Luce Movie Review

The name Luce (sounds like loose) was given to its title character after being adopted from the war-torn nation of Eritrea at the age of ten. As he tells it, his adoptive mother Amy (Naomi Watts) couldn’t pronounce his birth name – unable to master the various syllables involved. Like Amy, we never do learn it. So Luce it is, which means light. In the context of the film Luce, this strikes me as a not insignificant detail. From the moment he comes to the United States, he’s accustomed to others defining him and believing what they see. In their eyes, there is no darkness. Only light.

Luce (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) is a high school senior, raised by upper class Amy and Peter (Tim Roth). He is looked at as the model student. An all-star athlete and debate club standout, Luce can apparently do no wrong. When history teacher Harriet Wilson (Octavia Spencer) begins poking holes at his impenetrable facade, his status is challenged. As is her reputation.

What unfolds is a tale of race relations and, more significantly, racial expectations. No one in Luce is all that innocent. The picture often plays like a thriller where you expect a core player to snap. You’re just not sure who it will be. I’ll add that the tightly wound score from Geoff Barrow and Ben Salisbury is a contributor to the feeling.

Harrison Jr. has a complicated character to portray and he succeeds in keeping the audience off-kilter. He’s charming, but there’s no doubt that another layer is bubbling not far under the surface. Spencer may have the trickiest role as Harriet navigates the repercussions of her discoveries about Luce. As always, she’s up to the challenge.

Julius Onah directed and co-wrote with JC Lee and Luce is an exercise clearly meant to spark discussion. The screenplay often allows the viewer to draw their own conclusions about who to root for and against or perhaps feel ambivalent about. There’s also the odd sensation of some themes being redundant. If you’re searching for a pat ending to fill in every blank, ambivalence may be your overarching reaction. The overall thesis to this story, like Luce’s original name, is unpronounced or at least left for speculation. I found Luce, for the most part, successful in creating a sense of tension before the conversations start after fade out.

*** (out of four)

Oscar Watch: Luce

After premiering at the Sundance Film Festival in January, racial drama Luce has been doing decent limited release business over the past couple weeks. The film centers around a high school athletic prodigy (Kelvin Harrison Jr., in a performance drawing raves) and his adoptive parents played by Naomi Watts and Tim Roth. Octavia Spencer costars.

Luce drew its share of admirers on the festival circuit and it currently holds a 91% Rotten Tomatoes rating. Nigerian filmmaker Julius Onah directs with a screenplay he co-wrote along with JC Lee. It’s probably Original Screenplay where this holds a slight chance at being recognized. The likely scenario is this gets lost in the shuffle behind higher profile releases. My Oscar Watch posts will continue…

Oscar History: 2012

It’s been quite some time since I’ve done an Oscar History post (about two and a half years) and I’m at 2012. It was a year in which Seth MacFarlane hosted the show – fresh off his comedy smash Ted. Here’s what transpired in the major categories with some other pictures and performers I might have considered:

The year saw nine nominees for Best Picture in which Ben Affleck’s Argo took the top prize. Other nominees: Amour, Beasts of the Southern Wild, Django Unchained, Les Miserables, Lincoln, Silver Linings Playbook (my personal favorite of the year), and Zero Dark Thirty. 

Many Wes Anderson fans would contend that Moonrise Kingdom should have made the cut. And I could certainly argue that The Avengers (perhaps the greatest comic book flick and the year’s biggest grosser) was worth a nod.

The nominations in Best Director were a huge surprise at the time. While Argo won the top prize of all, Affleck was not nominated for his behind the camera efforts. It was the first time since Driving Miss Daisy‘s Bruce Beresford where an Oscar-winning Picture didn’t see its filmmaker nominated.

Instead it was Ang Lee who was victorious for Life of Pi over Michael Haneke (Amour), David O. Russell (Silver Linings Playbook), Steven Spielberg (Lincoln), and Benh Zeitlin (Beasts of the Southern Wild).

In addition to Affleck, it was surprising that Kathryn Bigelow (Zero Dark Thirty) was not included. And I certainly would have put in Tarantino for Django.

The race for Best Actor seemed over when the casting of Daniel Day-Lewis as Abraham Lincoln was announced. And that’s exactly how it played out as he won his third Oscar over a strong slate of Bradley Cooper (Playbook), Hugh Jackman (Les Miserables), Joaquin Phoenix (The Master), and Denzel Washington (Flight).

The exclusion of John Hawkes in The Sessions could have been welcomed, but I’ll admit that’s a solid group.

Jennifer Lawrence won Best Actress for Silver Linings over Jessica Chastain (Zero Dark), Emmanuelle Riva (Amour), Quvenzhane Wallis (Beasts), and Naomi Watts (The Impossible).

Again, no major qualms here. I did enjoy the work of Helen Mirren in Hitchcock (for which she did get a Golden Globe nod).

Supporting Actor was competitive as Christoph Waltz won his second statue for Django (three years after Inglourious Basterds). He was a bit of a surprise winner over Tommy Lee Jones in Lincoln. Other nominees: Alan Arkin (Argo), Robert De Niro (Playbook), and Philip Seymour Hoffman (The Master).

Here’s a year where there’s a lot of others I thought of. Waltz won, but I think the work of Leonardo DiCaprio and Samuel L. Jackson in Django was equally impressive. There’s Javier Bardem as one of the greatest Bond villains ever in Skyfall. Or John Goodman’s showy role in Flight. As for some other blockbusters that year, how about Tom Hiddleston in The Avengers or Matthew McConaughey in Magic Mike? And my favorite comedic scene of that year was due to Giovanni Ribisi in Ted…

In Supporting Actress, Anne Hathaway was a front-runner for Les Miserables and there was no upset. Other nominees: Amy Adams (The Master), Sally Field (Lincoln), Helen Hunt (The Sessions), and Jacki Weaver (Playbook).

Judi Dench had more heft to her part as M in Skyfall that year and I’ll also give a shout-out to Salma Hayek’s performance in Oliver Stone’s Savages.

And there’s your Oscar history for 2012! I’ll have 2013 up… hopefully in less than two and a half years!

The Glass Castle Box Office Prediction

Some hoped for summer counter programming is attempted next weekend when The Glass Castle hits theaters. The family drama is based on a 2005 bestseller by Jeannette Walls that sold nearly 3 million copies. Castle reunites director Destin Daniel Cretton with his Short Term 12 lead Brie Larson. Costars include Woody Harrelson, Naomi Watts, and Sarah Snook.

Based on its source material’s popularity, the film could certainly exceed my rather low expectations. That said, the middle of August is a rather strange time to release a movie like this one as it would seem more suited for autumn. Larson and Harrelson have certainly been visible recently, with the former’s Oscar win in Room and costarring in Kong: Skull Island and the latter being the human headliner in War for the Planet of the Apes. 

A theater count could also shed some light on its potential, but I don’t have a firm one yet (Box Office Mojo has it listed at 1400 right now, which is pretty low). I’ll say it manages between $3-$5 million in its opening weekend.

The Glass Castle opening weekend prediction: $4.2 million

For my Annabelle: Creation prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2017/08/02/annabelle-creation-box-office-prediction/

For my The Nut Job 2: Nutty by Nature prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2017/08/02/the-nut-job-2-nutty-by-nature-box-office-prediction/

Shut In Box Office Prediction

Naomi Watts makes a return to a genre that served her well years ago when Shut In opens next weekend. The horror/thriller places the actress stranded in her home during a blizzard with some potentially unwelcome visitors. Other cast members include Oliver Platt, Charlie Heaton, and Jacob Tremblay (who made waves last year as the child actor in the acclaimed Room).

Of course, the aforementioned title I was referring to with Watts is 2002’s The Ring, which turned into a smash hit. Don’t look for history to repeat itself here. Shut In has had a muted marketing campaign and it’s been pushed back by its distributor several times (it was originally slated to open in February).

Add all that up and I see a pretty bad debut, even factoring in that horror has had a solid 2016. I believe a mid single digits roll out is where Shut In will end up.

Shut In opening weekend prediction: $5.7 million

For my Arrival prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2016/11/02/arrival-box-office-prediction/

For my Almost Christmas prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2016/11/02/almost-christmas-box-office-prediction/

The Divergent Series: Allegiant Box Office Prediction

Shailene Woodley and company are back next weekend in The Divergent Series: Allegiant, the third entry in the YA adaptations from author Veronica Roth. The dystopian sci fi pic arrives in the same March slot as its predecessors, 2014’s Divergent and last year’s Insurgent. Director Robert Schwentke is back behind the camera and costars include Theo James, Miles Teller, Ansel Elgort, Naomi Watts, Jeff Daniels, Octavia Spencer, and Zoe Kravitz.

Second installment Insurgent saw a slight dip from the first entry. While Divergent debuted to $54 million and eventually grossed $150M domestic, Insurgent opened at $52 million with an overall $130M tally. Reviews for Allegiant haven’t been kind… it sits at 0% currently on Rotten Tomaotes and I look for its returns to continue diminishing. Even the third and fourth Hunger Games pics saw dips from the first two and this should follow suit.

I’ll say this first Allegiant (the second part arrives in March 2017) will be the first of the series to fall below the $50M mark out of the gate with low to mid 40s being more probable.

The Divergent Series: Allegiant opening weekend prediction: $43.7 million

For my Miracles from Heaven prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2016/03/10/miracles-from-heaven-box-office-prediction/

Insurgent Box Office Prediction

Opening a year after the hit Divergent, Insurgent is the second picture in a series of wildly popular YA novels penned by Veronica Roth. Stars Shailene Woodley, Miles Teller, Ansel Elgort, Theo James, Kate Winslet and Zoe Kravitz are back in the mix, along with newcomers to the franchise Naomi Watts and Octavia Spencer.

While this series will likely never do Hunger Games level numbers, the original opened to an impressive $54 million last March on its way to a $150 million domestic haul. It doesn’t hurt that Woodley, Teller, and Elgort have kept themselves firmly in the public eye with recent commercial and critical hits such as The Fault in Our Stars and Whiplash.

The big question is whether or not Insurgent manages to open larger than its predecessor. My gut feeling is that it will, even though competition among female fans will be considerable with Cinderella’s second weekend. I believe this will manage to break the $60 million mark out of the gate.

Insurgent opening weekend prediction: $62.1 million

For my prediction on The Gunman, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2015/03/14/the-gunman-box-office-prediction/

For my Do You Believe? prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2015/03/14/do-you-believe-box-office-prediction/