The Card Counter Review

For a filmmaker who always focuses on loners, it stands to reason that Paul Schrader’s newest picture is about playing cards. That’s not really what The Card Counter is ultimately about as the emotional damage inflicted upon the man at the poker and blackjack table is the real story.

William Tell (Oscar Isaac) follows the archetype of many a Schrader creation. Emotionally distant and more comfortable on his own, he spends considerable time in casinos across the nation. Tell, as the title suggests, knows how to count them. He also knows when to fold them. Tell could cash in big, but prefers modest winnings and even more modest motels (where he covers all the room’s decor in plain white sheets that he provides). His existence seems to suggest not wanting to be noticed at all.

William’s orbit expands when he happens on a global security convention during a gambling spree and meets Cirk (Tye Sheridan). They share a connection. Cirk’s father is deceased ex-military who was present at Abu Ghraib. So was Tell. The speaker at the conference is Major John Gordo (Willem Dafoe), who’s now a private contractor. He escaped any blame for the horrific actions overseas. Tell did not and flashbacks show us the subhuman conditions he witnessed, participated in, and was incarcerated for. In Cirk, our card counter attempts to help a troubled soul by winning him some some cash and paying off debts. Tell enlists La Linda (Tiffany Haddish, going for no laughs), a players manager on the mission.

From Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver to Ethan Hawke’s pastor in First Reformed, Isaac’s Tell fits the mold of the auteur’s central figures. These are damaged figures tired of what the world have to offer while making last ditch attempts to help another troubled soul. The problem with The Card Counter is that there’s not much in this example that we haven’t witnessed before from the same author. Most distressing is that the players around Tell simply aren’t compelling. In Schrader’s Light Sleeper (see that one), Susan Sarandon provided a captivating counterpart to Willem Dafoe’s lonesome drug dealer. Haddish’s character is barely written and her late inclusion as a love interest seems forced. So too is the case with Sheridan’s mopey apprentice. Dafoe’s character here hints at a fascinating backstory that’s unexplored.

Isaac’s performance, as we’ve come to anticipate, is quite good. Yet his tale isn’t nearly as gripping as others in the director’s previous works. We catch a glimpse of Tell’s training as a torturer and it is riveting and brief. With First Reformed, Schrader is righteously angry at political events. In that predecessor, it involved the Earth’s destruction via environmental means. In The Card Counter, it’s the hell on Earth that Tell witnessed in an Iraqi prison.

The screenplay offers not enough exploration of its universe. Had Schrader delved into the redundant and seedy world of casino dwellers more deeply, perhaps it could have paid off. After all, few writers have succeeded better in their other scripts penning depraved figures. The plot just never seems to properly call its ideas to fruition and the result feels unfinished. That’s rare when Schrader is at the table and it makes The Card Counter all the more disappointing.

** (out of four)

Oscar Predictions: The Card Counter

Writer/director Paul Schrader experienced a career resurgence three years ago with First Reformed. The critically acclaimed work nabbed the screenwriter of Taxi Driver and Raging Bull a Best Original Screenplay nod. However, the Academy ignored the heralded lead performance from Ethan Hawke and it didn’t grab any other nominations.

Schrader’s latest is The Card Counter and it has premiered in Venice. Out September 10, the crime drama mixes political intrigue with the game of poker. The title character is portrayed by Oscar Isaac, who’s seeking his first nod despite lauded roles in Inside Llewyn Davis, A Most Violent Year, and Ex Machina. 

Early word-of-mouth from Italy suggests Schrader has another winning hand, though not all reviews are totally flush with praise. The lead is unsurprisingly being singled out, but if Hawke couldn’t get in for Reformed, I really question whether Isaac could. Whether he may contend in supporting for Dune is a question that will be answered in the next 24 hours. As far as all actors involved, he’s the only one that stands a remote chance and not costars Tiffany Haddish, Tye Sheridan, or Willem Dafoe.

I feel the same for its Picture and Director prospects. Original Screenplay is not out of the question though this doesn’t seem quite as highly regarded as Schrader’s predecessor. Bottom line: I wouldn’t count Card as much of an awards player. My Oscar Prediction posts for the films of 2021 will continue…

Venice Film Festival: A Preview

The Venice Film Festival kicks off on Wednesday this week. For this blogger, it means my Oscar speculation will kick into overdrive. You can anticipate a flurry of Oscar Watch posts starting September 1st and continuing throughout the month as the Telluride fest transpires over Labor Day weekend. Toronto is right behind beginning September 9th.

To put it all in perspective, the eventual Best Picture winner has premiered at this trio of festivals more often than not lately. Nomadland (last year’s victor) started off in Venice and won the Golden Lion, which is the equivalent to BP. The same narrative holds true for 2017’s The Shape of Water. 2018’s Green Book debuted at Toronto. 2016’s Moonlight premiered at Telluride. 2015’s Spotlight rolled out at Venice and 2014’s Birdman opened that festival. You get the idea.

So what are the highest profile titles jockeying for position? What are the movies that could become instant hopefuls for the Academy’s attention? I’m glad you asked. Let’s take a look, shall we?

The Power of the Dog

In 1993, director Jane Campion had her last major Oscar contender with The Piano. It won Best Actress for Holly Hunter, Supporting Actress for Anna Paquin, and Original Screenplay for Campion. She became the first female ever to be nominated for Best Director (losing that race and Picture to Steven Spielberg’s Schindler’s List).

Her latest is The Power of the Dog and it will be a mainstay on the festival circuit before its theatrical release in November that’s followed by an early December Netflix bow. Dog is, on paper, the film that prognosticators like me are looking at as an early favorite.

In my previous weekly rankings, I have Dog listed at #1 in Picture, Director, Actor (Cumberbatch), and Adapted Screenplay. Dunst and Plemons are, respectively, ranked second in Supporting Actress and Actor.

We will know quite soon whether it lives up to the hype.

Parallel Mothers

Pedro Almodovar’s latest will open the proceedings on Tuesday. The Spanish language drama stars Penelope Cruz and she could be a factor in what appears to be a potentially crowded Best Actress derby. Original Screenplay and Best International Feature Film could also be races where it contends. Just two years back, the auteur’s previous work Pain and Glory was nominated in the international competition and it nabbed Antonio Banderas a Best Actor nod.

Additionally, Cruz and Banderas star in the comedy Official Competition, which is also premiering here. It may also be one to keep an eye on.

Spencer

Speaking of that Best Actress race which features numerous players, that holds true with Spencer. Pablo Larrain’s biopic about Princess Diana may propel Kristen Stewart to her first nomination. Larrain directed Natalie Portman and she made the final five as Jackie from 2016. Will Stewart break through on the awards front after a series of post Twilight acclaimed roles? The answer is coming.

The Hand of God

Another Netflix property is this Italian drama from Paolo Sorrentino, whose 2013 effort The Great Beauty dominated the foreign language races at the Oscars and Globes. His latest could be another contender and I will be keeping an eye on whether it could branch out to Best Picture (like Roma and Parasite recently did).

The Card Counter

Paul Schrader’s last pic First Reformed received an Original Screenplay nod for its filmmaker. His latest crime drama features Oscar Isaac, Tiffany Haddish, and Willem Dafoe. I haven’t had this featured at all in my weekly predictions, but a splashy Venice rollout could alter that.

Dune

The Card Counter cannot claim the title of being Oscar Isaac’s most breathlessly awaited arrival. That would be Dune from Denis Villeneuve as the sci-fi epic is debuting out of competition. Originally slated for 2020, Dune could be a major awards threat in lots of categories (especially the technical ones). Whether it is Best Picture material will soon be established.

The Lost Daughter

Maggie Gyllenhaal directs Olivia Colman in the Netflix drama slated for late December. Colman has been nominated in two out of the three years at the big show. She won in 2018 for The Favourite in Best Actress and got a mention in supporting last year for The Father. 

Last Night in Soho

Edgar Wright psychological horror experience features Thomasin McKenzie and Anya Taylor-Joy (coming off her heralded role on The Queen’s Gambit). The genre is not one usually geared to Oscar love, but you never know.

The Last Duel

Ridley Scott has not one, but two competitors seeking awards attention in 2021. The most obvious is House of Gucci. The other is this historical drama with Jodie Comer (another possibility in Actress), Matt Damon, Adam Driver, and Ben Affleck. We will soon know whether Scott has two pics in the mix.

And that’s just some of what I’m watching out for, folks! Get ready as the Oscar picture should become clearer in the coming days and I’ll be here to cover it…

May 14-16 Box Office Predictions

It’s been a minute since we have had four new releases to ponder, but that’s the situation this weekend as theaters continue to open their doors. The ninth pic in the Saw franchise Spiral, Angelina Jolie’s thriller Those Who Wish Me Dead, the Zack Snyder directed zombie fest Army of the Dead, and tech suspense flick Profile all open on Friday. My detailed prediction posts on the quartet can be found here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2021/05/05/spiral-box-office-prediction/

https://toddmthatcher.com/2021/05/06/those-who-wish-me-dead-box-office-prediction/

https://toddmthatcher.com/2021/05/07/army-of-the-dead-box-office-prediction/

https://toddmthatcher.com/2021/05/07/profile-box-office-prediction/

Spiral should have no trouble scoring a #1 premiere. The question is: what kinda Saw bucks are we talking? I think this could certainly over perform (word of mouth is decent), but my estimate puts it in line with the last entry in the series – 2017’s Jigsaw. 

The runner-up slot should go to Ms. Jolie and her joint venture with Warner Bros/HBO Max. However, unlike the recent Godzilla vs. Kong and Mortal Kombat, a start north of $10 million (and certainly $20 million) seems unlikely.

Blogger’s Note: Dead prediction downgraded to $3.8 million

Jason Statham’s Wrath of Man should fall to third after its opening met expectations (more on that below). I anticipate his latest action tale to lose a bit more than half its audience.

Here’s where things get a little interesting. Army of the Dead is the first Netflix release to open on a fairly wide screen count (at least 600). If that holds, the potential for a $2-$3 million haul is feasible. It could even do more. What’s unknown at this juncture is whether the streaming giant will actually report its grosses. They haven’t in the past in their limited theatrical runs, but we are venturing into new territory. With this question unanswered, I’ll be doing a top five that includes Army and one that does not.

As for Profile, it’s hitting a large 2000 screens. Yet I suspect its low profile and my predicted $1.2 million forecast could prevent it from making the top five in either scenario.

And with that, here’s my two versions of this weekend’s top five:

1. Spiral

Predicted Gross: $16.1 million

2. Wrath of Man

Predicted Gross: $3.9 million

3. Those Who Wish Me Dead

Predicted Gross: $3.8 million

4. Army of the Dead

Predicted Gross: $2.5 million

5. Raya and the Last Dragon

Predicted Gross: $1.4 million

***If no Army grosses, Raya would move up to #4 and I’ll say Demon Slayer is fifth with $1.3 million

Box Office Results (May 7-9)

As mentioned, Wrath of Man took the pole position and met expectations with $8.3 million. How much did it meet them? It certainly met mine as my projection was $8.3 million!

Demon Slayer dropped to second with $2.7 million, on par with my $2.9 million estimate. Its three-week tally is $39 million.

Also in its third frame, Mortal Kombat was third with $2.4 million compared to my $2.7 million take. Overall gross stands at $37 million.

Godzilla vs. Kong was fourth with $1.9 million (I said $2 million). The monster mash continues to inch toward the century mark at $93 million.

Disney’s Raya and the Last Dragon flew off with another $1.9 million. I incorrectly had it outside the top five. It has earned $43 million.

Finally, the Billy Crystal/Tiffany Haddish dramedy Here Today showed zero staying power as it opened in seventh with $1 million. I was a bit more generous at $1.5 million.

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

Here Today Box Office Prediction

It’s been quite some time since Billy Crystal starred in a major theatrical release and that changes on May 7th with Here Today. The comedy finds him as a veteran writer who forms a friendship with a singer played by Tiffany Haddish. Costars include Penn Badgley, Laura Benanti, and Anna Deavere Smith. Crystal also serves as cowriter and director (this is his first big screen effort behind the camera duty since 1995’s Forget Paris). And it has been nearly a decade since he headlined a multiplex offering (2012’s Parental Guidance).

Stage 6 Films decided to go against a streaming premiere and Here Today will roll out on a rather small screen count of approximately 1000. That certainly limits its box office potential, but that’s not all. Older audiences who are fond of Crystal’s work will need to turn out with the hope that some of Haddish’s fanbase will as well.

The marketing campaign has been rather low-key and even moviegoers with an interest may simply wait until it is available for home viewing. With the minor number of screens, I’ll say this struggles to reach out $2 million.

Here Today opening weekend prediction: $1.5 million

For my Wrath of Man prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2021/04/28/wrath-of-man-box-office-prediction/

The Big Apple Has A Cow

The New York Film Critics Circle bestowed their best of 2020 honors today and the group provided a significant boost to Kelly Reichardt’s First Cow. The 19th century set drama took Best Film. Cow‘s chances at Oscar attention has seemed iffy so far this year. In fact, I have yet to have it listed in my predicted nominees for the Academy’s highest prize.

That might not change, but it does have recent history on its side. Only one of the Best Film honorees from the previous decade (2015’s Carol) failed to nab a Picture nod at the Oscars. On the other hand, only one of the New York Circle winners from the past ten years went on to win (2011’s The Artist).

It was also a good day for Never Rarely Sometimes Always as Eliza Hittman’s feature won Best Screenplay and Sidney Flanagan took Best Actress. Flanagan’s inclusion in Best Actress with the Academy looks questionable in that crowded field, but this first critics win certainly gives her exposure.

Best Director went to Chloe Zhao for Nomadland. She seems to be a shoo-in at the Oscars and will likely compete for the victory with David Fincher (Mank).

In other acting derbies, it was Delroy Lindo taking Best Actor for Da 5 Bloods and Chadwick Boseman in Supporting Actor for his role in Spike Lee’s picture. As for the what the Academy will do, it’s more feasible that Boseman could win against Lindo for his performance in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom. 

Supporting Actress went the funny route with Maria Bakalova’s breakout role in Borat Subsequent Moviefilm. The NYFCC has shown a willingness to honor comedic performers in this race as recent as three years ago with Tiffany Haddish in Girls Trip. It’s worthy of mention that Haddish did not end up on Oscar’s radar and Bakalova’s inclusion is up in the air as well.

The group’s Documentary award went to Time (a strong contender for the Academy) while Brazil’s Bacarau took the Foreign Language Prize. The latter is not its country’s submitted movie for Oscar consideration.

Bottom line: it’s a good day for First Cow, though it remains to be seen whether it can milk its buzz through nomination morning next year.

Like a Boss Box Office Prediction

Tiffany Haddish and Rose Byrne headline the business themed comedy Like a Boss next weekend as Paramount Pictures hopes many girls will make a trip to view it. Originally slated for release last summer, Boss is directed by Miguel Arteta with a supporting cast including Jennifer Coolidge, Billy Porter, and Salma Hayek.

It’s been over two years since Haddish broke through in a major way with Girls Trip and her lucky streak continued with Night School with Kevin Hart. However, things have slowed down a bit as of late with Nobody’s Fool (which grossed $14 million for its start). Then there was last year’s crime drama flop The Kitchen with Byrne’s Spy costar Melissa McCarthy.

The lack of much comedic competition should help a bit, but buzz seems to fairly muted here. My guess is this makes a bit under what Fool accomplished and struggles to hit teens.

Like a Boss opening weekend prediction: $12.4 million

For my 1917 prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2020/01/01/1917-box-office-prediction/

For my Just Mercy prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2020/01/01/just-mercy-box-office-prediction/

For my Underwater prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2020/01/02/underwater-box-office-prediction/

The Kitchen Box Office Prediction

Melissa McCarthy and Tiffany Haddish go out of their comedic comfort zones next weekend with the release of The Kitchen. The crime thriller casts the two performers alongside Elisabeth Moss as the wives of incarcerated gangsters who take over Mob operations in New York. The late 70s set pic marks the directorial debut of Andrea Berloff and is based on a comic book miniseries. Costars include Domhnall Gleeson, James Badge Dale, Brian d’Arcy James, Margo Martindale, Common, and Bill Camp.

If McCarthy and Haddish were headlining a high profile slapstick comedy, my estimate for The Kitchen would likely be considerably more (easily double). However, I’m skeptical that a wide audience is eager to see them in this. If solid reviews pop up in the coming days, that could potentially change the dynamic a bit. I think it’s going to have difficulty reaching double digits.

The Kitchen opening weekend prediction: $8.3 million

For my Dora and the Lost City of Gold prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2019/07/31/dora-and-the-lost-city-of-gold-box-office-prediction/

For my Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2019/07/31/scary-stories-to-tell-in-the-dark-box-office-prediction/

For my The Art of Racing in the Rain prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2019/07/31/the-art-of-racing-in-the-rain-box-office-prediction/

For my Brian Banks prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2019/08/04/brian-banks-box-office-prediction/

The Secret Life of Pets 2 Box Office Prediction

Illumination Entertainment is back in the summer blockbuster animation game next weekend with the release of The Secret Life of Pets 2. The follow-up to the 2016 smash has Chris Renaud back in the director’s chair. Returning voices include Kevin Hart, Eric Stonestreet, Ellie Kemper, Bobby Moynihan, Lake Bell, Dana Carvey, Hannibal Buress, and  Jenny Slate. Patton Oswalt takes over the lead role of Max after Louis C.K. was dropped after recent controversies. Other familiar faces providing new voiceover work to the franchise include Tiffany Haddish, Nick Kroll, and Harrison Ford.

Three summers ago, the first Pets had a scorching start with a $104 million start and $368 million eventual domestic gross. It’s worth noting that competition on its opening weekend wasn’t as strong as Dark Phoenix will premiere against this. This sequel is garnering reviews in line with its predecessor. Part 1 ended up with a 73% Rotten Tomatoes score while this is at 68%.

I look for this to perform similarly to Illumination’s last two efforts. Despicable Me 3 earned $72 million for its beginning two summers ago and Dr. SeussThe Grinch made $67 million and perhaps a bit under.

The Secret Life of Pets 2 opening weekend prediction: $65.2 million

For my Dark Phoenix prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2019/05/30/dark-phoenix-box-office-prediction/

Oscar Watch: The Secret Life of Pets 2

2019 is shaping up to be a year where the Best Animated Feature at the Oscars could be dominated by sequels. How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World already opened to raves and seems destined for a nod just like its two predecessors. Disney has Toy Story 4 and Frozen 2 on deck.

The Secret Life of Pets 2 is Universal’s shot at Academy recognition. It’s out on June 7, following up on the 2016 animal tale smash hit. Early reviews indicate part deux is an overall improvement in quality. The first Pets achieved a 73% Rotten Tomatoes rating while this currently sits at 91%.

This puts the likely mega blockbuster in contention, but it’ll need to stick around in a competition where the three previously mentioned sequels may well garner more votes. Only time will tell if that’s feasible. My Oscar Watch posts will continue…