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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.

A Decade in Film: 1995

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A chronological list of releases can be found here.

1) Best of 1995 or top five?

2) Most disappointing of 1995 (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 Six

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The Mummy 2017 Poster Tom Cruisemegan leavey Max 3 posterIt Comes at Night poster

Predict the #1 film for the weekend of June 9th-11th, 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 earns 2 extra points.

Opening across the United States this weekend we have a reboot of Universal’s The Mummy franchise starring Tom Cruise.  This incarnation is designed to launch a shared universe featuring new takes on classic Universal monsters. Given the iffy tracking numbers and Wednesday afternoon review embargo, they might not be off to the best start.

We’ve also got the critically acclaimed (but generically titled) horror picture It Comes at Night and something called Megan Leavey which is about a soldier (Kate Mara) seeking to adopt the bomb-sniffing dog that saved her life.

Deadline is Friday, June 9th at 12:00 pm (EST)

  1. What will The Mummy earn this weekend?
  2. What will Megan Leavey earn this weekend?
  3. What will It Comes at Night earn this weekend?

Current rankings:

Filmman – 11

Jackrabbit Slim – 17

James – 7

Joe – 11

Juan – 11

Marco – 7

Rob – 7

AGEBOC IX – Week Five

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Wonder WomanCaptain Underpants

Predict the #1 film for the weekend of June 2nd-4th, 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 earns 2 extra points.

Deadline is Friday, June 2nd at 12:00 pm (EST)

  1. What will Wonder Woman earn this weekend?
  2. What will Captain Underpants: The Epic First Movie earn this weekend?
  3. What % will Baywatch fall this weekend?  Closest guess earns 2 points.

Current rankings:

Filmman – 7

Jackrabbit Slim – 17

James – 7

Joe – 5

Juan – 11

Marco – 1

Rob – 7

Review: Slums Of Beverly Hills (1998)

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SlumsDespite getting good critical reviews, the US low-budget film ‘Slums Of Beverly Hills’ went largely unnoticed when it was released in 1998. That’s a pity because not only is it a fine film in its own right but it’s an interesting insight into US independent cinema in the 1990s and since then.

Set in 1976, the film focuses on the Abromowtiz family (single father, three children) who are living a dismal existence in an endless series of dismal motels while their ne’er-do-well father Murray (Alan Arkin) can’t provide them a stable existence. This is told from the perspective of teenage daughter Vivian (Natasha Lyonne) who – because of a lack of stable adult authority figures – has to stumble through the experiences teenage girls go through on her own.

The film doesn’t really have a narrative as such, it’s more of a snapshot of this particular family in this particular era and on that level it succeeds very well. We see the ethos and mindset of a family that has had better times and probably a comfortable middle-class existence in the past, that is now struggling to keep their heads above water. Also, despite its limited budget it convincingly captures of the period feel of life in 1970s American suburbia without resorting to clichés (most of the time anyway).

A big factor in the film’s success is Lyonne’s performance. Her role is the centrepiece of the film and it’s a fairly challenging role to play; if she’d stumbled, the film probably would’ve fallen apart. But she’s excellent in persuasively conveying a teenager who’s a mixture of insecurity, daring, awkwardness and brashness. She helps make Vivian and likable without pandering to the audience’s sympathies and it’s not surprising that after being stalled by personal troubles in the 2000s, Lyonne has gone on to a successful acting career with the talent on display here.

The smartest move writer/director Tamara Jenkins does is that it doesn’t try to make this a story of triumph where troubled characters with deep flaws overcome their problems to create a phony triumphant ending. She’s more interesting in portraying them as they are and with great empathy in how they bumble from one experience to another in life.

This is best demonstrated in the character of family cousin Rita (Marisa Tomei), who stays with the family after running away from a rehab clinic. She’s clearly a frazzled mess, so totally lost in life that her desperate and delusional attempt to become a nurse is only going to end in failure. But the film treats her compassionately and for how all her flaws she has good soul and a confidant for Vivian. Wherever her life goes post-1976, you can’t help but wish her well.

The appearance of Alan Arkin as the hapless father is interesting in a context beyond the film itself. He had an excellent run in US cinema from roughly 1966 to 1980 as the ‘New Hollywood’ era of wanting challenging stories and real, unconventional characters created a culture where someone with his idiosyncratic, character-based talents could become a significant star.

But in the 1980s as Hollywood turned to special-effects, big-budget, bombastic films with even more bombastic personalities, Arkin’s talents fell out of favour and seemed that his career may drift away. But in the 1990s there was a revival of sorts of the independent, outsider, eccentric, lower-budget style of cinema and films like this were symbolic of that and that’s where Arkin prospered and he’s clearly having a great time with this role.

For all its strengths and appeal, ‘Slums Of Beverly Hills’ isn’t a perfect film. It’s shambling, non-narrative structure is one of its charms but can be a weakness as on occasion it feels rather shambling and messy. A section involving Murray’s interactions with a new love interest (a wasted Jessica Walter) goes nowhere, a segment where Vivian actually goes to a doctor to inquire about breast reduction surgery doesn’t convince on many levels and there’s a scene where an interaction between Murray and Rita that turns perverse that the film doesn’t really know how to handle.

Also, while it avoids most of the clichés of nostalgia films set in the 1970s, it does indulge a lot in the common one of showing TV footage from many popular shows of the day. Apparently there’s an unwritten rule in Hollywood that any film set in the 1970s has to have a scene where someone is watching Archie Bunker or Mannix.

Probably the film’s biggest issue is that it lacks that level of social penetration and insight that the best of ‘New Hollywood’ independent 1970s cinema had. It displays empathy and sympathy for the central family but the in-depth social detail that could make their plight more penetrating isn’t there. Instead it replaces this with a level of quirkiness (a common trait of modern US indy cinema), which is best illustrated by a supporting character’s seeming total fascination surrounding Charles Manson and his infamous murders; there’s even a scene where he takes Vivian & Rita to where apparently Manson and his ‘family’ committed their murders. It really doesn’t add much to the film.

But despite these issues, ‘Slums Of Beverly Hills’ is a fine film well worth seeking out. Jenkins has only made one film since then but does have another in the works; naturally as reflective of the late 2010s cinema, it’s being produced by Netflix.

AGEBOC IX – Week Four

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PiratesBaywatch

Predict the #1 film for the weekend of May 26-28th, 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 earns 2 extra points.

Deadline is Friday, May 26th at 12:00 pm (EST)

  1. What will Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales earn this weekend?
  2. What will Baywatch earn this weekend?

Current rankings:
Filmman – 7
Jackrabbit Slim – 17
James – 1
Joe – 5
Juan – 5
Marco – 1
Rob – 7

Opening in Las Vegas, May 19, 2017

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In the sixth Alien film (the first was 38 years ago!) Ridley Scott helms Alien: Covenant (66), which is both a sequel (to Prometheus) and a pre-quel (to Aliens 1-4). It’s getting good enough reviews that I think I’ll venture out. I’m surprised to realize I’ve seen all the Alien films in their original releases (even Alien 4, but that was because of Winona Ryder).

Everything, Everything (51) seems like a take on the old Boy in the Bubble movie (who else remembers Glynnis O’Connor?). Probably will do a lot of business on Friday nights with teen girls and then disappear into oblivion.

The Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul (41) is a reboot. It’s been five years since the last one (where has the time gone?) and the kids had to be replaced. My sixth-graders love these books, probably because they are written in a handwriting font and take about ten minutes to read. Needless to say, I’ve never seen one of these and hope never to.

Richard Gere is now playing old men (again, where has the time gone?) and his latest is Norman (76), which is subtitled “The Moderate Rise and Tragic Fall of a New York Fixer.” It’s hard to tell what this movie is about, and despite its decent reviews, the title and Gere seem to be pushing me away.

AGEBOC IX – Week Three

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Predict the #1 film for the weekend of May 19-21st, 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 earns 2 extra points.

Deadline is Friday, May 19th 12:00 pm (EST)

  1. What will Alien: Covenant earn this weekend?
  2. What will Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul earn this weekend?
  3. What will Everything, Everything earn this weekend?

Current rankings:

Filmman – 1

Jackrabbit Slim – 9

James – 1

Joe – 5

Juan – 1

Marco – 1

Rob – 7

Robert De Niro

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deniroRobert De Niro has been all over the place lately. Now 73 years old, he has been showing up for panel discussions on important anniversaries of his films (last year it was the 40th for Taxi Driver, this year it was the 45th for The Godfather, though he was the only cast member on the panel who was not in it, he was only in The Godfather, Part II). He received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Obama last year (that would not be a likely award from President Trump, whom De Niro said he wanted to punch in the face) and was this year’s recipient of The Film Society of Lincoln Center’s Chaplin Award (and thus is on the cover of this month’s Film Comment). He has already won the AFI Life Achievement Award, the Kennedy Center Honors, and the Golden Globes’ Cecil B. DeMille Award. He has won two Academy Awards, with a total of seven nominations.

Over on Go-Go-Rama in the coming weeks I’ll be having my own retrospective of his career, as I haven’t had a chance to write about many of his films. His career, as most cinephiles know, has had its up and downs. From 1973, when he burst on the scene in two films, Bang the Drum Slowly and Mean Streets, to the early ’80s, when he chalked up four Oscar nominations, he was part of the new Hollywood, a young firebrand, the heir to Brando (he even played the younger version of Brando’s Vito Corleone in The Godfather, Part II).

But then his career went into decline. He did make what I think is one of his greatest performances, King of Comedy, in 1983, but then took projects seemingly without reading the script. We get marginal stuff like Angel Heart, The Mission (it did get an Oscar nomination for Best Picture but he was miscast), True Confessions, and the turkey Falling in Love, with Meryl Streep. I liked Midnight Run and his amusing turn in The Untouchables, but We’re No Angels? Stanley and Iris? (I can still hear his plea to Jane Fonda–“Teach me how to read!”).

His career picked up, thanks to Scorsese again, with Goodfellas in 1990, though interestingly his role was the least flamboyant. He followed that with two more Oscar nominations: Awakenings, and the way-over-the-top Cape Fear (which has become iconic–if you hear somebody laughing way too loud in a movie theater, you will think of De Niro in that film).

Then he went into the wilderness awhile, with some good films, like Heat, Casino, and Wag the Dog, and some terrible ones, like The Fan. He worked a lot, probably too much to keep his legacy from streak marks. Some projects seemed promising–playing The Creature in Kenneth Branagh’s Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, a re-imagining of Great Expectations by Alfonso Cuaron, Quentin Tarantino’s Jackie Brown, but weren’t his best work.

It was in 1999 that De Niro made a jump to comedy. Nobody thought of him associated with comedy, but Billy Crystal invited him to play a mobster in Analyze This, and De Niro’s career changed, not entirely for the better. In the Film Comment interview, De Niro says that he was always been comfortable with comedy–his first two films, Hi Mom! and Greetings were both comedies, but after Mean Streets and Taxi Driver, and then Raging Bull especially, branded him as an intense dramatic actor.

Analyze This was okay, and Meet the Parents was okay, but there is no reckoning for The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle, Showtime with Eddie Murphy, or his latest outrage, Bad Grandpa.

Interspersed with those films has been good work in smaller films. David O. Russell seems to have made a mission of resurrecting De Niro’s good name with Silver Lining’s Playbook (his most recent Oscar nomination), American Hustle, and Joy. Other than those films, he has made an astounding 40 films this century, most of them forgettable. Will anybody remember The Intern? Hands of Stone? The Comedian? Killing Season? The Family? Being Flynn? De Niro seems to have succumbed to the inability to say no to any script that ends up in his in-box.

But De Niro, despite tarnishing his legacy with these films, is still one of America’s greatest actors. If he had stopped with, say, Wag the Dog, it would be almost unparalleled. He, along with Jack Nicholson, is the greatest American actor of the last quarter of the 20th century. His performances in Taxi Driver and Raging Bull will be remembered as long as we have movies. “You talkin’ to me?” (which he improvised) is one of the most iconic lines in film history.

What about De Niro made him so great? He’s hard to pinpoint. He’s a bit of a chameleon–his weight gain for Raging Bull is famous, he shaved his head into a mohawk for Taxi Driver, he seemed to look different in every film. He was not a matinée idol, but I’ve talked to women who find him very sexy. His rage and intensity are what he is best known for: the Russian roulette scene in The Deerhunter, his profane battles with Joe Pesci in Raging Bull, his baseball-bat wielding in The Untouchables, his psychopathy in Cape Fear (“Come out, come out, wherever you are”), his brutal stomping of a man in Goodfellas, but De Niro has also played roles that are quietly intense, such as Heat (I don’t believe he ever raises his voice in that role, he lets Pacino do the screaming), most of The Deerhunter, and young Vito in The Godfather, Part II, in which he builds his empire with little more than whispers.

It’s a shame that the phrase “a new Robert De Niro film” means almost nothing these days, compared to what it did forty years ago, but we’ve got the means to see this great stuff, anytime we want.

Please share your favorite De Niro role in the comments.

Review: Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2

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I had a great time at Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2. Sure, it’s not as fresh and original as the first film, but the formula–wisecracking heroes, a soundtrack of ’70s hits, and this time a baby tree–works like magic.

Second films sometimes work better because there is no origin story. The film opens with the Guardians, sort of heroes for hire, battling a large monster. This serves as the credits scene, and the battle is secondary to Baby Groot dancing to ELO’s “Mr. Blue Sky.” Baby Groot (if you don’t remember, Groot was killed in the first film but regrown in a pot) is for the kids in the audience. Adults will probably say they find him tiresome, but will probably be lying.

The Guardians go to get their pay from The Sovereigns, a people who have evolved into near perfection. Their queen (Elizabeth Debicki) looks like Charlize Theron after a bronzing. All looks good but Rocket Raccoon (voiced by Bradley Cooper) steals the batteries they were sent to rescue. The Sovereigns don’t like this and send a fleet of ships after them.

The plot only gets more complicated after that, but suffice it to say that Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) meets his biological father, Kurt Russell, who takes human form but is really a planet called Ego. Russell takes him to his world, which is a paradise. But we’ve seen enough of these movies to know that paradises never are what they seem.

Also involved is Michael Rooker as Pratt’s surrogate father, who is a Ravager, or a kind of scavenger/thief. He has been ousted by the greater group of Ravagers, led by Sylvester Stallone, of all people, for breaking the Ravager code. A post-credit sequence (one of five) indicates that Stallone will be back in a far greater role.

But the plot is secondary to the sheer fun of this film. While Baby Groot gets a lot “aws” and laughs (Rooker and Cooper try to get him to steal something, with hilariously futile attempts), I think Dave Bautista as Drax, the musclebound but slightly obtuse member, steals the show. He gets a lot of great lines. There is also the “unspoken” romance between Pratt and Zoe Saldana as Gamora. Pratt gets meta when he compares their relationship to Sam and Diane in Cheers. He might have used the relationship in Moonlighting, but remember that that show went straight downhill after Cybill Shepherd and Bruce Willis finally did it.

And of course there’s the soundtrack. In addition to “Mr. Blue Sky,” the moldy oldie “Brandy,” a one-hit wonder by Looking Glass, plays an actual part of the plot (Russell calls it the greatest composition in the history of music). and I never thought I’d see an action scene set to Glen Campbell’s “Southern Nights.”

If this film isn’t as good as the first one, I reply with a hearty, “So what?” It’s still better than almost any of the DC films. I think there’s one more movie in this franchise before it’s done, maybe two.

AGEBOC IX – Week Two

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Hey, we need a banner!

Predict the #1 film for the weekend of May 12-14th, 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 earns 2 extra points.

Deadline is Friday, May 12th 12:00 pm (EST)

  1. What will King Arthur: Legend of the Sword earn this weekend?
  2. What will Snatched earn this weekend?
  3. Will King Arthur: Legend of the Sword open ABOVE or BELOW the unadjusted opening weekend of 2004’s King Arthur ($15,193,907)? One point for a correct answer.

Current rankings:
Filmman
Jackrabbit Slim +2
James
Joe +4
Juan
Marco
Rob

AGEBOC IX – Week One

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Welcome back to AGEBOC! For the last nine years: the members of the Gone Elsewhere executive management team have been locked in a endless struggle to correctly guess what the latest superhero movie or cookie cutter Oscar bait film will earn in a particular weekend. It’s a lot of fun at times, but it also the game of the damned. If you’re an occasional reader of the site or somehow come across this page when searching for “Guardians of the Galaxy 2 spoilers”, “Zoe Saldana bikini” or “Chris Pratt workout”…we welcome you to join us.

Let’s get started.

Predict the #1 film for the weekend of May 5-7th, 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 earns 2 extra points.

Deadline is Friday, May 5th 12:00 pm (EST)

  1. What will Guardians of the Galaxy 2 earn this weekend?

Current rankings:
Brian
Filmman
Jackrabbit Slim
James
Joe
Juan
Marco
Nick
Rob