Oscar Watch: The Banker Bounced

The AFI Film Festival is ongoing and it serves as the final opportunity for releases to stake their claim for Oscar consideration in the fest format. George Nolfi’s The Banker had been selected to close the proceedings tomorrow evening. Not only was this a chance for it to enter into awards chatter, but it’s also among the first feature films that will be shown on Apple TV’s new streaming service. In other words, while Netflix looks to have a banner 2019 when it comes to various contenders like The Irishman, Marriage Story, The Two Popes, and Dolemite Is My Name – this picture marks a way for Apple TV to get into the game.

However, the surprise announcement came this afternoon that AFI organizers are pulling its gala screening. Details are rather scarce as reports indicate there’s potential allegations surfacing about a member of the family played by Anthony Mackie’s character. Expect those details to be fleshed out in short order. Mackie and Samuel L. Jackson star in this true tale of two African American businessmen in the 1960s. Costars include Nicholas Hoult, Nia Long, Jessie Usher, and Colm Meaney.

The Banker is scheduled for a December 6th theatrical release prior to Apple’s streaming rollout early next year. That early December slot put in contention for nominations and now its release at this juncture now appears to be in doubt. I was planning to do an Oscar Watch post on it by the end of the week, but it looks like that’s in the vault for the foreseeable future. My Oscar Watch posts will continue…

Oscar Watch: Klaus

2019 is shaping up to be the breakout year for Netflix when it comes to awards visibility with legitimate Best Picture contenders like The Irishman, Marriage Story, and The Two Popes. A smaller story is that it might have a contender in the Animated Feature race with the just released Yuletide comedy Klaus. It comes from director Sergio Plablos, who’s best known for creating the Despicable Me franchise. The voice cast includes Jason Schwartzman, J.K. Simmons, Rashida Jones, Joan Cusack, Will Sasso, and Norm Macdonald.

In order to nab a nomination, Klaus looks to compete for the fourth or fifth slot as I believe three are already spoken for by higher profile theatrical release sequels – Toy Story 4 (the front runner), Frozen II, and How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World. Other efforts vying for those slots include Weathering with You, I Lost My Body, Missing Link, Abominable, and (perhaps) the yet to be released Spies in Disguise. 

The pic currently sports a 90% rating on Rotten Tomatoes and that’s actually higher than the number (82%) for Frozen II. Yet Disney should have little trouble getting that about to be massive blockbuster in the mix.

Bottom line: I wouldn’t count Klaus out, but competition is significant. My Oscar Watch posts will continue…

Dolemite Is My Name Movie Review

There are plentiful amounts of F bombs thrown out in Dolemite Is My Name. They are the kind that you associated with Eddie Murphy years ago. The F no longer stands for the family fare he starred in that bombed at the box office. Think Pluto Nash. Or Meet Dave. Or Imagine That. No, this belongs in a small sub genre of pictures where some of the players here have had involvement before. Dolemite tells the true story of a man breaking into the movie business with wide eyed spirit and contagious tenacity. The quality of the material produced is secondary.

Murphy is Rudy Ray Moore, who’s working at a record shop in L.A. when we begin. He has dreams of stardom, but the general consensus is that his time has passed. Rudy just won’t let that happen as he develops a comic persona that is one part rhyming (he ended up being a huge influence in the hip hop community), one part glorious 70s outfits of the era, and all parts raunchy as hell.

He achieves success in the underground comedy world where his records sell, but a screening of the Billy Wilder pic The Front Page gives him another idea. Rudy doesn’t see humorous material on the screen for the black audience and he’s going to be the one to give it to them. Obtaining financing (even at the height of the blaxploitation genre) is next to impossible so he’s creative in his methods.

Surrounding Rudy is a colorful (especially the clothes) and eclectic group of collaborators who aren’t entirely sure what they’ve gotten themselves into. They include actor D’Urville Martin (Wesley Snipes, having a ball). He never fails to remind others that he had a big part in Rosemary’s Baby and only joins the picture when he’s allowed to direct. Keegan-Michael Key is the screenwriter who thinks he’s making the kind of serious drama he writes for the stage. When kung fu and set shattering sex scenes take precedence, that notion is dispelled. Da’Vine Joy Randolph is a scene stealer as Lady Reed, Rudy’s stand-up partner plucked out of a Southern bar.

Screenwriters Larry Karaszewski and Scott Alexander have travelled this road before with Tim Burton’s Ed Wood. Murphy gave one of his finest performances 20 years ago in Bowfinger, where his costar Steve Martin was a director with unbridled and naive enthusiasm. The Disaster Artist with James Franco mined similar territory. So while Dolemite does feel familiar in its beats, it has its own brand of passion for its unlikely star.

We have the headliner to thank for it. This is Live From Netflix and is indeed Eddie Murphy’s show. The performer seems more inspired than he has in some time. It might help if you’re a Dolemite devotee (Murphy and many of the cast members are). Yet this is an entertaining watch either way as we watch a legend in his element.

***1/2 (out of four)

El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie Review

For fans of Breaking Bad (of which I certainly am), one lingering question was whether Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul) completed his emotional joyride after being freed from captivity in the title vehicle. El Camino answers it in a manner which never feels entirely needed, but with enough nostalgic merit to keep it from feeling superfluous. It’s been six years since the brilliant AMC show closed up shop with Walter White (Bryan Cranston) finally succumbing to the dangers of his career path. Jesse’s fate was more uncertain as his former teacher and meth mentor allowed him to escape.

Camino picks up immediately after the series finale. As you’ll recall, Jesse had been held prisoner by some Aryan dealers who kept him in an underground cage. During those final episodes of Bad, Paul perfected the wounded puppy cadence befitting his circumstances. That continues here as Jesse must adjust to his liberation. Being the lone survivor of the finale’s massacre makes him the most wanted man in New Mexico.

The Netflix pic volleys back and forth between his need to find a brand new life and flashbacks allowing favorite characters to return. Considering Mr. White and Cranston’s legendary performance, it’s no surprise to see him. Some cameos are more surprising and humorous and poignant. The most effective in my view is Todd, which affords Jesse Plemons more screen time to flesh out his calmly psychopathic creation. Robert Forster returns as a fixer who specializes in giving criminals fresh leases on life. His portion runs a close second in entertainment value. Sadly, the veteran character actor passed away on the day of the film’s premiere.

Does El Camino ever approach the most potent moments from its source material? Not really, but Paul gives a terrific performance with his tragic antihero. Vince Gilligan, the show’s creator, returns to write and direct. He was meticulous about his acclaimed series and this continuation doesn’t feel cheap. It’s a deadly and deadpan world that we loved and it feels pretty darn good to soak it back in for a couple hours.

*** (out of four)

Oscar Watch: The Irishman

The biggest Oscar domino not yet fall screened has been Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman, the three and a half hour gangster drama headlined by genre legends Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, and Joe Pesci. That changed today. The epic opened the New York Film Festival exactly two months ahead of its Netflix debut. And – no real surprise here – it appears to be a serious contender.

The Irishman is said to be both a humorous and contemplative piece with De Niro and Pacino providing their best performances in years. Same goes for Pesci as he’s been away from the silver screen for nearly a decade.

While nearly all reviews are positive, they’re not all raves. My early hunch is that this will earn Picture and Director nods. Winning is another story and that is one still left to play out. The Rotten Tomatoes score is at 100%. This will likely mark Scorsese’s ninth nomination (he’s won once for 2006’s The Departed). That’s also his only effort to be named Best Picture. The Adapted Screenplay from Steve Zaillian should also make the final cut.

Down the line recognition presents many chances including Cinematography, Editing, Costume Design, and Visual Effects. For the latter, the de-aging technology that allows its stars to look younger could attract the notice of that branch. The pic would actually be the second Scorsese title to get a Visual Effects nod after 2011’s Hugo (which won).

Now to the thespians. The thinking is that De Niro will be in lead actor with Pacino and Pesci in supporting. It sounds as if they will be the trio in contention. De Niro would gunning for his eighth appearance as a nominee. He won Supporting for 1974’s The Godfather Part II and lead in Scorsese’s 1980 masterwork Raging Bull. I’ve had him listed in spot #6 for some time in my weekly rankings. I could still see him missing the cut as his role is said to be less flashy than his costars, but I think his chances are better today. Numerous critics have stated that Pacino steals the show and he’s going for nomination #9 (his sole win is 1992’s Scent of a Woman). Like De Niro, I’ve had him slotted sixth and I expect him to enter the top five in a supporting actor race that is already jam packed. As for Pesci (who won for 1990’s Scorsese classic GoodFellas), other reviewers are singling him out. That opens the door for two men to be nominated in the supporting race for the second time since 1991 when Harvey Keitel (who’s also in this) and Ben Kingsley were recognized for Bugsy. This occurred again two years ago with Sam Rockwell and Woody Harrelson in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. Pesci is not the near sure thing Pacino is, but it could happen.

Bottom line: The Irishman did what it needed to do in the Big Apple to establish itself as a player in awards chatter. My Oscar Watch posts will continue…

Oscar Watch: Dolemite Is My Name

Ahead of its October 25 Netflix release, Dolemite Is My Name introduced itself to critics this weekend at the Toronto Film Festival. Seen as a comeback role for Eddie Murphy, early reviews suggest it’s just that. Murphy plays Rudy Ray Moore, who was instrumental to ushering in the blaxploitation genre of the 1970s with his title character. Craig Brewer, best known for helming Hustle & Flow, directs with a supporting cast including Wesley Snipes, Keegan-Michael Key, Mike Epps, Craig Robinson, Da’Vine Joy Randolph, Snoop Dogg, and T.I.

In 2006, Eddie was seen as the front runner in Supporting Actor for Dreamgirls. He was upset by Alan Arkin’s work in Little Miss Sunshine. This has been eyed as his first chance at Academy attention since. The issue could be significant competition in a Best Actor derby that appears stacked already.

Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski wrote the original screenplay and they’ve specialized in highlighting colorful entertainment figures in Ed Wood, The People vs. Larry Flynt, and Man on the Moon. Once again, they could face trouble nabbing nods as that writing race is jam packed.

So while Dolemite should succeed in garnering the kind of praise its star hasn’t seen for some time, awards chatter might be elusive. There could be one noteworthy exception. Ruth Carter’s costume design has been noted in numerous write ups. Just last year, she became the first African-American to win that category for Black Panther. She could find herself in the mix again. My Oscar Watch posts will continue…

Oscar Watch: The King

The Venice and Telluride fests have certainly made this year’s Best Actor race interesting and potentially jam packed. So let’s add another to the mix in the form of The King. Based primarily on Shakespeare’s Henry V, the historical action drama casts Timothee Chalamet in the title role. David Michod (best known for 2010’s Animal Kingdom) directs with a supporting cast including Robert Pattinson, Joel Edgerton (who co-wrote the script with Michod), Lily-Rose Depp, Sean Harris, and Ben Mendelsohn.

Screening in Venice before its Netflix bow in November, the reviews are solid though probably not Best Picture material level. Yet for the third year in a row, it’s Chalamet (all of 23 years old) commanding the most attention. In 2017, the actor scored a Supporting Actor nod for Call Me by Your Name. Last year, he was on the radar screen in the same category for Beautiful Boy. The nomination never came.

This would be his first look at the lead prize. Overcrowding could be his downfall. Netflix has already seen two of their possibilities solidify their status over the weekend with Adam Driver (Marriage Story) and Jonathan Pryce (The Two Popes). And they’ve still got Robert De Niro (The Irishman) and Eddie Murphy (Dolemite Is My Name) coming to a festival near you. This could all leave Chalamet on the outside looking in, but he’s got a chance to hear his name called among the five eventual contenders. My Oscar Watch posts will continue…