Category Archives: Uncategorized

Other films that opened in the USA, February 2017

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As we went a couple of weekends in February without doing posts documenting the films released on those weekends, I thought I would fill in the gaps by documenting them here

The Great Wall (IMDB rating 6.3) – Notable as being a major hybrid US/China film aiming to create a blockbuster and appealing to both countries, this Matt Damon starring action film has had a poor critical reaction and disappointing financial results (in both America & China) so that concept will be put on hold for now seemingly.

Fist Fight (5.8) – A film based around a looming fist fight between two teachers after one gets the other fired seems a pretty thin concept for a feature-length film and judging by its IMDB rating and critical reaction, it didn’t seem to be up to the task. Certainly the trailer suggests it all has the negative clichés of modern Hollywood ‘comedies’: crude, clumsy and no sense of comic timing at all.

A Cure For Wellness (6.6) – Watching the trailer for this film about a mysterious ‘wellness’ clinic made it seem initially intriguing but this is a classic case of a trailer giving away far too much of its narrative so it ended my interest in it. A box office flop and critically maligned.

Everybody Loves Somebody (6.6) – Mexican film about a woman running into complications when she gets a co-worker to pose as a boyfriend for a family wedding

Keep Quiet – (6.1)  Documentary about a European politician who is openly anti-Semetic… only to discover that he is Jewish!
XX (4.7) – Something that used to be quite common back in the late 1960s/early 1970s (especially in British cinema) – a horror anthology. In this case its four stories all written and directed by women. Unusually for a horror-related film it’s been much better received by critics than by the public judging by its IMDB rating.

From Nowhere (7.3) – This story of undocumented teenagers trying to not only stay in school but stay in the USA certainly seems timely considering the political climate at present in the country and it certainly seems to have struck a chord with critics and at film festivals leading to it getting a release. Also of interest is that the director is Australian Matt Newton who is from a very well-known and successful showbiz family and had developed a fairly successful acting/director career in the 2000s before constant public headlines for his behaviour and legal troubles stopped it in its tracks. Having relocated to the USA this seems like an impressive first step in rebuilding his career.

Lovesong (6.4) – Relationship drama between two female friends which uses that old trope of the low-budget indy film – the impromptu road trip! Well-received by critics according to Rotten Tomatoes

Get Out (8.3) – One of the most significant films of the year for multiple reasons. A breakout box-office smash that has had an enormously positive critical response (99% on RT) and clearly had a very positive public response. These aren’t qualities you usually associate with a horror film. Its racial and socio-economic elements certainly seem to have helped it strike a chord amongst the USA public in these politically tumultuous times.

Rock Dog (5.6) – Animated film which apparently is another China/USA co-effort which like The Great Wall has flopped at the box office. Luke Wilson provides one of the voices who seems to have completely disappeared this decade after being everywhere in the 2000s.

Autobahn (5.7) – This action film about drug smuggling and the like has a a troubled history – originally scheduled for release in 2015 but the distributor went bust and it’s limped out to virtually no interest. Even the likes of Anthony Hopkins, Ben Kingsley and up-and-comers like Felicity Jones in the cast hasn’t saved it from public apathy and critical derision.

Bitter Harvest (7.2) – Judging by the critical reaction and trailer, this mixture of romance and war in 1930s Soviet Union/Ukraine seems like a cornball version of Dr Zhivago. Has a decent IMDB rating though.

My Life as a Courgette (7.9) – This stop-motion European animated film was Oscar nominated for Best Animated Feature and considering it has a 100% RT rating, that isn’t a surprise. Certainly seems like one to watch out for.

Fabricated City (7.9) – South Korean film about a person trying to prove his innocence with the help of his virtual gaming friends certainly feels like a more modern narrative than most films.

Pelle The Conqueror (2017 re-release) (7.9) – Re-release of the 1987 Best Foreign Film Oscar winner, starring Max Von Sydow.

Review: Logan

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Logan is getting some great reviews, I think partially because though it’s a Marvel property it doesn’t seem like one. No cities are destroyed, there’s no Spandex, and it’s far more character-driven that most comic-book films.

However, though I liked Logan for the most part, let’s not go overboard. This, the swan song of Hugh Jackman playing the role of Logan/Wolverine, has some effective moments and good performances, as well as some savage action scenes (no cities may be destroyed, but more than one person loses their head) there is not a lot of originality to the script, by director James Mangold. While I was watching I thought of Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome, and also Stranger Things (which, granted, came out after Logan was written). A writer on the Cracked website compares it point by point to Children of Men, and it’s very convincing.

The year is 2029. and Logan is working as a limo driver. Mutants have ceased being born (I may have missed something in the canon, otherwise I don’t know why this is). He drinks a lot and is starting to feel the effects of age (he is over two-hundred years old). His healing properties are far slower, and he walks with a limp.

Logan also cares for Professor Charles Xavier, who has a brain disorder–when he doesn’t take his medicine his mind can create an earthquake-like occurrence. He is being kept in a toppled water tank near the Mexican border.

Xavier has picked up the presence of another mutant, a girl called Laura. She is brought to Logan from Mexico City by a nurse who has witnessed a genetic experiment to create mutants by artificial means. Thus, Laura, who is largely mute through most of the film, bears an uncanny resemblance to Eleven from Stranger Things, except Laura’s power is to be a baby Wolverine, clawing and ripping at her foes.

Of course, the evil corporation that is conducting the experiments has people looking for her, especially Boyd Holbrook, as a man with a mechanical arm. Logan and Xavier set out taking her to a haven for mutants in North Dakota for crossing into Canada (the immigration aspects are interesting, given the times we live in).

The gruff hero helping a child (as it turns out, children) is as old as movies, it seems, and Logan doesn’t really further the genre. Jackman, who has played Wolverine in eight films now, still manages to make the character interesting, especially in his frailties (though he still can use those claws). Patrick Stewart, as Xavier, who is also likely done with the character, goes out on a high note, although some may consider his British stage acting a bit hammy. It occurred to me that this might be an opportunity for Stewart to get an Oscar nomination (he’s never had one), but at this time last year I was thinking about John Goodman for 10 Cloverfield Lane.

I dare not spoil what happens here, but it is poignant without being too awash in sentimentality. It’s a fitting end for both Logan and Xavier’s characters, but as a guy who wrote for Marvel Comics once told me, “No one stays dead except for Uncle Ben.”

Logan, at two hours and seventeen minutes, is a bit too long, and has too many cliches, but it’s okay and a must for X-Men fans.

The Ninth Annual Gone Elsewhere Oscar Challenge

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Time for this year’s Oscar Challenge. It’s simple–just pick the winner in each of the 24 categories.

I suggest you simply cut and paste the list of categories below in a comment and type your choice of winner next to it. If you change your mind, either edit your comment or post a new one. I will take your last predictions as official.

Best Picture:
Best Director:
Best Actor:
Best Actress:
Best Supporting Actor:
Best Supporting Actress:
Best Original Screenplay:
Best Adapted Screenplay:
Best Foreign Language Film:
Best Animated Film:
Best Cinematography:
Best Editing:
Best Production Design:
Best Costume Design:
Best Song:
Best Musical Score:
Best Documentary Feature:
Best Documentary Short Subject:
Best Makeup and Hairstyles:
Best Animated Short Subject:
Best Live Action Short Subject:
Best Sound Editing:
Best Sound Mixing:
Best Visual Effects:

The nominees can be found all over the web, including here.

Deadline will be anytime before the first award is given. The Oscar show is February 26th.

HAGEBOC 2016 – THE FINAL RESULTS: JACKRABBIT SLIM WINS!

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Jackrabbit Slim enjoyed a commanding lead throughout this contest with an unprecedented series of wins (I’d wager the most six pointers of any ‘BOC we’ve ever done) so this is a well-earned victory! Congrats to Marco for killing it on a regular basis as well.

AGEBOC will kick off the weekend of May 5th.

SCORES:
Jackrabbit Slim – 86
James – 70
Marco – 44
Joe Webb – 30
Juan – 26
Rob – 11
Nick – 4

HAGEBOC 2016 – Week Twelve: THE END IS NEAR, FINALLY.

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After three months (!) “Hage”boc is finally at an end with this week’s contest. Thanks for playing, looking forward to picking things up in May!

SCORES:
Jackrabbit Slim – 78
James – 70
Marco – 40
Juan – 26
Joe Webb – 24
Rob – 11
Nick – 4

HAGEBOC – WEEKEND OF FEBRUARY 10TH, 2017.  

What will The Lego Batman Movie earn from Friday to Sunday?  (Closest wins 4 points, second closest 2 points. 2 bonus points for being within 250k)

Bonus #1
What will Fifty Shades Darker earn from Friday to Sunday?  (Closest wins 4 points, second closest 2 points. 2 bonus points for being within 250k)

Bonus #2
What will John Wick: Chapter 2 earn from Friday to Sunday?  (Closest wins 4 points, second closest 2 points. 2 bonus points for being within 250k)

Answers are due on Friday, February 10th by noon EST.  Good luck!

HAGEBOC 2016 – Week Eleven

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SCORES:
Jackrabbit Slim – 68
James – 66
Marco – 40
Juan – 26
Joe Webb – 20
Rob – 11
Nick – 4

HAGEBOC – WEEKEND OF FEBRUARY 3RD, 2017.  

What will The Space Between Us earn from Friday to Sunday?  (Closest wins 4 points, second closest 2 points. 2 bonus points for being within 250k)

Bonus #1
What will Rings earn from Friday to Sunday?  (Closest wins 4 points, second closest 2 points. 2 bonus points for being within 250k)

Bonus #2
What percentage will Resident Evil: The Final Chapter drop this weekend?  (Closest wins 4 points, second closest 2 points)

Answers are due on Friday, February 3rd by noon EST.  Good luck!

Review: Bright Lights Starring Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds (TV) (2016)

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When a documentary on the famed mother/daughter combination called ‘Bright Lights: Starring Carrie Fisher And Debbie Reynolds’ was in the works last year, it already promised to be a notable event.

Reynolds and then Fisher both had been part of pop culture for over 60 years and had rather similar careers; both had one film that defined their lives, both were multi-talented enough that when their film careers stalled they were able to successfully branch out into other areas (Fisher with screenwriting, Reynolds on Broadway and cabaret) and both had messy private lives that often played out in public

But when they tragically died almost simultaneously late last year, this documentary carried extra weight and poignancy to it and its release was brought forward due to public interest.

The documentary isn’t a traditional biography on Reynolds & Fisher; it’s more a potted history of them mixed with fly-on-the-wall observations of their lives interspersed with old home movies. Also, while this documentary is portrayed as a joint Reynolds/Fisher take, it really is largely from Fisher’s point of view and is mainly her story and her perspectives on her mother and life in general.

As a take on Carrie Fisher’s life, the overall impression one gets is that she was finally at peace with herself and the life she had lived. She was at peace with the tumult of her childhood when her father Eddie Fisher left her mother for Elizabeth Taylor which became a huge international story. While it isn’t directly said, clearly the whole saga had a major impact on her psyche for decades; how could it not?

We see Carrie at peace with her relationship with Debbie, which had at times been on rocky ground in previous decades. We see them live next door to each other with both of them bantering and conversing like they’re an older version of the mother/daughter from The Gilmore Girls.

Also, we see Carrie at peace in her relationship with her father Eddie Fisher. In perhaps the most poignant segment of the documentary, we see Carrie taking care of Eddie only months before his death in 2010. To see Eddie – once one of the most popular singers in America – sickly and incapacitated sharing tender moments with a daughter who’d he had a difficult relationship with, is genuinely moving.

And we see Carrie at peace with her eternal fame from the Star Wars franchise. We see her at a fan convention (something she only took to late in life) signing autographs and conversing with people of all ages who see her as a heroic figure. Fame overwhelmed her when it hit in the late 70s (especially as she had no desire to be an actress) but as she discusses after the convention she clearly has come to terms with how much her role and performance have meant to others.

A great asset of the documentary is the plethora of home movie footage it shows of Reynolds/Fisher in the early years right down to Carrie at The Great Wall Of China in the 1980s. The most significant home movie footage from a Reynolds cabaret show in the early 1970s where a reluctant Carrie is brought on to stage to impressively sing ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’. To then see Reynolds in the present day get emotional at how Carrie never wanted to sing publicly is touching.

As for Reynolds, we get to see her perform in the present day in her one-woman shows. It’s rather sad in one way as she clearly struggles at times (her health problems are a constant theme throughout the documentary) but the admiring older audience at the shows don’t seem to mind and are glad that she’s still performing after so many decades.

As a documentary, ‘Bright Lights’ is rather frustrating at times. It jumps about in time constantly and feels a bit messy, although the closing stages surrounding Debbie receiving a SAG Lifetime Achievement award helps give it focus. Also, one feels that the documentary might’ve had better structure and purpose if the documentary had been told from the perspective of Carrie’s brother Todd (who does provide observation & narration on occasion).

But perhaps ‘Bright Lights’ is better served by its rather messy style than being a more traditional style as it isn’t about providing a comprehensive analysis of Debbie & Carrie’s lives, but capturing what made them tick and observing the chaos and contradictions they lived through. And especially with Carrie, it does seem to capture her essence as a personality and what made her so appealing to the public during her life.

Overall, ‘Bright Lights: Starring Carrie Fisher And Debbie Reynolds’ is a worthy celebration of two remarkable lives.

The 89th Oscars: The Hollywood Reach-Around

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“Who do I have to blow to get nominated?”

People who don’t like the Oscars often cite the notion that it is a bunch of Hollywood elites congratulating themselves. This was further elucidated, especially by conservatives, after Meryl Streep went off on Donald Trump at the Golden Globes. To this I say–well, duh. Of course entertainment awards are mutual masturbation sessions. Do the Oscars mean anything? Except for a boost in box office for some films, absolutely not. They are garish, silly, and often boring. But I am fascinated by them.

I can pinpoint my interest in the Oscars. For the 1971 awards, Life magazine (is there anyone old enough here to remember it?) ran a two-page spread with a picture of all the nominees. I didn’t know who most of them were (Jeff Bridges, who’s he?) but something about it compelled interest. My parents let me stay up, even though I was only ten years old, and I haven’t missed a show since then. I have studied and handicapped Oscars for years, I think because they combine my love of movies with my love of sports. These people are really like horses at the big race.

So, for those who have a kernel of interest, this year had two big stories. One is that La La Land tied a record, set by All About Eve and Titanic, for most nominations with 14. This was pretty much expected, and the film has to be considered a runaway favorite (if Damien Chazelle wins the DGA, it’s all over). This will make for a boring awards show, especially for those who hate the film (and I have heard from some). There is a backlash against it by those who find it silly, unrealistic, and without any depth. But I doubt this backlash will effect any voters–they are all in the movie industry, Note some of the recent Best Picture winners–Argo and The Artist. Both about Hollywood. The suspense on February 26th will be whether La La Land breaks the record for wins, which is now a three-way tie between Ben-Hur, Titanic, and The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. 

The other, larger story, is that seven actors of color were nominated, a record (six of them are of African lineage, one is East Indian). Three black women are nominated in the Best Supporting Actress category, a record for any acting category. Barry Jenkins is the fourth black Best Director nominee, and in a first, a black woman was nominated in the Best Editing category (both for Moonlight). Two black men, Denzel Washington and Pharrell Williams, are producers in the Best Picture category, and three of the Best Picture nominees are about black American life.

I think this last sentence is key–I may be incredibly naive, but I don’t think there’s racism at work in the nominating process. This year saw a lot of black nominees because there were good movies with a lot of black actors. If Hollywood continues to make these films, #OscarsSoWhite will permanently go out of business.

But certainly there is a historic lack of representation of black winners. I was struck by two factoids from his year’s nominations: Viola Davis is the first woman to receive three nominations, and Octavia Spencer is the first black woman to receive a nomination after she had won.

Snubs? Well, there are always some, even if they have to be invented. I suppose the closest thing to one is Amy Adams getting passed over for Arrival even after it got all the necessary nominations for a Best Picture win–director, screenplay, and editing. I suppose her nomination went to Ruth Negga of Loving, who gave a very good but understated performance–no obvious clip for her–which goes against a lot of Oscar history. Or maybe it’s Meryl Streep, getting nominated for a technically good but ultimately frivolous role in Florence Foster Jenkins. It’s Streep’s 20th nomination; she has lost more times than the runner-up, Katharine Hepburn, was nominated.

Another supposed snub was Deadpool getting completely shut out. After nominations from the PGA and WGA, some Oscar ninnies were giddily wondering if it would get a Best Picture nomination. Except for Heath Ledger’s nomination for The Dark Knight, no comic book movie has ever gotten an above the line nomination, and it wasn’t about to start with Deadpool. Let’s get real.

A few perpetual bridesmaids: Kevin O’Connell got his 21st nomination for Sound Mixing for Hacksaw Ridge. He has never won, and holds the record for Oscar futility. He’s in the same category with Greg P. Russell, who has now 17 nominations without a win (this time for 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi). They will probably both lose to La La Land.

In the music category, Thomas Newman got a nod for Passengers. His family has wracked up a lot of Oscar nominations. Uncle Alfred had 43 nominations and nine wins. Cousin Randy has twenty nominations and two wins, but didn’t win until his 16th try. So Thomas can take solace, he now has 14 nominations without ever winning.

Over the next 33 days I’ll put up my thoughts on who will win, as I always do. It might be pretty easy this year, although I’m already struggling over who will win Best Makeup and Hair Design.

HAGEBOC 2016 – Week Ten

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Jackrabbit Slim – 64
James – 58
Marco – 40
Juan – 26
Joe Webb – 12
Rob – 11
Nick – 4

HAGEBOC – WEEKEND OF JANUARY 27TH, 2017.  

What will Resident Evil: The Final Chapter (yeah, right) earn from Friday to Sunday?  (Closest wins 4 points, second closest 2 points. 2 bonus points for being within 250k)

Bonus #1

What will A Dog’s Purpose earn from Friday to Sunday?  (Closest wins 4 points, second closest 2 points. 2 bonus points for being within 250k)

Bonus #2

What will Gold earn from Friday to Sunday?  (Closest wins 4 points, second closest 2 points. 2 bonus points for being within 250k)

Answers are due on Friday, January 27th by noon EST.  Good luck!

HAGEBOC 2016 – Week Nine

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Jackrabbit Slim – 54
James – 48
Marco – 38
Juan – 26
Joe Webb – 12
Rob – 11
Nick – 4

HAGEBOC – WEEKEND OF JANUARY 20TH, 2017.  

What will Split earn from Friday to Sunday?  (Closest wins 4 points, second closest 2 points. 2 bonus points for being within 250k)

Bonus #1

What will xXx: Return of Xander Cage earn from Friday to Sunday?  (Closest wins 4 points, second closest 2 points. 2 bonus points for being within 250k)

Bonus #2

What will The Founder earn from Friday to Sunday?  (Closest wins 4 points, second closest 2 points. 2 bonus points for being within 250k)

Answers are due on Friday, January 20th by noon EST.  Good luck!

Review: Elle

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Elle, which recently won two Golden Globes, is a disturbing, interesting, but not entirely satisfying psychological thriller directed by Paul Verhoeven with an electrifying performance by Isabelle Huppert. I left the film figuratively scratching my head. What did I just see?

The film begins in black, with the sounds of a struggle. Then we see a cat, calmly watching as its owner is raped. The woman is Huppert, her assailant is wearing a ski-mask. He leaves, and she calmly cleans up the broken vases and takes a bath, the blood from her invasion soaking the bubbles. As she’s taking a bath, your mind is screaming–“you’re destroying evidence,” but she has no thought of reporting the crime to the police.

Turns out Huppert is the CEO of a video game company that creates very violent games, and she is the daughter of an infamous mass murderer. She thinks about revenge, and purchases items to protect her, like mace and an ax, and when the perpetrator leaves her little notes and texts suggesting he’s closer to her than she thinks, she doesn’t really freak out, I mean, not like I would.

What Huppert and Verhoeven do in this film is make a victim of a crime a horrible person. There are many subplots (too many) that show her as an awful human being. She is disgusted by her elderly mother’s romance with a younger man. She is sleeping with her best friend’s husband. She isn’t helping matters with her son, who is having a baby with a monstrous young woman (when it becomes obvious that the child is not his, she is the only one who points it out). But because she is being stalked by some kind of psycho, we cut her some slack. A lot of slack.

Then the film takes a turn that I imagine might anger many feminists–it angered me. I don’t want to go into it, but let’s just say when she finds out who her rapist is (and I figured it out pretty easily) she doesn’t react the way we want her to, or the way the film is marketed. This isn’t so much a revenge film as a film about a woman who is seriously fucked up, long before she was raped.

Other than Huppert’s clever performance, Elle is far too sordid and unpleasant for me to recommend.

HAGEBOC 2016 – Week Eight

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Jackrabbit Slim – 48
James – 40
Marco – 22
Juan – 16
Joe Webb – 12
Rob – 11
Nick – 4

HAGEBOC – WEEKEND OF JANUARY 13TH, 2017.  

What will Monster Trucks earn from Friday to Sunday?  (Closest wins 4 points, second closest 2 points. 2 bonus points for being within 250k)

Bonus #1

What will Live By Night earn from Friday to Sunday?  (Closest wins 4 points, second closest 2 points. 2 bonus points for being within 250k)

Bonus #2

What will Silence earn from Friday to Sunday?  (Closest wins 4 points, second closest 2 points. 2 bonus points for being within 250k)

Bonus #3

What will Patriot’s Day earn from Friday to Sunday?  (Closest wins 4 points, second closest 2 points. 2 bonus points for being within 250k)

Bonus #4

What will Sleepless earn from Friday to Sunday?  (Closest wins 4 points, second closest 2 points. 2 bonus points for being within 250k)

Bonus #5

What will Bye Bye Man (I seriously don’t even know what this is) earn from Friday to Sunday?  Closest wins 4 points, second closest 2 points.  2 bonus points for being within 250k)

Answers are due on Friday, January 13th by noon EST.  Good luck!

HAGEBOC 2016 – Week Seven

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I’ll send a reminder out to everyone this week, although I’m sure everyone just got caught up in the weird, timeless period between Christmas and New Years.

SCORES AS OF 1/3/17:
James – 40
Jackrabbit Slim – 32
Marco – 22
Juan – 12
Joe Webb – 12
Rob – 9
Nick – 4

HAGEBOC – WEEKEND OF JANUARY 6TH, 2017.  

What will Hidden Figures earn from Friday to Sunday?  (Closest wins 4 points, second closest 2 points. 2 bonus points for being within 250k)

Bonus #1

What will A Monster Calls earn from Friday to Sunday?  (Closest wins 4 points, second closest 2 points. 2 bonus points for being within 250k)

Bonus #2

What will Underworld: Blood Wars earn from Friday to Sunday?  (Closest wins 4 points, second closest 2 points. 2 bonus points for being within 250k)

Answers are due on Friday, January 6th by noon EST.  Good luck!

HAGEBOC 2016 – Week Six

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Kind of a weird week as there isn’t much in the way of new releases or expansions.

I’m not entirely sure when the contest will be stopping because I really would like to keep rolling through the sludge of early January (we MUST have a contest the week Monster Trucks opens!) and the wide expansions of things like Live By Night, La La Land, Hidden Figures, The Founder, etc.  Even January 27th looks like an interesting weekend to tackle.

SCORES AS OF 12/27/16:
James – 32
Jackrabbit Slim – 24
Marco – 22
Juan – 12
Joe Webb – 12
Rob – 9
Nick – 4

HAGEBOC – WEEKEND OF DECEMBER 30TH, 2016.  

What will Sing earn from Friday to Sunday?  (Closest wins 4 points, second closest 2 points. 2 bonus points for being within 250k)

Bonus #1

What % will Passengers fall this week?  (Closest wins 4 points, second closest 2 points. 2 bonus points for being within 250k)

Bonus #2

What will Fences earn from Friday to Sunday?  (Closest wins 4 points, second closest 2 points. 2 bonus points for being within 250k)

Answers are due on Friday, December 30th by noon EST.  Good luck!

Review: Fences

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Here’s what I learned while watching Fences: Denzel Washington is a great actor, and this is one of this greatest performances, but Denzel Washington is not a great director.

August Wilson’s play was years in the making. He wrote the screenplay well over a decade ago (he died in 2005) and insisted that it be directed by a black director. Finally Washington got it made, and it is a showcase of great acting and some brutally powerful dialogue. But Washington’s ham-fisted direction, along with an ending that defies belief (I’ve never read or seen the play, so I don’t know if that was Wilson’s idea) hamper what could have been a great film, but it merely a good one.

Washington plays Troy Maxson, a garbageman in Pittsburgh in the late ’50s. He is bitter, because he was a great baseball player but never got a chance at the Majors (he says that Jackie Robinson couldn’t have even made some of the teams he played on). He has a devoted but weary wife (Viola Davis) and a teenage son (Jovan Adepo), who wants to play college football, but Washington doesn’t trust that football will do right by him (to show how different times were then from now, when a college scholarship for an inner city black youth is like a golden ticket). He also has a son from a previous marriage (Russell Hornsby) who is a musician, which Washington doesn’t approve of.

Washington mostly sits in his backyard, drinking gin and telling tall tales with his friend and co-worker (Stephen McKinley Henderson). He talks about wrestling with Death for three days and three nights. He has also been building a fence for ages. This is the central metaphor of the play and film, signifying the title. Henderson tells him at one point, “Fences can keep people out, or they can keep people in.”

There are some highly-charged moments in the play, dealing with circumstances I don’t wish to spoil, since I didn’t know they were coming. But Washington makes no real attempt to “break open” the play, including only a few minor scenes that are not set in his house or yard. I’m not a person who believes a film based on a play has to be broken out, but Fences seems claustrophobic. Of course, maybe this was Washington’s intention. I’m sure it was not his intention to have strangely framed scenes, with characters wandering off a distance before cutting to a close two shot of them, or characters at the edge of a frame for no particular reason. There is also some instances of weather to heighten dramatic effect, something I find to be lazy.

But as for Washington’s performance, wow! This cements his status as one of the great American actors, ever. He’s made some bad movies, sure, and even possibly some bad performances, but this character is fully realized, and every emotion is etched on his face. He’s a voluble character, but it’s his few quiet moments that ring with me. Davis is no less his match, and surely will win the Best Supporting Actress Oscar. She has a couple of big scenes, letting Washington know where their relationship stands.

The screenplay has some very funny dialogue, too, but a few stagey scenes that don’t work, such as Washington telling his best friend and son how he left home at the age of fourteen. Surely that would have come up before in their relationships, but it needed to laid out as exposition for what would come next. It’s a bit clumsy,

Fences is a crowd-pleaser, and it is great to see a film about the black experience in America by a black director with a black cast. As the film is full of baseball metaphors, Fences is a clean single, but not a home run.