Antlers Review

As long as you feed The Beast and give it enough of what it wants, that might prevent it from harming others. That’s the prevailing message of Scott Cooper’s Antlers and it’s not a particularly fresh one as the foul stenches and stretches of the storyline play out. It attempts to balance body horror and creature feature elements with an abuse allegory and a tale of moral and environmental decay. With an assist from Guillermo del Toro on the production side, the pic ultimately bites off more than it can chew. This is also an issue for the title character terrorizer who leaves half devoured carcasses lying around.

The setting is the desolate Oregon town of Cispus Falls where lines for store front recovery centers appear to outnumber any other facade. In the opening, Frank Weaver (Scott Haze) has taken his youngest son Aiden (Sawyer Jones) his workplace of an abandoned mine shaft turned meth lab. Frank and his buddy leave the youngster waiting in the truck while they break up their bad deeds below. An attack by an unseen animal force begins the carnage that leaves longstanding marks on the Weaver family.

Flash forwarding above ground and weeks later, Aiden’s older brother Lucas (Jeremy T. Thomas) is an outcast who rushes to collect roadkill as his after school activity. Bringing the critters home with him, what lies behind a locked door shows the current condition of dad and Aiden. It’s not for the faint of heart or those who just feasted.

Lucas’s behavior catches the attention of his teacher Julia (Keri Russell). She’s recently moved back from California after two decades and in with her brother Paul (Jesse Plemons), who’s the Sheriff around these parts. The two share a caring but sometimes strained bond in their family home. Their mother passed long ago and their father more recently. Brief flashbacks and more expository dialogue reveal an abusive past. Julia recognizes signs of mistreatment in her pupil while not imagining the extent of it.

I did appreciate much about the atmospheric touches and gorgeous cinematography in Antlers – even if it’s focused on some grisly occurrences. The Weavers fall prey to an ancient Native American evil spirit known as a Wendigo which causes the cursed subjects to become cannibalistic and ravenous. This is mostly explained by the town’s ex-sheriff played by Graham Greene and it’s not a tale that the picture seems preoccupied in mining for material. There is a tone of seriousness that prevents this from ever becoming campy. Perhaps a little of that could have helped.

There’s no faulting the performances as Russell and Plemons commit and Thomas is believable as the malnourished child who must become an adult before he should. The problem lies with committing to too many ideas and giving the short shrift to all of them. There are worse flaws to be had and Antlers never feels like a regurgitation of previous works (though its themes are familiar). Devotees of highbrow horror might be satiated, but I found myself hungering for Cooper, del Toro, and company to pick a plot line and explore it a little more.

**1/2 (out of four)

October 29-31 Box Office Predictions

Halloween weekend brings five (yes five) pictures either debuting or expanding nationally. Some of them may not treat theirselves to a top 5 finish. The contenders are Edgar Wright’s 60s set psychological horror pic Last Night in Soho, Scott Cooper’s creature feature Antlers, Wes Anderson’s latest comedy The French Dispatch, Japanese animated sequel My Heroes Academia: World Heroes’ Mission, and Amanda Seyfried in the drama A Mouthful of Air. You can peruse my detailed prediction posts on the quintet at these links:

Last Night in Soho Box Office Prediction

Antlers Box Office Prediction

My Hero Academia: World Heroes’ Mission Box Office Prediction

The French Dispatch Box Office Prediction

A Mouthful of Air Box Office Prediction

I’ll begin with the low hanging fruit. Mouthful is only opening in 800 theaters and has barely been advertised. My tiny $846,000 estimate leaves it outside of the top ten.

Of all the premieres, I suspect Academia could actually make the most and it might be the only one in the top 5. This is based on the assumption that Soho and Antlers will both struggle.

The French Dispatch is more of a question mark. It debuted in 52 venues this weekend and its $1.3 million take (good for ninth place) represents the highest per screen average in the COVID era. However, that could be misleading as it expands across the nation and non-Anderson fanatics may not turn out.

As for holdovers, Dune met expectations in its start (more on that below) and seemed to garner the audience stamp of approval with an A- Cinemascore. It should easily maintain the top spot and I’ll say a 50-55% dip is most feasible. Halloween Kills, No Time to Die, Academia, and maybe even Venom (or Soho or Antlers or Dispatch if they exceed my forecasts) could battle it out for the runner-up position.

With all the new product, my typical top 5 expands to a top 10 as we close out October. Here’s how I see it:

1. Dune

Predicted Gross: $18.5 million

2. No Time to Die

Predicted Gross: $6.3 million

3. Halloween Kills

Predicted Gross: $6.1 million

4. My Hero Academia: World Heroes’ Mission

Predicted Gross: $6.1 million

5. Venom: Let There Be Carnage 

Predicted Gross: $5.6 million

6. Last Night in Soho

Predicted Gross: $5.2 million

7. Ron’s Gone Wrong

Predicted Gross: $4.1 million

8. The French Dispatch

Predicted Gross: $3.8 million

9. The Addams Family 2

Predicted Gross: $3.3 million

10. Antlers

Predicted Gross: $3.2 million

Box Office Results (October 22-24)

Despite its simultaneous availability on HBO Max, Denis Villeneuve’s long awaited sci-fi epic Dune performed in the range of anticipation with $41 million, just under my $42.8 million prediction. Considering its streaming dollars, that should certainly be enough for the expected part II.

Halloween Kills was slashed steeply in weekend #2 with $14.4 million. I was a tad higher at $15.4 million. The middle pic in the trilogy is up to a solid $73 million.

No Time to Die was third with $12.2 million, right on pace with my $12.1 million take. The 25th Bond adventure sits at $120 million.

Venom: Let There Be Carnage took fourth with $9.3 million (I said $9.5 million) for $182 million overall.

Finally, the animated Ron’s Gone Wrong didn’t connect with family audiences. Despite complimentary critical reaction, it opened in the five spot with $7.3 million (not matching my $8.4 million projection).

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

Antlers Box Office Prediction

With a production assist from the king of creature features Guillermo del Toro, the supernatural horror tale Antlers crosses into theaters October 29th. From Black Widow and Hostiles director Scott Cooper, the pic is finally hitting screens a year and a half after its COVID postponement. Keri Russell, Jesse Plemons, Jeremy T. Thomas, Graham Greene, Scott Haze, Rory Cochrane, and Amy Madigan star.

The Searchlight pictures production has scored decent reviews and it stands at 79% on Rotten Tomatoes. Coming out Halloween weekend, Antlers is genre material in a market that’s been saturated with it. Last Night in Soho opens against it while Halloween Kills will be in its third frame.

Despite the mostly positive critical reaction, I don’t really see this registering with mainstream audiences. The competition won’t help and there’s no star power to draw crowds in. Furthermore the trailers and TV spots may make it look simply too strange to have widespread appeal. I could see this earning about as much as The Night House, which opened in August to a mere $2.9 million. If so, Antlers won’t approach the top five during its scary weekend.

Antlers opening weekend prediction: $3.2 million

For my Last Night in Soho prediction, click here:

Last Night in Soho Box Office Prediction

For my My Hero Academia: World Heroes’ Mission prediction, click here:

My Hero Academia: World Heroes’ Mission Box Office Prediction

For my The French Dispatch prediction, click here:

The French Dispatch Box Office Prediction

For my A Mouthful of Air prediction, click here:

A Mouthful of Air Box Office Prediction

Oscar Watch: Hostiles

Today’s earlier Oscar Watch post focused on Victoria and Abdul, the Queen Victoria biopic featuring Judi Dench that’s set in the late 19th century. We are in the same time period for this next write-up, but it’s a much different genre and setting.

Scott Cooper’s Hostiles has premiered at the Telluride Film Festival and award chatter for it has been bolstered. Christian Bale headlines as an Army captain escorting a Native American chief back to his native land. The Western’s costars include Rosamund Pike, Wes Studi, Jesse Plemons, Ben Foster, and Timothee Chalamet (who could be in the Oscar mix for another performance in Call Me by Your Name).

Cooper directed Jeff Bridges to an Oscar win in 2009 with Crazy Heart. This is his second collaboration with Bale after 2013’s Out of the Furnace and his follow-up to the 2015 Johnny Depp Whitney Bulger pic Black Mass. Any advance word of Hostiles has been low-key for a rather simple reason. It’s yet to have been picked up by a distributor so its release by 2017 was uncertain. Positive word-of-mouth emanating from Telluride should solve that problem.

That said, whichever studio that picks up Hostiles for an awards qualifying run will have a stiff challenge. The film’s success or non success among audiences could determine whether it’s seriously looked at as a contender. Time will tell, but at the least Telluride has provided it hope for Academy attention.

My Oscar Watch posts will continue…

Black Mass Movie Review

Scott Cooper’s Black Mass features a remarkable performance by Johnny Depp in a rather unremarkable telling of a fascinating true life gangster tale. Taking place over a number of years starting in the mid 1970s, Mass concentrates on the Boston reign of James “Whitey” Bulger, a notorious crime kingpin who was able to evade the law due to his status as an FBI informant. Much of his leeway is due to his friendship dating from childhood with agent John Connolly (Joel Edgerton). Their union allows Bulger to roam the Bah-ston streets freely while giving up info that has the added benefit of eradicating his North Side Mob enemies. Connolly’s longtime connection leaves him either oblivious to who Whitey really is or perhaps a willful co-conspirator.

The film is told in a predictable flashback style as Whitey’s former associates are being questioned by authorities. For anyone who’s watched the news in the last few years, you’ll probably know the real Bulger successfully was a very wanted fugitive for quite a while. We don’t really become acquainted with these witnesses or the law enforcement agents outside of Connolly, but there’s lots of familiar faces playing them. On the good guy side, we have Kevin Bacon, Corey Stoll, and David Harbour (who is afforded a chilling dinner table scene with the star). Whitey’s henchman are played effectively by Rory Cochrane and Jesse Plemons. Benedict Cumberbatch’s role as Whitey’s politician brother is also underwritten and Dakota Johnson has a brief role as the criminal mastermind’s first wife. The best bit part belongs to Peter Sarsgaard as a coked out associate mixed up with Bulger’s corrupt involvement in World Jai Alai. That subplot, by the way, practically begs for its own feature if done right. Edgerton’s work is commendable and convincing as we slowly learn the dynamics of his relationship with the informant he’s known for decades and the ties that bind them.

Yet this is unquestionably the Johnny Depp Show. His menacing performance, with his giant baby blues and slicked back receding mane, reminds us of just how terrific this man can be. Depp’s trademark eccentricities are on display, but they feel necessary in service to the role he’s playing and not just present for the sake of being weird. It’s something that downgraded recent performances from him and his intense persona here is a breath of fresh and scary air. Truth be told, though, the moments here when Depp’s Bulger is terrorizing his associates are often the only scenes that generate real excitement.

That said, true story or not, little else feels fresh about Black Mass. We’ve seen a number of similar genre tales (some set in Boston) mingling the worlds of crime, law, and politics with greater effectiveness. One that immediately springs to mind is Scorsese’s The Departed, in which Jack Nicholson plays a more fictionalized version of Bulger. Many of the plot points that show up in Mass are contained in The Departed and it’s far more fascinating in the latter. That Boston gang drama earned Best Picture. Black Mass earns credit for allowing Depp to make this role a memorable one. For that reason alone, it’s probably worth a look for his many fans even if the material surrounding it is familiar and a little tiresome.

**1/2 (out of four)

Black Mass Box Office Prediction

Riding a wave of positive buzz generated from film festivals over the weekend, Scott Cooper’s gangster pic Black Mass rolls out in theaters next Friday and the results could be impressive. A true life story focusing on notorious Boston crime kingpin Whitey Bulger, Johnny Depp plays the title character and it’s nabbed him some of the best reviews he’s had in years. There’s even Oscar talk happening, for Depp and possibly the film itself.

The stellar supporting cast includes Joel Edgerton, Benedict Cumberbatch, Kevin Bacon, Dakota Johnson, Adam Scott, Peter Sarsgaard, and Corey Stoll. Mass is currently at a pleasing 79% on Rotten Tomatoes. Most importantly, the pic has been well marketed and represents a real choice for adults after the summer blockbusters are now fading.

While the Maze Runner sequel may capture the attention of younger viewers, I look for Black Mass to have a very healthy start. In fact, I believe the chances of it over performing are greater than the alternative. I think it could exceed $30 million out of the gate, but I’ll put it just under.

Black Mass opening weekend prediction: $27.9 million

 

Oscar Watch: Black Mass

From the moment the first trailer for Black Mass (out September 18) appeared, you could sense that something special might be brewing with Johnny Depp’s portrayal of notorious Boston gangster Whitey Bulger. Those feelings have been confirmed over the weekend as the picture screened at both the Venice and Telluride Film Festivals.

Critical consensus bore one thing out: Depp’s chilling performance is fantastic. Variety went as far to claim it’s his career best work. This reaction made him as instant major contender in the Best Actor race. When I made my initial predictions three days ago, I left him outside the top five. I’m questioning that call. That said, it remains to be seen who among my projected five would move outside the cut to put Depp in. Both Eddie Redmayne in The Danish Girl and Michael Fassbender in Steve Jobs seem like real contenders. The most vulnerable performer I predicted may be Michael Caine in Youth, though his legendary status will help. The other two I predicted are question marks as their movies have yet to be screened: Leonardo DiCaprio in The Revenant and Don Cheadle in Miles Ahead. And there’s certainly plenty of time for other actors to emerge. For Depp, after a series of both commercial and critical disappointments (Mortdecai anyone?), the opportunity for Academy voters to vault him into contention could be too enticing to pass up.

As for the film itself, a Best Picture nod or Director nom for Scott Cooper seems far less assured. While its Rotten Tomatoes meter sits at 100%, reviewers are divided as to whether Black Mass is great or merely good. Supporting players Benedict Cumberbatch, Joel Edgerton, and Kevin Bacon may not factor into the mix.

However, this Labor Day weekend made one item very clear: Johnny Depp is a player in this year’s Oscar derby. A big one.

2015 Early Oscar Predictions: Best Director

We have arrived at the Best Director portion of my incredibly early Oscar predictions for 2015. When I made predictions in this category last year for 2014 pics, it yielded 3 of the five eventual nominees and the other two were listed as other possibilities.

In the Director race, it’s safe to assume that all predicted directors will likely see their pictures nominated as well (my Best Picture prognostications will be up tomorrow). My current field includes three previous winners: Danny Boyle for Steve Jobs (he won in 2008 for Slumdog Millionaire), Tom Hooper for The Danish Girl (he won in 2010 for The King’s Speech), and Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu for The Revenant (he won just last year for Birdman). Other previous recipients like Steven Spielberg (Bridge of Spies), Robert Zemeckis (The Walk) and Ron Howard (In the Heart of the Sea) are certainly possible as well.

David O. Russell’s last three projects (The Fighter, Silver Linings Playbook) have been showered with Oscar love so I’ll include him for December’s Joy. And Carol has been receiving festival raves and that could bode well for Todd Haynes.

Others to keep an eye out for: if The Hateful Eight garners the kind of love that Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained did, Quentin Tarantino could find himself in the mix. And don’t count out George Miller, whose direction in particular was lauded for this summer’s Mad Max: Fury Road.

And with that:

TODD’S EARLY PREDICTIONS – BEST DIRECTOR

Danny Boyle, Steve Jobs

Todd Haynes, Carol

Tom Hooper, The Danish Girl

Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, The Revenant

David O. Russell, Joy

Other Possibilities:

Don Cheadle, Miles Ahead

Scott Cooper, Black Mass

John Crowley, Brooklyn

Sarah Gavron, Suffragette 

Michael Grandage, Genius

Ron Howard, In the Heart of the Sea

Angelina Jolie, By the Sea

Tom McCarthy, Spotlight

George Miller, Mad Max: Fury Road

Jay Roach, Trumbo

Ridley Scott, The Martian

Paolo Sorrentino, Youth

Steven Spielberg, Bridge of Spies

Quentin Tarantino, The Hateful Eight

Denis Villeneueve, Sicario

Robert Zemeckis, The Walk

If you missed my previous entries covering the acting categories, they’re linked here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2015/09/03/2015-early-oscar-predictions-best-actor/

https://toddmthatcher.com/2015/09/02/2015-early-oscar-predictions-best-actress/

https://toddmthatcher.com/2015/09/01/2015-early-oscar-predictions-best-supporting-actor/

https://toddmthatcher.com/2015/08/30/2015-early-oscar-predictions-best-supporting-actress/