Amsterdam Review

David O. Russell’s Amsterdam exasperates more than it fascinates. Opening with the tagline “A lot of this actually happened”, the brief explorations of American history between the World Wars hint at a compelling narrative. Wanting to go down a Wikipedia rabbit hole afterwards doesn’t necessarily make for a gratifying experience.

Dr. Burt Berendsen (Christian Bale) is a member of New York high society through marriage. His snooty in-laws and high maintenance wife (Andrea Riseborough) ship him off to what will become World War I in 1918. Under the command of the kindly Bill Meekins (Ed Begley Jr.), the good doc practices his skills for an all black regiment. They must wear French uniforms since the American forces aren’t integrated. That’s a part that actually happened. Burt makes fast friends with Harold Woodsman (John David Washington). They fight together and are seriously wounded together. Burt is given a glass eye that’s often used for screwball comedy effect. Their injuries introduce them to peculiar nurse Valerie (Margot Robbie), who takes the soldier’s battle scars (such as the metal embedded in their flesh) and turns it into surrealistic art. Burt, Harold, and Valerie form a close bond including the romantic sort for the latter two. The trio live a joyous existence in the title city until Burt returns to the Big Apple. Harold eventually follows suit to become an attorney. The men stay friends and colleagues while Valerie’s whereabouts are unknown.

Fifteen years later, the U.S. is in a depression. Our two New Yorkers have an even more pressing issue. Former war commander Meekins (now a Senator) turns up dead and mysteriously so. His daughter Elizabeth (Taylor Swift, in a performance that will surely generate memes) enlists dad’s former soldiers to investigate. This snooping leads to a vast government conspiracy – some of which falls under the actually happened headline. The case additionally leads them back to Valerie and an all-star cast beyond Bale, Washington, and Robbie.

Chris Rock is a member of the French uniformed clad force. Michael Shannon and Mike Myers are intelligence officers amusingly masquerading as bird experts. Zoe Saldana, in the picture’s most underdeveloped role, helps perform autopsy work and is a potential love interest for Burt. The most intriguing character is General Gill Dillenbeck (Robert De Niro), a combat hero being recruited for fascist propagandist purposes. Russell’s screenplay gives De Niro a noteworthy role to play with (this is the fourth collaboration between them). The legendary actor has done some of his finest 21st century work with the filmmaker.

The political potboiler aspects kick into gear when Dillenbeck pops up for the second half. That’s when Amsterdam improves. The first half feels like Russell’s attempt to do a Wes Anderson or Coen Bros type whimsical comedy and he fails the test. There’s a lot of characters crowding the scene. Rami Malek is an affluent textile magnet with connections to Valerie. Anya Taylor-Joy is his wife, who has a funny fangirl crush on Dillenbeck. Alessandro Nivola and Matthias Schoenaerts are detectives assigned to track the lead trio.

Once Russell gets to what Amsterdam is really about (with some unmistakable current events overtones), I realized lots of these famous faces and subplots could’ve been jettisoned for a more focused approach. Of all the names, Bale (always committed) and De Niro come out best. The director’s eye for the solid material keeps getting dislodged – like Burt’s fake one. This makes it questionable as to whether it’s worth seeing. More of the stuff that actually happened and not the forced whimsy would have been a reasonable start.

**1/2 (out of four)

Amsterdam Box Office Prediction

David O. Russell’s Amsterdam will need to rely on star power to bring in audiences when it opens October 7th. Considering the middling word-of-mouth and so-so trailers and TV spots, that could be an uphill battle. The comedic mystery is the filmmaker’s first picture since 2015’s Joy. It boasts an impressive cast led by Christian Bale, Margot Robbie, and John David Washington. Other familiar faces include Zoe Saldana, Anya Tayl0r-Joy, Robert De Niro, Chris Rock, Rami Malek, Alessandro Nivola, Mike Myers, Michael Shannon, Taylor Swift, Timothy Olyphant, Andrea Riseborough, and Matthias Schoenaerts.

From 2010-2013, Russell had a trilogy of Oscar and audience friendly titles. The Fighter, in addition to multiple Academy nods, made $93 million domestically. Silver Linings Playbook, in addition to multiple Oscar nods, took in $132 million. American Hustle, in addition to its several award nominations, earned $150 million.

Times have changed. The aforementioned Joy, which drew a more mixed reaction than Russell’s predecessors, grossed $56 million. In the seven years that have followed, the director has been embroiled in some concerning stories about his personal life.

20th Century Studios didn’t bother to screen Amsterdam for the film festival circuit a couple of weeks back. Critical reaction has skewed toward the negative with a 36% Rotten Tomatoes rating. Despite the pedigree, the red lights glowing indicate a high profile flop. This might not manage double digits.

Amsterdam opening weekend prediction: $8.4 million

For my Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile prediction, click here:

Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile Box Office Prediction

Oscar Predictions: Amsterdam

From 2010-13, David O. Russell made three pictures (The Fighter, Silver Linings Playbook, American Hustle) that collectively earned an astonishing 25 Oscar nominations. This included acting wins for Christian Bale, Melissa Leo, and Jennifer Lawrence. The filmmaker himself has yet to receive a gold statue and his previous effort (2015’s Joy) nabbed just 1 Academy nod for its lead Lawrence.

His latest is Amsterdam and the comedic mystery will be lucky to garner any attention during awards season. It was a curious decision when Russell’s first feature in seven years skipped the festival circuit of Venice, Telluride, and Toronto. Now we may know why.

Early reviews for the October 7th release are not encouraging. There’s only a handful of official reviews which show a 20% Rotten Tomatoes rating. Yet we also have plenty of social media reaction claiming this is a high profile disappointment. The impressive cast is led by Bale, Margot Robbie, and John David Washington with tons of other familiar faces including Robert De Niro, Zoe Saldana, Taylor Swift, Anya Taylor-Joy, Rami Malek, Michael Shannon, and Chris Rock (to name some). I wouldn’t expect any to compete in the acting derbies. Bale and De Niro are getting some decent notices, but it shouldn’t matter (maybe Bale could show up at the Globes for Best Actor in a Musical/Comedy if competition is light).

As I see it, Costume Design and/or Production Design are the only possibilities for Amsterdam to be an Academy player. It’s entirely feasible that it won’t show up at all. My Oscar Prediction posts will continue…

Bullet Train Review

David Leitch has done this cartoonishly bloody and dripping with sarcasm business before with John Wick and Deadpool 2. In Bullet Train, having Brad Pitt loaded for the quipping is a plus. The trip is rockiest in the beginning leg, but picks up steam for quite some time. In the later stages, you may be asking why we aren’t there yet with the climax.

Pitt’s assassin who goes by Ladybug boards the title mode of transportation with simple instructions to boost a briefcase. Hurtling at breakneck speed from Tokyo to Kyoto, he soon finds that many other types who share his profession are along for the ride. This includes “twins” Tangerine (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and Lemon (Brian Tyree Henry). Their codenames may suggest Prince backup dancers, but they’re tasked with transporting the drug addled son (Logan Lerman) of a crime lord named White Death (Michael Shannon) back home. And they also want that briefcase.

Unlike Pulp Fiction where we are still collectively wondering what was in that case, we find out quickly here. Ladybug and his fruit monikered colleagues aren’t the only ones seeking it. There’s Prince (Joey King), who’s dressed not as a backup dancer but as a schoolgirl who fools many with her innocent appearance. Kimura (Andrew Koji) is a killer burdened with a young son in danger away from the tracks. There’s more – Zazie Beetz turns up as does Hiroyuki Sanada as Kimura’s elder (he’s called The Elder). Multiplatinum rapper Bad Bunny is The Wolf, who is avenging a family massacre that could have used cleanup from Harvey Keitel’s Winston Wolfe in the aforementioned Pulp. There’s cameos I won’t spoil. I will say they add little other than fleeting seconds of unexpected recognition.

Bullet Train gleefully revels in its violence. It kind of feels like a throwback to 90s excess that Tarantino’s landmark sophomore feature helped inspire. That’s not always a bad thing as the slicing and dicing is done with the visual flair we expect from Leitch. The screenplay from Zak Olkewicz is one of those where nearly every character is eventually connected. I found myself straining to care about those connections.  It takes a few minutes before Train gets up to speed. Yet Pitt’s considerable charisma and his support staff (particularly Henry and Taylor-Johnson) help alleviate a lot of those narrative bumps. So was the ride worth it? That’s debatable though I’d say there’s worse fates than taking it.

*** (out of four)

Oscar Predictions: Bullet Train

OK, no one’s saying that David Leitch’s Bullet Train was stationing itself for a Best Picture nomination. As for down the line tech nods, it’s at least worth discussing. The action comedy from the John Wick and Deadpool 2 maker stars Brad Pitt and is out Friday.

The review embargo has lifted and Bullet is currently at a middling 60% on Rotten Tomatoes. I would say the only races where nods seemed feasible were Sound and Visual Effects and I don’t envision either occurring. If the Academy were to ever put in a  category for Best Stunt Work (which isn’t a bad idea), the critical reaction indicates this might be in the mix. Absent that, don’t look for this Train anywhere near an awards show.

Leading man Pitt could, however, still find himself in the 2022 mix for Supporting Actor (we think it’s supporting) with Damien Chazelle’s Babylon. My Oscar Prediction posts will continue…

Bullet Train Box Office Prediction

Sony Pictures is hoping moviegoers catch the Bullet Train when it debuts August 5th. The action comedy comes from John Wick maker David Leitch with Brad Pitt headlining as an assassin. The supporting cast includes Joey King, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Brian Tyree Henry, Andrew Koji, Hiroyuki Sanada, Michael Shannon, Zazie Beetz, Logan Lerman, Bad Bunny, and Pitt’s recent The Lost City costar Sandra Bullock (in a role first slated for Lady Gaga).

The Japan set stunt fest is hoping to turn out an adult audience ready for original programming in a summer filled mostly with plenty of sequels and superheroes.

Since starting a franchise with Wick in 2014, Leitch followed up with Atomic Blonde. It was a box office disappointment that debuted with just over $18 million. Train should have no trouble getting past that number. However, it won’t reach the earnings of his last two pictures which were built-in franchise entries: Deadpool 2 and Fast and Furious spin-off Hobbs & Shaw. 

Nope was able to reach mid 40s and it had the advantage of Jordan Peele’s brand. This will rely mostly on Pitt’s star power. I’m curious to see how word-of-mouth is in the coming days and that could increase or decrease my projection. My hunch is that mid 2os is the floor and low 40s could be the ceiling. I wouldn’t be surprised if it comes toward the lower end of that spectrum, and I’ll say high 20s to low 30s is where this lands.

Bullet Train opening weekend prediction: $29.7 million

For my Easter Sunday prediction, click here:

Easter Sunday Box Office Prediction

Knives Out Movie Review

Whodunits aren’t an omnipresent genre on the silver screen these days and rare recent ones like Kenneth Branagh’s Murder on the Orient Express have had a bit of an unnecessary regurgitated vibe to it. Not so with Rian Johnson’s Knives Out, which displays  the writer/director’s enthusiasm for playing in this murderous sandbox to satisfactory effect. Like the 1974 version of Orient Express, we have a 007 involved. 45 years ago, it was Sean Connery and now it’s Daniel Craig. There’s a Marvel superhero (Chris Evans) playing decidedly against type. A captain of the American crime novel industry meets his demise in a stately manner that’s a triumph of production design. Craig and Evans are having a good time here, as is the rest of the cast. Some get better opportunities to shine than others. One of the standouts even has her crowd pleasing moments that involves regurgitation.

The Thrombey family is celebrating the 85th birthday of their patriarch Harlan (Christopher Plummer), a wealthy novelist who won’t allow his capers to be adapted into films or TV specials. This is a source of frustration for son Walt (Michael Shannon), who cares for his publishing empire. The family drama doesn’t stop there. Harlan is prepared to expose family secrets or cut off the gravy train for eldest daughter Linda (Jamie Lee Curtis) and her philandering husband (Don Johnson) and daughter-in-law and would-be life coaching guru Joni (Toni Collette). Evans is the black sheep grandson in a clan where that’s saying something. Everyone has a reason to get rid of Harlan. His most healthy relationship is with a non-family member – caretaker Marta (Ana de Armas). She’s from another country and it could be Brazil or Ecuador and one ending with “guay”. Don’t ask the Thrombeys as they express an admiration for her, but hilariously have no clue where she came from. This is all part of Johnson’s integration of the immigration debate into a screenplay that manages to occasionally weave current events into the foul play happenings.

That foul play means Harlan’s celebration is short-lived. Enter private detective Benoit Blanc as played by Craig and his work is a far cry from James Bond. Adopting a thick Southern drawl and a patient attitude to finding the killer, Blanc nevertheless seems a step ahead of the other policemen investigating. They want to believe Harlan might have committed suicide as the evidence suggests. Yet no whodunit script could make it that simple, could it?

Knives Out clues the audience in on some revelations before they enter Blanc’s consciousness from time to time. Johnson probably could have held some back for stronger pacing results. And some of the performers never quite have the running time to develop their roles. These turn out to be minor criticisms in the grand scheme. De Armas and Evans form the yin and yang of the case and are afforded the most clock time in the game along with Craig. The frequent twists and turns experienced are a hoot as we anticipate what Johnson will throw up on the screen next.

*** (out of four)

Knives Out Box Office Prediction

In his first feature since dividing audiences and critics with Star Wars: The Last Jedi, Rian Johnson has come up with a comedic whodunit in Knives Out. The pic debuted at the Toronto Film Festival back in September and critics have pointed it out as a winner. Its Rotten Tomatoes score is 97%. Daniel Craig leads a cast of familiar faces including Chris Evans, Ana de Armas, Jamie Lee Curtis, Michael Shannon, Don Johnson, Toni Collette, Lakeith Stanfield, Jaeden Martell, and Christopher Plummer.

Rolling out over the long Thanksgiving holiday (with previews scheduled for this Friday to build anticipated word of mouth as an audience pleaser), Knives hopes to generate a #2 debut behind the second weekend of Frozen II. It will likely compete with the sophomore frame of A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood and perhaps Ford v Ferrari for that distinction.

I believe this should serve as a solid option for adults over the Turkey Day period. A start in the mid to high teens for the traditional Friday to Sunday portion and mid 20s for the five-day looks probable. That doesn’t get it near the $28 million earned two years ago in November by Murder on the Orient Express. However, if moviegoers enjoy what they see, Knives should succeed in avoiding sharp declines in the weekends ahead.

Knives Out opening weekend prediction: $18.5 million (Friday to Sunday); $27.7 million (Wednesday to Sunday)

For my Queen & Slim prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2019/11/21/queen-slim-box-office-prediction/

The Current War Box Office Prediction

Historical drama The Current War has experienced a very bumpy road on its journey to the big screen. The film in September 2017 at the Toronto Film Festival with Benedict Cumberbatch and Michael Shannon starring as Thomas Edison and George Westinghouse, respectively. Once looked at as an awards hopeful, it failed to electrify critics and it currently sports a dim 31% Rotten Tomatoes score. To add insult to injury, War was being distributed by The Weinstein Company and its co-founder’s legal issues put its release on hold.

That ends this Friday as Alfonso Gomez-Rejon’s effort is out with trailers calling it the “Director’s Cut” (an odd choice considering only reviewers and Toronto goers saw it two years back). Costars include Katherine Waterston, Tom Holland (who’s appeared as Spider-Man several times since making this), and Nicholas Hoult.

Simply put, I see no little anticipation here and there’s plenty of actual Oscar contenders out in limited or wide release for adults to attend. There’s no screen count yet and that could alter my estimate, but I believe this will lucky to even reach $2 million.

The Current War opening weekend prediction: $1.7 million

For my Countdown prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2019/10/16/countdown-box-office-prediction/

For my Black and Blue prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2019/10/17/black-and-blue-box-office-prediction/

Oscar Watch: Knives Out

Good old fashioned whodunnits are rare on the silver screen, but Rian Johnson has one on deck with Knives Out. It’s premiered in Toronto and early reaction indicates a major crowd favorite that has killer box office potential. The Looper and Star Wars: The Last Jedi maker has apparently fashioned a laugh out loud comedy that makes fine use of its all-star cast led by Daniel Craig. We also have Chris Evans, Ana de Armas, Jamie Lee Curtis, Toni Collette, Don Johnson, Michael Shannon, Lakeith Stanfield, and Christopher Plummer onboard.

So when it comes to this genre, will Knives follow in the path of Robert Altman’s Gosford Park (multiple nominations) or Kenneth Branagh’s 2017 version of Murder on the Orient Express (nada). The likelihood is that nods in the major categories could be elusive even if it strikes a chord with crowds. The best hope could be with Johnson’s original screenplay or supporting turns that have been singled out, like Evans and especially de Armas.

The better bet is a nomination for Production Design, which has been praised in every write up I’ve scanned. Bottom line: Knives Out has announced itself as a probable hit and there’s at least a chance that Academy voters could notice. My Oscar Watch posts will continue…