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While the debut of Lionsgate’s The Hunger Games: MockingJay, Part One earned 35 million less than it’s predecessor, it still scored the best opening weekend of the year with 123M.  While it’s kind of a good news/bad news thing for the studio, most of their rivals could only dream of such a “disappointing” start.  It’s pretty safe bet that they’ll rebound nicely with the final installment.

Meanwhile, Dumb and Dumber To fell victim to word of mouth and fell around 61%. While that’s based on estimates, I have a feeling that they’re probably inflated to begin with so it’s safe to hand out points now.

Marco – 4.5
Joe Webb – 2.5
Jackrabbit Slim – .5
James – .5
Juan – 0
Rob – 0


What will Horrible Bosses 2 earn from Friday to Sunday?


Will The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part One fall OVER or UNDER 54% this weekend?


Will The Penguins of Madagascar earn OVER or UNDER 30 million Fri-Sunday?

Answers are due on Wednesday, November 26th by 12:00 pm EST.  Good luck and Happy Thanksgiving!

In Memoriam: Mike Nichols


When I heard the news that Mike Nichols had died, I thought to myself that I had seen a lot of his work. I was stunned to see, upon checking out his filmography, that I have seen all of his feature films, save one–What Planet Are You From?–and I’m sorry that I’m opening this tribute with that film, which may well be his worst.

But I’ve seen 17 of his 18 films, and one of his two TV adaptations, Angels in America (I haven’t seen Wit). Nichols was an important film director, but he had even better credentials on Broadway, where he won nine Tonys. I saw five of his productions: The Real Thing, Hurlyburly, Waiting for Godot, The Seagull, and Spamalot. Just in those five we can see the range of his talents. Oh, and I also once saw him drop off Christine Baranski at the Port Authority.

Nichols was born a Russian Jew in Berlin, and escaped the Nazis to America in early childhood. He came of age in the Chicago improv comedy scene, and with Elaine May created a night of sketches that wowed ‘em on Broadway and also earned a Grammy for the record album (Nichols was one of the few EGOT winners–Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony). Many of the sketches are available on YouTube; you’d do yourself a favor to check them out.

He then went on to have the kind of Broadway directing career that someone could fantasize about: he started with Neil Simon’s early works, such as Barefoot in the Park and The Odd Couple, His Broadway career would stretch for over fifty years, encompassing not only those plays and the ones I mentioned, but the smash-hit musical Annie and his last, Death of a Salesman, with Philip Seymour Hoffman.

His foray into movies was just as audacious. The famous story about him is that he plucked Dustin Hoffman from obscurity to play Benjamin Braddock in The Graduate,  but Nichols specialized in stars. Big stars. His first film, after all, was Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, with the two biggest stars on the planet–Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. He would go on to work with most of the major American stars–Nicholson, Beatty, Streep, Roberts, Hanks, Ford, Williams, Travolta, Pacino. He directed Jack Nicholson four times, and if those films are not among Nicholson’s (or Nichols’) best, they do show off Nicholson’s star power. Nichols’ production of lThe Seagull, which I saw in Central Park in 2001, had six past or future Oscar winners: Meryl Streep, Kevin Kline, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Natalie Portman, Christopher Walken, and Marcia Gay Harden. Nichols didn’t stint when it came to cast wattage.

But he knew how to use stars. The aberration of Dustin Hoffman in The Graduate (he turned down Robert Redford for the part because he thought Redford couldn’t play a loser) is kind of moot by this point, because Hoffman became a star instantly.

Nichols’ career certainly had ups and downs. After perhaps the best one-two punch debut in film history, with Virginia Woolf and The Graduate, Nichols tried the impossible in adapting Catch-22, which failed. The ’70s were pretty much a lost decade, with high profile misses including The Day of the Dolphin and The Fortune. The ’80s were a bit better, with Silkwood, Biloxi Blues, and Working Girl (his last Oscar nomination) and the ’90s were okay, with Postcards From the Edge, The Birdcage, and Primary Colors. Mixed in there were a few more big duds (Nichols never did do small, indie fare) like Wolf and Regarding Henry.

His last few films included the TV stuff, and Angels in America was brilliant, perhaps his best work aside from The Graduate. I liked his last two films, Closer and Charlie Wilson’s War, which again showed how well he could handle stars, whether established like Tom Hanks or Julia Roberts, or up and comers, like Portman and Clive Owen.

His films and stage productions were all over the map–comedy, dramedy, drama, farce. Will we really see someone who can, with elan, direct Uncle Vanya and Spamalot, and no one will even bat an eye? To me, though, his signature work was The Graduate. It is one of my top five films of all time and, in the revolutionary year of 1967, was one of those films that changed the history of cinema. This film appealed to young people, and while older critics sniffed at it, lines formed around the block. It was fresh, it was new, and it still is, 47 years later.

Mike Nichols lived a hell of a creative life. Anyone would be happy to have lived a tenth of it.

Review: Birdman


Just how to explain the exhilarating experience in seeing Birdman, Alejandro G. Innaritu’s masterpiece? The one word that kept flitting through my brain was audacious–he takes many risks, and almost all of them pay off, in profound and thrilling ways. While the film isn’t perfect, it is so chock full of life and language (perhaps too full–multiple viewings are probably required to absorb it all) and I can’t think of another film that has attempted such a feat.

The plot is fairly simple. An actor (Michael Keaton), once famous for a series of superhero movies, attempts to validate his career by writing, directing, and starring in a play on Broadway (it is an adaptation of the Raymond Carver story “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love”). Theater geeks will enjoy the frenetic pace as the show heads into previews. An actor needs to be replaced, something goes wrong at every preview (such as when Keaton gets locked out of the theater and has to make a mad dash through Times Square in his underwear), his co-star (Andrea Riseborough), who is also his girlfriend, announces she is pregnant, and his daughter (Emma Stone), just out of rehab, works as his assistant and gives him dagger eyes at every opportunity (and those eyes are big).

But this is not a typical backstage farce. The first image we see of Keaton he is levitating in a lotus position, and has powers of telepathy. Are these real, or just the powers of Birdman, left over in his psyche. The actor who needs to be replaced is felled by a falling klieg light, which Keaton takes credit for. His producer and best friend, Zack Galifinakis, tries to hold things together, and they manage to hire a bad boy of the theater, Edward Norton (who happens to be sleeping with the other co-star, Naomi Watts). Norton is a classic narcissist and method actor (he drinks real gin on stage, and sports an erection during a bedroom scene), but is at constant odds with Keaton, especially when Norton sidles up to Stone.

Innaritu, after establishing that reality isn’t quite what we think it is (in addition to telepathy, Keaton hears the voice of Birdman himself, a devil on his shoulder) the film appears to be in one long take, with tracking shots the order of the day. This gives the film an urgent pace, and also makes it like one of those “make up your own story” books, as the camera may follow a different character. Cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki and editors Douglas Crise and Stephen Mirrione make this look just great, and accompanied by a jazz drum score by Antonio Sanchez, the whole thing is just electrifying.

But the film, for all it’s gimmicks, does get to the heart of the matter, and that is the redemption of a man, Keaton. He was a bad father, a bad husband, and maybe not a good actor. He cashed in on three Birdman films (he turned down Birdman 4) and now wants to justify his worth. He chooses Carver because he got a note passed back to him by the writer at a college play in Syracuse, although Norton points out that he was probably drunk (and Norton later steals the story). The last act of the film veers from suicidal impulses to glory, and then combines the two.

The script is credited to four writers, including Innaritu, and it is a marvel. The dialogue comes so fast and furious I can’t quote it directly–there’s a great bit when Keaton asks about replacements. “What about Woody Harrelson?” “He’s doing the Hunger Games.” “Michael Fassbender?” “He’s doing the prequel to the sequel of X-Men.” “Jeremy Renner?” “Who?” There are many references to current pop culture, such as when Keaton recounts being on a plane with George Clooney that experiences significant turbulence, and he thinks that if the plane goes down it will be Clooney’s face on page one, not his. A scene late in the picture, when Keaton has it out with the New York Times critic (Lindsay Duncan), who has sworn to destroy his play, even if she hasn’t scene it yet, is classic dialogue.

Keaton, who has been languishing for years in oddball projects, is a revelation. Though his casting is a bit meta, considering he was a comic book star twenty years ago, the performance owes more to Beetlejuice than Batman, as he is called upon to be manic often. I loved a scene in which he destroys his dressing room (through telepathy), and then Galifinakis enters. “Hey, what’s up?” Keaton says, as if is nothing is wrong.

The rest of the cast is great, too. I loved Naomi Watts as a woman finally making her Broadway debut and wincing at everything seems to be falling apart, and Norton is a sly scene-stealer, an obnoxious heel who reveals he is only truthful on stage. And Stone, wow, after seeing her in so many Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm roles it was great to see her stretch and play someone fairly unlikable (though hot). Amy Ryan has a few good scenes as Keaton’s ex-wife.

I will nitpick a bit about the supporting characters. Norton and Watts are not given complete character arcs–they fade away in the last act. There’s a lesbian kiss that comes straight out of left field and is never mentioned again. But I dare say I won’t see a more original film this year, and right now Birdman is battling it out with The Grand Budapest Hotel as my favorite film of the year. What do they have in common? Originality.

My grade for Birdman: A.

Movies Opening in New Haven – Weekend of November 21st, 2014


It’s a quick week because every studio has wisely chosen to avoid direct competition with…

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part One: Not much to explain here. Jennifer Lawrence returns in the third installment of Lionsgate’s insanely successful series.

This latest film is a departure from previous entries in that we’ve moved beyond the actual “Hunger Games” of the title and into full blown “revolution”.  While there’s a bit of a drop off in terms of critical praise (it’s currently at 70% on RT compared to the original’s 84% and Catching Fire‘s 89%) it should be a safe bet for fans of the franchise.  Francis Lawrence (Catching Fire, I Am Legend) directs.

Trailer: Youtube  Rotten Tomatoes: 70% Metacritic: 63%

Personal interest factor: 7

For classic fare: The Criterion in New Haven is running The Big Lebowski (1998) Friday and Saturday evening and How to Marry a Millionaire (1953) Saturday and Sunday morning.

Young Frankenstein


I was in need of a laugh, and as I was putting away my DVDs (finally the movers arrived) and as I shelved Young Frankenstein I remembered I wanted to watch it soon for its 40th anniversary. I’m about a month ahead, sue me.

Young Frankenstein is in my top ten, maybe top five, of comedies all time, and is certainly Mel Brooks’ best film (I find Blazing Saddles to be over-rated). He did have a hell of year in 1974, as both films were released in that calendar year. I suspect, though, that Gene Wilder had a lot to do with it. It was his idea, and the story goes that he agreed to appear in Blazing Saddles if Brooks would direct–and not act in–Young Frankenstein.

It is, of course, an affectionate send-up of the Universal Frankenstein pictures of the ’30s and ’40s. They crib bits of all five movies featuring the monster (at one point a villager says “this has happened five times before”) and is filmed with that luminous black and white that was common in old movies. The laboratory equipment used in the original Frankenstein was sitting in the garage of a man named Kenneth Strickfaden, who loaned it to Brooks for his use.

So what makes Young Frankenstein so good? It has a few different levels of comedy, but the most basic can be traced to the kind of slapstick made popular by comedians like Laurel and Hardy and Abbott and Costello. As I watched it again (for perhaps the tenth time) I noted how many times we get the slow burn (like the look Peter Boyle, as the monster, gives when blind hermit Gene Hackman smashes his cup during a toast). There is some vaudeville, mostly from Marty Feldman as Igor (pronounced “eye-gor”), such as when he goes a Groucho voice when Wilder asks him to take the bags “You take the blonde, and I’ll take the one with the turban.”

But overall there is a joyous sense of silliness through the whole thing, anchored in the performance by Wilder, who is unabashedly hammy. I can think of him now, on the platform during the electrical storm, his longish hair whipped by the breeze, wearing ridiculous goggles, shouting, “Life! Give my creature life!” as if we were one of the Booth brothers. The movie, for all its gifts, would be nowhere without his canny performance, which I think is one of the best comic performances ever put on celluloid.

But more silliness–this film actually gets away with dick jokes, “He must have a tremendous schwanzstugger” (not sure of the spelling) and the way Madeline Kahn says, “Oh my god!” when the monsters drops his trousers (it so wistful watching Kahn, who was taken from us much too soon–she’s one of the great comediennes who ever lived). And really, “Wow, what knockers!” while Wilder is holding Teri Garr, her breasts in his face? I might have written that line and thought it was too juvenile, but smarter heads prevailed.

Young Frankenstein is full of set pieces and performances that are too numerous to catalog, but some of my favorites: the sad little Liam Dunn wheeled in as a medical school volunteer; when Wilder and Feldman are digging up a grave, and Feldman says, “Could be worse, could be raining,” and a deluge immediately starts; “Abby Normal;” “Sed-a-give;” the entire Boyle/Hackman scene, which stands on its own as one of the greatest few minutes of comedy ever; Kenneth Mars using a German accent so thick even the villagers can’t understand him; “Put the candle back!” The most famous scene is probably the “Puttin’ on the Ritz” number, which is another few minutes of comic legend.

Even after so many viewings Young Frankenstein does not fail to amuse me. Wilder, though he may originated the idea, did need Brooks as a director, as the films Wilder would subsequently direct never approached the greatness of this film (I did get a great kick out of The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes’ Smarter Brother) when I was teen but I doubt it would hold up. Young Frankenstein was, and remains, comic alchemy.



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Welcome to HAGEBOC 2014!  Please join me in celebrating the holiday season by guessing how much money Oscar-bait dramas, CGI-stuffed fantasy films, R-rated comedies, lavish Broadway musical adaptations and lackluster family films will earn over the next seven weeks. It’s really more fun than it sounds.

No change in the scoring system this year (4 points awarded to the person with the closest guess, 2 to the runner-up.  A 2 point bonus for being within 500k.  Bonus questions are worth 1/2 point each) but I’m considering playing with the standard deadline after this week’s contest.


On the first week of HAGEBOC, Gone Elsewhere asked of me: “What will Mockingjay earn from Friday to Sunday?”


Will Dumb and Dumber To fall OVER or UNDER 60% this weekend?

Answers are due on Thursday, November 20th by 12:00 pm EST.  Good luck!

Movies Opening in New Haven – Weekend of November 14th, 2014


Dumb and Dumber To: Far too late sequel to the 1994 classic Jim Carrey/Jeff Daniels comedy.  Looks desperate, lazy and cheap.  The Farrelly Brothers, who haven’t made anything of note in 16 years, direct.

Saturday PM update:  The Universal comedy should land in the mid 30′s for the weekend, securing the #1 spot.   However, a decidedly unfunny B- Cinemascore does not bode well for word of mouth.  Expect a disastrous second weekend drop.

Trailer: Youtube  Rotten Tomatoes: 28% Metacritic: 37

Personal interest factor: 3. No doubt that I’ll see it eventually, but this is absolutely nothing that needs to be seen theatrically.

Rosewater: Jon Stewart’s directorial debut stars Gael Garcia Bernal as Maziar Bahari, an Iranian journalist wrongly imprisoned as a spy. Based on a true story.

Personal interest factor: 6.  Stewart has reportedly made a more-than-admirable first feature. I’ve felt like he’s had one foot out the door at The Daily Show for some time, so I’m curious to see how the reception to Rosewater impacts his future plans.

Trailer: YouTube  Rotten Tomatoes: 73% Metacritic: 66

Beyond the Lights: Bodyguard-redux about a pop star who falls in love with her protector. The movie itself sounds like your standard, disposable, soapy drama – but critics are raving about Gugu Mbatha-Raw’s star-making lead performance.

Trailer: YouTube  Rotten Tomatoes: 85%  Metacritic: 71

Personal interest factor: 6, but mainly to see Mbatha-Raw’s work.

For classic fare: The Criterion in New Haven is running The Warriors (1979) Friday and Saturday evening and The Big Sleep (1946) Saturday and Sunday morning. on Friday evening.

The Whitney Humanities Center at Yale is screening Hold ‘Em Yale (1928) with Live Piano Accompaniment on Friday at 7:00 pm and Some Like it Hot (1959) on Saturday evening.

Review: Interstellar


So often Christopher Nolan has been accused of making films that have no emotional depth (which I think is pretty much true). He has made another film, Interstellar, that is full of gear and gadgets and scientific jargon, but this time has added a veneer of soft gooey sentiment. At one point, a character is basically summarizing the song “All You Need Is Love.” Nice try, Nolan, but it doesn’t work.

Not that Interstellar doesn’t provide an audience with a decent evening/afternoon. The plot is intriguing: the Earth is dying, due to a blight that has wiped out most crops and created a new dust bowl. The only solution is to find a new home for humanity. NASA, which is operating secretly, has identified 12 possible planets, all accessible through a wormhole near Saturn. They’ve narrowed it down to three. A crew of four heads out to check them out.

There is a lot of science in this movie, and I won’t pretend to know what is accurate and what isn’t. I do know that prominent astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson has given his seal of approval, although he doesn’t even know what they’re talking about when they say “solving the problem of gravity.” The film also contains a closed time loop, which is a dangerous but favorite plot point.

Where the movie fails is it’s attempt to be human. This time around it’s love, love, love. Matthew McConaughey is the pilot on the mission, and he spends all his time worrying about his family (mostly his daughter–the son, who grows up to be Casey Affleck, is kind of left out). His daughter (Jessica Chastain as an adult) grows up to be a part of the team, working under main scientist Michael Caine. His daughter, Anne Hathaway, is on the mission, and reveals at one point that she wants to go to a certain planet because she loves the guy who’s on it, basically risking the future of mankind for her own selfish reasons. But, she basically says, to hell with numbers–it’s all about love.

Interstellar requires a great deal of attention, and an advanced degree might help. But those who have trouble with simple algebra, like me, can still get caught up in the story, when it doesn’t start singing “Kumbaya.” The first planet is covered with water about as deep as a wading pool, except when skyscraper-high waves crash down. This planet is near a black hole, and thus time is altered–for every hour spend on it, seven years of Earth time go by, which makes a visit need to be short and efficient. The second planet, which looks like the ice planet Hoth, has a surprise visitor (this actor, whom I won’t name, loves making unbilled cameos) who is seriously whack. His character’s name is Mann, which is a bit obvious.

The film ends with McConaughey in a black hole, and time becomes a physical space, which is all theoretical but pretty neat. I won’t go into any more details, but mind you you’ve been in the theater for over two and a half hours by this point.

As is pointed out all over the Internet, Interstellar is full of plot holes. I will only point out one, since it’s at the beginning of the movie. McConaughey and his daughter (played as a child by Mackenzie Foy, and credit to Nolan for casting a child who actually looks like Chastain) find NASA by deciphering binary code left by wind-scattered dust on the girl’s bedroom floor. Question: if McConaughey was the best pilot they had, and knows Caine, and lives less than a day’s drive away, why didn’t they just pick up the phone and call him? Were they really set to fly to a wormhole near Saturn without their best pilot?

There’s a lot more where they came from.

Interstellar is clearly Nolan’s homage to 2001: A Space Odyssey. There’s the hint of advanced alien races helping us, there are chatty robots, there’s a trippy ending. But Interstellar doesn’t have the mind-blowing qualities of that film. It does have some of the wooden acting, though.

I liked Interstellar in doses, and recommend it for those who like sci-fi and all matters cosmic.

My grade for Interstellar: B-.

Movies Opening in New Haven – Weekend of November 6th, 2014


Interstellar: Christopher Nolan space epic starring Matthew McConaughey as a man on a quest to save the human race.  Anne Hathaway, Wes Bentley, Jessica Chastain, Michael Caine and Matt Damon co-star.  Once upon a time this would have been one of my most anticipated films of the year – but The Dark Knight Rises (and to a lesser extent, The Dark Knight) soured me a bit on the director.

Critics are enamored with the visuals but it appears to suffer from serious story, pacing and character issues.  I’ve heard it compared to Peter Jackson’s King Kong, which does not sound like a compliment.  Anyway, I guess it’s worth seeing on IMAX to savor the expensiveness of it all.

Trailer: Youtube  Rotten Tomatoes: 73%  Metacritic: 73

Personal interest factor: 7

Big Hero 6: Disney animated film very, very loosely based on a Marvel comic book series.  Reviewed by our own Mr. Webb here.

Trailer: YouTube  Rotten Tomatoes: 91%  Metacritic: 75

Personal interest factor: 3

For classic fare: The Criterion in New Haven is running The Warriors (1979) Friday and Saturday evening and To Have and Have Not (1944) Saturday and Sunday morning.

The Whitney Humanities Center at Yale is screening Redes (1936) and El Automóvil Gris/The Grey Automobile (1919) as part of their “Vida y Drama de Mexico Film Series” on Friday evening.

Review: Nightcrawler


I saw Nightcrawler three days ago and I still don’t know what to think. I do know it’s fantastic filmmaking, and an audacious commentary on what TV journalism consists of today. It also has one of the great horrible-person protagonists of recent memory. Many have compared Jake Gyllenhaal’s Louis Bloom to Travis Bickle and Rupert Pupkin, but Bloom may even be more sociopathic.

We don’t know much about Bloom. When the film begins he steals scrap metal. He happens to drive by a car accident and is fascinated by the video crew that pulls up, led by Bill Paxton. He learns that the crews are free-lance, and sell their footage to the highest bidder. We also hear the shop-worn phrase, “If it bleeds it leads.” Essentially, these guys are paparazzi, but their targets are anything that produces blood and human misery, whether they be auto accidents, plane crashes, or murders.

Bloom, who may have some sort of autism, is able to spout paragraph upon paragraph of self-help blather he’s learned on the Internet, usually in a semi-robotic fashion. He starts off with a simple camera and no idea what he’s doing, but he manages to get some decent footage of a carjacking victim and sells it to the lowest rated news station in L.A.. The news director is Rene Russo, who is on the hot seat, and though the footage is graphic, she leads with it.

Bloom ends up hiring an assistant (Riz Ahmed), a homeless guy who will anything for money. The relationship between these two is one of the strongest things about the movie (written and directed by Dan Gilroy). Ahmed sorts of knows Bloom is crazy, but sticks with him, while Bloom constantly berates Ahmed, but then turns around and praises him. It’s sort of like he thinks Ahmed is a dog.

Eventually Bloom becomes a success, with state of the art equipment and a new car. He turns down Paxton’s offer of going partners. In one of the most disturbing scenes of the movie, Gyllenhaal takes Russo out on a date, and tells her that unless she has sex with him, he will take his footage elsewhere, risking her job.

There are no ethics to be found in Nightcrawler, and for that reason this film is certainly not for everyone. Bloom is a very creepy character. First he moves accident victims for a better shot, and then, on a home invasion when he gets there before the police, withholds evidence so he can end up reaping the benefit. You may want to shower after the film, but you won’t forget it easily.

Nightcrawler benefits from excellent night-time L.A. photography by Robert Elswit that reminded me a lot of Collateral. The opening shot is of a blank billboard, and then the moon hanging over the mountains, which was instantly grabbing. I also liked the percussive score by James Newton Howard.

But this film belongs to Gyllenhaal. His portrait of a man with no empathy is truly scary and unnerving. He may or may not be nominated or an Oscar, but it is without doubt one of the best performances of the year.

My grade for Nightcrawler: A-.

Review: Big Hero 6


DISCLAIMER: I know nothing of the manga or mini-series or original characters. This is based on watching the film with my only prior knowledge being two trailers and a short clip.

BH6PosterBig Hero 6 is a perfect summer action film. With Pixar taking the year off, and most other films underperforming, this could have been the animated hit of the season. A good movie will find an audience any time of year, though, so I hope that is the case here. While it has its story faults here & there, this should be another winner for Walt Disney Animation Studios (though not on the success-level of Frozen but, then again, what is?).

At its core Big Hero 6 is a story about a boy and his robot. In that sense I have taken to calling it a PG version of Terminator 2. Baymax is not a killer-robot (quite the opposite in fact, save for one well-executed & emotional scene in the middle) from the future, but he does spend the entire movie attempting to protect the main character – 14-year old Hiro Hamada. Throughout the course of the movie Baymax learns to understand grief, loss, comfort & sacrifice. And while it’s not “hasta la vista, baby,” the hand gesture & vocal response he learns brings the house down every time Baymax uses it.

The trailers do a serviceable job setting up a sort of alternate world where San Francisco & Tokyo have morphed into one and it’s an awesome sight to see, as long as you’re willing to suspend a great deal of disbelief. Read the rest of this entry

Opening in Las Vegas, October 31, 2014


A light weekend. James, you’re up for November.

The film to see this weekend is Nightcrawler (78), a swim through the sewers of dodgy journalists. Jake Gyllenhaal is getting raves, though you never know what you’re going to get with him, and I can just picture our own Brian C. debating whether to see this or not. Michael Phillips: “Despite the familiarity of its themes — the bottom-feeding news media; the pathology born of extreme isolation and a little too much online time; the American can-do spirit, perverted into something poisonous — Gilroy’s clever, skeezy little noir is worth a prowl.”

I liked this line from Las Vegas Weekly’s Josh Bell regarding Horns (45): “Joe Hill, son of Stephen King, has followed in his father’s footsteps by becoming a horror novelist, and with Horns, he continues on that path by seeing one of his books made into a mediocre movie.” Daniel Radcliffe stars a guy who wakes up one day with, well, figure it out.

Before I Go to Sleep (41) reads like a weak remake of Memento, or 50 First Dates, as a woman (Nicole Kidman) forgets her recent past every time she goes to sleep. Maybe we could forget the movie after we go to sleep? Stephen Holden: “If it weren’t for the diligent performances of its stars, who inject some emotional depth into this bogus claptrap, Before I Go to Sleep would be an unwatchable, titter-inducing catastrophe.”

Happy Halloween, everyone!





Review: St. Vincent


St. Vincent is shamelessly manipulative, and dissolves in a sentimental puddle of goo at the end, but I liked it, and I have to admit it got to me, even though I hate myself for it.

Written and directed by Theodore Melfi, Bill Murray stars as the irascible Vince, a roguish Vietnam vet who smokes, drinks, gambles, consorts with prostitutes, and is an all-around grouch. But, of course, he really has a heart of gold. After all, he does have a cat.

This film, you may notice, is very much like Bad Santa. Both films have louses who are redeemed by watching out over pathetic little boys. Both chase off bullies. Both teach questionable life lesson (Murray teaches his young charge how to bet at the track). But Bad Santa, though it flirts with sentiment, never really goes whole hog like St. Vincent does. For example, the kid in Bad Santa is really pathetic, while the kid in St. Vincent is smart, polite, and the kind of kind anyone would love to have.

The plot is pretty simple: single mom Melissa McCarthy moves in next door to Murray. She ends up paying him to babysit. Man and kid bonds. There are bookies involved, and a Russian stripper/hooker (played disastrously by the normally excellent Naomi Watts). Their is not only a character with Alzheimer’s, another has a stroke, doubling down the mawkishness.

The film is elevated above its trappings by Murray. I read a review wondering if Murray has ever been perfectly served by a film, and this may be the closest. He seems perfectly at home with this character. Some of the lines are vintage Murray, such as when he says prostitution is the only honest profession, or that being dead is the oldest you can be. The closing credit sequence, in which he listens and sings along to Bob Dylan while playing with a garden hose, brought me back to his work in Caddyshack. 

So do see this film, and curse yourself if you get a tear in your eye during the shameless climax of the film, which I won’t even describe because it will remind me what a softie I am.

My grade for St. Vincent: B.

Review: The Wild One (1953)


the_wild_oneWhen released in 1953, the Laszlo Benedek film ‘The Wild One’ starring Marlon Brando as Johnny caused a sensation. Its story of a group of bikers terrorising a small American town was something new, fresh and exciting in cinema and it aroused such controversy that it was even banned in the United Kingdom for over a decade.

The film’s lasting impact was signified by Brando on a motorcycle becoming one of the iconic images of Hollywood cinema; indeed it was common to see posters of that Brando image as a symbol of rebellion and cool.

But over 60 years have passed since the film’s release and what was once shocking is now very tame; indeed in a recent television screening in Australia it was deemed fine for children to watch (albeit with parental guidance).

Take away the shock factor and the bannings and the imagery, how does ‘The Wild One’ stack up today as an artistic work?

After the memorable pre-credits scene of the group of bikers (called The Black Rebels) whizzing by our eyes on an open road, the film starts off very strongly with a brief scene in a Californian town of Carbonville where The Black Rebels interrupt a motorcycle race and are booted out of town. The film impressively conveys on one hand the disruption the bikers cause and on the other hand the understandable resentment the bikers have towards the oppressive authority figures such as the policeman who smugly orders them out for what was in truth pretty minor stuff. It’s a great summation of the conformity of 1950s life and what the rebellion of the bikers would become much more substantial and widespread in the following decade.

However the rest of the film is set in another small town of Wrightsville and that seems like a replication of what already was conveyed in the Carbonville segment, except for much longer and to generally lesser effect. Most of the bikers and townsfolk remain one-note stock characters and as a result make little impact.

Even at the short running time of 79 minutes, The Wild One feels somewhat overstretched as it is a mishmash of overlapping storylines, ranging from the relationship between Johnny and the daughter of the police chief (played blandly by Mary Murphy) to the arrival of a rival motorcycle gang to The Black Rebels with its leader played by Lee Marvin. And yet after being built up in significance, Marvin’s character is largely forgotten in the film’s latter stages.

One of the most surprising things about the film is that even though it’s one of Brando’s most iconic roles, he actually is somewhat miscast. His brooding, surly persona actually seems at odds with the rest of his gang who have energy to burn and act like hyperactive, naughty kids. As someone who seems like a loner, it’s hard to believe he would ever become the leader of a gang like this.

In contrast, in his brief role Lee Marvin not only seems a much better fit as a leader of a bikie gang, but his effervescent, boisterous performance almost steals the film. It’s a shame he’s so underused.

In terms of style, The Wild One feels like a mixture of being a breath of fresh air into early 1950s Hollywood cinema, as well as being rather stagey and old-fashioned at times during certain scenes.

This is well demonstrated in the film’s pre-credits sequence. The opening shot is a ground-level view of an initially peaceful open road which then is overtaken by a cyclone of motorcycles roaring past. This dazzling and seminal opening is however followed up by our first view of Marlon Brando which is obviously in back projection, severely diluting its impact. Here we see the use of fresh new realism clash with clumsy and cheap studio techniques.

Overall director Benedek does a good job. His direction is often vivid and arresting, not only in the Carbonville sequence impressive, but also as night falls in Wrightsville as he uses intercutting and tempo (and no dialogue) to create a sense of dread that things are about to fall apart in the town. He also makes relatively convincing the sequence of the townsfolk turning to vigilante behaviour and in fact becoming more dangerous than the bikers ever.

So after six decades does The Wild One still hold up? Not really, but it’s still an interesting and entertaining film worth watching. It’s just a shame that it didn’t have Lee Marvin in the main role.

Rating: B-