Blogger’s Note (03/19/19): The upgrade has happened from $48.8 million to $56.8 million
Next weekend we will find out if lightning strikes again for director Jordan Peele with the release of Us. The horror pic is Peele’s eagerly awaited sophomore effort and follow-up to his 2017 debut GetOut. That film rode a cultural wave of excitement and critical raves that resulted in a Best Picture nomination and an Oscar for Peele for his original screenplay.
Perhaps not since M. Night Shyamalan’s Unbreakable (his feature after TheSixthSense) have we seen a movie that can sold mostly on “from the director of…”. Us centers on a family being terrorized by a brood that appears to be different versions of themselves. The cast includes Lupita Nyong’o, Winston Duke, Elisabeth Moss, and Tim Heidecker.
Any fears of a sophomore slump were eliminated this past weekend when Us screened at South by Southwest. Reviews are strong with 100% currently on Rotten Tomatoes. GetOut exceeded opening weekend projections two years ago when it made $33 million for its start and legged out considerably to $176 million.
Us doesn’t have the benefit of unknown expectations. Peele’s name and some seriously effective trailers have prognosticators thinking this will exceed the first weekend of GetOut. Whether it experiences the smallish declines from weekend to weekend is a better question as Us should be more front-loaded with its earnings.
I’ll say mid to high 40s is where this lands with $50 million certainly being a possibility.
The South by Southwest festival is in full swing this weekend and the most eagerly awaited film premiere has occurred. That would be Us, Jordan Peele’s follow-up to 2017’s GetOut. The horror thriller is out domestically on March 22.
Early reviews are quite encouraging as it currently stands at 100% on Rotten Tomatoes. Could this follow in the footsteps of Peele’s debut effort? As you may recall, GetOut premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in January 2017 to red-hot buzz. It would end up grossing $176 million stateside and garnering four Oscar nods, including Best Picture. Peele won the gold statue for Original Screenplay.
Initial consensus for Us suggests it’s scarier than GetOut, though some reviews don’t quite put it at the level of Peele’s first pic. I’ll say that if Us can resonate with audiences in a manner similar to Out, it could find itself in the Oscar conversation (especially Original Screenplay). And it might be worth keeping an eye on Lupita Nyong’o in lead actress as an outside possibility.
Forrest Tucker’s life of easygoing deception includes telling the woman he’s courting that he’s a salesman. In a way he is. Forrest (Robert Redford) is selling the most pleasant experience imaginable for the bank tellers he’s robbing. He does so with a calm and reassuring demeanor and the occasional megawatt movie star smile. Tucker was a real man who spent his decades doing what he excelled at. He was noted for being a charmer and Redford (in what might be his final role) certainly knows how to play that.
TheOldMan&TheGun is a testament to Redford’s decades of doing what he’s excellent at. Tucker is an outlaw and that moniker holds true for the legend playing him. He’s played other outlaws and the actor that’s championed independent film fits that description.
Forrest’s biggest claim to fame was his ability to break out of prisons (close to 20 times). David Lowery’s feature concentrates more on what put him in the slammer in the first place across Texas and other states. We meet him on a work day as he ambles into a local branch in the early 1980s. He calmly and appealingly tells the teller that he’ll be making an unauthorized withdrawal. The police who interview his marks seem to all say the same things… seemed like a nice guy.
That doesn’t matter much to detective John Hunt (Casey Affleck, a frequent Lowery contributor). He’s bound and determined to catch Forrest and his aging two colleagues (Tom Waits and Danny Glover). Hunt could be at a disadvantage. He seems worn down by his job. Forrest, even at his advancing age, still seems to relish it.
The heart of Gun involves Forrest meeting Texas farmer and widow Jewel (Sissy Spacek). Their potential romance gives him a bit of pause. He’s never ridden a horse. She’s got three of them on her property. It’s apparently on his to-do list. It would seem a life enjoying his lifted money on the farmland might be too. Or perhaps not as his job genuinely brings him the greatest joy.
Watching Redford and Spacek together gives us joy. They’re dynamite together. The stylish flair employed by its director is joyous to witness. The same adjective describes listening to Tom Waits giving a monologue about Christmas in his childhood. On the other hand, Affleck’s role isn’t really fleshed out. The screenplay attempts to give him some back story with his wife (Tika Sumpter) and kids, but it never really takes form. There’s also the matter of the audience not really wanting Hunt to catch his likable prey.
This is ultimately Redford’s show. If this is his curtain call, it’s a relaxed and awfully entertaining one. We’re reminded of the star’s former works in old clips toward the end and I found it emotionally gratifying. I finished TheOldMan&TheGun sporting the same smile that its subject greets those tellers.
In case you didn’t know, there are two major film festivals currently happening. In addition to Venice (which has produced a handful of Oscar Watch posts already), the Telluride Film Festival kicks off today. The opening selection is TheOldMan & TheGun, David Lowery’s latest which reportedly features the retirement role of Mr. Robert Redford. It tells the true life story of Forrest Tucker, a genteel bank robber and prison escape artist.
Early screenings have occurred and reviews are quite positive. However, nothing I’ve seen suggests this will be a factor in Best Picture. Lowery is a critical favorite. Yet even better reviewed features such as Ain’tThemBodiesSaints and AGhostStory didn’t register with the Academy.
The big question is whether Redford gets in for Best Actor. Shockingly, the legendary performer has been nominated only once. That was 45 years ago for TheSting. He has won Best Director for 1980’s OrdinaryPeople. The lead actor looks like it has the potential to be crowded, but this could be voters final chance to recognize him as he says Gun will be his last acting role.
As for supporting players, I wouldn’t look for Casey Affleck, Danny Glover, or Tom Waits to get any traction for their work. Sissy Spacek, on the other hand, could also benefit from her stature as writers are citing her strong work. It’s also worth noting that Fox Searchlight is one of the better studios at awards campaigns.
Bottom line: competition is a key factor, but Redford and Spacek are possibilities.
TheOldMan & TheGun is scheduled for release September 28. My Oscar Watch posts will continue…
Ben Wheatley’s High–Rise is less a movie about plot than its theme. Based on a 1975 novel by J.G. Ballard, this parable about classism uses the title structure in dark and devious ways to show that its inhabitants are not best left to their own devices. Set in the year that the source material was penned, we can practically detect the stale cigarette smoke odor and lord knows what else in the fibers of its shag carpeting. However, the subject matter is timeless and familiar.
The newest tenant of the London 40 story building where we spend the bulk of our time is Dr. Robert Laird (Tom Hiddleston). He moves to this property built by famed architect Anthony Royal (Jeremy Irons), who lives on the rooftop penthouse with bodyguards, an entitled wife, lush gardens, and a white horse. The decadence of the property dilutes with each floor. If you’re up high, there’s costumed parties where the doctor is out-of-place. The lower dwellings are crowded and dirty with parties that are just as lively, if not wilder (it is the seventies after all). Our lead character is in the middle range – 25th floor to be precise. Dr. Laird becomes acquainted with both sides. He strikes up a fling with a single mom (Sienna Miller) right above him. Below him, he befriends the pregnant wife (Elisabeth Moss) of the unhinged Richard (Luke Evans), who begins to document the increasingly more unhinged happenings at the property.
Royal’s creation is built with indoor pools, gyms, and a supermarket. There’s little reason for the tenants to venture elsewhere and even the good doctor finds reasons not to go to work. The mix of all societal types together descends into violence, squalor, orgiastic violence, and orgiastic squalor. It’s not pretty to look at most of the time and yet it’s often hard to look away. Some of that credit belongs to a director in Wheatley who’s clearly a talent and some impressive cinematography and art direction. The cast is first rate as well, with Hiddleston leading the way in another role in which he shows some morality mixed with the opposite.
The problem with High–Rise is that once you get the message of what it’s trying to say (it’s hard to miss), it mostly just repeats itself. The images are often both beautiful and hideous to behold. I would be lying if I said I felt it equals a wholly satisfying experience. The irony is that this may be the exact type of picture where the “higher floor” cinephile types may exaggeratingly extol its virtues. The “lower floor” moviegoing types (those who just wish to have an entertaining time) may wish they were anywhere else but this building. The “middle floor” types may find themselves, well, in the middle. My apartment may have been on the 25th floor, too.
James Vanderbilt’s Truth is of the genre that All the President’s Men is, even employing one of its stars, Robert Redford. It, too, tells the tale of a President of the United States under severe scrutiny. Both show the tremendous pressure and hard work of journalists and their duty to get the story right. The main difference among the numerous similarities? Whereas Redford’s 1976 Oscar nominated picture was confident enough to mostly eschew unneeded overdramatization, Truth is not. It’s a hindrance that causes it to pale in comparison.
Set against the backdrop of George W. Bush’s 2004 reelection, the film focuses on CBS News and its digging into the President’s three decades old plus National Guard record. Producer Mary Mapes (Cate Blanchett) works for 60 Minutes and is especially close to the network’s veteran news anchor Dan Rather (Redford). The pair and their colleagues believe they have a credible story covering lapses in Bush’s attendance in the Guard – a time when Vietnam was in its darkest days. A story is aired just months before the reelect, but potential inconsistencies rise up immediately. Some are from serious sources. Others come from the burgeoning blogosphere.
Truth explores the inner workings of news today, corporate politics, real politics, and journalistic integrity. These are subjects that have been covered before and covered more satisfactorily. I’ve already mentioned Redford’s classic from 40 years ago. There’s also Network. And Spotlight. The pic’s flaws don’t lie with the acting, even though this will not rate among Blanchett’s best performances. Redford gives a passable take on Rather. Their coworkers, including Topher Grace as a freelancer and Dennis Quaid as a military affairs expert, aren’t given any time for their characters to be anything other than caricatures.
Blanchett is a tremendous actress but there are times when even she seems to be overdoing it. Not as much as Truth itself, though. From its sweeping score to reaction shots of Mary’s young child watching her work in awe on the tube, Truth often seems distracted by its own perceived virtue instead of just sticking to the facts. The subject matter is by its nature fascinating and there are occasionally well dramatized touches here. Yet President’s Men and Spotlight were confident enough in their stories to simply tell them to intriguing results. Truth rather tries too hard and often rings false for it.
One of the more eagerly anticipated titles to premiere at the Toronto Film Festival was James Vanderbilt’s Truth. The pic focuses on the controversy that enveloped CBS newsman Dan Rather and his reporting of President George W. Bush’s National Guard service during the 2004 election. Robert Redford plays Rather with Cate Blanchett playing his producer. Costars include Dennis Quaid, Topher Grace and Elisabeth Moss.
After its festival debut, reviews were mostly positive and it currently sits at 79% on Rotten Tomatoes. Having said that, Truth probably didn’t break out enough to gain major awards traction. Redford is a long shot to be in the mix for Best Actor and while Blanchett earned strong notices, she’ll most likely be a player in the lead actress category for Carol and not this.
So while Truth didn’t crash and burn like some other titles did at Toronto, it’s chances of real Oscar attention appears limited at best. It comes out October 16.