Joshua Marston’s ComeSunday premiered on Netflix over the weekend after first being screened at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year. The pic casts Chiwetel Ejiofor as real life bishop Carlton Pearson, who was deemed a heretic for his beliefs. Costars include Danny Glover, Martin Sheen, Jason Segel, Lakeith Stanfield, and Condola Rashad. Director Marston is most known for his acclaimed 2004 feature MariaFullofGrace.
Critical reaction for Sunday has been mixed and it currently stands at 67% on Rotten Tomatoes. Considering the Academy’s curiosity on how to even handle Netflix premieres, this was at best a long shot for recognition for Picture. The rather lukewarm reviews only solidify that.
That said, most critics have raved about Ejiofor, who would be going for his second nod following 2013’s 12YearsaSlave. Some notices have gone as far to say it’s his finest performance. Yet the likelihood is that come nomination time, any buzz will have waned for Ejiofor and he won’t be attending the Oscars for his work here on that particular Sunday.
A film focusing on a meticulous and eccentric legend who’s bedded scores of women would seem to be right up Warren Beatty’s alley, but Rules Don’t Apply is a rather big letdown for the director’s first effort in nearly two decades. It’s a passion project for Mr. Beatty that partially focuses on the life of reclusive aviation and movie making billionaire Howard Hughes. Unlike the Martin Scorsese/Leonardo DiCaprio biopic The Aviator, however, Rules isn’t nearly as concerned with historical accuracy and is as much an old-fashioned Hollywood romance.
Beatty plays Hughes circa 1958-1964, a time where his OCD and reliance on pharmaceutical relief had reached massive levels. He’s still running RKO Pictures and flying girls in from all over the country for screen tests. One such prospect is Marla (Lily Collins), a devout Baptist from Virginia who flies into La La Land with her equally proper mother (Beatty’s spouse Annette Bening). She’s never had a drink, never “gone all the way” (as is the common term in this screenplay), and certainly never met a character like Mr. Hughes. Frank (Alden Ehrenreich) is one of Hughes’s many chauffeurs who’s actually yet to meet the man himself. He’s tasked with driving Marla around and they soon begin a courtship, even though Frank is engaged to his childhood sweetheart.
Further complications arise when Hughes (who strictly forbids such interaction between his many employees) gets to know Marla better. The screenplay (by Beatty and his longtime collaborator Bo Goldman) juggles the romance with some of Howard’s business and government dealings as his abnormal behavior continues to increase. We do not see the grotesque and totally shut off character that DiCaprio showed us a dozen years ago in his Oscar nominated role. Rules is much lighter stuff and feels considerably less consequential.
Some welcome comedic hey is made of the many people who wait on Hughes hand and foot, including Matthew Broderick’s assistant and Candice Bergen’s secretary. There’s many familiar faces who pop up in smaller roles (most of them likely just wanted to work with Beatty) and they include Alec Baldwin, Ed Harris, Martin Sheen, and Oliver Platt.
Part of the problem is that while Collins and Ehrenreich are perfectly fine in their performances, their chemistry is adequate at best. A bigger issue is that Rules feels a bit all over the map in plot and tone. The arc of Howard’s disintegration into madness is an odd mix of humor and drama that never gels despite Beatty’s best efforts. It’s also hard to ignore that he’s about 20 years older than Hughes at this particular point in his life, but if anyone can pull that off…
For a director who’s known to be incredibly particular, this one contains only fleeting moments that you’ll remember. The rest, sadly, don’t apply.
There’s directors and actors who take time between projects and then there’s those that really do. Warren Beatty belongs in that category and Rules Don’t Apply (out Thanksgiving weekend) marks his first turn behind the camera in 18 years and first time in front of the camera in over 15 years.
The legendary star is notoriously slow-paced when it comes to perfecting his works and Apply was actually wrapped for the most part about two and a half years ago. The old school Hollywood tale set in the 1950s casts Beatty as famed reclusive billionaire Howard Hughes with a romantic plot between costars Lily Collins and Alden Ehrenreich (soon to be the next Han Solo in that Star Wars spin-off). The supporting cast is filled with familiar faces that include Warren’s wife Annette Bening, Matthew Broderick, Alec Baldwin, Ed Harris, Oliver Platt, Haley Bennett, Candice Bergen, Steve Coogan, and Dabney Coleman.
As mentioned, the last pic Beatty directed was 1998’s Bulworth, which made $26 million. His last appearance in any film was 2001’s Town & Country, which faltered with just $6.7 million. Reviews have been mixed and it sits at 62% currently on Rotten Tomatoes.
Rules Don’t Apply could face a tough time breaking out in any way. The critical notices have taken it out of the running as a true Oscar contender. Adult moviegoers may be preoccupied with Allied, which opens against it. That leads me to a belief that this could only manage mid single digits for both the three-day and five-day weekend.
Rules Don’t Apply opening weekend prediction: $4.8 million (Friday to Sunday), $6.3 million (Wednesday to Sunday)
The AFI Film Festival is happening in Los Angeles and that gives us an opportunity to hear about more 2016 Oscar hopefuls. This includes the fest’s premiere and it’s an eagerly awaited one – Warren Beatty’s RulesDon’tApply.
This is the Hollywood legend’s first directorial effort in 18 years (since 1998’s well-regarded Bulworth) and first appearance on screen at all in 15 years (since 2001’s less regarded Town & Country). Anything involving Beatty is going to quickly raise questions as to its awards possibilities and this long gestating project where he portrays Howard Hughes is no exception.
It was thought for months that Mr. Beatty would compete in the Supporting Actor race until recently where a switch to Actor was announced. Reviews for Rules have been a bit mixed and even the most positive haven’t been raves. It’s at 75% on Rotten Tomatoes and chances of a Picture or Director nod seem highly unlikely. Same goes for anyone in the supporting cast that includes Lily Collins, Alden Ehrenreich, Annette Bening (she’ll get recognized anyway this year for 20thCenturyWomen), Matthew Broderick, Alec Baldwin, and others.
As for Beatty in the Best Actor category, it’s certainly no guarantee he will get nominated, but that particular race is a bit weak this year (once you get past Denzel Washington for Fences and Casey Affleck in ManchesterbytheSea). I would anticipate Beatty will be in the mix over the next several weeks, but whether he makes my final cut for the final five is a question mark.
In the humorously titled Popstar: NeverStopNeverStopping, there’s a gag involving the terrific Will Arnett that only takes up maybe three minutes of screen time. He plays the host of “CMZ” (think TMZ) as he hilariously chats with his staff of gossip reporters and furiously downs big gulps and other assorted beverages. It struck my funny bone so much that I found myself wondering how good a movie would be if it were just about them. Then I remembered that taking memorable three minute bits and stretching them into feature length comedies usually doesn’t work.
There are other moments in Popstar that work. Yet it didn’t quite change my theory above. Fans of “Saturday Night Live” are familiar with The Lonely Island, Andy Samberg’s music group responsible for several YouTube friendly videos packed with catchy lyrics and musical icon cameos. Here, Samberg and his colleagues Akiva Schaffer and Jorma Taccone (that pair share directing duties) make up The Style Boyz – a hip hop pop trio that hit it big. Yet it’s Kid Connor (Samberg) that was the Justin Timberlake (who cameos), Beyoncé or Method Man of the group and branches out on the solo tip. Taccone’s Kid Contact becomes his DJ and Schaffer’s Kid Brain leaves the business to become a farmer in Colorado (wonder where that development will lead to??).
We pick up as solo act Connor4Real is set to debut his sophomore album, which is a disaster looming. Along the way, Popstar parodies the extreme narcissism of its industry while throwing in plenty of ridiculous songs. None of them really hold a candle to the brilliance displayed in the granddaddy of music doc spoofs, ThisisSpinalTap. As mentioned, there’s just not enough solid material to totally justify the 90 minutes here.
One mistake is that the Lonely team who wrote the screenplay seem to believe that cameos count as jokes. There are tons and tons of cameos. Admittedly some work (Seal’s bit is a trip and Timberlake gets to flex his comedic chops), but many others leave no impression. For the performers not playing themselves, a little of Samberg’s Connor goes a long way. Sarah Silverman and Tim Meadows are mostly background players as his publicist and manager. And the versatile Joan Cusack pops up so briefly as Connor’s hard partying mom that I can only think her part was left on the cutting room floor.
While there are laughs to be had here, you’re probably better off looking up the trio’s SNL work. They’re shorter and more consistently funny. See if you can find Arnett’s scenes too…
It has, at least to me, a title that makes me laugh every time I think of it. Yet I’m not convinced that will lead to an impressive performance on the charts.
Andy Samberg and his Lonely Island partners Akiva Schaffer and Jorma Taccone headline the music documentary spoof Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping. Costars include Sarah Silverman, Tim Meadows, Bill Hader, Joan Cusack, Maya Rudolph, Will Arnett (pulling double duty over the weekend with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows), and Martin Sheen. There’s also a bunch of cameos from real pop stars such as Adam Levine, Mariah Carey, Usher, and Carrie Underwood.
Mr. Samberg’s digital shorts on “Saturday Night Live” were a solid staple of the show for many years with classics like “Lazy Sunday” and “Dick in a Box”. His film career, on the other hand, has been pretty unimpressive box office wise. 2007’s Hot Rod and 2012’s That’s My Boy both were critical and commercial disappointments.
I’ll predict Popstar struggles to even reach high single digits.
Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping opening weekend prediction: $5.6 million
For my Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows prediction, click here:
Like Spielberg’s Lincoln that preceded it two years prior, Ana DuVernay’s Selma sidesteps the idea of a biopic and rather focuses on a short but integral passage of time in its subject’s life. The focus is on Martin Luther King Jr. and the 1965 Voting Rights marches in Selma, Alabama. The film provides a history lesson that takes strides to not portray its central figure purely as a saint – nor does its perspective shy away from criticism of President Lyndon B. Johnson, while also acknowledging his achievements.
The film opens with King (David Oyelowo) and wife Coretta (Carmen Ejojo) in Norway circa 1964 to accept his Nobel Peace Prize. They speak of an alternative lifestyle in the opening scene that doesn’t involve the constant threat of death and his constant search for equal rights and justice. The couple seems to know that this is only talk and it is not what he’s destined for. Back home, the recent signing of the Civil Rights Act by President Johnson (Tom Wilkinson) has done little in the South to allow African Americans the right to vote. And this sets off a decision by King to organize a march in Selma that is met with Johnson’s objections, though not near to the level of Alabama Governor George Wallace (Tim Roth).
Director DuVernay and screenwriter Paul Webb do not shy away from showing us the brutality that took place in this era in the South. We also witness the goodness of people of many faiths and races who come to lend their support to Dr. King in his efforts. It is not one march on Selma – it’s three. The first ends in violent resistance from the police. The second time it’s halted is due to a more surprising manner of resistance. The third is history. The filmmakers also tackle the Kings marital status, including Dr. King’s infidelities.
His political skills are shown as well and they are often as powerful as his oratory abilities. The scenes with King and LBJ have been challenged by some for inaccuracy, but this is not a documentary and I won’t judge it as such. My only drawback to these sequences are Wilkinson, a fine actor that’s simply not the right choice for the 36th POTUS.
The flaws don’t stop there. The complex relationship between King and Malcolm X is touched upon so briefly that it begs for further fleshing out. Adding familiar faces like Martin Sheen and Cuba Gooding Jr. for cameos threaten to take you out of the story than involve you more.
Where it delivers is its willingness to tell this important story as a real one. A human one. King is a great man, but is written as experiencing the doubts and insecurities that he must have had. Oyelowo nails the role and he excels at embodying MLK’s mannerisms and spirit.
Selma tells the story of imperfect men fighting for a more perfect union. The film is imperfect as well but it’s worthy of its important subject matter that might have occurred a half century ago, but still resonates on many levels today.