Review: Mr. Holmes


I’ll admit I’m a sucker for a movie like this. Mr. Holmes, a pastiche of the great detective in his dotage, grabbed me in the opening credits and didn’t let go, even to the point where I felt a bit of a tear in my eye. This film not only honors the iconic character (there have been more films about Sherlock Holmes than any other human character–according to Guinness in 2012, it was at 254*) but it is also a meditation on aging and what, at the end of the day, is important about life.

Mr. Holmes was directed by Bill Condon and written by Jeffrey Hatcher, and they have both worked a minor miracle, as the film manages three timelines with precision and excellent pacing. The main timeline is the film’s present–1947. Holmes is now 93, and living a quiet life of beekeeping on the Sussex coast. He is also, to his horror, losing his memory.

The second timeline is his recent trip to Japan to meet a man who has a plant that is said to ward off senility. Holmes visits the recently bombed Hiroshima to find it, but discovers the man had an ulterior motive for luring him to Japan.

The third timeline is just after the end of World War I, and is Holmes’ last case. It involves a man wanting to know what his wife is up to, but Holmes in 1947 can’t remember what happened. He knows he must have done something terrible, because afterward he resolved to retire.

These three threads intertwine as Holmes strikes up a friendship with his housekeeper’s son (Milo Parker), who shows cleverness. The old man and the boy tend to the bees together as Parker listens to what Holmes can remember of his last case. Meanwhile, his housekeeper (Laura Linney), having had enough of him, wants to take a job at a hotel in Portsmouth.

Mr. Holmes adheres to what aficionados call “the Game,” that is, thinking that Holmes was real person, and that Dr. Watson wrote up his cases (there isn’t a mention of Arthur Conan Doyle anywhere in the film). Thus we get the great scene of Holmes attending a film based on his last case (his cinematic alter ego, presumably playing Basil Rathbone, is Nicholas Rowe, who played Holmes in Young Sherlock Holmes some thirty years ago). This whitewashing of the truth pushes Holmes to figure out just what happened in that case, and when he discovers the truth, he learns something about himself that is not pleasant.

Everything about this film is wonderful, starting with Ian McKellen’s performance as Holmes. It’s a breathtaking performance, full of pathos yet understanding how his mind works. He does “that thing,” where he makes deductions about people based on their clothes, etc., but does not wear a deerstalker or smoke a pipe. “Those were embellishments by the illustrator,” Holmes tells a disappointed fan. “I prefer a cigar.”

This will surely be one of my favorite films of the year, and deserves accolades not only for the performances but for the music, costumes, and art direction. It also has some very important information about the differences between wasp and bee stings.

My grade for Mr. Holmes: A.

.*Dracula, being non-human, holds the overall record of 272.

AGEBOC ’15 July 31-August 2


Juan wins one week!

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 limited-release movie will gross the most (Fri – Sun): Listen to Me Marlon, Best of Enemies, The End of the Tour, or A LEGO Brickumentary?

2. Which five-quel will outgross the original’s adjusted opening weekend (Fri – Sun) – Vacation vs. National Lampoon’s Vacation ($21,481,500 adjusted), Mission:Impossible – Rogue Nation vs. Mission: Impossible ($83,472,200 adjusted), both, or neither?

Deadline is Thursday July 30th 11:59pm blog time

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

Current Rankings:

Jackrabbit Slim – 34

James – 27.5
Rob – 25.5
Joe – 18
Marco – 16
Juan – 16
Nick – 6.5

Review: Vacation


I think comedy is most subjective of film genres–some people find a certain thing uproariously funny, and an equally intelligent person may not, and there’s just no adjudicating the issue. Last night I attended a packed advance screening of the reboot of the Vacation series, and whether it was because I was in the mood for a laugh or the festive audience, I was tickled by just about all of it.

I hate reboots, but this one made sense. National Lampoon’s Vacation has, over thirty years, come to be an iconic film for a generation, so after it was sequeled to death, why not bring it back with Griswold fils, played by Ed Helms, to take over for Griswold pere (Chevy Chase) as the eternal optimistic family man looking for the perfect vacation? Helms was an inspired choice (Anthony Michael Hall, who played Rusty in the first film, may disagree), as his best attribute is playing naive optimism, whether it be in Cedar Rapids or The Hangover films, and he’s just perfect here.

Christina Applegate, who is now the go-to straight woman for comedies like this, is Helms’ wife Debbie. They have two sons–the elder is a sensitive nerd, while the younger is a foul-mouthed cretin, who bullies his older brother. I must admit that little kids saying dirty words is still funny, as is his scrawling “I have a vagina” on his brother’s guitar.

Helms is a pilot for rinky-dink regional airline. The family has vacationed for the same ten years in a cabin in Michigan, but Helms overhears that nobody likes going there. He is inspired to recreate the trip his father took thirty years earlier to Wally World, which did not end well (the original story in The National Lampoon was “Vacation ’58,” a great story that ended with Clark Griswold shooting Walt Disney in the leg). Helms and crew pack into a rental Albanian van, complete with a key fob with mysterious symbols, one of them a swastika.

We then launch into a road movie which, while familiar, offers genuine laughs. A mysterious trucker follows them after the young son insults him on a CB radio. They visit Applegate’s alma mater, where Helms finds out she was called “Do Anything Debbie” in school. They visit Audrey (Leslie Mann), Helms’ sister, who is now married to a studly weather man (Chris Hemsworth). They make a side trip to visit the folks (Chase and Beverly D’Angelo, only one of whom has aged well). Then they finally get to Wally World, where a battle erupts with a rival pilot over the last spot on the brand-new roller coaster.

This Vacation seems much more raunchy than the first one, though looking over the rating for the first one I see that there was some brief nudity and f-bombs. This one, keeping up with the times, I guess, has a lot more vomit jokes and spends a long time in a scene with Hemsworth showing off his package, a scene that was milked (sorry) for far too long.

There are many references to the first film. The beautiful lady in the car that catches Helms attention has a twist–instead it’s the eldest son who follows a beautiful girl across the seedy motel rooms of America. Helms and Applegate duck out to have sex on the Four Corners monument, one of the few gags that misfires, with an argument breaking out between the state cops of each of the four states (I believe that monument is on Indian land, so reservation police would be involved). And there’s a long scene that has the family bathing in a spring full of raw sewage, unbeknownst to them but know to us. When Helms gargles with the water the audience let out a long, collective “ewwww!”

While raunchy, though, the film never lets down its sweet nature. Beginning with a montage of vintage family vacation photos, seeming garnered from the Facebook page “Awkward Family Photos,” set to Lindsey Buckingham’s “Holiday Road” theme song, Vacation is an exercise in nostalgia, that is sure to bemuse those who remember the first film and induce giggles in those who don’t.

My rating for Vacation: B.

Opening in Las Vegas, July 24, 2015


An eclectic assortment of films opening this week, including one that will be remembered come Razzie time.

I refer to Pixels (27), getting some of the most venomous reviews of the year, mostly directed at Adam Sandler. This seems to be another nail in the coffin of his career as a bankable feature star–will a sit-com be next? Josh Bell: “Of course, calling Pixels one of Sandler’s better movies is like calling a particular strain of Ebola somewhat less horrifically painful; either way, it’s not pleasant.”

The “prestige” opening this week is Southpaw (56), which I reviewed below, with Jake Gyllenhaal as a boxer who starts high and ends up low. I found it to be a compendium of cliches, and while there may have been some Oscar hope with the Weinsteins for this they can forget it. Rodrigo Perez: “A very routine twelve rounds of tragedy, resilience and redemption, the boxing film Southpaw is a conventionally told dramaturgy high on intensity, but low on human insight or novel ways to tell a familiar story.”

For teenage girls there’s Paper Towns (57), based on a novel by the same author of The Fault in Our Stars. Cara Delevignge stars as the latest fashion model to attempt to break into acting; she’s mostly known for her bisexuality and her eyebrows, but is not getting rave reviews for her thespianism. Eric Henderson: “To hose down the white elephant in the room right off the bat, yes, it falls into place as a coming-of-age spin on the Manic Pixie Dream Girl archetype.”

A better family drama may be Infinitely Polar Bear (64), which stars Mark Ruffalo as a father struggling with bipolar disorder. Marjorie Baumgarten: “With Infinitely Polar Bear, Forbes has created a warm family portrait, even though it sugarcoats the specter that mental illness casts on this group’s well-being.”

For those who want a really bad movie, VOD is offering Joe Dirt 2: Beautiful Loser, a misbegotten attempt by David Spade to remain relevant. I would have really liked to see the pitch meeting for this and the idiots who spent money to make it. There is no Metacritic rating, but my local paper gave it one star: “You’d think that after 14 years, they’d have more than stale fart jokes and weak callbacks to bits that weren’t funny in the first place.”

Review: Southpaw


It’s interesting that though boxing is far less popular in the U.S. than it was thirty or forty years ago, movies about boxing keep getting made. Some of them, like Million Dollar Baby and The Fighter, are good and have something fresh to say. Others, like Southpaw, are just a collection of cliches.

The writer is Kurt Sutter, and he apparently has seen every boxing movie ever made, because there are snippets of them here. We get some of Rocky, some of The Fighter, some of Million Dollar Baby, some of Raging Bull. But I’ll be damned if I didn’t get caught up in the predictable but exciting final bout.

The story is Billy Hope’s, played by a buff and inarticulate Jake Gyllenhaal. He’s the light-heavyweight champ, who came out of Hell’s Kitchen and now lives in a palatial mansion. He’s married to Rachel McAdams, who also came up through the system, and they have an adorable daughter (Oona Laurence).

Billy retains his title by knocking out the latest challenger, but a few days later at a charity event a tragedy occurs (this is given away in the trailer, but I won’t do that here). He loses the title in his next fight, and things spiral out of control, and he loses just about everything. To seek redemption, he finds a trainer (Forest Whitaker) to help regain his self-respect and just possibly get his title back.

I suppose boxing is appealing to film directors because it is a boiled down conflict–mano a mano. Unlike other sports movies, it is simple to film, since there are two participants and a boxing ring has a timeless aspect to it (team sports also require lots of extras). This film also has another movie staple–the old run-down boxing gym, which is also timeless. In fact, except for the late model cars and some cell phones, Sutter could have set this script anytime in the last seventy years.

The cliches are endless, from the scenes of a man bottoming out (carrying around a loaded gun, crashing his car into a tree, punching a mirror, etc.) to the old favorite, the training montage. Whitaker, who is very good if a bit mumble-mouthed, is playing a stock character, the wise old boxing trainer. I thought about Burgess Meredith from Rocky and Morgan Freeman from Million Dollar Baby. I think if I’m ever at the end of my rope I won’t go to a psychiatrist, I’ll find a boxing trainer. We also get the evil promoter (played very nicely by 50 Cent). There is not one thing about Southpaw that is original. Even the name Billy Hope recalls the film The Great White Hope, and is a bit dangerous–the word “hope” related to boxing has nasty racial connotations.

Yet, I don’t want to dismiss this film out of hand. The final match, in which Billy gets his title shot back, is very well done. The director, Antoine Fuqua, employs a lot of POV shots, in which we the audience get punched, and that works. I won’t give away the end, but knew as I was watching this fight that the winner would determine what kind of film this was.

As stated, Whitaker is very good, and I think steals the show from Gyllenhaal, who went through some extraordinary physical changes. He’s a brute, and though he’s loving to his wife and daughter, can hardly put a sentence together. This is an authentic performance, and it’s hard to believe this is the same guy as the verbally slick character in Nightcrawler.

My grade for Southpaw: C.

AGEBOC ’15 July 24-26


Slim further extends his lead. This is quite the repeat of 2014

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 be #2?

2. Which movie will have the better hold (lower percentage drop) in its 2nd weekend: Ant-Man or Trainwreck?

Deadline is Thursday July 23rd 11:59pm blog time

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

Current Rankings:

Jackrabbit Slim – 33.5

James – 27
Rob – 25
Marco – 15.5
Joe – 15.5
Juan – 11.5
Nick – 6.5

Review: Jurassic World


“People. They never learn.” So says a character in Jurassic World, the latest cynically-made blockbuster that’s now north of $600 million in earnings, domestic. It proves a point that Hollywood has taken to heart–the masses love familiarity.

I had planned on skipping this, but a family I’m friends with wanted to go and I tagged along, figuring what the hell. It was pretty much exactly as I thought it would be. There were some chills, but it was awfully dumb, illogical, with bad science and deviated little from the template of the first film, Jurassic Park, which it referenced like a name-dropping friend.

Jurassic World is not a reboot, it’s simply the fourth in the series. The first park, which ended in tragedy based on hubris, is now reopened and doing great business. But, as manager Bryce Dallas Howard points out, you need something new every so often to keep the people interested. She could have been talking about Hollywood.

So, in accordance with the owner’s (Irrfan Kahn) wishes, a super-dinosaur has been genetically cooked up. It is called Indominus Rex, and makes T-Rex looks like a puppy in comparison. It is about to be unveiled when Kahn calls on an employee (Chris Pratt), who is the resident velociraptor trainer. He’s checking out the safety of the Indominus’s paddock when the thing breaks loose. Uh oh!

Here’s where movie logic takes an interesting turn away from real-life. Instead of immediately evacuating the park and blowing the wayward reptile to smithereens with a missile, profits are always the bottom line. Wrongful death suits don’t seem to occur to these people. Also, the park is on an island with no easy way to evacuate 20,000 people anyway, which seems like a fly in the ointment. I hate corporations as much as anyone, but this exceeds their day-to-day villainy, I think.

They also want to catch the thing alive, but outwits at them at every turn. I do admit I love to see people being eaten by dinosaurs. The scene in The Lost World: Jurassic Park in which Richard Schiff is torn apart by two T-Rex’s like a wishbone has stayed with me forever. There’s nothing quite as good as that here, perhaps except for the woman who is snatched by a pterodactyl, which is then eaten by a mososaur.

Jurassic World also has two other targets–science and the military. Hubris in science has been a topic in literature since Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, but instead of megalomania–playing God–today’s scientific arrogance is about profits. They built this dinosaur to meet shareholder demand, and, I guess, because they could.

Another subplot involves Vincent D’Onofrio as the head of a private security firm that wants to weaponize dinosaurs. He sees an army of velociraptors mowing down the enemy. But, as the saying goes, who will watch the watchmen?

In a blatant rip-off of the first film, two relatives of an employee, in this case nephews of Howard, are our eyes in the park, as they, predictably, ignore orders to come back and end up almost being eaten by several dinosaurs. I should add that Jurassic World has an anti-feminist streak–Howard is set up as some sort of monster because she doesn’t want kids and has trouble remembering her nephew’s names and ages. So we get the less than subtle message that a woman is not complete without exercising her nurturing instinct. You’ve come a long way, baby. I will give Howard and her stuntwoman an award for best running in high heels.

The best thing I can say about Jurassic World, other than Chris Pratt’s amiable star power (he’s been on quite a roll) is that the special effects have become so great that I find myself thinking of these creatures as real. It’s uncanny, really. It’s a shame that the writing can’t keep up (there is, believe it or not, a shot of a dinosaur in a rearview mirror. Been there, done that).

My grade for Jurassic World: C-.

Opening in Las Vegas, July 17, 2015


At last some interesting movies this weekend. Don’t know if I’ll catch up with any before the DVD release, but I’d like to see one or two.

The winner at the box office is likely to be Ant-Man (64), as Marvel continues to dredge the bottom of the barrel for characters. Ant-Mzn was in mothballs during my comic-book years (roughly 1970 to 1990), as I believe he had transformed to Goliath. But that was Hank Pym, who in this movie is not Ant-Man, but the creator of the suit. Very complicated. Anyway, now that The Inhumans is on the schedule, I think only Moon Knight is left. Jeff Baker: “Ant-Man wastes the regular-guy appeal of its star, Paul Rudd, on a bland, by-the-numbers story that starts small and keeps on shrinking, a metaphor for the movie itself. Its modest ambitions are admirable and unrealized.”

The movie I’d most like to see is Mr. Holmes (66). I’m always up for a Sherlock Holmes movie, and in complete contrast to the rock ’em-sock’ em Guy Ritchie films, this one seems downright genteel, as Holmes (Ian McKellen) is in his 90s, keeping bees and losing his memory. Joe Morgenstern: “The plot has an intriguing twist, and the production, in addition to Mr. McKellen’s commanding presence, has fine work by Laura Linney as Holmes’s housekeeper.”

Here’s weird casting: Jennifer Connelly as Cillian Murphy’s mother. She’s 44, he’s 39. Oh well! Anyway, that’s the casting of Aloft (34), in which Connelly plays a faith healer. Stephen Dalton: “Strip away its gorgeous wintry landscapes and we are left with a symphony of ponderous New Age mumbo-jumbo masquerading as philosophical wisdom.”

This summer of Amy Schumer is capped off by Trainwreck (75). I’ve never seen her show, but what I have seen of her I’ve liked–don’t know if the appeal would last the length of a feature. Ty Burr: “A very entertaining romantic comedy, conventional on the surface while standing all sorts of genre clichés and gender assumptions discreetly on their heads.”

Alicia Vikander has about eight movies coming out this year, one of them is Testament of Youth (77), a costume drama set during World War I. Any resemblance to Downton Abbey is purely coincidental, I’m sure. Also starring Jon Snow (Kit Harington). Peter Travers: “Harington and Vikander provide the spark the film needs to get us through the tribulations and tragedies that pile on with numbing regularity.”

FInally there’s Dark Awakening, a haunted-house movie, not yet reviewed by critics.

AGEBOC ’15 July 17-19


James is making a run for the top!

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 Ant-Man gross MORE or LESS than Marvel’s last not-yet-Avengers movie – Guardians of the Galaxy – did in its opening weekend ($94,320,883)?

2. Will Minions drop MORE or LESS than 57% this weekend compared to last?

Deadline is Thursday July 16th 11:59pm blog time

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

Current Rankings:

Jackrabbit Slim – 31

James – 27
Rob – 20.5
Marco – 15.5
Joe – 15
Juan – 11.5
Nick – 6.5

Opening in Las Vegas, July 10, 2015


Another miserable weekend at the megaplex. This may be the worst summer for movies I want to see in my memory.

I certainly don’t want to see Minions (56), the spin-off from Despicable Me. This just seems like a Happy Meal toy made into a movie. I fail to see the humor or charm of these characters, but I suppose little kids like them. Even my 6th-grade students like them. My childhood innocence is long gone. Liam Lacey: “With its episodic stream of slapstick gags, Minions has moment of piquant absurdity, but mostly it’s shrill-but-cutesy anarchy works as a visual sugar rush for the preschool set.”

The Gallows (30) looks like a generic horror movie that will gather teenagers on Friday or Saturday night and then sink into oblivion. And here;s the good part–teens don’t care if the movie is good or not. Apparenlty this one, about a haunted high school, is not. Starring Cassidy Gifford, daughter of Frank and Kathlie Lee. A.A. Dowd: “Making audiences care about the characters is always a more effective fear-generating strategy than just knocking off a bunch of dimwits in the dark.”

Ordinarily, a summer release with Ryan Reynolds would be at least somewhat notable, but Self/less (35) has gotten almost no play in the media. And it’s directed by Tarsem Singh, which used to mean something. Maybe the studio realizes they have a turd that can’t be polished. Nathan Rabin: “The narrative is schlocky and groaningly over-familiar, but the film is also uncharacteristically drab visually, with a washed-out colour palette and anemic pacing.”

As usual, you have to go to the arthouse to see something worthwhile, and this week that’s Amy (85), the doc about singer Amy Winehouse. I was not a fan of her while she was alive, thinking she was too much of a train wreck, but I ghoulishly bought her album Back in Black after her death and damn, was she good. So we’ve had two docs this year about the 27 club (musicians who died when they were 27–earlier we had one about Kurt Cobain that I’d still like to see). Kenneth Turan: “It is the achievement of Amy, Asif Kapadia’s accomplished, quietly devastating documentary, that it makes the story of this troubled and troubling individual surprisingly one of a kind by allowing us to, in a sense, live her life along with her.”

AGEBOC ’15 July 10-12


A low-grossing holiday weekend fooled some, but not all. The game is still afoot!

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 Minions opening weekend gross BELOW Despicable Me ($56,397,125), ABOVE Despicable Me 2 ($83,517,315), or BETWEEN the two opening weekends (including the actuals as endpoints)?

2. Which movie will be #2?

Deadline is Thursday July 9th 11:59pm blog time

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

Current Rankings:

Jackrabbit Slim – 28

James – 22.5
Rob – 20
Joe – 15
Marco – 14.5
Juan – 11.5
Nick – 6.5

Film Noir: The Asphalt Jungle


We open on a lone man walking through the empty streets of grimy, unnamed Midwest city. It appears to be dawn. He has just pulled a stick-up and stashes his weapon with a pal who operates a diner. He’s still pulled in by the cops, but in the lineup gives the witness such a malicious stare than the witness won’t identify him. A small smile crosses the man’s face. (No wonder they changed to one-way glass for lineups).

He’s Dix Handley, played by Sterling Hayden, in the 1950 classic The Asphalt Jungle. I love heist films, and this is perhaps the best (some may argue that it is Rififi, but this one came first). It’s about a bunch of lowlifes that attempt to rob a jewelry store, but of course a perfect plan is never perfect. In an introduction by the director John Huston, he says “You may not like these people, but I think you’ll be fascinated by them.” He’s right.

The plot in set in motion when “Doc” Reidenschneider is released from prison. Played beautifully by Sam Jaffe, he’s a master criminal, and already has another score dreamed up. He contacts a local bookmaker (Marc Lawrence), who is his conduit to a crooked lawyer (Louis Calhern). Calhern is intrigued by the notion of a half-million dollar payday, but he doesn’t have the money to front Jaffe. So he lies and says he does and decides to double-cross them.

The crew includes Anthony Caruso as the “box man” (safe cracker), and he has just had a baby so you know he’s a marked man. The guy in the diner, James Whitmore, is recruited as the driver, and Hayden is taken on as the “hooligan,” which in those days meant the muscle, the guy who wasn’t afraid to use his “heater.”

The plan works and in a nine-minute sequence the men crack the safe and have the jewels. But using nitro (“the soup”) sets off alarms in nearby stores. A security guard comes by, and though Hayden takes him out he drops his gun, which happens to go off and hits Caruso. So much for perfect plans.

When Hayden and Jaffe find out about the double-cross, they try to get Calhern to fix things. But he’s in enough trouble, as Lawrence, a weak-willed drunkard, is forced to confess by a tough corrupt cop (Barry Kelley). Now the crooks are on the lam.

I’ve seen The Asphalt Jungle three or four times and it’s just magnificent every time. It is a wallow in human immorality, as there is no one with any integrity except the crusty old police commissioner (John McIntyre). Each character has a particular vice, and as Jaffe says, “One way or another, we all work for our vice.” His happens to be young women, and it will cost him his freedom in a brilliantly done scene in a diner that involves a pretty girl dancing to tunes on a jukebox.

Hayden has a thing for the ponies, but his dream is to go back to his family’s horse farm in Kentucky. He has woman who loves him (Jean Hagen), and it’s pathetic the way she hangs on to him. His ending is particularly poignant, and closes the picture, but I won’t give it away here. Suffice it to say a doctor says, “He hasn’t got enough blood in him to keep a chicken alive.”

Calhern also plays a great character. He’s a dignified lawyer but finds it easy to play both sides of the law. “Crime is only a left-handed form of human endeavor.” He has a bed-ridden wife, but keeps a mistress, who happens to be played by Marilyn Monroe in her first major role (she gets no billing on the original poster, but in subsequent releases is prominently featured in the marketing). She creepily calls Calhern “Uncle Lon,” and in two scenes shows why she became a star. In the first she oozes sex, and in the second she shows her vulnerability. She can’t lie for Calhern. She apologizes, and he says, “You did very well, given the circumstances.”

This is noir at its finest, with morally ambiguous characters and almost all scenes shot at night (the ending is the glaring exception). The cinematography, by Harold Rosson, shows the filth of the city. Caruso says his wife wants to expose their baby to fresh air. “I tell her, if she wants fresh air, she should get out of this city!”

The Asphalt Jungle is crackerjack entertainment, taut and suspenseful and without a wasted moment. As good as it is, though, it’s probably only Huston’s third-best film (after The Maltese Falcon and The Treasure of the Sierra Madre). The guy had a remarkable career.

Opening in Las Vegas, Weekend of July 3, 2015


Is it just me, or does seem like a really sucky weekend, given that it’s a holiday? Maybe the studios figure people will be at the beach or the mountains. I have free time, and there’s nothing I want to fork over nine dollars for.

The big new opening this is yet another Terminator movie, this one titled Terminator Genisys (39). Supposedly it completely ignores the third and fourth movies (which I haven’t seen), or so says James Cameron, who had nothing to do with it,  but approves. It’s getting lousy reviews, despite the recent good will exibited by star Arnold Schwarzenegger. James Luxford: “Terminator Genisys’ ambition overrides sense and depth in the pursuit of a new direction, and then unwittingly proves how little life there is left in this franchise.”

For the ladies is Magic Mike XXL (60) which is getting decent reviews and is the place to go to see ripped abs. James Mottram: “Packed tight, Jacobs’ straightforward sequel may boast less up top than the Soderbergh-directed original, but still bulges where it counts.”

The bomb of the week would seem to be Faith of Our Fathers (19), a Vietnam war story. Stephen Baldwin stars, which is a tip off that it has a Christian point of view. Christians can do a lot of things well, but making good movies is not one of them. Vadim Rizov: “It’s obnoxious, to say the least, to use the Vietnam War as an excuse to affirm the importance of telling all and sundry about Jesus at all times (i.e., “testifying”), under all circumstances.”

In Stereo (37) is an indie romance that i’ve never heard of, but I loved this description by Josh Bell: “Two smarmy douchebags fall in love in this irritating indie drama.”

Another indie is The Overnight (64), the best-reviewed new film this week. It stars mostly TV actors like Adam Scott and Taylor Schilling, and even after reading the synopsis I’m not sure what it’s about. Two couples and their children, it seems. Mike D’Angelo: “It’s an unusual but surprisingly effective mix of outrageousness and sincerity, in which the four anxious revelers somehow function both as broad caricatures and as real, complex human beings.”

Films that opened in America, June 26-28 2015


Ted 2 (imdb rating 7.1) – I saw the first Ted film and largely loathed it. And while that film was a big hit and mysteriously well received by fans and critics, I’m not surprised this sequel has underperformed. Not just because the reviews have been nowhere near as positive and not just because this has all the hallmarks of a lazy, cash-in sequel. But because Seth MacFarlane is such a smug personality that it’s easy for people to go off him and his films (as occurred with his flop western).

Max (7.3) – About a dog who worked with the US military overseas who has challenges when it returns home. In previous generations this probably would’ve starred a Lassie-type (or Benji, or Rin Tin Tin) in a much gentler context but these are different times we live in.

Escobar: Paradise Lost (6.6) – A young man holidaying in Colombia falls in love with a young lady… who happens to be related to infamous drug kingpin Pablo Esobar

Big Game (5.4) – Produced in Finland, a young teenager in the Finnish woods has to help save the US President when his plane is crashed, with Samuel L Jackson as the President no less. Looking at the plot and trailer, this looks like slop from all angles but that doesn’t surprise as Jackson has appeared in a lot of junk for years and is still lazily trading off his persona from Pulp Fiction

Runoff (8.4) – US rural drama which has gotten some good reviews.

A Borrowed Identity (7.4) –  Israeli film about a boy of Palestinan-Israeli descent dealing with various challenges and difficulties while at a boarding school

A Little Chaos (6.3) – A British period drama starring Kate Winslet (although set in France) has at first glance all the makings of being an acclaimed prestige picture, even an Oscar contender. But this film had its US release delayed, has had a lukewarm critical reception and now suffers the fate of getting a VOD release at the same time of its cinema release, so this is likely to sink without trace.

Kate Winslet had a great run of quality (and financial) film work from the mid 1990s to late 2000s, but hasn’t had anything of real note so far this decade.