AGEBOC IX – Week Thirteen

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Predict the grosses of the films opening the weekend of July 28th-July 30th, 2017

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 on the first question each week earns 2 bonus points.

Deadline is Friday, July 28th at 12:00 pm (EST)

    1. What will The Emoji Movie earn this weekend?
    2. What will Atomic Blonde earn this weekend?
    3. What will A Very Inconvenient Sequel: 2 Tell the Truth earn this weekend?

Current rankings:
Jackrabbit Slim – 56
Juan – 47
Joe – 29
Marco – 25
James – 19
Filmman – 12
Rob – 8

Review: War for the Planet of the Apes

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This century’s Planet of the Apes trilogy is unique among film franchises–each film is better than the last. After an excellent Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, which followed a so-so Rise of the Planet of the Apes, War of the Planet of Apes is top-notch, a thrilling summer movie that is also extremely though-provoking.

Picking up from where Dawn ended, Koba is dead and Caesar (Andy Serkis) wants peace. If humans will leave the apes alone in the forest, he is content. But that is not to be. Scouts, including Caesar’s son Rocket, talk of an area beyond the forest and into the desert where they could relocate. But a force of humans, led by the mysterious Colonel (Woody Harrelson) attack, leaving Rocket and Caesar’s wife Cornelia dead.

Caesar now wants revenge, and wants to go it alone, but three other apes, including Maurice, the thoughtful orangutan, come with him. Along the way they pick up a human child, who has lost the ability to speak (that will be important, but I will say no more now). They also find a chimp, who calls himself Bad Ape (Steve Zahn) who was in a zoo but has lived by himself a long time. He is comic relief, as he is clumsy and wears human clothes.

This film reminded me a of a lot of things. It reminded me of other movies, like Apocalypse Now (Harrelson brings some of Brando and some of Duvall), The Great Escape, and there’s a shot of the heads of three apes poking over a rock ledge that took me right to the scene in the Wizard of Oz of Dorothy’s three friends outside the Witch’s castle. Given that some apes are crucified, there are also Biblical overtones.

The movie’s themes are even broader. One of the aspects that is very disturbing are the “donkeys,” apes that are working with the humans on the promise that they will be spared. This could make you think of black men who fought for the Confederacy (or Samuel L. Jackson’s Stephen in Django Unchained). What would it take to make you fight against your own kind?

War of the Planet of the Apes is ably directed by Matthew Reeves, who handles full scale war scenes as well as intimate scenes. He is helped by the exquisite acting of Serkis, and also Karin Konoval as Maurice. The special effects and the acting combine to make it easy to see what these apes are thinking just by their facial expressions (Caesar is usually looking very intense and determined, and pissed off)/ I would have no trouble at all if Serkis is nominated for an acting award for his work–acting is acting.

My only quibble is there are a couple of coincidences at the end that lead to an otherwise satisfying close to the trilogy. You might find yourself wiping away a tear by the end.

War of the Planet of the Apes is first-class entertainment.

 

A Decade in Film: 1996

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A chronological list of releases can be found here.

1) Best of 1996 or top five?

2) Most disappointing of 1996 (or bottom five if you want to go that route)?

3) Most underrated or underseen? (Example: “reviews weren’t great, but it’s genius because) OR (“No one saw it, but this is why they should…”)

4) Favorite performance(s) of the year?

5) Favorite scene/sequence of the year?

6) Most memorable (good or bad) theatergoing experience of the year?

7) Most influential film/performance/style/director?

Obviously feel free to answer only the questions you’re interested in or to write/respond to something else entirely. The lists themselves are just a starting point to foster discussion.

AGEBOC IX – Week Twelve

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Predict the grosses of the films opening the weekend of July 21st-July 23rd, 2017

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 on the first question each week earns 2 bonus points.

Deadline is Friday, July 21st at 12:00 pm (EST)

    1. What will Dunkirk earn this weekend?
    2. What will Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planetsearn this weekend?
    3. What will Girls Trip earn this weekend?

Current rankings:
Jackrabbit Slim – 50
Juan – 41
Joe – 25
Marco – 25
James – 17
Filmman – 12
Rob – 8

AGEBOC IX – Week Eleven

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Predict the grosses of the films opening the weekend of July 14th-July 16th, 2017

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 on the first question each week earns 2 bonus points.

Deadline is Friday, July 14th at 12:00 pm (EST)

    1. What will War for the Planet of the Apes earn this weekend?
    2. What will The Big Sick earn this weekend?

Current rankings:

Filmman – 12

Jackrabbit Slim – 46

James – 17

Joe – 25

Juan – 31

Marco – 25

Rob – 8

Review: Spider-Man: Homecoming

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Oh how I wish I could have watched Spider-Man: Homecoming with fresh eyes. There were a lot of little kids at a fairly busy Tuesday matinee today, and I wish, like them, I didn’t know about how this was the third Spider-Man in the last 15 years and the difference between Sony and Columbia and was just able to enjoy it like an eight-year-old. To its credit, I did feel like an eight-year-old part of the time, enough that I recommend it.

First of all, I have to get around my purist objections. It started with Captain America: Civil War, Spider-Man’s debut in the MCU. What? Mentored and supplied by Tony Stark? Treated like a snot-nosed kid by the rest of the Avengers? Heresy. Spider-Man was created before Iron Man (albeit by just about six months) but Spider-Man has always been the most important Marvel character of the Silver Age and beyond (and, to my thinking, the most powerful) and Peter Parker created all of his own gadgets–he didn’t no stinkin’ Tony Stark. But in the MCU, I guess Iron Man is king, so I have to accept it.

That being said, Tom Holland, who is actually 21, does pass for a 15-year-old, true to the character’s origins. He is not yet at home with his powers, and doesn’t quite know how to use Stark’s suit. This makes for a lot of slapstick, maybe too much (I like my Spider-Man confident and sarcastic) but as authentic as a superhero movie can be. If you had awkward high school years, you may flash back while watching.

The film begins at the end of the first Avengers film, with the clean up of the alien attack on New York City. Adrian Toomes (Michael Keaton) has the contract, but is given the bum’s rush by the government. He steals a few alien artifacts found on the job and his crew set up a criminal enterprise, with Keaton inventing a winged harness that enables him to fly.

Meanwhile, Spider-Man has helped Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) in the intramural squabble among the Avengers, and hopelessly awaits his next mission. He is a sophomore in high school, and has a crush on a pretty girl named Liz (Laura Harrier) and a nerdy best friend (a wonderful Jacob Batalon).

Downey wants Holland to concentrate on small-time crooks, but when Holland stops an ATM robbery he realizes he’s on to something big, and takes on Keaton, aka the Vulture. He almost causes the Staten Island Ferry to sink, so Downey takes the suit away, but of course Spider-Man will save the day.

Spider-Man has always been my favorite superhero. He was the first to have normal problems, like catching colds, and had a great wit long before Deadpool. Some of the changes to the character, such as having Aunt May played by a vibrant Marisa Tomei rather than an old lady (Tomei is 52–hard to believe) make sense. But watching Holland play Spider-Man as a noob is a little disconcerting. And where is his Spider sense?

The action scenes are fairly routine–the director is John Watts, who has only made two small films, but he doesn’t embarrass himself. The climactic fight between Spidey and the Vulture is in the dark, and somewhat confusing. Oh, and it wasn’t lost on me that Keaton is playing a winged villain after playing Batman and then Birdman. He must have had a good laugh when he got the script, and kudos to him for having the sense of humor to play the part.

Mostly, Spider-Man: Homecoming is just okay. It’s nice nostalgia–in the opening credits we hear a symphonic version of the old cartoon theme–a few very funny lines (Batalon, when aiding Spidey on a school computer, vamps an excuse to a teacher: “I was watching porn.”). There is also a terrific twist in the film that though highly coincidental I didn’t see coming.

I really want to see his next film, when presumably Iron Man can get the fuck out of the way. Spider-Man, in the comics, was never an Avenger–he was a loner, a rogue. Let him do his own thing next time.

Opening in Las Vegas, July 7, 2017

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The 800-pound gorilla this week is Spider-Man: Homecoming  (73), the third iteration of the character in the last 15 years. I am still fascinated that Sony gave up on the Andrew Garfield series after only two films (leaving a post-credit mystery that will probably never be known), but I suppose that going into the MCU they wanted a fresh actor who looked more like a teenager. For purists, it’s blasphemy that Iron Man is his mentor, but whaddayougonnado? I’ll see it.

The only other film opening this weekend is The Big Sick (87), a well-reviewed romantic comedy which is the true story of its star, Kumail Nanjiani. Despite it’s good reviews, this is probably a rental for me–can’t see going out into the heat to catch it.

Review: The Beguiled (2017)

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The Beguiled is Sofia Coppola’s strangely toothless remake of Don Siegel’s film from 1971 that was a Clint Eastwood vehicle. Coppola has said she wanted to focus more on the women, and that’s true, but she has also removed almost all of the lurid, Southern Gothic nature of the previous film, and instead has presented a bland entertainment.

The story of the two films is pretty much identical–a wounded Union soldier, in this case Colin Farrell, is found by one of the girls of a largely abandoned boarding school. She helps him, and much to her reluctance, the headmistress (Nicole Kidman), takes him in. The presence of a man in a female-only enclave stirs up desires and jealousies, especially those of the spinster teacher (Kirsten Dunst) and a precocious teenager (Elle Fanning) that leads to tragedy.

The only way in which Coppola’s film exceeds Siegel’s is the way it looks–the cinematography is stunning. Coppola changes the location from Mississippi to Virginia, and I’m not sure how much Spanish moss there is in Virginia, but Philippe Le Sourd does a magnificent job of capturing the moonlight and magnolias South.

But here is what Coppola has removed, and I think to the detriment–in the 1971 film, the headmistress had an incestuous affair with her brother. There is a scene in which Confederate troops show menace and threaten rape. The nubile teenager tells her age as 17, and basically throws herself at Eastwood. The climactic scene, which I won’t reveal here, is a prolonged, suspenseful scene in Siegel’s film, but in the Coppola version it’s over in about thirty seconds.

Perhaps most importantly, Coppola does not retain the slave character played by Mae Mercer in the 1971 film (it is explained away in one line–“the slave have run off”). Many critics have written that Coppola has made a Civil War film that doesn’t even talk about the issues of the Civil War. Indeed, this could have just as easily been a German soldier in a French school, or an American soldier in a Japanese one, or so on.

But I think that’s a little unfair, because all of Coppola’s films are about people who are trapped, mostly women. Whether it’s Tokyo, the Chateau Marmont, or Versailles, she’s interested in characters who are invisibly chained to a way of life. But in The Beguiled, who is trapped? Kidman and the girls, as prisoners of the way of life that is “gone with the wind?” Or Farrell, who is literally a prisoner of a school full of girls who lock him in his room and basically emasculate him.

If I had not seen the original film (which I did over the weekend) I might have liked this better, as it does not compare well. If I hadn’t, I might have though to myself, “Is that all there is?” but I know that there is more, and Coppola took it out and added not much of anything.

AGEBOC IX–Week Ten

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James is probably on vacation–I haven’t heard back from him, so forgive me for stepping in. Only one new release this week, so easy questions:

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 on the first question each week earns 2 bonus points.

What will Spider-Man: Homecoming, earn from Friday-to-Sunday?

Bonus (one point each) 1. How much will Baby Driver drop in its second week?

2. What will be the number 4 movie of the week?

Answers due Friday at noon.

(If someone could do scores from last week that would be great).

 

Review: Marty (1955)

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MartyViewed on its own today, it may be hard to appreciate how significant the 1955 winner of the Best Picture Oscar ‘Marty’ was at the time of its release; British film critic Leslie Halliwell called it “a breath of spring” for Hollywood and just watching the film today on its own merits, it may be hard to appreciate that perspective.

But in the context of what had come before it in American cinema (especially since talkies came in), its significance and impact is much easier to understand. The realism in how the characters in ‘Marty’ behaved and especially how they talked had barely been seen previously in Hollywood mainstream cinema.

Take for example, the most dominant film studio of the 1930s and 1940s, MGM. Their films primarily had smart, usually well-to-do characters always being able to deliver clipped, sharp dialogue full of insights and memorable one-liners. Even a studio like Warner Bros in this era which was much more associated with working-class people (and gangsters) had the same issue.It was hardly naturalistic but it was for the most part extremely effective cinema; after all, it wasn’t called the ‘Golden Age’ of Hollywood for no reason.

Due to a myriad of factors, Hollywood cinema had a sense of staleness in the early-to-mid 1950s as the medium of television were providing a freshness and realism that was missing from increasingly bombastic, overproduced Hollywood films.

One of the most prominent writers in this medium was Paddy Chayefsky and he was employed to do an expanded version of his TV play ‘Marty’ for the big screen and his script broke all the rules for what constituted quality dialogue in a film. He eschewed having snappy, ‘clever’ dialogue to capture the ‘marvellous world of the ordinary’ of how people really talked. What he menat was capturing how people often ramble, say things that are nothing to do with a group conversation, how they have trouble articulating themselves and the repetition of words. This last aspect is particularly notable as the repeated phrases one hears during the film (“It was a very nice affair” “What do you want to do tonight?”) stay in one’s memory.

But apart from that highly significant aspect, how does ‘Marty’ stand up as a film today?

The film’s story focuses on the title character, a mid-30s bachelor Italian butcher (Ernest Borgnine) whose low self-esteem is exacerbated by associates and family pressuring him to finding the loving partner he’s always longed for. From a situation of hopelessness, things turn for when he falls in love with a teacher at a dance named Clara (Betsy Blair) but for their own selfish reasons those who wanted him married disapprove of this new relationship, putting Marty in a seemingly untenable position.

Chayefsky’s script sharply captures how Marty’s lack of self-esteem and self-worth is reflected by the people who associates with, particularly Angie (Joe Mantell). It appears they are best friends but Angie never seems to provide any real friendship or support to Marty. Indeed when Marty meets Clara, Angie tries to undermine it and just really wants to keep Marty down to his level for his own selfish reasons. If Marty were to marry Clara it’s safe to say Angie would quickly disappear from his life.

Another extremely well-written scene (and the high point of the film) is when Marty’s widowed mother (Esther Minciotti) and widowed aunt Catherine (Augusta Ciolli) converse about moving in together. Catherine is full of bitterness and spite and initially one is repelled by her. But over the course of the scene we see the source of her unhappiness and how as a widow she feels unwanted by her children and is lonely and without purpose in life. By the end of the scene she is defeated and accepting of her fate. It’s a marvellously acted, deeply moving scene with profound insight; something you don’t get often in any scene in any film.

Overall though, it has to be said the passage of time hasn’t served ‘Marty’ particularly well. What felt fresh and unique in 1955 has been imitated so often in the decades since that it feels a bit restricted and formal now, as if trapped by the conventions that it created. And this exposes its weaknesses such as its rather stiff direction by director Delbert Mann, making his winning of the Best Director Oscar that year rather baffling in hindsight.

Overall, ‘Marty’ remains a likable, slice-of-life film with oodles of charm and is highly significant in the history of American 20th Century film. But is it a film which still holds up as being the only film to win both the Best Picture Oscar & Palme D’Or? Not really.

Review: Baby Driver

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Have you ever been driving and imagined if someone, like the cops, was chasing you? What shortcuts would you take? Could you maneuver through those two trucks ahead? And all of this is happening while you’re playing a great driving song on your stereo.

If the answer is yes, which I must admit is my answer, then that will only add to your enjoyment of Baby Driver, a car chase movie with just enough heart and humor to make it meaningful. It’s complete nonsense, but it’s a helluva lot of fun.

Ansel Elgort is Baby, a driver for a crime boss (Kevin Spacey). He has permanent tinnitus, a ringing in the ears, so he constantly listens to music to drown it out (he has several iPods, depending on his mood). The music allows him to focus on what he’s doing, namely, driving to elude police. Spacey swears by him, especially since Elgort tried to steal Spacey’s car and is now paying him back.

The film is built around three car chases. The first is a bank in downtown Atlanta. They get away, but the actual robbers can’t quite understand Elgort, who never talks and always has ear buds. Turns out he lives a quiet life with his foster father (his parents were killed in the crash that damaged his hearing) who happens to be black, deaf, and wheelchair-bound (talk about laying it on thick).

Elgort wants out, and has just one job to do. In the meantime he meets a waitress (Lily James) with whom he instantly falls in love (looking at her, it’s not difficult to believe). The second heist involves an armored car and a citizen with a gun gets involved, but they still get away. Spacey declares them square, but he still wants him to drive for him, and threatens him, the foster father, and James to boot if he backs out.

This leads to the climax, which is an attempted robbery of a post office, and Elgort has tricks up his sleeve. Well, not really, mostly he wings it. I’ll stop there, because the action is suspenseful and the ending is not quite what we expect.

Are there problems with Baby Driver? Yes. For one thing, if I were Spacey, some kind of criminal genius, I’d plan robberies that didn’t involve high risk shootouts and car chases. He should watch Hell or High Water to see how it should be done–get in and out before the police are even there.

Second, as lovely a vision Lily James is, her character is a total non-entity, with no backstory. She is close to Manic Pixie Dreamgirl territory, existing just to give the hero something to live for. Then she becomes the girl that gets in danger and has to be saved. We also have the villain with the Rasputin-like ability to stay alive, no matter the bullets or car crashes.

But the good about Baby Driver, written and directed by Edgar Wright, far outweighs the cliches. For one thing, it’s funny, and has a couple of great supporting performances by two of the bank robbers. Jamie Foxx is Bats, who is probably insane, and doesn’t make friends easily. But the movie really gets stolen by Jon Hamm as a former Wall Street trader, who had “debts that would make a white man blush,” and has turned crook. He has married a Latina (a movie with two great beauties is a definite plus from where I am sitting), Eiza Gonzalez, and is completely dedicated to her. So, when something happens to her…

Spacey is also great, as he is now specializing in playing villains. He doesn’t do the thing expected of him at the crucial time, making the film more interesting. Elgort is pretty much a blank, but he’s supposed to be, and he occupies space as well as anyone. And he has a baby face.

The other “cast member” of the film that makes it work is the soundtrack, much of it actually heard by the actors. We get some of the usual, like Golden Earrings’s “Radar Love,” the greatest driving song ever, to a great foot and car chase set to Focus’ “Hocus Pocus.” I will probably have to pick up the soundtrack album–I just hope that while I’m listening to it in the car I don’t end up speeding.

AGEBOC IX – Week Nine

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Predict the grosses of the films opening the weekend of June 30th-July 2nd, 2017

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 on the first question each week earns 2 bonus points.

 

Deadline is Friday, June 30th at 12:00 pm (EST)

  1. What will Despicable Me 3 earn this weekend?
  2. What will The House earn this weekend?
  3. What will Baby Driver earn this weekend?

 

Current rankings:

Filmman – 12

Jackrabbit Slim – 34

James – 14

Joe – 20

Juan – 28

Marco – 18

Rob – 8

AGEBOC IX – Week Eight

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“June 23rd” used to mean something.  Alas, this week’s only major release is the fifth installment in a tired franchise from a dying film studio.

Transformers: The Last Knight is Michael Bay’s last outing as Director (he means it this time! Despite saying it twice before! Ok, maybe he doesn’t!) and commercials are selling it as “the final chapter” in the series.  Meanwhile Bumblebee in pre-production and there are a dozen sequels and spin-offs in various stages of development.  So yeah, maybe Paramount’s marketing team isn’t entirely trustworthy.

Predict the #1 film for the weekend of June 23rd-25th, 2017

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 on the first question each week earns 2 bonus points.

Opening across the United States this weekend we have

Deadline is Friday, June 23rd at 12:00 pm (EST)

  1. What will Transformers: The Last Knight earn this weekend?
  2. Take a moment to appreciate Batman’s (1989) hold on the American public 28 years ago this week. Warner Brothers changed the way motion pictures are marketed forever. (1 point for everyone)

Current rankings:

Filmman – 11

Jackrabbit Slim – 29

James – 13

Joe – 19

Juan – 25

Marco – 17

Rob – 7