Movie Review — “No No: A Dockumentary”

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Dock Ellis was a pitcher for the Pittsburgh Pirates, New York Yankees and other teams during baseball’s turbulent and flamboyant 1970s.
He won a World Series ring with the Pirates, famously served up an epic home run to Reggie Jackson at an All Star game and won “Comeback Player of the Year” in 1976.
And in 1970, he pitched a no hitter against the San Diego Padres while tripping on LSD. So yeah, he was a genuine character in an era of baseball characters.
“No No: A Dockumentary” captures the essence of this outspoken loud mouth, a self-styled Muhammad Ali of the Major Leagues, a free spirit who wondered, late in life, if he’d ever pitched a major league game stone cold sober. His theory? He hadn’t.
Jeff Radice’s documentary is built around interviews with teammates, his agents, relatives and ex-wives, as well as one late-life interview with Ellis himself. It tracks a baseball career that began in California and adventured through the South in the years not-far-removed from Jackie Robinson’s integration of the game, where minor league towns such as Kinston, N.C. or Salem, Va., had not quite dialed back the racism that Robinson had faced twenty years before. Ellis didn’t take that well.
“I was an angry black man,” he says.
When he got to Pittsburgh, he dressed like Superfly, the drug dealing pimp daddy of early ’70s cinema. He wore curlers to practice. And he took speed — “greenies” — before every pitching appearance. In those pre-drug testing days, “everybody” did it, everybody in the film says. “We were all hungover,” pitcher Steve Blass admits. It was a hard-drinking era where getting one’s focus back, once it was game time, was paramount.
But nobody took that as seriously as Ellis. A drinker and pot smoker since childhood, on game day he went out “high as a Georgia pine.” And he won.
The no hitter is the centerpiece of the film, detailing what he took and when, and how drugs played a role in securing his edge on the diamond. A winning pitcher is an intimidating one, and what could be more intimidating that a tall, hard-throwing pitcher with uncertain control?
“They knew I was high, but they didn’t know what I was high on!”
The amusing anecdotes pile up as Ellis took that intimidation to the next level. He once started a game against hated rivals, the strutting “Big Red Machine” Cincinnati Reds, by beaning every batter he faced. He didn’t win, didn’t finish the inning. But he sent a message.
Rival Reggie Jackson took a beanball to the face that knocked him out of a few games a few years later.
“He knew what he was doing,” one teammate says with a shrug.
We learn who Dock’s mentor was, Negro Leagues pitcher Chet Brewer, but we don’t hear a whisper about his relationship with the equally volatile New York Yankees manager Billy Martin after Dock was traded to them.
And while Ellis only made his LSD no hitter assertion after leaving the game, the footage of that outing, a sloppy (hit batsmen, etc.) “no no,” shows a guy hustling to cover first base on an infield ground ball and getting his sinker across the plate. Yes, Robin Williams is captured using the Ellis anecdote in his drug era stage age, but sportswriters at the game insisted Ellis was lying. None of them, if any are still living, were interviewed.
The third act of “A Dockumentary” sags under the weight of spousal abuse, rehab and his later years as a drug counselor and anti-drug public speaker. But Radice has delivered an engaging portrait of a loose cannon back when professional sports still produced such unfiltered creatures, a man who lived by his own rules, said what he thought and wore curlers to practice when he felt like it.
 DN02627
MPAA Rating: unrated, with profanity, accounts of substance and spousal abuse
Cast: Dock Ellis, Al Oliver, Dave Cash, Donald Hall
Credits: Directed by Jeff Radice . An Orchard release.
Running time: 1:40

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Movie Review: Too many laughs are lost in translation in “Cantinflas”

cantin

The iconic Mexican comic actor Cantinflas warrants a more amusing bio-pic than “Cantinflas” gives him. A historically interesting story is painted in broad, colorless strokes, alternating as it does between soap opera and slapstick.

And the comic stuff, built both on his Chaplinesque image and his wordplay, loses something in translation. If you don’t know the difference between Spanish and what one characters describes as “pure Mexican,” the slangy, catch-phrase-friendly patter that went along with the campesino (peasant) character that Mario Fortino Alfonso Moreno Reyes made famous, you’ll miss what few good jokes there are.

The movie is framed within the signature moment in the life of Cantinflas, efforts to cast him in 1956’s “Around the World in 80 Days,” the movie that much of the non-Spanish speaking world knows him for. Michael Imperioli plays Broadway impresario Michael Todd, who aimed to launch himself in Hollywood with “the most spectacular motion picture” the screen had ever seen.

But he was trying to build this spectacle on cameos, famous actors like Sinatra whom he’d talk into doing bit parts in this adaptation of the Jules Verne story, for free. And since Todd hadn’t yet talked anybody famous — Liz Taylor was his first pitch — into making the film, he needed “The Mexican Charlie Chaplin” more than Cantinflas needed him. And shockingly to Todd, Cantinflas was already a huge star, sophisticated to the ways of the business and not willing to work for nothing just because it was a Hollywood film.

We flash back to the days when the young, aspiring boxer Mario Moreno (Oscar Jaenada) got his first job with a tent show. He wasn’t much of a boxer, but put him in the ring and he’d make people laugh with his antic footwork. Maybe he’d be a better bullfighter. Nope. More laughs.

He wasn’t much for scripts. He loved improvising. And through improvisation, he found his “character,” nicknamed the”cantina fly” by a drunken heckler. Cantinflas was born.

The movie, in Spanish with English subtitles and English (in some scenes) with Spanish subtitles, suggests his place in the class warfare of 1940s Mexico, when even the actors’ union had been corrupted by the one-party state. He adopts ragged clothes, baggy pants, an undersized hat, a bandanna and two scraggly wisps of a mustache, playing the wise-cracking peasant that gets the best of the ruling class officials, society swells and others with his patter.

“What is your profession?” he’s asked, in one stage sketch.

“A way with words.”

Jaenada, who has played Pirates on Mexican TV and in a “Pirates of the Caribbean” movie, pretty much nails the comic, who appeared in 55 films over the course of a long career. He is funniest in the early slapstick comedy scenes, physical comedy always translates. But the movie around him is utterly conventional. Cantinflas marries a Russian dancer (Ilse Salas), they drift apart as it turns out they can’t have children, and he begins to womanize. She wants to have it out.

“I don’t know if I’m talking to you, or Cantinflas!”

Name two showbiz biographies that don’t have that cornball line in them. You can’t.

The film gets some pretty big things wrong. Yes, Charlie Chaplin (Julian Sedgwick) was a fan. He knew a Chaplin imitator when he saw one. But he’d been kicked out of the U.S. years before “Around the World in 80 Days” went into production and had nothing to do with Todd’s efforts to land Cantinflas. Yes, the film would have been nothing without Cantinflas as the comical servant Passepartoute.

No, Liz Taylor (Barbara Mori) did not have a Spanish accent, and the actor playing Marlon Brando at an awards show that may not be the Golden Globes would surely not have mispronounced fellow nominee Yul Brynner’s name.

But Jaenada and the film do a terrific job of placing the icon within his times, symbol to his class and his people, ground-breaker when it came to throwing his weight around in a Hollywood that still called Mexicans “greasers.” It’s a shame the script doesn’t capture more of the comic skills that made him that icon in the first place.

2stars1
MPAA Rating: PG for thematic elements, language, smoking and some suggestive material
Cast: Óscar Jaenada, Michael Imperioli, Ilse Salas
Credits: Directed by Sebastian del Amo, screenplay by Edui Tijerina, Sebastian del Amo. A Pantelion/Lionsgate release.
Running time: 1:46

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Labor Day Box Office: “Guardians” by a mile, “As Above” cracks top five, “Let’s Be Cops” hits $60

boxThe long Labor Day weekend may bring an inglorious end to a desultory summer at the box office. But “Guardians of the Galaxy,” which became the biggest grossing film of 2014 (passing “Captain America” sequel and “The Lego Movie”), has reason to celebrate.

Another weekend #1, total take by Monday night, @$21 million.

“Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” is #2, in every way. “If I Stay” is managing a take in the $9-10 million range.

“As Above, So Below” barely cracked the top five, clearing $8 million.

And “Let’s Be Cops,” which cost nothing, has few laughs and seems tone deaf to the times, is lingering in the top five and could hit $59-60, by last show Monday night.

Zowie.”

“The November Man” didn’t do enough business to suggest Pierce Brosnan has a new franchise on his hands. It finished at #6, and after opening Wed., still only will have $11 million in the bank Monday night.

“Cantinflas,” the 345 screen Pantelion Latin market release, should clear $3 million+ its first weekend.

“Sin City” died, “Ghostbusters” in limited release managed no better than $2.4, “When the Game Stands Tall” held enough audience to stay in the Top Ten — @$7 million.

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Today’s screening: “Cantinflas”

Pantelion Films is the Spanish language arm of Lionsgate, best known for distributing “Casa de Mi Padre, Will Ferrell’s Mexican vamp. With “Cantinflas,” they’ve picked up a bio-pic of the Mexican Charlie Chaplin, the great comic of the 1940s-60s best known in most of the world, for one role — Paspartout in “Around the World in ’80 Days.” That film came out 60 years ago, and much of America’s Hispanic population is not Mexican-American, so this wasn’t a no-brainer of a bio pic. Who remembers him?

Pantelion dropped the ball in pre-screening it. Or maybe they’re hiding it. But audiences are finding this limited release, and I’m headed to one of two area theaters showing it this AM to check it out.

 

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Box Office: “Guardians” wins final weekend, and the summer…the worst summer since ’97

boxMuch has been made about “Guardians of the Galaxy” failing to reach $300 million at the US box office this summer. But that’s merely a consequence of marketing. If it had opened a week earlier, it might have hit $300 by Labor Day. It would have been the only film this summer to manage that.

More important is it being the best of a bad lot this year, how it rallied a box office that was 20% below last year most of the summer, 30% below for July. The early May-Labor Day numbers are just short of $4 billion, WAY below the numbers from 2013. But it’s not as bad as it might have been, only a 15% drop off, rather than the 20-30% that seemed likely in July.

“Guardians” will win a weak Labor Day weekend with a $15-16 million take, based on Friday’s numbers. 

That will leave it in the $275 range. As I say, if it had opened a weekend earlier it could have hit $300. But tons of movies made $100 (“Edge of Tomorrow” cleared that mark Friday), more than a few made well over $200. So, a bad situation, not the end of the world. Yet.

“Turtles” and “If I Stay” are doing respectable numbers in second and third place.

The new release “As Above, So Below” is earning poor early marks from audiences, following bad reviews from critics, and will be lucky to open in the top five. “November Man” was wisely opened on Wed., as it, “Let’s Be Cops” and “As Above, So Below” are all in the $8-10 million range for the weekend, too close to call for top five standings, as of now. “November” will have earned $13 or so since Wed. by Monday night.

The unpreviewed “Cantinflas” biopic (great Mexican entertainer/film star of the ’50s) is doing very well on a small number of screens. I will have to find a theater showing here in La Florida as it looks to best “Sin City” this weekend. It’s not opened in Greater Orlando, apparently. “Sin City,” with a Mexican-American director, plummeted to 14th place this weekend. Biggest flop of the summer? Yup.

“Ghostbusters” re-opened in theaters, to a couple of million, tops, and “Chef” added enough theaters to finally clear $30 million.

The summer is finishing as it began, with a whimper — down 15% in the US from 2013, the worst showing since 1997. Ticket sales look even worse than the cash take.

Considering the overload of sequels, comic book adaptations and generally repetitious fare, Hollywood should take this as a wake up call. Several comedies flopped, only “22 Jump Street” performed.

But next summer’s “impressive” line up has even more comic book adaptations and sequels set up. Golly.

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Summer goes out with a whimper, a weekend full of newly-released dogs

nov“As Above, So Below” takes forever to go below. It takes even longer to attempt to be scary. A tale of catacombs and the creatures one might find down there, it’s mostly an “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade” or “”Angels and Demons” ripoff, with horror elements. Dull, claustrophobic, but the shaky camera style wears itself out with this one. It gave me a headache. Poor reviews for this last major release of the summer. Will it earn a dime? Hard to say. Box Office Guru figures $9 million. Maybe.
“The November Man” is Pierce Brosnan’ shot at reviving his Bond fortunes, a muddled spy thriller with some interesting elements but which wears its budget and cast-cheap-models as every scene’s extras. His co-star/rival, Luke Bracey, brings nothing to the movie. Olga Kurylenko shows some leg and a few others show some skin. Yeah, it’s that cynical.  It opened Wed. to poor reviews and won’t make more than a few million by Monday night, so all Pierce’s talk show chatter about a series of films is just that — talk.

“The Last of Robin Hood” is a limited release bio-drama about the last “love” of Errol Flynn’s life, an underage paramour played by Dakota Fanning. You see the problem right there. Kevin Kline is Flynn, Susan Sarandon is the mother who lets her daughter take up with an infamous movie star. But Fanning kills the movie. Kills it. Go to college, dear. Make something of yourself. Train to become Elle Fanning’s agent/manager.

The Elmore Leonard adaptation “Life of Crime” is earning mixed notices. A ’70s kidnapping dramedy, it stars Mos Def and John Hawkes as the reasonably clever kidnappers who bring in a doltish weak link to help kidnap Jennifer Aniston. She’s married to the brutish, crooked drunk played by Tim Robbins, who has run off to the Bahamas to be with his wily paramour (Isla Fisher). Decent casting, funny bits, it works well enough. Aniston is the movie’s weakest link, though. She just doesn’t have it, whatever “it” was in terms of something she can bring to the party.

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Movie Review: “As Above, So Below” is a real shaky-camera headache

aboveThey’re going to have to start issuing licenses to all these filmmakers who insist on shooting their movies in the shaky-cam “found footage” format. Maybe have the “Blair Witch” guys and Oren “Paranormal” Pelli sign those licenses. Because something needs to be done to limit this explosion of cell-cam/security cam/nanny cam and GoPro footage that’s dominating the Horror Hit Parade.

Those “Quarantine” and “Poughkeepsie Tapes” Minnesotans, the Dowdle Brothers, overuse and abuse hand-held cameras for “As Above, So Below,” a thriller about what might come after you in the Catacombs beneath Paris. It’s a modest marriage of “Indiana Jones” and “Da Vinci Code” archaeological puzzle solving with the denizens of “The Descent,” supernaturally attached, almost as an afterthought. And for all the paranoia that climbing through dark caves beneath Paris promises, the Dowdles insist on a headache-inducing orgy of bouncing, tumbling cameras to seal the deal.

In a “Last Crusade” prologue, “urban archaeologist Scarlett (Perdita Weeks) videos herself sneaking into Iran in an attempt to poke around some caves before the superstitious government blows up some priceless piece of human history.

Her Iranian contact warns her not to follow her late archaeologist dad’s footsteps.

“His quest was a path to madness.”

But she is nothing if not single-minded. She finds evidence of this “Philosopher’s Stone” talisman he was looking for, and surviving the demolition of the caves (shaky/dusty cam), sets out to Paris to finish his search for the alchemist’s ultimate prize — a magic rock.

She picks up a videographer who wants to make a documentary about her , Benjy (Edwin Hodge), her old translator pal George (Ben Feldman) and a trio of French spelunking punks, let by a guy who calls himself Papillion (butterfly), played by Francois Civil.

Scarlett puts on her best French weave see-through off-the-shoulder sweater, and they’re off, with Papillon leading them to the unknown corner of the ancient French burial chambers, where six million dead Frenchfolk are entombed.

“As Above” takes forever to go below, and once there, another long while passes before supernatural stuff starts troubling their trek. Papillon warns the bloody tourists, at every turn, to avoid passing through the wrong Catacombs.

“Which ones have filled with water? Which have collapsed? Which are EVIL?”

Scarlett an intrepid Brit, is heedless. George, afraid of caves and Benjy, not thrilled to be amongst all those bones. are dragged along by her force of will. And then its “This is WRONG” and “This is a BAD idea” as cadaverous faces are glimpsed and other inexplicable things happen, which they don’t stop to explicate.

The performances are perfunctory, the rising tide of fear they should all be feeling is limited to Benjy’s single claustrophobic panic attack. That’s the only compelling, human moment the players manage in all this.

It’s more unpleasant than scary, and ever so slow in getting up to speed. The Dowdles’ “Quarantine” was one of the better films of the “Found Footage” era. But they made that six years ago, long before this format had been beaten and shaken to death. With “So Below,” their license to jiggle, toss and turn the camera should be suspended.

1half-star

MPAA Rating: R for bloody violence/terror, and language throughout

Cast: Perdita Weeks, Ben Feldman, Edwin Hodge, François Civil

Credits: Directed by John Erick Dowdle, screenplay by Drew Dowdle and John Erick Dowdle. A ime: 1:33

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Tonight’s screening: “As Above So Below”

Well, they’re showing it after print deadlines, after the last minute and in some sort of effort to control the buzz “As Above So Below” generates.

Which generally means POS.

The trailer is reasonably compelling — pretty young British “urban archeologist” leads a youthful team into the catacombs of Paris, where TERROR strikes.

But again, studios never hide products they’re proud of by not previewing those products to critics and buzz-building audiences. And studios never roll out films they have high hopes for on Labor Day weekend. Never.

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Next Screening: ’50s-70s pop mirrored in the tale of “The Identical”

 

Blake Rayne is the ’50s rocker followed into his Elvis-on-the-toilet dotage in this period piece about rock, then and now. Ashley Judd, Ray Liotta and Seth Green also show up.

“The Identical” opens Sept. 5.

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Movie Review: Dakota Fanning, miscast again in “The Last of Robin Hood”

dakotarA Kevin Kline performance in a role he was born to play is pretty much wasted
in “The Last of Robin Hood,” a tepidly sordid account of screen swashbuckler
Errol Flynn’s last love affair with an underage girl, and his final days.
Co-written and directed by the “Quinceanera” team, and produced by famed
indie producer Christine Vachon (“Boys Don’t Cry”, “I’m Not There”), you’d
expect more from this tale of a transgressive romance, and its fallout, than
“Robin Hood” delivers.
What it becomes is yet another awkward, clumsily sexual Dakota Fanning
vehicle.
The film opens with the scandal at Flynn’s death, a humiliated girl (Fanning)
hounded by the tabloids, with a mother (Susan Sarandon) all too eager to tell
all.
He was “her first love,” Mom coos, “and his last.” Their affair was
“predestined.”
Beverly Aadland (Fanning) was a veteran child actress and aspiring chorine
when the 50ish Flynn eyed her on a studio lot in the late 1950s. He was smitten,
and she was hopeful he could help her career.
Not nearly as hopeful, it turns out, as her stage mother, Florence. When
Flynn wants to “rehearse” with Beverly, try her out for a play he’s to be in,
mom is all too eager to send her older-than-she-looks little girl “up to the
lodge.” That’s where the aging star of “The Adventures of Robin Hood,” “Captain
Blood” and a run of other action hits of a generation before gets the girl drunk
and seduces her.
Flynn plays up his plummy and posh screen accent to this “exquisite
creature,” all oily charm as he nicknames Beverly “Woodsie,” because she is like
a woodland nymph.
Beverly hides the statutory rape from her mother, and never looks more
girlish than when she strains to act older even as she weeps in humiliation.
Mother Flo has issues galore, which is used to explain the blind eye she
turns to what is happening to her only child. She “chaperones” dates and trips
to New York with Flynn and his “protegee.”
But Beverly falls for Flynn’s charm, his turtlenecks and ascots, the
post-coital quoting of Shakespeare.
“The desire is boundless, and the act a slave to limit!”
There’s a little spark to Kline’s performance, though one can feel judgement
sneaking in, here and there. His Flynn is all surface charm and studied excess.
He knows what it means to be “In Like Flynn,” and is never creepier than when
he’s fretting about keeping up appearances.
“I don’t want our lives turned from an A-picture into a B-movie.”
But that’s exactly what his life and career were in the later ’50s –
supporting parts, a dalliance with Castro in Cuba where he directed “Cuban Rebel
Girls” (starring Beverly Aadland). The one big revelation here has to do with a
film Flynn wanted to do with Stanley Kubrick (Max Casella, perfectly cast), a
huge break, had it happened.
Fanning’s Beverly seems like another over-reach in her efforts to transition
from child star to adulthood. She’s a dull performer. The camera never captures
any inner life.
The script makes the mistake of being desultory from the beginning, giving us
no highs followed by lows. Even Sarandon’s villainous mother is more glum than
hate-able.
The entire affair feels malnourished, under-rehearsed and starved of energy.
The couple was together on the set of John Huston’s “Roots of Heaven” in Africa,
but that all takes place off camera.
If co-writers/directors Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland filmed scenes
set there, how weak must they have been to warrant leaving them out, judging
from the listless footage that actually made the final cut of “The Last of Robin
Hood”?

1half-star
MPAA Rating: R for some sexuality and language
Cast: Kevin Kline, Dakota Fanning, Susan Sarandon
Credits: Written and directed by Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland. A
Samuel Goldwyn release.
Running time: 1:30

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