Opening in Las Vegas, May 27, 2016

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Two big blockbusters and two well-reviewed indies are on the slate this weekend in Sin City.

The first blockbuster is X-Men: Apocalypse (52), the ninth X-Men feature, with Bryan Singer at the helm. I’ve liked the earlier incarnation of X-Men films more than the first few, but this just seems like a retread and will probably be a rental for me. Barry Hertz: “It’s a goofy, confusing mess of a sequel, a cautionary tale of what happens when a filmmaker lives too long inside his own franchise to realize that no one takes it nearly as seriously as he does.”

The other is Alice Through the Looking Glass (34), a sequel to Tim Burton’s first Alice film, but this time directed by James Bobin. I hated the first one, and this one sounds worse. From the plot description, it has nothing to do with Lewis Carroll (Through the Looking Glass is laid out as a chess game) and just appropriates the characters. Justin Chang: “At every turn the filmmakers have simplified, banalized and sentimentalized Alice and her psychological landscape in ways that reek of ignorance at best and cynicism at worst.”

This weekend I plan on seeing two indies that have finally shown up here. First up is A Bigger Splash (74), with Ralph Fiennes and Tilda Swinton, two of the best actors in the business. Christy Lemire: “Simultaneously lush and lurid, sumptuous and startling, A Bigger Splash never goes where you expect, even as its undercurrent of danger is unmistakable from the start.”

Finally, Whit Stillman does Jane Austen, which makes perfect sense. I’ve seen all of Stillman’s films, which are comedies of manners of the kind Austen perfected. He’s adapted a novella she wrote called Lady Susan, which he calls Love & Friendship (86). A. O. Scott: “At times, most often when Mr. Bennett is onscreen, Love & Friendship is howlingly funny, and as a whole it feels less like a romance than like a caper, an unabashedly contrived and effortlessly inventive heist movie with a pretty good payoff.”

 

AGEBOC 2016 (Week Four) May 27th-30th

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SCORES:
Joe – 16
James -9
Jackrabbit Slim – 5
Juan – 3
Marco – 3

WEEKEND OF MAY 27th, 2016.

NOTE: Question #1 and Bonus #1 are based on the TOTAL FOUR DAY GROSS (Thursday PM + Friday, Saturday, Sunday AND Monday).

What will X-Men: Apocalypse gross Memorial Day weekend? Closest guess earns 4 points. Second closest earns 2 points.  Within 250k earns 2 extra points.

BONUS #1:

What will Alice Through the Looking Glass gross the weekend of May 27th, 2016?   Closest guess earns 4 points.  Second closest earns 2 points.  Within 250k earns 2 extra points.

BONUS #2

What will X-Men: Apocalypse earn during Thursday night shows?  Closest guess earns 2 points.  Second closest earns 1 point.

Answers are due on Thursday, May 26th by 8:00 pm EST.  Good luck!

A look back at the (probably) retired Jack Nicholson

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NicholsonBack in 2010, Jack Nicholson had a supporting role in the James L Brooks film ‘How Do You Know’. The film was a notorious failure with an uninspired Nicholson performance and was one of the most forgettable films of his illustrious career.
But six years on, perhaps the film has become more noteworthy as having the increasingly likely fact of being the final acting performance of Nicholson. While he has lengthy breaks between films previously they’ve never been at this length and turning 80 next year, one wouldn’t surprise if he has no desire to act again.

In anycase, it’s a good excuse to look over his career as even his detractors would be obliged to admit there have been few more noteworthy actors in American cinema in the past 50 years.

Before Nicholson became a major star at the end of the 1960s, he had spent over a decade in independent, low-budget films in genres ranging from horror to westerns with famed producer Roger Corman often involved. He had also dabbled in screenwriting with some interesting results.

During this period as an actor he had shown flashes of the brillance that was to come but 1960s mainstream Hollywood was still too conventional for someone as idiosyncratic like him to become a major star. As a result, he was often in throwaway, ill-suited films like 1963’s ‘The Terror’ (made in just a few days), playing a French officer in the Napoleon era. Nicholson demanding a castle be opened in the name of the French government in his distinctively non-French accent wasn’t one of his finest moments.

However, things would take a major turn upward for Nicholson with his supporting role as a disheveled lawyer in the 1969 film ‘Easy Rider’. It wasn’t just that Nicholson effectively stole the movie with his effortless charisma, but the success of Easy Rider ushered in a different type of Hollywood film, one where Nicholson’s specific and unique talents for great characterisations wouldn’t put him to the sidelines, but make him perfect for ‘New Hollywood’ and their move away from conventional leading men.

It’s generally agreed that Nicholson’s performances in the 1969 to 1975 era are not only the peak of his career, but are a peak that few actors of any era would reach. Put simply, Nicholson was essential and compelling viewing like few others in this period as he made a wide array of characters seem vivid and unique and yet defined by his own brand of charisma.

Were there any common themes in the characters Nicholson played in this 69-75 era? For the most part they were flawed people beaten down by society in one form or another but were full of defiance and charisma (as exemplified by the “hold the chicken” scene from Five Easy Pieces) and characters you just wanted to see flourish. In an era where audiences hungered for characters defiant of authority and fighting back, there were few who connected more than Nicholson.
Post-1975 Nicholson has done a lot of impressive work but he never reached the same level of greatness. One reason is the changing trends in Hollywood towards less character-based films and the great roles Nicholson got just weren’t as plentiful anymore.

But also I suspect Nicholson got caught up in his own fame and success to an extent. Whereas in 1969-75 Nicholson could adapt himself to what the role required, it increasingly became the roles adapting themselves towards his own personal style. To be sure he was often greatly entertaining, but more often than not he’s coasting on his persona.
His role in ‘The Shining’ is a good example of this transition. While the film is one of my favourite horror movies I’m somewhat conflicted by Nicholson’s performance. On one hand he has some truly brilliant scenes in the latter stages that are so well done that they’ve become part of pop-culture. On the other hand, playing a troubled father and writer who goes over the edge I don’t think he entirely convinces as he doesn’t seem suited or willing to put in the work to make the characterisation concrete and truthful. A grandly entertaining performance, but not a great characterisation.

Similarly in the 1997 film ‘As Good As It Gets’ Nicholson’s performance as a successful but incredibly obnoxious novelist is entertaining, especially early on when he’s dishing out the insults. But in terms of creating a rich characterisation, Nicholson’s role is somewhat skin-deep and one of the weaker parts of the film.
A latter day exception to this trend was his performance in the 2002 film ‘About Schmidt’. All the standard mannerisms of the modern Nicholson performance – the charm, the cockiness, the slicked-back hair – were replaced by downbeat, dour, not particularly likable character with a comb-over. It is a genuinely affecting and moving performance (especially in his closing monologue) and easily the most of his latter-day performances that harks back to the greatness of his 1969-75 era.
Despite these reservations, there is no doubt that Nicholson has been one of the greatest and most iconic actors of recent generations. What looks like now a permanent retirement from acting is a sad event, but also a chance to treasure his great performances.

Hitchcock: The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956)

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It’s been sixty years since Alfred Hitchcock remade one of his own films, The Man Who Knew Too Much, which today may be remembered for its Oscar-winning song, “What Will Be Will Be,” rather than anything else. But it’s a solid suspense film, perhaps milked a little too long (at two hours, it’s about ten minutes too much).

The first version of a film of this title was made by Hitchcock in England in 1934. He had always wanted to remake it, and finally did so in ’56 with James Stewart and Doris Day as a typical American couple that gets involved in an assassination plot. As per the Hitchcock tropes, Stewart is the common man who takes on international spies and killers, his laconic drawl erupting into anger at every encounter with either bad guys or cops (along with the other Hitchcock films he made during the ’50s and the Anthony Mann Westerns of the same decade, Stewart spend much of the ’50s pissed off).

He and Day and their son (an unfortunately awful Christopher Olsen) are vacationing in Morocco. On a bus to Marrakesh, they are helped out of a possible incident by a Frenchman (Daniel Gelin). Gelin questions Stewart in a friendly manner. Day notices this and is suspicious, and then later, when they are stood up for dinner, she becomes even more so. But they befriend an English couple and forget about him, at least until he ends dying in Stewart’s arms, his face covered in makeup and wearing Arab robes.

Gelin whispers some information to Stewart about an assassination plot in London before he dies, and the boy gets kidnapped. Warned not to reveal any information by a mysterious phone caller, they go to London to try to find him, foiling a plot to assassinate a prime minister at Albert Hall, and then later rescuing the kid when Day sings “What Will be Will Be (Que Sera Sera)” to get the kid’s attention.

The first thing one notices is what Hitchcock is notoriously known for: bad rear projection shots. Day and Stewart are in the back of a bus and the rear projection is so noticeable it takes one right out of the film. Oddly, the film was shot in location in Marrakesh, where it was beastly hot (one colleague said it was the first time he had seen Hitchcock in short sleeves without a tie). But some of the marketplace scenes also appear to have been shot with rear projection. The scene of the first murder, though, comes across vividly, with the makeup on Gelin’s face coming off in Stewart’s hands. Actually, the way they shot it was with Stewart wearing white powder on his hands, which came off on Gelin’s face.

There are many memorable set pieces, including Stewart and Day confronting their son’s kidnappers in a London church, and the climactic assassination attempt, in which the shooter is supposed to fire during a crash of cymbals. Day, helplessly, watches, unable to do anything but scream. The shot of a gun barrel poking around the curtain is one of the things that Hitchcock duplicated from the first film.

Their is also some comedy in the film, especially a scene in which Stewart attempts to sit at a low table in a Moroccan restaurant, and then a bizarre and almost hallucinatory scene in a taxidermist shop.

I have not scene the original film, which Hitchcock described as being made by a “talented amateur” while the remake was by a “professional.” The film is shot in almost lurid Technicolor by Robert Burks, one that suggests the paranoia of the film, in which everyone seems to be watching the couple. There is also a scene of great cruelty, not by the bad guys, but when Stewart gives Day sedatives before telling her that their son has been kidnapped. Her reaction may be the best thing Day ever did on film.

The Man Who Knew Too Much is second-tier Hitchcock, made just before his incredible run of Vertigo, North by Northwest, Psycho, and The Birds. It follows his rules, though, of the audience knowing more than the characters. The whole assassination scene is one long stomach lurch, as we know who and what is going on, while those around do not. It just goes on a bit too long, as does the scene in which Day sings, fortissimo, to get the attention of her son. No one should be subject to more than two verses of “Que Sera Sera.”

Review: The Nice Guys

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Even while the very opening credits are rolling, the ones that go through several production companies, we know what decade we are in. There’s the rhythm, which sounds a bit like Shaft, and then the wah-wah guitar. Then the titles, in a candy-colored, rounded font. Yes, we are in the 1970s.

The Nice Guys was directed and co-written by Shane Black. If I didn’t know better, I’d guess it was adapted by a novel that might have been cooked up by Charles Willeford and Elmore Leonard, with a few lines by John D. MacDonald. But Black skipped the book and went straight to the screenplay.

Set in 1977, The Nice Guys is purely immersed in its time period. There are long lines at the pumps, the killer bee threat, and porno was shot on film. I’m sure Black started with the year and went from there. As such, he succeeded, though the film is a bit of a mess and could have used some better editing.

The guys of the title are Ryan Gosling as a licensed private detective, but he’s a train wreck. We first see him in a bathtub, but wearing a full suit. He’s a single father, and his daughter (Agourie Rice) is the conscience of the film. When he asks her if he’s a bad person, she doesn’t hesitate to say of course he is. The other guy is Russell Crowe as sort of a professional thug. For the right price, he will beat someone up for you. But he’s a bit of a sentimental soul, for he longs to be useful.

They meet when a woman hires Crowe to tell Gosling to stop looking for her. Crowe does this by breaking Gosling’s arm. Of course they will team up, and get involved with the porn industry and chicanery involving the automotive industry. There will be many fight scenes and child endangerment, which is a bit disturbing.

But the film worked for me overall due to the humor and all those ’70s references. For someone who has no interest in or recollection of that decade, I think they will be sorely disappointed, for the story has several holes in it. We understand that Gosling was hired to find a girl named Amelia, but I never fully understood by who. Later in the film her mother (Kim Basinger) will hire both Gosling and Crowe to do it, but who hired him to begin with? He’s also working on a case that involves a murdered porn star, whose aunt swears she saw her alive. If I’m following this correctly, then it’s a huge coincidence that Gosling is hired to deal with two women who are involved in the same case.

So forget all that and enjoy the gentle chemistry between Crowe and Gosling. Both are very much against type–Crowe has fattened up over the years, and has a soft spot when it comes to kids and tropical fish, while Gosling does all the pratfall stuff, having trouble with a bathroom stall door, rolling down a hill from a balcony, and falling into a swimming pool from a great height.

But I’m fine with any detractors. There are some annoying cliches, such as a hired assassin who can’t hit anything, even with a machine gun, and Yaya DeCasta is pretty bad as a woman who turns out not to be what she seemed. And for Rice to be involved in so much of the action, well, it just doesn’t make sense. Keith David, as one of the henchman, says to Gosling, “Why’d you have to bring the kid?” He’s right. I think the answer can be found on the bookshelf in Rice’s room. There are four or five of the distinctive yellow spines of Nancy Drew books.

Opening in Las Vegas, May 20, 2016

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We have our first movie (that I know of) based on an app, with The Angry Birds Movie (43). I have no knowledge of what this means, other than it’s about a bird that gets angry. My phone game is Words With Friends, so I’ll wait for that film adaptation. Tom Huddleston: “If you loved the game, you might enjoy watching the script contort itself into ever more zany shapes to incorporate the necessary elements: giant slings, teetering towers, boomeranging toucans. But it’s not enough to counteract the tiresome, sub-Lego Movie snarkiness of the script or the bright, busy and unengaging animation.”

I didn’t see the first Neighbors, and I doubt I’ll see the second, horribly titled Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising (58), but it is getting some surprisingly good reviews. Seth Rogen’s shtick has pretty well worn itself out with me. Leah Greenblatt: “You’ll probably laugh hard more than once; Sorority Rising is still rich in bikinis and bong rips and boner jokes. It just doesn’t have much heart.”

The movie that interests me is The Nice Guys (70), not because of its stars, Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling, or it’s writer-director Shane Black, who has served some stints in movie jail, but because I’m a sucker for sleazy ’70s private eye movies. It looks like a cross between Inherent Vice and Boogie Nights, but probably without P.T. Anderson’s genius. Joe Morgenstern: “A consistently entertaining, frequently violent and generally slapdash action comedy.”

Finally there is The Meddler (68), with Susan Sarandon as Rose Byrne’s mother (that’s two opportunities to see Byrne this weekend) that is being reviewed well. Might be a sleeper. Kevin Jagernauth: “While slight, the film’s genuine feeling and overall comedic consistency has enough breezy charm to make it go down easy and pleasurably.”

 

 

AGEBOC 2016 (Week Three) May 20th-22nd

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SCORES:
Joe – 9
James -5
Juan – 3
Jackrabbit Slim – 3
Marco – 2

WEEKEND OF MAY 20th, 2016:

What will The Angry Birds Movie gross the weekend of May 20th, 2016? Closest guess earns 4 points.  Second closest earns 2 points.  Within 250k earns 2 extra points.

BONUS #1:

What will Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising gross the weekend of May 20th, 2016?  Closest guess earns 2 points.  Second closest earns 1 point.

BONUS #3

What will The Nice Guys gross the weekend of May 20th, 2016?  Closest guess earns 2 points.  Second closest earns 1 point.

Answers are due on Thursday, May 19th by 12:00 pm EST.  Good luck!

Review: Captain America: Civil War

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Captain America may have the title in Captain America: Civil War, but it’s really a mini-Avengers film, and Chris Evans, stalwart as Cap, shares the screen equally with Robert Downey Jr., Tony Stark, aka Iron Man, in a tiff that ends up destroying a lot of stuff. This is the thirteenth film in the MCU, or Marvel Comics Universe, the longest geek opera in history, which I’m startled to read is laid out at least until 2028, which will make Wagner’s Ring Cycle seem like a coffee break.

And this is a long film. But I was never bored, and was quite engrossed, and marveled at how directors Anthony and Joe Russo managed to get so many characters and plots into a film while, at least to me, making perfect sense. As I was watching I asked myself if this would be the first superhero film nominated for a Best Picture Oscar. A night’s sleep has cured me of that fantasy, but the film is a rousing entertainment and will please anyone who grew up, as I did, reading Marvel Comics.

The script, by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, touches on something that comic book films have been accused of–showing mass destruction without the consequences. We’ve all seen buildings destroyed in these films and may have wondered, “how many innocent people just got killed?” Well, this film deals with that question. Secretary of State (William Hurt, reprising his role as Thunderbolt Ross) presents the Avengers with a choice; sign an accord that makes them agents of the U.N., or retire. Downey is all for it, as he was the won who built Ultron, who destroyed a whole city, in the last Avengers’ film. Captain America is against it, as is his sidekick Falcon (Anthony Mackie).

Touching off the war of the title is a bomb exploding in Vienna, killing the king of Wakanda, an African nation. Videotape shows that is Evans’ old friend, now the former Hydra assassin Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan) who is responsible. Evans believes in his friend, and we learn quickly that the real bad guy is named Zemo, and played by Daniel Bruhl. When the film reaches its climax we understand he went to a lot of trouble to get Captain America and Iron Man to beat the snot out of each other.

But that’s a long way off. Sides are taken, and new characters are introduced, most prominently The Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman), the new king of Wakanda who wears a cat suit and has some vicious claws. He is after Stan because he believes he killed his father, and doesn’t really care about the Avengers’ argument.

There are more characters–the Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) and Vision (Paul Bettany), who in the comics got married and I think they’re going in that direction in the films, even though he ends up imprisoning and cooking for her. (Interestingly, I believe that though Olsen is credited as the Scarlet Witch, she is never referred to as that, and neither has Johansson ever been called the Black Widow). Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) and War Machine (Don Cheadle) area also on hand.

The major action piece is full-blown battle at an airport when I counted ten heroes, five on a side (the Hulk or Thor are not involved). We even get Ant-Man (Paul Rudd), who introduces a new power, and the reboot of Spider-Man (Tom Holland, who makes Tobey Maguire seem ancient when he played Peter Parker). The Marvel history gets skewed here, as Downey Jr. somehow figures out who Spider-Man’s secret identity is and outfits him with a better costume, when we all know that Spider-Man predates Iron Man. Harrumph.

Anway, this battle royale is a lot of fun, with Holland really laying on the “gee whiz” factor (so does Rudd) with lots of quips and even a reference to The Empire Strikes Back. But, like any rough play, it’s only fun until somebody gets hurt, and one of the heroes gets seriously injured.

Captain America: Civil War strikes a great balance between gravitas and humor, which the D.C. films struggle with. There is some serious stuff here, such as when Downey Jr. is approached by a mother (Alfre Woodard) whose son died as collateral damage in an Avengers fight. Downey Jr., who is the best casting in the entire MCU, has never been better, still quipping (my favorite is when he calls Stan “Manchurian Candidate”) but also also expressing the character’s inner sorrow (he’s just split from his flame Pepper Potts, normally played by Gwyneth Paltrow, whose contract ran out). Evans plays a much less nuanced character, but he is terrific, and the film is full of cameos, such as Martin Freeman and, amazingly, Marisa Tomei as Parker’s Aunt May. In the comics, Aunt May was drawn as an elderly women, and the film character has progressed from Rosemary Harris to Sally Field to Marisa Tomei. At least we don’t have to see Uncle Ben die again.

By the end, when Cap and Iron Man are bludgeoning each other over and over, I got a little weary of it, but overall this is just another astounding success in the MCU. I actually looked at the next films scheduled, and just hope I can live that long. I’ll be 67 in 2028, so chances are good. Fingers crossed.

Opening in Las Vegas, May 13, 2016

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Most of this weekend has been cleared for Captain America‘s second weekend, but Money Monster (56) has some star power. Directed by Jodie Foster, with Julia Roberts and George Clooney in a thriller based around the economic meltdown. The film’s lackluster projections indicate that Roberts and Clooney may be done as major draws. Roberts has this film and Mother’s Day out this month–not her best month. Russ Fischer: “The film is never as savage as the first-act anarchy suggests it might be, and its best ideas are subsumed into familiar thriller concepts. Good craftsmanship elevates the result above workaday thriller territory, but ultimately Money Monster never rages in the “mad as hell” mode that’s always kept just out of reach.”

For horror fans there is The Darkness (30), with Kevin Bacon as a family man who brings a demon back from the Grand Canyon. Only die-hard scare fanatics will want to see this. Peter Sobcynzski: “The Darkness is pretty much a total bust—it isn’t scary, it isn’t exciting and it plods along at such a snails pace that even though it clocks in at just over 90 minutes, it plays like it runs at least twice that.”

Perhaps the most interesting release this week is The Man Who Knew Infinity (56), starring Dev Patel as a real-life mathematics genius who about a hundred years ago came from the slums of India to Cambridge University. Also starring Jeremy Irons. Andrew Lowry: “Well intentioned and played, this shows flashes of what could have been, but is ultimately let down by its timidity towards the maths, and fails to make the case for its own hero’s greatness.:

 

I’m terrified to click the ‘Dream A Little Dream’ description.

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“Here’s the plot of this wacky 80’s comedy, followed by some irrelevant and depressing information!”

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If you click through the link the the rest reads “who died of a heart attack while filming in Mexico in 1994”. However, that was another movie (Wagons East) filmed nearly a decade after Summer Rental‘s release so there’s really no purpose for its inclusion.

AGEBOC 2016 – WEEK TWO

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AGEBOC 2016 – WEEK TWO

Captain America: Civil War opened to 179m and that’s either amazing (if you consider it a Captain America sequel) or a tiny bit disappointing (if you consider it an Avengers sequel.) Bottom line is that it’s going to earn an insane amount of money over the next 45-60 days.

We’re in a familiar place with the scores:

Perpetually tied HAGEBOC opponents Joe and James are once again neck and neck (CA:CW – James + 4, Joe +2, Bonus 1: Joe + 2, James +1).  I decided to award Juan +1 for the Bonus because I hadn’t recently reiterated the “no duplicate guess” rule.

WEEKEND OF MAY 6, 2016:

What will Captain America: Civil War gross the weekend of May 13th, 2016? Closest guess earns 4 points.  Second closest earns 2 points.  Within 250k earns 2 extra points.

BONUS #1:

What will Money Monster gross the weekend of May 13th, 2016?  Closest guess earns 2 points.  Second closest earns 1 point.

BONUS #3 

What will Captain America: Civil War‘s weekend-to-weekend drop percentage be?  Closest wins 2 points.  Second closest earns 1 point.

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

Review: Green Room

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In his follow-up to Blue Ruin, which had the actress who played Jan Brady shooting an Uzi, director Jeremy Saulnier has another blook-soaked film, this time called Green Room. It is a fairly novel idea for a crime film–a punk band, at a gig in a skinhead bar in deep in the woods of Oregon, witnesses a murder, and then attempt to escape the clutches of a white supremacist organization.

I do have to say this before I go any farther–this film is violent, very violent. The body count is extremely high, higher than I can remember to count, and people are done away with by being disemboweled, having their throats ripped out by dogs, and old-fashioned shootings. From about halfway on it is an orgy of blood, and I was surprised that a little old lady with a walker that came in after I did actually stayed through the whole thing.

The first part of the film is a nice look at how hard it is to be a band. The Ain’t Rights, a foursome, have just had a gig that got them $6.87 each, and they are experts at siphoning gas. The apologetic promoter sends them to their next gig, telling them not to talk politics. They arrive to find their name misspelled on the marquee and a lot of burly men with neck tattoos. Mischievously they open with The Dead Kennedy’s “Nazi Punks Fuck Off,” but all seems to be well as they leave with $350. Except one of the members left her phone in the green room. When another one goes back to get it, he finds a woman with a knife in her head.

All is cool for a while. There is a lot of negotiation, and the owner of the place and the leader of the “movement” (Patrick Stewart, totally playing against type) reasons with the band. They are led to believe they will be allowed to leave, but you can’t trust neo-Nazis, and the battle is on. Just about everybody dies, except for three people, I think.

Saulnier clearly loves a nice film full of mayhem and backwoods ignoramuses, as judging by these two films. Green Room is a little sloppy in places, and there was a subplot involving one of the skinheads planning to leave with evidence that I didn’t quite follow–maybe its because there’s some mumbling going on, and I can’t hear that well. The ending also drags out a little long. But there’s also some dry wit going on, such as a shot of a man with a mohawk vacuuming his carpet.

If carnage and loud punk rock don’t bother you, this is a fine film. I wonder how that little old lady liked it.

Opening in Las Vegas, May 6, 2016

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Summer movie season starts with a bang with Captain America: Civil War (75), which for months has been getting good buzz, with a lot calling it the best of the Marvel movies. It may well be, but a comic book movie is still a comic book movie. It’s chock full of stars, but no Hulk or Thor, but does add the Black Panther and includes Spider-Man in the Marvel Universe. Should set a record for a Marvel film’s opening. Matt Soller Seitz: “The bad news is, there are about ten movies going on in Captain America: Civil War, which is at least seven too many. The good news is, most of them are fun, and there are enough rousing moments to elevate the movie to Marvel’s top tier.”

The only other new film taking on Cap this week here in the Valley is Sing Street (78), another music-based film from John Carney (Once, Begin Again), set in Dublin. A lot of comparisons to The Commitments, which is high praise. Walter Addiego: “The director’s skill pushes what could have been the same old song into a likable testament to the saving powers of young love and rock ’n’ roll.”

Review: Miles Ahead

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What a strange movie Miles Ahead is. Don Cheadle co-wrote, directed, and stars in the film about one of the greatest geniuses of jazz (or, as Davis called it, “social music”) but this is not a cradle-to-grave biopic. There’s no moment when a young boy touches a trumpet for the first time, no moment of discovery, no Behind the Music-style rise and fall.

Instead, Cheadle focuses on two parts of Davis’ life. The most prominent is in the late ’70s, when Davis stopped playing music for five years, and didn’t even touch his horn. He is in a dispute with Columbia Records, and a reporter from Rolling Stone (Ewan McGregor) comes knocking on his door. Davis first wants to shoot him, but then lets him tag along, mostly because he has a driver’s license.

The other segment of Davis’ life is at the top of his career, perhaps the late ’50s, when he plays with his own quintet and meets and weds his first wife, Frances Taylor. The most notable part of these flashbacks are when he is arrested for loitering right in front of the club he is playing, with his name on the poster.

But most of the film is ’70s Davis, wearing a red tracksuit, snorting coke, and playing with guns. The issue is tapes that Davis has made that Columbia insists they own. Michael Stuhlbarg plays an unscrupulous executive (a tautology) who employs a young trumpet player to steal them, and Davis and McGregor, like a mixed-race Starsky and Hutch, try to get them back.

Clearly Cheadle is a fan of Davis’, but I’m at a loss to explain how this is the testament to his devotion. I came away knowing little about Davis or his music, as Cheadle has turned him into an action figure. McGregor’s character is a complete fabrication, as I imagine are the gunfights and car chases are. We hear the music, but there’s no context. I’ve read more interesting things about Davis–how his father helped him kick a heroin habit, about how he said he would like to spend the last hour of his life choking a white man, or his marriage to Cicely Tyson. But none of that is here. What’s next–John Coltrane solving a murder?

Cheadle is very good at Davis, and gets the raspy voice and mannerisms down. What fails the movie is the cockamamie plot. I suggest those unfamiliar with Davis find themselves a good documentary, or just listen to the records.

AGEBOC 2016 – WEEK ONE

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Welcome to AGEBOC 2016!

No change in the scoring system this year (4 points awarded to the person with the closest guess, 2 to the runner-up.  A 2 point bonus for being within 500k.  Bonus questions can and will vary in value.  Good luck!

WEEKEND OF MAY 6, 2016:

What will Captain America: Civil War gross this weekend?

BONUS #1:

What will Captain America: Civil War gross during Thursday night/Midnight shows?  Closest guess earns 2 points.  Second closest earns 1 point.

BONUS #2 (FOR JAMES AND JOE ONLY):

Time for some old business. Thanks to a tie between Joe and James, HAGEBOC 2015 remains undecided.  I think it’s fitting that we settle things with the weekend gross of yesterday’s news, Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice.  Closest guess wins it all.

Answers are due on Thursday, May 5th by 12:00 pm EST.