Opinions

The Flash CW

This was a big week for the small-screen spandex set. Three separate comic book series (Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D, The Flash, Arrow) wrapped for a long winter hiatus, and each mid-season finale dropped a bombshell with mass quantities of comic book significance. As well they should. TV superheroes shouldn’t be relegated to the small-fry stuff that characterized Agents in its early episodes (drawing on weighty comic lore like stuff left over from Iron Man 3, stuff left over from The Avengers and a little-known, little-cared for mutant named Scorch). Bigger is better, and comic staples like the Inhumans, The Reverse Flash and the Lazarus Pits are size XXXXXXL. But long are the days when you could make whatever Smallvilles or Blade: The Series and not worry about the larger ramifications. None of what we saw this week exists in a vacuum; even the CW’s output exists in the context of DC having two separate live-action expanded universes coexisting at the same time. So let’s examine how this week’s winter finales might effect the superhero films of tomorrow.

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Neighbors Movie

While we’re all covering Marvel vs DC like a novelty boxing match, and some are ogling Sony’s dirty laundry, Universal Pictures quietly did the most interesting thing possible this year. The studio that brought us Lucy and Neighbors is on track to make record profits without releasing a single traditional blockbuster. As Scott Mendelson at Forbes points out, none of their films cost more than $70m to make, and only two (of 15) cost more than $40m. There was no spandex, the franchise entries were low budget horror (and the return of both dumb and his friend dumber), and there were no minions. Yet, as if by magic, Universal netted more money than they ever have before. They’re assured to be out of the Top Three when it comes to gross this year, but if they get sad about that they have the ability to buy a lot of Kleenex. Even so, there’s one reason to consider them superior to other studios and one reason to shrug at their profits.

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Telltale Games

If you’re at all into this Game of Thrones thing, you might’ve heard rumblings of a Game of Thrones video game released this week. That, in itself, is nothing surprising. Only the peak of game franchises are rewarded with their own movies (and even then, those movies are almost exclusively crushing disappointments). On the other side of the curtain though, it seems like every movie from Mean Girls to The Penguins of Madagascar is given a cheap tie-in game that’ll just end up in a landfill somewhere. But Game of Thrones (or, to use its full, regal title, Game of Thrones: A Telltale Games Series, Episode 1: “Iron From Ice”) is, in fact, not crappy. It’s actually pretty great — not entirely a surprise, considering that Telltale Games was responsible for a previous The Walking Dead game that blew the doors off both the comic and the TV series of the same name. Also, HBO personally plucked away George R. R. Martin’s personal assistant, Ty Corey Franck, and handed him to Telltale as a story consultant just to keep things up to snuff. But is it worth it for those Game of Thrones aficionados that might not dig on video games? Is GoT:ATGS, E1: “IFI” a worthy companion during these long months away from the Seven Kingdoms? Well, let’s find out — and judge Game of Thrones: A Telltale Game Series not on its merits as a video game (that’s a job for Video Game School Rejects, and that site doesn’t […]

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Star Wars Boyega

Nostalgia is a powerful thing (don’t believe me? Ask Don Draper). If no one felt any pangs of remembrance for cool old movies where people shot proton torpedoes into thermal exhaust ports or giant lizards ruined a theme park test tour, nobody would have given last week’s Star Wars: The Force Awakens or Jurassic World trailers a second thought (also, if nobody was nostalgic for them, there wouldn’t be a The Force Awakens or a Jurassic World in the first place). But people love their Star Wars and their Jurassic Park, and so last week was an undeniably huge nostalgiafest. Yet in watching those trailers again (like everyone else, I’ve seen each a good five or six times), something sticks out. That sense of nostalgia — that all powerful, sequel-producing, Don Draper-forced-to-tears urge — seems to stem from one source above all others. The music.

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Babadook

There’s nothing scarier than being a parent. At first there’s the fear that the kid will be born okay, healthy. Then there’s the ongoing fear of physically harming them by accident, especially if you’re normally clumsy and especially especially if you let the idea of SIDS haunt your brain. And then there’s the continuing fear of psychologically damaging them or otherwise doing something unwittingly that will lead to the kid growing up to become a serial killer or worse. The potential to ruin your son or daughter is horrifying, and the worst is that such causation is not really provable and therefore, if even the fault of the parents, not easily preventable. It’s what drives the drama of We Need to Talk About Kevin, in which a mother thinks over her son’s upbringing in an attempt to consider the root of or recall possible signs of how and why he turned out to be a mass murderer. We Need to Talk About Kevin has been brought up in many reviews of The Babadook, a horror movie that similarly explores a mother and son relationship, only set in the moment rather than in flashbacks. And with the addition of a monster element, as the pair begin to be haunted by the title boogeyman originating from a mysterious children’s book. Before the Babadook even shows up in The Babadook, the movie is plenty scary for parents, particularly new ones, by depicting an extreme case of a child being terribly undisciplined and a mother at her wits end about […]

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The Cosby Show

Yesterday, Roxane Gay published a passionate, compelling and provocative piece on the recent rape accusations that have re-surfaced against Bill Cosby. In the piece, Gay recounts how meaningful The Cosby Show was to her as a child growing up in a black middle-class family, when she was unable to find representations of her world onscreen. She brings this up to demonstrate how Cosby, who has refused to even respond to the accusations except through a lawyer, is hiding behind the goodwill he has earned through his career. As a response, Gay has a clear and simple wish: “We have to demand that his show be taken off the air.” If she was referring to his upcoming show for NBC or his new Netflix comedy special, her words had an immediate impact: both were canceled within 24 hours. But it stands to reason she is also referring to reruns of The Cosby Show. After all, Cosby still gets paid royalties from his prior works, and Gay has asked her audience to “stop supporting any of his endeavors.” From Gay’s perspective, an artist who commits atrocities against his or her fellow man should have their work boycotted because “humanity is nothing compared to art.” It’s that last sentence – the final phrase of her entire article, in fact – that seems wrong to me. How can the concepts of humanity and art be separated? Isn’t art the place where we have conversations about our humanity and, in many cases, demonstrate it? In […]

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Aunt May

I’m not sure what to do with the report that Sony is going to make an Aunt May spin-off movie without Spider-Man (other than have another cup of coffee and call it bullshit). Da7e at Latino Review has a solid enough batting average when it comes to wildly early scoops, but this feels like the studio narrowed down the source of its leaks and fed some bad information to confirm (Venom musical! Spidey Babies! Aunt May Solo Adventure!). Apparently it was suspect #3. But if we take it seriously for a second, I want to look at it in a radical way — one that sees superhero movies as a means for studios to get back to making non-superhero movies. In the same way that Captain America: Winter Soldier was essentially a spy thriller with a sprinkling of super punching, and in the same way Gotham is a gangland police procedural with only the occasional death-by-balloon, an Aunt May movie could be an excellent portrait of a young woman who is decades away from raising a young man to swing through Uptown. She wouldn’t have to deal with a world where superheroes and supervillains stalked the streets, so she’d have to deal with all the usual, spandexless traumas of life.

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Nightcrawler Taxi Driver

Nightcrawler opened last week to strong admiration from critics (like this), but there was an unsettling note of uniformity in their praise. Most of the acclaim heaped on the film, as well as its lead performance by Jake Gyllenhaal, focused on a single point of reference: the 1970s. Critics favorably compared the film’s critique of the media to Network, while some described its lead character Lou Bloom as a prototypical New Hollywood anti-hero, some amalgam of Travis Bickle (Taxi Driver) and Rupert Pupkin (The King of Comedy). Preston Jones of the Fort-Worth Star Telegram called the film a “Taxi Driver for the TMZ age,” while Peter Howell of the Toronto Star suggested that director Dan Gilroy was “out for the contact high of that Mean Streets vibe,” and those are only two on a large pile of comparisons. But Nightcrawler isn’t alone in age-evoking responses. These days, simply referencing the ‘70s in a review is a way to signify a film’s excellence. Nobody ever writes, “The movie was so terrible it could have come out in the 1970s.” Instead, we romanticize that era as the best cinema ever had to offer and hold it up as a standard to which modern-day studios, with their perceived cookie-cutter, test-driven approach to mainstream filmmaking, can only aspire. But is that really true? Or are the films being made today of equal – and in some cases, better – quality than those of the past?

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Captain Marvel

Getting swept up in a mass wave of superhero movie hype is extremely fun and everyone should do it. To that point, we at FSR have done just that — note the many “Is Marvel Doing This? Will Marvel Do That?” think pieces borne of last week’s Marvel Studios Phase Three party. But there’s an angle to this great Internet Hype Train that seems a tad off-message. Specifically that, with Black Panther and Captain Marvel, Marvel Studios has become a glimmering beacon of superhero diversity, now and forever. Obviously, Black Panther and Captain Marvel are paragons of the non-white, non-male superhero set, and Marvel deserves applause just as DC does for expanding its film slate to include actors and characters that offer a wider representation of the population that’s actually going to see these movies (and, in much smaller numbers, reading the comics). Except the general response has painted Black Panther as Captain Marvel as the first steps towards a broader, more inclusive Marvel Universe. Emphasis on “first.” Please peruse the headlines below, at your leisure.

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Inception

You’ve probably already spotted the Esquire UK post called “Films Stupid People Think Are Clever” where the likes of Christopher Nolan and David Fincher are given the shortest end of the stick. It’s a worthless article that represents the easiest kind of contrarianism: People like these things? Let’s say we don’t like them, but not really explain why. Now, I’m a reasonable un-stupid person by all the traditional rubrics. My IQ is three digits, my SAT score was four, and I’m probably one (maybe two) practice sessions away from being able to walk and chew gum simultaneously. I’ve read books like “The Unbearable Lightness of Being” and “Love in the Time of Cholera,” and I think I’ve understood them. They’re about girls, right? Just kidding. I’m also smart enough to recognize that Esquire’s trolling traffic-magnet doesn’t deserve a response. Or at least not an angry one. The thing is, I’m dumb enough to take any opportunity to rethink why I see films like The Shawshank Redemption and American Beauty as fantastically intelligent (even clever). Contrarianism, even the lazy kind, can be good if we use it to challenge ourselves in the right way. If it’s a chance to examine why I’m stupid enough to appreciate these movies, count me in.

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Wes Craven

“Every kid knows who Freddy is. He’s like Santa Claus or King Kong.” – Heather Langenkamp in Wes Craven’s New Nightmare. In a film full of truthful observations, that line always struck me as the truest, or at least the most relevant to my own relationship with Freddy Krueger and the Nightmare on Elm Street film series. I was four when the original came out in 1984, so I was too young to experience that film or most of the first few sequels on their first release. As I grew up, my awareness of Freddy came from what seeped into popular culture. As best as I can remember, my introduction was either a kid in my 4th grade class wearing a Freddy mask for Halloween, or possibly an ad for the costume in a comic book. So “my” Freddy was less the disturbing child murderer whom Wes Craven created for what probably felt like a standalone film, and more the watered-down pop icon. Less a psychological threat, and more of a catchphrase-spewing gimmick killer. It’s the difference between how the shark from Jaws plays on screen, and experiencing him on the Universal Studios tram tour. As a result, Freddy never scared me as a kid, nor did I have any desire to see the movies. I knew that they came out every year or two and I assumed all of the movies were stupid slasher films, in which, I saw no appeal. I remember seeing a trailer for Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare in 1991 and thinking it looked incredibly awful. Good riddance. Then came 1994 and […]

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The Awful Truth Movie

Gone Girl is a cynical movie. No doubt. It features two sociopaths working out their deeply troubled marital issues in the public eye with just the right amount of bloodshed. Yet in more than a few ways, it could be an unofficial remake of The Awful Truth, Leo McCarey’s 1937 screwball comedy where two assholes realize that they want to stay married. The movie opens with Jerry Warriner (Cary Grant, naturally) lying to his wife about a trip to Florida (complete with sunlamp sessions at the gym and fake letters). When his wife Lucy (Irene Dunne) returns home later than expected, and with her debonair singing instructor in tow, Jerry can’t believe her story of a broken down vehicle. He’s furious. She finds out he was lying about visiting the Sunshine State, and mutual divorce proceedings commence. They both want to keep the dog. The rest of the film involves Lucy’s engagement to the folksy Dan (Ralph Bellamy, naturally), more lies, insinuations of social impropriety, Jerry’s engagement to the high class Barbara Vance (Molly Lamont), the intentional destruction of relationships and an automobile, and a metric ton of snide conversations spat between Jerry and Lucy’s smiling faces.

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Miles Teller and JK Simmons in Whiplash

Who would have thought the most brutal film of the year would be about jazz? Andrew (Miles Teller), the protagonist of Whiplash, is a first-year jazz drumming prodigy who possesses the talent to be one of the greats but not the work ethic. When he finally meets someone who can train him to be the best, it is both a blessing and a curse. He makes it into the elite “studio” band led by Fletcher (J.K. Simmons), a legendary teacher and conductor, and Andrew’s confidence at having made the group is immediately and brutally ripped apart. Fletcher abuses him in every way imaginable: he slaps him repeatedly, screams ethnic slurs, and even throws a cymbal at his head. Why are such stringent teaching methods necessary? It’s all part of Fletcher’s teaching philosophy: “The two most destructive words in the English language,” he tells Andrew late in the film, “are ‘good job’.” Still, Fletcher’s abuse is nothing compared to what Andrew does to himself: practicing until his hands bleed, pushing his muscles to the brink of collapse, and running away from a violent car crash in order to be on time for an important band competition. This is not a simple case of a teacher abusing his student; Andrew wants to be great just as badly as Fletcher wants him to be, and both of them have bought into a system of physical punishment to achieve that goal. Does any of this sound familiar? Many films have utilized the dynamic of a […]

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The Diamond Arm

Nobody loves Russian movies, even Russians themselves. Their films are very long, very slow, black & white or monochromatic. They are crowded by intellectual talk and lack plot, characters or any kind of entertainment. This is common knowledge and, of course, it’s not true. We, the Russians, love our cinema – although the majority of us don’t know about Tarkovsky of Zviagintsev. Moreover, we – surprise! – love movies with an intense plot, powerful characters and funny jokes as much as any audience. So, I would like to introduce you to fifteen great Russian movies you don’t know (if you are not Russian film fans or a Slavic Studies professor). To shake things up, there are no films on this list from the most well-known Russian film directors: Sergey Eizenshtein (Battleship Potemkin, 1925), Andrei Tarkovsky (Stalker, 1979) or Nikita Mikhalkov (Burnt by the Sun, 1994). I also tried to avoid very slow and very long monochromatic films – although there are a few great movies of this type. I chose the Russian Westerns, the war flicks, the comedies and the criminal films – the movies you would like even if you find Tolstoy and Dostoevsky wordy and boring.

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Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike in Gone Girl

Spoilers for Gone Girl follow. Yes, I get the irony of that. Why do I need a spoiler warning when I’m about to argue that we’re currently enjoying an age without twists? Because I’ve been a ghost this whole time. But, seriously, that’s the kind of twist I want to examine for a moment. The Shyamalan Twist. The Turns-Out-It-Was-Man Twist. The kind of twist that makes you rethink everything that came before it. This is exactly the kind of plot twist that Gone Girl and a handful of other recent movies don’t have. That’s not a qualitatively good or bad thing, but it’s fascinating to see cinema toy — or in some cases move beyond — what has become an overly familiar formula. Executing a thrilling twist is near impossible (just ask Shyamalan, whose batting average has dropped over the years as a direct result of becoming known for twists), and it became even harder as we became savvier to the patterns. We’d watch the signposts and think, “They’re all in that guy’s mind,” or “They’re the real ghosts,” or “Ape-raham Lincoln is probably gonna show up later.”

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Twin Peaks

Twin Peaks is returning. After years of teasing, and vague hints like “that gum you like is going to come back in style” being tweeted at the same time that Kyle Maclachlan’s Agent Dale Cooper first entered Twin Peaks long ago, show creators David Lynch and Mark Frost confirmed that the acclaimed series will return for a 9-episode limited run on Showtime in 2016. The announcement was met with a cacophony of excitement. This is the news diehard fans have been anticipating for years, and it comes on the heels of a Blu-ray release that finally sates desires for the long-awaited but never released deleted scenes rumored about for over a decade. But like any news of this nature, the bulletin was also met with a healthy dose of snark. Most people would love a return to Twin Peaks at its best. It’s one of the most influential shows of all time, one that hasn’t aged into oblivion. But can it measure up? There are tons of reasons to be cautious. The show became a big old mess in its second season before being cancelled. David Lynch has a terrible track record when it comes to the TV Powers That Be embracing his vision (see: Mulholland Drive). Hollywood is thoroughly entrenched in a remake culture that misses more often than it hits the mark. Finally, servicing fervent fan bases has proven to be a tedious exercise in the familiar this year, between the fan-funded Veronica Mars and Wish You Were Here. We […]

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x2-classroom

Marvel didn’t create the first expanded universe. That very term was earlier most associated with Star Wars, for instance, although now that stuff is no longer canon so it barely counts. Way before that were the Universal Monsters, which were initially independent of one another but then wound up mashed into a shared continuity with various team-ups in the 1940s (which is why it’s strange the new Universal Monsters mega-franchise is often talked about as if it’s copying the MCU). And there was (and still is) the Star Trek franchise. There have been no simultaneous parallel series going on in movie form the way Marvel has, but like the MCU, Star Trek has had continuity between movies and TV series. The original series begat the first movies, then The Next Generation spun off and eventually begat more movies that were linked to the prior movies, and now there are the rebooted movies, which also link back to the original series and movies. Now rumor has it that the X-Men franchise is expanding out further than its spin-offs and uncanny looping prequel/sequel/sidequel installments to include a new TV series for Fox. One would be quick to compare the move to what Marvel has done with Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (and other forthcoming titles on ABC and Netflix), but that would be a huge shame if the idea was similarly to just follow lesser (maybe non-super) characters in the franchise universe — though it would be neat to see a Morlocks series, or better yet a Mojoverse show.

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Michelle Yeoh in Crouching Tiger 2

“These are two different experiences, like going to a football game and watching a football game on TV.” Nope. There is no analogy that’s more annoying than the one above, this time spoken by Netflix‘s chief content officer, Ted Sarandos. Watching a movie at home is slightly like watching a live sporting event on TV, but going to the movies is nothing like going to a live sporting event, whatsoever. Not even the most lively, infectious, communally synched audience at a movie theater is a fraction of that of a football stadium crowd. And there’s nothing relating moviegoing to the excitement of being there on game day and being part of a unique moment that isn’t replicable. I can say this as someone who loves the theatrical movie experience and pretty much never goes to football games. If there is anything remotely close, it’d be the difference between attending the world premiere of Veronica Mars at SXSW, with the cast and director present on stage, and seeing the movie at home via VOD. Sarandos was of course making the analogy, as it’s often made, in defense of day-and-date releases, claiming that a video-on-demand option of a movie simultaneous to its theatrical opening isn’t any more of an issue than a TV network broadcasting NFL games as they’re happening. This time it’s because Netflix itself has announced its first day-and-date release, for the sequel Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: The Green Legend. The movie will be available for subscribers to stream on its release […]

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Neil Armstrong Portrayed in Transformers 3

Among the criticisms I’ve seen of Gotham, the new Fox series set in a pre-Batman Gotham City, is that it opens with an event we’ve already seen too many times on TV and in movies — the murder of Bruce Wayne’s parents, complete with pearls flying about in slow motion. But it’s an iconic scene, isn’t it? That starting point to the origin of the Caped Crusader is almost as much a part of pop culture as the Apollo 11 Moon landing. And the latter has been been replicated on screen a lot more times. I guess the fictional event could be reworked, though, even if it might upset some fans. The Moon landing, though it’s often shown to be a hoax of some kind or another, is for the most part an unchangeable scene. That’s why it’s more remarkable that nobody seems to get tired of it. “They could make a thousand movies about the Apollo space missions and I would be right there on opening night for every single one of them,” wrote FSR publisher Neil Miller more than six years ago, when a Neil Armstrong biopic was announced at Universal with Nicole Perlman (Guardians of the Galaxy) scripting the film based on James R. Hansen’s book “First Man.” Now, according to The Hollywood Reporter, the project has resurfaced at the studio with Whiplash filmmaker Damien Chazelle likely to helm from an adapted screenplay by Josh Singer (The Fifth Estate). In the time between our first hearing about the biopic and now, Armstrong […]

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Batmobile in Batman vs Superman

The movies of director Zack Snyder are about as polarizing as any studio filmmaker’s, so when he tweeted out a picture of the new Batmobile from Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, we can assume he was prepared for some criticism. Fans complained about a particular aspect of the vehicle that does not conform to the version seen in the comics: the guns. This new Batmobile is front-loaded with weapons that would not look out of place in an American military vehicle. It’s a concerning decision, especially since Batman’s code of ethics precludes him from intentionally killing people. But the real problem is that it shows how little Snyder has learned from the mistakes of Man of Steel. We all remember the outcry from fans when Snyder had Superman kill General Zod in that movie’s climax, and it appears that Snyder is doubling down on the violence, despite that criticism. But it is unfair to lay all this at Snyder’s feet. There has been an increasing militarization of our superheroes afoot for decades, and Snyder is only continuing that tradition. In the Marvel world, superheroes perpetually exist in a military milieu. Tony Stark is a reformed defense contractor, while The Avengers was essentially about a Special Forces unit that prevented another 9/11.

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published: 12.19.2014
A-
published: 12.18.2014
C-
published: 12.17.2014
B+


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