Movies Opening in New Haven – Weekend of September 19th, 2014


A Walk Among the Tombstones: Liam Neeson stars as a former NYPD officer turned unlicensed private detective on the hunt of a brutal kidnapping ring. Scott Frank (Out of Sight, The Lookout, Get Shorty) writes and directs.

The throwback nature of this makes me a little nostalgic.  It’s the type of wannabe-prestige/early Fall thriller that was commonplace throughout the 90’s and very early 00’s.  Makes me warm and fuzzy inside.

Trailer: Youtube  Rotten Tomatoes: 63%  Metacritic: 53

Personal interest factor: 8

The Maze Runner: A group of young men find themselves trapped in a massive, elaborate maze.  Directorial debut of visual effects artist Wes Ball.

This one is a bit of surprise, in that the trailer is fairly intriguing and reviews are unexpectedly solid for this type of thing. Certainly seems to be a cut above the standard, aspiring YA franchise.

Trailer: YouTube  Rotten Tomatoes: 61%  Metacritic: 56

Personal interest factor: 6

This is Where I Leave You: Generic studio filmmaker Shawn Levy (The Internship, Night at the Museum, Real Steel) attempts to make a transition into more indie-esque filmmaking with this with this dramedy about a family (Jason Bateman, Tina Fey, Rose Byrne, Cory Stoll, Kathryn Hahn) dealing with the death of their father.

This cast seems like it could be magical…in a different movie with a different director.

Personal interest factor: 2

Trailer: YouTube  Rotten Tomatoes: 44% Metacritic: 45

TuskKevin Smith’s foray into the torture porn genre stars Justin Long as a podcaster who is abducted and surgically transformed into a walrus by a maniac (Michael Parks). Johnny Depp co-stars.

Personal interest factor: 0

Trailer: YouTube Rotten Tomatoes: 42% Metacritic: 54

For classic fare: The Criterion in New Haven is running The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951) Friday and Saturday evening and Laura (1944) Saturday and Sunday morning.

Review: Lucy


For the second time in less than a year, Scarlett Johannson plays a character who disappears into the ether. In Her, she played an operating system, in Lucy, she is an actual human being who achieves 100 percent of her cerebral capacity. The film says that when we do so, we…well, I’m not sure what it says.

Johannson’s Lucy is a girl living in Taipei and attending school. She’s been dating some club rat (he sounds European) who finagles into her delivering a briefcase to some Chinese criminal. She ends up having a bag of drugs surgically implanted in her. When it starts to leak, she realizes she has abilities she never had before.

When the film was released in July there was some comparisons to Limitless, which was also about a drug that enhanced brain power. But this film, written and directed by Luc Bresson, is much more intellectually grounded. Limitless had the main character using his brains to play the stock market, while Lucy is able to read minds and manipulate matter.

I enjoyed most of Lucy, mostly due to Johansson’s performance and Bresson’s winking style. He uses stock footage of the animal kingdom to make his points, such as showing a gazelle being stalked by cheetahs when Johansson is surrounded by bad guys. The script is surprisingly intelligent, especially when Lucy tells brain expert Morgan Freeman that the only unit of measurement that matters is time.

The film offers plenty of mayhem for those that want it–there is a shootout in a library in Paris that offers more bullets than anyone could want–but the film kind of goes off the rails when Johansson is able to travel through time. At this point the film goes out of science fiction into Bresson’s fantasies, I think.

At 89 minutes, Lucy is also briskly paced. Normally an action-picture like this would be a bloated mess, but Bresson wisely boils it down to essentials, and we’re out of the theater in a reasonable time. Driving home, I took the film with me in my mind, looking around and wondering if what Johansson perceived is really the truth.

My grade for Lucy: B.

Opened in America, September 12 2014


No Good Deed (IMDB rating 5.9) – This generic looking home invasion thriller has gotten lousy reviews from critics (and judging by its IMDB rating, the public) but has exceeded expectations at the box office, in a period where many films have underwhelmed in that area.

Dolphin Tale 2 (6.8) – I didn’t realise until last weekend that this film and its predecessor were directed by Charles Martin Smith, most famous for his acting career including American Graffiti and as the most atypical member of The Untouchables. I did see many years ago his directorial debut ‘Trick Or Treat’ which iirc was mildly interesting.

The Drop (8.0) – This crime film has gotten good critical reviews and is also notable as the last starring role of actor James Gandolfini. His film career didn’t match the success of his iconic TV role but it seemed he was just breaking out into a really rich vein of work before his untimely passing.

Atlas Shrugged: Who Is John Galt? (5.1) – Considering the total disinterest the first two films in this series provided, this surely must be the least desired sequel in modern memory. But going by the trailer it would provide some unintentional humour. Trivia note: on an early 1980s appearance on ‘Donohue’, Ayn Rand said one of her favourite TV shows was Charlie’s Angels.

The Skeleton Twins (7.4) – Opening in limited release with potential expansion later on, this film has gotten good notices so far. However the plotline – estranged twins reunite after coincidentally cheating death on the same day (?!?) seems so self-consciously it seems like a parody of a Sundance film (where it of course premiered). And it co-stars Kristen Wiig who’ve I never particularly rated. But it may be one worth catching up with.

My Old Lady (7.3) – British-American film that has a notable cast including Kevin Kline, Maggie Smith & Kristen Scott-Thomas. Of interest to me is that it’s the directorial debut of veteran playwright/writer Israel Horovitz, whose work in the late 1960s was what first brought Al Pacino & John Cazale to public attention. He also wrote the screenplay for the 1970 campus drama ‘The Strawberry Statement’ which I saw recently; interesting as a historical piece but not a very good film.

The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby (7.7) – This sounds like an unmade sequel to Yellow Submarine but is actually a fascinating concept: a relationship told from three different perspectives. This version is apparently the ‘Them’ version with ‘Him’ & ‘Her’ to be released soon. One worth seeking out I reckon.

The Green Prince (7.0) – Documentary on an individual spying case within the Israel/Palestine conflict.

Take Me To the River (7.9) – American music documentary

Bird People (6.2) – Drama about an American in Paris who has an existential crisis while in a hotel.

Oscar 2014, Best Actor: Genius at Work

Benedict Cumberbatch

Now that the Toronto Film Festival is concluded, the Oscar picture has come somewhat more into focus. There are no new pictures in the Best Picture landscape, although The Imitation Game, which won the Toronto’s main prize, seems now like a safe bet for a nomination. That film also seems to have the frontrunner for Best Actor, one of a few films that feature brilliant British scientists (and one artist).

Here are my very early predictions for the Best Actor race, in alphabetical order:

Steve Carell, Foxcatcher: This film is gathering steam as a Best Picture contender, and there are three actors that could be vying for nominations. Carell is the focus, though, as a Du Pont heir who murders a wrestler. The normally comedic actor has been given a fake nose (an addition of makeup seems to help actors with Oscar) and unless this category gets overloaded, he should be safe.

Benedict Cumberbatch, The Imitation Game: Cumberbatch seems to be everywhere, and in just a few years has made himself a ubiquitous presence in film and TV. He just won an Emmy for his work on Sherlock Holmes, and has the man who cracked the German’s code during World War II, only to be later arrested for being a homosexual, this seems like the kind of role the Academy loves.

Michael Keaton, Birdman: Keaton has had a strange career, with some incredible highs and some puzzling lows, but he has never had an Oscar nomination. That should change with this meta role, playing a washed up actor who was once famous for playing a superhero. If a Brit doesn’t win this award, Keaton should.

Eddie Redmayne, The Theory of Everything: Redmayne plays a young Stephen Hawking, at the time of his romance with his first wife. Playing real people is catnip to the Academy–would Hawking attend the Oscars if the film got nominated? I’m not sure if the film includes the beginning of his ALS, but if it does, it can’t hurt Redmayne’s chances.

Timothy Spall, Mr. Turner: Spall plays British painter J.M.W. Turner, and while this doesn’t sound like thrill-a-minute cinema, there is a tradition of painters in films, ranging from Michelangelo to Andy Warhol. Apparently Turner was quite a curmudgeon, which probably gives Spall a lot of scenes to steal.

Also possible: Bradley Cooper, American Sniper; Ralph Fiennes, The Grand Budapest Hotel; David Oyelowo, Selma; Joaquin Phoenix, Inherent Vice; and Ellar Coltrane, Boyhood.

Hitchcock: Marnie


This year marks the 50th anniversary of Alfred Hitchcock’s Marnie, which many call his last masterpiece. I agree it’s a masterpiece of technical filmmaking, but in some areas it hasn’t dated well, and at times is quite ludicrous.

The film deals with one of Hitchcock’s favorite themes–psychology. As with Spellbound, Vertigo, and Psycho, Hitchcock shows a fascination with psychoanalysis–the why of aberrant behavior. “You Freud, me Jane,” Tippi Hedren, the actress in the title role, says at one point.

The first shot of the film is Hedren, from behind, carrying a canary-yellow valise. It is a grabber of a shot, what with the raven-black hair and her walking away from the camera on an empty train platform. It turns out she is a serial thief, who takes jobs in payroll departments under assumed names and works long enough to find the money and steal it. She has just liberated nearly 10,000 dollars from a tax firm when the film begins.

The entire film of Marnie is a psychoanalysis of her. We then see her visit her horrible mother (yet another older woman in Hitchcock’s oeuvre who is monstrous). Hedren becomes jealous of the attention her mother shows to a young girl, and then frankly asks her why she doesn’t love her. In a bit of dime-store psychology, we can assume that her kleptomania is a reaction to her feelings of not being loved by her mother.

But there are other disturbing attributes, such as her going into a bit of seizure whenever she sees red, and she has a lot of trouble with thunderstorms. She also, we will find out, is not only one of Hitchcock’s icy blondes, she’s downright frigid.

After she steals the money at the start of the film, she tries again, this time in a publishing house run by Sean Connery. He thinks he recognizes her from her previous job (he was a client) and hires her just to make sure. He is kind of turned on by her psychoses, and our clue to that is his passion for studying animal behavior. He is also something of an amateur psychologist (we later see him reading a book about the sexual behavior of criminal women).

Connery figures out Hedren is the thief, and in a bit of deviance that is rival to hers, he blackmails her into marrying him. It’s a very creepy section of the film–she calls him out for what he wants–a zoo specimen. On their honeymoon, after she makes it very clear she is repulsed by the thought of any man’s touch, he rapes her. Screenwriter Evan Hunter expressed his disapproval of the scene (we see a closeup of a zombie-eyed Hedren while Connery has his way with her) and ending up getting fired. He was later told by the eventual writer, Jay Presson Allen, that the very reason Hitchcock wanted to make the film was that very scene.

Hunter thought Connery’s character couldn’t be redeemed after that, but by god he’s wrong–Connery ends up trying to crack the childhood trauma that reduced Hedren to a frigid, thieving woman, and he succeeds, in a climax that is alternately thrilling and ridiculous. Part of the problem is that Hedren just doesn’t have the chops for the role, and her regression into her five-year-old self is completely unconvincing. Another problem is that, like Spellbound and Psycho, the psychology is just too neat and tidy. In reality, the mind just isn’t that cut and dried.

But on a technical basis, this is one of Hitchcock’s most virtuosic films. Every camera angle, every cut, every lighting effect just seems perfect. I will add the caveat that we get a lot of Hitchcock’s main flaw–his use of process and matte shots. There are some scenes, particularly of a fox hunt, and then of a painted backdrop suggesting a ship, that are eye-rollingly funny. But aside from those, the film bristles with visual energy. There’s a spectacular sequence with Hedren robbing a safe, and we the audience can see that a cleaning lady has entered the office. It is there that Hitchcock proves that we will root for the lead character, even if she is committing a felony–we don’t want her to get caught.

Hitchcock also borrows from himself (in a scene from Notorious) with a crane shot that takes place during a party. Instead of focusing on a key, this time he zooms in on the arrival of a guest who is the last person Marnie wants to see.

Some trivia: future well-known actors Mariette Hartley and Bruce Dern appears in small roles. Hitchcock’s cameo appears early in the film, when he exits a hotel room. Hitchcock conceived the film as Grace Kelly’s comeback role, but she dropped out when the people of Monaco objected, especially since she would be playing a sexually deviant kleptomaniac. Connery wanted the role because he didn’t want to be typecast as James Bond.

So, like Vertigo, Hitchcock has shown us is dexterity as a filmmaker, but also a disturbing look at his particular sexual fantasies.

Opening in Las Vegas, September 5, 2014


My first Openings in Sin City. And wouldn’t you know another horrible week for new releases.

The only film opening wide here this weekend that hasn’t opened elsewhere is The Identical (26), a faith-based film about Elvis Presley’s secret twin. Walter Addiego: “Earnest and well-intentioned, The Identical is based on a “what if” that straddles the line between ingenious and loopy.”

In limited release is another film beginning with “I,” Innocence (27), a horror film set at a prep school. Jen Chaney: “The prevailing tone throughout Innocence is as somber as the onset-of-twilight blues and grays that dominate the movie’s color palette. All that seriousness ultimately doesn’t blend well with a narrative that marinates in the preposterous.”

The Barrick Museum at UNLV is having a Jerry Lewis film festival, but I think I’ll stay home this weekend.





With a big final week Juan jumped from 4th to 2nd place! Slim still can’t lose, even while moving across the country, and ended up over 50 points for the season which may be the highest total yet (I’m too lazy to go back).

What I’m not too lazy to find out is that even with Juan’s big final week, Slim could have stopped playing after July 7th (nearly two months ago) and still won the game. That is total domination.

Congratulations to Jackrabbit Slim – our AGEBOC ’14 winner!

(To find out the rules of the game, go to the main thread for AGEBOC 09.)

FINAL rankings


Aged Box

Jackrabbit Slim – 50.5

Juan – 31.5
Joe Webb – 28
Rob – 26
James – 22
filmman – 16
Marco – 9
Nick – 2.5

Opening in the U.S., August 29, 2014


Labor Day weekend, the worst weekend of the year for new releases. The painful details:

As Above, So Below (38), a pretentious literary title for a movie about people getting eaten in the catacombs of Paris. Roger Moore: “It’s more unpleasant than scary, and ever so slow in getting up to speed.”

The November Man (39) stars Pierce Brosnan as a CIA agent who probably loves Thanksgiving. Roger Moore: “A humorless, muddled, bloody and generally unpleasant thriller.”

In limited release things aren’t much better. I may one day see Life of Crime (59), because it’s based on an Elmore Leonard novel. It was supposed to be made about 25 years ago, but the plot was so similar to Ruthless People that it was postponed indefinitely. With Tim Robbins and Jennifer Aniston (probably weeping this weekend because Brad Pitt finally married that hussy). Scott Tobias: “A solid, middle-of-the-road Leonard adaptation that lacks the singularity to be something more.”

The Congress (60) sounds intriguing, with Robin Wright basically playing herself trying to preserve her digital image. Xan Brooks: “The Congress contains tricks aplenty and ideas in abundance. The problem comes in herding these scattered, floating elements towards a satisfying whole.”

Also this week: The Calling (51), with Susan Sarandon trying to solve a series of murders; and The Last of Robin Hood (51), a documentary about Errol Flynn.



Oscar 2014: Brangelina Transcendent


Yes, kids, it’s that time of year. Not only has school started, but it’s time to start thinking about the Oscars. The fall schedule is loaded with Oscar bait and surely some out-of-nowhere surprises, so let’s get to it with my ridiculously early look at the contenders.

News is that Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie just got hitched. Mazel tov you crazy kids! They may also be in the unique position of both having a film nominated for Best Picture–one as a director, the other as star. Pitt picked up an Oscar last year as a producer for 12 Years a Slave. Can he do it again?

In alphabetical order:

Birdman, Alejandro Gonzalez Innaritu (Oct. 17). The story of a washed-up movie star (Michael Keaton) who played an iconic superhero, this film just got rapturous reviews at the Venice Film Festival. May be too offbeat to actually win, but Oscar loves movies about Hollywood and it should be a lock for a nomination.

Boyhood, Richard Linklater (July 11). Some are wondering if this film has what it takes to be nominated, given that it is really an arthouse pic, but with ten possible nominees I think it’s a done deal. The film is the best reviewed film of the year, and it at least made it to the multiplexes.

Foxcatcher, Bennett Miller (Nov. 14). Pushed back from last year, this film, about a DuPont heir and his creepy association with wrestlers, is getting great festival buzz. Like Birdman, may be too weird to actually win, but a nomination seems imminent.

Fury, David Ayer (Oct. 17). Pitt stars a battle-hardened tank commander in what looks like an old-fashioned World War II film. Pitt has been on a pretty good role lately. This is not from his production company, Plan B, but looks like a solid chance for a nomination.

Gone Girl, David Fincher (Oct. 3). Fincher’s last adaptation of a smash-hit novel, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, did not score a best pic nod, but you can’t count him out here. The book was widely read (I didn’t think that much of it) and sure to be a box office hit, but will Oscar go for a pulpy murder mystery?

The Grand Budapest Hotel, Wes Anderson (Mar. 7) Maybe wishful thinking on my part, as the Academy has not loved Anderson’s films (except for the screenwriter’s branch). This was the biggest hit of his career, but the early release date may doom it. Fingers crossed.

Interstellar, Christopher Nolan (Nov. 6). The director’s branch does not like Christopher Nolan (he’s never been nominated) but this could be the year. After showing love for Gravity last year, the Academy seems to have shucked its reluctance to reward sci-fi films with major awards.

Into the Woods, Rob Marshall (Dec. 25). If it’s directed by Marshall, it’s probably bad, but every year there seems to be great hope placed on musicals. This one, despite it’s fairy tale setting, is fairly intellectual, but after seeing Nine I don’t know if Marshall can pull this off. It still may get nominated, though.

Mr. Turner, Mike Leigh (Dec. 19). Going a bit on a limb for this one, a biopic of British painter J.M.W. Turner. Got high praise on the festival circuit, particularly for Timothy Spall in the title role. Oscar has shown great love for Mike Leigh before, but it may be lost in the shuffle.

Unbroken, Angelina Jolie (Dec. 25). Jolie’s second directorial effort, and as baity a movie can get, being about a real hero and full of indomitable spirit and patriotism. The Academy, being mostly actors, over-rewards actors who direct, so unless this is absolutely horrid I don’t see how it won’t get a nomination here. Right now the de facto favorite for the win.

Also possible: American Sniper, Clint Eastwood; Big Eyes, Tim Burton; The Imitation Game, Morten Tyldum; Inherent Vice, Paul Thomas Anderson; A Most Violent Year, J.C. Chandor; The Theory of Everything, James Marsh; Wild, Jean-Marc Vallee.

AGEBOC ’14 August 29-31


We can forego the standard final-week-private-guessing games as Slim has had this locked up since July. Get your guesses in for fun!

Predict the #1 film of the weekend.

The one who predicts closest to the total Friday to Sunday gross for the #1 film wins 4 points. Runner-up gains 2 points. Predicting within half a million earns 2 extra points.

Full-point bonuses for the final weekend:

1. Predict the Cantinflas box office total within +/- $1m

2. Predict the percentage drop of Sin City: A Dame To Kill For within +/- 10%

Deadline is Thursday August 28st 11:59PM (blog time)
To find out the rules of the game, go to the main thread for AGEBOC 09.

Current rankings


Aged Box

Jackrabbit Slim – 48.5
Joe Webb – 28
Rob – 26
Juan – 25.5
James – 22
filmman – 16
Marco – 9
Nick – 2.5

Review: Star Trek The Motion Picture (1979)



ST Motion Picture

In watching the Star Trek films of the The Next Generation era and the present Abrams era, what has constantly disappointed me about them is that they’ve lacked a sense of sophistication, ideas and intellectualism that characterised the original 1960s TV series and the ST: The Next Generation TV series. All these features is what made the original TV series do distinctive and even when they’ve been entertaining (as the Abrams films have been), there’s a level of depressing superficiality to them.

So when I got the chance to see the 1979 film Star Trek: The Motion Picture, the first film based on the original TV series, I was interested to see whether it had a different mentality and perspective.

Despite being an enormous financial success STTMP has always had a maligned reputation. While some considered it imaginative and inventive the majority opinion seems to be that it’s slow, heavy-handed and humourless. Which view is the more valid one?

The film’s plot concerns a seemingly all-powerful, relentless entity that destroys everything in its path. The entity is heading towards Earth and seems certain to lead to its destruction so the Starship Enterprise is chosen to stop it with Captain Kirk (William Shatner) and the old crew brought back in charge.  But when the entity is confronted, there is much more to it than meets the eye.

Upon viewing the film, the widely held belief that STTMP is slow would be an understatement. During most of the half, it is so slow that it is downright tedious. In particular when Kirk and colleague Scotty (James Doohan) are travelling down to the Enterprise is so drawn out it felt like the most boring scene I’ve ever seen.

The reason for this ponderous tone may have been because the makers of the film were worried that Star Trek wouldn’t cut it on the big screen and wanted it to be something more than feeling like a longer episode from the series. This seemed to include having a higher tone and substance, which included hiring a prestigious, veteran director in the form of Robert Wise.

However, Wise seemed to have little feel and understanding for the concept. As a result the camaraderie and humour between the crew that was so prevalent in the series is absent here, replaced by a dour mood that adds very little to the film.

But after an unpromising and dreary first half, STTMP improves considerably in the latter stages. One reason for this is that despite slow pace and lacklustre characterisation, the film always has a classy feel to it. Jerry Goldsmith’s score is excellent and vibrant (much more than the film itself is) and the film’s big budget is well spent on impressive sets and quality special effects, which hold up well even today.

But more significantly, the film develops significant narrative interest once the Enterprise encounters the entity. Whereas present-day Star Trek films would probably treat the entity as some simplistic, malevolent enemy to be destroyed, the entity in STTMP is a source of complexity and mystery. Instead of leading to confrontation, it leads to development and a potential step forward for humanity (although the film’s conclusion is rather similar to 2001: A Spacy Odyssey).

So despite its considerable flaws, STTMP leaves a much better impression than most of the Star Trek TNG films & pair of Abrams Star Trek films. That is because it has an undercurrent of wonder, awe and excitement for the future for humanity that the other ST films lack.

Back to the original question of whether STTMP is either a dreary bore or an inspiring and imaginative film? The answer is: all of the above.

Rating: B-


Opening in the U.S, August 22, 2014


The dog days of August drag on, as a trio of middling films open. Once again, quality seems to be only at the arthouse.

The likely winner of the box office race this weekend appears to be If I Stay (46), a mawkish adaptation of a YA novel, starring Chloe Grace Moretz. She’s a terrific actress; I saw her in a play earlier this year, but this role seems to be a nonstarter. A. A. Dowd: “Child actors can have a tough time transitioning into adult careers, their charm often evaporating with the onset of puberty. But for Chloë Grace Moretz, the trouble isn’t growing pains; she’s just overqualified for the roles Hollywood tends to offer young women her age.”

Sin City: A Dame to Kill For (45) is the long-awaited sequel from Richard Rodriguez and Frank Miller. I was unimpressed with the first one, seeing it as a prime example of style over substance, but I may see this if I’m bored this weekend, if only for Eva Green’s boobs. Betsy Sharkey: “There is an interesting kernel of a story about beauty, betrayal and brutality inside each of the film’s scenarios and a cast that could handle anything thrown at it. But the kernel never pops, and all we’re really left with is a whole lot of neo-noir corn.”

When the Game Stands Tall (41) is another of those sports/character films, this time about a winning program that loses a game. Boo hoo! For a game that revels in violence, it sure is put forth as something great for God and country. Jordan Hoffman: ““Hoosiers” this ain’t. The redemptive final game has some nice plays and bone-crunching sound effects, but no grit. Ultimately, it’s a ho-hum, bromide-filled production undeserving of a victory dance.”

The highlight in the arthouses this week is Love Is Strange (84) about a longtime gay couple who marry, setting off unforeseen events. The couple is played by John Lithgow and Alfred Molina. Keith Phipps: “Neither Molina nor Lithgow are stranger to big performances, but here, they offer studies in restraint, underplaying dramatic moments in ways that make them all the more powerful.”

The One I Love (64) stars Marc Duplass and Elisabeth Moss as a couple who attend a couples’ retreat. There’s some kind of twist about it that no one is revealing. Peter Travers: “If you survive that wrenching plot curve (some won’t), you’re in for an emotional workout. Knowing you’ve never seen anything like this, Moss and Duplass let it rip. You’ve been warned.”

Finally, Jersey Shore Massacre (5). Please be a documentary.

AGEBOC ’14 August 22-24


TWO WEEKS to go!

Predict the #1 film of the weekend.

The one who predicts closest to the total Friday to Sunday gross for the #1 film wins 4 points. Runner-up gains 2 points. Predicting within half a million earns 2 extra points.

Bonus Questions:

1. Will Sin City:ADTKF gross more or less in its opening weekend than the first did in 2005 ($29,120,273)? (Editor’s note: WHAT?? That was 9 years ago already?!)

2. Will Guardians of the Galaxy become the #1 grossing movie of 2014 by the end of the weekend (when actuals are revealed on Monday) yes/no?

Deadline is Thursday August 21st 11:59PM (blog time)
To find out the rules of the game, go to the main thread for AGEBOC 09.

Current rankings


Aged Box

Jackrabbit Slim – 45.5
Joe Webb – 27
Rob – 26
James – 21
Juan – 20.5
filmman – 16
Marco – 9
Nick – 2.5

The Wizard of Oz


This week marks the 75th anniversary of the release of one of the most beloved movies in film history, The Wizard of Oz. There is little left to say about it, critically or historically, but that’s not going to stop me.

The film was not a box office success when it was released in 1939, though it was nominated for a Best Picture Oscar and won two (both for music). It had a couple of re-releases, but it wasn’t until it started to be shown on television that it became the most viewed film in the history of eyeballs (I have only come across two people who have never seen it: one of them is a contributor to this blog, and another was recently arrived from Turkey). It’s first airing was in 1956, and was the first film to be aired uncut on a network (prior to that, movies were only shown on local affiliates). It started airing annually in 1959 until the 1990s, and now that it is owned by Turner it pops up every so often.

For old fogies like me, the telecast of The Wizard of Oz was a major event, as it was the only way to see it. Every year it drew huge ratings, and I remember anticipating it keenly. I distinctly remember watching while sitting cross-legged right in front of the tube, and when the credits came on feeling a rush of exhilaration.

The film is now a cultural touchstone of great immensity. So many of its lines and situations have been firmly embedded in our cultural ethos that it’s as if they have always existed:

“Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.”

“Are you a good witch, or a bad witch?

“I’ll get you my pretty, and your little dog, too.”

“Lions and tigers and bears, oh my!”
“Who rang that bell?”

“Surrender Dorothy”

“I do believe in spooks.”

“I’m melting!”

“Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain!”

And many, many others.

Historically, the film is a treasure trove of lore that has filled several volumes. Based on the turn of the century book by L. Frank Baum, it had been made into a film many times before, including a silent version in 1925 with Oliver Hardy as the Tin Woodsman. MGM’s Sam Goldwyn bought it as a property for Eddie Cantor, who was to play the Scarecrow. Casting tales are legion–producer Mervyn LeRoy was pressured to use Shirley Temple as Dorothy, but Fox wouldn’t loan her out. Deanna Durbin was also considered, before Judy Garland was cast. Originally Ray Bolger was to play the Tin Woodsman and Buddy Ebsen the Scarecrow, but Bolger had been inspired to enter show business after seeing the show on stage in 1902, and had always wanted to play the Scarecrow, so they switched. Ebsen turned out to be allergic to the paint used in his makeup, and got so sick he was in an iron lung, and was replaced by Jack Haley. Ed Wynn was offered the part of the Wizard, but turned it down for being too small. W.C. Fields was approached, but contract negotiations dragged on, so Frank Morgan was cast. Gale Sondergaard was cast as the Wicked Witch of the West, but when the film’s conception of her was changed from beautiful to an ugly hag, Sondergaard ankled, and contract player Margaret Hamilton was cast.

Some of the lore has varying degrees of truth. Possibly true is that Morgan, looking through old coats for the perfect one to wear, found a tag inside the pocket indicating it belonged to Baum himself at one time. Not true is that you can see a Munchkin who had hung himself in the background of the apple orchard scene. It’s actually some sort of crane.

The film went through many different scriptwriters. The book has no Kansas sequence, and actually happened to Dorothy and was not a dream, so the alternate identities–Elmira Gulch and the farmhands–were created for the film. It’s hard to know who wrote what, but Noel Langley, Florence Ryerson, and Edgar Allan Woolf are the credited screenwriters. The directing credits are also complex. Although Victor Fleming retains the sole directing credit, Norman Taurog, Richard Thorpe, George Cukor, and King Vidor all worked on it. Cukor served as a consultant, and may have been the one who nailed down the concept, but Fleming replaced him. Fleming also replaced Cukor on Gone With the Wind, and also got the sole credit. Vidor finished the picture, directing most of the Kansas sequences.

So what has made the film so enduringly popular/over these 75 years? I think it boils down to a few reasons. One is the fantastic music. I would venture to say that it is the best music ever written strictly for a film, and that “Over the Rainbow” is the best song ever written for a film. The songs were written by Harold Arlen and E.Y. Harburg, and Harburg, according to some, wrote much of the dialogue to go with the music. Some of the songs, like “It Really Was No Miracle” and the whole Munchkin song medley, take the place of dialogue. There are no bad songs. Even the interstitial music, such as “Optimistic Voices” (the music playing as the friends head up to the Emerald City) and the chant of the Wookies, the Witch’s guards, have become instantly recognizable.

Secondly, the theme resonates. There is no place like home, but you can’t find that out until you’ve been someplace else. Dorothy’s adventure is thrilling and dangerous, and at the end she could have stayed, but her familial roots pulled her back, even if it was to sepia Kansas (and, by the way, Toto still faces destruction–I doubt Elmira Gulch was willing to let bygones be bygones. Just what happened to Toto?)

Third, the three companions are an example of what came to be known as camp–so ridiculous that they are funny, and, along with Garland, the reason the film is so popular in the LGBTGQ community. I watched with a special eye for that this time, after reading earlier this year that the Cowardly Lion, played by a straight man, Bert Lahr, was actually a well-known stereotype at the time, the “Nance,” an effeminate gay man. The Tin Woodsman also seems to be light in his tin loafers, making the Scarecrow the butch one. Note how many crying men are in the film. The Tin Woodsman, the Lion, and the Wizard’s gatekeeper weep copiously (again, the Scarecrow is the only one who doesn’t). In this day and age, one could see the effeminacy of the characters as making sure the audience doesn’t think of any romantic entanglement with Dorothy (something Larry Flynt so vividly did in a x-rated pictorial in Hustler). I found it interesting to read there was an extra scene written, but never filmed, with Hunk (the Scarecrow’s alter ego) heading off to agricultural college, Dorothy sending him off, suggesting a future romance. Maybe that’s why she tells the Scarecrow “I’m going to miss you most of all.”

Part of this camp humor is so much fun, especially the whole scene after the Wizard is unmasked, and he gives the three males what they want, essentially satirizing American mores. “They’ve got what you haven’t got”–whether it be a diploma, medal, or testimonial, which, one realizes, are meaningless, and it’s action that matters.

The film does feel dated in some areas, notably the special effects. I still find the twister scene effective, even if that is nothing but a lady’s stocking being turned by a fan, but the backdrops are so crudely drawn and the owls and vultures in the haunted forest look like third-rate carnival spook house effects. But the flying monkey scene still works, as does the scene when the Wicked Witch is on her broomstick–it still gives me some chills. Also, the restoration of the picture makes the wires visible, especially in the Lion’s tale in the “King of the Forest” number. But so what? I still love Bert Lahr saying, “I’d thrash him from top to bottom-us.”