Oscar Watch: The Goldfinch

John Crowley’s The Goldfinch looks like a picture made for Oscar consideration. It’s a prestige drama based on a well known novel (from Donna Tartt). This is the follow up to the filmmaker’s Brooklyn, which did receive a nod in the biggest race four years ago. Nicole Kidman is in it, as is Ansel Elgort in his first headlining role since Baby Driver.

Yet I found it curious that Warner Bros didn’t screen it last weekend in Venice or Telluride. After all, its Toronto screening today is a mere five days ahead of its stateside release. That’s not much time to build awards buzz.

Now we know why. The Goldfinch is being savaged by some critics and the Rotten Tomatoes score is at 22%. So while numerous movies have increased their visibility on the voter circuit in the last few days, this would be a casualty. If anything, perhaps Roger Deakins (who at last won a gold statue two years ago for Blade Runner 2049) could see his cinematography noticed. That would be the extent of it. My Oscar Watch posts will continue…

The Goldfinch Box Office Prediction

Based on a 2013 novel by Donna Tartt that elicited mixed reaction, The Goldfinch arrives in theaters next weekend. The drama is director John Crowley’s follow up to his Oscar nominated 2015 effort Brooklyn. Ansel Elgort headlines with a supporting cast that includes Oakes Fegley, Aneurin Barnard, Finn Wolfhard (currently also costarring in It Chapter Two), Sarah Paulson, Luke Wilson, Jeffrey Wright, and Nicole Kidman.

The film will have its premiere this weekend at the Toronto Film Festival. Interestingly, it skipped both Telluride and Venice. Those earlier screenings could have provided the opportunity for any awards chatter and I’m curious to see if Warner Bros knew that might not materialize.

For those unfamiliar with the source material, I’ve found the trailers to be a bit too mysterious and a tad lackluster. We’ll see if reviews this weekend could possibly change the dynamic, but I currently see The Goldfinch struggling to reach double digits. That unimpressive result would put it in third place behind the aforementioned It sequel and Hustlers.

The Goldfinch opening weekend prediction: $5.7 million

For my Hustlers prediction, click here:


Oscar Watch: The Laundromat

Steven Soderbergh, Oscar winning director of Traffic, has apparently given us a fun and breezy true life story about tax evasion. It comes in the form of The Laundromat which has premiered at the Venice Film Festival. The pic is star studded as well with Meryl Streep, Gary Oldman, Antonio Banderas, Jeffrey Wright, James Cromwell, and Sharon Stone.

Reviews are out and they’re mostly solid. Yet from what I’ve seen thus far, I’m not sure if this will be an Oscar contender. Hitting Netflix in October, there’s been some comparisons to Adam McKay’s The Big Short, which did score several nods four years ago. There’s also mentions of Soderbergh’s 2009 pic The Informant! and that’s no accident since they share the same screenwriter – Scott Z. Burns.

Mr. Burns could get attention for his upcoming political drama The Report with Adam Driver and Annette Bening. Streep’s category placement is still uncertain but she seems to be a lead. It’s foolish to ever count her out, but she might also factor into Supporting Actress with the upcoming Little Women. Banderas looks to be a contender in lead for Pedro Almodovar’s Pain and Glory. Oldman won two years ago for Darkest Hour. And Netflix itself might focus more on Marriage Story and The Irishman.

In other words, that’s some significant players involved here who are getting mentions for other projects. While The Laundromat is getting mostly positive feedback, it may not translate to Academy attention (with the potential exception of Adapted Screenplay). My Oscar Watch posts will continue…

Game Night Movie Review

Too many big studio comedies can be numbered by the handful of gags that work while the rest fall flat. This is thankfully not the case with Game Night. It’s gimmicky, sure. It’s a bit forgettable. Yet it’s consistently amusing and doesn’t overburden itself with too much sentimentality. As far as the genre goes as of late, that’s enough to mark this a success.

The pic comes from co-directors John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein, who last made the more consistently unfunny Vacation reboot. Jason Bateman and Rachel McAdams are Max and Annie, married with no children even though she’s ready. Their biggest shared love is one of competitiveness, which includes their game nights with friends. Their usual group includes playboy Ryan (Billy Magnussen) and childhood sweethearts Kevin and Michelle (Lamorne Morris and Kylie Bunbury). Next door neighbor and police officer Gary (Jesse Plemons) is a former regular until his recent divorce has turned him into quite the weirdo.

Our main couple’s typical showing of charade and board gaming dominance is interrupted when Max’s brother Brooks (Kyle Chandler) pops up. Brooks is the ultra cool brother with a better bone structure and larger pocketbook that Max harbors jealousy for. Instead of Clue or Risk, Brooks has a different idea for game night involving a kidnapping and real actors interacting with the group. The players won’t know what’s real and what isn’t.

Wouldn’t you know it? Turns out some real kidnappers turn up and that Brooks may be involved in some seedy stuff. What follows is a search for a Faberge egg, guns that the principals think aren’t real (an overused gag by now), squeaky toys used to bite down on for pain (a never before seen gag that’s pretty darn funny), and Bateman’s patented ironic detachment that always seems to work.

Night is served with a game cast. Standouts include Plemons as the creepy but probably well-meaning neighbor and Magnussen as the dim bulb participant of the team. Sharon Horgan is his much smarter date for the evening and she provides some humorous moments as well. The screenplay also provides a twist or two that are genuinely surprising.

The actual concept of a game night may not be as joyous as it’s supposed to be on occasion. You need fun people there. This movie has them. Like real game nights, you may forget some of details by the next day but you’ll remember enjoying it.

*** (out of four)

Game Night Box Office Prediction

Jason Bateman and Rachel McAdams are a couple whose night of innocent fun goes horribly wrong in the comedy Game Night, opening next Friday. From John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein, the guys behind Horrible Bosses and the 2015 Vacation reboot, the pic costars Kyle Chandler, Billy Magnussen, Michael C. Hall, Jesse Plemons, and Jeffrey Wright.

Night could manage to appeal to moviegoers looking for a straight comedy in the midst of other genre fare in the marketplace. Black Panther will certainly being tearing up competition in weekend #2 and Annihilation is also out there for sci-fi fans. As far as movies reaching for the funny bone, this stands alone.

I could envision Game Night performing similarly to recent Bateman outings like Horrible Bosses 2 and Office Christmas Party. That would put it in the mid teens range for its start.

Game Night opening weekend prediction: $16.3 million

For my Annihilation prediction, click here:



The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2 Movie Review

Over the last near four years, The Hunger Games franchise begat the true birth of YA novel adapted pictures that have continued with diverging and maze running. Perhaps more importantly, it gave the masses Jennifer Lawrence who’s gone onto quite an impressive career thanks to this series and David O. Russell with Silver Linings Playbook, American Hustle, and the upcoming Joy. It also gave its studio Lionsgate a serious cash cow and that explains the decision to divide the final installment Mockingjay into two parts. They did so because they knew the cash cow was about to graze and last year’s Part 1 felt incomplete. That picture didn’t feel so much as half a film. Instead it often felt unnecessary and slowly paced with filler where they didn’t need to be. Mockingjay – Part 1 was light on action and often too grim, dark, and plodding for its own good.

Some of those same tenets hold true for Part 2 (the first hour drags a bit), but this experience feels much more satisfying and sends the franchise off with competence. We pick up where we left off with Lawrence’s Katniss fervently marching towards the Capitol to kill President Snow (Donald Sutherland, still relishing his villainous role). There is still a love triangle between the brainwashed Peeta (Josh Hutcherson, whose acting here is better than we’ve seen before) and hunky Gale (Liam Hemsworth), though we correctly sense how it will turn out eventually. And Katniss is still being used by District 13’s President Coin (Julianne Moore) for propaganda purposes as her motives are constantly in question. The goals of Katniss are undeniably noble while we’re not so sure about the President she’s working for.

Part 2 ups the adventure quotient and director Francis Lawrence is serviceable at delivering these sequences. One in an abandoned subway system with some freaky looking creatures is particularly well-constructed and suspenseful. Yet the real suspense lurks with what Katniss will do once reaches her nemesis President Snow and whether he really is the baddest of the bad guys.

The dynamic between Katniss, Peeta, and Gale has been a running theme throughout these movies. A common complaint has been the underwhelming acting of Hutcherson that sort of makes you root for Gale more than you should. It’s not a notion I disagree with. Here, however, Peeta’s struggle with the mind tricks Snow heaped upon him adds a fascinating dimension. In one segment, he tells Katniss “You should cuff me…” and he means in the literal restraint form with zero shades of grey.

As for various performances, Lawrence again shows she was meant for this role and brings an emotional heft that elevates the material. Moore, Sutherland, and Woody Harrelson as returning mentor Haymitch are all pros. Philip Seymour Hoffman is here in limited screen time, which is probably due to his tragic death nearly two years ago. There are a couple of scenes where he should obviously be in it. Elizabeth Banks is given a couple scenes as franchise favorite Effie.

For the most part, Mockingjay – Part 2 is about getting down to the business of Katniss exacting her revenge. And that thirst for revenge only grows during the fairly well-paced proceedings taking place here. The body count piles up. The stakes grow higher and everything feels urgent in a way that it didn’t and really couldn’t in Part 1. Having never read the Suzanne Collins books which these Games are adapted from, I don’t know about the complaints I’ve picked up about a disappointing ending for the series. The actions of Katniss in the third act worked for me and the action displayed here is pretty good stuff. If there’s a quibble to be had, it’s that the first two Hunger Games films had more of a sense of humor and there was fun to be had. The original actually felt rather fresh and 2013’s Catching Fire brought the series to a creative high. It stands as easily as the finest picture of the quartet. The final two are considerably bleaker in tone, but word is that faithfully follows what Collins brought her readers. As I wrote in my review of Part 1, there’s no actual “hunger games” happening anymore in these last two entries. Thankfully, Part 2 concludes The Hunger Games franchise in a mostly sufficient manner.

*** (out of four)

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2 Box Office Prediction

The final installment of the wildly popular franchise based on Suzane Collins’s novels hits screens next Friday as The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 2 opens. Francis Lawrence returns to direct and Jennifer Lawrence is back leading her impressive cast that includes Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks, Julianne Moore, Donald Sutherland, Sam Chaflin, Jena Malone, Stanley Tucci, Jeffrey Wright, and Philip Seymour Hoffman (in his final film role). So far, this is getting better reviews than Part 1‘s 65% Rotten Tomatoes score as this stands at 88% currently.

While all entries in this series have made major bucks, it is worth noting that predecessor Mockingjay – Part 1 came in below the first two flicks. Let’s take a trip down box office history lane with this franchise that began in spring 2012:

The Hunger Games

Opening: $152 million with $408 million overall domestic gross

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

Opening: $158 million with $424 overall domestic gross

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1

Opening: $121 million with $337 million overall domestic gross

I find it unlikely that the final tale will outdo the first two, but it could edge out Part 1 simply due to the fact that it’s the last one. It has become commonplace for studios to divide a franchise’s finale installment into two parts. We’ve seen it with Harry Potter and Twilight and Lionsgate did just that here (we’ll see this tactic employed again in the future with the Divergent and Avengers series).

My gut tells me this performs similar to what Part 2 of the last Twilight picture accomplished by making about $3-6 million more that what its predecessor debuted to.

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 2 opening weekend prediction: $124.2 million

For my The Night Before prediction, click here:


For my Secret in Their Eyes prediction, click here:


The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 Box Office Prediction

This Friday, only one new release debuts in the marketplace, but it’s a massive one. Yes, Katniss and company are back in The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 and expect a number of 2014’s records to be broken.

For starters, it needs only to top the $100 million earned by Transformers: Age of Extinction to have the largest opening weekend of the year. That should be no problem whatsoever. 2012’s original Games got off to a $152M start while last year’s sequel Catching Fire took in $158M. Additionally, Mockingjay 1 (the part two franchise finale is out next year) is almost certain to eventually gross higher than 2014’s current box office champ, Guardians of the Galaxy, which has earned $330M. Both of Mockingjay‘s predecessors have earned over $400M domestically.

Jennifer Lawrence returns at Katniss with a large ensemble cast including Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Julianne Moore, Donald Sutherland, Elizabeth Banks, Woody Harrelson, Jeffrey Wright, Stanley Tucci, and the late Philip Seymour Hoffman. Reviews have been mostly strong, though notices for Catching Fire were more positive.

This third entry appears unlikely to gross under the original’s $152M out of the gate. However, I question whether it manages to top Catching Fire‘s $158M haul. I’ll predict this opens right in the middle of the first two while easily claiming the title of best roll out of the year.

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 opening weekend prediction: $155.8 million