HAGEBOC 2017 – WEEK SEVEN

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Scores as of 12/12/17
Slim +38
James +32
Rob +24
Filmman + 12
Marco +6
Juan +2

HAGEBOC WEEKEND OF DECEMBER 15TH, 2017

  1. What will Star Wars: The Last Jedi earn this weekend?
  2. What will Star Wars: The Last Jedi earn from midnight/Thursday PM shows
  3. What will Ferdinand earn this weekend?

Answers are due on THURSDAY December 14th by 11:59 PM EST. Good luck!

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Review: The Disaster Artist

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What is it about bad movies that we like so much? While watching The Disaster Artist, which is about the making of supposedly the worst movie ever made, I of course thought of Ed Wood, which was about the worst director ever. Bad films are used for fodder for what’s called “riffing,” whether it’s on MST3K or in your own living room.

But it takes a special bad film to be celebrated. Just another Hollywood clunker won’t do. They have to be cheap, and here’s the important thing–they have to be made by people who think they are creating greatness.

That’s the case of Tommy Wiseau, a mysterious creepy guy who made The Room, which I’ve never seen but now I don’t think I need to. It plays midnight shows and by all accounts is terrible, but the passion involved in its production shows through, and people can’t help but love it.

James Franco directs and plays Wiseau in The Disaster Artist, and while it’s not as good as Ed Wood it has its pleasures, most of them involving Franco’s performance as a genuinely weird guy.

The film also starts Franco’s brother, David, who gets to play the thankless role of the bland guy, Greg, who is our entry into the film and Wiseau’s world. He is in an acting class in San Francisco and is impressed by Wiseau’s completely over the top rendering of the “Stella” scene from A Streetcar Named Desire. Despite Wiseau’s inherent weirdness (he has some sort of accent, a kind of Eastern European/brain damage kind), plus a mysterious source of money, and it seems no other friends but Greg. They room together in L.A. and try to become stars. One of the film’s faults is that it can’t convince me why a normal guy like Greg would ever room with this guy, because I certainly wouldn’t.

They both struggle, although Greg’s good looks get him an agent. Wiseau has a hilariously vicious encounter with Judd Apatow, who in no uncertain terms tell him he’ll never make it. So they decide to make their own money. Wiseau writes a script about a man betrayed by his girl. They hire a crew, including Seth Rogen as script supervisor, who has no idea what he’s getting into.

The “making of” part of the film is very funny, but, like Ed Wood, you appreciate the effort Wiseau. Things do get ugly–people quit, and when Greg moves in with his girlfriend, Allison Brie, Wiseau acts like a jealous lover.

I think, although Franco as a director doesn’t quite nail it, that the spine of the film is Wiseau’s essential loneliness. The cast wonders whether the script is from his own life, and clearly he is coming from a place of deep pain. He is also wounded whenever it is suggested he has the look for villain roles. “I am not villain,” he wails.

The film has to rest on James Franco’s performance. With Ed Wood, there were hardly any normal people, with terrific performances by Martin Landau and Jeffrey Jones and Bill Murray. But The Disaster Artist is just Franco, and is basically like the “Springtime for Hitler” sequence in The Producers, with comic shots of people looking slack-jawed at what is going on. Rogen, playing his standard part, has a lot of good sarcastic lines, but it’s Franco who makes the movie worth seeing. He deserves an Oscar nomination.

HAGEBOC 2017 – WEEK SIX

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Scores as of 12/5/17
James +32
Slim +24
Rob +18
Filmman + 12
Marco +6
Juan +2

HAGEBOC WEEKEND OF DECEMBER 8TH, 2017

  1. What will The Disaster Artist earn this weekend?
  2. What will Just Getting Started earn this weekend?
  3. What will Coco earn this weekend?

Answers are due on Friday December 8th by 11:59 AM EST. Good luck!

Review: Wonder

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It occurs to me that a film like Wonder is one of the most difficult type of films to make. Crappy comedies and action films can succeed because of explosions and people who are amused by semen jokes, but family dramas, especially about sick or disabled children, usually are sunk by sentimentality, and end up in the old “Afterschool Special” category.

So I have to give props to director Stephen Chbosky and his co-writers, Jack Thorne and Steve Conrad, for making a family film that actually appeals to everyone in the family. I went with an adult and two teenagers, and we all enjoyed it.

I was eager to see Wonder because not only have I read the book, I taught it (it is a popular choice in fifth and sixth grade classrooms–perhaps that is one reason why it has overperformed at the box office). It is the story of a little boy with facial deformities who is leaving the cocoon of homeschooling and venturing into the dark jungle of public school. Middle school is difficult for any child, let alone one who has frightened other children with his face.

The film is structured around his first year in school, fifth grade. His parents (Julia Roberts and Owen Wilson) figure it’s time, but Augie (played by Jacob Tremblay) is reluctant. He wears his omnipresent space helmet on his first day, but does take it off. He is tolerated, if not befriended, by most, except for an Eddie Haskell-type named Julian. But he does end up making a couple of friends, notably Jack Will, who realizes he isn’t liking him out of pity–Augie is really a funny and interesting fellow.

The film, like the book, uses multiple points of view. We also get the perspective of Augie’s older sister (Izabela Vidovic). Take a look at the poster and you’ll see her problem–she’s been pushed almost out of the picture. She says that Augie is the sun, and everyone else in the family revolves around him, but she loves him and puts up with it. But she’s dealing with her own problems, such as the sudden coldness of her old friend, and a budding romance with a theater geek (a production of Our Town will figure in all this).

Wonder is remarkably faithful to the book, but there is one problem–in the book, we never truly know what Augie looks like. He says it’s worse than you can imagine. Later, we get the technical term mandibulofacial dysostosis,which isn’t going to help much unless you Google it. So all through the book, we imagine what Augie looks like. In the film, there is little attempt to hide it. We know what he looks like in the first few minutes, and it’s not as horrifying as I imagined reading the book. Of course, he’s had twenty-seven surgeries, leaving scars on his face, his eyes pulled downward, and ears that are like rosettes. It’s enough to get you ostracized, but I don’t think it would scare small children.

The performances are all excellent. Julia Roberts actually sets aside her star power. We do get one of her trademark laughs, but otherwise there is not much flash and it’s good to see her play something other than herself. Owen Wilson plays a cool dad (we never find out what he does, but he gets to wear suits with sneakers). Tremblay, who follows his great work in Room, turns out not to be a one-film wonder. Despite the disruption that Augie creates, one might actually want to be in this family.

Wonder has a simple message: be kind. I can’t think of a lot of movies that carry that message (I say it to students leaving my room). It’s a well made film, and I’m glad it’s making a lot of money, and I hope it gets people to read the book.

Review: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

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Playwright Martin McDonagh has brought his caustic wit to America. This is his second feature to be featured in the States (Seven Psychopaths was the first) but this film is rooted in the heartland, a fictional town called Ebbing, Missouri.

In The Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (an unwieldy title) McDonagh writes about the conflict between the mother of a murder victim and the local police department. In trailers, it appears as if the argument is favored toward the woman (played by Frances McDormand). But as the film goes on, we realize that defining the protagonist is not easy, since she is definitely in the wrong and her combatant, so to speak, Woody Harrelson, the chief of police, is blameless, and then leaves the picture halfway through.

As the title suggests, this film is about three billboards that are in disrepair on a largely unused road. McDormand, still seething after months of futile investigation into her daughter’s murder, decides to rent the billboards and put up antagonistic, yet perfectly legal, messages to Harrelson and his department. Harrelson explains that he did everything he could, but the DNA has not matched anyone and there were no witnesses. McDormand doesn’t care.

The person she riles up most is Sam Rockwell, playing a racist and dim-witted member of the force. He’s angrier than Harrelson is, and plots with his mother (a wonderful Sandy Martin) about how to get at McDormand. McDormand is basically fighting her battle alone, as even her son (Lucas Hedges) and ex-husband (John Hawkes) are against her.

I thought the first half or so of the film was brilliant, as it shifted from comedy to tragedy, and sometimes in the same scene–just like life. But, especially when Harrelson leaves the film, it starts to unravel. Rockwell becomes the emotional heart of the film, and his character, though given a redemptive arc, is too cliched. And it does seem to be the worst police department ever–Rockwell beats a man senseless and throws him out a window, but does not seemed to be charged, and McDormand firebombs the police station with Molotov cocktails and despite a flimsy alibi is also not charged. Criminals, here’s your place–this town can’t solve anything.

McDonagh is a great playwright, especially his trilogy set in the Western Islands of Ireland. I’m not sure he has the Missouri thing down. Eventually the characters seem to talking at each other instead of too each other. The Hawkes character is a bad guy because he has a nineteen-year-old girlfriend. Peter Dinklage is thrown in as an admirer of McDormand’s for some midget jokes. The one scene that really works is a flashback to the last words McDormand has with her daughter. That scene really stings.

With some rewrites this could be a great movie, as it is it’s just okay. McDormand, despite playing a character who needs therapy badly, has locked down an Oscar nomination. Rockwell is getting buzz, but I think the better work is turned in by Harrelson, who actually seems like a real human being and not a cartoon character.

HAGEBOC 2017 – WEEK FIVE

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Scores as of 11/27/17
James +20
Rob +18
Slim +16
Filmman + 12
Marco +6
Juan +2

HAGEBOC WEEKEND OF DECEMBER 1ST, 2017

  1. What will Coco earn this weekend?
  2. What will Justice League earn this weekend?
  3. What will Wonder earn this weekend?

Answers are due on Friday December 1st by 11:59 AM EST. Good luck!

Review: Lady Bird

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Lady Bird is Greta Gerwig’s first solo directorial effort, and it covers some familiar ground. It is essentially a teen movie, much like Sixteen Candles and others, but Gerwig is smart enough to avoid some of the pitfalls that those movies fall into. The film is sentimental but not too much, and nostalgic but happily so, and has a great performance by Saorsie Ronan.

Gerwig is from Sacramento, California, and apparently has mixed feelings about it. There’s a title card at the beginning from Joan Didion: “Those who halk about the hedonism of California have never been to Sacramento,” and later Ronan will call it “the Midwest of California.” Gerwig has said this is not a straight autobiography, but she clearly knows of what she films, and we can assume that the title character, a free spirited high school senior, is the stand-in for the writer and director.

Lady Bird covers senior year of high school, 2002-2003. The film begins with the end of a college tour with Ronan and her overbearing mother (Laurie Metcalf), and to escape her mother’s hectoring Ronan jumps out of  a moving car. She wants to go to the East Coast for college, somewhere like Yale but not Yale, because she couldn’t get in there. She has a best friend (Beanie Feldstein) and attends Catholic school because she has a scholarship and her older brother once saw a guy get knifed at the public high school. Her father (Tracy Letts) is of fragile employment, and has more of soft spot for her idiosyncratic ways (to start with, her actual name is Christine, but she changed her name informally to Lady Bird).

Anyone who has ever gone to high school will recognize the arcs. She joins the theater group and gets a boyfriend (Lucas Hedges) who turns out to be gay (assume all theater boys are gay until proven otherwise). She then takes up with a cooler kid, who’s in a band (Timotheee Chalamet) and gives him her virginity, but she is upset that he is not also a virgin. She will drift away from Feldstein and hang out with the popular girl (Odeya Rush) but will lie about where she lives, as she calls it, “on the wrong side of tracks.”)

I think every intelligent, creative student has a story like this in them, and I’m glad to have watched it, but it doesn’t really push the envelope. Lady Bird is enjoyable and authentic (I like the way it doesn’t sugar coat the family’s financial struggles) and there are some very funny lines. It doesn’t reinvent the genre, but it is better than most of them. There are a few missteps–a subplot involving a priest (Stephen McKinley Henderson) creates questions that are never fully answered.

Ronan, who will probably get an Oscar nomination, is terrific. She is one of only three performers who have been nominated as a minor and an adult (the other two? Mickey Rooney and Jodie Foster) and is clearly a major star in the making, if she already isn’t one. Gerwig, for her part, is a wonderful actress but now a multiple threat, and I look forward to future films from her.

Opening Thanksgiving Weekend, 2017

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The prestige movies keep on coming, which is keeping me busy at the theaters.

Pixar’s latest, Coco (80) is about the Mexican Day of the Dead, which is exactly what Book of Life was about. I suppose there can be as many animated films about this topic as anyone wants (the Pixar film was in production before Book of Life was). Pixar hasn’t been batting 1.000 lately, in fact, I think the last film of theirs which bowled me over was Toy Story 3.

In Oscar bait, there’s Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (87), from Martin McDonagh. I saw it today and I’m still sorting out what I thought of it–half of it is the best film I’ve seen this year, the other half is not so great. Frances McDormand has a shot at another Oscar, but Sam Rockwell steals the show.

Denzel Washington’s plea for another Oscar comes in Roman J. Israel, Esq. (58) but the film is being greeted by meh reviews. He plays a lawyer who doesn’t play by the rules (there’s a reason that there are no movies about lawyers who simply do their jobs), sporting an anachronistic ‘fro. I’m not interested.

From Netflix, there’s two series debuting of note: Spike Lee comes to cable with a series based on his first She’s Gotta Have It (78). He directs all ten episodes. Godless (76) is a seven-episode Western created by Scott Frank with Jeff Daniels.

Review: The Florida Project

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In the three Sean Baker films I’ve seen, he’s dealt with people on the margins. In Starlet, it was an adult film actress, in Tangerine (famously shot with an iPhone) it was drag queen streetwalkers, and now in The Florida Project it is the occupants of welfare motels within spitting distance of Disney World. All of them have been empathetic–as I stated before, Baker loves his characters, roots for them, and you will, too, even though they may not be the people you think about every day.

The Florida Project centers around Moonie (Brooklynn Prince) and her mother, Haley (Bria Vinaite), barely more than a child herself. They are on some sort of public assistance, as the only work Vinaite does is buy wholesale perfume and sell it outside the swankier resorts. She also occasionally will turn a trick, which risks both her residency at the motel (ironically name The Magic Castle) and the descending of child services upon her.

The manager of the motel is Willem Dafoe, in a wonderfully subtle performance. We’re used to seeing Dafoe in intense roles, but this one, as a man who is doing his job but also looking out for his tenants, is one of great skill. He may get angry at Prince and her friends for shutting off the power, but he also chases away a pedophile and has paternal feelings about them.

Prince, who must be about six or seven, is also terrific. I wonder at children this age if they are really acting or just behaving–at the end of the film she breaks into tears and I hope it wasn’t because someone told her dog died or something. But then again, all acting is really just behaving, isn’t it? No matter, because she appears perfectly natural as a scamp who gets into trouble because there really isn’t anything better to do. When she and her friend Scootie burn down an abandoned house (they don’t get caught, but Scootie’s mother can see the guilt in his face) she breaks things off with Vinaite. She works, and even among the residents there can be a social strata.

The location, of course, is ironic in and of itself. The motels are candy-colored, and the kids are around gifts shops and ice cream stands. When Vinaite and Prince walk to the better hotels they go by Seven Dwarves Lane. But all of this Magic Kingdom stuff is meaningless to these kids, who could never hope to go there.

My only complaint about the film is the very ending, which takes the film out of the realistic and plunges it into magic realism (I won’t give it away, but there are a couple of “wait a minutes” in this scene). Otherwise, The Florida Project is one of the best movies of the year.

Review: Mudbound

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Mudbound is an odd word, but a perfect title for the film directed by Dee Rees and based on a novel by Hillary Jordan. The landscape, farmland in Mississippi, is frequently muddy, the characters, until a dramatic ending, are metaphorically stuck in mud, and the opening scene has two brothers digging their father’s grave in mud, one of them almost buried in it. They find the skull of a slave, and one brother notes that their father would hate it if he knew he’d end up in a slave’s grave.

Set right before, during, and after World War II, Mudbound deals with race. It is a bit like The Best Years of Our Lives as written by William Faulkner. Two families, one white, one black, will intersect. The black family are sharecroppers who have worked a farm for years and not gotten any closer to owning their own land. Their patriarch is Hap (Rob Morgan), a decent man who knows his place in society, and his dutiful wife (Mary J. Blige). He has a passel of children, the oldest being Ronsel (Jason Mitchell), who goes off to war and becomes a tank commander under Patton.

The white family are the McAllans. Henry (Jason Clarke) has purchased the farm that Hap and family work. He has dragged his cultured wife (Carey Mulligan), who was well into spinsterhood when married, to rustic surroundings. Henry’s brother Jamie (Garret Hedlund) goes off to war and becomes a bomber pilot. The boys’ father (Jonathan Banks) is an unrepentant bigot and all around horrible human being.

Mudbound is good in fits and starts, but suffers from some failings. One is the excessive narration. I’m not like Robert McKee, who believes there should be no voice-over narration in a film, but Mudbound’s is far too much, and you can tell it comes from a novel. At one point, Mulligan pays for a doctor for Hap, and Blige, in a voice-over says something to the effect that she had never realized all white folks aren’t the same. This is totally unnecessary, as Blige’s face says everything we need to know. In most cases, if the acting, directing, and editing are good enough, voice-over isn’t needed.

Secondly, this is well-trod ground. Does this film say anything new about racism and pre-civil rights America? Except for a post-war friendship between Hedlund and Mitchell (which gets them both in serious danger) not really. Mitchell finds that he is treated better in Europe than America, but we’ve seen that before in many forms. The last act, which is gripping, is nonetheless familiar, as the Klan hoods and noose come out of storage.

The acting is wonderful here, especially Mitchell, who I didn’t recognize as the same man who played Easy-E in Straight Outta Compton, and Morgan. Banks is a superb villain, if one-note. Interestingly, I found Clarke and Mulligan’s characters to be underwritten and therefore their performances wasted.

Mudbound was produced by Netflix. It will be interesting to see how much attention the Academy pays to it.

HAGEBOC 2017 – WEEK FOUR

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Scores as of 11/20/17
Rob +18
James +14
Slim +8
Filmman + 6
Juan +2

HAGEBOC WEEKEND OF NOVEMBER 24TH, 2017

  1. What will Coco earn this weekend?
  2. What will Justice League earn this weekend?
  3. What will Wonder earn this weekend?
  4. What will Roman J. Israel, Esq earn this weekend?

Answers are due on Wednesday November 22nd by 11:59 PM EST. Good luck!

Review: Wonderstruck

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I was a bit wonderstruck watching Wonderstruck, Todd Haynes’ latest film. One will immediately make comparisons to Hugo, which is only right, since they are both based on books by Brian Selznick, who writes the screenplay here. They are both films that approach magic realism without quite getting there, and romanticize places–in Hugo it is the Paris train station, in Wonderstruck it is The American Museum of Natural History, or more precisely, museums in general.

Wonderstruck tells two parallel stories about deaf children on the loose in New York City. The earlier is about Rose (Millicent Simmonds), who lives in Hoboken in 1927. She idolizes a movie star, Lillian Mayhew (Julianne Moore) and sees that she is going to be appearing live so she hops on the ferry for her first visit across the Hudson. She finds Moore, and a bit of a twist is revealed, but then leaves and looks for her brother Walter, who works in the Natural History Museum and has authored a book, called Wonderstruck, about the history of museums.

The later story is of Ben (Oakes Fegley) in 1977, who has been orphaned by his mother’s death in a car accident (she is played briefly and luminously by Michelle Williams). She has never told him about his father, which seems cruel. Nevertheless, after he loses his hearing while being on the phone in an electric storm (the rumors are true!) runs away to New York based on a clue that he finds tucked inside a book–you guessed it, the book written by Walter.

The momentum of the story is finding out how these stories will connect, which is the weakest part of the film–the story is predictable and very thin. Also, having two deaf characters requires a lot of writing, which I suppose works fine in a book but is awkward in a film.

On the plus side, and it’s a big plus, is the look of the picture. The 1927 portion is especially fantastic, with costumes by Sandy Powell and stunning black and white photography by Ed Lachman. Watching Simmonds explore the city creates an almost vicarious feel (Simmonds is actually deaf, but has a face that would launch a thousand ships). Often scenes of her looking at something in the museum are cut with Fegley looking at the same thing, still there after fifty years. His segment, in which New York was in not such a great shape (although I still think the Port Authority looks like that now) are in a kind of uncompromising color, but he finds a friend whose father works for the museum, and they hide out there in the night (sadly, nothing comes to life).

The ending, which winds up at the site of the World’s Fair in Queens, isn’t as poignant as it thinks it is (it involves a true life event that I won’t spoil here, but if you know your New York history you’ll figure it out). When Moore appears as another character in Ben’s segment, it doesn’t take a genius to put two and two together.

See Wonderstruck for the visuals, or for the nostalgia for old New York. Try to overlook the simplicity of the story.

Opening in Las Vegas, November 17, 2017

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The big opening this week is Justice League (46), getting bad reviews and perhaps not making as much as its studio would hope. I suppose I’ll see it, out of some kind of masochistic need to see all these comic book films. But I still haven’t seen Thor: Ragnarok. This is Las Vegas Weekly’s take: “The action is rote, the special effects are surprisingly poor and the character interactions are only occasionally entertaining.”

A much better film to see would be undoubtedly be Lady Bird (94), which is not about the first lady but a coming of age film written and directed by Greta Gerwig. All indicators point to a Best Picture nomination and a Best Actress nomination for Saorsie Ronan. I would love to see Gerwig get nominated, too.

Interestingly, Last Flag Flying (66) is based on a book that is a sequel to The Last Detail, the 1973 film starring Jack Nicholson. But director Richard Linklater severed the connection, apparently to its detriment. Steve Carell plays a Vietnam vet who enlists two of his comrades in arms to bury his son. They are played by Bryan Cranston and Laurence Fishburne, and my first problem is these guys don’t seem like the same age. Carell is younger than I am, and the Vietnam War ended when I was 12.

I’ve not only read Wonder (65), but I’ve taught it to my students, so I have a curiosity about the film version. But there’s so much else out there to see that I may not get to it before the DVD release. Getting decent reviews. A very good book, hard to see how they could improve it with film, especially since the main character’s disfigurement is better imagined than seen.

The Star (43) is an animated film about the birth of Christ that seems suspiciously like the old TV Christmas special The Little Drummer Boy.

 

 

HAGEBOC 2017 – WEEK THREE

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Scores as of 11/13/17
Rob + 14
Filmman + 4
Slim +4
Juan +2

HAGEBOC WEEKEND OF NOVEMBER 17TH, 2017

  1. What will Justice League earn this weekend?
  2. What will Justice League earn from Thursday PM/Midnight shows?
  3. What will Wonder earn this weekend?
  4. What will The Star earn this weekend?

Due to the time sensitive nature of Question #2, answers are due on Friday November 17th by 10:00 am EST. Good luck!