Oscar Predictions: The Starling

In 2016, Theodore Melfi’s Hidden Figures earned a Best Picture nomination. Melissa McCarthy is the beneficiary of two Oscar nods – one for her supporting comedic work in Bridesmaids ten years back and for her more dramatic turn in lead actress with 2018’s Can You Ever Forgive Me?

So on paper, The Starling might have some Academy cred. The dramedy premieres on Netflix September 24 and has screened in Toronto. Casting McCarthy as a grief stricken woman also dealing with the pesky title character, reviews are out. Several critics are downright negative. The Rotten Tomatoes score is perched at only 33%.

McCarthy has appealed to awards voters with her performances on the funny and serious side. This mix of the two won’t fly with them. My Oscar Watch posts for the films of 2021 will continue…

Molly’s Game Movie Review

At its best, Aaron Sorkin’s dialogue is cinematic music. Like many distinctive screenwriters icluding Mamet and Tarantino, he has an unmistakable style. There’s a zippy and often whip smart quality present. We heard that melody in The Social Network and on “The West Wing” and large parts of A Few Good Men, The American President, Charlie Wilson’s War, Moneyball, and Steve Jobs. On occasion, there are heavy-handed and slightly preachy notes in his wordy tunes.

We know what we’re getting in a Sorkin screenplay. An unknown until now is how he performs behind the lens and Molly’s Game answers it. The frequent highs and more infrequent lows of his writing are present here. And he pleasingly proves he’s got some style in the director’s chair, too.

The film is based on the real life story of Molly Bloom (Jessica Chastain), who went from a wannabe Olympic skier sidelined by freak injury to underground poker syndicate magnate. It’s an improbable yarn where truth is indeed stranger than fiction. Following her slopes related incident, Molly travels to L.A. and soon finds herself as assistant to a rich on paper and sleazy real estate developer (Jeremy Strong). He seems far more concerned with his high stakes poker game that involves celebrities and the West Coast wealthy – all male. Molly starts out basically holding their money. That doesn’t last long as her intellect soon has her running the show.

This puts her in constant contact with an unnamed movie star played by Michael Cera. A quick look at the facts of Bloom’s true events would put Tobey Maguire as the actual actor. Sorkin’s screenplay doesn’t dwell on the famous names that real Molly came in contact with, as apparently the subject’s book this is based on didn’t either. I will say this. If half the stuff about Maguire (err Cera’s character) is accurate, he’s not exactly your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man.

It also puts her in proximity with far worse types than bratty leading men. There’s the Mob, in Italian and Russian form. And that’s where it all gets truly dangerous. These individuals provide a risk to her personal safety, as do the drug fueled measures she takes on her own to keep the business rolling in celebrity, Mafia, and trust fund kid cash.

Molly’s Game is told in flashback as our central figure’s legal troubles mount. Idris Elba is her skilled and sympathetic lawyer. Kevin Costner is her hard charging dad – a therapist who is always seeking perfection from his daughter. It’s their dynamic that turns out to be the key one here and provides a window into Molly’s behavior. In some ways, it’s a relationship we’ve seen countless times onscreen before and this doesn’t add much freshness.

That said, when Sorkin’s writing is at its best, it’s an entertaining sound. Molly’s Game gives us plenty of long exchanges between particularly Chastain and Elba that qualify. We’ve seen the world of closed-door poker (in the solid Rounders for example) before, but not often. The writer/director frequently excels at displaying this fast-paced universe that just a minor segment of the ultra rich are privy to.

Chastain is present in nearly every frame and she provides another electric performance as a strong female getting it done in a male dominated universe. Elba offers sturdy support. Even though Costner’s subplot is the most routine, he adds some depth in the third act as the complicated dad.

Those familiar with Sorkin’s word games will find plenty to enjoy here. It doesn’t rise to the level of The Social Network, mind you. It does comfortably give me confidence that his dialogue works just fine with him also wearing the director’s hat.

*** (out of four)


Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children Box Office Prediction

Nearly two years ago, Tim Burton had the second lowest grossing feature of his career (after 1994’s Ed Wood) with Big Eyes. To cushion the blow, that particular film was a low-budget drama that wasn’t expected to rank among his array of blockbusters.

Next weekend, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children finds Burton back in more familiar territory. It’s a fantastical adventure based on a well-known property (Ransom Riggs’s 2011 bestseller) with dark themes. Sounds like a Burton flick to me! Eva Green plays the title character with a supporting cast that includes Asa Butterfield, Chris O’Dowd, Allison Janney, Rupert Everett, Terence Stamp, Judi Dench, and Samuel L. Jackson.

It’s been six years since Mr. Burton has had a massive hit – 2010’s Alice in Wonderland (he didn’t direct this year’s flop of a sequel). This is also his first blockbuster hopeful not headlined by Johnny Depp in a little while. Even though it’s based on a novel with a solid following, I’m not convinced this will break out at the box office with its lack of star power and a director whose box office potency has waned.

My Peculiar estimate has this not reaching $20 million. This is under some other prognosticators expectations and would be considered a disappointment for Burton and company.

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children opening weekend prediction: $19.6 million

For my Deepwater Horizon prediction, click here:


For my Masterminds prediction, click here:


For my Queen of Katwe prediction, click here:


St. Vincent Movie Review

“Don’t worry , it’s going to get better.”

It’s a line stated in Theodore Melfi’s debut feature in St. Vincent and it applies to our central characters here. Bill Murray is Vincent MacKenna, a grumpy, gambling and alcoholic swilling curmudgeon who begrudgingly befriends his new neighbor boy Oliver (Jaeden Lieberher). The boy’s mother Maggie (Melissa McCarthy) is a recent divorcee who’s working hard to make ends meet and this allows Vincent to become Oliver’s unconventional babysitter. Soon enough Oliver is learning some things not being instructed by his kindly Catholic school instructor (Chris O’Dowd). He even meets Vincent’s “lady of the night” friend Daka (Naomi Watts), a pregnant hooker with a Russian heart of gold. Luckily young Oliver assumes she has a night job.

There is a lot more, however, to Vincent than his personality and demeanor suggest. He’s desperately trying to care of his Alzheimer’s ridden wife who resides in a care facility. Vincent is a war hero. The central and sweet concept of the film is simple: don’t judge a book by its cover. Also, embrace your flaws but try to do some good. At one point, Daka expresses to Vincent: “You always lose. You should be comfortable by now.”

Vincent and Maggie are both experiencing losing streaks. Yet they’re both trying. McCarthy breaks from her traditional persona and sass here. The role of Maggie is an understated one and she plays it well. This is more vulnerable and sensitive than we’re used to seeing her. She gets to shine in one scene where she confesses her problems to the faculty at Oliver’s school and McCarthy nails it. Naomi Watts takes what is mostly a cliched and familiar part and manages to turn it into a winning performance. Lieberher is key. We often see where a child actor can dampen proceedings with sub par acting. Not here. The kid is just fine.

St. Vincent is a formula movie for sure. We know where the screenplay is eventually headed. Subplots involving the school bully and a custody battle are by the numbers. Don’t worry though. St. Vincent is solid enough and gets better. While the aforementioned performers deserve some credit, let’s get real. Bill Murray is a national treasure. He’s an incredibly gifted actor comedically and dramatically. He gets to exhibit both qualities in large doses here. Director/writer Melfi fashions a template for Murray to play in that’s quite good. Murray makes it near great.

***1/2 (out of four)

St. Vincent Box Office Prediction

Well, Thursday is considerably later than I do most of my box office predictions (Sunday is the day), but we need to make an exception this week. It wasn’t until this afternoon that the theater count was released for St. Vincent, out tomorrow. The comedy/drama stars the incomparable Mr. Bill Murray with a supporting cast featuring Melissa McCarthy, Naomi Watts, and Chris O’Dowd.

St. Vincent played the film fest circuit earlier this fall and is said to be an audience pleaser. It’s been in limited release in major cities for the last two weeks. Critics have been mostly kind and it holds a respectable 74% on Rotten Tomatoes. The announcement of the screen count was a bit of a surprise: 2,282 which certainly classifies it as a wide release. This could serve as effective counter programming to this week’s other newbies, horror flick Ouija and Keanu Reeves actioner John Wick. Females could end up being a large percentage of its opening weekend audience, in addition to die-hard Murray aficionados.

That said, I still don’t believe this manages to crack the top five. An opening in double digits is certainly possible, but I believe it’ll fall under that for a sixth place debut.

St. Vincent opening weekend prediction: $8.6 million