Opinions

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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Vanilla Sky empty

Picture yourself in a New York City movie theater. It’s December 14, 2001. The film you’re watching is Vanilla Sky, a sci-fi fantasy from director Cameron Crowe and Tom Cruise, who delighted the world with Jerry Maguire a few years earlier. You are probably not enjoying yourself (it received a D- on Cinemascore) and as the film nears its twisty, trippy conclusion, your mind might be drifting towards more actionable realities, like which subway line to take home or what to eat for dinner. But then you come to the final scene, and you immediately snap to attention. You watch Cruise stand atop the tallest building in New York at dawn and willfully leap. He falls past endless office windows, braces for impact and hits the pavement. It’s hard to imagine any New Yorker watching this scene and not immediately flashing back to the events that occurred just three months prior, when as many as 200 Americans either jumped or fell to their deaths to escape the inferno raging inside some of the tallest buildings in New York. It would have been easy to read the film as a shameless ploy by Crowe to cash in on one of the most traumatic events in American history. Or maybe, if we were feeling generous, we could have seen it as an attempt to help the nation heal by forcing us to re-live the trauma in a safe space, much like Paul Greengrass’s United 93 did. But then you realize that, while Vanilla Sky was released in December 2001, it actually began […]

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Capitalism Michael Moore

In our review for Fed Up, a documentary on the American obesity epidemic, I recommend that it be distributed free, at least to the poor. “Who wants to pay $10 or more to watch a bunch of talking heads make claims about how the food industry and government have made the problem even worse over the years?” I wondered. “This shouldn’t be the content of a theatrical release.” Now the film is on DVD and Blu-ray and through digital outlets, and we do think it’s worth seeing. But like many issue films of today, this is not a movie so much as it’s a necessary news report — the kind of thing that the networks would air to large audiences (albeit ones with much fewer choices in TV channels and other media options) in the ’60s and ’70s. Presumably, Michael Moore would agree with the stance on such a doc. He has long been arguing the case for more cinematic nonfiction films in theaters and on Oscar ballots. This week, while being honored at the Toronto International Film Festival with a 25th anniversary screening of Roger & Me, Moore spoke out on the need for docs to be more entertaining. The Guardian quotes him as saying, “People want to go home and have sex after your movie. Don’t make them feel ‘Urggggghhhh’.” In his speech, a keynote for the TIFF doc conference, he urged the filmmakers who are primarily lecturing viewers with their docs to quit the business and become teachers, because […]

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Raiders of the Lost Ark Throne Room

Steven Zeitchik recently recognized Guardians of the Galaxy as the most recent in a string of modern blockbusters that are essentially plot-free films. Citing a respect for witty banter over storytelling, he also offered the criticism that several studio movies had motivations that were murky and details that were intentionally blurry. I love Zeitchik’s work, but this assessment is confusing for two reasons. One, his argument is a misunderstanding (or at least a misappropriation) of what “plot” — the cause and effect-based sequence of events — actually is. It would be difficult to make a movie without a plot that isn’t raw abstract experimentation. On the other hand, “post-plot” is a catchy, succinct phrase, so I get it. Two, within his argument, Zeitchik remarks offhandedly that, “[t]here is a strange, perhaps super-meta irony in [Guardians] making frequent reference to cinematic classics like The Maltese Falcon, Raiders of the Lost Ark and Star Wars, all movies in which storytelling matters very much,” but Raiders is certainly no more plot-tastic than Guardians. If you’re going to grouse about a talking raccoon and an Infinity Stone, then you’ve got to roll your eyes at a Nazi monkey and a face-melting God Box.

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Inherent Vice Movie

In 2012, Owen Gleiberman wrote a piece for Entertainment Weekly explaining why he had fallen out of love with the films of Paul Thomas Anderson. In the article, Gleiberman shares his own thrill of discovering Boogie Nights at the 1997 Toronto Film Festival and the impact it had on him as a film critic; he then goes on to discuss his perceived problems with There Will Be Blood and why Anderson’s films no longer affect him the same way. I came across Gleiberman’s article recently during my struggle to detail my own relationship to Anderson’s films. Like Gleiberman, my first Anderson film was a revelation. As a manager for an independent theater in a small town, it was my job to assemble a 35mm print of Punch-Drunk Love during my Thursday shift and sit by myself through a midnight technical screening. I was tired after a long day and annoyed that I hadn’t been able to pawn what I assumed to be another Adam Sandler comedy off on any of my coworkers. Naturally, I spent the rest of my evening in a state of shock at what I had seen. In that empty theater at two in the morning, I watched a movie that could have been made just for me; Anderson and Sandler overclocked my sense of empathy and made Barry Egan the most heartbreaking character I had seen on screen. And so began five years of obsessing over Anderson’s previous films – Hard Eight, Boogie Nights, Magnolia – […]

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Lucky Bastard Movie 2014

You may have heard NC-17 called the “rating of death” for the way it kills a movie’s commercial success. Is this true? As a producer of one of the handful of NC-17 films ever made, Lucky Bastard, I can tell you it’s like the guys on Jackass finding out what happens when you get kicked in the nuts: Yes, it hurts like hell. Does the spectacle itself attract attention? Maybe—but you’ve still been kicked in the nuts. Lucky Bastard is a thriller about an adult website that pairs average Joes with porn stars (there really are such sites). When one troubled young man fails to perform, he is driven by shame and humiliation to enact bloody revenge on the porn crew. For us, this was a great micro-budget premise that let us comment upon America’s obsessions with sex, violence and “humiliation entertainment.”For artistic reasons, we wanted the movie to be as raunchy and disturbing as possible. Mission accomplished! But when it came time to find a distributor, everybody balked. Although there’s no actual sex in the movie, we were told no sales agent would represent the movie, no distributor would buy the movie, no theater would show the movie — no, no, no. “How come?” we asked one sales agent. “Because this is pornography,” she said. “No, it’s not,” we said. “There’s nothing here you wouldn’t see on Cinemax at 11PM. And we’ve got a great plan to market it through churches.” End of meeting. So we had a bright […]

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Love Is Strange

Love Is Strange is a movie about, well, love. It’s about the love shared by its central couple, George (Alfred Molina) and Ben (John Lithgow), but there’s more to it than that. It’s about all of its varieties and inflections, and the way that it’s expressed by husbands, nieces-in-law and friends. Beautifully lit spaces, subtly crafted dialogue and open, naturalistic performances from the whole cast help director Ira Sachs play with the manifestations of this title concept. The MPAA ratings board, meanwhile, didn’t pay attention to any of this. Love Is Strange was given an R rating. There’s no sex in the film, nor any notable violence. The reason this family drama wasn’t considered family-friendly was “language,” that ever-vague, often ironically meaningless word. What exactly does that mean? Sometimes it means too many “fucks,” or some similar breach of the arbitrary mathematics of swear-word policing. Here, though, it seems to be something else. An entire script in which the humanity of gay people is taken for granted may have been too linguistically salacious for the MPAA.

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Iron Man Original Suit

Not only is Doctor Strange not going to tell us how Stephen Strange became the Sorcerer Supreme, but starting with that movie, Marvel Studios is done with origin stories altogether. That’s a scoop revealed by Badass Digest’s Devin Faraci while a guest on Meet the Movie Press last week. It’s an unconfirmed piece of information, particularly the broader point about the whole franchise, and of course it doesn’t apply to Ant-Man, which goes into production today, way ahead of the Dr. Strange vehicle. Still, whether true or not, there’s a certain excitement spreading around in fanboy and movie geek circles as a result of the possibility. Origin story movies are apparently a much-hated part of superhero cinema. But why? Because it’s the expected start of any series to set up the character, especially for audiences who aren’t as familiar ahead of time as the geeks are? Too bad, because Hollywood wants to cater to the moviegoers who aren’t also comic book readers, and those moviegoers want to see movies about superheroes, including ones they don’t know a lot about already. What I find odd about the hate thrown at origin story movies is how many of the best and most popular superhero movies are first installments focused on the beginnings of their respective characters. Look at Superman: The Movie, Iron Man, The Avengers (as a team) and I’ll throw in Unbreakable. Sure, there are a lot of number-twos favorited over their first films, including Spider-Man 2, The Dark Knight and Captain America: The Winter […]

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The Leftovers

No, it wasn’t easy. My personal viewing experience of the first two episodes of HBO’s The Leftovers has stuck with me throughout the entire summer, and I have zero problem with telling people that watching two hours of Damon Lindelof and Tom Perrotta‘s series actually made me feel physically ill, it was just that heavy. The Leftovers may still not be binge-watch television, but it has finally become must-watch television. With just two episodes left, it was about time that some kind of tide turned. The HBO series, inspired by Perrotta’s novel of the same name, was never intended to be feel-good television, just by virtue of the fact that it’s entirely centered on a global-scale tragedy. The series picks up three years after some kind of “event” has whisked away 2% of the world’s population, enough time to sort of get things back to normal, but not long enough to really heal wounds. The lingering sense that something else is about to happen — and soon! — doesn’t help. Set primarily in the small town of Mapleton, New York, the series follows a medium-sized cast of characters as they (continue to) deal with the fallout from said event. Some people lost everyone that day, some people just lost one person, some people lost their loved ones later to outside forces. Still, the entire program is about loss. It’s hard to feel good about that.

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Ben Affleck Batman

Warners has hired competing screenwriters for their post-Dawn of Justice Aquaman movie. That’s super crappy for the writers (and really all writers), but it’s also another sign that the studio hasn’t planned out their break-neck push into connected superhero universes beyond cameo (and subplot) introductions for a shotgun blast of potential Justice League members in a movie supposedly focused on Batman and Superman. Drew McWeeny compared the process to a reality show (picture an anthropomorphic script doing a rose-less walk of shame), and I agree 100%. While far from conclusive, the method points to another shaky element of Warners’ planning. Specifically, that they have no firm planning. Meanwhile, they’re pointing their bat to the bleachers.

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One Hour Photo

After playing the sweetly fearsome film tech in One Hour Photo, Robin Williams talked about his character in both humane and expansive terms, explaining that “the things [Sy] says are painfully true–like, my favorite line is… ‘photographs are your own personal stand against time. That someone cared enough about me to take my picture means that I existed.’ I was at an old flea market the other day and looked at this box of old photographs, and you realize that most of these people are dead. There’s a moment in time that you really get to see someone.” Sy the Photo Guy is also rummaging through old pictures when he says those words, and shortly afterward he daydreams about being a welcomed fixture in the home of the family whose blissful images he’s become attached to. It’s a deeply intimate yet one-sided relationship that exposes a simple, desperate need for connection. For someone to think he’s worth enough to make temporarily immortal. Sy is a paparazzo who doesn’t need to take his own pictures; the neighborhood celebrities he worships freely give their personal moments over to him to manipulate. Williams’ portrayal and the understanding he displayed in that quote are what gave breath to a character who could have otherwise been labeled a flat villain, a shifty-eyed presence meant solely to unsettle. Instead, he played an insecure stalker with a touch of childlike frailty. This is the same man who squeezed into tights as a middle aged Peter Pan doing his best rooster impression, the […]

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Emmett in The Lego Movie

Years ago, if a movie became a hit, it would spawn a sequel starring diminished returns, followed by either a third entry that tarnished the screen or went straight to home video. In special cases (read: horror) you could expect a dozen movies stemming from one big hit, creating a sine wave of varying quality. The old pattern wasn’t good, but it was reliable. It’s also the same as the new pattern, except for one sinister addition: overwhelming knowledge. What worked about the grind-a-great-thing-into-the-ground method of olden times was that we weren’t bombarded with it all at once. We knew it would happen, but we didn’t know it would happen, and it definitely wasn’t shoved in our faces. It could be a few months (or even years) before hearing that the Movie We Loved was getting another installment, and the distance gave us optimism even though the track record for sequels was abysmal. It was still an opportunity to spend more time with characters and worlds we enjoyed. If it was ultimately disappointing, so what? We weren’t expecting it to be as good as the first time around. You can probably guess that I’m using all this lawn protection to exclaim in one voice that The LEGO Movie is fantastic, and news of ad nauseam sequels is awful.

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Ghostbusters Zuul

There’s a chance that Paul Feig might reboot the Ghostbusters franchise with a team of comedic actresses set for the jumpsuits and apparition-battling backpacks. The news is incredibly premature — so premature, in fact, that it feels a lot like Sony testing a potentially dangerous idea with the public to see whether it floats like a bowling ball or not. So far the response has been divisive, but it’s not like everyone is reaching for the smelling salts. On the crank end of the spectrum, this angsty ball-grabbing screed seems to have violently burst forth from of the throbbing vein in Mike Fleming’s forehead, which means the idea must have at least some merit to it. To be clear, an all-woman Ghosbusters bothers me exactly 0% because that’s also my interest level in any return to that universe (be it reboot or sequel). The Venn diagram is a single circle. So, even though the concept conjures images of Kristen Wiig, Melissa McCarthy, Rose Byrne and Sandra Bullock walking in slow motion on a beat-up NYC street, ghost trap smokingly in tow, the far more interesting question surrounding the hook is whether firmly supplanting male iconography with women would be a step forward in terms of gender equality or only look like one from afar.

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Down and Dangerous

The other day I saw a discussion on Facebook about whether or not filmmakers should watermark the screeners they send to film festivals. Filmmakers generally seemed to be for it. Festival personnel seemed generally opposed, some citing it as a red flag for the filmmaker’s naiveté – like the people who ask you to sign an NDA before reading their screenplay. In the past, I never felt that obscuring the picture with some text was going to stop the sort of person who was set on pirating my movie, so I didn’t bother with it. Besides, I might argue I had yet to make a movie someone would want to pirate. However, with my latest feature, Down and Dangerous, we had a genre picture with muscle. Its potential to garner eyeballs was greater than anything we’d produced before. So if it were to appear on torrent sites, I wanted at least to know where it came from. Following the studio’s method of placing those “little dots” on film prints, I added a bit of unique text to a single frame of the movie for every screener we sent out. This was imperceptible to the viewer, but if you knew which frame to look at, you could plainly see the initials for the festival or distributor hiding in the shadows.

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A Most Wanted Man

When artists die young, their legend often grows disproportionately to their record of accomplishments. When James Dean passed away after making just three films, he was posthumously anointed as one of the greatest actors of his generation, a claim based mostly on his promise. Maybe he would have become Marlon Brando, or maybe not. In our struggle to make sense of our own mortality, we find tragedy more palatable than uncertainty. In this way, death creates limitless potential. A good portion of Philip Seymour Hoffman’s potential had already been tapped when he died at 46 earlier this year. If there were an Actors’ Hall of Fame, they could have begun measuring him for a bust there somewhere around Capote. Still, there was reason to believe he had room to grow. After all, arguably his best performance came just two years ago when he played cult leader Lancaster Dodd in The Master. As such, there is a lot of baggage surrounding A Most Wanted Man. It is Hoffman’s last starring role, so his fans will come to the theater with competing instincts: there is plenty of goodwill out there, fueled by our persistent urge to see all things end on a high note, but there is also the danger of unreasonable expectations.

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50 Shades of Grey bondage

Because of shoddy source material and a healthy sleaze factor, following the Fifty Shades of Grey production (and now bizarre marketing) has felt a lot like getting to watch Showgirls get filmed in real-time. Like we knew about the creation of a sexploitation, so-cringey-it’s-entertaining classic long before it creates its cult. At the very least, the project has done nothing to diminish the idea that it’s more neon stripper pole than Maggie Gyllenhaal in fishnets. Beautifully for better and worse, it’s become a movie that everybody knows and has an opinion about, which is a great place for the filmmakers and Focus Features to be, but it’s also an excellent opportunity for movies that want to use Grey‘s notoriety for their own purposes. Enter Freestyle Releasing, who is sending Christianity-based romance Old Fashioned to theaters the same Valentine’s Day weekend that Grey invades with its riding crop. This is the second smartest thing a Christian film could possibly do.

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They Live Wonder Woman at Comic-Con 2014

It’s easy to hate Comic-Con. My view of things is probably a bit different from the average person, since I’m surrounded by people “in the industry” and it’s become cool over the last few years to use a tone of tired disgust when talking about the media explosion that takes place every year. More specifically, and you know this, we’re talking about San Diego Comic-Con, which over the years has become so big  that we just call it “Comic-Con” despite there being literally thousands of other Comic Conventions every year. Attendance at the event first eclipsed 100,000 individuals back in 2005. My first adventure was The Year of Watchmen, in 2008. By then, the crowd had ballooned to more than 125,000 people. This year it’s estimated that more than 130,000 people entered the exhibition floor. During the weekend it owns in July, it’s ubiquitous. You see it on Twitter, Facebook and every other social media sites. You read articles about it, and you sense it just underneath the surface of other articles. Dusted-off essays and tired tweets will make jokes about nerds and body odor, the smell of Thor’s leather underwear, the stank emanating from far too many layers and far too much wool in an unmercifully hot Southern California summer. Just as it’s easy to hate the hellacious line for Hall H or the semi-constant jostling from working your way through a crowd, it’s easy to make fun of Comic-Con, too. I’d never pretend to be anything other than a nerd at heart. Even […]

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20th Century Fox

Kate Mara doesn’t read comic books, doesn’t want to read comic books and won’t need to read comic books in order to play The Invisible Woman in Fox’s upcoming The Fantastic Four. That’s because director Josh Trank told the cast they should avoid reading the comic books since the new movie won’t be based on anything that’s already down on ink and paper. This might be the best news possible for the genre. It’s unsurprising, though, because comic book movies have largely outgrown their paged counterparts over the last decade even as productions remain near-slavish to stories we’ve read before, villains we already know and imagery that’s taken directly from the source. Why is this great news? Because we’re having our culture happily fed back to us as we ask for seconds and thirds, and that’s a problem. It amazes me that some people rail against the unoriginality of remakes while cheering when the latest superhero movie announces that it’ll be using That Storyline People Liked From The 80s as the basis for its script.

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Warner Bros.

A little less than a year ago, a wave of fan support for sequelizing a little-seen, cult favorite cropped up overnight on social media sites. The independent producers of the film were taken aback, but shrewdly (and quickly) utilized the outcry to make the case for a follow-up movie to financiers which in turn caused the online flames to burn even brighter. It created a feedback loop, bolstering numbers to a boiling point, but the movie wasn’t made. At least it hasn’t been made yet. But it probably won’t. But it could. Those last three sentences rest at the heart of a movie fan paradox. There’s an overwhelming amount of information out there (some good, some bad, some bullshit) that simultaneously gives us a sunshine view of the production process that promises us every movie we’ve ever wanted will come true, and gives us a cold shower of reality that the system is going to continue giving us the middle finger. That second part almost always comes with a dash of But There’s a Chance…, feeding our optimism just enough protein to keep it from ripping out the IV. I’ve purposefully left off the name of the movie that was so futilely rallied around because it could be (and has been and will be) any of a dozen fan favorites. Their stories almost never have a happy ending, and the sea change that we keep hearing about — the one where studios are greenlighting sequels for passion projects that haven’t done that hot at […]

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amc-recliners

Depending on who you ask the movie business is either in bad financial shape this year or in really, really bad shape. The numbers break it down in similar fashion depending on what time frame you’re looking at. Per Box Office Mojo, 2014 is down 4.6% from last year at this same time and 6.5% compared to 2012. This isn’t particularly stunning or upsetting news as even a cursory glance at the same chart shows similar drops and equivalent jumps are a common enough occurrence over the years. But this summer’s box office has seen a far more dramatic decline. 2014’s summer months are down nearly 19% from this time last year, and the July 4th holiday weekend brought in a whopping 46% less than 2013’s. It was actually the lowest it’s been since 1999 — and that’s a pretty scary statistic for those in the movie business. AMC thinks they have the answer to the decline in audience interest. They’re spending $600 million upgrading the seating in 20% of their theaters to leather recliners. The hope is to draw moviegoers back from their couches and Netflix accounts, and after a year of unchanged prices (“to seed [consumer] behavior”) the ticket costs will go up to account for the rich Corinthian leather. As someone who sees audiences as the consistently worst part of the theater-going experience I’m no fan of this plan. Too many audience members already treat the theater like it’s their own living room — talking, using their cell phone, […]

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