AGEBOC ’15 FINALE September 4-6

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Slim’s victory has been a foregone conclusion for a while, but we’ve got to play until the end!

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. Transporter something something…

2. A Walk In The Woods cast from the 80s, blah blah blah

Deadline is Thursday September 3rd 11:59pm blog time

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

Current Rankings:

Jackrabbit Slim – 50.5

James – 40.5
Rob – 39
Joe – 25
Marco – 21.5
Juan – 16.5
Nick – 6.5

AGEBOC ’15 August 28-30

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This game appears to be running on fumes at the moment. Time to give away more points!

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. Major Action Star of the early aughts Owen Wilson (think Behind Enemy Lines, Shanghai Noon & Knights, I Spy, etc..) finally returns to the genre this week with No Escape. Will it exceed his previous comedy release Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb’s paltry $17.1m on opening weekend (FSS only)?

2. Will Zac Efron’s latest effort land closer to his previous opening weekend (Neighbors at $49m) or the one before that (That Awkward Moment at $8.74m)?

The Mario Kart “Bullet Bill” Bonus:

Guess the weekend Box Office total of one or more of the following limited-ish releases:

-Memories of the Sword
-War Room
-Z is for Zachariah
-The Second Mother
-Turbo Kid

Closest guess on each movie gets 1 bonus point. If you are currently in the bottom 3 (Marco, Juan, Nick) take 2 bonus points for being the closest. No extras for being within a certain amount.

Deadline is Thursday August 27th 11:59pm blog time

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

Current Rankings:

Jackrabbit Slim – 49.5

James – 33.5
Rob – 30
Joe – 24
Marco – 18.5
Juan – 16.5
Nick – 6.5

Review: The End of the Tour

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When Infinite Jest was released in the mid-’90s, author David Foster Wallace  became a hero to many of his generation, who were looking for a writer to represent them as Hemingway and Fitzgerald had represented a previous generation. This was certainly true of David Lipsky, himself a writer of fiction and a magazine writer, who while working for Rolling Stone managed to secure an interview with Wallace, even though Rolling Stone didn’t interview writers.

This is the subject of John Ponsoldt’s insightful The End of the Tour, written by Pulitzer Prize-winning dramatist Donald Margulies, based on Lipsky’s book. It is a rare thing–a movie for book nerds, but I think anyone who enjoys good conversation and character studies will enjoy this film.

Jesse Eisenberg plays Lipsky, and when the film begins he is hearing the 2008 news that Wallace has committed suicide. He digs out his old tapes and reminisces about the interview he conducted in 1996, when Wallace was finishing his book tour for Infinite Jest. Lipsky spends a day with him in Bloomington, Illinois, where Wallace teaches, and then to Minneapolis-St. Paul, where Wallace does a reading/signing and an NPR interview.

Eisenberg is as you would expect him, full of nervous energy, ferret eyes darting, but Jason Segel as Wallace is the film. Segel is of course known for his Apatow comedies, so nobody could have foreseen a performance of such depth and pain, But it is one of the best performances of this and any year. Part of the success is due to Wallace’s easily mimicked look–scruffy, long lank hair, and bandanna, which Wallace is distressed to learn is thought of as an affectation, when he really wears it as something of a security blanket.

Wallace wants to be thought of as a regular guy, but as Lipsky points out, no one reads a 1,000-page novel because the author is a regular guy. Wallace is caught in a bind–he is brilliant, but still floats in a lonely miasma, living alone with two dogs, with no television because he is a TV addict. He fancies that these book tours might get him laid, but that seems like macho bluffing. He seems like a man stuck between the pantheon of greatness and the down-homeness of a Denny’s. To wit–he is a big fan of Alanis Morrisette, and wonders if he mentions this in the article it will get him a chance to meet her.

Most of the film is conversation between the two, a kind of My Dinner With Andre extended over a few days. They go to the Mall of America, pass by (but do not visit) the statue of Mary Tyler Moore throwing her hat in Minneapolis, and spend an evening watching TV with Wallace’s former grad school girlfriend. This gives the film a crux of conflict, as Wallace thinks Lipsky is flirting with her. But really, Lipsky’s intention is even more nefarious–he wants to get information about Wallace from her.

Ponsoldt’s direction is largely unobtrusive, with no camera tricks. The lighting by Jakob Ihre is about as unglamorous as it gets–downstate Illinois during winter looks about as inviting as a plague zone. I’m sure this is all to focus more on the dialogue, which is rich with a kind of cat and mouse game–Wallace is flattered to be interviewed, but doesn’t want to give too much away.

The only Wallace I’ve read is his last, unfinished book, The Pale King, which was something of a paean to boredom. I once owned Infinite Jest, which is kind of becoming the Moby Dick of our time–everyone talks about it, though no one has read it. I lost my copy in a flood in my apartment, but I’m game to try it, even if it is over 1,000 pages. Segel relates that when he bought the book the female cashier rolled her eyes and said that every guy she had ever dated had an unread copy of the book on their shelves.

My grade for The End of the Tour: A-.

Review: Trainwreck

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Before it was the summer of Donald Trump it was the summer of Amy Schumer, who suddenly seemed to be everywhere. Kudos to her publicist, and to Judd Apatow, who directed her debut film, Trainwreck. The film is a hit, and Schumer seems assured of more films, but I hope the next one maintains her edge, instead of getting all marshmallowy at the end like this one does.

What Schumer seemed to want to do was turn the romantic comedy on its head, with the women being the one who sleeps around and gets drunk, while the man is the meek one trying to change her. That works pretty well in the first half, as Schumer has some very funny bits. I haven’t seen much of her TV show, but I have heard that a lot of her comedy is just acknowledging that she has a vagina. There’s some of that here, too, but I laughed out loud several times.

Schumer is a writer for a Maxim-style magazine (her editor is played in a delicious performance by Tilda Swinton). One of their articles is “Does Garlic Change the Taste of Your Semen?” She is sent to interview a sports physician who has a cutting edge knee surgery technique. He’s the “nice guy,” and she violates journalistic integrity by sleeping with him.

They get along great, but Schumer is haunted by her father’s years-long position that monogamy is not natural. He’s played by Colin Quinn, and he steals every scene in his in. He ends up in a nursing home, and says of his old codger friend (played by centenarian Norman Lloyd) that he’s been dead for three years but hasn’t been alerted.

Then the romantic comedy tropes start popping up. Schumer has to take a call from Swinton during Hader’s big speech, but it’s the first time Swinton has been shown being that demanding. Then he starts in on her drinking and pot smoking. The only thing missing her is Schumer hooking up with a meatball, but that happens at the beginning of the movie when she’s sleeping with a hunk played by wrestler John Cena.

The ending is terrible–it’s right out of something that stars Jennifer Lopez or Kate Hudson. Schumer does change herself to conform to Hader’s requests, such as that cheerleaders are fun people who make people happy. She also starts to soften to her sister (Brie Larson) who has a family and a really square husband (Mark Birbiglia). There’s also an embarrassing intervention scene in which a variety of celebrities try to talk sense with Hader. Chris Evert is reduced to having to say the word “cock blocker.”

But I will say that all the attention received by LeBron James as an actor is well-deserved. He is a natural on camera, and the scene in which he tries to divide the check for lunch with Hader is terrific.

Schumer is a bright talent, but I wish she and Apatow had gone a bit more for the throat in this film, such as not having the two stick together. Maybe next time.

My grade for Trainwreck: B-.

Movies Opening in New Haven – Weekend of August 21st, 2015

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With this batch of releases that should have probably gone DTV (or in some cases – not made at all) it’s safe to say that Summer has pretty much concluded.  With that in mind, I’d love for us to share how we’d rank the season’s releases in the comments below.

Anyway, things are really bad in our nation’s multiplexes and they aren’t going to get much better until mid-September…but we’re in good shape after that!

American Ultra: The weekend’s most promising release stars Jessie Eisenberg as aimless stoner who discovers he’s a highly lethal government sleeper agent.  Nima Nourizadeh (Project X) directs from a screenplay by Max Landis (the excellent found footage picture, Chronicle).

Somewhat excited for this, although I have to say that there’s a somewhat off-putting low-budget look to this thing that’s throwing me off.  I actually thought it was going day-and-date until the film’s relentless/desperate television campaign kicked in a few weeks back.

Also troubling: “Bad Movie Sign” Hall of Famer Topher Grace co-stars.

Rotten Tomatoes: 46%, Metacritic: 50%

Personal interest factor: 5.

Sinister 2: Ethan Hawke-less horror sequel.  I’ve heard great things about the original, but this appears to be nothing but a terrible cash grab.

Rotten Tomatoes: 13%, Metacritic: 30%

Personal interest factor: 0

Hitman: Agent 47: Remake or reboot or something of 2007’s classic bald assassin picture, Hitman. Rupert Friend steps into Paul Walker’s shoes, who was set to step into original franchise star Timothy Olyphant’s shoes before his tragic death (Walker’s, not Olyphant’s).

What’s really strange is that I initially typed “Cirian Hands” in place of “Rupert Friend” above, not necessarily realizing they were two different people.  But then I discovered that Hands is ALSO in the film.  Glitch in the Matrix?  Possibly.  Zachary Quinto co-stars for some reason.

Seems like a pure “we’ve got to make this in the next year or lose the rights!” production.  One thing that I loved about the original is that the Hitmen were part of a secret society who guarded the identity of their assassins by shaving their heads and tattooing massive barcodes on their skulls.  Totally discrete.

This looks similarly idiotic.

Rotten Tomatoes: 8% Metacritic: 29%

Personal interest factor: 0

Oscar 2015 Preview: Best Picture

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Eddie Redmayne as “The Danish Girl”

It’s time for back-to-school sales and looking forward to the fall slate of film releases, which are chock full of Oscar bait. In my annual round-up of my predictions for Best Picture (which is usually about fifty percent accurate) all but one of these films has not been released yet, which means I’m guessing blind. There is no real favorite yet, which makes it all pretty interesting right about now. As for the favorite, I’ve been doing this now for several years but I think I’ve only nailed the winner once at this time of year, and that was for 12 Years a Slave. Last year I had Unbroken, which wasn’t even nominated.

In alphabetical order:

Bridge of Spies (Steven Spielberg) You can never count out Spielberg, unless it’s one of his sci-fi action flicks like Jurrasic Park or War of the Worlds. This one is a Cold War tale with Tom Hanks. Of course, they also made The Terminal together.

Brooklyn (John Crowley): A film about an Irish emigre in New York City, this film, starring Saorsie Ronan, looks like an old-fashioned film that Oscar used to love.

The Danish Girl (Tom Hooper): Hooper’s last two films have been nominated in this category. It’s about the person first recognized for having gender-change surgery, and stars last year’s Best Actor winner Eddie Redmayne. Gender identity is very much on the minds of many these days, so the zeitgeist might be right. I’ll pick this as the picture to beat.

The Hateful Eight (Quentin Tarantino): Tarantino is on a two-film streak with Best Pictures, so why not this one, which has a large collection of cool actors in a Western? With Inglorious Basterds and Django Unchained he’s shown that blood-soaked pictures and over-the-top performances can still be nominated in this category.

Inside Out (Pete Docter): While the Academy had a mandatory ten-film slate of nominees, animated films got in (Toy Story 3 and Up). Not so since it’s been anywhere from five to nine nominees. If it’s ten this year, I think Inside Out, generally acclaimed as great by critics and audiences, will get in.

Joy (David O. Russell): Russell is on a three-film streak, and he is teaming with Jennifer Lawrence, Bradley Cooper, and Robert De Niro for the third time in this story of the woman who invented the Miracle Mop. Based on the pedigree, this has to be a contender.

The Revenant (Alejandro Innaritu): Last year’s winner was directed by Innaritu, can he get two in a row? This film, about Leonardo DiCaprio as a mountain man bent on revenge, has been full of stories about problems in the set, but if it’s good as it could be, it should be a lock.

Sicario (Denis Villaneuve): Starring Emily Blunt in a role the studio wanted a man to play, it seems to be about Mexican drug cartels and, with Benicio Del Toro as a co-star, reminiscent of Traffic. That would be a good thing.

Steve Jobs (Danny Boyle): There’s already been one film about the Apple founder which bombed, starring Ashton Kutcher. The difference here is that it’s Michael Fassbender as Jobs and the script was written by Aaron Sorkin. If he can do with Jobs what he did with Mark Zuckerberg, the film should be great.

Suffragette (Sarah Gavron): A story about the women’s-right-to-vote moment in England, this film looks great in the trailer and has lots of great parts for women. But movies about women haven’t won many Best Pictures.

Also in contention: Black Mass (Scott Cooper); By the Sea (Angelina Jolie); Carol (Todd Haynes); Freeheld (Peter Smollett); In the Heart of the Sea (Ron Howard); The Martian (Ridley Scott); The Secret in Their Eyes (Billy Ray); Star Wars: The Force Awakens (J.J. Abrams); Trumbo (Jay Roach); Youth (Paola Sorrentino).

AGEBOC ’15 August 21-23

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Slimdog Millionaire strikes again! Only 3 weekends left…

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 Compton drop ABOVE or BELOW 57% in its 2nd weekend (compared to its 1st)?

2. Which movie will be #2?

Deadline is Thursday August 20th 11:59pm blog time

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

Current Rankings:

Jackrabbit Slim – 45

James – 33.5
Rob – 30
Joe – 24
Juan – 16.5
Marco – 16
Nick – 6.5

Bad films by top-tier directors

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honkytonkThere was a bit of buzz on social media created last week by an article listing the top 10 worst films by famous directors. I’d only seen a few films in the list and of those, I strongly disagree with Coppola’s version of Dracula being there as I found it enormously entertaining and a case could be made it’s his best post-Apocalypse Now film. No qualms about Burton’s Planet Of The Apes being there though.

In anycase, it was an interesting premise for a topic and it got me thinking of my own selection of bad films made what would be considered top-tier directors. I’m not talking about misfires, but outright disasters that you couldn’t fathom coming from such highly-regarded filmmakers.

Mike Nichols  – What Planet Are You From?

When he died last year, Nichols was lauded as one of the most important American directors of the past 50 years, although that reputation was largely based on his film work in the late 60s and early 70s. He never really reached the same heights when he resuming directing after a long break in 1983, he could be relied upon to providing solid, well-made, entertaining films. That is, with the exception of his 2000 comedy “What Planet Are You From?”

I recall commenting when I saw this film that it was arguably the worst film I’d ever seen by an Oscar winning director and I think that still stands (although the next one in this list would be a contender). It’s staggering considering Nichols’ comic talents (going back to his days working with Elaine May) that he could make a comedy so inept as this one. Perhaps he just didn’t know how to utilise the talents of star Garry Shandling, who looks so out of his depth that it killed any hopes he had a of a long-term film career.

Apart from the admirable performance of Annette Benning, this film is a total wipeout.

John Schlesinger – Honkytonk Freeway

Schlesinger had a largely excellent career throughout the 1960s and 1970s, making highly successful films in range of genres in both England and America, with the peak being the Best Picture winner Midnight Cowboy. But while he continued to work throughout the 1980s and 1990s, his film career never seemed to really recover from this 1981 flop.

While Honkytonk Freeway is forgotten today, in its day it was almost seen as a bigger financial disaster as Heaven’s Gate was, virtually bankrupting the British film company EMI. What started out as a small-budget comedy poking fun and satirising a range of middle American types, the film got completely out of hand budget wise and barely got released after receiving scathing reviews.

Having watched this recently, I actually think its worse than its lowly reputation. Despite having a pretty good cast and potentially interesting premise, the film never gets going at any stage. It is so lumbering in its film style that it barely has a funny moment at any stage and is also quite unnecessarily nasty at times (a trait that occasionally popped up in Schlesinger’s films). It’s the worst type of big-budget film where you can see the expense on screen but nothing that provides any entertainment or thrills.

As for Schlesinger’s direction, you can actually see in the way he shoots the film the talent he had. But he displays no sense of comic timing (not something he was ever known for as a director) and that plays a pivotal role in sinking the film.

Robert Aldrich – The Choirboys

Aldrich made a lot of notable films in many different genres  during his lengthy career. But he was always an erratic, often unsubtle director who could slip into crudeness and misjudgements. ‘The Legend Of Lylah Clare’ has a deserved reputation as an embarrassingly ludicrous look at Hollywood but even worse is his 1977 film ‘The Choirboys’.

A supposed comedy about the off-duty activities of a bunch of policemen, the film from the word go is crass, crude, homophobic and repellent. And it certainly isn’t funny. How obnoxious is it? As well, it’s filmed in a cheap ugly style on obvious backlots that Aldrich may have gotten away with in the 1950s, but not by this time. One of the worst films I’ve ever seen, let alone from a major director.

Opening in Las Vegas, August 14, 2015

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I know James said it was going to be tough for him to get up Openings this week, and I’m sitting here with nothing to do, so I’ll take it upon myself to fill in.

It’s a quiet week here. Two big openings in multiplexes. I saw The Man From U.N.C.L.E. (54) and most reviews seem to agree with me that it’s all sizzle and no steak. Brian Truitt: “While Mission: Impossible has found a popular way to reimagine an old show for modern times, Man is immersed in all things retro — from the ginchy fashion to a jazzy score — but for an action adventure, it’s a mostly tedious affair with fleeting moments of cool.”

I am not part of the demographic for Straight Outta Compton (71) since I don’t care for rap or hip-hop, but even I’ve heard of N.W.A. It’s doing strong business, which suggests that a lot of people are nostalgic for old style hip-hop, rather than for another music biopic. Donnell Alexander: “Despite Straight Outta Compton’s energetic acting and Gray’s capture of in-studio Eureka! moments, it never manages to transcend biopic hagiography, with characters whose names appear in the production credits – Dre, Cube and Eazy-E’s widow Tomica Woods-Wright – faring best onscreen.”

Also released in Vegas this week is the documentary Cartel Land (77), about the drug wars on both sides of the border of Mexico and the U.S. Michael O’Sullivan: “Cartel Land reveals a culture that spans the border, full of death and dismaying behavior on both sides, but thriving all the same.”

Review: Irrational Man

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In reflecting on Woody Allen’s latest film, Irrational Man, my friend and I, who are both passionate Allen fans, agreed that even mediocre Allen is better than most films, and that Irrational Man is something of a mediocrity, but by that standard it’s pretty good compared to other films.

I mean, what other director, whose work appears in multiplexes, expects you to know the difference between Kant and Kierkegaard and has a line like “Who needs another book on Heidegger and neo-fascism” that is supposed to be a joke? If some movies expect you to leave your brains at the door of the theater, Allen demands you hang on to them, and hopefully have one more than degree.

As usual with Allen in his late years (I assume they’re late, the man turns 80 in December) is that he is cribbing from himself. Irrational Man resembles Crimes and Misdemeanors and Match Point, in that it deals with the morality of murder and, above all, moral relativism. This time he asks, through his main character, is it acceptable to kill someone to improve the common good?

Joaquin Phoenix stars as Abe Lucas, a philosophy professor new to Braden College, which appears to be in Newport, Rhode Island. Everyone says he is brilliant, which to me is telling and not showing. Phoenix is perpetually glum, carries a flask full of single malt scotch where ever he goes, has an impressive beer belly, and is impotent. Naturally he’s lusted after by more than one woman.

His problem is that he has lost interest in life. He dutifully teaches, and attracts the interest of another faculty member (Parker Posey), who wants him to take her away to Spain. He also draws the interest of a student, Emma Stone, who has a boyfriend (Jamie Blackley), but she falls in love with Phoenix. Now, Allen, either completely tone-deaf to criticisms of making movies about younger women with older men, or figuring, “If it could happen to me…” doesn’t help his cause by this, but I figure Allen doesn’t really give a fuck about this by now. I will say a pairing between Phoenix and Stone is a lot less creepy than Stone and Colin Firth in last year’s lamentable Magic in the Moonlight.

So, Phoenix is in a funk, even if he does have two attractive women chasing him, when he and Stone overhear a conversation about a corrupt judge. Energized, Phoenix decides to kill him, and a college romance is suddenly a murder thriller. Allen is pretty good with these–he could have been Agatha Christie in another life–and as with Match Point inserts uses an object we had forgotten about it to determine the climax.

There are problems with the movie, though, other than what I’ve mentioned. There’s too much unnecessary voice over, in a key scene Phoenix too easily enters the elevator room of an office building (don’t they lock those things?) and Blackley, as Stone’s boyfriend, looks like a model from Abercrombie and Fitch and has absolutely no personality, other than that he likes sweaters. The other performers are good, but since it’s been said Allen doesn’t really give his actors direction they all seem to be acting in a different movie.

Phoenix, based on his last three roles (Her, Inherent Vice, and this one) has settled into a groove of playing shaggy dog like roles, but it suits him. I never really bought him as a philosophy professor, but I’m not sure what a philosophy professor really acts like. Stone is very impressive, putting a lot of emotion into the part, even as she doesn’t quite seem to believe it. You may throw up in your mouth a little bit when, at dinner, she tells Phoenix, “I like when you order for me.” Only someone extremely old-school like Allen would think a modern woman would like that. I suppose he orders for Soon-yi.

If I had to rank all of Allens’ films I would say this comes somewhere in the middle, maybe a little lower, and as I said, that makes it one of this summer’s better films.

My grade for Irrational Man: B-.

AGEBOC ’15 August 14-16

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James wins the week by having a less-sucky guess than the rest of us!

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 Straight Outta Compton best F. Gary Gray’s highest opening weekend (currently Be Cool at $23,450,212 unadjusted)?

2. The Man From U.N.C.L.E. feels like Kingsman (opened with $36,206,331) to me. After Sunday, which movie will have the higher opening weekend?

Deadline is Thursday August 13th 11:59pm blog time

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

Current Rankings:

Jackrabbit Slim – 40

James – 32.5
Rob – 29
Joe – 21
Juan – 16.5
Marco – 16
Nick – 6.5

Movies Opening in New Haven – Weekend of August 8th, 2015

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Fantastic Four: Critically-savaged superhero reboot from Chronicle Director Josh Trank. The production of this film has been plagued by bad buzz and delicious rumors.  The inevitable Vanity Fair article should be excellent.

I can’t remember too many cases where a Director has publicly attacked their own picture on opening night, so you have to give Trank points for originality there.

Rotten Tomatoes: 9%, Metacritic: 27%

Personal interest factor: 5.  And only because I love trainwrecks.

Shaun the Sheep Movie: Another critically acclaimed Aardman feature for American audiences to ignore completely.  Based on early returns (it’s already in 8th place at the box office) Lionsgate must be questioning their decision to give this a wide theatrical release.   Day-and-date limited theatrical/VOD would have been the way to go here.

Rotten Tomatoes: 99%, Metacritic: 81%

Personal interest factor: 7

Ricki and the Flash: Hey, did you know that Meryl Streep’s real life daughter (Mamie Gummer) plays her on-screen child for the first time in this unfortunately-named picture?  I do, because it seems to be the film’s only selling point based on the latest, desperate commercials unleashed by the studio.

Rotten Tomatoes: 59% Metacritic: 54%

Personal interest factor: 2

The Gift: Cool-looking suspense picture from first time director (and star) Joel Edgerton.  Jason Bateman and and Rebecca Hall star as a couple terrorized by a former high school classmate.

There’s apparently a major twist that the studio has been all too happy to tease.  Curious to find out what it is.

Rotten Tomatoes: 91% Metacritic: 78%

Personal interest factor: 9

Review: The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

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I always find it helpful to wait a day or two after seeing a film to write about it. It gives me time to digest it in my brain, and my feelings often change. For example, I went to an advanced screening of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. on Monday night, and left thinking it was okay. The crowds at these things are generally enthusiastic–maybe they’re in a good mood because it’s free.

But after chewing on it a while, I realize how misguided and dumb this film is. Directed by Guy Ritchie, and based on a TV series that no one under 50 is probably familiar with, The Man From U.N.C.L.E. attempts to do just what the show did–cash in on the craze for spy films, particularly James Bond and his imitators, like Matt Helm or Flint.

I barely remember the show, which ran from 1964 to 1968, but I remember the ephemera that came from it, like action figures and lunch boxes. In effect, this film is really an adaption of the lunch box.

The gimmick here is that it’s the height of the Cold War, and an American CIA agent, Napoleon Solo (Henry Cavill) and a KGB agent, Ilya Kuryakin (Armie Hammer) are forced to team up to stop a billionaire (who has a private island, of course) from making his own nuclear warhead. They enlist a scientist’s daughter (Alicia Vikander) to help them, but she’s got her own secrets. Much of the film is the hostile byplay between the two agents, and a lot of double entendres. It’s an action comedy that is pretty good with action but not so hot with comedy.

The opening sequence, when Cavill gets Vikander out of East Berlin while Hammer is chasing them, was so good that it set me up for disappointment. There’s also a pretty good chase on the winding roads of somewhere in Italy. But too much of the film is just flash–lots of great period frocks for Vikander to wear, and comic moments when the anger-management-challenged Hammer beats the tar out of someone who annoys him.

I admire that Ritchie has set the film in the ’60s instead of updating it, so it looks great. But the script is a mess, not making much sense. The real villain of the piece is the billionaire’s wife, a Lady Macbeth type played with coiled elegance by Elizabeth Debicki. This is a nice twist on the villain thing, but not enough is done with it. I did laugh at sight gag in which she demands the phone after Cavill taunts her.

Hugh Grant is on hand as their boss Waverly, who was played by Leo G. Carroll in the TV series (goodness, can Grant be that old?). He does his Hugh Grant thing, and almost seems like an impersonation of himself. The film ends with a declaration that a sequel is intended, but if there is they’ve got to come up with a better story or it will just be all sizzle and no steak.

My grade for The Man From U.N.C.L.E.: C-.

Film Noir: The Big Heat

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The Big Heat, directed by Fritz Lang, is one of the better noirs of the ’50s, and has a couple of interesting twists. It features a stalwart, honest cop as protagonist, but to classify as noir he undergoes a change for the worst, and it turns the concept of the femme fatale on its head.

Glenn Ford stars as homicide Sgt. Dave Bannon. He’s a true blue family man, married to Jocelyn Brando (yes, Marlon’s sister) and has a young daughter. He’s almost hen-pecked at home, as Brando kind of bosses him around and he takes it good-naturedly.

The opening scene shows us a gun, and then, his head off-screen, a man puts a bullet into it. He’s a cop, and it’s ruled a suicide. But his scheming wife (Jeannette Nolan) takes his long, detailed suicide note, which relates how he was on the payroll of the local mob boss, Alexander Scourby. Nolan, who is not sad in the least about her husband’s death, now blackmails Scourby.

Ford is on the case, and even though it seems like an open and shut matter, he pursues it. He questions a woman who claims to have had an affair with the dead man, and when she turns up dead the next day, he knows he’s on to something. Then, when he doesn’t back down, his wife ends up blown to bits in a car he was meant to drive, which turns him into a revenge-seeking automaton. But the police commissioner, who is in Scourby’s pocket, warns him off revenge and Ford quits the force.

The other thread through the movie is that of Gloria Grahame, as a gangster’s moll. She’s the girl of Lee Marvin, Scourby’s number two. She’s very aware of Marvin’s cruelty (she watches impassively as he puts a cigarette out into the hand of a woman at the bar–Carolyn Jones, who would later play Morticia Addams). Something about Ford’s decency gets to her, and she follows him to his hotel. She’s followed, and Marvin takes cruel revenge on her. Now she’s fully on Ford’s side, and together they bring down the mob.

What makes this film interesting is twofold: one, Ford becomes the morally ambiguous hero after his wife is killed, and in fact becomes just as monstrous as those he is chasing. At the end, when he has a chance at cold-blooded murder, he demures, as I’m sure the Motion Picture Code demanded, but until that point it’s fascinating watching a guy who was known for family man roles play someone ruthless.

Secondly, Grahame is not a true femme fatale. She loves the life she leads–the furs, jewelry, etc.–but eventually becomes tired of being a doormat and, drawn to Ford’s code of honor, bucks Marvin. Unlike true femme fatales, she does not seduce Ford into corruption, he seduces her (chastely) out of it. He’s the one who leads people to death, an homme fatale, if you will. Almost every woman he comes in contact with, four in total, come to a violent death.

As with typical noir, and especially with Lang, who came from Germany, the film is full of touches that relate back to German expressionism and Citizen Kane, the proto-noir. There is chiaroscuro lighting and deep focus, plus a lot of the great patter of crime films, like “Prisons are bulging with dummies who wonder how they got there” or “Well, you’re about as romantic as a pair of handcuffs.”

AGEBOC ’15 August 7-9

Standard

Slim extends his lead…blah, blah, blah

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 Shaun The Sheep PLUS Dragon Ball Z (never seen A-Y): Resurrection of F (oh, there’s one of them) have a higher gross than Minions this weekend (Fri-Sun only)? YES or NO

2. Will the new Fantastic Four gross BELOW Fantastic Four (2005, $56,061,504), ABOVE Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer ($58,051,684) or BETWEEN the two opening weekends (unadjusted)?

Deadline is Thursday August 6th 11:59pm blog time

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

Current Rankings:

Jackrabbit Slim – 39

James – 27.5
Rob – 26
Joe – 20.5
Juan – 16.5
Marco – 16
Nick – 6.5