Director Todd Haynes has guided Julianne Moore and Cate Blanchett to previous acting nominations in Far From Heaven, I’m Not There, and Carol. His latest effort is the corporate legal thriller Dark Waters, based on a true story. Mark Ruffalo stars and produces, playing a lawyer taking on the DuPont conglomerate.
Somewhat surprisingly, Waters skipped the late summer and autumn festival circuit ahead of its November 22nd release and reviews are just trickling out. They’re decent and the Rotten Tomatoes score is currently 75%.
Critics have praised Ruffalo’s work. He is thrice nominated in the Supporting Actor race for 2010’s The Kids Are All Right, 2014’s Foxcatcher, and 2015’s Spotlight. He would stand the best chance at recognition for the first time in lead – over the film itself and costars including Anne Hathaway, Tim Robbins, and Bill Pullman. Yet, as has been discussed before on the blog, Best Actor is packed. I believe there’s eight thespians at the moment with legit shots at nods. Ruffalo isn’t in that mix.
Bottom line: chances for Dark Waters in the awards conversation are murky at best.
Denzel Washington is back in action mode when The Equalizer 2 is released next weekend. In his decades long career filled with numerous hits, this is actually the first ever sequel for the star. Antoine Fuqua is back directing and it’s the fourth collaboration between two after 2001’s Training Day (for which Washington won an Oscar), 2014’s The Equalizer, and 2016’s The Magnificent Seven. Costars include Melissa Leo, Pedro Pascal, Ashton Sanders, and Bill Pullman.
When it comes to the action genre, few actors are as bankable as Denzel. The first Equalizer, which is based quite loosely a 1980s TV show starring Edward Woodward, made $34.1 million for its start and ended up at $101 million overall domestically. Two years later, The Magnificent Seven took in $34.7 million out of the gate and $93 million total. Nearly all of Washington’s titles in the genre in the past decade or so have achieved mid 20s or more in their premieres.
While The Equalizer 2 may face a challenge scoring a #1 opening over a very different follow-up (Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again), a high 20s to possibly low 30s roll out seems quite achievable.
The Equalizer 2 opening weekend prediction: $26.8 million
For my Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again prediction, click here:
A glossy and often relevant retelling of one of the most famous matches ever, Valerie Faris and Jonathan Dayton’s Battle of the Sexes is centered on both the tennis court and the court of public opinion. Both matters are firmly on the focused mind of Billie Jean King (Emma Stone), the famed pro who was demanding equal pay for women in 1973 when the picture is set.
King and her fellow female players aren’t getting near that, so they start a league of their own, under the sponsorship of Virginia Slim cigarettes (it was a different time). Another player sees an opportunity to cash in on the publicity and that’s Bobby Riggs (Steve Carell), a former champion now in his mid 50s who spends most of his time as a compulsive gambler (though he doesn’t see it that way). His challenge to King to meet on the court generated a divide among the sexes and many eyeballs on the eventual event – apparently about 90 million.
The court of public opinion doesn’t extend to gender issues. King is married to Larry (Austin Stowell) who helps run her fledgling empire. Yet when she meets free spirit hairdresser Marilyn (Andrea Riseborough), a romance quickly develops. King is smitten, but she knows it must stay in the closet to protect her career.
Battle of the Sexes tells this tale entertainingly and somewhat superficially. The themes of gender equality are ones that render four decades later. Stone has the most material to work with in her nuanced and strong portrayal of King. There’s not much nuance to Carell’s Riggs, though he’s certainly fun to watch.
The screenplay doesn’t delve too deep into his story, but Carell plays it well enough to avoid him becoming a total caricature. King seems to know Bobby isn’t quite the chauvinist louse he purports to be. The same cannot be said for Bill Pullman’s Jack Kramer, a prominent former pro turned announcer who doesn’t understand anything about women’s liberation. The pic is peppered with familiar faces in smaller parts, including Elisabeth Shue as Bobby’s wealthy and frustrated wife and Alan Cumming as the team’s outfit designer who quickly figures out Billie’s affair.
King would eventually earn the Presidential Medal of Freedom due to her advocacy for gay rights and equal pay. Sexes sees her at the advent of that life’s work. We see her drive as she tirelessly practices to beat a man at his game when so few think it’s possible. In fact, hearing Howard Cosell’s actual play-by-play during the game is both a treat and a stark reminder that it was a different era. We know eventually that King’s relentless work ethic will be applied elsewhere and for an even greater cause. Battle doesn’t delve overly deep into how she got there, but it serves up its replay of history admirably enough.
More Toronto Film Festival action as Rob Reiner’s LBJ has screened. The biopic of our 36th President casts Woody Harrelson in the title role with Jennifer Jason Leigh as Lady Bird. Other cast members include Richard Jenkins, Bill Pullman, and Jeffrey Donovan as JFK. The pic has yet to secure to a fall 2016 release date, but it will likely get some sort of qualifying awards run before year’s end. It will probably come up fruitless.
LBJ has received decent reviews, but they don’t suggest it will be any sort of player in Picture or Director. Any Oscar chatter for this political drama was more geared toward the performances. Early reviews have suggested Harrelson does a commendable job in the role, even if more than one critic has pointed out a total lack of physical resemblance. Leigh was nominated last year for Quentin Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight and a consecutive nod seems doubtful.
Where LBJ could suffer most in the minds of voters is that it could be looked at as the second best film this year about the man. HBO’s All the Way with Bryan Cranston earned plenty of Emmy nominations. The big screen version of LBJ faces an improbable road to do the same.
20 years after its predecessor became the biggest summer hit of 1996 (and the year for that matter), the long gestating sequel Independence Day: Resurgence invades theaters next weekend. Long gestating? Absolutely. Long awaited? That remains to be seen.
Disaster director extraordinaire Roland Emmerich is back behind the camera for the reported $200 million budget alien pic and he’s brought along some of the original cast from two decades ago. That includes Jeff Goldblum, Bill Pullman, Judd Hirsch, Brent Spiner and Vivica A. Fox mixed in with new cast members Liam Hemsworth, Jessie Usher, Sela Ward, and William Fichtner. Conspicuously missing? Will Smith, whose character has been killed off (not a spoiler: the trailers say so). This wouldn’t have been the case if the Fresh Prince had signed up, but he’s got a more breathlessly anticipated summer ’16 flick coming with Suicide Squad.
The original was a phenomenon that took in $306 million domestically, which is equivalent to nearly $600 million today adjusted for inflation. Comparing the opening of the first Day is a tricky proposition. Independence Day opened on a Tuesday over the long Fourth of July weekend, generating $96 million over its six day roll-out. The Friday to Sunday take was $50 million.
Resurgence faces challenges that the first one did not. Will Smith was an emerging box office sensation at the time of release and he’s nowhere to be seen here. This summer has proven that there’s a touch of sequelitis occurring at the multiplex. Then there’s this – will younger audiences turn out in droves when part 1 was released when they were in diapers or before they were born?
While Resurgence shouldn’t have too much trouble topping that $50 million figure earned in the traditional Friday to Sunday portion of the weekend, it’s highly unlikely to reach the over $300M accomplished by the first one. I’ll predict an opening gross in the low to mid 60s for a so-so debut.
Independence Day: Resurgence opening weekend prediction: $63.5 million
For my Free State of Jones prediction, click here:
A lot has happened in the film careers of Jesse Eisenberg and Kristen Stewart since they starred in 2009’s Adventureland. Eisenberg earned an Oscar nod for The Social Network, starred in 2013’s summer sleeper hit Now You See Me, and got himself cast as Lex Luthor in next year’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. Stewart furthered her star status with more Twilight pics and Snow White and the Huntsman. Now the pair reunite for American Ultra, an action comedy out next Friday. I am highly skeptical this movie will be among their big earners.
Ultra has a supporting cast that includes Topher Grace, Connie Britton, Walton Goggins, Bill Pullman, and Tony Hale. The pic seems to be flying a bit under the radar. Solid reviews could assist yet I wonder whether this manages to even post double digits in its opening. Ultra should have no trouble topping the $5.7 million debut of Adventureland (at least I think), but I will project it falls just under $10 million and likely fades fast.
American Ultra opening weekend prediction: $9.8 million
The Equalizer shares primarily its name only with the 1980s show it got its moniker from and much more with Taken and Denzel Washington’s own Man on Fire. Reuniting with his Training Day director Antoine Fuqua, the picture aims to be nothing more than finding clever ways for its star to violently kill bad guys. In that sense, Fuqua’s stylish work and Denzel’s restrained cool (at least in outward personality) often work here. Expectations for anything else than that should be tempered.
Our headliner is Robert McCall, who is unquestionably the Jack Bauer of hardware store employees. He spends his days there and his nights at a diner where he strikes up a friendly relationship with Teri, a teenage hooker with a heart of gold (Chloe Grace Moretz) who’s also an aspiring singer. Why the filmmakers didn’t give her a child with debilitating asthma or other medical ailment to complete the troika of movie cliches is unknown. Speaking of Russian numbers, five is the number of well connected mobsters from that country that McCall offs when he gets involved with Teri’s affairs. And that leads to a whole lotta Denzel bad assery for the pic’s padded two hour plus running time.
If you hadn’t guessed, McCall is no average hardware store employee. His background is only glossed over but there’s been involvement with Black Ops and the CIA. We get a scene with Melissa Leo and Bill Pullman that provides a little insight. Yet The Equalizer doesn’t spend much time on character development. After all, there’s vengeance to be doled out. McCall’s glory days of government service may have provided quite a satisfactory viewing experience. It would certainly be more insightful than the several minutes of screen time where McCall helps an overweight employee become a security guard.
Back to the vengeance. It’s no secret that Denzel does this kind of thing better than most. If not for his participation, this might be a direct to VOD release. The decision to make his character an indestructible killing machine saps a good bit of tension away. The Russian mobsters are no different than ones you’ve seen before. It comes down to this – if you thought Taken was pure action bliss, sign up. This is about on Man on Fire level for me: not one of Denzel’s more memorable entries, but OK.
McCall’s employment locale of Home Mart does provide him with some clever tools to dispense of his prey. One suspects, though, that if he’d worked at Burger King, it’d be no different. He would’ve figured out a method to decapitate baddies with a Whopper wrapper and dislodge tracheas with a chicken fry. He’s just that resourceful.