Oscar Watch: The Report

The Sundance Film Festival is in full swing this weekend and feature films and documentaries are premiering that could factor into the Oscar race a year from now. One such effort is The Report, a true life political drama from director Scott Z. Burns. He’s best known as a screenwriter as he penned The Bourne Ultimatum and Steven Soderbergh’s pics The Informant!, Contagion, and Side Effects.

Adam Driver (currently nominated in Supporting Actor for BlacKkKlansman) stars as a Senate staffer investigating the CIA’s Detention and Interrogation Program. Annette Bening plays one of his superiors, U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein. Others in the cast include Jon Hamm, Jennifer Morrison, Tim Blake Nelson, Maura Tierney, Ted Levine, and Corey Stoll.

Early reviews are positive and suggest it’s a throwback to 1970s movies with a message. Driver and Bening are both enjoying kudos for their work. What’s currently unknown is whether this will register with audiences. Political works based on real and touchy events can often have a difficult time at the box office.

If The Report manages to become as high-profile as its subject matter, it might be worth keeping an eye on for awards consideration, especially for Driver and Bening. My Oscar Watch posts will continue…

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom Movie Review

The central theme of the Jurassic franchise is whether the scientific re-creation of dinosaurs for profit is enough reason to justify their existence. Of course, the real reason these movies exist is so we can gaze upon glorious CG creatures that took our breath away 25 years ago in Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic Park. Three years ago, Colin Trevorrow gave us Jurassic World. It did just enough to tap into our nostalgia for the original while keeping another central theme prominent in all series entries – the humans are less interesting than their prehistoric counterparts.

In the inevitable sequel Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, we have a newer problem in that the dinosaurs are becoming increasingly less fascinating. When we left that theme park in 2015, it was in tatters due to the havoc wrought by its main attractions. We’re informed that the dinos still roam the deserted Isla Nublar and there’s a political debate as to what to do with them. That conversation is accelerated as a volcano is about to erupt on the island and incinerate everything. As audience members, let’s just choose to forget that even if the park had become successful and free of T-Rex breakouts, it would’ve only existed for three years because of that volcano. We don’t watch Jurassic pics for logic, after all.

The impending meltdown gets the attention of Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard), the park’s former operations manager, who’s now an advocate for the dinosaurs survival. Her nephews from Jurassic World aren’t seen or mentioned. Perhaps they were smart enough to want nothing to do with all this. She’s recruited by Ben Lockwood (James Cromwell), the ailing former partner of the late John Hammond, to gather up Isla Nublar’s famous residents. Claire recruits her ex-flame and dino whisperer Owen (Chris Pratt) to join her, along with a ragtag group of assistants and military types led by mercenary and hunter Ted Levine. It turns out Lockwood’s assistant (Rafe Spall, a rather bland villain) might have conjured up other ideas for the creatures true purposes. Oh and Lockwood has a granddaughter Maisie (Isabella Sermon). Kids in Jurassic flicks are mandatory. She’s got a spotty British accent and an eventual revelation about her character that is downright bonkers.

Our return to Jurassic World does allow for a couple imaginative action sequences that are well choreographed and filmed by franchise newcomer J.A. Bayona (Trevorrow isn’t behind the camera but has co-writing credit). In the second half, the pic moves to a more insulated setting. This section is less satisfying. While Bayona and company get a wee bit of credit for trying something different, the execution falters.

That’s the real issue here. 25 summers ago, the visuals of Jurassic Park were brand new and stunning. The technology, while still state of the art, isn’t fresh anymore. Human characters here aren’t compelling either. The dynamic between Pratt and Howard is as dull as before. Jeff Goldblum turns up as Dr. Malcolm for the first time since 1997’s The Lost World, but his presence is brief and forgettable. What wowed us a quarter century ago is now a listless undertaking occasionally punctuated by genuine excitement. Put another way, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom has a tough time justifying its existence.

** (out of four)

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom Box Office Prediction

Blogger’s Note (06/15): I am revising my prediction down from $155.4 million to $140.4 million

Arriving three years after its predecessor set a series of box office records, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom looks to flex its dino might next weekend. The fifth picture in the massive franchise that just turned 25 years old, Kingdom is the sequel to Jurassic World and brings back Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard, and Jeff Goldblum (for the first time since 1997’s The Lost World). New cast members include Rafe Spall, Justice Smith, Daniella Pineda, James Cromwell, Toby Jones, and Ted Levine. J.A. Bayona takes over directorial duties from Colin Trevorrow.

The history of this franchise setting opening weekend milestones is significant. Steven Spielberg’s original in 1993 had the largest debut ever at $47 million a quarter century ago. The Lost World would achieve the same honor four years later with $72 million. And, of course, Jurassic World stunned prognosticators in 2015 with $208 million out of the gate, which stood as the greatest premiere until Star Wars: The Force Awakens topped it six months later.

Fallen Kingdom will not and is not expected to break records. Jurassic World seemed to have its stars aligned for a spectacular opening. It had been nearly a decade and a half since the previous installment and the nostalgia factor was off the charts. Mostly positive reviews didn’t hurt and Mr. Pratt was coming off a star making role in Guardians of the Galaxy.

Critical reaction is mixed. The sequel currently sits at 59% on Rotten Tomatoes (World got to 71%). The film is already out in a number of foreign markets and it earned $151 million worldwide over the weekend (a bit above expectations).

The stateside tracking for Kingdom is between $130-$150 million. My general feeling is that this franchise has continually exceeded expectations and may do so here, albeit not by much. Jurassic World was a phenomenon while this is looked at as another summer sequel. It just happens to be one with a huge fan base who love returning to see these CG creatures.

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom opening weekend prediction: $140.4 million

Bleed for This Box Office Prediction

We’ve seen a number of films about the sweet science over the past few years and another one hits theaters next weekend as Bleed for This debuts. The true story tells the tale of pugilist Vinny Pazienza (Miles Teller), who looks to return to the ring after a debilitating accident. Ben Younger, who directed 2000’s well-regarded Boiler Room, followed it up with the less regarded Uma Thurman/Meryl Streep rom com Prime, and hadn’t made a movie since – is behind the camera. Costars include Aaron Eckhart, Ciaran Hinds, Katey Sagal, and Ted Levine.

Bleed debuted at the Telluride Film Festival in September to generally positive reaction. It’s at 77% currently on Rotten Tomatoes. The boxing genre has seen some successes this decade with titles such as The Fighter and Creed. On the other hand, Southpaw and especially August’s Hands of Stone struggled.

This one could face an uphill battle. Luckily for its studio, it comes with a light $6 million budget so a knockout gross isn’t really required. I anticipate a middle single digits start.

Bleed for This opening weekend prediction: $5.8 million

For my Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2016/11/09/fantastic-beasts-and-where-to-find-them-box-office-prediction/

For my Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2016/11/09/billy-lynns-long-halftime-walk-box-office-prediction/

For my The Edge of Seventeen prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2016/11/09/the-edge-of-seventeen-box-office-prediction/

Oscar Watch: Bleed for This

The Telluride Film Festival is happening this weekend and that means a slew of autumn Academy hopefuls are getting their first exposure. My Oscar Watch series continues with Ben Younger’s Bleed for This. This is the true life tale of boxer Vinny Paz (Miles Teller), who defied all odds to make it back to the ring after breaking his neck.

Movies focused on the sweet science have had a history with Oscar voters. 1976’s Rocky came out of nowhere to punch out all competitors. 2004’s Million Dollar Baby also won Picture, as did its director (Clint Eastwood), Actress (Hilary Swank), and Supporting Actor (Morgan Freeman). 1980’s Raging Bull and 2010’s The Fighter received multiple nods. Just last year, Sylvester Stallone was nominated once again as Mr. Balboa in Creed.

As for the film in question, Bleed for This has received mostly positive notices thus far. However, some have mentioned it borrows plenty of cliches (some from the aforementioned films). It doesn’t appear to be a genuine threat in Picture or Director. Mr. Teller missed out on a nod with 2014’s Whiplash as all attention went to his costar J.K. Simmons in Supporting. The lead actor race looks lighter than usual on paper this year, but he still could face an uphill battle for inclusion. Aaron Eckhart is said to give strong work as his trainer here and he may stand the best chance at recognition (though I’m not currently putting him in).

The Oscar Watch will roll on as further hopefuls are unveiled.

 

Big Game Movie Review

“Say cheese” is the final line of Jelmari Helander’s Big Game and it’s an appropriate one because this Finnish director knows he’s paying homage to 80s/90s style PG-13 adventure in a tongue and cheek way. The result is a fast paced experience that doesn’t always transcend the cliches of the kind of pics it admires, but has some fun moments along the way.

The concept is of the highest order. The President of the United States Bill Moore (Samuel L. Jackson) is aboard Air Force One flying over Finland (though it was filmed in Germany) when it’s shot down by terrorists. The POTUS gets out through an escape pod, landing in the wilderness. Lucky for him, young Oskari (Onni Tommila) is on a hunting trip in the barren land. He’s about to turn 13 and it’s tradition in his family to show their manhood by bagging a bear or deer… or in this case, corrupt Secret Service agents and Middle Eastern looking baddies. The two team up to outrun their hunters, led by Ray Stevenson’s head agent gone rogue (think James Woods in White House Down). We also see the confusion happening in Washington D.C. as the VP (Victor Garber), an expert CIA man (Jim Broadbent, having a good time), and others including Felicity Huffman and Ted Levine try to save their leader.

Somewhat surprisingly, Helander’s screenplay doesn’t turn President Moore into a secret ass kicker like this material frequently does (think ID4’s Bill Pullman or Air Force One’s Harrison Ford). He’s a bit of a weakling (his approval rating is apparently upside down as well) and young Oskari is also trying to live up to his father’s legendary huntsman status. Moore’s survival skills are questionable as is his teenage companion’s bow and arrow abilities. In a role where one might think Jackson would overact, he gives an often tender performance, when he’s not trying to work a machine gun.

Action sequences are certainly not of the huge budget order, but they’re passable enough. The villains are pretty dull and non descript. For a quick fix of playful and knowingly ridiculous entertainment, Big Game isn’t bad even if its concept can’t completely sustain itself through the Finnish line. What I came away thinking the most is that director Helander could be a natural choice to helm a throwback genre that’s been rebooted or is currently producing sequels. With his clear admiration of the time period, he might do something worthwhile with Jurassic dinos or Goonies.

**1/2 (out of four)