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.

Opening in Las Vegas, May 12, 2017

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Two high profile films, both seem like critical and box office disappointments.

I have waited and waited for a good King Arthur movie. I suppose the best is John Boorman’s Excalibur (technically speaking, the best movie with King Arthur is Monty Python and the Holy Grail), but since then has been shit like First Knight and King Arthur, which supposes that he was a Russian. There’s great stories out there, but few directors want to stick with it and turn it something else. So does Guy Ritchie in King Arthur: Legend of the Sword (41), which looks like the first big bomb of the summer. During an interview Kenneth Lonergan said he wanted to make a film of T.H. White’s The Once and Future King. Someone, please greenlight that.

Amy Schumer’s star is still on the rise, but her latest film, Snatched (46), could slow her down. Trainwreck was okay, but lacked the cuttinge edge of her TV show and stand-up act. It’s nice that she wanted to give Goldie Hawn a role, but the film isn’t impressing many.

Also this week is The Wall (57), a war film about two soldiers pinned down by Iraqi snipers. Stars Aaron-Taylor Johnson and directed by Doug Liman. Seems like a rental.

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

Opening in Las Vegas, May 5, 2017

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The only megaplex opening this weekend is Guardians of the Galaxy, Volume 2, (67), which is critic proof. Most seem to say it’s got the same stuff as the first film, but just not as original (well, duh). I’ll be there opening week, as I am part fanboy (but not all). Love the use of Sweet’s “Fox on the Run” in the trailer.

The only other film opening this weekend in Vegas is The Dinner (58), starring Steve Coogan. No, it’s not one of those films with Rob Bryden where they do impressions of Michael Caine, it’s a drama with Richard Gere and Laura Linney. I like Coogan immensely, but seeing him do an American accent in a dramatic film just takes everything I like about him away.

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

Review: The Circle

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I haven’t read Dave Eggers’ book, The Circle, but I’m guessing it’s a satire. If it’s anything like the script of the film adaptation, by James Ponsoldt, it would have to be, or otherwise it should have never been published. The problem is, Ponsoldt’s should have been satire. It is not.

The Circle is supposed to be some kind of warning about how social media is removing our privacy, and I must admit it worked a little bit–I wondered if I should just get off Facebook on the drive home, but I didn’t. Certainly there are privacy issues today. Most everything is on camera, and our information is bought and sold like Pokemon cards. But this film is so simplistic it plays like Paranoia for Dummies.

Emma Watson plays a cubicle drone (the first indication this film is wrong is that she works taking phone calls at the water company but doesn’t have a headset, she uses an actual phone) who through her friend gets an interview at The Circle, which is like Facebook, Google, etc. In her interview she’s asked “Joan Baez or Joan Crawford” and snaps back, “Joan Didion.” (This is what passes for intellectual banter, I guess). She gets the book and works in “Customer Experience.” The campus is like a huge playground, with yoga classes and volleyball courts–it’s a nice send-up of those big Silicon Valley companies (and reminds me of the job Homer Simpson gets that turns out to be with a James Bond villain).

This is all funny but then we are expected to think that there’s a total buy-in at the company. Watson takes the weekend to go kayaking alone in San Francisco Bay and goes to party at her parents’ house (her dad is Bill Paxton, his last role). She’s gently admonished that she didn’t attend any events at The Circle. She is encouraged to be part of a community, and doing things alone seems to be frowned upon. I’ve worked at companies like these, when everybody knows no one wants to have anything to do with work after quitting time except administration. It’s an introvert’s nightmare.

The CEO of The Circle is a Jobsian figure played by Tom Hanks, who thinks knowing everything is the ideal. He’s Big Brother in blue jeans, and his second-in-command is Patton Oswalt, who wears a suit but has the same idea. They want to have all information stored in the same place–The Circle–and the employees clap like seals at the notion.

After Watson has a kayaking accident but is saved by the use of drones, she is recruited to have her life put on display, wearing a camera and putting cameras in her residence (she seems to live on campus). So she is basically a willing Truman Show volunteer, and the whole film falls apart. We are led to believe Watson’s character is intelligent, but she suggests that voting be made mandatory and that people register and vote via The Circle, like a good little fascist. It’s only a tragedy that wakes her up, and we really don’t see the transformation.

The Circle would have been much better if it followed one of two directions–make it so over the top that it’s satire, or make it much more morally slippery, and seduce the audience like Watson is seduced. Instead, her character is made completely stupid while Hanks and Oswalt are obvious villains. The movie is a bowl of mush.

Films that opened in America on April 28-30, 2017

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How To Be A Latin Lover (imdb rating 6.0) – Comedy about a middle-aged playboy starring Eugenio Derbez, who is apparently hugely popular in his native Mexico. In one of her very rare film appearances of recent decades, Raquel Welch. Film looks broad and obvious with the usual modern ‘comedy’ clichés but it did well at the box office and may see Derbez become a global name in cinema comedy.

Baahubali 2: The Conclusion (9.2) – This Indian historical film made some waves over the weekend as its box office broke records for an Indian based film there and are perhaps a highlight of the growing value of non-English language cinema in an increasingly diverse and immigrant-based country.

The Circle (5.2) – A tech conspiracy thriller starring Emma Watson and Tom Hanks sounds like it has possibilities but the critical and IMDB reviews suggest this is a stinker. Watching the trailer, Hanks as a tech genius who does those solo talks in front of huge stages that Steve Jobs used to do just doesn’t convince. And the trailer makes the film seem small and amateurish.

Sleight (5.9) – Sundance entry from 2016 now getting a release about a street magician. Reviews are fairly lukewarm.

Battle Of Memories (7.0) – Chinese film with an intriguing premise that has echoes of the works of Christopher Nolan and Charlie Kaufman; in the near future a memory manipulation service sees a man caught inside a serial killer’s mind.

The Mayor (6.2) – South Korean film looking at the machinations of a battle for political power. I’ve seen these types of films by the bucketful from America & Britain but it would be interesting to see whether such a film from a different region tackles the subject in a unique way.

Natasha (6.9) Canadian romance made in 2015 gets an American release; 100% on RT

Buster’s Mal Heart (7.1) – Surrealist mystery film which going by the trailer (and indeed title) that feels like a typical American indy film, although this one does look interesting. That it’s fronted by the star of the popular Mr. Robot TV series means that all of the YouTube comments on the trailer clip reference the series.

One Week & A Day (7.0) – Israeli drama

Bang! The Bert Berns Story (7.6) – Doco on acclaimed 1960s pop music writer/producer who died very young 50 years ago. Currently 100% on RT.

Review: The Lost City of Z

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I wanted to see The Lost City of Z for two reasons: I love stories about explorers going into uncharted lands, and I read the book. The film, written and directed by James Gray from David Grann’s book, is a solid effort, but it’s like a dish that smells good but is missing an ingredient.

There had long been a legend among European explorers of South America about El Dorado, the city of gold. It was pretty much a fairy tale by the twentieth century, but a British officer, Percy Fawcett, hired by the Royal Geographical Society to settle a border dispute between Bolivia and Brazil, came to believe that somewhere deep in the jungle there was a lost civilization, which he called Z (Zed in the British). Over the course of three expeditions, he pushed farther into the Amazon, but never found it.

Gray is dutiful to the facts of the book, though Fawcett, played by Charlie Hunnam, really isn’t a character as much as a means to an end. Grann’s book spelled out more of his eccentricities, but here he’s just a guy on a mission. The only really interesting character is James Murray (Angus Macfadyen), a polar explorer who believes in Fawcett and joins him on his second mission, but does not fare well.

On Fawcett’s third expedition, over a decade after his previous one, his son (Tom Holland) joins him on the search for the lost civilization, but they disappeared and were never found.

All of this is what might be called a pretty good yarn, with indigenous people throwing spears and dangerous rivers and snakes and infected wounds (the book is full of descriptions of things that can kill you or make your life miserable) but there is a sense of incompleteneness, probably because Fawcett did not succeed and Gray can only guess at what happened to him (it’s one of the reasons I had a problem with Zodiac–a movie that doesn’t catch the killer is missing an ending). He was ahead of his time in believing that the so-called savages of Amazonia were not backward and capable of a civilization, and believe that women (including his wife, ably played by Sienna Miller) were intellectual equals.

The movie is more interesting than entertaining, and probably would have been served better as a Ken Burns-style documentary. In the book, Grann writes participatory journalism, as he covers some of the ground that Fawcett did, but this is completely cut from the film.

So, a near-miss for James Gray, who finally made a movie set outside New York. Maybe he was a little out of his depth.

Opening in the United States – Weekend of April 21st, 2017

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Free Fire: Ben Wheatley (Kill List, High Rise) comedy about a weapons deal gone bad. Brie Larson, Armie Hammer, Cillian Murphy and terrible movie sign Sharlto Copley star.  A24 is bizarrely going wide with this…good luck with that, folks. (A24, theatrical)

Unforgettable: Call me nuts, but this throwback erotic thriller (it looks like a Lifetime movie on steroids) starring Rosario Dawson and Katherine Heigl looks kind of fun.  That 30% RT score is not a deterrent.  Directorial debut of Denise Di Novi, who produced most of Tim Burton’s good films. (Warner Brothers, theatrical)

Made in China: Another DisneyNature animal documentary.  This one is about Giant Pandas.  Do they get a tax write-off for these? (Disney, theatrical)

Phoenix Forgotten: Ridley Scott-produced extraterrestrial horror picture. It’s found footage, like it’s 2011 or something! No name cast and behind-the-camera talent from a Z-grade distributor.  Why is this theatrical? (Freestyle Releasing, theatrical)

Tramps: I was excited when Netflix acquired Adam Leon’s (2012’s excellent Gimme the Loot) sophomore effort at TIFF last Fall.  Unfortunately, they’ve completely buried their own release with zero on-site or in-app promotion.  Heck, the trailer only dropped a week ago. Netflix still seems to struggle in some key areas, the marketing of their lower budget acquisitions being a big one.

Anyway, it’s at 100% on RT right now with 8 reviews in.  I’m going to say this is your best bet this weekend. (Netflix, streaming)

Sand Castle: Generic-looking Iraq war drama with Henry Cavill, Nicholas Hoult and Glen Powell.  Reviews are harsh. (Netflix, streaming)

The Lost City of Z: James Gray’s Amazon adventure film is scoring rave reviews, despite the cast of warning signs (Charlie Hunnam, Robert Pattinson) and how long it’s been sitting on the shelf.  Good luck finding this in a theater near you, fortunately it will be available free for Amazon Prime subscribers in the coming months. (Amazon, theatrical)

Opening in the United States – Weekend of April 14, 2017

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The Fate of The Furious: The 8th installment in the franchise just scored the largest global opening in film history.  Not bad for a series that nearly went DTV a decade ago.  I throughly enjoyed Fate of the Furious, although the behind-the-scenes drama is beginning to have a detrimental impact on the storytelling. Despite being co-leads, Vin Diesel and Dwayne Johnson do not share a moment of screen time together.  (Universal, theatrical)

Mystery Science Theater 3000: Lovers of bad cinema rejoice!  After an 18 year absence, the cult classic returns with 14 new episodes on Netflix.  Series creator Joel Hodgeson spearheaded the resurrected MST3K with comedian Jonah Ray taking over hosting duties. (Netflix, streaming)

Sandy Wexler: Adam Sandler stars as a Danny Rose-esque talent manager trying to make a living in 1990’s Los Angeles. Jennifer Hudson co-stars along with Sandler’s usual cast of characters (Kevin James, Chris Rock, David Spade, Rob Schneider, etc.) (Netflix, streaming)

Opening in Las Vegas, April 7, 2017

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Crap at the multiplexes, but in the art houses some interesting stuff. It can’t be a bad week when a new Werner Herzog movie comes out.

That film is Queen of the Desert (39), which unfortunately is getting bad reviews. It stars Nicole Kidman as Gertrude Bell, who was the female Lawrence of Arabia. Herzog has been mostly in the documentary field for quite a few years, and may have lost his touch on narrative filmmaking, but I would like to see this, perhaps on DVD.

The other interesting film that I would like to see someday is Your Name (79), an anime feature that has two high schoolers exchanging bodies. It’s not a Studio Ghibli film, but was a huge hit in Japan, becoming the fourth-highest grossing film in that country’s history.

Now for the crap. Of all the movies to remake, why Going in Style, a 1979 film starring George Burns. I suppose every thirty or forty years this film will be remade with a trio of codgers. This version (50) stars Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, and Alan Arkin, directed by Zach Braff. It seems to have standard old people humor, like the hilarity of an elderly person trying pot.

And for the kids and the parents who must suffer for them, there’s Smurfs: The Lost Village (40). Nothing more needs to be said.