AGEBOC ’14 July 25-27


Juan with the bonus this week! People are zeroing in now.

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 Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson’s Hercules earn more or less in its opening weekend than an adjusted Disney’s Hercules (1997) earned in its first wide release weekend ($37,206,416 adjusted for inflation)?

2. Will Lucy be Director Luc Besson’s highest opening-weekend-grossing (adjusted for inflation) film, yes/no? (Also in 1997, The Fifth Element made $29,535,850 in its first weekend, adjusted)

Deadline is Thursday July 24th 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 – 36
Juan – 19
Rob – 18
Joe Webb – 16.5
filmman – 16
James – 15.5
Marco – 8.5
Nick – 2.5

Review: Dawn of the Planet of the Apes


Here’s a good way to realize you are watching a great movie–by the time the movie is well into the action, you don’t even think of how good or bad the movie is, because you’re too in the moment. That’s how I felt about Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, which just might be the best summer blockbuster since Raiders of the Lost Ark.

A sequel to Rise of the Planet of the Apes, which I liked a lot, Dawn outdoes it in every way. Most of this is due to an extremely intelligent script by Mark Bomback, Rick Jaffa, and Amanda Silver, which, dare I say, even manages to be profound. Of course, a lot of credit goes to Matt Reeves, who manages to keep this thing from degenerating into a Michael Bay explosion fest, and the acting of Andy Serkis, who I will elaborate on below.

The film takes place ten years after the end of Rise. Most of humanity is dead, due to a disease that was tested on apes. Called the “Simian flu,” it spread around the world. Meanwhile, a colony of intelligent apes, those experimented on, live peacefully in the forest north of San Francisco. They have advanced, learning to use fire, domesticate animals, and build shelters. They are led by Caesar (Serkis), and have a strict moral code–“Ape Not Kill Ape.” (So they haven’t completely mastered English grammar).

Caesar and his friends think that mankind must be wiped out, but one day out hunting a pair of chimps stumble upon some humans, and one ape gets shot. The humans have survived the plague, living in a colony in Frisco. They are trying to see if a hydro-electric dam can still be used to generate electricity, so they can find out if there are any other surviving humans. Problem–the apes don’t want them around.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is, on a small scale, a primer on diplomacy and the folly of both man and ape to fuck things up by prejudice and stupidity. While watching, you feel a crushing sense of sadness at how things play out, feel embarrassed at being human, and also see how ape and human are pretty much alike. At one point Caesar says, “I thought ape better than human. Now I see we are alike.” Ouch.

Both sides have the good guy and the bad. For the humans, we have Jason Clarke and Keri Russell, who understand that the apes are to be reasoned with, while on the bad side we have Gary Oldman, who thinks they are just animals and is inclined to kill them. For the apes, Caesar is badly assisted by Koba, an ape who so maltreated in captivity that he hates humans, and accuses Caesar of loving them more than apes. This earns him a thrashing from Caesar.

The film is extremely rich. Not only is it gripping, but it thought-provoking. We can think of all sorts of real-life situations that the film alludes to, right up to the current headlines in Gaza, where two sides just can’t get along. There is also a scene that is daring in its execution. Koba, on a mission from the apes home, penetrates the humans’ home. In order to appear nonthreatening, he adopts typical chimp behavior, as if he was a circus animal. I thought of how many groups have resorted to cultural stereotypes, such as Stepin Fetchit or Charlie Chan, to assimilate. It’s a funny scene, but it has powerful depth.

I was impressed also that my bullshit detector didn’t go off much, given that it’s a movie about apes with superior intelligence. At one point I wondered why they didn’t smell humans who were hiding, but I see on a few web sites that the sense of smell of chimps has deteriorated over generations (just like it has in humans). There is a pretty whopping coincidence when Clarke finds just the ape he needs at the moment, but given the overall smartness of the script, I’m willing to forgive it.

In closing, I must comment on Andy Serkis, who is given top-billing. He is the actor who has now specialized in these motion capture roles, from Gollum to King Kong. There is never any question in the mind of the viewer that Caesar is a real ape, even if he is completely created out of computer effects. Serkis is masterful not only in moving like a chimp, but in his facial expressions. In fact, I was amazed that I had no trouble differentiating between the different apes, a testament to all the motion-capture actors.

My grade for Dawn of the Planet of the Apes: A.

Review: It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963) – The Criterion Collection



MadWorld  There are certain films I watched in my childhood that – not necessarily to do with quality – that I’ve held onto fondly into my adult years. One of these is Stanley Kramer’s 1963 mega-comedy “It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World”.=

Whenever I watched it as a kid the story of the madcap rush across California by an ever-growing group of people for $350,000 felt like the longest, biggest mega-spectacle I’d seen in a movie. The slapstick comedy on such a grand scale meant that many of the film’s setpieces stayed in my memory even if I hadn’t seen the film for years.

Eventually I got the chance a few years ago to see the film on a big screen (as it should be seen) but one aspect of the film I wanted to see – namely the extended original version of the film lasting over three hours that was eventually cut down to its 154 minute length – seemed unlikely to be ever accessiable. So when Criterion announced they were releasing a special edition of IAMMMMW which included a 197 minute version with substantial footage not seen for 50 years, I jumped at the chance to purchase it.

There are multiple aspects to review on this Criterion package: how the extra footage is, how the Criterion package is itself and of course how the film itself stands up.

As a film, IAMMMMW stands up marvellously well and even after seeing it dozens of times it still is enormously entertaining; rarely has a film of such length gone by so quickly. For years I had the film on VHS in a pan-and-scan version and seeing it on widescreen Blu-Ray does it far better justice. Kramer is perceived today as a stodgy, uninventive director but his work on this film is excellent. His staging of big setpieces, pacing and use of the widescreen is essential to the film’s success.

Because of Kramer’s skill, the film has an array of memorable comic scenes. My favourite one is the destruction of a brand new petrol station by an enraged Lennie Pike (Jonathan Winters). Even though I’ve seen it dozens of times, I still marvel at the timing and composition of the scene.

Of course the big selling point of the film was the cast, which had an amazing array of comic stars, headed by legendary (but largely non-comic) actor Spencer Tracy in one of his last films. An interesting note made on the disc is that as impressive as the cast is, it’s largely made of comic stars who hadn’t made their name in film but on TV or elsewhere (Phil Silvers, Jonathan Winters, Milton Berle, Sid Caesar, Ethel Merman, Buddy Hackett). Apart from Tracy, the only actor with a significant role who’d had a major film career was Mickey Rooney (although British Terry-Thomas had been successful in his own country).

As observed on the disc, perhaps many of these stars realised this was their big chance to show they had what it takes in a film and they give it all. As a result, there is hardly a weak performance and it’s hard to pick a favourite. For mine, the funniest performances are an incredibly slimy Silvers and Dick Shawn as a manic beach bum.

Then there’s the 40 minutes or so of extra footage. Inserted organically into the film – sometimes as standard footage of if not available as audio with still photographs – it is fascinating to finally see. Particularly interesting is that we learn that Dick Shawn’s character actually steals the car of the woman he is dancing and there’s a substantially expanded role for Buster Keaton (who has only one line in the official version). There’s also a scene between Edie Adams and Sid Caesar when locked in a basement that is surprisingly sexually suggestive by 1963 standards. However, virtually none of the footage adds anything extra to the film and feels like padding. Whoever had final say on what to cut from the film did a very smart job.

And what of Criterion’s special features provided here? I’ve commented recently about how I’ve lost interest in extra features on DVD/Blu-Ray products in recent years, but this is an exception. There is an audio commentary of the extended version  that didn’t sound particularly promising as it’s done by three individuals who I hadn’t heard of and are listed as ‘aficionados’ of the film. But it’s an excellent commentary full of fascinating facts, including that Peter Sellers was first choice for the Terry-Thomas role, why the likes of Bob Hope, Lucille Ball and Red Skelton didn’t appear and that Buster Keaton and Jimmy Durante were originally slated to have each other’s parts.

There are a plethora of other extras, including a fly-on-the-wall documentary from a Canadian TV news program showing footage from the official premiere, and interviews with cast and crew from the film’s release, in the 1970s and from a 50 year celebration event. There’s so much in this package that even despite spending plenty of time watching these extras that over the past couple of weeks a fair chunk of it I haven’t watched yet.

If you want to be introduced to the great quality of Criterion products, their release of IAMMMMW is a great place to start. And if you’re a fan of the film, this is an essential purchase.


Opening in New Haven – Weekend of July 19th, 2014


It’s a mid-Summer weekend that looks a heck of a lot more like a Labor Day dump of undesirable studio product.  Beware of new releases, filmgoers…

Sex TapeCameron Diaz reunites with her Bad Teacher director (Jake Kasdan) and co-star (Jason Segel) for this comedy about a married couple who look to reignite their passion by filming a sex tape. Unfortunately, in true sitcom fashion, their intimate moments are soon leaked on the internet.

Critics hate it and it’s opening in at least fourth place. I don’t even want to write another word about this, let alone watch it.

Personal interest factor: 0

The Purge: Anarchy: The increasingly busy Frank Grillo (Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Zero Dark Thirty) stars in this Ethan Hawke-less sequel to last Summer’s surprise low-budget hit.

This newest entry should win the weekend’s box office race – so good for them, I guess. I’m legitimately surprised this is sitting at 53% on RT.

Personal interest factor: 0

Planes: Fire and Rescue: Sequel to last Summer’s decently-performing Cars spin-off, produced back-to-back before the original even opened.

Personal interest factor: 0

For classic fare: The Criterion in New Haven is running Aliens (1986) Friday and Saturday evening and M*A*S*H (1970) Saturday and Sunday morning.

Review: Snowpiercer


As a solution to global warming, a chemical is released into the atmosphere. It works too well–freezing everything, wiping out almost all life. A few thousand people remain, all living on a perpetually moving train, which circles the Earth once a year. Where you live on the train is based on your socio-economic status: the rich live up front in luxury, the poor live in the back, in squalor.

This is the premise of the highly entertaining and thought-provoking Snowpiercer, from director Bong Joon Ho. Not only does it work as a pure action film, but it’s a pretty devastating political allegory, as it can easily be seen as a parallel to the burgeoning income inequality in the U.S. these days.

As the film begins, Curtis (Chris Evans, looking like The Edge when he wears his knit cap) is plotting a revolution, along with his sidekick, Jamie Bell, and his wise mentor, John Hurt. When they realize the soldiers probably don’t have any bullets, they storm forward on the train. Each car offers new discoveries (this will also remind viewers of a video game), whether it’s the food car, when they find out exactly what the gelatinous protein bars they eat are made of, or a car full of axe-wielding, balaclava-wearing thugs.

The crew of revolutionaries include the security systems designer, Song Kang-Ho, and his daughter, Go Ah-Sung. They are both addicted to a drug called Kronole, which is industrial waste that is inhaled. Some of the nasties that are encountered are the hilarious Tilda Swinton as Minister Mason, who deals with the back-end passengers by telling them that everyone is in their place, and that they are not hats, they are shoes.

It is always those in power that tell the powerless that everything and everyone has its place, which of course keep them in power. It’s when that is questioned, as it should be, that revolutions happen. And the quest of the downtrodden in Snowpiercer is kind of thrilling. I’m not sure Mitt Romney would like it.

Bong, who directed The Host, shows great visual flair, as well as telling a powerful tale. Early in the film, the denizens of the rear of the train, who living in a gray world, are visited by a woman in a bright yellow coat. The use of color is so audacious that I almost couldn’t concentrate on what she was doing, but it signified something important–the further up the train the rebels move, the more color there is.

The train’s operator is Wilford, played by Ed Harris, in a role that is similar to his TV director in The Truman Show. He’s described as divine by Swinton, and has never visited the rear of the train, living alone in the engine room. When Evans and Harris finally meet, the film loses a little, as we’ve seen these kind of confrontations before, where the man in power tells the powerless man the truths of life. The ending, also, doesn’t make a lot of sense, and fails to make the point that the entire film was leading toward.

Still, this film is dazzling. My grade for Snowpiercer: B+.

AGEBOC ’14 July 18-20


Rob claims 7 points and leapfrogs into 2nd place but Slim continues to extend his lead over everyone else.

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. Which movie will end up in 2nd place?

2. Which movie will end up in 3rd place?

Deadline is Thursday July 17th 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 – 35.5
Rob – 18
filmman – 16
James – 15
Joe Webb – 13.5
Juan – 12.5
Marco – 8.5
Nick – 2.5

Opening in New Haven – Weekend of July 11th, 2014


It’s a light week with just a single major studio release, albeit one that the critics are going ape (sorry) for:

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes:  I’ve never really been a fan of the Planet of the Apes franchise, having been born too late to enjoy the original series of films.  As a kid, they were always regarded as “those creepy monkey movies from the 70’s” that someone’s older brother was really into.  To this day, I’ve never seen a single Apes film beyond Rupert Wyatt’s well-regarded, mega-hit 2011 reboot.

When Wyatt* decided to sit this installment out, most assumed that the franchise would be headed south.  Fortunately FOX (with their newfound, shocking emphasis on making decent tentpoles) made a great call and hired Matt Reeves (Let Me In, the much-better-post-hype Cloverfield) as his replacement.  Reeves has reportedly delivered the best film in the series; an installment that delivers spectacle, action and emotion in equal parts.

It’s not just getting some of the best reviews of the Summer, it’s getting some of the best notices of a studio blockbuster in years.

Personal interest factor: 6

Newly available On Demand this weekend: SnowpiercerA Long Way Down

For classic fare: The Criterion in New Haven is running Alien (1979) Friday and Saturday evening and Carmen Jones (1954) Saturday and Sunday morning.

* It’s incredibly difficult keeping Rupert Wyatt and Rupert Sanders (Snow White and the Huntsman) straight.  I double-checked their IMDB listings just to ensure I was naming the correct guy above.

Throw Director Rupert Wainwright (Stigmata, The Fog) into the conversation and I’m really confused.

….or Rufus Wainwright.

Review: Life Itself


So what does it say about me that the most I’ve cried at a movie in a long time is a documentary about a pudgy film critic? Well, I found myself tearing up quite a bit at Life Itself, the film based on Roger Ebert’s memoir. It’s a fascinating celebration of a fascinating man, a man who lived a great life and died a great death.

The director is Steve James, just one of many unknown filmmakers that Ebert helped in his career. James directed Hoop Dreams, a film that Ebert championed and named the best film of 1994. That film, which was emotionally powerful and superbly edited, lends some of its traits to this film, though the subjects couldn’t be more different.

The film covers Ebert’s life in roughly chronological order, from his days as a boy reporter to his tenure editing the Daily Illini to his days as a Chicago newpaperman. Then he became a Pulitzer-Prize winning critic, and after being teamed with Gene Siskel on television, half of the most powerful film critics the media had ever seen.

Through all this we see Ebert in his last days, at first in rehab after a fractured hip, then after a bout of pneumonia. Cancer had robbed him of his jawbone, which meant the skin of his chin dangled uselessly, leaving him unable to speak, eat, or drink. We see some grueling treatment, such as suction (a tube is stuck directly down a tracheal opening). Yet his spirits remained high, mostly due to his constant work on his blog, and his wife Chaz.

From the first I knew of him I have admired Ebert. He was a great humanist–the beginning of the movie, in which he is awarded a star in front of the Chicago Theater, has him saying that civilization requires us to get know others we don’t know, and that movies play a part in that–they are “a machine of empathy.” We learn what a great guy he could be, mostly from his cronies in his Chicago newspaper days, hanging out until last call at a dive bar. But we also learn what we could have guessed–he tended to be full of himself, was a control freak, and could be a big baby.

Most of this is shown with his difficult relationship with Siskel. At first they hated each other. Siskel, who is knew how to press Ebert’s buttons, is described by a friend as “a rogue planet in Roger’s solar system.” We see some of their great arguments on the show, plus outtakes of teaser ads, in which both drove the needle deeper when they make a mistake. Siskel finally says, “Join us this week on Siskel and Ebert and the Movies and the asshole.”

But the two entered on such a wild ride that they couldn’t help but feel closer. Siskel would later clarify his statement: “He’s an asshole, but he’s my asshole.” My first time tearing up is when Siskel died, in 1999 (he did not tell Ebert he had a brain tumor). Siskel’s widow reads the beautiful letter that Ebert wrote her, and it’s heart-rending.

Later the film covers how Ebert met his wife, Chaz (it was at an AA meeting, which Chaz had never admitted before). Ebert was fifty when they married, and was immediately part of an extended African-American family. Everyone who knew him said she changed him for the better. As someone who is about to get married for the first time in my 50s, this was the second time I cried.

Of course, Ebert and James did not know that Ebert would die before the film would end, but he did, and as Ebert indicates, it makes for a better story. When Chaz describes his final moments, with the whole family holding hands in a circle, it was crying time number three.

But there’s a lot more, including some laughs. Why did Ebert like the films of Russ Meyer (for whom he wrote a screenplay)? “Boobs.” Martin Scorsese recalls a touching moment when he was at the end of his rope, and Siskel and Ebert invited him to the Toronto Film Festival for a tribute, and if we can understand it clearly, saved his life. Other filmmaking friends express their love and admiration, such as Werner Herzog and formerly unknown directors, like Gregory Nava, Rahmin Bahrani, and Errol Morris. Morris, who had made a small documentary called Gates of Heaven, which the two mentioned on their show three times, credits Siskel and Ebert for making his career possible.

We hear a few respectful criticisms. Richard Corliss wrote an article about the dumbing down of criticism by using a “thumbs-up, thumbs-down” system, but in retrospect he doesn’t seem so convinced of it. Jonathan Rosenbaum feels that Ebert went too mainstream, but there is plenty of evidence to suggest that’s not true, as they both went out of their way to find and champion small films. It is true, though, that someone like Pauline Kael would have never worked with a dog, as Siskel and Ebert did.

The greatest takeaway from Life Itself is that Roger Ebert lived a great life. He was a polymath, something of a genius (he could write a fully realized review in half an hour. I can do that, too, but mine aren’t near as good) and a great friend. He got dealt a tough break in his last years, but I’m sure he wouldn’t have traded it for anything.

His final words, written on his blog the day before his death, were “I’ll see you at the movies.”

My grade for Life Itself: A.

A Hard Day’s Night


One of my top five favorite films, A Hard Day’s Night was released fifty years ago on July 6th, and it’s one of those happy accidents of cultural history. Designed merely to be an exploitation of what most thought to be a passing fad, it has instead endured to be one of the best musical films of all time, as well as being a trendsetting piece of art that helped redefine film and music.

The Beatles, as well all know, struck it big in 1964. Less than a month after their groundbreaking appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show, they began shooting this film in March. Four months later the film was released. The writer was Alun Owen, who hung around the band and got used to their Liverpudlian rhythms of speech. The director was Richard Lester, who had worked on The Goon Show, a forerunner to Monty Python that featured Peter Sellers. What resulted was a combination of British music hall, the French New Wave, with a dash of the Marx Brothers.

The plot is so simple it hardly matters. The Fab Four, trapped by their own fame, are chased by screaming teens wherever they go. They are headed to a TV studio in the south of England to shoot a special, and tagging along is Paul’s grandfather (Wilfrid Brambell), “a villain, a real mixer,” who is also described as being “very clean.” (This was a joke referring to Brambell’s best known role, as the old man on the TV series Steptoe and Son, where he is constantly referred to as a “dirty old man” [Steptoe and Son was the source for the American show Sanford and Son]).

The Beatles just want to have fun, but their stern manager Norm (Norm Rossington) tries to keep them out of trouble. But the Beatles, as this film shows, were metaphors for the enthusiasms of youth. A Hard Day’s Night is all about motion. The boys are always in motion, as is the camera. There are numerous hand-held camera shots, quick zooms, and bits of surrealism. The best is that scene in the train car when they are confronted by the representation of the “establishment,” the man who “rides this train twice a week.” When the Beatles leave him in the car, we then see a physically impossible shot of them then outside, running after the train. That shot indicates that nothing we see can be taken as reality.

Lester, who had a made a short film called The Running Jumping and Standing Still Film, can be said to have created the modern music video format. This can be seen especially in the “Can’t Buy Me Love” scene, in which the Beatles run, jump, and stand still in a field. (Again, in a bit of anti-establishment, they are run off by a stern man who tells them they are on private property).

Lester introduced many other innovations, such as the use of multiple cameras, quick cuts, and out of focus shots. In one scene in the TV studio we see the action play out in the TV monitors.

The film, of course, capitalizes on the immense appeal of John, Paul, George, and Ringo. Not really actors, they are limited mostly to one-liners. I love this line by New Yorker critic Brendan Gill: “Though I don’t pretend to understand what makes these four rather odd-looking boys so fascinating to so many scores of millions of people, I admit that I feel a certain mindless joy stealing over me as they caper about uttering sounds.” Their barely controlled anarchy is reminiscent of the Marx Brothers, though they are only given the slightest of personalities. The strongest comes from Ringo, who has the most screen time. He has the longest “soliloquy,” when he wanders off into town and manages to get thrown out of a pub and leads a woman into a deep mud hole.

But my favorite solo scene is when George, who has always known as the “Quiet Beatle” gets his moment in the sun. He wanders into the office of a marketing man, played devilishly by Kenneth Haigh. Haigh is supposed to know everything about teens, but doesn’t recognize the Beatle. He offers George a chance to give his opinion about some shirts, and George says, “I’d be quite prepared for that eventuality.” When George later tells Haigh that his spokesperson, a girl called Suzy, is “a drag. A well known drag,” Haigh wonders if it’s time for the new movement, but sees that that is three weeks away.

That’s the great thing about Owun’s script–it satirizes the Beatles and youth culture, but without being melodramatic about it. Yes, they are prisoners of their own success, but they don’t brood about it. When they are chased by fans they smile and act as if its a lark. In the very opening, while being chased, George takes a header, but pops up beaming. These guys are having fun, and by osmosis, so are we.

A few other things worth mentioning: the performance of Victor Spinetti as the supercilious TV director with the ridiculous sweater (Spinetti would appear in all three Beatles films). He is just so right as the man who is given a little power and goes crazy with it. I love this exchange about him:

George: There he goes. Look at him. Bet his wife doesn’t know about her.

John: If he’s got one. Look at his sweater.

Paul: You never know, she might have knitted it.

John: She knitted him.

As mentioned, there are some hints of the sixties counterculture, such as the man on the train, the man in the field, and the very quick shot of John miming snorting a Coke bottle (Coke, get it?). There are some wonderfully absurd displays of visual humor, such as when George teaches Shake, the roadie, how to shave, or when John disappears in the bathtub.

Of course, the film can’t be remembered without the music. What one has to remember is that these were new songs–the film was really shot to support the soundtrack album. And none may be so well-remembered as the title track, with an opening chord that has echoed through fifty years. The title, which came from a Ringo malapropism, was only decided on during filming. The band had to write a song with that title, and John did so, in one night. Ah, genius!

A Hard Day’s Night, for me, is an impossible film to watch without putting one’s self in a good mood. It is the surest form of chasing the blues I know. It managed to capture lightning in a bottle, and continues to be as fresh and wonderful as the day it was first released. I like to think of youngsters, whose parents weren’t even born when the Beatles were together, discovering them through this film. I expect it will happen for fifty more years.

AGEBOC ’14 July 11-13


Slim now has more than twice as many points as 2nd place. Filmman’s nemesis strikes again

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. Which movie will end up in 3rd place?

2. Will Boyhood stay above 95% Tomatometer reading (among top critics) through Sunday? (currently at 100%)

Deadline is Thursday July 10th 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 – 32.5
filmman – 16
James – 14
Joe Webb – 12.5
Juan – 11.5
Rob – 11
Marco – 7.5
Nick – 2.5

Opened in America, July 6-7 2014


Tammy (current IMDB rating 4.6) – As evidenced by the very low IMDB rating, there seems to have been a backlash developing against this Melissa McCarthy comedy even before it got released (I noticed it at that level on the day it was released, suggesting some may have voted without seeing it). Perhaps it’s due to an element of resentment towards some feeling baffled at how much of a major star McCarthy has become based on what seems to be one-note stuff. Perhaps it’s because of the trailer which, having just viewed it, makes the film look terrible. In anycase, the film opened to moderate box-office and terrible reviews so whatever goodwill McCarthy has built up may be going to waste.


Deliver Us From Evil (6.6) – After largely bombing on the weekend, Eric Bana’s efforts to be an A-list star continue to splutter on unsuccessfully. However, considering his background in Australia was largely as a stand-up comic, he’s done very well to have substantial an acting career in Hollywood as he has. In anycase, this plot about excorisms and “unconventional priests” is about as interesting to me as watching paint dry.

Earth To Echo (5.8) – The plotline of this kid’s film (encrypted messages leads a group of kids to an alien who needs their help) sounds more interesting than the two other new films this week, but reviews and public reaction aren’t good.

A Hard Day’s Night (reissue) (7.7) – The classic Beatles/Richard Lester film gets a 50th anniversary re-release. Even today the film seems genuinely original and refreshing but in 1964 it was revolutionary, especially in a British cinema who in the previous 15 years was often (while capable of quality) often rather stolid and pale compared to Hollywood. Yet it was this film that was largely responsible for the Swinging Sixties London image and made Hollywood studios rush to invest in British films for a few years. However, by the end of the 1960s that came crashing down.

If nothing else, this makes me realise that I’ve watched far too few of Richard Lester’s films.

The Shining


After reading the novel last week, I decided to take another look at the film version of The Shining, released in 1980. I hadn’t seen it since it first opened.

There’s all sorts of lore about the movie, almost more than the substance of the movie itself. Most movie buffs know the story of how Stanley Kubrick wanted to make a horror film, and had a stack of books, and how his secretary heard the thump of a hurled book against the wall after a few pages, until she heard silence–Kubrick was hooked by Stephen King’s The Shining.

Most movie and horror novel buffs know that King was never really crazy about Kubrick’s version, and made his own version some years later. I can understand his problem, as Kubrick took the bare bones of a story and made a completely different narrative, changing it from King’s story of a man being consumed by his own demons using the metaphor of a haunted hotel into more of a visual poem that doesn’t concern itself with a tight plot.

Okay, so if it doesn’t match the book, how is the movie on its own terms? When I first saw it 34 years ago I had problems with it, and many still remain. The casting is problem number one. Jack Nicholson is probably the greatest movie star of the second half of the 20th century, but he is woefully miscast here. When we watch this movie, we are supposed to see a sane man lose his mind. With Nicholson, though, and the reputation he brought into the film, we are watching an insane man trying to keep it together. He’s very entertaining in his madcap stage, wiggling his eyebrows and calling out “Here’s Johnny!” but it’s a betrayal of the story. Shelley Duvall is also very weak. I can’t imagine what Kubrick was thinking in casting her.

Aside from that, though, Kubrick’s genius is frequently on display. He is adept at building dread. The opening twenty minutes, in which Nicholson interviews for the job, is hired, and then when he and the family are shown around the hotel, are on the surface very boring bits of film, but in the larger construct this banality only makes what comes after more powerful. When, in the middle of those scenes, we get young Danny’s seizure, where he sees a river of blood coming out the elevators and his first glimpse of the little girl ghosts, are a jolt in the arm that sets us on edge for the rest of the movie.

And Stephen King’s protests aside, many of the film’s most iconic touches are Kubrick’s inventions: the little girls, the tracking shots of Danny on the Big Wheel zooming around the hallways, the maze (it’s topiary animals in the book, but the special effects weren’t advanced to recreate it in 1980), the “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy,” and “Here’s Johnny!” which Nicholson swears he did not improvise. Some scenes work better in the book, though, especially the Room 237 one (it’s Room 217 in the book). Reading about a bloated old lady corpse is scarier than actually seeing one.

But ultimately I think this is a disappointing film, because for all its visual gifts, Kubrick abandoned King’s plot and just felt his way in the dark. The last shot, of a photo that suggests that Nicholson was reincarnated or something, seems tacked on. But The Shining is a visual marvel, creepy as hell.

AGEBOC ’14 July 4-7


Wednesday releases = Early deadline. Updated scores to follow.

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 Transformers fall more or less than 55% this weekend compared to last?

2. Will Life Itself receive a Rotten Tomatoes score of above or below 75% (with above including 75%)?

Deadline is Thursday July 3rd 09:00AM (blog time)
To find out the rules of the game, go to the main thread for AGEBOC 09.

Current rankings


Aged Box

Jackrabbit Slim – 27.5
filmman – 16
James – 13
Joe Webb – 12
Juan – 10.5
Rob – 8
Marco – 7.5
Nick – 2.5



Another milestone anniversary this week is the 25th for Batman, released on June 23, 1989. I distinctly remember seeing it on opening day, and then had to see it a few days later. I wouldn’t call it a great film, but it captured my imagination. Today it is significant as a touchstone in the way movies are marketed and how summer blockbusters have dominated the business.

I was interested to read that Tim Burton was hired to direct this based only on his first feature, Pee Wee’s Big Adventure, and the film was only greenlit after the success of Beetlejuice. It’s hard to remember when Burton was a gamble, as was the whole idea of a comic book film. Other than the Superman films, Hollywood was still innocent in basing its entire economy on sequels, superheroes, and reboots.

After so many iterations of Batman, it is also to be remembered that before this film, the Batman fresh in everyone’s mind was the camp TV series of the 1960s. To take it dark, as this film did, although still with comic dialogue, was something of a risk.

I love the look of the film, with Oscar-winning art direction by Anton Furst and Peter Young, and the whole Grand Guignol style Burton brings to it. Theoretically set in the present day, what with batplanes and batmobiles, it seems timeless, given the German Expressionist architecture and pre-war look of the cars.

What bothered me was the seeming lack of plot. To briefly summarize, a vigilante is striking terror in the hearts of the criminal underworld of Gotham City. He is Batman, secret identity of Bruce Wayne, and, as almost everyone in the Western world now knows, the lone survivor of a mugging that killed his parents and set him on a path to justice.

Meanwhile, a gangland boss (Jack Palance) sends his “number one guy” (Jack Nicholson) to destroy records at a front company, a concern called Axis chemicals. Palance knows that Nicholson is sleeping with his girl (Jerri Hall) and sets him up, and both the police and Batman arrive. Nicholson ends up falling into a vat of chemicals, turning his skin white, his hair green, and his face in a permanent smile. He calls himself the Joker.

Nicholson takes over the criminal enterprise and wreaks havoc, but without much forethought. There’s some business about poisoning toiletries, vandalizing paintings in the museum, and then releasing poison gas at a festival via large character balloons. It’s hard to fathom what his end game was. But I sort of got it this time–he’s just plumb crazy. There is no method to his madness. But there are numerous plot inconsistencies. Why, when Nicholson comes to kidnap Vicki Vale in her apartment, does he leave without her? How easy is it to rig a major museum with knockout gas? How did the Joker’s henchman get to the top of the cathedral? How inept can Commissioner Gordon be? As for the corrupt cop Eckhardt, why not just hang on a sign on him reading “Corrupt Cop?”

The film also suffers from Prince songs that aren’t needed and seem out of place. Thankfully the Wagnerian score by Danny Elfman makes up for it, it’s one of my favorite scores ever.

Despite the plot problems, I do love this film. The casting of Michael Keaton, normally a comic actor, was very controversial. He was fine, though he basically is the second lead. Burton is interested, as he should be, with the Joker, and Nicholson, allowed to run free, does wonders with the role. Nicholson only took the role with certain financial considerations, and it made him a very rich man, but he is so fun to watch. Many moments seem to be improvised, as if the camera were left running after cut was called, such as after he shoots Palance he says, “What a day.” Some other of my favorite lines of his: “Never rub another man’s rhubarb,” “Can somebody tell me what kind of a world we live in, where a man dressed up as a bat gets all of my press? This town needs an enema!” or “He stole my balloons!”

The theme of the film is the duality of man, as both men have double identities. Although Nicholson’s character was always a crook, as the Joker he becomes an artist of crime, while Keaton, interestingly, may be portrayed just as crazy. He seems very unhappy, even with his relationship with photographer Vicki Vale (Kim Basinger), which is a drag on the film (also not helping is Robert Wuhl’s comic reporter). Keaton plays Batman not as a noble do-gooder–he doesn’t hesitate to kill. It was this dark tone, following only by about twenty years the comic TV series, that gave some hesitation.

But what I’ll take away from are certain moments that are classics of their type, such as the moment when Nicholson, his back to us, sees himself in a mirror in the low-rent plastic surgeon’s office. Or the entire ending on top of the cathedral, a mixture of the epic and the lowdown (chattering teeth and a “You wouldn’t hit a man with glasses.”)

While paling in its scope with Christopher Nolan’s trilogy, Burton’s Batman still holds an important place in Hollywood history, and is still a fun film to watch (mostly because of Nicholson).