Opinions

Dune Movie

Anyone who knows David Lynch’s work is familiar with his penchant for messing with the audience. One only has to look at how he ended his popular series Twin Peaks, or pretty much any part of the mind-bending Eraserhead, to realize this. Even though in the early 1980s, Lynch had been courted as a potential director for some major films (including Return of the Jedi… wouldn’t you have liked to see the Ewoks in that version?), he had his big studio break with the adaptation of Frank Herbert’s Dune. While it was a commercial and critical failure, Dune also represents Lynch’s subversive filmmaking nature, more than some people even realize. At the time, Hollywood was looking for the next Star Wars, much like how they are furiously searching for the next Hunger Games now with films like Divergent and The Maze Runner. Dune had been in development since the early 1970s, and it finally got off the ground with Lynch at the helm. Lynch was a bold choice for the film, considering he was handed a massive potential franchise when he was known for more intimate and often obscure and surreal personal films. Ultimately, Lynch made a film that ensured a sequel was impossible, and that was a brilliant though almost career-ending move.

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Ray-Kurzweil-in-Transcendent-Man

I have not seen Transcendence, but the critical buzz is not good at all. Cinematographer Wally Pfister’s directorial debut, headlined by Johnny Depp playing a scientist specializing in AI, follows that scientist as he gets his brain uploaded into a computer and begins to leave his humanity behind. While it’s a thoroughly sci-fi concept, there are some who believe that such scenarios will in fact be possible one day — and that that day may be sooner than you think. The chief proselytizer of such ideas is Ray Kurzweil, one of the most famous futurists in the world. He’s made a fortune off of multiple patents, and he doesn’t like the idea that he’ll die someday. Which is fair enough, as most people harbor the same feeling. But unlike most people, he’s serious about beating death. He consumes over 200 pills a day to regulate his body, claiming to have beaten diabetes through this regimen. But that’s just a stalling tactic until science brings us to “the singularity.” Kurzweil has proposed “The Law of Accelerating Returns.” The rate of change in evolutionary systems, he argues, increases exponentially as time goes on. It took a billion years for single-celled organisms to develop from the elements, but “only” 10 million for more complex life forms to come about. In the past century, humankind has seen more technological progress than in most of our previous history. READ MORE AT NONFICS

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Nicole Kidman in Birth

It’s a little too early to be celebrating the 10th anniversary of Birth, a movie where “10 years later” has significance, but I’d like to get started on paying commemorative tribute to Jonathan Glazer‘s 2004 masterpiece for a few reasons. Each of these reasons is actually a new movie with some relevance to Birth, and while that makes it sound like the earlier movie is something so ahead of its time that it fits better among the output of 2014, the pertinence is mostly a coincidence. The first reason/movie, however, is rather obvious. Glazer’s first feature since Birth is currently in theaters, and it couldn’t be any more worth the wait. Outside of both movies beginning with a kind of natal moment for a main character and the way they could be aesthetically connected, reverse-sequentially, through snow-filled settings, there’s little similarity between the movies. The new one, Under the Skin, is about an alien disguised as a human woman (Scarlett Johansson) who predatorily lures men into a trap. Birth is about a little boy (Cameron Bright) who claims to be the reincarnation of the husband of a wealthy widow (Nicole Kidman). Her family thinks it’s all a ruse, maybe to predatorily lure the woman into some sort of financial trap.

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Mirror Trick in Poltergeist 3

“Carol Anne! Carol Anne! Bruce! Bruce! Patricia! Patricia! Carol Anne! Bruce!” One of the funniest episodes of Siskel & Ebert features their dialogue-mocking review of Poltergeist III, which is one of my all-time biggest guilty pleasures. I love the way Gene chimes in when Roger says he hopes the residents of the John Hancock Center got free tickets (“I hope they didn’t.”). It’s a silly take on a ridiculous movie, the second sequel to what I believe to be one of the greatest horror films ever made. My esteem for the first Poltergeist is not why I’ve always had a soft spot for Poltergeist III. I hated Poltergeist II: The Other Side as a kid, yet I latched onto the next installment with immense fascination and fear. Partly it was the state-of-the-art skyscraper setting, which my 11-year-old self believed to be an inspired choice (the 13-year-old me would go on to accept Gremlins 2: The New Batch as a better use of such a location). Mostly, though, it’s always been the creepy mirror tricks that make me an unapologetic fan. The magic of the looking glass and reflections in general have been of interest to storytellers for millennia, especially for the way they provoke an idea of another, near-identical universe visible and approachable through a kind of window or portal. Sometimes there’s wonder to the idea, as in Lewis Carroll’s stories of Alice, but more often it seems to be the stuff of horror, especially on the big screen. Yet another scary movie […]

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Agents of SHIELD Turn Turn Turn

Using an iPhone for the first time required twenty minutes that felt like a full day of setting up, retrieving and resetting passwords in order to order a pizza. Downloading Angry Birds, not to mention calling anyone, meant connecting one device to four others. There are benefits  to that interconnectivity. No doubt. It’s also about stickiness — once someone is plugged into more than one product or service, it makes it a lot harder for them to change horses. That’s why your bank forces you to have a savings account and debit card in order to get a checking account. In the midst of praising Marvel for creating an expansive movie universe that weaves small details into itself and has now injected latex into a weekly television presence, the potential negatives of its interconnectivity have flown under the radar. All the positives are still there — it creates a great sense of community, rewards fans for being invested and is responsible for 1000% more people using the phrase “easter egg” — but the stickiness of it also threatens non-obsessive viewers with gaps in plot understanding. That’s why seeing the headline “How Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is Now Setting Up Avengers: Age of Ultron” gave me flashbacks to screwing up my iPhone registration.

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Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves VHS

The best thing that Santa Claus ever brought me was a VHS copy of Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. I remember ripping off the wrapping and yelling out in excitement, pausing just long enough to let my mother snap a quick picture. Robin Hood was simply the coolest. The movie had lots of really neat sword fights, and every now and again, Kevin Costner would shoot an arrow at someone. I had spent years watching “grown-up” movies in my grandparents’ basement while the adults chatted upstairs and now, due to the magic of VHS, I finally had a “grown-up” movie of my very own. Life was pretty damn good for an eight-year-old boy. Needless to say, I was a pretty stupid kid.

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Black Widow in Captain America The Winter Soldier

For a while now, a storm’s been building. Comic book movie fans are wondering why we have yet to see a female-lead superhero film despite being in the middle of a boom of comic book movies that show virtually every other kind of superhero film getting made. The knee-jerk answer is “sexism,” but I think it’s more complicated than that. We might not have gotten a Wonder Woman movie yet, but you also have to remember that Warners has thus far balked on films about the Flash, the Justice League, and took forever to decide if it was going to do a sequel to Bryan Singer’s Superman Returns. All three of those projects spent a lot of time in development before being abandoned. (Though all signs are that Warners is moving forward on a different Justice League project at some point soon.) Since Marvel has put out a lot more product over the last several years, it’s harder to give them the same excuse. Thus far, Marvel Studios’ films have only featured one female superhero – Black Widow. With appearances in Iron Man 2, The Avengers and Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Scarlett Johansson’s depiction of the character has become quite popular. While she’s not the only Avenger to miss out on a solo shot (Hawkeye being the other one), you don’t have to go too far on the internet to find fans taking umbrage that Black Widow is “only a sidekick” in the Captain America sequel. However, if the choice was between having Black Widow in The Winter Soldier and having her in a solo film, […]

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Black Widow in Captain America 2

Tony Stark and Pepper Potts. Thor and Jane Foster. Steve Rogers and…? Who is the significant other of Captain America? The fact that I can ask that question is one of the greatest strengths of Captain America: The Winter Soldier.

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A Clockwork Orange

“Have you seen it yet?” It’s a question I find myself thinking a lot (and occasionally writing with the Caps Lock off) whenever I read through comment sections on this and other sites. It obviously crops up most with early movie reviews and comments that are a a pleasant blend of Especially Vitriolic and Devoid of Details, and until now it was a vague annoyance that seemed slightly beyond definition. Then last night while recording the forthcoming episode of Broken Projector, Geoff mentioned that he recently watched a movie he knew he he wouldn’t like in order to “hate it properly.” Lightning struck. The Childlike Empress was named.

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true romance movie theater scene

Among the many complaints moviegoers (and also those who no longer movie-go) have about the theatrical experience, the expense involved is consistently near the top of the list. Some of that has to do with other ancillary costs like gas and babysitters while the concession racket is also substantial, but the price of tickets, which is the one thing you have to pay to get in the door of the auditorium, is something that people always seem to have a problem with. They’ll pay it, but they’ll let you hear about it if you’re working the box office on a Friday night. Even though I don’t have to pay for most of the movies I see (one of the perks of this job), I have to admit the price is pretty steep considering the gamble these days — not just regarding the quality of the feature but also the quality of your fellow audience members. I’ve always thought the idea of lowering prices or at least offering discount tickets is a good solution for movie theaters wanting to attract more customers, particularly on weeknights. It’s not an out of nowhere concept. Many chains have deals where you get cheaper tickets by buying them in bulk (often these are in turn sold cheaply to students or employees of large local companies), and others have tried designating a special night of the week (Tuesday is common) to either charge less for admission or do a two-for-one deal. Unfortunately, the discount tickets aren’t usually accepted […]

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The Sixth Sense

“The Next Spielberg” was the kind of light M. Night Shyamalan was once seen in. His first big break, The Sixth Sense, was a global phenomenon, so you can see where that too-easy comparison came from. All of his films that followed were sold as “the next film from M. Night Shyamalan.” He quickly became a brand, and once he realized it, it killed his creativity. That’s the impression you get from reading Michael Bamberger’s “The Man Who Heard Voices: Or, How M. Night Shyamalan Risked His Career on a Fairy Tale” — the book which detailed the making of The Lady in the Water, Shyamalan’s first real stinker. I say it’s his first serious bust because The Village wasn’t an out-and-out failure. With William Hurt’s performance, Roger Deakins’ bold cinematography and James Newton Howard’s score, it had a lot going for it, including foreshadowing for Shyamalan’s fall. It’s the movie that made Disney question their golden goose’s talents. Disney President Nina Jacobson was not a fan of that gotchya ending, and even though The Village made over $250M worldwide, Jacobson felt it would’ve done even better with a less, shall we say, flat out ridiculous resolution. She thought it betrayed the audience, and she was right. It was also indicative of a larger creative problem. That twist showed Shyamalan saw himself as above genre. He couldn’t have simply made a monster movie. It’s as if that was just too simplistic for the man who would be the next Spielberg. He wanted that movie to mean something. The […]

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peter-sellers-pink-panther

We all have one or two — filmmakers and actors who we just can’t get behind no matter how much acclaim they receive. Sometimes it’s just a matter of taste. You either love Wes Anderson’s style or you don’t. You either enjoy Tom Cruise’s charisma or you don’t. Other times it’s actually a matter of objective criticism, a certainty that the person is no good, and that’s the kind that can be very difficult to admit if most of the intelligent world considers the director or performer to be a genius. That’s also the kind of argument that can upset friendships, as I’ve known one critic to confess of regarding his stance on Stanley Kubrick — a stance he is not yet brave enough to put onto a public forum. After all, commenters can be so cruel. So can academic peers. My confession for today is relevant to the Kubrick one. I want to admit that I don’t like Peter Sellers. I never have. But it’s not enough anymore to admit that as a matter of opinion. I now believe that Sellers was in fact not a good actor, nor a good comedian. That’s not to say he wasn’t funny. He makes people laugh, so that’s irrefutable. Sense of humor is one thing, though, and talent is another. I can’t say that I’ve seen everything he was in, but how comprehensive a study must I make to find the exception? I’ve given him a chance over and over. I watched […]

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captain america winter soldier 07

One of the issues Marvel’s Kevin Feige has admitted to being concerned about over the last few years is possible superhero movie overkill. As the Marvel Cinematic Universe grows, there’s potential for audiences to get tired of not just that multi-series franchise but with the whole genre. We’re already at a point where most tentpole blockbusters are comic book adaptations, and as long as they keep proving to be the safest bets, that number may keep increasing. And now it’s not even limited to the summer and holiday seasons. Captain America: Winter Soldier is opening on April 4th, and that’s too early to even make the usual “summer starts early this year” comment. Eventually we’ll have major superhero movies debuting in the usual dead months of January and September. This week’s Marvel Studios TV special, Assembling a Universe, might not have helped matters as far as not overwhelming the audience. It packaged the MCU’s past, present and future in a way that didn’t make the properties look all that distinct or independent, in spite of Feige stating on screen his idea that these movies (and now TV shows) offer a lot of variety, that the superhero movie genre is no longer really a genre because they represent a bunch of different kinds of movies and just happen to involve superheroes. Devin Faraci made a similar statement this week in a piece at Badass Digest tied to an interview he had with Feige. “Marvel has proven that ‘superhero movie’ isn’t so […]

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The Secret in Their Eyes

In this corner of the world, and in this particular industry, spoilers are an unforgivable sin. They are tantamount to murder, to crimes against humanity, to leaving a flaming bag of poop on a clean and unsullied doorstep. I myself once nearly punched a computer screen after the wrong series of clicks led me to a leaked Breaking Bad spoiler. So an article like “Why I Refuse to Watch Movies Without Spoilers,” sticks out — partly because it’s so radically against the grain, and partly because it’s already been featured on this site, in a Required Reading last week. In the piece, one Esther Inglis-Arkell argues against the great status quo of the pop culture world. She spoils it all. Other than the occasional half-hour TV comedy, she’ll pre-read the ending to anything and everything she consumes, claiming it to be the better experience. Obviously, to get the best idea of her argument, you should just read the piece, but here’s a quick summary anyway:

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the muppets movie

On Friday, we’ll get our second Muppet caper in three years courtesy of Muppets Most Wanted, the latest offering from writer-director James Bobin and Nicholas Stoller. The time since 2011’s The Muppets, also written by Jason Segel (the project’s poster boy, star and arguably biggest, giddiest fan) has seen a mini resurgence in Muppets mania, at least in some facets of the media. We’ve had Lady Gaga host a Muppets Spectacular full of singing and dancing and Jimmy Fallon invite the whole gang on his last episode of Late Night to perform “The Weight,” and we’ve seen Kermit and friends infiltrate everything from the Thanksgiving Day Parade to Lipton Tea commercials to brief moments of psychosis on 30 Rock. Whether or not Muppets Most Wanted is a success, it’s the gateway in a long list of examples that prove one important fact: it’s time for the return of The Muppet Show.

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Need For Speed Movie

Need for Speed will not be remembered fondly. If that seems unnecessarily cruel towards Need for Speed (which it does), it’s because the truth can be cruel sometimes. And it is the truth. The film currently holds a 23% on Rotten Tomatoes, and although it was projected to win the box office with a mediocre $25M, it only managed a paltry third place with $17.8M. Two weeks from now, Need for Speed will be naught but faded memory. But there’s one place where Need for Speed will continue to thrive: in the great argument why “video game movies suck” (and if that seems unnecessarily cruel, which it does, take it up with all the many many many articles using that exact phrasing). It’s no secret. Films based off of video games have a garbage rep; the most critically acclaimed one, Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within, scored a 44% on our foremost bulbous red fruit-based scale. Every other video game movie in history has scored in the thirties or below.

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Burrito Scene in Battleship

Pushing back against “Save the Cat,” The Bitter Script Reader recently looked to the burrito theft scene in Peter Berg’s Battleship as the inverse proposition. A story scenario that, instead of endearing the audience to the hero, leaves them uninspired by him. The quick and dirty version is this: Taylor Kitsch breaks into a convenience store, unprompted, in order to steal a burrito for Brooklyn Decker and win her heart with cold-in-the-middle fast food. It all goes very un-James Bond, the police are called, and he gets hilariously tased. Bitter sees it as a misfire. His money quote: Also – just because I accept a guy’s libido would make him stupid enough to do this, it doesn’t mean I’d respect any woman who was actually wooed by this behavior.  By extension, I question any audience member who looks at this and says, “I’m SO pulling for this guy.” No, this is a scene that makes me shake my head and say, “No, I REFUSE to accept this as our hero.” I can see the argument that starting this low gives the hero an opportunity for a redemptive moment later on. It would be more persuasive if the action didn’t require him to be so unbalanced in the first place. This is also what undercuts the “selfless” act of him offering the burrito to Brooklyn. Stealing food for a starving kid is one thing.  Stealing food as a down payment on some possible groping and sweaty action? That’s less laudible. So the […]

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Jennifer Lawrence House at the End of the Street

In a stirring example of how poisonous the populist view on fame can be, Twitter was bubbling during the Oscars with negative comments about the same actor that made it glow with radioactive sunshine exactly a year ago. Of course, you can find steaming piles of antagonism about anyone on Twitter, but the response to Jennifer Lawrence that night was notable enough that Slate convened its XX writers for a thinkpiece conversation about her downfall that might make you slightly dumber if you read it. As a discussion about and a product of a limited view of celebrity, it reduces otherwise intelligent pundits to waxing poetic on whether we “like” someone we’ve never met. That’s the alien nature of extreme popularity. We don’t know Lawrence or her media-narrative-necessitated rival Lupita Nyong’o, but we have opinions about them beyond the work they produce. We see high profile actors on red carpets giving their opinions, spilling breath mints at press conferences and falling down at major award shows. Yet, apparently, we’ve become so cynical as a culture that even falling in love with naturalistic behavior (amid a sea of practiced, polished fakery) isn’t safe from suspicion that genuineness is also just an act.

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2014 Academy Award Best Picture Nominees Cartoon

After all the handwringing and concern, this year’s Oscars were reasonably even-handed. After all, the directors for Adaptation, Shame and Children of Men all got to make acceptance speeches — and they got to give them while representing incredibly strong pieces of cinema, standing alongside some stridently beloved performers. The next morning, there was a general perception that the whole program had been “fair” after a few years where the politicking (and its results) were too overt, where decent had replaced outstanding, where ossification had set in. The Academy had finally gotten it right. Whatever that means. The thing is, to think of any given stack of Oscar ballots as being wrong is both faulty and perfectly natural. We do it every year with gusto even knowing that — for all the pomp and ceremony — the Academy Awards aren’t a final or definitive word on quality. They’re one group’s opinions, but they feel like something more. Something that has the power to solidify cultural merit or spark an artistic legacy. It’s why the digital pitchforks come out for “snubs.” With that in mind, Scott Beggs, Rob Hunter and Landon Palmer got together to argue what movies should have had their names etched in Oscar history, to do a calculation on Academy accuracy — admittedly with the benefit of clear-eyed hindsight and correct opinions. That didn’t make some years easier or anything. Some bad picks were obvious, but most years led to a lot of verbal fisticuffs. Still, we managed to come out with […]

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Whats Eating Gilbert Grape

Another year, another Oscar ceremony in the books. Once the booze wears off from Matthew McConaughey’s final “Alright, alright, alright,” of our year in film, we can get down to the really important part of the Oscars and start second-guessing the winners. Sunday night is all about rewarding actors and filmmakers for their hard work in the past year. Monday morning is reserved for the art of tearing down our sacred idols, convincing our coworkers that we always thought American Hustle was a little overrated or that Dallas Buyers Club was more than just a Philadelphia knock-off. And somewhere in the middle of all these conversations, someone will ask about Leonardo DiCaprio. When will the poor guy ever win an Oscar? Last month, Esquire ran a story on Leonardo DiCaprio titled “The Moment Leonardo DiCaprio Became a Man.” In a throwaway line intended to highlight his perpetually boyish good looks, his agent Rick Yorn refers to DiCaprio as a character actor in a leading man’s body. This intended compliment instead offers a great deal of insight into DiCaprio’s performances and why he is so often overshadowed by those around him. Including last night’s nomination for The Wolf of Wall Street, Leonardo DiCaprio has been nominated for four acting Academy Awards (What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, The Aviator, Blood Diamond, WoWS) without taking home a single statue. During that same period, DiCaprio’s films have generated an additional eleven nominations for his co-stars and supporting cast, with Cate Blanchett and Christoph Waltz each walking away with the final prize.

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published: 04.18.2014
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published: 04.18.2014
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published: 04.18.2014
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published: 04.18.2014
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