heroes’ Mission prediction, click here:

My Hero Academia: World Heroes’ Mission Box Office Prediction

For my The French Dispatch prediction, click here:

The French Dispatch Box Office Prediction

For my A Mouthful of Air prediction, click here:

A Mouthful of Air Box Office Prediction

Oscar Predictions: Last Night in Soho

A time travel thriller mixed with horror, Venice fest goers have been highly anticipating Edgar Wright’s Last Night in Soho. Hitting theaters in late October, this is the auteur’s follow-up to 2017’s Baby Driver. That sleeper hit managed three Oscar nominations in both sound races (when there were two) and Film Editing.

Thomasin McKenzie headlines a cast that includes Anya Taylor-Joy (hot off The Queen’s Gambit), Matt Smith, Diana Rigg (in her final role), and Terence Stamp. Though the genre doesn’t lend itself often to awards attention, it seems like Wright could eventually break through with an Academy player.

Based on the early buzz, Soho doesn’t seem to be it. While some reviews are gushing, others are mixed to negative and the Rotten Tomatoes meter is currently 71%. I would say the only races where it could contend are Production Design, Costume Design, and Makeup and Hairstyling. It’s also entirely possible the Academy ignores it altogether. My Oscar Prediction posts for the films of 2021 will continue…