Oscar Predictions: Call Jane

Based on a dozen reviews thus far out of Sundance, Phyllis Nagy’s Call Jane stands at 92% on Rotten Tomatoes. Focused on the real life Jane Collective from the 1960s (a group of women who fought for reproductive rights prior to Roe v Wade), Elizabeth Banks stars alongside Sigourney Weaver, Kate Mara, and Chris Messina.

While its rating is high, most reviews so far are in the three star range. Nagy makes her feature film debut after drawing acclaim for her Carol screenplay in 2015. Banks’s lead performance is drawing solid notices but it’s the supporting work from Weaver garnering a bit of buzz. Despite appearing in a whole lot of high profile pics over the decades, she hasn’t been nominated for an Oscar since 1988. She was actually up twice that year – in lead for Gorillas in the Mist and supporting for Working Girl. Her first nod came two years prior for Aliens. She’s never won.

A campaign for Weaver could be Jane‘s only real shot at awards recognition a year from now. Time will tell and my Oscar Prediction posts will continue…

Ghostbusters: Afterlife Review

The original Ghostbusters, lest we forget, was filled with ribald humor coming from SNL vets that were in the prime of their careers. Overloading the reboot/sequel Afterlife with gooey family drama feels, in many ways, as misplaced as the missteps that 2016’s version took or that 1989’s traditional follow-up was a fairly weak retread of the first. This franchise hasn’t succeeded in their attempts to capitalize on what made 1984’s pic special and that extends to this.

It’s not for a lack of trying as the 2021 iteration goes to extreme lengths to get our nostalgia radars working into overdrive. Jason Reitman takes over directorial duties from his father Ivan, who made the 80s blockbusters. There’s not a piece of attire or Twinkie or demonic marshmallow from 1984 that isn’t placed with the clear purpose of inspiring wild cheers. Sometimes you wanna go where everybody knows the name of every nearly four decade old artifact, vehicle or gadget. In this Afterlife, it more often feels forced than welcome.

We shift from the Big Apple to the sleepy town of Summerville, Oklahoma. Egon Spangler, Harold Ramis’s nerdy scientist from the OG ‘Busters, has relocated to a dilapidated farmhouse and cut off contact with his family and former colleagues. His demise in the prologue causes his heirs to inhabit the dusty domicile. This includes down on her luck daughter Callie (Carrie Coon) and her two kids. Since I think it’s now contactually necessary for Stranger Things players to participate in these reboots, Finn Wolfhard is her teenage son Trevor. Mckenna Grace is the real lead as 12-year-old daughter Phoebe, who resembles her granddad in looks and interests. An outcast at school, she bonds with fellow geek Podcast (Logan Kim) and her summer school teacher Mr. Grooberson (Paul Rudd).

Trevor and Phoebe are completely unaware that Egon was a Ghostbuster (we’ll just go with that I suppose). Paranormal activities start revealing his life’s work including Phoebe’s ongoing chess game with an unseen spirit. The iconic car (yay!) is stored on the property. Of course, the late Egon was in Summerville for a reason and it has to do with familiar haunters from ’84 and preventing them from returning.

This all leads to familiar heroic faces eventually turning up (though not with significant screen time). With their limited participation, the question is whether the new and much younger generation of spirit crushers is compelling enough to warrant a feature. I didn’t think so, but there are some positives. Grace’s performance is terrific (while Wolfhard and his budding romance with his bellhop coworker Celeste O’Connor adds little). Rudd’s considerable talents (he takes a liking to Callie) add a bit of fun. The sight of Bill Murray randomly turning up anywhere is good for a smile (though not much more here than reading about how he does so in real life).

However, the tone in general struck me as off. It’s hard not to be touched by its tribute to the late Harold Ramis (a man responsible for so many laughs in landmark comedies of the past). I felt the sentiment because of that and not the absence of Egon. Afterlife seems trapped in the notion that our emotional connections to these characters run deeper than they do. Like many reboots nowadays, the mere presence of something old is meant to provide the requisite entertainment value. It made me feel mostly dispirited.

** (out of four)

Ghostbusters: Afterlife Box Office Prediction

It’s in with the old and in with the new as Ghostbusters: Afterlife debuts in theaters November 19th. This was originally scheduled to haunt multiplexes in the summer of 2020 before numerous COVID delays. Jason Reitman directs and there’s some family legacy involved as dad Ivan made parts I and II in 1984 and 1989. Newcomers to the series include Carrie Coon, Finn Wolfhard, Mckenna Grace, Tracy Letts, and Paul Rudd (not to mention Stay Puft Marshmallow Minis according to the trailer). Returnees from the 80s are Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Ernie Hudson, Annie Potts, and Sigourney Weaver.

If rebooting this franchise sounds familiar – that’s because it happened five years ago to middling results. The Paul Feig helmed remake led by Melissa McCarthy and Kristin Wiig took in $46 million on its opening weekend but fizzled quickly due to so-so reviews and audience reaction. It also featured the OG Busters making cameos. This new iteration serves as a direct sequel to the first two.

Some estimates have Afterlife beginning at $50 million or above. That’s certainly doable, but I’m not so sure. While it’s obviously a well-known property and the ’84 original is rightly considered a classic, both follow-ups have been letdowns. The 71% Rotten Tomatoes score is OK, but its actually below the 74% that greeted the ballyhooed 2016 pic.

I’m projecting that this makes it to $35-$40 million and doesn’t get to the number we saw just a half decade back.

Ghostbusters: Afterlife opening weekend prediction: $38.1 million

For my King Richard prediction, click here:

King Richard Box Office Prediction

Oscar Predictions – Ghostbusters: Afterlife

The attendees of New York Comic Con were treated to a surprise this weekend with a screening of Ghostbusters: Afterlife. The fourth film in the franchise that famously began in 1984 serves as a direct continuation to the original and its 1989 follow-up. It’s all about family with Jason Reitman as director (his father Ivan made those first two). Carrie Coon, Finn Wolfhard, Mckenna Grace, Logan Kim, and Paul Rudd join the bustin’ action with series stalwarts Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Ernie Hudson, Annie Potts, and Sigourney Weaver making appearances. Afterlife is finally coming to life after numerous COVID delays with a November 19th stateside release.

Early reviews indicate a long gestating sequel has extreme reverence for its past. Some critics claim it might be a bit too nostalgic, but reaction is overwhelmingly pleasing with a current Rotten Tomatoes score of 91% (based on 11 reviews).

The original classic 37 years ago managed 2 Oscar nominations. They’re what you would expect: Best Original Song for that addictive title track by Ray Parker Jr. and Visual Effects (it lost to Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom). Also as you might expect, Ghostbusters II and the ballyhooed 2016 Paul Feig reboot with Melissa McCarthy and Kristin Wiig achieved zero awards attention. I would anticipate the same for this despite the kudos. Visual Effects is a remote possibility, but there’s a slew of contenders more likely (Dune, The Matrix Resurrections, Eternals to name just some).

My Oscar Prediction posts for the films of 2021 will continue…

Oscar Predictions: The Good House

The Good House, from directors Maya Forbes and Wally Wolodarsky, has premiered in Toronto and it marks the third cinematic pairing of Sigourney Weaver and Kevin Kline. The two starred in the 1993 political comedy Dave and Ang Lee’s 1997 acclaimed drama The Ice Storm. 

House combines both genres and initial reviews specifically praise Weaver’s work. The three time Oscar nominee received all her nods in the 1980s with Aliens, Working Girl, and Gorillas in the Mist. A consistent fixture in leading and supporting roles for over 40 years, she could be a part away from more serious awards consideration.

I doubt The Good House lays the foundation for that. Best Actress simply looks too crowded for that occur despite the critical appreciation. My Oscar Prediction posts for the films of 2021 will continue…

Shoulda Been Oscar Contenders: Linda Hamilton in Terminator 2: Judgment Day

My latest Shoulda Been Oscar Contender is an appropriate one for Mother’s Day. This particular mama went to great lengths to protect her son since, ya know, he was charged with saving the universe decades later from annihilation. She even got herself thrown in a mental hospital because of her heroic efforts.

I’m speaking of Linda Hamilton as Sarah Connor in James Cameron’s Terminator 2: Judgment Day. Reprising her role from the 1984 classic, Hamilton stepped up her game in the 1991 sequel alongside Arnold Schwarzenegger and Edward Furlong as her future Earth saving teen.

Terminator 2 was a game changer itself when it came to special effects and action. It resulted in six Oscar nominations, including victories for Makeup, Sound, Sound Effects Editing, and (of course) Visual Effects. Yet nods in the biggest categories were elusive. 1991 was a strong year in Best Actress with Jodie Foster winning for The Silence of the Lambs over the sturdy competition of Geena Davis and Susan Sarandon for Thelma & Louise and Laura Dern in Rambling Rose. 

However, Hamilton’s strong (and not just her biceps) performance could have easily gotten the fifth slot over Bette Midler in For the Boys. MTV recognized her work and she won Best Actress at their ceremony. And while the Academy isn’t known to honor performances in action flicks, they had deservedly done so just five years earlier for Sigourney Weaver in another heralded genre sequel Aliens (also directed by Cameron).

They missed a good opportunity to do the same here. Lastly, while not every mother is charged with keeping their kid alive to avoid planetary destruction, the great ones sure make us all feel like they do. Happy Mother’s Day to all of them!

Daily Streaming Guide: March 23rd Edition

Today’s Daily Streaming Guide brings us a must watch for horror fans who like a little comedy and irreverence spliced in!

2012’s The Cabin in the Woods is streaming on Hulu. What begins as a seemingly run-of-the-mill scary pic about college students being terrorized in a cabin takes all kinds of unexpected and often humorous turns. The film is cowritten by Joss Whedon and a month after its release, he struck box office gold with the first Avengers. This is directed by his colleague Drew Goddard (making his debut) with a cast includes Thor himself Chris Hemsworth, Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford doing sublime work, and genre legend Sigourney Weaver in a small yet pivotal role.

Cabin wasn’t a big hit at the multiplexes, but it’s deservedly achieved cult status since. I find it to be one of the wildly entertaining flicks of its kind in recent times.

That’s all for now, folks! Until next time…

Same Year Double Oscar Nominees: A History

It’s a rare occurrence at the Oscars and it hasn’t happened in over a decade – one actor being nominated in the same year in the lead and supporting categories. To be precise, this has occurred 11 times in the 91 year history of the Academy. Eight women, three men. And if you think this rare honor might lessen the chances of the performer winning, seven of them did. The first four of them emerged victorious for their supporting roles. The last three won for lead.

One of them gets an asterisk and a rather fascinating one for awards trivia buffs. In 1944, Barry Fitzgerald was a double nominee for the same movie! That would be Going My Way. He won for Supporting Actor, but lost out to Bing Crosby in lead. What did Bing win for? Going My Way. After that, the Academy changed their rules so that could never happen again and we didn’t even see another double year individual until almost 40 years later.

That brings us into the modern era when Jessica Lange took gold in Supporting Actress for Tootsie. She came up empty handed in lead for Frances, losing to Meryl Streep (Sophie’s Choice). Somewhat surprisingly, Streep is not one of the 11 designees despite her record setting amount of nods.

1992 saw Al Pacino finally win a statue for his lead part in Scent of a Woman and he was also nominated for Glengarry Glen Ross. The following year, Holly Hunter won for The Piano and got a supporting nod in The Firm. And our last double year winner was Jamie Foxx in 2004 for Ray with supporting recognition for Collateral. Cate Blanchett is currently the last performer with this rare honor. She heard her name called in 2007 for Elizabeth: The Golden Age (lead) and I’m Not There (supporting). She’s won two Oscars, but not that year, despite the double play.

So why write about this now? In 2019, there are two legitimate possibilities for inclusion to this short list. And both of them have decent shots at winning one of the categories. Let’s start with Scarlett Johansson. She’s somehow never been nominated for an Oscar. And with Marriage Story, it seems that streak is going to end. That would fall under lead and she is a contender to win. Yet she could also find herself in the mix in supporting for Jojo Rabbit.

And how about Brad Pitt… who’s been nominated but never won? He’s already achieving front runner status in Supporting Actor for Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. Could his momentum also propel him to a lead actor nod in Ad Astra? Unlikely perhaps, but it’s feasible.

There are plenty of Oscar years where this double nomination thing isn’t even a realistic proposition. 2019 is a different story.

Here’s the full list of the double nominees:

1938:

Fay Bainter: Actress (White Banners), Supporting Actress (Jezebel – WON)

1942

Teresa Wright: Actress (The Pride of the Yankees), Supporting Actress (Mrs. Miniver – WON)

1944

Barry Fitzgerald: Actor (Going My Way), Supporting Actor (Going My Way – WON)

1982

Jessica Lange: Actress (Frances), Supporting Actress (Tootsie – WON)

1988

Sigourney Weaver: Actress (Gorillas in the Mist), Supporting Actress (Working Girl)

1992

Al Pacino: Actor (Scent of a Woman – WON), Supporting Actor (Glengarry Glen Ross)

1993

Holly Hunter: Actress (The Piano – WON), Supporting Actress (The Firm)

1993

Emma Thompson: Actress (The Remains of the Day), Supporting Actress (In the Name of the Father)

2002

Julianne Moore: Actress (Far From Heaven), Supporting Actress (The Hours)

2004

Jamie Foxx: Actor (Ray – WON), Supporting Actor (Collateral)

2007

Cate Blanchett: Actress (Elizabeth: The Golden Age), Supporting Actress (I’m Not There)

Best Year’s Ever

As one year turns to the next in short order, it got me thinking. What are some examples of actors and directors who had remarkable calendar frames over the past few decades? The guidelines are pretty simple – the individual must have had two (and in a couple of cases, three or more) pictures that made an impact during 19(fill in the blank) or 20(fill in the blank).

And wouldn’t you know it? My ruminations quickly turned into a lengthy list that I’ve paired down to a top 25. Let’s call this Best Year’s Ever and count down from #25 to #1!

25. Channing Tatum (2012)

It was a busy year for the performer to say the least. Tatum was in Steven Soderbergh’s Haywire, but three major roles made him the star he is today. There was the hit romance The Vow, hit comedy 21 Jump Street, and his signature and semi-autobiographical title role in the summer sleeper Magic Mike (also from Mr. Soderbergh).

24. John Travolta (1996)

Two years following his major comeback in Pulp Fiction and a year following his Golden Globe nominated lead in Get Shorty, Travolta’s hot streak continued with three hits: John Woo’s action thriller Broken Arrow and fantasy dramas Phenomenon and Michael.

23. Clint Eastwood (1971)

The last two months of 1971 were fruitful for the legend. In November, he made his directorial debut with the well-reviewed psychological thriller Play Misty for Me. This began a career of dozens of behind the camera works, including Best Picture winners Unforgiven and Million Dollar Baby. In December, Eastwood starred as Dirty Harry which spawned his lucky cop franchise.

22. Sigourney Weaver (1988)

Weaver won two Golden Globes 30 years ago – Best Actress (Drama) for Gorillas in the Mist and Supporting Actress for Working Girl. She would be nominated for two Oscars as well, but come up short. All part of a remarkable decade that included Ghostbusters and Aliens.

21. Joe Pesci (1990)

Pesci won an Oscar for his unforgettable supporting work in Martin Scorsese’s GoodFellas. That same fall, he was a burglar terrorizing Macaulay Culkin in the holiday classic Home Alone.

20. Kevin Spacey (1995)

Current scandals aside, there’s no denying Spacey was the movie villain of 1995. He won an Academy Award as (spoiler alert!) Keyser Soze in The Usual Suspects and as a demented serial killer in Seven. Earlier in the year, he costarred with Dustin Hoffman and Morgan Freeman in  Outbreak and headlined the critically approved indie comedy Swimming with Sharks.

19. Nicolas Cage (1997)

Leaving Las Vegas awarded Cage his Oscar two years prior. By the summer of 1997, he was a full-fledged action hero with two blockbusters in the same month: Con Air and Face/Off.

18. Will Ferrell (2003)

Ferrell’s transformation from SNL favorite to movie star happened here with the spring’s Old School as Frank the Tank and in the winter as Buddy in Elf.

17. Morgan Freeman (1989)

The nation’s Narrator-in-Chief had a trio of significant roles nearly three decades ago – his Oscar nominated chauffeur in the Best Picture winner Driving Miss Daisy, a dedicated and stern principal in Lean on Me, and a Civil War officer in Glory.

16. Steven Soderbergh (2000)

The prolific filmmaker made two Best Picture nominees with Erin Brockovich and Traffic (he would win Best Director for the latter). Both surpassed the century mark at the box office and Julia Roberts won Best Actress for Brockovich and Benicio del Toro took Supporting Actor in Traffic.

15. Halle Berry (2001)

Ms. Berry had a revealing role in the summer action fest Swordfish. She then became the first (and thus far only) African-American to win Best Actress for Monster’s Ball. This was all sandwiched between XMen hits.

14. Hugh Jackman (2017)

Berry’s XMen cast mate Jackman retired his Wolverine character to critical and audience admiration with Logan in the spring. At the end of the year, his musical The Greatest Showman was an unexpected smash.

13. Leonardo DiCaprio (2002)

Five years after Titanic, the jury was still out as to whether DiCaprio’s leading man status would hold up. His roles in Martin Scorsese’s Gangs of New York and Steven Spielberg’s Catch Me If You Can left little doubt. He’s been one of Hollywood’s most dependable stars since.

12. Francis Ford Coppola (1974)

In 1972, Coppola made perhaps the greatest American film of all time with The Godfather. Two years later, its sequel came with enormous expectations and exceeded them. Like part one, it won Best Picture. As if that weren’t enough, he made another Picture nominee in ‘74 with the Gene Hackman surveillance thriller The Conversation.

11. Michael Douglas (1987)

His signature role as greedy tycoon Gordon Gekko in Oliver Stone’s Wall Street won him an Oscar and gave him one of the most famous cinematic speeches ever. He also lit up the screen in the blockbuster thriller Fatal Attraction, which was the year’s second largest grosser.

10. Julia Roberts (1999)

She started the decade with a smash star making turn in Pretty Woman. Julia Roberts ended it with two romantic comedy summer $100 million plus earners: Notting Hill with Hugh Grant and Runaway Bride (which reunited her with Pretty costar Richard Gere). She’d win her Oscar the next year for Erin Brockovich.

9. Tom Cruise (1996)

1986 wasn’t too shabby either with Top Gun and The Color of Money. Yet it’s a decade later that serves as Cruise’s year with the franchise starter Mission: Impossible in the summer and Cameron Crowe’s Jerry Maguire, which earned Cruise a Golden Globe award and an Oscar nod. They were the third and fourth biggest hits of the year, respectively.

8. Sandra Bullock (2013)

Nearly two decades after her breakout role in Speed, Bullock had a banner 2013 alongside Melissa McCarthy in the summer comedy The Heat and her Oscar nominated turn as a stranded astronaut in the fall’s Gravity.

7. Sylvester Stallone (1985)

Sly was the undisputed champion of the box office (not to mention sequels and Roman numerals) in 1985, notching the second and third top hits of the year behind Back to the Future. They were for his two signature characters with Rambo: First Blood Part II and Rocky IV.

6. Robert Downey Jr. (2008)

A decade after all the wrong kind of headlines for his drug addiction, Downey Jr. pulled off perhaps the most impressive comeback in movie history. 2008 saw him as Tony Stark in Iron Man, the film that kicked off the MCU in grand fashion. Later that summer came Ben Stiller’s Tropic Thunder, which earned Downey a rare Oscar nod for a comedic performance.

5. Tom Hanks (1993)

There’s more than one year to consider for Hanks… 1995 (Apollo 13, Toy Story) comes to mind. Yet 1993 saw him with Meg Ryan in the now classic Sleepless in Seattle and winning an Oscar in Philadelphia as a lawyer diagnosed with AIDS. His status as a romantic and dramatic lead was solidified in a matter of months. A consecutive Academy Award followed in 1994 for Forrest Gump.

4. Mel Brooks (1974)

The director managed to make two of the most beloved comedies of all time in one year… Blazing Saddles and Young Frankenstein. The two features combined contain some of the funniest scenes ever filmed.

3. Jennifer Lawrence (2012)

Already an Oscar nominee two years prior for Winter’s Bone, Lawrence’s road to superstardom was paved in 2012. In March came The Hunger Games, the year’s third top earner that spawned three sequels. In December came Silver Linings Playbook, where she won Best Actress.

2. Jim Carrey (1994)

In 1993, Carrey was known as a great cast member of Fox’s groundbreaking sketch show “In Living Color”. By the end of 1994, he was the most bankable comedic star in America as Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, The Mask, and Dumb and Dumber all hit screens.

1. Steven Spielberg (1993)

In a list filled with lots of choices, the #1 selection was rather easy. The highest grossing filmmaker of all time’s 1993 was astonishing. Dino tale Jurassic Park in the summer was a marvel technical achievement that began a franchise. At the time of its release, it became the largest grosser in history with the top opening weekend yet seen. Six months later, Holocaust epic Schindler’s List won seven Academy Awards (including Picture and for Spielberg’s direction).

I hope your New Year is your best yet, readers! Have a happy one…

Alien: Covenant Movie Review

Ridley Scott is now nearly 40 years into his Alien franchise which started with his 1979 classic and preceded Alien: Covenant with the often confounding Prometheus from 2012. Scott has now made half of the six series entries. In many ways, this latest one is the least effective of all. It’s not bad and I’d say none of them have been (middling, yes). Covenant, however, lies in a strange place. The dark visual splendor and occasional jump horror scares are present at times. Memorable characters are not and that’s different than when we were rolling with Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) and others. The film is indeed a sequel to Prometheus, which was more of an existential exercise about where we come from and not a traditional xenomorph flick. Covenant wants to cover that territory, as well as bringing H.R. Geiger’s famed creature more in the frame.

There’s another crew in deep space and they’re on a colonization mission occurring a decade after the events of Prometheus. The membership of this crew (the Covenant) differs from previous ones in that they’re married couples. When a malfunction on the ship wakes them from their long slumber, they must deal with that quickly. A longer term problem is an unexpected xenomorph presence onboard which soon causes a growing widow population.

Katherine Waterston is Daniels and she’s basically new Ripley, but not as interesting. Danny McBride brings a little gravitas to the party as Tennessee, the ship’s pilot. Billy Crudup is the anointed captain. Yet it’s a Prometheus holdover that gets the most attention. Michael Fassbender is back as David, the android who stood out in the predecessor. When the crew must land on a planet they weren’t supposed to, they find him. Finding out what he’s been up to since the end of Prometheus takes up plenty of screen time. Fassbender doubles his time as he also plays Walter, a newer model droid that part of the Covenant crew. Their dynamic is somewhat intriguing in moments, but I never got over one big issue. I simply wasn’t begging for the unanswered Prometheus questions to be filled in, as that picture didn’t ultimately warrant the curiosity.

The talented Mr. Ridley never struggles to master production design and visuals. True here. And he strives to bring the gory action that we previously expected from this franchise. It’s here, but the mayhem is inflicted upon characters we won’t remember for long and with a xenomorph who’s popped out of better written people before.

** (out of four)