Oscar Watch: Irresistible

With his consistently Emmy winning work as host of The Daily Show, Jon Stewart became synonymous with biting political satire for a generation of viewers. Toward the end of his run hosting the program, he took a hiatus to helm his directorial debut Rosewater, a political drama that failed to gain much of an audience. It was released in 2014 and despite mostly positive reviews, it came and went with zero awards buzz. As a side note, the break that Stewart took allowed John Oliver to gain exposure and nab his own currently running acclaimed HBO show.

Stewart is back in the director’s chair again with Irresistible, a political satire focused on a small town mayoral race. The pic stars Steve Carell, who first entered the mainstream on the show Stewart hosted with a supporting cast including Rose Byrne, Chris Cooper, Topher Grace, and Natasha Lyonne. It hits a small number of theaters and the VOD circuit today after its original May release was postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

While some reviews are quite positive (including Rolling Stone), many critics are saying Irresistible is quite resistible. The Rotten Tomatoes score stands at just 40%. So while Mr. Stewart picked up many awards for his television work, don’t look for his second feature behind the camera to follow suit. My Oscar Watch posts will continue…

Daily Streaming Guide: April 7th Edition

A late 1970s set comedic crime caper is featured in today’s streaming guide and is available through HBO’s services:

Shane Black’s The Nice Guys casts Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling as private eyes who team to find a missing teen played by Margaret Qualley, who broke out last year with her role in Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. The writer/director is known for his private eye tales. If you haven’t seen Black’s 2005 effort Kiss Kiss Bang Bang with Robert Downey Jr. and Val Kilmer, mark it down as a must watch too.

Guys incorporates Black’s humorous touches with some hard edged bits. The chemistry of Crowe and Gosling works well and this is another solid effort from a talented filmmaker.

That does it for now, folks! Until next time…

Daily Streaming Guide: March 28th Edition

In these times, it’s certainly important to laugh and today’s Streaming Guide gives us two goofy comedies currently available on HBO’s viewing services:

2010’s MacGruber is a feature-length treatment starring Will Forte’s inept MacGyver type character that he originally debuted on SNL. It was not a hit upon release, but has found many fans over the past decade. I found it to be frequently uproarious with memorable supporting turns by Kristin Wiig and Val Kilmer. There’s also an, ummm, love scene between Forte and Wiig that won’t leave your psyche anytime soon.

2004’s Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story was a blockbuster a decade and a half ago. Headlined by Vince Vaughn and Ben Stiller, this silly sports tale about something we all played in gym hits more than it misses. In hindsight, the inspirational scene with Lance Armstrong towards the end seems… dated. Yet this is certainly good for some laughs.

That does it for now, folks! Until next time…

Daily Streaming Guide: March 25th Edition

Two comedies make their way into my Daily Streaming Guide. Also – about the “daily” thing – I’m trying my darnedest to post each day, but sometimes life and work get in the way. I’ll do my best to update as much as possible!

Netflix

1996’s Kingpin from the Farrelly Brothers arrived in-between two of their massive and beloved comedies – Dumb and Dumber and There’s Something About Mary. This bowling farce starring Woody Harrelson, Randy Quaid, and a glorious Bill Murray didn’t receive near as much attention. It’s since turned into a cult favorite and its brand of depraved and often hilarious comedy is well worth a look (for Murray’s hair alone).

HBO Streaming

2004’s Along Came Polly is the romantic tale of ultra cautious Ben Stiller and free spirit Jennifer Aniston. They are responsible for plenty of funny moments, but supporting players Alec Baldwin and especially the late Philip Seymour Hoffman make it even more worthwhile.

And that does it for now, folks! Until next time…

Daily Streaming Guide: March 20th Edition

For today’s Daily Streaming Guide, let’s call this one the “in-between” movies. Three pictures that arrived at midpoints between career highlights for certain huge directors and stars. And all three are recommendable watches that stand on their own.

HBO Streaming

The sci-fi tale The Abyss hit theaters in 1989 from director James Cameron. Its release came in-between two acclaimed sequels from the filmmaker: 1986’s Aliens and 1991’s Terminator 2: Judgment Day. Cameron had two massive blockbusters in a row with the first Terminator and Aliens. This represented more of a gamble and the aquatic thriller divided critics and audiences. While it isn’t a classic like some of the director’s other efforts, The Abyss is well worth viewing (deservedly winning an Oscar for Best Visual Effects). Even South Park ended up parodying one of its memorable near death scenes in their landmark trilogy “Imaginationland”.

Netflix

1981’s Nighthawks is a gritty NYC crime thriller that arrived in-between the creation of Sylvester Stallone’s two iconic characters. It came five years after Rocky and its first sequel and one year prior to First Blood (aka Rambo). It also features Billy Dee Williams (in-between stints as Lando in The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi) with Rutger Hauer as the main baddie (a year prior to his more famed villainous turn in Blade Runner). As far as watching Stallone in non Rocky and Rambo material, this is on the higher end of material.

Amazon Prime

1974’s The Conversation was nominated for three Oscars, including Best Picture. Yet it’s also the movie in-between Francis Ford Coppola’s two masterpieces: The Godfather and its sequel. Gene Hackman is featured in one of his best roles as a surveillance expert caught up in a government conspiracy. In multiple ways, The Conversation is a film ahead of its time. In an era rich with great pictures, this is an often overlooked gem.

That’s all for now, folks! Until next time…

Daily Streaming Guide: March 15th Edition

Just as our collective world has changed around us in the past few days and will continue for the foreseeable future, so will this little movie blog of mine. Simply put – a lot of us (myself included) are going to be home for awhile. Therefore, the best use of this blog at the moment is shifting away from box office predictions and Oscar speculation.

Beginning right now, I’m going to post a Daily Streaming Guide recommending movies currently streaming on Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime. It’s likely that I’ll throw in Disney+ and HBO in from time to time. Hopefully this will assist my readers in identifying some worthy pictures to view at home. Let’s get to it, shall we?

Netflix

1984’s Purple Rain turned Prince into a global musical superstar. The soundtrack that accompanied it is a nine-track masterpiece in which every song demands repeat listens. Here’s a fair warning – the film itself is of its time. This is a kind way of saying that there’s some dialogue and attitudes that wouldn’t pass muster in 2020. That said, I would recommend it as a time capsule to witness a genius at a juncture of his creative peak. The performances alone with his band The Revolution that include the title tune, “Let’s Go Crazy”, “Darling Nikki”, and more are worth the price of streaming.

Hulu

Keeping with the musical theme, Cameron Crowe’s 1989 teen romance Say Anything… is known mostly for a shot of John Cusack holding up a boom box blaring Peter Gabriel’s “In Your Eyes”. It’s an iconic scene, but the picture itself is among the most intelligent and insightful experiences dealing with young love. Just as 80s icon John Hughes wrote teens as human beings as opposed to walking hormones, Crowe’s screenplay accomplishes the same.

Amazon Prime

For something more recent, Paul Feig’s A Simple Favor from 2018 belongs more in the guilty pleasure space. A charcoal black comedy starring Anna Kendrick and Blake Lively, this twisty thriller knows it’s ridiculous and is simply a whole lot of fun. This might be best enjoyed with a dry martini or two on standby.

I’ll be back at it tomorrow, folks! Until then – be well and stay safe!

Oscar Watch: Jane Fonda in Five Acts

Two-time Oscar winner (for Klute and Coming Home) and seven-time nominee Jane Fonda won’t receive any awards attention this year for her summer hit Book Club. However, it could be a different story when it comes to a documentary made about her life – Jane Fonda in Five Acts.

The tale of the actress/political activist/fitness guru originally debuted earlier this year at the Sundance Film Festival and it premieres on HBO on September 24th. Reviews are strong and the Academy’s respect for its subject could warrant inclusion in the Best Documentary Feature race.

That said, this has been an impressive year for docs. Among those expected to be nominated concentrate on other legendary figures like Mr. Rogers (Won’t You Be My Neighbor?) and Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg (RBG).

Bottom line: the level of competition is steep, but Ms. Fonda’s story as opposed to her acting could make its way to the attention of voters.

My Oscar Watch posts will continue…

Summer 2008: The Top 10 Hits and More

We have arrived at part 3 of summer nostalgia looking over the cinematic seasons from 30, 20, and 10 years ago. If you missed my posts on 1988 and 1998, you can find them here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2018/07/11/summer-1988-the-top-10-hits-and-more/

https://toddmthatcher.com/2018/07/12/summer-1998-the-top-10-hits-and-more/

This brings us to 2008. It was a vaunted superhero summer to be sure and there’s some humdingers for our flops. Here are the top ten moneymakers in addition to other notables and bombs.

10. The Incredible Hulk

Domestic Gross: $134 million

The second feature in the Marvel Cinematic Universe found Edward Norton taking on the angry green giant from Eric Bana. While better received than Ang Lee’s Hulk, it was mostly met with a shrug and Mark Ruffalo would take over the part four years later in The Avengers. It stands at lowest earner of the MCU.

9. The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian

Domestic Gross: $141 million

The follow-up to 2005’s The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe made less than half of what that picture achieved. Like Hulk, it may have placed in the top ten, but it was considered a bit of a disappointment.

8. Mamma Mia!

Domestic Gross: $144 million

The ABBA infused comedic musical was a major sleeper hit and its sequel hits theaters this Friday.

7. Sex and the City

Domestic Gross: $152 million

Fans of the HBO series turned out in droves for the big screen treatment. A sequel two years later yielded less impressive returns.

6. Kung Fu Panda

Domestic Gross: $215 million

Dreamworks Animation found itself a franchise with this animal fest led by Jack Black. Two sequels have followed.

5. WALL-E

Domestic Gross: $223 million

Yet another critically lauded effort from the money minting machine that is Disney/Pixar, this would take home Best Animated Feature at the Oscars.

4. Hancock

Domestic Gross: $227 million

Despite mostly negative reviews, this superhero effort proved Will Smith’s potency at the box office. Director Peter Berg has mostly moved to true life dramas with Mark Wahlberg.

3. Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

Domestic Gross: $317 million

Nearly 20 years after The Last Crusade, Harrison Ford’s iconic hero returned and teamed up with Shia LaBeouf. Critics and audiences had their issues with it, but Indy is slated to come back again in 2021 (when Mr. Ford will almost be 80).

2. Iron Man

Domestic Gross: $318 million

It’s crazy to think now, but the idea of casting Robert Downey Jr. as a superhero less known than Batman or Superman was considered risky business at the time. We know what followed… the Marvel Cinematic Universe. This started it all.

1. The Dark Knight

Domestic Gross: $533 million

The sequel to Batman Begins turned into a genuine phenomenon with Heath Ledger’s incredible work as The Joker and an experience that has influenced numerous franchises since.

And now for some other notables of summer 2008:

Get Smart

Domestic Gross: $130 million

Steve Carell experienced a box office bomb the summer prior with Evan Almighty. He got back into the good graces of audiences with this big screen rendering of the 1960s TV series alongside Anne Hathaway.

Tropic Thunder

Domestic Gross: $110 million

Ben Stiller’s comedy was a hit with crowds and critics. Robert Downey Jr. earned an Oscar nod for his work here and we see Tom Cruise as never before.

Step Brothers

Domestic Gross: $100 million

It didn’t make as much as Adam McKay and Will Ferrell’s previous collaboration two summers earlier, Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby. However, this has achieved serious cult status in following years.

Hellboy II: The Golden Army

Domestic Gross: $75 million

Guillermo del Toro’s sequel managed to out gross its predecessor and it was another critically hailed comic book adaptation in a summer filled with them. A reboot of the franchise with David Harbour comes next year.

The Strangers

Domestic Gross: $52 million

This low-budget horror flick turned into a sleeper. A sequel was released this March.

This brings us to the flops…

The Happening

Domestic Gross: $64 million

M. Night Shyamalan had his first flop two summers earlier with Lady in the Water. This one focused on killer trees with a lackluster performance from Mark Wahlberg. Audiences were laughing at it more than frightened by it. The director has since rebounded with Split. 

Speed Racer

Domestic Gross: $43 million

This was the Wachowskis first picture since the Matrix trilogy and it fell far under expectations at the box office and with critics.

The Love Guru

Domestic Gross: $32 million

Mike Myers couldn’t make this creation anywhere near as iconic as Wayne Campbell or Austin Powers. Moviegoers simply ignored Pitka.

The X-Files: I Want to Believe

Domestic Gross: $20 million

Ten summers after the first adaptation of the FOX show did well at theaters, audiences didn’t want to believe in its long gestating sequel.

Meet Dave

Domestic Gross: $11 million

This sci-fi comedy was a massive bomb for Eddie Murphy, making a small percentage of its reported $60 million budget.

And that does it for my recaps of the summer! You can be sure I’ll be back next season covering 1989, 1999, and 2009.

Paterno Movie Review

Paterno opens during an important football game as the 84-year-old Penn State coaching legend is going for a personal NCAA record in wins. The elderly team leader sits up high in a press box and not on the sidelines, plotting out the victory. He’s removed, but involved. It’s an allegory for what follows. This is the central question of the massive scandal that follows and the rendering of the subject’s legacy in the public view. How removed was Joe Paterno in the Jerry Sandusky saga? Or how involved was he?

The HBO effort marks the second collaboration of director Barry Levinson and leading man Al Pacino for the cable network. Their first was 2010’s You Don’t Know Jack, in which the Oscar winner played Dr. Kevorkian. Levinson also made last year’s The Wizard of Lies, which cast Robert De Niro as Ponzi scheme maker Bernie Madoff. That picture had some issues with its story structure and so does this.

The tale unfolds in November 2011 over a week’s period of time that feels like an eternity for those in Happy Valley. When former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky is charged with multiple accounts of child sexual abuse, the focus soon turns to what the iconic Paterno (Pacino) knew and when. It’s a startling turn of quick events that results in the coach’s dismissal, as well as others involved with the college.

Breaking the explosive story is local reporter Sara Ganim (Riley Keough), whose sordid tale is ignored for a bit. And then everyone in the world pays attention. It’s this work that would result in a Pulitzer for her and the downfall of a living and breathing institution. This journalistic expose is done in a setting where many of the Penn State faithful are in a haze and in denial about what’s happening. Many don’t want to believe Paterno could have done any wrong in failing to report his knowledge of Sandusky’s evil.

This plot line of the bravery of reporters and the victims to shed light on Sandusky’s crimes and the inability of university officials to do the right thing is the fascinating one. However, Paterno the movie spends most of its running time holed up in Paterno the man’s home as he’s in crisis control mode with his family and advisors.

It does provide Pacino an opportunity for a choice role, just as his other HBO projects have in the 21st century (both Jack and 2003’s Angels in America). He is successful in mimicking the look and mannerisms of the coach. Paterno is played as a man seemingly incapable of understanding the gravity of the unfolding storm around him. The same goes for many in State College.

There’s a remarkable sequence where people take to the streets to protest JoePa’s firing as Sara watches. She knows that she is largely responsible for their vitriol, but also instrumental in putting away a monster. A deeper dive into how that happened could have been intriguing. Paterno largely removes itself from that process while providing a slightly disappointing but well-acted experience from those involved.

**1/2 (out of four)

Who Should Play Donald Trump?

This news should come as no surprise as HBO has announced they will be producing a miniseries in the near future focusing on the 2016 Presidential Election. The effort will come from the team behind Game Change, which told the tale of Sarah Palin (Julianne Moore) in her quest to become John McCain’s (Ed Harris) VP in 2008. Game director Jay Roach will be behind the camera.

There is little doubt the project will heavily focus on the man who became the 45th President of the United States. So that begs the question: who will play Donald Trump? I imagine this will be the focus on much speculation until an announcement is made, so I’ll get in on it too. I’ve come up with a dozen interesting choices outlined in this here post. However, before we move to that, let’s discuss some choices that are sure to bandied about.

Name one: Alec Baldwin. Of course, he may be the first actor people think of due to his portrayal of the President on SNL. Yet I find it extremely unlikely that Baldwin would be interested (he’s already announced his impression of POTUS on SNL is soon coming to an end). The filmmakers themselves also might not be wild about casting the performer only known for an exaggerated comedic take on Trump.

Then there’s some big names that might be given the role if they’re interested. Two that spring to mind immediately: Kevin Spacey and Bryan Cranston. Here’s another – Matthew McConaughey. After all, he’s worked with HBO before on “True Detective”.

Yet I wish to delve a bit deeper into Hollywood’s rolodex for some other names. Here’s a dozen of them for your consideration:

Tom Berenger

This choice seems unlikely as he’s probably not a big enough name anymore, but he’s the right age (67) and he does kind of bear a resemblance to POTUS. It’s been over three decades since Berenger was Oscar nominated for Platoon, but he’s popped up occasionally in recent years in pics like Training Day and Inception. 

Kenneth Branagh

The Irish actor has been known more lately for his work behind the camera, including 2015’s Cinderella. Later this year, he directs and stars in the remake of Murder on the Orient Express. That should be a high-profile project and could dovetail well into this very high-profile experience.

Kevin Costner

Coming off a supporting role in the blockbuster Hidden Figures, I question whether Costner could get the look down. Yet he’s a big star who HBO would probably consider.

Russell Crowe

This is a possible example of HBO going with the Oscar winner if he wants to do it. Crowe would be a huge actor to cast in the part and he could potentially add Emmy winner to his award shelf.

Thomas Haden Church

The Oscar nominee for 2004’s Sideways is currently on HBO right now alongside Sarah Jessica Parker in “Divorce”. I could see him pulling off the look for Trump and see him as an intriguing prospect. Possible issue: big enough name?

Greg Kinnear

Another Academy Award nominee for 1997’s As Good As It Gets, it’s been awhile since Kinnear has had a major showcase role. I could see him totally pulling this off and he’s near the top of my choices.

Viggo Mortensen

Mr. Mortensen could be a fascinating pick and he’s coming fresh off an Oscar nod for Captain Fantastic. Like Kinnear, this pick would fascinate me.

Edward Norton

Like Crowe, this would be an example of a major movie star taking on the part. Norton can be a chameleon and I like this idea.

Bob Odenkirk

The Emmy winner for “Better Call Saul” could nail this part, I suspect. He’s shown both dramatic and comedic chops in his body of work.

Kurt Russell

Russell is simply one of my favorite actors period. He’s more versatile than he gets credit for and I totally buy him making this work.

James Spader

Another high-profile choice due to his exposure on “The Blacklist”, he’s toward the top of my personal choices.

Owen Wilson

Of all the choices here, I could really see him getting the look down. The big question: could his very distinctive voice pull off the tones of The Donald?

So there you have it! What actors not mentioned do you feel could step into the President’s shoes? And how about this question: how will Donald Trump react to his casting on Twitter??