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Review: Logan Lucky

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logan_lucky(Warning: Contains mild spoilers)

Elaborate heists done by a group of people has always been one of my favourite film sub-genres. If done well, the plan’s intricacies, how it works out in reality, the expected and unexpected obstacles and inevitable tensions within the group can make for fascinating and entertaining films.

Clearly veteran director Steven Soderbergh (making his first film after a very brief retirement) enjoys these films as he made a trio of ‘Oceans’ films based around the same concept and now returns to it with ‘Logan Lucky’, albeit in a very different setting and social milieu.

The film’s plot centres around divorced and just-unemployed construction worker Jimmy (Channing Tatum), who decides robbing a stadium during a NASCAR event is the solution to his problems. He needs the help of multiple people including his one-armed brother Clyde (Adam Driver) and criminal Joe (Daniel Craig). Unfortunately Joe is in prison but where there’s a will…

I’ve only seen a handful of Steven Soderbergh’s films and while he’s clearly one of the smartest and skilled directors in Hollywood, his movies tend to feel a bit distant and cold. One admires his films without finding them particularly enjoyable or wanting to rewatch them.

And this is how I felt about ‘Logan Lucky’. It’s a smartly done heist film with some fine performances but I was never terribly engaged in it and it was never as entertaining or clever as it thought it was.

The film’s biggest problem is that the people involved in the heist seem to be operating at two intelligence levels depending on the requirements on the plot. In their regular day-to-day lives, they’re often simplistic, even moronic. Indeed, another set of brothers involved in the scheme (played by Jack Quaid & Brian Gleeson) are so idiotic they reminded me of the trio of yokel brothers from the 1980s Newhart TV show.

And yet we’re supposed to believe that this same group of people are able to carry off a highly elaborate and sophisticated heist, not only outwitting a substantial police and security force but also able to get multiple people in and out of prison without the authorities noticing. Perhaps it could be understood if Soderbergh was making a comment on how people like this apply considerable intelligence to an event like a heist while acting foolishly in the rest of their lives, but that would be giving him too much credit.

The other problem with the heist itself is that it relies a lot on lucky timing and people with no connection to it acting in ways that can’t be predicted. For example, how do they convince the prisoners to stage a riot for the required time the heist is run and how do they know the prison warden will react in the exact way they need to enable them to get back into the prison undetected? It’s a scheme that makes the finale to The Sting seem like child’s play.

As well, the film feels erratic and contradictory in its tone. Initially in the early scenes where we see Jimmy with his children, his job situation and his general struggles, it’s striving for a realistic, natural tone. But at other times when characters like such as the buffoonish NASCAR powerbroker (Seth MacFarlane) or a very monotone and robotic FBI agent (Hilary Swank) appear it has a comic, exaggerated and even goofy tone. There are pleasures to be had from both styles (Swank’s performance is quite amusing) but they don’t mesh which hurts the film overall.

This is not to say that ‘Logan Lucky’ isn’t a well-made film. It is stylishly and thoughtfully directed by Soderbergh as usual and the execution of heist is entertainingly (if unbelievably) done. Also, there are a lot of good performances in a fine cast. Daniel Craig practically steals the film with his delightful portrayal of the charismatic but unpredictable Joe. And I admired Channing Tatum for underplaying the central role when it would’ve been easy to try and share the limelight of the array of colourful supporting performances.

But overall, while ‘Logan Lucky’ has undoubted strengths (and is popular amongst critics), it was never as entertaining or substantial as it could’ve been.

Trivia Note: This is the second film I’ve seen at the cinema this year (after Alien: Covenant) that features both Katherine Waterston and has John Denver’s music as a pivotal part of the plot

 

AGEBOC IX – Week Sixteen

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Predict the grosses of the films opening the weekend of August 18th-20th, 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, August 18th at 12:00 pm (EST)

    1. What will Logan Lucky earn this weekend?
    2. What will The Hitman’s Bodyguard earn this weekend?

Current rankings:
Jackrabbit Slim – 70
Juan – 57
James – 47
Joe – 33
Marco – 25
Filmman – 12
Rob – 8

AGEBOC IX – Week Fifteen

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Predict the grosses of the films opening the weekend of August 11th-13th, 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, August 11th at 12:00 pm (EST)

    1. What will Annabelle: Creation earn this weekend?
    2. What will The Nut Job 2: Nutty by Nature earn this weekend?
    3. What will The Glass Castle earn this weekend?

Current rankings:
Jackrabbit Slim – 60
Juan – 55
James – 41
Joe – 33
Marco – 25
Filmman – 12
Rob – 8

Forgettable 21st Century remakes of 20th Century cinema

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Fame  footloose

A sub-section of 21st century cinema that fascinates me is the remake of a revered/classic film that is considered to be so insipid that a year or two after they’re made it’s as if they don’t exist and the original still thrives.
Below are six standout examples from this century. I haven’t seen any of these remakes so the comments below aren’t my views on it, just an assessment on what the general consensus was on them:

The Omen (2006) – The 1976 horror film was considered a classic of its time and remaking it 30 years on was an ambitious task. But it was backed by a smart marketing campaign which made explicit use of its opening date being 06/06/06. And it had a strong cast, with Mia Farrow in one of her rare post-Woody film roles being particularly noteworthy. But critics were disappointed (27% on RT) and despite it being a modest financial success it was completely unsuccessful in matching (let alone eclipsing) the memory of the original

Fame (2009) – In its capturing the spirit and liveliness of young aspiring New York artists, the original 1980 musical became a defining film of its era (and led to a successful TV series). A remake in 2009 seemed potentially rewarding and even had the curio value of TV’s Frasier & Lilith (Kelsey Grammer and Bebe Neuwirth) both playing prominent roles in the film. Alas, a bad sign was that it was rated PG which stood in contrast to the original film which was quite rough and brutal at times. And the general consensus was it was a bland and plastic remake which would be soon forgotten, which it was.

Fright Night (2011) – The 1985 vampire original had been a surprise popular and critical success. It seemed an odd choice for a remake as the original’s semi-spoof, self-aware, humourous style still made it seem fresh today. Was there an audience for a modern remake of a horror film that still felt modern? As it turned out, No. Despite decent reviews, the Fright Night remake barely made any money anywhere, not even finishing in the Top 5 in its opening weekend in America despite an aggressive marketing campaign.

Footloose (2011) – The 1984 original became a iconic film of its era thanks in no small part to its famous Kenny Loggins title track. In truth it’s a pretty silly film and a remake seemed like a good chance to improve on it, especially when it was helmed by Craig Brewer who’d had notable success with ‘Hustle & Flow’. Alas, despite generally positive reviews the public didn’t warm to it (as a check of the IMDB user reviews shows) and it made little impression. Perhaps people were too affectionate towards the original to accept a remake.

Poltergeist (2015) – For decades the debate over whether the 1982 Tobe Hooper horror film was in fact actually directed by Executive Producer Steven Spielberg has been a fascination for many. Indeed just a few weeks ago a crew member on the film stated that Spielberg in fact directed it.

One thing this recent batch of stories don’t have to mention; that they’re talking about the 1982 version and not the 2015 remake because that’s been forgotten already. Despite being produced by Sam Raimi and having talents like Sam Rockwell & Jared Harris appear in it, the film was critically panned and audiences probably would’ve cared more if it had actually been a documentary about answering the Hooper/Spielberg mystery.

Ben Hur (2016) – Probably the most foolhardy of this list, it was impossible to see how this could ever be a success. For one thing, remaking one of the most iconic Hollywood films of the 20th century is just asking for trouble. Especially when helmed by director Timur Bekmambetov who it’s fair to say doesn’t quite have the reputation of a William Wyler. Also, biblical/Roman epics were hardly box-office gold in 2010s cinema.

The biggest giveaway to this film’s impending doom is the YouTube trailer clip which actually has more dislikes than likes for it. One user observed it as ‘Fast And Furious A.D.’

And to the surprise of no one, the film was not only a critical disaster but a financial one as well as it searched for an audience that wasn’t there and was one of the biggest flops of its year. Amongst the plethora of bad decisions MGM has made in recent decades, this would be one of the worst.

AGEBOC IX – Week Fourteen

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Predict the grosses of the films opening the weekend of August 4th-6th, 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, August 4th at 12:00 pm (EST)

    1. What will The Dark Tower earn this weekend?
    2. What will Detroit earn this weekend?
    3. What will Kidnap earn this weekend?

Current rankings:
Jackrabbit Slim – 56
Juan – 51
Joe – 33
James – 29
Marco – 25
Filmman – 12
Rob – 8

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

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: 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.

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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transformersthelastknight

“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

AGEBOC IX – Week Seven

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Cars 3 posterRough Night poster
All Eyez On Me poster47 Meters Down Poster

Predict the #1 film for the weekend of June 16th-18th, 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 Pixar’s Cars 3.  While this latest installment is scoring slightly better reviews than its predecessors, it’s a franchise many will be relieved to see hit the finish line. Like Owen Wilson’s career, this series ran out of gas long ago.

Sony’s Rough Night has a lot going for it (Scarlett Johansson! Kate McKinnon! Jillian Bell! Ilana Glazer!) but I can’t imagine that this lame-looking mash-up of The Hangover and Very Bad Things is worthy of their talents. Similarly, the Tupac Shakur biopic All Eyez on Me seems like a low-rent take on a potentially interesting subject.

Thanks to the unexpected success of 2016’s The Shallows and star Mandy Moore’s hit series This is Us, the shark attack drama 47 Meters Down is going wide theatrical this weekend.  This is particularly notable because the film was scheduled for home video release a year ago (advanced screeners were even sent to and reviewed by professional critics) before changing distributors at the eleventh hour.  I’m not sure how well this gamble will pay off, but it’s a fascinating case.

Bottom line: it’s a great weekend to do anything but go to the movies!

Deadline is Friday, June 16th at 12:00 pm (EST)

  1. What will Cars 3 earn this weekend?
  2. What will Rough Night earn this weekend?
  3. What will All Eyez on Me earn this weekend?
  4. What will 47 Meters Down earn this weekend?

Current rankings:

Filmman – 11

Jackrabbit Slim – 23

James – 7

Joe – 19

Juan – 17

Marco – 13

Rob – 7

Review: The Mummy (1932)

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Scared away by the horrid reviews, I passed on seeing the newest version of The Mummy. But I did not despair, for in my DVD collection is the original film, released in 1932, and directed by Karl Freund. It certainly does not have the action of the new film, it hardly has any action at all, but it manages to create an atmosphere of creepiness and dread that enthralls (and it’s only 73 minutes long).

After the success of Dracula and Frankenstein, Universal chairman Carl Laemmle wanted to add a mummy picture to his stable of horror characters. There was no definitive text, unlike the others, so he commissioned story ideas. The discovery of King Tut’s tomb in 1922 had captured the public’s imagination, and Egyptian decor (including Hollywood’s Egyptian Theater, which still stands today) swept the nation. There was also the added element of a so-called curse, which killed anyone who was associated with the discovery of the tomb.

Finally a script by John Balderston, who had adapted the plays of Dracula and Frankenstein, was made. Freund was the cameraman for such classics as Metropolis, The Last Laugh, and Dracula. He was noted for a moving camera (interestingly, at the end of his career he worked on I Love Lucy). This being the 1930s, when special effects where rudimentary, much of the action happens off-screen, letting the viewer imagine what is happening.

This starts in the opening scene. A tomb has been unearthed, and the mummy discovered has not been embalmed, indicating he was buried alive. The archaeologists determine that his name was Imhotep, and he was punished for sacrilege. They also open a box, which warns anyone not to open it lest they be cursed. Inside is a scroll that we later learn has a spell that can raise the dead. Imhotep (Boris Karloff, under eight hours worth of makeup) awakens. But we don’t see him move. Instead, we see a closeup of his hand on the scroll, snatching it. The worker bursts into hysterical laughter seeing the mummy walk, but all we see is a few bandages dragging out the door.

Cut to a few years later. Imhotep now goes by the name Ardath Bey. He helps the archaeologists find the tomb of Princess Ankh-es-en-Amon, for the ulterior motive that he was in love with her. He had been buried alive when he tried to revive her dead body, now he wants to try again. But then he discovers a woman (Zita Johann) who looks uncannily like her. He realizes she is the Princess reincarnated, and instead of reviving her mummy, can simply kill her and immediately raise her from the dead.

For today’s audiences, The Mummy may be very slow going. The joke about Mummy pictures was how could anybody be hurt by one, they’re so slow. Well, Ardath Bey has certain powers that defy distance. He has a pool that can look into the past or present (he shows Johann her past life). He can look into it on a subject and by squeezing his hand give them a heart attack. And, of course, Karloff has one of the best stares in all of movie history. The key lighting on his eyes make his closeups very unnerving. “He’s a strange one,” one of the characters says about him. He has no idea.

This version of The Mummy is one of those romance across times, very much like Dracula (and the Dracula film made by Francis Coppola years later) that gives the monster some sympathy.

The rest of the cast is fine. Johann was an established stage actress who looks like Betty Boop; she later quit Hollywood, disenchanted with it. She marched into Irving Thalberg’s office and asked him, “How can you make such garbage?” Thalberg replied, “For the money, Zita.” Edward Van Sloan is, I believe, the only actor to appear in Dracula, Frankenstein, and The Mummy. He played Dr. Van Helsing in Dracula, and plays pretty much the same part here, the only scientist who believes in the supernatural elements of what is going on.

The Mummy spawned a number of lesser sequels from Universal, but this film is the one to watch, especially if the new one leaves a bad taste in your mouth.