A Simple Favor Movie Review

Stephanie (Anna Kendrick) is the type of character who would be in the book club that reads something like A Simple Favor. Yet the cyclone level of twists in the story might only be thought up by someone like Emily (Blake Lively) after drinking too many of her patented mid afternoon dry martinis. Paul Feig’s satiric thriller is, alas, based on a novel by Darcey Bell that probably has been read in those clubs.

This takes the issues of female empowerment found in Gone Girl or The Girl on the Train (also from literary works) and casts a black comedic cloud over it. It occasionally risks collapsing under its sheer volume of plot turns. And somehow it rarely ceases to be a hoot with two dynamic lead performances.

We meet Stephanie on her daily vlog filled with cooking tips and child rearing tips. She’s a single mom whose husband died in a car accident along with her brother. Her instinct is to do it all, including hoarding over school parenting projects. She doesn’t blink when Emily, whose kid attends school with Stephanie’s, starts asking her to be an unpaid nanny. Emily has a hectic job as PR manager for a fashion designer, the already mentioned drinking problem, and has-been writer turned professor husband Sean (Henry Golding from summer smash Crazy Rich Asians). The two end up bonding with Stephanie deeming Emily her “best friend” (there’s a bracelet involved).

Then one day Emily vanishes and Stephanie’s daily posts become a darker (though always humorous) search for a missing person. Her protective nature draws her close to Sean, so much so that the authorities begin to question their motives. What follows is a relentless stream of genre clichés: insurance claims, alternate identities, unknown twins, and love triangles, just to name some. This is kitchen sink level stuff. It’s borderline exhausting, but you get the feeling that Feig and screenwriter Jessica Sharzer know it and are furiously winking. The director is known for his straight up comedies such as Bridesmaids, The Heat, and Spy. While this does venture into paperback adapted material, it does it with tongue in cheek planted wit. This is more in tone with 1998’s under appreciated Wild Things than something like Gone Girl.

Kendrick and Lively are the show here and their chemistry makes it work. Stephanie’s desperation for companionship is sold by Kendrick, who thinks she’s found someone special beyond her unseen blog watchers. She’s done so with Emily, whose back story is filled with too many secrets to keep track of (you will lose count). Lively has a ball revealing them. So do we once we realize keeping up with it all is secondary to its ridiculous and fun nature.

*** (out of four)

Widows Box Office Prediction

Widows is Steve McQueen’s follow-up to 2013’s Oscar winning 12 Years a Slave and it boasts an impressive cast and its own awards buzz. Viola Davis headlines the heist thriller alongside Michelle Rodriguez, Elizabeth Debicki, Cynthia Erivo, Colin Farrell, Brian Tyree Henry, Daniel Kaluuya, Jacki Weaver, Carrie Coon, Robert Duvall, and Liam Neeson.

Opening next weekend, the film sits at 96% on Rotten Tomatoes. It could potentially contend in Best Picture, Actress (Davis), Supporting Actor (Kaluuya) and its Adapted Screenplay from Gone Girl and Sharp Objects writer Gillian Flynn. So how will that translate to box office bucks?

I believe the likelihood is that Widows will succeed in appealing to action fans and manage to bring in a sizable female audience. Yet it should also be the type of performer that experiences solid holds from weekend to weekend and not necessarily have a huge opening. Mid teens appears to be the correct forecast for its start.

Widows opening weekend prediction: $15.8 million

For my Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2018/11/06/fantastic-beasts-the-crimes-of-grindelwald-box-office-prediction/

For my Instant Family prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2018/11/07/instant-family-box-office-prediction/

Oscar Watch: A Private War

In a Best Actress race that is growing crowded, the Toronto Film Festival gave us yet another possibility with Rosamund Pike in A Private War. The film focuses on the true life story of Marie Colvin, a war journalist killed in Syria in 2012. Matthew Heineman directs and he’s best known for his documentaries, including the Oscar nominated Cartel Land and last year’s City of Ghosts. Jamie Dornan and Stanley Tucci costar.

The picture itself is getting mixed to positive reviews, but critics are heaping praise on Pike’s work. Four years ago, she was nominated for Gone Girl. Its distributor will need to mount a serious campaign for Pike to nab her second nod. That could be a tall order with more high-profile projects in the mix.

Bottom line: Pike could find herself in the mix, but it’s a bit of a long shot.

A Private War opens domestically on November 2. My Oscar Watch posts will continue…

Oscar Watch: Widows

Five Oscars ago, Steve McQueen’s 12 Years a Slave took home Best Picture and it’s been five years for his follow-up to debut. That picture is Widows, a heist drama based on a 1983 British miniseries and it’s premiered at the Toronto Film Festival.

Reviews for the film are encouraging, but I’m not too sure they’re strong enough for a realistic shot at Best Picture, Director, or Adapted Screenplay (by the director and Gone Girl writer Gillian Flynn) nods.

As for the actors involved, that could be a different story. An impressive supporting cast includes Michelle Rodriguez, Colin Farrell, Jacki Weaver, Robert Duvall, and Liam Neeson. Most of the ink, however, has been reserved for its star Viola Davis. She won Supporting Actress just two years back for Fences. It appears she could factor into the lead Actress race this time around, though competition could be steep. If there’s anything chance at supporting players being recognized, both Daniel Kaluuya (nominated for last year’s Get Out) and Elizabeth Debicki have been singled out in some reviews.

Bottom line: Widows is doubtful for Best Picture, but Davis and maybe a supporting performance or two could be in the mix.

The film opens domestically on November 16. My Oscar Watch posts will continue…

The Oscars Go “Popular”: An Analysis

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences dropped a rather big bombshell today with some announced changes to their Oscar telecast. First off, they’re claiming the show will now be just three hours (I’ll believe it when I see it). Additionally, some categories (I imagine numerous tech ones) will be announced live during commercial breaks and then edited into the show later. This probably won’t make the individuals in those races happy, but it should speed up the program.

However, the most noticeable and interesting change is the addition of a new category (something the Academy rarely does). The addition is described as “Outstanding Achievement in Popular Film”. No other details have been provided, but this would appear to be an attempt by the Academy to include blockbusters that haven’t made the cut in Best Picture.

So what does that mean? What is the criteria? That was not announced today and it will be fascinating to see what such criteria is. Could it be a particular gross… say over $100 million domestically? Could it be the number of the theaters a movie is released in? Time will tell and hopefully these details will be revealed shortly. It isn’t even immediately clear that these changes will all be in effect for the 2019 telecast, but I imagine they will be.

Even though nothing is totally clear at press time, that won’t stop me from speculating and asking, “What if this category had been in effect in previous years?”

Before that, let’s start with this year. If there is a Best Popular Film category in 2018, that greatly increases the chances of Marvel’s Black Panther and horror smash A Quiet Place getting nods. There’s also Mission: Impossible – Fallout (the most acclaimed entry in the franchise) or perhaps Avengers: Infinity War. Pixar will certainly see Incredibles 2 nominated in Best Animated Feature, but it could make a play here as well. And we still have fall releases like Mary Poppins Returns and A Star Is Born out there.

There will be plenty of speculation as to whether Black Panther will be the first superhero pic to nab a Best Picture nomination. There is little doubt it would be recognized in this new category.

It’s been discussed on this blog previously about the 2008 Oscars which omitted The Dark Knight in the Best Picture derby. That development was likely responsible for the Academy changing its rule of five nominated films to anywhere between five and ten. Yet it would appear the Academy still isn’t satisfied with major hits being included.

Let’s consider last year. Of the nine Best Picture nominees, only two grossed over $100 million – Get Out and Dunkirk. If the Popular Film category had existed a year ago, I imagine both features would have achieved double nominations. Assuming this new category contains five nominees (something not revealed yet), what would the other three have been? There’s plenty of blockbusters to choose from: Beauty and the Beast, Wonder Woman, It, Logan, Coco, The Greatest Showman, War for the Planet of the Apes, Wonder, and Baby Driver. 

Here’s my best guess of what a Best Popular Film slate would have looked like in 2017:

Dunkirk, Get Out, Logan, War for the Planet of the Apes, Wonder Woman

And I’m thinking Get Out would have won.

In 2016, you might have seen Deadpool and The Jungle Book as Popular picks.

In 2015, there could have been room for Star Wars: The Force Awakens and Straight Outta Compton.

2014? Perhaps Guardians of the Galaxy and Gone Girl. 

Heck, let’s go way back. Would Jurassic Park have won Best Popular Film in 1993? I don’t think so. I bet it would have gone to The Fugitive, which nabbed an actual Best Picture nomination.

Of course, there would have been years where Best Picture and Best Popular Film match. 1994 with Forrest Gump. 1997’s Titanic. 2000’s Gladiator. Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King in 2003.

Back to today. I would say this new category seems tailor-made for Black Panther. Does that mean its chances for a Best Picture nod are now diminished because voters figure it runs away with this? Perhaps. And that’s why I’m not too wild about this change at the moment. This has the potential to look like a desperate play by the Academy. At the least, it’s an acknowledgment that audience favorites and Academy favorites don’t often match.

That said, let’s see what the criteria is and I’ll judge from there. It’s a new era at the Oscars… one where Bumblebee stands a shot (however remote) at Oscar glory!

The Girl on the Train Movie Review

The Girl on the Train isn’t skillfully made enough to realize its own trashiness. This differs greatly from David Fincher’s Gone Girl, which embraced its pulpy source material and had lots of fun with it. Based on a huge bestseller by Paula Hawkins, Train takes itself too seriously to be the guilty pleasure it ought to be. That’s a shame because Emily Blunt’s central performance continues her fine work rolling along.

She plays Rachel, a divorced alcoholic who spends the bulk of her time on the titled mode of transportation. Her boozy travels send her past her old home, where her ex (Justin Theroux) lives with his new wife and old mistress (Rebecca Ferguson) and baby. It is two houses down, however, where Rachel’s chemically imbalanced imagination is running wild. This is where Megan (Haley Bennett) and her husband Scott (Luke Evans) reside and the passenger watching them envisions their relationship to be the one she pines for. Of course, there’s far more beneath the surface and that goes for all the characters involved.

When Rachel realizes there’s more to the facade she’s conjured for the couple, it leads to a mystery and a disappearance that involves Allison Janney’s detective. It leads to questioning Rachel’s whereabouts on a typical blackout drunken evening. I suppose, too, it eventually leads to a twist that is one you’re likely to pick up on earlier than you should. Whether this is designed that way is something I don’t know, but it’s a flaw nonetheless.

Our title character’s abuse of her own body and mind and other abuses I won’t reveal gives Blunt a chance to shine. Her performance is really the only one worthy of note, though Bennett does have a couple moments of her own. The story is told in a flashback style that gives all the women some backlog, but it’s Rachel who merits our attention. If only director Tate Taylor didn’t seem intent on pushing a dour vibe instead of recognizing this is vacation paperback material, this could’ve worked better. Blunt almost makes it worth the trip, but not quite.

**1/2 (out of four)

The Accountant Box Office Prediction

It’s been a busy year for Mr. Ben Affleck as he made his debut as the Caped Crusader in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and will unveil his next directorial effort, the Prohibition era crime drama Live by Night, this December. And that’s not all because next weekend comes The Accountant. 

The action thriller stars Batfleck and is directed by Gavin O’Connor, who’s had a mixed filmography with critical and commercial pleasers like Miracle and Warrior. There’s also his previous effort – the Natalie Portman flop of a Western Jane Got a Gun. This will be a true test of Affleck’s star power as he’s really the sole selling point. Costars include Anna Kendrick, J.K. Simmons, Jon Bernthal, Jeffrey Tambor, and John Lithgow.

Two Octobers back, the star had one of his largest career hits with Gone Girl, which debuted to $37 million. The Accountant will try to lure in adult moviegoers who (unlike in the summer) have had plenty of offerings to choose from, including Sully, The Magnificent Seven, Deepwater Horizon, and The Girl on the Train. While this could reach over $20 million, a debut in the high teens seems like the numbers this Accountant will manage.

The Accountant opening weekend prediction: $17.6 million

For my Kevin Hart: What Now? prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2016/10/05/kevin-hart-what-now-box-office-prediction/

For my Max Steel prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2016/10/06/max-steel-box-office-prediction/

The Girl on the Train Box Office Prediction

Just last year, the novel The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins became a massive bestseller and Universal Pictures wasted no time in getting the big screen adaptation to eager audiences. The book has been described as the “next Gone Girl” and the studio would love to replicate that film adaptation’s success here.

The thriller is directed by The Help‘s Tate Taylor and stars Emily Blunt with a supporting cast that includes Rebecca Ferguson, Haley Bennett, Justin Theroux, Luke Evans, Allison Janney, Edgar Ramirez, Lisa Kudrow, and Laura Prepon.

Train should undoubtedly bring in fans of the source material (including a hefty female demographic). Yet reaching the heights of Gone Girl seems like a fairly unlikely prospect. Two years ago in the same first October weekend, the David Fincher effort earned just over $37 million out of the gate. It wouldn’t shock me to see this top $30M for its opening weekend, but I believe a mid-high 20s gross is more probable. If Train manages solid audience buzz, it could keep chugging along with smallish drops in future weekends.

The Girl on the Train opening weekend prediction: $28.2 million

For my The Birth of a Nation prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2016/09/28/the-birth-of-a-nation-box-office-prediction/

For my Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2016/09/28/middle-school-the-worst-years-of-my-life-box-office-prediction/

Oscar Winner Predictions: Todd’s Take

We are officially ten days away from Neil Patrick Harris hosting the Oscars and it seems like a perfect time to chime in with an update on what and who I believe will win in the eight major categories. Next weekend – I’ll provide final predictions in all of the races. Here we go:

BEST PICTURE

Of the eight movies nominated here, it now appears only two have a legit shot at becoming 2014’s Best Picture: Richard Linklater’s Boyhood and Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s Birdman. The momentum still appears to be on the side of Linklater’s 12 years in the making family drama.

Predicted Winner: Boyhood

Runner-Up: Birdman

Other Nominees: American Sniper, The Grand Budapest Hotel, The Imitation Game, Selma, The Theory of Everything, Whiplash 

BEST DIRECTOR

Like the Picture race, it’s between Linklater and Inarritu. This practically seems like a coin flip at this point, but I’ll give the Birdman maker the slight edge since he just won the Director’s Guild of America award (often a solid predictor of who wins here).

Predicted Winner: Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, Birdman

Runner-Up: Richard Linklater, Boyhood

Other Nominees: Wes Anderson (The Grand Budapest Hotel), Bennett Miller (Foxcatcher), Morten Tyldum (The Imitation Game)

BEST ACTOR

While Michael Keaton remains the front runner for his Birdman comeback, don’t sleep on the chances of Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything, especially following his somewhat surprising SAG Awards victory. I’m still clinging to Keaton winning though.

Predicted Winner: Michael Keaton, Birdman

Runner-Up: Eddie Redmayne, The Theory of Everything

Other Nominees: Steve Carell (Foxcatcher), Bradley Cooper (American Sniper), Benedict Cumberbatch (The Imitation Game)

BEST ACTRESS

Julianne Moore’s work in Still Alice is widely expected to nab the celebrated actress her first golden statue. Any other winner here would be a rather big surprise.

Predicted Winner: Julianne Moore, Still Alice

Runner-Up: Felicity Jones, The Theory of Everything

Other Nominees: Marion Cotillard (Two Days One Night), Rosamund Pike (Gone Girl), Reese Witherspoon (Wild)

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

Another easy race to predict as J.K. Simmons’ turn as the sadistic music teacher in Whiplash has won essentially all precursors. Only a Birdman sweep could mean Edward Norton is victorious and that’s a long shot.

Predicted Winner: J.K. Simmons, Whiplash

Runner-Up: Edward Norton, Birdman

Other Nominees: Robert Duvall (The Judge), Ethan Hawke (Boyhood), Mark Ruffalo (Foxcatcher)

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

Like the two previous acting categories, Patricia Arquette’s Boyhood performance has scored at other awards shows and anyone but her winning would be a massive upset.

Predicted Winner: Patricia Arquette, Boyhood

Runner-Up: Emma Stone, Birdman

Other Nominees Laura Dern (Wild), Keira Knightley (The Imitation Game), Meryl Streep (Into the Woods)

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY

This is one heckuva category but again should come down to Birdman and Boyhood. Like in the Director race, Birdman gets a small edge. Watch out for Budapest as a potential spoiler.

Predicted Winner: Birdman

Runner-Up: Boyhood

Other Nominees: Foxcatcher, The Grand Budapest Hotel, Nightcrawler

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY

This would appear to be the best chance for The Imitation Game to win a major award, but Theory of Everything may be hot on its heels.

Predicted Winner: The Imitation Game

Runner-Up: The Theory of Everything

Other Nominees: American Sniper, Inherent Vice, Whiplash

And that’ll do it. Keep an eye out for final predictions next weekend!

2014 Oscar Nominations Reaction

And they’re out!

The Oscar nominations for the 2014 movie year were released this morning. As readers of the blog know, I made my final predictions yesterday evening in the eight major categories. So how did I do?

Well… not too shabby as I see it. Of the 44 nominations predicted, I correctly got 38 which equates to 86% overall and perfect scores in three of the races. Let’s take a look at the categories one by one and, for the first time, I’ll offer my initial thoughts on what and who will win:

BEST PICTURE

As mentioned last night, I finally got on the Nightcrawler bandwagon. Frankly, I should have been thinking more about the American Sniper bandwagon. It’s the only movie that received a nod that I didn’t predict. There were eight nominees instead of my estimated nine, which meant my Foxcatcher and Nightcrawler calls were left off. So overall – 7 out of 9 on Best Picture.

Nominees

American Sniper

Birdman

Boyhood

The Grand Budapest Hotel

The Imitation Game

Selma

The Theory of Everything

Whiplash

This appears to be a three film race between Boyhood, Birdman, and The Imitation Game with Boyhood appearing to have the edge. Selma was once thought to be in that mix, but today’s lack of nods in other categories render its chances virtually non-existent.

Current Predicted Winner: Boyhood

BEST DIRECTOR

Went 4 out of 5 here. Bennett Miller’s nomination for Foxcatcher was only surprising because the picture itself wasn’t recognized. I included Ana DuVernay for Selma yet her exclusion isn’t that shocking since Selma has been losing steam.

Nominees

Wes Anderson, The Grand Budapest Hotel

Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, Birdman

Richard Linklater, Boyhood

Bennett Miller, Foxcatcher

Morten Tyldum, The Imitation Game

For the last two years, Oscar has split their Picture and Director winners. I could easily see a scenario where Boyhood takes top prize with Inarritu’s virtuoso work in Birdman victorious in this category. This is a tough call, but for now I’ll go with Linklater’s heralded and long gestating accomplishment in Boyhood.

Predicted Winner: Linklater

BEST ACTOR

4 for 5 again. This race had turned into a seven man showdown and two were going to be left out. They were David Oyelowo in Selma (who I predicted wouldn’t be nominated) and Jake Gyllenhall in Nightcrawler (I predicted he would). The Sniper love meant Bradley Cooper picked up his third consecutive nomination and he’s the one I left out.

Nominees

Steve Carell, Foxcatcher

Bradley Cooper, American Sniper

Benedict Cumberbatch, The Imitation Game

Michael Keaton, Birdman

Eddie Redmayne, The Theory of Everything

We’ll keep this short and sweet. Cumberbatch or Redmayne could spoil, but this is Keaton’s race to lose.

Predicted Winner: Keaton

BEST ACTRESS

5 for 5 here! I’ll pat myself on the back for including Marion Cotillard’s “surprise” nom for Two Days One Night. Some were surprised at Jennifer Aniston’s exclusion for Cake, but the film was so small and reviews so not solid that I wasn’t.

Nominees

Marion Cotillard, Two Days One Night

Felicity Jones, The Theory of Everything

Julianne Moore, Still Alice

Rosamund Pike, Gone Girl

Reese Witherspoon, Wild

Like the Best Actor race, we have a big front runner here and it’s Moore (a celebrated and often nominated actress who’s never won). It’s simply hard to imagine any of the other four topping her.

Predicted Winner: Moore

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

5 for 5 again!! Not much to add here as these five actors were the expected nominees and that’s how it panned out.

Nominees

Robert Duvall, The Judge

Ethan Hawke, Boyhood

Edward Norton, Birdman

Mark Ruffalo, Foxcatcher

J.K. Simmons, Whiplash

I’m starting to sound like a broken record, but again there’s a major front runner. J.K. Simmons has won most of the precursors. Only an extremely good night for Birdman and a Norton upset seems plausible… but not that plausible.

Predicted Winner: Simmons

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

4 for 5 here as Laura Dern’s work in Wild (which I’d predicted previously but took her off) was included and Jessica Chastain’s in A Most Violent Year was excluded.

Nominees

Patricia Arquette, Boyhood

Laura Dern, Wild

Keira Knightley, The Imitation Game

Emma Stone, Birdman

Meryl Streep, Into the Woods

The broken record continues as Stone could reap the benefit of a Birdman love fest. However, Arquette seems to be in a solid position for gold.

Predicted Winner: Arquette

Best Original Screenplay

Perfection again – 5 for 5!!! ‘Nuff said…

Nominees

Birdman

Boyhood

Foxcatcher

The Grand Budapest Hotel

Nightcrawler

This would appear to be the race where Birdman has an ever so slight edge over Boyhood. If there’s a spoiler, it could be Grand Budapest.

Predicted Winner: Birdman

Best Adapted Screenplay

4 for 5. The American Sniper props continued as I didn’t include it. That meant Gillian Flynn’s adaptation of her book Gone Girl was left off… which was a bit of a surprise.

Nominees

American Sniper

The Imitation Game

Inherent Vice

The Theory of Everything

Whiplash

Here, The Imitation Game seems the most likely to win and it’ll likely represent its only victory in the main races.

Predicted Winner: The Imitation Game

As for surprises in the down ticket categories, there were a couple of big ones. In the Animated Feature category, The LEGO Movie was seen to many as a potential winner and it wasn’t even nominated. In the Documentary race, the Roger Ebert pic Life Itself was shockingly left out.

Please note that my current winner predictions are not my final ones and I will have a post up the weekend before the ceremony to make those picks in all categories.

Stay tuned!