Oscar Watch: I’m Thinking of Ending Things

For over two decades, Charlie Kaufman has been one of the most celebrated screenwriters in the business. His original written works have resulted in a nomination for 1999’s Being John Malkovich and a win for 2004’s Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Kaufman picked up an Adapted Screenplay nod for 2002’s Adaptation. Additionally, his direction of the stop-motion tale Anomalisa in 2015 brought in a Best Animated Feature nomination.

Kaufman’s name on a project immediately brings awards buzz and his latest effort is I’m Thinking of Ending Things, which debuts on Netflix September 4th. Described as anti-romance and a horror flick, it marks the auteur’s third film behind the camera. Based on the 2016 novel by Iain Reid, Things stars Jessie Buckley, Jesse Plemons, Toni Collette, and David Thewlis.

The review embargo lapsed today and it currently stands at 88% on Rotten Tomatoes. That’s a fine number, but some of the critical reaction mirrors 2008’s Synedoche, New York (Kaufman’s directorial debut). Hailed as a masterpiece by some with others calling it a bleak misfire, Things appears headed for a polarized mix and that will likely translate to Oscar voters.

As for the performers, it does appear Plemons would contend in lead actor (this was more uncertain previously). Several critics have compared his performance to that of Philip Seymour Hoffman’s in Synedoche. I have trouble envisioning him being a major contender here (though his supporting work in the upcoming Judas and the Black Messiah gives him another potential shot at a first time nod). Buckley got some chatter for her breakout role in last year’s Wild Rose. I feel her chances are a bit stronger than her costar, but the Best Actress race looks like it could be crowded in 2020. Despite many heralded performances, Collette has only received one Oscar nomination and it was over 20 years ago with The Sixth Sense. There could be a groundswell of support for her to be recognized, especially after many felt she were snubbed for 2018’s Hereditary. She may have the best chance for inclusion, but it too feels like a reach at the moment.

I’m thinking that Ending Things will contend in Adapted Screenplay and it certainly could be recognized there. We will have to see how this fall’s other heavy hitters land to see how full that race is. Even with some negative reaction, voters have shown their appreciation for Kaufman before and they may again. My Oscar Watch posts will continue…

Wonder Woman Movie Review

The small sub genre of female driven superhero movies has unfortunately been a bit of a cinematic litter box with forgettable fare like Supergirl, Catwoman, and Elektra. That changes with Wonder Woman from director Patty Jenkins. It is not only by far the most satisfying comic book adaptation headlined by a woman, it’s the most entertaining DC pic since Christopher Nolan was handling the Batman franchise.

We first saw Gal Gadot’s title character in last year’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice as a sidekick to those two iconic titans. While it deservedly earned its reputation as a mess, it was also a mess worth watching and Wonder Woman was a bright spot in it. Now we get her origin story. We begin in present day with Diana Prince collaborating with Bruce Wayne. The Caped Crusader’s research has uncovered a photograph of the ageless Wonder from the World War I era (which we first saw in BvS). This causes Diana’s memory to travel way, way back.

Before the events chronicled in that picture come into play, we get Diana as a young girl on the lush and secluded island of Themyscira. It is a land of only women, including her Amazon queen mother Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen) and her warrior aunt Antiope (Robin Wright). As a child, she’s told grand stories of the Gods and how Ares the god of war killed Zeus and it all led to this private island paradise. Mother mostly wants this quality of life preserved while Auntie Antiope insists on training Diana into a warrior princess. And it seems even pre teen Diana has a knack for kicking butt.

The dynamic of life on Themyscira is altered when hunky WWI spy Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) and his plane crash lands there. Diana rescues him and get her first exposure to the male species. She’s also exposed to the news that a massive war is taking place outside her small world and she feels it’s her duty to help. So off she goes with Captain Trevor with the idea that she’ll rid the Earth of Ares, whom she believes is the real culprit behind all the chaos.

Our scenery changes from the bright and shimmering island to gray and drab London where Diana is a major fish out of water. There are scenes of her adjusting to her new surroundings (including having to try on the restrictive clothing of the era) that are quite humorous. The duo soon assemble a rag tag team with tacit approval from a commander played by David Thewlis. Their mission is to stop a German general (Danny Huston) and a deformed scientist (Elena Anaya, who is memorable here) who’s developed a dastardly gas concoction.

While all this intrigue is occurring, Diana and Steve are becoming closer and Gadot and Pine have a romantic and often funny chemistry. Their interactions lead to some charming moments, but also ones that lead to dramatic heft later. Unlike recent DC titles like BvS and Man of Steel, Wonder Woman isn’t afraid to have a degree of silliness that is welcome. After all, our heroine’s “lasso of truth” is present here and it’s difficult to take it very seriously. What’s easy to admire is Gadot’s work in selling her character’s reaction to her new reality off the island. Wonder Woman believes that simply stopping the God she’s heard about for all her life will make everything right. It’s fascinating to watch her realization that the world is a bit more complicated.

The grand action sequences here aren’t much different in style or quality than what we’ve witnessed before in countless other superhero tales. Wonder Woman doesn’t break the mold from the many origin stories that come from comic book pages. Some of the plot points are familiar – we know there will be an additional villain reveal in the third act and there is.

However, Wonder Woman succeeds because it takes time to develop her story. It gives her a partner and romantic interest that we like and care about. The screenplay isn’t solely consumed with loud and fiery battle set pieces. The writers remember that character exploration and humor are assets as well. And, yes, for the first time witness a superhero with “wo” added to the “man” that hits the mark.

*** (out of four)

Wonder Woman Box Office Prediction

The DC Cinematic Universe continues next weekend with the release of Wonder Woman, Warner Bros. spin-off of Gal Gadot’s version of the iconic character that first appeared in last year’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. Patty Jenkins, who hasn’t made a feature since directing Charlize Theron to an Oscar in 2003’s Monster, is the first female director to helm a big-budget comic book adaptation. It’s also the first of its genre to focus on a female protagonist.

In addition to Gadot’s Amazon princess, Chris Pine costars along with Robin Wright, Connie Nielsen, David Thewlis, and Danny Huston. DC is looking to replicate the smashing success that Marvel and Disney have accomplished in their series of Avengers flicks and spin-offs. The aforementioned Batman v Superman debuted in March 2016 to $166 million, which accounted for over half of its eventual $330M domestic haul. While that’s certainly a very solid gross, many critics and moviegoers weren’t blown away by what they saw. That said, Gadot’s Wonder Woman was considered to be a highlight among many.

The pic is not expected to approach BvS territory. Early estimates have been all over the map as to how it will open (anywhere from $65 to $115 million). A bright spot: word-of-mouth has been encouraging and reviews have been very strong.

I believe Wonder Woman will make over half of what the Caped Crusader and Man of Steel achieved for its start over a year ago and approach $100 million. Hopefully, fans will like what they see as they’ll only have to wait five and a half months to see the title character again in Justice League. 

Wonder Woman opening weekend prediction: $98.3 million

For my Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2017/05/25/captain-underpants-the-first-epic-movie-box-office-prediction/

Oscar Watch: Anomalisa

Since summer, it’s been clear that one 2015 animated film is a true contender in the Best Picture race: Pixar’s Inside Out. Yet it’s becoming increasingly likely that there may be two and the other is in the form of Charlie Kaufman’s Anomalisa.

Known for his ingenious screenplays that include Being John Malkovich, Adaptation and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Kaufman’s latest is an experimental stop motion comedy drama featuring the voices of David Thewlis, Jennifer Jason Leigh and Tom Noonan. It is not an animated pic for kids with its R rating. Anomalisa premiered at Telluride before winning the Grand Jury prize at the Venice Film Festival.

Critics have gone gaga over it as its Rotten Tomatoes score is a cool 100%. Its inclusion in the Animated Feature race is a foregone conclusion. The question is whether or not it could gather enough mojo to be included in the big race, Picture. Right now I feel it’s on the outside looking in, but if any December contenders like Joy or The Hateful Eight falter, I could be singing a different tune. Anomalisa is one to keep an eye on.