Opening in the U.S., August 29, 2014

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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

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Unbroken

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

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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

agedbox

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)

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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

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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

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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

agedbox

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

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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.”

 

Opening in the U.S., August 15, 2014

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Another shitty week at the multiplex, but arthouses have something to offer.

On Wednesday came Let’s Be Cops (27), and given the events in Ferguson, Missouri this week, the timing couldn’t be worse. Everything about this film makes me angry, and I hope all involved suffer for their crimes. Jason Clark: “If Let’s Be Cops were content to be simply an unfunny genre exercise, it would be easy to dismiss it and move on. But the sting of astoundingly ill-advised sexism and homophobia is harder to shake.”

The Expendables 3 (35) is tanking this weekend, perhaps not even earning 20 million. This might be due to the leaked screener on the Internet, or it may be that people are tired of watching washed-up action stars in routine action films. What is Kelsey Grammer doing in this movie? Peter Travers: “The Expendables 3, trading on our affection for action stars of the past, has officially worn out its already shaky welcome.”

The Giver (46) is based on a young adult novel I’d never heard of, but even though the source material is 20 years old, it’s yet another film about a dystopian future. Inkoo Kang: “The Giver is an anti-totalitarian allegory so farcically hyperbolic it feels like only a teenager could have come up with it.”

The movie I want to see is The Trip to Italy (76), a sequel to the riotously funny The Trip. This time, Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon visit restaurants in Italy (duh), but I think I’d watch these two just chatting at a bus stop. Nathan Rabin: “The film lets audiences be third parties in Coogan and Brydon’s dinner conversation. For lovers of words, comedy, and conversation, that’s an awfully hard proposition to pass up.”

Also this week: Life After Beth (54), a supernatural comedy with Aubrey Plaza; Frank (76), with Michael Fassbender as a musician who wears a large plastic head; and Septic Man (8), a horror film about a sewage worker. Gary Goldstein: “It’s a grotesque, deadly dull piece of cinematic upchuck, a horror film minus tension or chills.”

 

 

 

 

Review: Magic in the Moonlight

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Magic–and by extension, spiritualism–has long been a recurring theme in Woody Allen’s work. He was an amateur magician as a boy, reflected in his play The Floating Light Bulb, and magicians and mediums have appeared in his work throughout his career. Just off the top of my head I can think of A Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy, Scoop, You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger, Oedipus Wrecks, and The Curse of the Jade Scorpion.

Now he is has made his definitive film about the subject, one would hope, with Magic in the Moonlight. Basically the movie is a dialogue about the rational mind versus the mind that believes in the unseen world, and whether a person is happier when one hangs on to delusions. This might make for an interesting conversation over drinks, but not a very good movie.

Colin Firth, in a bad performance, plays a famous magician (in a bit of tone-deaf racism, he disguises himself as a Chinese man, complete with Fu Manchu mustache). He is also an arrogant prick, and is well-known as a debunker of fraudulent mediums (much like Houdini was–the debunker part, that is). A colleague (Simon McBurney), takes him to the south of France to attempt to debunk an American spiritualist (Emma Stone), who has charmed a rich family.

Firth tries to discover her tricks, but can’t, and eventually comes to believe she’s the real thing, which opens his mind to wonders he never considered and briefly makes him a better person. I won’t go any further than that, but any smart person will figure out how it will end.

I think Magic in the Moonlight was meant to be a comedy, but it has no laughs. There are some mild japes here and there, but only one thing made me laugh, when a psychiatrist says of Firth, “He is a very unhappy man. I like him.” Most of the film is made up of Firth’s many speeches about the folly of believing in anything but the rational world. I agree with him, but he quickly grew tiresome.

Almost saving the picture is Stone, who is at her most winsome here. I swear her eyes were enlarged by CGI–she’s like one of those Walter Keane paintings. Stone, who has specialized in light comedy like this, is now due to play something more serious, as she’s kind of wasted here. The movie forces her and Firth together, and they have absolutely no chemistry (as well as being about thirty years different in age). They are the least convincing pair since Allen and Helen Hunt in Jade Scorpion.

There are many other common Allen tropes–the film is set in the ’20s, so we get a lot of period music and the idle rich just kind of wandering around. For a Woody Allen film, the pace is also very bad. Some scenes last a beat or two too long, and the the whole thing is discomfiting. Allen seems to have a good film every other time out of the box lately, so maybe he should just pass on every other idea, and throw it back into the pile.

My grade for Magic in the Moonlight: C-.

AGEBOC ’14 August 15-17

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The battle for 2nd place rages on. It’s Slim’s world and we’re all fighting for table scraps

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. TMNT has to drop more than 60% this weekend, right? (yes=it will or no=it won’t)

2. What new release will end up 2nd among new wide releases – Expendables 3, The Giver, or Let’s Be Cops ?

Deadline is Thursday August 14th 11:59PM (blog time)
To find out the rules of the game, go to the main thread for AGEBOC 09.

Current rankings

agedbox

Aged Box

Jackrabbit Slim – 43.5
Joe Webb – 26.5
James – 21
Juan – 20.5
Rob – 20
filmman – 16
Marco – 9
Nick – 2.5

Review: Guardians of the Galaxy

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It seems that the Marvel Cinematic Universe can do no wrong. Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, The Avengers–all huge hits. Now they’ve even gone and taken a minor Marvel property and turned into another tentpole. Marvel has more tentpoles than a campground.

Guardians of the Galaxy, which was hardly a blip on the Marvel publishing schedule, is the latest monster hit from the comic book company. It is a slightly different approach than the other films, in that it is a space opera in the mold of Star Wars rather than a superhero film, but fundamentally it’s the same template–wisecracks, action sequence, sentimental moment, wisecracks, repeat, repeat, repeat.

The film chronicles a gang of misfits that get together and save the universe. Peter Quill, who calls himself Starlord, is a scavenger hired to find an orb. That orb is also being sought by a major baddie–Ronin, who wears a hoodie and has some interesting black paint on his face. He is working for Thanos, who Marvel watchers may remember was seen in the post-credit sequence of The Avengers. Ronin sends one of Thanos’ adopted daughters, Gamora (Zoe Saldana), who looks like the Jolly Green Giant’s daughter, to fetch the orb, but Gamora has betrayal on her mind.

Meanwhile, Rocket, a bounty hunter who happens to be a genetically modified raccoon, is after the bounty on Quill. Rocket’s partner is a humanoid tree, Groot, who is his muscle, though can be kind of sweet at times, and knows only three words–“I am Groot.” Later this group is joined by the muscle-bound Drax (Dave Bautista), whose family was killed by Ronin.

The similarities to Star Wars are many. Quill and Rocket both have Han Solo qualities (with Groot as the Chewbacca character). The Kree, Ronin’s race, are something like the Sith, with Thanos as the Emperor. But Guardians of the Galaxy is also buried in the Marvel tradition of wisecracks and use of popular culture. The story is contemporary, and Quill carries around a cassette tape of ’70s hits, mostly one-hit wonders like “Come and Get Your Love” and “Hooked on a Feeling.” That’s the kind of wit the film has. Sometimes it’s very funny, and the film succeeds as a comedy.

It does not succeed as an action picture. The script, by director James Gunn and Nicole Perlman, has plenty of laughs, but the plot is warmed over boilerplate sci-fi. I mean, an orb that can destroy the universe? How subtle. And the planet that is threatened looks like Disneyworld (of course the Kree are dark and scary). The action sequences–a prison break, a chase through the Disneyworld planet, the final confrontation–are all pretty routine.

A few sequences show some originality, such as a mining world inside the severed head of a celestial body, with Benicio Del Toro as “The Collector.” I also liked the character played by Michael Rooker, Quill’s mentor, who has a trained arrow. But mostly the film gets by on its jokes. Quill, played effortlessly by Chris Pratt, is great company, a guy who fancies himself a space outlaw (when someone does call him “Starlord” he happily sighs, “Finally!”) and Rocket, voiced by Bradley Cooper, provide most of the good lines.

The movie is stolen, though, by Groot, who is briefly voiced by Vin Diesel, perhaps the world’s least likely voice actor. Groot, as was Chewbacca, is an archetype–the sidekick, the kind of friend that every kid wants, usually to ward off bullies. Groot has a sweet nature, but can seriously kick ass, too. And I believe that if any line is remembered from any film this year by future generations, it will be “I am Groot.”

This film is getting raves as if it were the second coming of Star Wars,  but it’s not quite that good. I didn’t like it as much as The Avengers, Iron Man 3, or Captain America 2. But I welcome more films, perhaps with more original plots. And the inevitable team-up of this group with The Avengers ought to make the biggest salary payments in the history of films (because by then, Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, etc. will be commanding major paydays).

My grade for Guardians of the Galaxy: B.

Opening in the U.S., August 8, 2014

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What a dog of a weekend. In fact, the only movie opening this weekend that I could visualize me seeing is The Dog (77), a documentary about the bank robber, John Wojtowicz, who was memorably played by Al Pacino in Dog Day Afternoon. Joshua Rothkopf: “For all its eye-opening material, The Dog still feels unfinished, but for students of New York scuzziness, it’s an essential addition.”

The rest I’ll skip. There’s a completely unnecessary reboot of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (34). Fun fact number 1: I have never seen so much as a minute of any form of this show or the first movies. I do remember, though, when the first film opened. It was Thanksgiving weekend, 1990. I was at a multiplex seeing Dances of Wolves, but there was an army of kids in line for TMNT. A theater manager was prepping his ushers–“Every little kid needs to have a ticket.” he told them. Fun fact number 2: When I was at Penthouse, I was friendly with Julie Strain, one of the Pets. She later got married to Kevin Eastman, of the creators of TMNT. See, boys, what great wealth can attract? James Rocchi: “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles isn’t a movie; it’s a brand re-launch that’s going to satisfy stockholders far more than it’s going to entertain the people who paid to watch it.”

Into the Storm (44) is weather porn that ups the ante on CGI-based storms since Twister. I’m sure Brian, given his fascination with cyclones, will want to see it. Me, not so much. Billy Goodykoontz: “Into the Storm plays like a special-effects demonstration in search of a movie, but you have to give it to the filmmakers: They take no half-measures.”

Also not very interesting to me is some food porn, The Hundred-Foot Journey (55), about restauranteurs in the south of France, starring Hellen Mirren. Elise Nakhnikian: “The film is rife with tired food metaphors and plot twists so predictable you see them coming like travelers on the poplar-lined street that leads to the dueling restaurants.”

Finally, my favorite title this week, Fifi Howls from Happiness (78), about an Iranian artist I’ve never heard of. Godfrey Cheshire: “As if to confirm how crucial timing is to documentaries, the artist gives the filmmaker a last performance that helps make her portrait of him as extraordinary as the man it portrays.”

AGEBOC ’14 August 8-10

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No comments come to mind…

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 Guardians of the Galaxy drop more or less than 56% compared to last weekend?

2. The original TMNT opened to $25,398,367 (adjusted $48,935,400) in 1990 (& included one of Sam Rockwell’s earliest roles). Will this latest iteration open below the original’s unadjusted gross, between the unadjusted & adjusted, or above the adjusted gross?

Deadline is Thursday August 7th 11:59PM (blog time)
To find out the rules of the game, go to the main thread for AGEBOC 09.

Current rankings

agedbox

Aged Box

Jackrabbit Slim – 41
Joe Webb – 26
Juan – 20
Rob – 19.5
James – 16.5
filmman – 16
Marco – 9
Nick – 2.5

Review: Boyhood

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Much has made of Richard Linklater’s Boyhood: the fact that it was filmed over twelve years, thus showing the actors age in real time, and the near unanimous praise (Kenneth Turan thought it was merely a good movie, and almost had to apologize for it). But what I found interesting about it was not so much the fact that it allowed us to see a boy actually age from six to eighteen, but that instead of a conventional narrative it was like flipping through a photo album, or scanning one’s own memory of childhood. In that way it was oddly compelling, even though there were few moments of actual conflict.

Boyhood is the story of one boy, Mason, who as the film starts is six years old. He has an older sister and a single mother, who signals to a boyfriend early on that her children come first. Mason’s father has been gone to Alaska for a while (the film is set entirely in Texas), but he comes back and becomes the kind of single dad who struggles to keep a place in his children’s lives. There’s a great scene when he tells the kids he doesn’t just want small talk, he wants real conversations.

Linklater, instead of making this a highlight reel of a boy’s life, instead makes it like a patchwork quilt. Some important events are there, but others happen off-screen. Very often we get scenes that have no more relevance than that they are part of life, random events that shape us. I was particularly drawn to a scene when Mason is bullied in the boy’s room. We never see him bullied again, and the kids who do it don’t appear again. But it is there, as if we were roaming his subconscious and stumbled upon it. We also see a scene in which he hangs with older boys who brag about their sexual conquests. Mason tells them he has had sex, but we don’t know if he’s telling the truth–the loss of his virginity does not happen on screen.

It is kind of gasp-inducing to watch this film when a transition takes place. Mason goes from a cute little boy to an awkward teen in the space of less than three hours. I’m not a parent, but I gather this is about how fast a child’s life appears to be to some parents. At the end of the film, when Mason is a shaggy, ear-ringed college student, we almost have forgotten how he was as a boy. This is also true with his sister (played by Linklater’s daughter Lorelai). While the dad, Ethan Hawke, doesn’t age physically much, Patrica Arquette, as the mom, does, changing hairstyles, putting on weight, and acquiring more weariness of life.

What “plot” there is in the film mostly concerns the marital life of the parents. Arquette marries two men–one a professor of hers, and then a student. Both, after appearing to be great stepdads, become problem drinkers. We don’t see the split between her and husband number two, only when he confronts Mason after the latter comes home late. But we can hear the echo of the first scene–she puts her kids first.

Arquette is great, but Hawke has a trickier role, if that’s possible. He’s not the deadbeat dad, or the irresponsible dad. How great it is to see a divorced father actually being good to his children. He grows over the film–selling the GTO that seems to define him, getting married to a religious woman, having another child, and driving a mini-van. I’ll be surprised if both Arquette and Hawke aren’t nominated for Oscars.

As Mason is the extraordinary Ellar Coltrane. Linklater had to roll the dice on him. Not only did he have to believe that the kid wouldn’t back out (his daughter wanted to–she asked him to kill her character off) but that he would grow into a decent actor. Now, Coltrane doesn’t give a fantastic performance. He’s not a great actor–I don’t expect him to go on with an acting career of any substance, but at all times he seems to grasp what Linklater is trying to do, and is absolutely convincing.

I wouldn’t give this film a 100, it’s current score on Metacritic–it’s not even the best film of the year (it’s still The Grand Budapest Hotel for me) but Boyhood is a remarkable achievement, and unlike anything I’ve ever seen.

My grade for Boyhood: A-.

Random Thread for August 2014

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In the ongoing Ghostbusters reboot news, Paul Feig has been tapped as director and word is it will be an all-female cast. I’m not sure if it is a proper reboot, with no mention of the original, or a sequel. A sequel would be better, I think, with some cameos by the original cast (except for Murray, who I think is having none of it).