Opinions

MASH Movie

Recently, Ruth Graham at Slate took advantage of Netflix’s streaming access to Friends in order to revisit the beloved show that most TV series try to emulate. She assumed that Joey’s womanizing would feel the most obsolete and was surprised to realize that Chandler is the genuinely outdated character. He’s consistently morose, cruel to many people in his life, and — with his lack of masculinity — he’s used several times as a walking homophobia-based joke. She stops just short of suggesting Chandler would be repping GamerGate in 2015, but the characterization is there. The essay has launched a robust discussion online, including on The Daily Dish, where readers smartly point out the mild, myopic outrage of Graham’s take. Chandler’s inferiority complex yields a lot of humor (and can be read easily as commenting against homophobia); many shows, including current ones, use mistaken-for-gay-outrage for an easy laugh (see: Big Bang Theory); and Friends not only showed a healthy, complex lesbian couple in its very first season, it also showed a lesbian wedding (mark the word) in its second season. That was nearly a full decade before gay marriage was legal in any state in the US, and they called it what it is: a wedding. To be fair, I’m uncomfortable considering art on moral grounds because it’s a slippery slope covered in LiquiGlide. It’s not art’s job to be ethical. It’s also a bit strange to consider morally obsolete characters while loving the murderous, thieving rampage of Reservoir Dogs and the heinous asocial behavior of Young Adult. Plenty of phenomenal movies succeed […]

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Going Clear Movie

It’s not that I don’t like Alex Gibney. The Oscar-winner has done yeoman’s work exploring modern problems so large that we tend to ignore them instead of face them head-on. He digs into the dirt, especially American dirt, that we’d rather not see on our own hands, and he does it all without the bombastic agenda sales of Michael Moore. All good things. My problem is that I’m not particularly interested in Scientology. Those who believe praise it wholesale, opponents claim that it’s responsible for murder, but overall it seems like another bit of antique hokum polished up with a Hollywood shine. As soon as you demand payment for having faith, my ears turn off. But consider them back on. After reading Kate’s review of Gibney’s new doc, Going Clear, based on Lawrence Wright’s book, she hooked me by talking about how unsettling it is. Then, we got an email from a spokesperson for Scientology, that sealed the deal on my wanting to see the anti-Scientology movie.

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Punisher Daredevil

This past weekend, I stepped into American Sniper prepared to enter a battleground of political ideologies. Here is a film that has been depicted as both pro- and anti-war, that has rallied conservatives and liberals to its cause and also attracted shots from each side. As a result, I had a sneaking suspicion that I was going to like American Sniper; any film that could polarize the two sides of an argument must be more politically ambiguous than its opponents—and supporters—would have you believe. So imagine my surprise when the film not only made part of its perspective on Chris Kyle explicitly clear but also tagged the majority of its scenes with a helpful visual reference. The Punisher, a vigilante from the Marvel universe who assassinates criminals, is everywhere in American Sniper.

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Public Enemies

Johnny Depp‘s latest movie, Mortdecai, is hitting theaters this weekend, and by all accounts it’s horrifically unenjoyable. Which you probably could have guessed. The trailer, the goggly-eyed posters and, hell, even the title with its superfluous T all pointed to self-parody without self-awareness. It shows Depp at his most rubbery, trying so damned hard to make a mustache wink that you could almost see him panting. That’s our consistent vision of the actor now, at least. A caricature who loves putting on funny hats or facial hair and acting absurd despite the silence coming from the crowd. In a way, that persona feels new, with every thinkpiece written about him tilting reverently toward a time in recent history when he wasn’t so desperate and cartoonish. When we loved him. When he was great. So I started wondering how long that’s actually been going on, which led me to question what his last truly great movie was. The process was a little discouraging.

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Warner Bros.

When American Sniper was released in a few theaters in New York and L.A. last month, it seemed like no one gave it a second thought. Critics were mixed on it, and the mainstream media largely ignored it. Boy, a lot has changed. Now that the Clint Eastwood-directed Iraq War story has been nominated for six Oscars and is on its way being one of the top-grossing movies of the year, it is no longer a film to ignore. It has become a prize for Democrats and Republicans to fight over. Conservatives hail its success as a rebuke to a left-leaning Hollywood that has, in their view, rejected movies that are sympathetic to the military. Meanwhile, liberal commentators are doing their best to expose the film’s propagandistic intent, arguing the inherent pro-war message of an Iraq War film that doesn’t bother to question the reasons America invaded in the first place. So who’s right?

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.@GundamFan4Life The Raid 3 isn’t going to be happening anytime soon. Ideas in my head. Nothing written. No set date. 2018/19 possibly. — Gareth Evans (@ghuwevans) January 21, 2015 It’s possible that you poured yourself a double and wept at this tweet from Raid director Gareth Evans, and there’s no shame in that, but consider the major reasons why pressing pause on the franchise is a good thing. For one, it allows Evans to branch out, to move away from the sink hole of being known for one set of movies. Proving himself by covering different ground can 1) give us even more fun movies to watch and 2) show future investors that he’s not a one-trick filmmaker. Also consider that his tweet was in response to a question launched by an earlier tweet which read, “Time to find a brand new collection of streets & buildings outside of Indonesia to fuck up with cars and mayhem.” Sound good? Sounds good. He’s currently working on another project called Blister, as well as UFC/heist movie called Breaking the Bank and whatever else is brewing in his head.

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Moon Landing in 2001

Last week, Steven Soderbergh offered his own cut of 2001: A Space Odyssey in a much more complete fashion than he did with either Raiders of the Lost Ark or Psycho. He didn’t merely provide a navel-gazing soundtrack to a black-and-whitified version of Indy so that everyone could focus in on how Spielberg staged his scenes, or combine the two Psychos together so that everyone could focus in on how much cooler Anthony Perkins is than Vince Vaughn. Soderbergh’s cut of 2001 is the product of a complete vision for the movie (in as much as it can be without shooting new scenes or having access to any footage that didn’t make Kubrick’s cut). If aliens learn about human civilization through the internet, and they find this video without the accompanying text, they’ll think that it’s the “real” 2001. They’ll also wonder why our space program has moved backward in the past 14 years. But that’s not going to happen. The original is safe and sound, and no one should care what those aliens think. I gave my take on the cut (there’s a lot of value in it) and also offered some thoughts on the True Film subreddit where the response was robust — including several people who couldn’t believe he’d done it. The Kubrick fan club on Reddit was also disgusted, and I wouldn’t have thought it worth commenting on except 1) the viewpoint was more widespread than I’d assumed and 2) we also got a spec editorial from a writer castigating, in detail, Soderbergh for […]

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Selma

A renewed forehead slapping routine has hit the echo chamber of awards season watchdogs because Selma has, once again, come up short on the nomination front. This time it’s the short list for the Directors Guild, which looks 80% like photographs of the same man taken at different ages. It’s unfortunate, but regular people don’t care about these awards. They’re important as a barometer within the professional community, but  there’s no need for anyone outside of that to care. What regular people care about, is the Oscars, and it’s going to be a surreal scene on Thursday if Selma and, more specifically, Ava DuVernay are left off the nomination list. With ten slots, there’s almost no chance that Selma doesn’t get a Best Picture nomination, but the situation is far more difficult to predict when it comes to DuVernay’s inclusion. This isn’t like when The Dark Knight wasn’t nominated for best picture, where the Academy simply wasn’t in lock-step with a massively popular phenomenon. They aren’t, and shouldn’t be, beholden to raw popularity when it comes to making their decisions. It’s also not like when L.A. Confidential lost or when Fargo lost or any other time a deserving film didn’t get gold. Or when an art house favorite didn’t even get a nomination. This is a situation where a movie has deftly used history to speak to our present without picking up the sledge hammer. It’s culturally important and immediate for both extrinsic social and intrinsic artistic reasons, and because of that it doesn’t need validation from the […]

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Duke of Burgundy

Five years ago, Rob, Neil and I were dreading the time of year when moss grows on theater screens, and I suggested that January wasn’t all bad. That everyone had bought into the assumption that the month was a dumping ground even though there were good movies that came out after Christmas. That we’d all been hypnotized by a narrative that felt right unless you pushed on it. Neil told me to prove it, so Rob and I set out to. We also told Neil he should try to eat 50 chicken nuggets while watching Super Size Me, and he did. These were different times. However, the list that Rob and I made of 12 “great” movies released in January really only served to prove what we all know in our hearts: this month is awful. It wasn’t always awful, and it might not always be awful, but it’s been awful for a considerable amount of time — another victim of risk-averse studios happy to keep things exactly as they are. When great movies do sneak through (and we admittedly had to mute the meaning of “great” for our list), it’s either a fluke or it happened so long ago that it doesn’t tell us anything culturally about how movie distribution treats the thin months after holiday gorging in the 21st century. The thinking is not complicated. People don’t want to spend money in January because they spent so much of it in November and December, so they don’t go to […]

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Charlie Hebdo

In response to the vicious murder of 10 artists working for Charlie Hebdo and 2 police officers protecting the satirical magazine’s offices, CEO of the Center for Inquiry Ronald A. Lindsay said, “We are heartbroken by the unthinkable and cowardly attack at the magazine Charlie Hebdo in Paris today, and outraged that such a barbaric act was a response to journalists and satirists exercising their right to free expression.” Lindsay is no stranger to the fight for free speech. His center’s publication Free Inquiry was the first in the US (and for a while, the only) to publish the Mohammed cartoons from the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten which prompted global riots — cartoons that Charlie Hebdo also reprinted alongside their own dryly funny drawings of Islam’s prophet lamenting the difficulty of being loved by idiots. The only problem with Lindsay’s statement, and really with the world, is that this morning’s assassination isn’t “unthinkable.” On an emotional level, it’s all too easy to imagine this kind of devastating news despite the gut-punch of shock that accompanies it. On a practical level, it’s been all too thinkable since the firebombing of the Charlie Hebdo offices in 2011, if not since the murder of filmmaker Theo van Gogh for making Submission in 2004, if not since the one before that or the one before that and the one before that.

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interstellar time

Even though exact data is difficult to pin down, it’s gut-level obvious that there were more movies released last year than in 1928, the year leading up to the first Academy Awards presentation at the Roosevelt Hotel. Worldwide releases that year might have come close to 500 (margin of error = wide), but that’s still less than the 659 released, only counting North America, in 2013 (and that’s just the ones the MPAA was tracking (which doesn’t include VOD-only). More importantly, audiences in 1928 wouldn’t have had access to global releases the way we do today, which stretches the data gap even further. This is one of those things we don’t really need numbers for. We know intimately how much media we have had access to since the dial-up sound stopped stinging our ears. There is always something in the queue and something on the must-see list. Those account balances will never zero out again. Outside of our own guts, the evolution of award ceremonies is one of the great manifestations of the overwhelming pile of film at our fingertips. There are now so many options for cinematic entertainment that awards have become 1) necessarily unique with a limited scope and 2) ridiculously easy to mock because of it.

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Into the Woods Movie

In the depths of the 1980s AIDS crisis, a show premiered on Broadway that featured Cinderella quizzically singing about whether to marry a prince, a witch cursing the man who stole her beans and two bakers trying to find a white cow. By the end of “Into the Woods,” a lot of people are dead, most are homeless, morality is shoved into a stagnant gray area, and grief gives way to muted optimism. For most, the relationship between the real-life plague hitting the gay community and the challenging play with music and lyrics by a gay man were too obvious to ignore or dismiss. With their film adaptation, Disney and director Rob Marshall didn’t find it difficult to do so, destroying that relationship alongside almost everything interesting about the story. The result is something rote and obvious — essentially a stiff amalgam of recognizable faces parading to a Stephen Sondheim soundtrack. This is due in part to what they left out when adapting the material with librettist James Lapine acting as screenwriter. Ester Bloom at Talking Points Memo points to a single cut line that feels emblematic of the merry polishing Disney has done:

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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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published: 01.30.2015
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published: 01.29.2015
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published: 01.28.2015
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published: 01.28.2015
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