Oscars 2019: The Case of Adam Driver

My Case of posts for the acting contenders at this year’s Oscar brings us to the third performer in Best Actor… Adam Driver in Marriage Story. Here’s his story:

The Case for Adam Driver

2019 capped off an amazing decade for Driver. In addition to his high-profile role in the HBO series Girls, his filmography over the past few years has been remarkable. To give you an idea, here’s some of the directors he worked with in the 2010s: Clint Eastwood, the Coen Brothers, Martin Scorsese, Spike Lee, Steven Soderbergh, Jim Jarmusch, Steven Spielberg, J.J. Abrams, Rian Johnson, Terry Gilliam, and Spike Lee. The latter filmmaker helped Driver get his first Oscar nod last year in Supporting Actor for BlacKkKlansman. 2019 saw his best year yet with his final portrayal as Kylo Ren in Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker and critical praise for the political drama The Report. Yet it’s his role as the divorcing husband to Scarlett Johansson in frequent collaborator Noah Baumbach’s Marriage Story that garnered his greatest reviews thus far.

The Case Against Adam Driver

He’s still young enough that there’s little overdue for a win sentiment happening. Marriage Story has fallen behind in numerous categories with the exception of Laura Dern in Supporting Actress. Joaquin Phoenix has swept the key precursors.

The Verdict

Driver will likely place second in the voting behind the rising of Phoenix over the past few weeks.

My Case of posts will continue with the third competitor in Best Actress… Saoirse Ronan in Little Women!

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker Movie Review

We talk about the Star Wars franchise the same way we speak of politics or sports. With passion and fervent opinions and disagreements. Perhaps we are giving it too much credit, but it’s become an American cinematic pastime. No group of films has inspired as much thought and re-thought. So we arrive at the ninth episode, The Rise of Skywalker, with all that baggage and more. After all, this one is tasked with closing out the saga that began at a time far, far away in 1977. Returning to direct with that weight on his shoulders is J.J. Abrams, who kickstarted the series for new owner Disney four years ago with The Force Awakens.

He does so two years following The Last Jedi from Rian Johnson, which sharply divided fans and critics by going in unexpected directions. Even Luke Skywalker himself, Mark Hamill, didn’t jive with the choices Johnson made with his character shuddered on an island and not wishing to utilize his Jedi skills. That was one compliant from some diehard fans, among others. You could say they had their knives out for it, so to speak.

I found The Last Jedi to be flawed and disjointed, but also filled with great moments. There aren’t many of them here in Skywalker. As I ponder it, episodes VII-IX do follow a similar arc as the iconic I-III. The Force Awakens was tasked with introducing new and exciting characters from these galaxies. It also had to mix in Luke and Leia and Han Solo and Chewie. I felt, for the most part, that it did so successfully. That especially applies to Rey (Daisy Ridley) and Kylo Ren (Adam Driver). In fact, their little therapy sessions from The Last Jedi were highlights of the whole trilogy. The common critique of Awakens is that it was a rehash of the first Star Wars. While this is with some merit, it didn’t take away my immense enjoyment of it.

As mentioned, The Last Jedi was more of a mixed bag. Yet with Johnson’s sometimes confounding but often daring choices, it was also the boldest. This is where a comparison with 1980’s The Empire Strikes Back seems fair. Don’t get me wrong. It’s nowhere in its league, but it did take what happened in the predecessor and take it in unexpected directions.

And now The Last Skywalker. Like 1983’s Return of the Jedi, this trilogy finale has to wrap it all up. Allow me to throw in this disclaimer – I don’t hold Return of the Jedi anywhere near the regards of what came before it. While I feel there are terrific moments, there’s a lot that didn’t work me and not just the Ewoks. It often felt a little tired and unsure of what to do with itself for a chunk of the running time. That applies to Skywalker and there’s aren’t as many terrific moments.

The similarities don’t end on just a quality level. Ultimately, the main plot here finds Rey facing a choice of whether to stay a Jedi or follow her lineage to the dark side… just as Luke did in Jedi. By the way, those lineage inquiries are addressed. Another complaint in Rian Johnson’s script was how he handled that aspect. Rey’s supporting cast is around with Finn (John Boyega) and Poe (Oscar Isaac) marshaling support to take on Kylo. And as the trailer suggested, Emperor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid) is back in the mix, too. So is Billy Dee Williams as cocky fighter pilot Lando. His return isn’t exactly as pined for as what we got with Luke, Leia, and Han. As for Leia, Carrie Fisher does return utilizing unused footage from Awakens and Last Jedi. It’s handled delicately.

There are new players with Richard E. Grant joining Domhnall Gleeson as one of Kylo’s top lieutenants. Abrams throws some small parts to Keri Russell and Dominic Monaghan (who both starred in his TV shows). The short shrift is given to Rose (Kelly Marie Tran), who had more of a presence in Last Jedi, but is basically ignored. That’s not exactly a problem as this is the Rey and Kylo show. Once again, both Ridley and Driver’s performances are first rate. Truth be told, though, Johnson wrote their dynamic better the last time around.

For the major detractors of The Last Jedi, perhaps this episode will feel like a return to Star Wars normalcy. I’m happy to listen to an argument that Johnson’s effort pairs well with the return of Abrams, but it would take lots of convincing. Skywalker often reeks of a course correction. This is becoming more common with franchises. We just saw Terminator: Dark Fate ignore the three pictures ahead of it. The X-Men series had to get creative with their timeline and do away with it under specific circumstances.

Those franchises aren’t Star Wars. The meeting between Han Solo and his son Kylo in The Force Awakens was a memorable, emotional, and surprising one. Whatever Mark Hamill and others might think about his treatment in The Last Jedi, a brief reunion with his sister in it was marvelous. In Skywalker, Abrams goes for a lot of those moments. And it felt, well, forced. The visual splendor and incredible production design (and the rousing John Williams score) is intact. A few scenes with Rey and Kylo work. Ultimately, I suspect my feelings about The Rise of Skywalker will be somewhat similar to Return of the Jedi – as an inferior product to its two predecessors.

**1/2 (out of four)

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker Box Office Prediction

Blogger’s Note (12/19): Hours before its opening, I am revising my estimate down from $206.4M to $191.4M

The ninth episode in the galaxy is not far, far away as Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker arrives in a theater near you next weekend. Capping the third trilogy of the landmark franchise, the film finds J.J. Abrams returning to the director’s chair after Rian Johnson (currently having his own box office hit with Knives Out) handled duties on previous entry The Last Jedi in 2017. The familiar faces introduced four years ago in The Force Awakens return with Daisy Ridley, Adam Driver, John Boyega, and Oscar Isaac headlining. Stars from the original trilogy are back including Carrie Fisher (via unreleased footage from previous efforts), Mark Hamill, Anthony Daniels, and two cast members making their respective first appearances since 1983’s Return of the Jedi and 2005’s Revenge of the Sith – Billy Dee Williams as Lando Calrissian and Ian McDiarmid as Palpatine. Other notable performers returning include Domhnall Gleeson, Lupita Nyong’o, and Kelly Marie Tran. Newcomers to the series are Naomi Ackie, Keri Russell, and Richard E. Grant.

Disney took over the reigns of George Lucas’s creation a few years back and the results have been billions more into the Mouse Factory’s considerable coffers. That said, the last two years have shown some chinks in the once impenetrable armor. The aforementioned Last Jedi divided audiences and critics and came in $300 million under Awakens. A few months later in May of 2018, prequel and spinoff Solo: A Star Wars Story was the first picture in the series that was a genuine disappointment and actually lost money.

In Star Wars world, “disappointing” numbers are relative. The Last Jedi took in $220 million for its start on this same weekend two years ago, ending its run at $620 million domestically (that’s still good for #9 all-time). Yet, as mentioned, that’s considerably below the $936 million that Awakens achieved. It continues to stand at #1 overall in terms of stateside dollars.

Estimates for Skywalker show a pretty wide range. Some are as low as $175 million. Only in this franchise and the Marvel Cinematic Universe would that number be called low. Despite the mixed Jedi reaction and Solo grosses, I have a hard time buying that this last entry of the trilogy could come in with $45 million less than its predecessor.

The more reasonable anticipation is that this manages to top $200 million. There is certainly more serious family competition than Last Jedi had with Jumanji: The Next Level being in its second frame (it was the inverse in 2017 with predecessor Welcome to the Jungle arriving the week after Jedi).

My projection here gives Skywalker the seventh biggest debut ever, in between MCU titles The Avengers and Black Panther. 

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker opening weekend prediction: $191.4 million

For my Cats prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2019/12/11/cats-box-office-prediction/

For my Bombshell prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2019/12/11/bombshell-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/

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…

The 2019 Oscar Season Cometh

As the summer season winds down, the movie industry and this blog’s attention will soon turn to the Oscar race. And if you think it’s too early to do that, consider that less than a month from now – an avalanche of Academy hopefuls will be unveiled at film festivals. Toronto, Venice, Telluride, and the New York festivals are on deck. The programmers behind those events have already released the names of many of the pictures premiering. Here are some of the pictures wishing for Oscar glory that are hitting the circuit:

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

Tom Hanks is iconic children’s host Mr. Rogers in director Marielle Heller’s follow-up to last year’s Can You Ever Forgive Me?, which nabbed nods for Melissa McCarthy and Richard E. Grant. Premiering at Toronto.

Ad Astra

James Gray has made multiple critical darlings, but has yet to pop up on the awards circuit radar screen. Could this sci fi drama with Brad Pitt and Tommy Lee Jones change that? Premiering at Venice.

An Officer and a Spy

It will need serious acclaim to overcome the baggage that comes from its maker Roman Polanski, but this historical thriller will attempt to do so in Venice.

Dolemite Is My Name

Prior to its anticipated Netflix launch, Craig Brewer’s biopic of comedian Rudy Ray Moore portrayed by legendary comic Eddie Murphy will bow at Toronto.

Ema

Pablo Larrain has had his pics No and Jackie attract awards nods and this Chilean drama hopes to follow suit. Premiering at Venice.

Ford v Ferrari

Matt Damon and Christian Bale star in James Mangold’s 1960s set tale of the flashy automotive industry. Premiering at Toronto.

Harriet

Cynthia Erica was a breakout in last year’s Widows. This year she has an Academy baity role as abolitionist Harriet Tubman in this historical epic from Kasi Lemmons. Premiering at Toronto.

Jojo Rabbit

This concoction from Taika Waititi is set during WWII with a dark comedic premise finding a young child with an imaginary friend who happens to be Hitler. The filmmaker himself plays Hitler. Scarlett Johansson and Sam Rockwell are among the cast.

Joker

Heath Ledger won a posthumous gold statue as the comic book villain in The Dark Knight. Joaquin Phoenix will attempt the same here. Premiering at Venice.

Judy

It’s been awhile since Renee Zellweger had a role receiving awards buzz. This biopic of Judy Garland could alter that. Premiering at Toronto.

Just Mercy

This drama about a falsely accused prisoner features Michael B. Jordan, Jamie Foxx, and Brie Larson. Premiering at Toronto.

Knives Out

Rian Johnson’s murder mystery has a sprawling cast of hopefuls including Daniel Craig, Chris Evans, Jamie Lee Curtis, Toni Collette, and Michael Shannon. Premiering at Toronto.

Marriage Story

Noah Baumbach is a favorite of the critical community. This drama is headlined by Scarlett Johansson and Adam Driver and hits Venice and other fests before its Netflix premiere.

The Goldfinch

Brooklyn director John Crowley adapts this drama based on a well-known 2013 novel. The cast includes Nicole Kidman and Oakes Fegley. Premiering at Toronto.

The Irishman

Rightly kicking off the New York Festival, Martin Scorsese directs this gangster saga starring Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, and Joe Pesci.

The Laundromat

Oscar winner Steven Soderbergh directs this dramatic thriller with Meryl Streep, Gary Oldman, and Antonio Banderas. Premiering at Venice.

The Personal History of David Copperfield

Lion nominee Dev Patel is the Charles Dickens character with a supporting cast including Tilda Swinton and Hugh Laurie. Premiering at Toronto.

The Two Popes

Jonathan Pryce is Pope Francis and Anthony Hopkins is Pope Benedict in this Netflix effort from director Fernando Meirelles. Premiering at Toronto.

Followers of this blog know that I’ll do Oscar Watch posts on each of these and many others as they screen in the coming weeks. Stay tuned!

 

Star Wars: The Last Jedi Movie Review

Star Wars: The Last Jedi is an experience of seemingly big moments in the most famous and loved franchise in history. There are instances of enormous satisfaction here and smaller developments and touches that work.

Jedi is also a little deceiving. When the credits rolled, I slowly began to realize the seismic occurrences witnessed weren’t necessarily all that. There are major developments with some historic characters, but there’s also examples of stagnation with some principals and truly furthering the action along. There is no other series of pictures where the positive aspects are magnified to legendary status and the flaws are portrayed as crimes against humanity. If Jar Jar Binks were to be tried in a court of fanatics, his demise would come slowly and with pain.

In the cycle of endless chatter that accompanies each episode, the 8th appears primed to garner both emotions. To this writer, some of its shortcomings were more obvious than what we saw in episode VII, The Force Awakens.

The knock on Awakens was simple and I believe mostly misguided. When J.J. Abrams and Disney took over the reigns from George Lucas, complaints were registered that it was essentially a remake of the 1977 original. This is a fair point to a small degree but I walked away from Awakens highly energized and quite pleased with the new crop of characters mixed with the ones we’ve grown up with. I didn’t feel it was just an effective ripening of our collective member berries. It stood on its own.

When we last left our heroine Rey (Daisy Ridley), she was standing on a lush mountain top seeking the help of one Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill). An Awakens surprise was that Luke loomed in the story, but didn’t say a word and didn’t appear until the final frames. He’s present here and he’s plenty conflicted about whether he wants to help his Force bearing wannabe apprentice. While Daisy and Luke work all that out, Chewbacca gets to hang out with seriously adorable creatures called Porgs. They’ll make great Christmas toys.

Meanwhile, Finn (John Boyega) awakens from his slumber caused in the previous installment to befriend Rose (Kelly Marie Tran), a maintenance worker who becomes his right-hand girl. Poe (Oscar Isaac) is still the cocky fighter pilot who drives his superiors crazy. They include Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) and another high ranking official played by Laura Dern.

Of course, there’s also the First Order. Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), who made his mom a widow, is back. He’s still experiencing family conflict drama that would probably keep his ship’s psychiatrist busy if there was one. Kylo is still under the command of Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis) and he’s developed a telepathic type communication with Ren. It’s their dynamic that gives Jedi some of its most significant and powerful moments. Much credit is due to the superb work of Ridley and Driver, which was the case the first time around.

Not all character arcs work as well. It mostly does with Luke and Jedi features Hamill’s most convincing work as Luke. Isaac’s Poe is still a bit of a one trick pony, but the talented actor is granted more screen time to shine. Boyega’s Finn is sidelined with subpar subplots. He’s also saddled by teaming up with a thief played by Benicio del Toro. The Oscar winning actor plays his role so over the top that it’s a tad distracting. I’d say the same for Domhnall Gleeson as First Order General Hux. Finn and company have a whole segment on a new planet filled with degenerates and a lush casino. A triumph of production design, yes, but it also felt like filler.

The Last Jedi has a lot of humor in it, more so that I expected from its new director Rian Johnson. The reliance of it may disappoint some die hards, but I found most of it welcome. By its nature, some of the most dramatic moments succeed just because they’re present. Luke walking into the Falcon? Check. Luke and Leia reuniting after years apart? Check. So for those who complained about episode VII’s nostalgia peddling, it’s a bit unavoidable I say.

Bottom line: my Last Jedi reaction was a little more mixed than when I saw Awakens. It’s easily better than anything Lucas gave us in episodes I-III. For those hoping this would be the Empire of the new trilogy, you can transfer that hope to IX.

*** (out of four)

Oscar Watch – Star Wars: The Last Jedi

The most eagerly anticipated review embargo of 2017 ended early this afternoon as critical reaction is pouring in for Star Wars: The Last Jedi. Opening Friday, it’s pretty much a foregone conclusion that episode VIII of the vaunted franchise will generate the year’s biggest debut (and very possibly the second highest of all time after predecessor The Force Awakens).

So my attention now turns to its Oscar viability. At this moment, The Last Jedi stands at 93% on Rotten Tomatoes. That’s quite an impressive number (Force Awakens ended up at 93%) and it’s likely the Jedi number will fluctuate over the next couple of days. Still, many reviews have indicated it’s the strongest entry in the series since 1980’s The Empire Strikes Back – generally and rightfully considered the best of the lot. Other reviews, while positive, haven’t gone that far.

It’s worth noting that only the 1977 original managed a Best Picture nomination. Simply put, I don’t see that changing here nor do I see any of the actors getting recognition.

The Force Awakens ended up garnering five nods two years ago: Original Score, Editing, Sound Editing, Sound Mixing, and Visual Effects. It won zero. My estimate is that Jedi will not reach that number. Composer John Williams will face competition with himself and I see his work for Steven Spielberg’s The Post being nominated instead. Editing could be a stretch as some reviewers are already nitpicking its pacing. It could certainly nab nominations in both Sound categories and Visual Effects is a given. Like Force Awakens, I believe it won’t emerge victorious in any of the races it gets in for.

Bottom line: Star Wars: The Last Jedi, even with its general consensus that it improves over Awakens, is unlikely to be an Academy player in any significant manner other than technical stuff.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi Box Office Prediction

The cinematic event of 2017 invades theaters next Friday when Star Wars: The Last Jedi debuts. The eighth episode of the beloved franchise arrives 40 years after the original changed the landscape of the moviegoing world. In more recent times, it is of course the sequel to 2015’s The Force Awakens, which broke every box office record in its path. It had the biggest opening of all time and is the highest grossing picture of all time (not adjusted for inflation).

What J.J. Abrams started two December’s ago is continued here with Rian Johnson handling directorial duties (Abrams will be back for episode IX). Returnees from Awakens include Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Adam Driver, Andy Serkis, Anthony Daniels, Lupita Nyong’o, and Domhnall Gleeson. Of course, there’s also Mark Hamill back as Luke Skywalker and with considerably more screen time and Carrie Fisher as Princess Leia in her final performance. Familiar faces entering the Star Wars universe for the first time include Benicio del Toro, Laura Dern, and Kelly Marie Tran.

The Force Awakens obliterated the all-time opening weekend to the tune of $247 million with a $936 million eventual domestic haul. Anticipation for the follow-up is feverish. That said, Jedi is not expected to top its predecessor out of the gate. A more serious question is whether or not it will manage the second biggest stateside premiere in history.

First things first : it should not have trouble nabbing the 2017 record by sailing past another Disney title, Beauty and the Beast at $174 million. And it will absolutely be the runner-up franchise opening, which currently is last year’s spin-off Rogue One: A Star Wars Story at $155 million.

In order to achieve the #2 debut, it will need to top the $208 million earned by Jurassic World in 2015. I am predicting it will manage to get there with about $10 million to spare as it sets up for a long run over the holidays.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi opening weekend prediction: $219.7 million

For my Ferdinand prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2017/12/06/ferdinand-box-office-prediction/