Ma Movie Review

The more I thought about it, Ma shares a bit in common with Tate Taylor’s predecessor  The Girl on the Train in positive and negative ways. They’re both headlined by impressive female performers – Emily Blunt in Train and Octavia Spencer here. And both are hindered by serious messaging tones in a genre that should celebrate its own trashiness. That problem is less pronounced in Ma, but it rears its head enough to make an impact.

The opening finds high school student Maggie (Diana Silvers, recently seen as an object of Kaitlyn Dever’s affection in Booksmart) transplanted to a sleepy small town. Her single mom (Juliette Lewis) is frequently off working at a casino. There’s nothing much to do except find fields to guzzle beer and smoke weed. Maggie finds some friends, including the dreamy Andy (Corey Fogelmanis) and party monster Haley (McKaley Miller). There’s a couple underwritten others who fit various stereotypes. The group needs town elders to buy them the booze and that’s where Spencer’s Sue Ann comes in.

She’s a veterinary technician who’s quite bad at her job. Her boss is played in a small role by Allison Janney, a staple of Taylor’s filmography. Luckily for the kids, she’s skilled at buying their intoxicants. Sue Ann, deemed Ma by the youngsters, befriends them and allows her basement to be the drinking spot. It doesn’t take long for Maggie and company to realize she’s a little too creepily eager to play a part in their lives.

Ma works best early when the motives of Ma are unclear. Her fascination with Andy, her zeal for bumping 70s funk hits amongst a swarm of underage students, and her endless texts and Insta videos to her new buddies set up an effective and pending sense of doom. Without going into serious spoiler territory, Ma’s bizarre behavior is based in her own upbringing and it’s told in flashback sequences. This is where explanatory content didn’t feel totally necessary. The screenplay by Scotty Landes rather clumsily attempts to insert commentary on bullying and harassment. It’s a delicate balance that never quite levels out.

Spencer is great as always and it is fun (again, especially early) to see her play against type. We also have Luke Evans as Andy’s smarmy father who plays a key role in Sue Ann’s past and Missi Pyle as his tawdry girlfriend. Despite some freaky moments, Ma is a mixed bag as we watch this girl on the crazy train go off the rails.

**1/2 (out of four)

Ma Box Office Prediction

Blumhouse Productions continues its output of ultra low-budget horror pics that could see impressive returns next weekend with the release of Ma. Made for a tiny reported budget of $5 million, Oscar winner Octavia Spencer is cast as a homicidal veterinary aide terrorizing a group of teens. Ma reunites its star with her director from The Help, Tate Taylor (whose last effort was The Girl on the Train). Costars include Juliette Lewis, Diana Silvers, Luke Evans, McKaley Miller, and Missi Pyle.

The studio has been down this road before with blockbuster efforts like Get Out and Happy Death Day. I don’t expect Ma to reach their levels. While there’s no direct genre competition, Godzilla: King of the Monsters and Rocketman could divert eyeballs elsewhere. Yet this could certainly triple or quadruple its budget out of the gate with an African-American audience and a teenage crowd.

Ma opening weekend prediction: $17.2 million

For my Godzilla: King of the Monsters prediction, click here:

For my Rocketman prediction, click here:

2018: The Year of Emily Blunt

Emily Blunt has had a decade filled with acclaimed performances in high-profile features including Looper, Edge of Tomorrow, Sicario (she sat out its sequel this summer), and The Girl on the Train. In 2018, this rose to an even greater level with a pair of very different titles.

In April, Blunt headlined the horror pic of the year with A Quiet Place directed by her husband John Krasinski. Her role as an expectant mother trying to protect her unborn baby and other children from monsters drew critical raves. The film debuted to a stunning $50 million and took in $188 million domestically.

This month, she took on the iconic role made famous over 50 years ago by Julie Andrews in the Disney sequel Mary Poppins Returns. Reviews were mostly strong for it as well, especially for Blunt’s take on the British nanny. It, too, should leg out to a stateside gross approaching $200 million.

2019 is expected to be a quiet one for the actress while she’ll star alongside Dwayne Johnson in the summer of 2020 with the Mouse Factory’s Jungle Cruise. As for this year, it was anything but quiet for Ms. Blunt.

A Simple Favor Movie Review

Stephanie (Anna Kendrick) is the type of character who would be in the book club that reads something like A Simple Favor. Yet the cyclone level of twists in the story might only be thought up by someone like Emily (Blake Lively) after drinking too many of her patented mid afternoon dry martinis. Paul Feig’s satiric thriller is, alas, based on a novel by Darcey Bell that probably has been read in those clubs.

This takes the issues of female empowerment found in Gone Girl or The Girl on the Train (also from literary works) and casts a black comedic cloud over it. It occasionally risks collapsing under its sheer volume of plot turns. And somehow it rarely ceases to be a hoot with two dynamic lead performances.

We meet Stephanie on her daily vlog filled with cooking tips and child rearing tips. She’s a single mom whose husband died in a car accident along with her brother. Her instinct is to do it all, including hoarding over school parenting projects. She doesn’t blink when Emily, whose kid attends school with Stephanie’s, starts asking her to be an unpaid nanny. Emily has a hectic job as PR manager for a fashion designer, the already mentioned drinking problem, and has-been writer turned professor husband Sean (Henry Golding from summer smash Crazy Rich Asians). The two end up bonding with Stephanie deeming Emily her “best friend” (there’s a bracelet involved).

Then one day Emily vanishes and Stephanie’s daily posts become a darker (though always humorous) search for a missing person. Her protective nature draws her close to Sean, so much so that the authorities begin to question their motives. What follows is a relentless stream of genre clichés: insurance claims, alternate identities, unknown twins, and love triangles, just to name some. This is kitchen sink level stuff. It’s borderline exhausting, but you get the feeling that Feig and screenwriter Jessica Sharzer know it and are furiously winking. The director is known for his straight up comedies such as Bridesmaids, The Heat, and Spy. While this does venture into paperback adapted material, it does it with tongue in cheek planted wit. This is more in tone with 1998’s under appreciated Wild Things than something like Gone Girl.

Kendrick and Lively are the show here and their chemistry makes it work. Stephanie’s desperation for companionship is sold by Kendrick, who thinks she’s found someone special beyond her unseen blog watchers. She’s done so with Emily, whose back story is filled with too many secrets to keep track of (you will lose count). Lively has a ball revealing them. So do we once we realize keeping up with it all is secondary to its ridiculous and fun nature.

*** (out of four)

2018 SAG Awards Nominations Reaction

The SAG Awards were announced this morning and a couple of items are clear. First, the Screen Actors Guild nods handed us some genuine surprises. Second, this branch of thespians really love them some Emily Blunt!

I went 18/25 on my predictions and let’s break down each category with some thoughts and my first winner predictions (with final ones coming right before the January ceremony).

Best Ensemble Film

Nominees: A Star Is Born, Black Panther, BlacKkKlansman, Bohemian Rhapsody, Crazy Rich Asians

The nominations reflected yours truly going just 2/5 (ouch). And there were shockers. If Beale Street Could Talk, with its sprawling cast, being snubbed counts as one. I also figured The Favourite and Vice could get in. It was probably foolish to think A Star Is Born would be left out, even if its only a trifecta of actors getting the lions share of attention. BlacKkKlansman wasn’t too surprising, but the inclusion of Bohemian Rhapsody definitely is. It’s probably time to start talking about the real chance it gets a Best Picture nomination, despite many mediocre reviews. The only two I got right: Black Panther and Crazy Rich Asians. As I see it now, Star could win here. Yet I’m still going with SAG honoring a larger group of performers and I’ll go with an unprecedented MCU victory (for now).

Predicted Winner: Black Panther

Best Actor

Nominees: Christian Bale (Vice), Bradley Cooper (A Star Is Born), Rami Malek (Bohemian Rhapsody), Viggo Mortensen (Green Book), John David Washington (BlacKkKlansman)

Four out of five here with Ethan Hawke’s work in First Reformed and his momentum from critics group being interrupted. It’s John David Washington getting in for BlacKkKlansman instead. I had Ryan Gosling for First Man in as an alternate and it’s worth mentioning that the Neil Armstrong biopic received zero nominations.

Bale and Mortensen might have shots (and maybe even Malek), but Cooper has the edge.

Predicted Winner: Cooper

Best Actress

Nominees: Emily Blunt (Mary Poppins Returns), Glenn Close (The Wife), Olivia Colman (The Favourite), Lady Gaga (A Star Is Born), Melissa McCarthy (Can You Ever Forgive Me?)

Four for five. My upset pick of Toni Collette getting recognition for Hereditary didn’t pan out. Instead it was the aforementioned Ms. Blunt in with the rest of the expected nominees. Even with Actress having lots of options in 2018, this is beginning to look like the consensus Academy five. Like the Oscar race, I expect this to come down to Close v. Gaga.

Predicted Winner: Gaga

Best Supporting Actor

Nominees: Mahershala Ali (Green Book), Timothee Chalamet (Beautiful Boy), Adam Driver (BlacKkKlansman), Sam Elliot (A Star Is Born), Richard E. Grant (Can You Ever Forgive Me?)

Five for five. Like Actress, this is also looking to be the most probable group of Oscar nominees. And it’s a genuine three-way competition between Ali, Elliot, and Grant. You could flip a coin at the moment.

Predicted Winner: Ali

Best Supporting Actress

Nominees: Amy Adams (Vice), Emily Blunt (A Quiet Place), Margot Robbie (Mary Queen of Scots), Emma Stone (The Favourite), Rachel Weisz (The Favourite)

Three for five. The exclusion of Regina King in If Beale Street Could Talk (considered somewhat of an Oscar favorite) is totally unexpected. So is the inclusion of Blunt, who got an Actress nod and was a surprise nominee two years ago for The Girl on the Train. Claire Foy didn’t get in for First Man as Margot Robbie did (that could help her chances with the Academy). Honestly, I would have picked King to win had she been named here. I could see either of the Favourite ladies possibly winning, but I’ll go with Adams (who’s also nominated in the TV race for Sharp Objects). She could also win that and probably will.

Predicted Winner: Adams

And there you have it! Expect plenty more awards show and Oscar analysis in short order.

2016 SAG Awards Predictions

The final major awards ceremony before Oscar takes place tonight on TBS and TNT as the 23rd Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards airs. These awards and winners are voted by fellow thespians, so the races are a bit different in the sense that there’s no Best Picture per se. Instead it’s Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture and the five nominated pictures contains one rather glaring omission: La La Land, even though it’s the front runner at the Academy Awards.

We do have the other acting races we’re accustomed to, as well as Outstanding Performance by a Stunt Ensemble in a Motion Picture. Let’s break each category down one by one with my predicted winners for this evening.

Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture 

Nominees: Captain Fantastic, Fences, Hidden Figures, Manchester by the Sea, Moonlight

Predicted Winner: Moonlight

Analysis: The recipient here could solidify its status as Most Likely to Win Best Picture at the Oscars if La La doesn’t. I’ll predict the SAG voters give the edge to Barry Jenkins acclaimed drama over Kenneth Lonergan’s Manchester, just like the Globes did.

Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Leading Role

Nominees: Casey Affleck (Manchester by the Sea), Andrew Garfield (Hacksaw Ridge), Ryan Gosling (La La Land), Viggo Mortensen (Captain Fantastic), Denzel Washington (Fences)

Predicted Winner: Casey Affleck

Analysis: The five nominees match five for five with the Academy. Affleck has received the lions share of precursors thus far and I expect that to continue here. Washington is the only other possibility.

Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Leading Role

Nominees: Amy Adams (Arrival), Emily Blunt (The Girl on the Train), Natalie Portman (Jackie), Emma Stone (La La Land), Meryl Streep (Florence Foster Jenkins)

Predicted Winner: Natalie Portman

Analysis: Yes, I’m going for the minor upset here as Stone is the likely front runner. Only the two of them and Streep match the Oscar nods, as SAG honored Adams and Blunt instead of Isabelle Huppert (Elle) and Ruth Negga (Loving).

Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Supporting Role

Nominees: Mahershala Ali (Moonlight), Jeff Bridges (Hell or High Water), Hugh Grant (Florence Foster Jenkins), Lucas Hedges (Manchester by the Sea), Dev Patel (Lion)

Predicted Winner: Mahershala Ali

Analysis: A win by either Bridges or Patel wouldn’t surprise me, but Ali has picked up a lot of critics prizes. Aaron Taylor-Johnson, surprise Globe winner for Nocturnal Animals, isn’t present here.

Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Supporting Role

Nominees: Viola Davis (Fences), Naomie Harris (Moonlight), Nicole Kidman (Lion), Octavia Spencer (Hidden Figures), Michelle Williams (Manchester by the Sea)

Predicted Winner: Viola Davis

Analysis: Another exact match with Oscar and I expect the same result – a win for Ms. Davis. Anything else would be a surprise.

Outstanding Performance by a Stunt Ensemble in a Motion Picture

Nominees: Captain America: Civil War, Doctor Strange, Hacksaw Ridge, Jason Bourne, Nocturnal Animals

Predicted Winner: Hacksaw Ridge

Analysis: This is a tough one as either of the comic book flicks could win. Still, I’ll go with the only nominated Best Picture at the Oscars. By the way, why Nocturnal is present here baffles me.

And there you have it! Happy watching tonight…

Todd’s 2016 FINAL Oscar Predictions!

Well, here we are folks! After four months of (almost) weekly columns predicting the nominees and dozens of individualized Oscar Watch posts, the Academy Award nominations will be officially announced on Tuesday, January 24th around 8:30AM Eastern time. These are my final predictions. I’ve pontificated all year on who and what these nominees might be, so we’ll keep this simple. I’m listing my predicted nominees in each race as well as a first and second alternative. On Tuesday evening, I’ll have a post up recounting how I did.

Let’s get to it!

Best Picture



Hacksaw Ridge

Hell or High Water

Hidden Figures

La La Land


Manchester by the Sea


First Alternate: Nocturnal Animals

Second Alternate: Loving

Best Director

Damien Chazelle, La La Land

Garth Davis, Lion

Barry Jenkins, Moonlight

Kenneth Lonergan, Manchester by the Sea

Denis Villeneuve, Arrival

First Alternate: Martin Scorsese, Silence

Second Alternate: Mel Gibson, Hacksaw Ridge

Best Actor

Casey Affleck, Manchster by the Sea

Andrew Garfield, Hacksaw Ridge

Ryan Gosling, La La Land

Viggo Mortensen, Captain Fantastic

Denzel Washington, Fences

First Alternate: Jake Gyllenhaal, Nocturnal Animals

Second Alternate: Joel Edgerton, Loving

Best Actress

Amy Adams, Arrival

Isabelle Huppert, Elle

Natalie Portman, Jackie

Emma Stone, La La Land

Meryl Streep, Florence Foster Jenkins

First Alternate: Annette Bening, 20th Century Women

Second Alternate: Emily Blunt, The Girl on the Train

Best Supporting Actor

Mahershala Ali, Moonlight

Jeff Bridges, Hell or High Water

Lucas Hedges, Manchester by the Sea

Dev Patel, Lion

Michael Shannon, Nocturnal Animals

First Alternate: Hugh Grant, Florence Foster Jenkins

Second Alternate: Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Nocturnal Animals

Best Supporting Actress

Viola Davis, Fences

Naomie Harris, Moonlight

Nicole Kidman, Lion

Octavia Spencer, Hidden Figures

Michelle Williams, Manchester by the Sea

First Alternate: Greta Gerwig, 20th Century Women

Second Alternate: Janelle Monae, Hidden Figures

Best Adapted Screenplay





Nocturnal Animals

First Alternate: Hidden Figures

Second Alternate: Loving

Best Original Screenplay

Captain Fantastic

Hell or High Water

I, Daniel Blake

La La Land

Manchester by the Sea

First Alternate: The Lobster

Second Alternate: Toni Erdmann

Best Animated Feature

Finding Dory

Kubo and the Two Strings


My Life as a Zucchini


First Alternate: The Red Turtle

Second Alternate: The Little Prince

Best Documentary Feature


I Am Not Your Negro

Life, Animated

O.J.: Made in America


First Alternate: Gleason

Second Alternate: The Ivory Game

Best Foreign Language Film

The King’s Choice

Land of Mine

A Man Called Ove

The Salesman

Toni Erdmann

First Alternate: My Life as a Zucchini

Second Alternate: It’s Only the End of the World

Best Cinematography


La La Land


Nocturnal Animals


First Alternate: Lion

Second Alternate: Hacksaw Ridge

Best Costume Design


Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

Florence Foster Jenkins


La La Land

First Alternate: Silence

Second Alternate: Love & Friendship

Best Editing


Hacksaw Ridge

La La Land

Manchester by the Sea


First Alternate: Lion

Second Alternate: Hell or High Water

Best Makeup and Hairstyling


Florence Foster Jenkins

Star Trek Beyond

First Alternate: A Man Called Ove

Second Alternate: Suicide Squad

Best Original Score

Florence Foster Jenkins

La La Land



Nocturnal Animals

First Alternate: Jackie

Second Alternate: Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

Best Original Song

“Audition” from La La Land

“Can’t Stop the Feeling!” from Trolls

“City of Stars” from La La Land

“Drive It Like You Stole It” from Sing Street

“How Far I’ll Go” from Moana

First Alternate: “Runnin” from Hidden Figures

Second Alternate: “Faith” from Sing

Best Production Design



La La Land

Nocturnal Animals


First Alternate: Hacksaw Ridge

Second Alternate: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

Best Sound Editing


Deepwater Horizon

Hacksaw Ridge

La La Land

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

First Alternate: Sully

Second Alternate: The Jungle Book

Best Sound Mixing


Hacksaw Ridge

La La Land

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story


First Alternate: Deepwater Horizon

Second Alternate: Deadpool

Best Visual Effects


Doctor Strange

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

The Jungle Book

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

First Alternate: Deepwater Horizon

Second Alternate: The BFG

That gives yours truly the following nomination breakdown:

14 Nominations

La La Land

10 Nominations


8 Nominations


7 Nominations

Manchester by the Sea

6 Nominations


5 Nominations

Hacksaw Ridge, Nocturnal Animals

4 Nominations

Fences, Florence Foster Jenkins

3 Nominations

Hell or High Water, Jackie, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

2 Nominations

Hidden Figures, Captain Fantastic, Moana, Silence, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

1 Nomination

Elle, I, Daniel Blake, Finding Dory, Kubo and the Two Strings, My Life as a Zucchini, Zootopia, Cameraperson, I Am Not Your Negro, Life, Animated, O.J.: Made in America, 13th, The King’s Choice, Land of Mine, A Man Called Ove, The Salesman, Toni Erdmann, Allied, Deadpool, Star Trek Beyond, Trolls, Sing Street, Deepwater Horizon, Sully, Doctor Strange, The Jungle Book

And there you have it – my FINAL (yikes) Oscar predictions! Check back on Tuesday for the postmortem.