X Review

We’re used to the virgin in slasher movies. It’s typically a she and she’s usually the one that survives. Ti West’s homage  to that genre and other ones has a little demented fun with that character. There’s not a virgin to be found in X, but there’s one who loses her porn flick virginity.

A prologue clues us in that we’ll see a significant body count in what follows. Set in rural Texas circa 1979, a troupe of six travels to a farmhouse to shoot an adult film. The director RJ (Owen Campbell) fancies it to be a cut above the rest of them (they always do in these pics). His girlfriend Lorraine  (Jenna Ortega) is part of the skeleton crew who isn’t thrilled to be on the shoot. On the flip side, Bobby-Lynne (Brittany Snow) and her bf Jackson Hole (Scott Mescudi) are proud to be starring in the feature titled The Farmer’s Daughters. Mia Goth is Maxine, coke addled and desperate to be a star. She’s dating Wayne (Martin Henderson), executive producer of the big show.

The aforementioned farmhouse is owned by elderly couple Howard (Stephen Ure) and Pearl (played by Goth in heavy old age makeup). With a revivalist evangelical TV program playing on their set, we rightly assume they aren’t fully aware of what kind of shenanigans their guests are filming.  A slow build leads us to discover plenty of secrets about the couple.

is most obviously  a sadistic love letter to 1974’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre though it telegraphs other influences. It even mentions 1960’s Psycho and how it became a different picture at midpoint. The same can be said here as the one day shoot is completed before a violent night rolls along. Halloween and The Shining get their due as do the cheapie grindhouse and skin flicks of the era it’s set in.

Where deviates a little from the formula is its occasional rumination on aging. Pearl, in particular, is reminded of what she’s lost in her elder state by the youngsters on her property. Her reaction won’t win her (or the script) any acclaim from the AARP. It does, however, give this a slightly unexpected and intriguing dimension.

My reaction was mixed overall. I found the lighting to be almost too dark at times. That said, there’s one scene in particular (you’ll know) where you’ll be glad it is. While is well-made and sometimes clever, its biggest fault is a common one for more high minded horror titles. I didn’t find it overly frightening. Furthermore, for a sendup of a brand where the killings are often violently creative – that’s in surprisingly short supply. The most passionate genre disciples will surely sing X‘s praises. I found myself somewhat less devoted.

**1/2 (out of four)

X Box Office Prediction

Set in 1979 and melding the genres of horror with adult filmmaking, Ti West’s is slated for spots in over 2000 theaters this weekend. The slasher pic (which premiered at South by Southwest days ago) stars Mia Goth, Jenna Ortega (just coming off Scream), Martin Henderson, Brittany Snow, Owen Campbell, and Scott Mescudi (aka Kid Cudi).

Reviews are sharp with a current 100% Rotten Tomatoes score. That said, I do believe its box office potential is limited. Unlike most recent horror titles, it’s not a sequel/remake/prequel/requel. While A24 materials often receives acclaim, they can struggle at multiplexes.

Despite the hefty screen count, I’ll project this struggles to reach $3 million.

opening weekend prediction: $2.9 million

For my Jujutsu Kaisen 0 prediction, click here:

Jujutsu Kaisen 0 Box Office Prediction

For my The Outfit prediction, click here:

The Outfit Box Office Prediction

Don’t Look Up Review

The forecast in Adam McKay’s Don’t Look Up is a planet killing comet mixed with a heavy dose of condescension. This is an all-star experience about our home star being decimated. The writer/director is a Saturday Night Live veteran scribe who mastered the art of penning sketches with exaggerated characters. Even with all the talent involved (there’s lots of Oscar nods and wins among the cast), hardly any rise above caricature status. The nerdy but hot scientist, the clueless government officials, the spoiled pop princess, the pompous and feeble brained news anchors, the empathy devoid and weird billionaire…

These one-note types may fit a mold in a cleverly developed bit that runs five minutes. Not so much in this two and a half hour countdown. They’re mostly tiresome in McKay’s latest politically charged tale. In The Big Short, the filmmaker mixed a cast of familiar faces, complicated financial talk, and humor to rewarding payoffs. McKay’s comedies with Will Ferrell (particularly Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy) are already classics. The issue presented here isn’t complex… a scientific discovery (doubling as a metaphor for climate change) is on its way. McKay’s treatment of the subject matter isn’t subtle. And the screenplay often fails to be funny when showcasing its righteous indignation. Anger and laughter can be a potent combo if handled properly. It’s a test that isn’t met here.

Michigan St. Kate Dibiasky (Jennifer Lawrence) discovers said object hurtling toward Earth with a delivery date about six months out. Her professor, Dr. Randall Mindy (Leonardo DiCaprio) teams with her along with the head of the Planetary Defense Coordination Office (Rob Morgan) to warn a White House filled with scandal and nepotism. The President is Janie Orlean (Meryl Streep), whose Supreme Court nominee may be a porn star and her lover. Her Chief of Staff is her intellectually challenged but supremely confident son (Jonah Hill).

The 100% certainty of a deep impact causing armageddon is not music to the ears of the flailing administration. In fact, Kate and Dr. Mindy are booked in the back segment of a “news” hour hosted by a duo played by Cate Blanchett and Tyler Perry. The segment preceding them is about the romantic entanglements of a famous singer (Ariana Grande). Some of the country takes the threat seriously while another segment pretends it doesn’t exist (and yes it’s easy to draw comparisons to the pandemic era).

President Orlean and her bumbling bubble get more involved when eccentric tech mogul Peter Isherwell (Mark Rylance) figures out a way to monetize the materials from the potential Earth shatterer. And while Dr. Mindy becomes distracted with his new fame and social media status, Kate’s stern warnings make her an enemy of the state.

I won’t get to Kate’s two boyfriends or Dr. Mindy’s wife and kids or whether the snacks in the White House are free or not (actually a gag that’s pretty solid). There’s a whole lot of players in Don’t Look Up and I’m challenged to name a performance that sticks with me for the right reasons. DiCaprio and Lawrence are adequate, but we know they can be so much better. Others are outright annoying and that includes Hill, Rylance, and even Streep. That’s because McKay never writes them above the level of cartoonish morons.

Will your political viewpoints determine whether you dig this? I don’t think so. The frequent struggles to develop the principals and the jarring tone shifts (a late pivot to sentimentality falls flat) should offend both sides and those in between. I’ve watched McKay skewer his targets with far more precision that achieved more lasting results. He’s clear that we’re all doomed in Don’t Look Up. With the characters inhabiting his screenplay, you might find yourself pulling for the comet.

** (out of four)

Oscar Predictions: Don’t Look Up

Up until the last couple of weeks, I’ve had Adam McKay’s political satire Don’t Look Up on the outskirts of my predicted 10 Best Picture nominees. After all, just how many Netflix contenders will get in? I figured The Power of the Dog would be their main play and there’s other possibilities with Tick, Tick… Boom!, The Lost Daughter, and Passing. 

I recently vaulted it into the fold of ten and (better late than never), that appears to be the right call. Before its eagerly awaited December 10th limited bow in theaters and Christmas Eve Netflix premiere, Up has screened for critics. The social media reaction is leaning toward the positive with particular shoutouts for certain elements and performers.

The star-studded cast is filled with previous Oscar winners and nominees: Leonardo DiCaprio, Jennifer Lawrence, Jonah Hill, Mark Rylance, Timothee Chalamet, Cate Blanchett, and Meryl Streep. There’s also Rob Morgan, Tyler Perry, Ron Perlman, Ariana Grande, Kid Cudi, Chris Evans, Matthew Perry, and Himesh Patel.

McKay’s last two pics (2015’s The Big Short and 2018’s Vice) were both up in the biggest race of all. His original screenplay detailing the end of the world should be recognized. I’m not as confident he’ll make it for directing though I will note that he made the cut for the previous two and it’s certainly feasible. While Dog may continue to be the Netflix flick I rank higher when I update my forecast Sunday, I don’t see Up moving down the charts and out of the 10.

As for the massive list of performers, the early word is that Leo could vie for his seventh nod (his sole win came for 2015’s The Revenant). He still needs to get past other sturdy thespians. I do like his chances better tonight than I did earlier today. With Lawrence, Best Actress is overflowing with hopefuls and I doubt she lands #5. Ms. Streep is going for her 22nd trip to the dance. Her work as the President here is being mentioned in the laudatory tweets. Supporting Actress has got its share of contenders too, but betting against Meryl is always risky. Supporting Actor is wide open at the moment yet I’m skeptical about Hill or Rylance (or the many others). If Netflix goes all in on one of them, that dynamic could shift.

Surprisingly enough, its most assured nomination could come with Ariana Grande. Not for Supporting Actress (her part is said to be brief), but for her Original Song “Just Look Up”. Editing seems a safe bet as does Score and other down the line races like Sound and Visual Effects are possible.

Bottom line: it’s looking up for Don’t Look Up to get up to a handful of nominations. My Oscar Predictions posts for the films of 2021 will continue…

Oscar Predictions: The Harder They Fall

Prior to its limited theatrical output on October 22 and Netflix bow on November 3, The Harder They Fall has dropped at the London Film Festival. The late 19th century set Western revenge tale comes from Jeymes Samuel, who wears many hats here as director, writer, producer, and composer. This is a fictional tale consisting of many actual African-American figures from the era. The cast includes Jonathan Majors, Idris Elba, Zazie Beetz, Regina King, Delroy Lindo, and Lakeith Stanfield.

Early reviews are quite positive and Fall stands at 100% on Rotten Tomatoes with the handful of write-ups available thus far. Some critics have compared the violent, funny, and period piece elements to Quentin Tarantino. Of the impressive cast, Elba seems to be garnering lots of ink. Despite Emmy, Golden Globe, BAFTA, and SAG nods in his filmography, he’s yet to make the cut with the Academy (his snub in 2015 for Beasts of No Nation was a surprising one).  At the moment, Supporting Actor has very few surefire hopefuls (one could argue there’s none). If Fall is able to land with awards voters, here is an obvious category where it could play.

Regina King could factor in as well though Supporting Actress may already have at least a slot or two filled. She did also win just three years ago for 2018’s If Beale Street Could Talk. 

As for the movie itself, I could see a scenario where it gains popularity once it streams and has its pushers for inclusion. I wouldn’t bank on it happening, but I wouldn’t totally discount it.

Finally, there’s the soundtrack which includes original tracks from Jay-Z, Lauryn Hill, and Kid Cudi. Mr. Z (who also produces) could find himself in a slot for the Original Song five. If he manages to do so, he’d almost certainly be competing against Mrs. Z (aka Beyonce, who’s got a close to assured nod for “Be Alive” from King Richard).

Bottom line: we need to see what kind of reaction The Harder They Fall garners when it steams, but the buzz is sturdy enough now to indicate a potential contender. My Oscar Prediction posts for the films of 2021 will continue…