Worth Review

Sara Colangelo’s Worth tells the true story of a man tasked with the impossible – assigning a price tag to the thousands of individuals who perished on 09/11. That’s Ken Feinberg (Michael Keaton), an expert numbers cruncher. He’s a former Chief of Staff to Senator Ted Kennedy, but his own political skills are lacking. Feinberg approaches the assignment of creating the Victims Compensation Fund with a lawyerly precision that doesn’t match the emotional toll and anger of its survivors. That’s until he begins to listen.

In the wake of that horrific Tuesday, the Congress passed the measure which allows Feinberg to get to work. The kicker is that 80% of respondents must agree to sign up and therefore waive the ability to sue the airlines and they must do so within two years. That’s a tall order as Feinberg and his team, including Amy Ryan’s second in command, pore through each case. How much should the family of the cleaning crew at the World Trade Center be paid as compared to the CEO’s widow in the corner office? Can there ever be a satisfactory formula for an unprecedented situation?

The screenplay from Max Borenstein gives us specific case files to ponder. There’s the wife (Laura Benanti) of a firefighter who had a secret family. The long-time partner of a man whose parents won’t acknowledge their relationship (therefore cutting him out as a beneficiary). And there’s the widowed Charles Wolf (Stanley Tucci) and the blog he starts that points out the unfairness and inequities of the Fund. Wolf’s civil interactions with Feinberg (and the fine performances of Keaton and Tucci) provide the film’s most involving dramatic moments. They occasionally punctuate a somewhat repetitive watch.

I got the feeling that a documentary where the actual survivors talked about their own decision making process with the Fund would have been far more worthy of attention. This dramatized version does a commendable job setting up the premise and is so-so at the execution. President Bush phones Feinberg to josh him that no one would want this job. The lawyer must navigate opaque meetings with Attorney General John Ashcroft (Victor Slezak) and airline lobbyists whose bottom line is not to go bankrupt. Yet most of the running time centers on Feinberg’s growing sympathy for those left behind. Each case is important, but the script does little to elevate any of them beyond a different kind of formulaic treatment.

**1/2 (out of four)

August 20-22 Box Office Predictions

Blogger’s Note (08/18): I am revising my PAW Patrol: The Movie estimate up from $7.9M to $10.8M.

The dog days of summer continues with four new offerings in the marketplace and they could all fall short of the second weekend of Free Guy with Ryan Reynolds. Speaking of dogs, we have PAW Patrol: The Movie as well as three more adult oriented offerings: Hugh Jackman’s sci-fi thriller Reminiscence, action flick The Protege with Michael Keaton, Maggie Q, and Samuel L. Jackson and horror pic The Night House. You can peruse my detailed prediction posts on them here:

Reminiscence Box Office Prediction

The Protege Box Office Prediction

PAW Patrol: The Movie Box Office Prediction

The Night House Box Office Prediction

I don’t have any of the features from the fresh quartet (not a sequel in the bunch!) topping $10 million. That means Free Guy, after a better than anticipated bow, should manage to remain #1 in its sophomore outing. I’m assuming it will dip in the low to mid 50s like Jungle Cruise did a couple of weeks back.

As for those newcomers, the one I’m most conflicted about is PAW Patrol: The Movie. It certainly has a built-in fan base of youngsters who may drag their parents to see it. Rather unexpectedly, it’s generating quite decent reviews. However, my hunch is that some families may wait for it to be on the small screen and I’m projecting third place.

That’s behind Reminiscence which could approach double digits. Jackman’s latest is also available on HBO Max. It will be competing for eyeballs with The Protege, which I have pegged for mid single digits (if anything, I think it could go lower). In fact, it could be in a battle for fifth with Jungle Cruise in its fourth weekend.

The Night House comes at the tale end of a season packed with horror titles and I believe it’s bound to get lost in the shuffle. My meager $3.1 million estimate leaves it well outside the top five.

And with that, my take on the weekend ahead:

1. Free Guy

Predicted Gross: $13.9 million

2. PAW Patrol: The Movie

Predicted Gross: $10.8 million

3. Reminiscence

Predicted Gross: $6.8 million

4. Jungle Cruise

Predicted Gross: $5.9 million

5. The Protege

Predicted Gross: $4.7 million

Box Office Results (August 13-15)

Friday the 13th wasn’t so unlucky for Ryan Reynolds and Free Guy. The Fox (and therefore Disney) property opened on the higher end of forecasts with $28.3 million, topping my $21.3 million estimate. With an A Cinemascore grade, audiences liked what they saw and it sounds as if a sequel will happen. The near $30 million start might have been called slightly disappointing in different times. All things considered, it’s rather strong.

Horror sequel (I’ve been saying that a lot lately) Don’t Breathe 2 debuted with $10.6 million, just under my $11.2 million take. That’s miles away from the $26 million that the 2016 predecessor took in, but generally in line with most predictions. At a cost of just $15 million, it should turn a nice profit for Sony Pictures.

Jungle Cruise was third in its third weekend with $9.1 million – right on pace with my $8.9 million estimate. The Disney adventure is at $82 million with $100 million in its sights.

The Aretha Franklin biopic Respect with Jennifer Hudson also hit its anticipated mark in fourth with $8.8 million. That’s a tad ahead of my $8.5 million call. Reviews were only so-so though its lead could be on her way to a Best Actress nomination.

And, finally, the bad news for The Suicide Squad continued. Following a disastrous opening, the reboot/sequel plunged an equally disturbing 71% to fifth with $7.4 million. I was more optimistic at $10.1 million. The ten-day tally is a lowly $42 million.

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

The Protege Box Office Prediction

Michael Keaton, Maggie Q, and Samuel L. Jackson star in the action thriller The Protege next weekend and it will attempt to carve its place into the typically limp late summer box office. Martin Campbell, director of Casino Royale, is behind the camera.

The Lionsgate release is only available in theaters and it will face serious competition for the same audience from Hugh Jackman’s Reminiscence. In this challenged marketplace, The Protege going straight to pay streaming wouldn’t have been much of a shocker.

I’ll give the studio credit for giving it a shot, but I’m guessing Jackman will propel his effort to slightly higher earnings. I only have Reminiscence at just under $7 million and I’ll say this gets just under $5 million.

The Protege opening weekend prediction: $4.7 million

For my PAW Patrol: The Movie prediction, click here:

PAW Patrol: The Movie Box Office Prediction

For my Reminiscence prediction, click here:

Reminiscence Box Office Prediction

For my The Night House prediction, click here:

The Night House Box Office Prediction

Reminiscence Box Office Prediction

Hugh Jackman makes a return to sci-fi next weekend with Reminiscence. The film (reportedly budgeted at just under $70 million) is the rare summer feature in this genre not based on a known property. It marks the directorial debut of Lisa Joy, best known for co-creating HBO’s Westworld. Costars include Rebecca Ferguson, Thandiwe Newton, Cliff Curtis, and Marina de Tavira.

The Home Box Office connections are strong. Since this a Warner Bros property, the pic will simultaneously have its 30 day HBO Max availability. Originally slated for April before it traded with Mortal Kombat, the film faces some challenges. This might seem minor, but the title doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue. More importantly, Reminiscence opens against the Michael Keaton/Maggie Q/Samuel L. Jackson thriller The Protege and they’ll be battling for the same audience. Both may suffer as a result.

Add in the Delta variant concerns and I really question whether this gets past $10 million. My gut says to put it under.

Reminiscence opening weekend prediction: $6.8 million

For my PAW Patrol: The Movie prediction, click here:

PAW Patrol: The Movie Box Office Prediction

For my The Protege prediction, click here:

The Protege Box Office Prediction

For my The Night House prediction, click here:

The Night House Box Office Prediction

Oscar Watch: Worth

Sara Colangelo’s Worth debuted all the way back in January 2020 at the Sundance Film Festival, but is finally being released by Netflix on September 3rd of this year. The fact based drama centers on the activities around the 09/11 Victim Compensation Fund. Its cast is led by a trio of Oscar nominees in Michael Keaton, Stanley Tucci, and Amy Ryan. Colangelo is best known for The Kindergarten Teacher, her acclaimed second feature with Maggie Gyllenhaal that didn’t gain traction with the Academy. Max Borenstein is the screenwriter and this is certainly a departure for him as he’s recognized for penning the 2014 Godzilla reboot and Kong: Skull Island.

The streaming debut arrives just prior to the 20th anniversary of the tragic day. Early reviews from Sundance were mixed and Worth currently has a 65% Rotten Tomatoes rating. There have been numerous pictures centered around 09/11 and the War on Terrorism and few have become contenders come Oscar time. The Report and The Mauritanian are two recent examples.

With its so-so critical reaction, don’t expect Worth to prove itself worthy of awards chatter. My Oscar Watch posts will continue…

Shoulda Been Oscar Contenders: Jake Gyllenhaal in Nightcrawler

2014 was an admittedly sturdy year in the Best Actor category with Eddie Redmayne winning the prize for The Theory of Everything. The other nominees were Steve Carell (Foxcatcher), Bradley Cooper (American Sniper), Benedict Cumberbatch (The Imitation Game), and Michael Keaton (Birdman). However, one could argue that Carell could have fit into the Supporting Actor derby (and he probably would have been nominated over his costar Mark Ruffalo).

So while all five contenders above turned in fine performances, I still cannot fathom how Jake Gyllenhaal’s work in Dan Gilroy’s Nightcrawler was left out. As a demented Los Angeles photojournalist, the actor (whose only Academy nod is for supporting in 2005’s Brokeback Mountain) turned in a career best performance. In fact, Nightcrawler itself is my favorite movie of its year and should’ve certainly been a Best Picture nominee too.

This was the second year in a row where I feel an obviously worthy turn was ignored. In 2013, it was Tom Hanks as Captain Phillips. Gyllenhaal’s exclusion is just as baffling and that’s especially true because he was nominated at the Critics Choice, Golden Globe, and SAG Awards.

Oscar History: 2014

Six years ago in Oscar history began an impressive two year run for filmmaker Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu with Birdman emerging as the big winner of the evening. The film took Best Picture and Director over its major competitor – Richard Linklater’s Boyhood. This was a ceremony in which the largest category did have some suspense. Birdman took the prize over the aforementioned Boyhood and six other pics: American Sniper (the year’s top grosser), The Grand Budapest Hotel (marking Wes Anderson’s first and only Picture nominee), The Imitation Game, Selma, The Theory of Everything, and Whiplash. 

In this blogger’s perfect world, Dan Gilroy’s Nightcrawler would have been recognized. It was my favorite movie of that year so get used to seeing it pop up in this post. Other notable selections from 2014 left on the cutting room floor: David Fincher’s Gone Girl, Bong Joon-ho’s Snowpiercer, and Bennett Miller’s Foxcatcher. 

Mr. Miller did have the notable distinction of being nominated for Best Director despite his work not showing up in Best Picture (very rare these days). As mentioned, Inarritu took the gold over Miller as well as Linklater, Anderson, and Morten Tyldum (The Imitation Game). Gilroy, Fincher, and Joon-ho might have warranted consideration in my view as well as Chazelle’s bravura debut in Whiplash. 

One could argue that Nightcrawler isn’t your prototypical Picture contender. However, Jake Gyllenhaal being left out of the five Actor contenders stands as one of the noteworthy snubs in recent history. It was Eddie Redmayne emerging victorious for The Theory of Everything over his closest competitor Michael Keaton (Birdman). Other nominees: the three C’s of Steve Carell (Foxcatcher), Bradley Cooper (American Sniper, picking up his third nomination in a row), and Benedict Cumberbatch (The Imitation Game).

There is a voluminous list of solid performances beyond just Gyllenhaal’s that were left wanting. It includes Ben Affleck (Gone Girl), Chadwick Boseman (Get On Up), Bill Murray (St. Vincent), David Oyelowo (Selma), Joaquin Phoenix (Inherent Vice), Timothy Spall (Mr. Turner), and Miles Teller (Whiplash).

In Best Actress, Julianne Moore triumphed for Still Alice after four previous nominations without a win. She took the honor over Marion Cotillard (Two Days, One Night), Felicity Jones (The Theory of Everything), Rosamund Pike (Gone Girl), and Reese Witherspoon (Wild). Moore’s selection was one of the easiest to project as she’d been a sturdy frontrunner all season.

Looking back, how about Emily Blunt in Edge of Tomorrow? Its action genre trappings probably prevented consideration, but she might have made my quintet. Amy Adams won the Golden Globe for Actress in Musical/Comedy, but missed here.

Another easy (and absolutely deserved) winner was J.K. Simmons in Supporting Actor for Whiplash over Robert Duvall (The Judge), Ethan Hawke (Boyhood), Edward Norton (Birdman), and Mark Ruffalo (Foxcatcher).

I will yet again mention Nightcrawler as I might have considered Riz Ahmed. There’s also Josh Brolin in Inherent Vice.

Boyhood nabbed its major race victory in Supporting Actress with Patricia Arquette. Other nominees were Laura Dern (Wild), Keira Knightley (The Imitation Game), Emma Stone (Birdman), and the always in contention Meryl Streep for Into the Woods.

As for others, I’ll start with (surprise) Rene Russo in Nightcrawler. Others include both Melissa McCarthy and Naomi Watts for St. Vincent in addition to Jessica Chastain (A Most Violent Year) and Katherine Waterston (Inherent Vice).

My Oscar History will continue soon with 2015 as Mr. Inarritu will dominate the director race yet again while the Academy chose to spotlight something in Best Picture!

The Trial of the Chicago 7 Movie Review

A common (and sometimes warranted) complaint about Aaron Sorkin is that he needs a good editor for his dialogue. He absolutely has one in the presence of Alan Baumgarten in The Trial of the Chicago 7, his true life based drama that recounts a riveting and devastatingly unfair courtroom proceeding. With its sprawling ensemble cast, we see sequences from scene one where the principals are finishing each other’s sentences. Most of the players are on the same page in theory as they seek to disrupt the 1968 Democratic National Convention while the Vietnam War roils on. How they achieve their point is where they diverge and Sorkin’s screenplay expertly shows that not all forms of protest seek to follow the same playbook. They may be using similar words, but their calls to action are often with different actions in mind.

Months after the convention, the newly sworn in Nixon administration wants to establish a law and order attitude that its leader was elected on in those turbulent times. The new Attorney General charges his prosecutors (led by Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s Richard Schultz) to try a group of defendants who led unconnected factions in the summer of ’68. Abbie Hoffman (Sacha Baron Cohen) and Jerry Rubin (Jeremy Strong) are the Yippies with their colorful outfits and outright disregard for authority. Eddie Redmayne’s Tom Hayden heads up a more organized antiwar effort that looks to change politics via the ballot box. David Dellinger (John Carroll Lynch) is a pacifist whose non-aggression stances included even World War II. And somehow Black Panther leader Bobby Seale (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) is among the arrested group even though he was in Chicago briefly and has never met the other men.

The trial is presided by Judge Julius Hoffman (Frank Langella), whose scorn for the accused is laid bare in his comments and rulings. There is a sequence, taken from history, where Seale is literally bound and gagged before the jurors and the American public. That was a shock to the collective system a half century ago and it plays that way today onscreen. His silencing is due to his lawyer not being present as he tries to represent himself. The rest of the group is defended by William Kunstler (Mark Rylance), a true believer in the cause who must navigate his way through his clients personalities and the judge who truly believes the opposite of his views.

For a director and writer who pens long passages of dialogue, Sorkin’s Trial is engrossing as we realize what’s not allowed to be said during it. Langella sinks his teeth into the part and you may find yourself verbally objecting to him. The cast’s standouts are the beleaguered Rylance and Baron Cohen. The latter is an inspired choice as he’s the most edgy actor of the bunch portraying the edgiest defendant in the mix (and perhaps the wisest overall). An interplay between his Hoffman and Hayden about the future of liberalism and how to make significant change could be an argument had in 2020. The real star of this movie might be the aforementioned Baumgarten, who cuts the flashbacks to what’s being talked about in court with engrossing efficiency.

There’s a lot of history (some of it altered for dramatic effect) to be unpacked in the 130 minute runtime. This is weighty enough subject matter that Sorkin’s patented righteous indignation doesn’t feel forced. The Trial of the Chicago 7 is right in his wheelhouse and my verdict is that it’s well worth experiencing this fascinating chapter.

***1/2 (out of four)

Oscar Watch: The Trial of the Chicago 7

One of 2020’s most talked about Oscar contenders has screened this evening ahead of its October Netflix debut. The results are encouraging when it comes to Aaron Sorkin’s The Trial of the Chicago 7 and it retains its status a major player throughout awards season.

The true life legal drama marks the second directorial effort of Sorkin, known most for his screenwriting work on the big and small screen. He’s thrice nominated for his words with The Social Network (where he won), Moneyball, and Molly’s Game (his debut behind the camera). Buzz indicates he’ll be nominated again for Original Screenplay. A Best Picture nomination seems likely. I’m not 100% sold he makes the director cut yet, but time will tell.

Here’s where it gets tricky: Trial has a sprawling cast of acclaimed actors that includes Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Sacha Baron Cohen, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Michael Keaton, Frank Langella, Eddie Redmayne, Mark Rylance, and Jeremy Strong. To say that Netflix will need to be strategic in their Supporting Actor campaign is an understatement. This is the same issue faced with other hopefuls like Mank and One Night in Miami.

Early word of mouth could match my initial projections before this screened as Cohen and Mateen II are garnering attention. Yet the same can be said for Rylance (Supporting Actor winner for 2015’s Bridge of Spies) and Langella. I doubt it will happen, but the door is at least open for Trial to get 3 Supporting Actor nods. The combination? TBD. If that occurs, it would be the first pic to accomplish that feat since 1974’s The Godfather Part II.

Also noteworthy is an Original Song submission titled “Hear My Voice” from Celeste that could make the final five. The verdict so far is that Trial is a probable contender in Picture and Director and Screenplay (that one basically assured) with several actors in the mix. It also appears a given that this gets Best Ensemble attention at the SAG Awards. Like Nomadland and One Night in Miami, I suspect this (which has been in my Best Picture predictions from the get go) won’t be leaving. My Oscar Watch posts will continue…

Batman Forever Ago: A Quarter Century Box Office Report

Earlier this week (on Tuesday), Batman Forever celebrated its 25th anniversary of release. For those who may not recall, this was when Joel Schumacher took over the franchise from Tim Burton and Val Kilmer replaced Michael Keaton as the Caped Crusader. Tommy Lee Jones (coming off an Oscar for The Fugitive) and Jim Carrey (the hottest comedic star in America after the one-two-three punch of Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, The Mask, and Dumb and Dumber) costarred as villains Two-Face and The Riddler, respectively. Nicole Kidman was in the mix as Bruce Wayne/Batman’s love interest and Chris O’Donnell was introduced as Robin. Sounds like a recipe for a box office bonanza right? Indeed it was.

In mid June 1995, Forever scored the best opening weekend of all time and was the first feature to make over $50 million in its first three days. The $52.7 million tally topped the previous record holder from two summers before (a little something called Jurassic Park). Forever would hold the title for two years before being toppled by… The Lost World: Jurassic Park. 

The all-time premiere record has since changed 11 times, including in 2008 with another Batflick The Dark Knight at $158 million. The current holder is Avengers: Endgame at $357 million. And that right there shows how much times have changed. In a quarter century, the first frame of Endgame made 7x that of Forever. Higher ticket prices are certainly a factor. Yet in 25 years, Val Kilmer’s grapples with Jim Carrey went from a highest ever start to now 225th. By the way, 224th place belongs to… The Lego Batman Movie! And now, Forever lags behind such forgettable material as The Nun, The Karate Kid remake, Valentine’s Day, and DC’s own hugely disappointing Green Lantern.

Speaking of disappointing, I’m certainly of the opinion that Forever was just that as far as quality. It’s not nearly as bad at what followed with Schumacher’s sequel Batman & Robin. However, it was a big letdown from what Burton accomplished before and what Christopher Nolan achieved a decade later with the start of The Dark Knight trilogy. What remains is an interesting snapshot in time when a $50 million debut was new territory and it took the Bat Signal (even a rather mediocre one) to get there.