Opinions

Batman and Robin

Let’s get this on the table right from the start – I hate Batman Returns. If I were to rank every Batman film in order of preference – including the 1966 film based on the Adam West TV series – Returns would easily bring up the rear. It is so terrible that I’m astounded that it not only never turns up on “Worst Comic Book Movies Ever Made” lists, but that there are some people who defend it as the best of the series. I’ve long thought it’s not only a bad Batman movie but a straight-up bad movie in general. A recent article on Uproxx nailed so much of what I’ve long hated about the film. I think their list of 15 points is padded with a few jokey items that don’t totally count, but it utterly pegs the nonsensical nature of the Penguin’s backstory, the randomness of his plan to run for mayor, and the overall WTF-ery of Max Schreck. It also indicts Batman on charges of senseless, gratuitous murder (everyone who called for Zack Snyder’s head after Man of Steel needs to go after director Tim Burton 17 years ago) and the laundry list of plot contrivances that even a half-attentive viewer should spot. Beyond all of that, I’ve just never liked Burton’s conception of the Penguin. The gentleman criminal of the comics is turned into a deranged former circus freak who spews bile and bites noses. It’s a much more egregious warping of the comic forebearer than just about anything […]

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Agatha Grand Budapest Hotel

My face is unforgettable. From the moment I was born, the bright fuchsia wrapping over the right side of my face, my nose and a little swatch of the left side just under my eye announced to the room immediately: well shit, she’s going to be different. I’m graced with what is known as a “port wine stain” birthmark, a cutesy term for explaining that it kind of looks like someone spilled a glass of wine (burst blood vessels) on my face and couldn’t mop it up fast enough before it soaked into my upholstery. Tragic, since this is expensive canvas. My birthmark is connected (though not all are) to a larger illness called Sturge-Weber Syndrome, a condition that also means those burst blood vessels caused glaucoma in my right eye and a hardened capillary ridge on the right side of my brain that “lights up” whenever it pleases for rounds of excruciating migraines. Sturge-Weber is not only a recent discovery, only studied since the 1980s, but a fairly rare occurrence, affecting 1 in every 400,000 births; I’ve never met or seen another person who has the disease or a facial port wine stain. So imagine my surprise and curiosity watching the trailer, and eventually sitting down for The Grand Budapest Hotel — here we have Agatha (Saoirse Ronan), all milkmaid braids and the silhouette of Mexico upon her face. Purple and prominent, though not nearly as large, Agatha has been afflicted with the facial birthmark that I know all too well. Dainty […]

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Guardians of the Galaxy Starlord

The reaction to The Amazing Spiderman 2 has started an intense critical dialogue about superhero films, foremost in this Criticwire survey. I particularly recommend reading Glenn Kenny and Richard Brody’s responses – they represent very different types of reactions to the question ‘Are there too many superhero movies?’ (both of which are reactions I sympathize with). Many of the critics offer some variation of the old ‘The superhero genre is like the western, it’ll eventually get good if you get it time!’ argument. Comparing Superhero films to Westerns has become a cliché, a bit of received wisdom that has thus far been passed without much skepticism or examination. It has become a truism among the faithful that comic book films will become the next great chapter in American genre art, if only we have a little patience. While it’s hard to not see some superficial similarities between the two genres (they’re both largely action oriented, both involve elements of myth and morality play, and both began as adolescent entertainment), I think it’s clear that the western genre was (and is) varied and adaptable in a way that superhero films haven’t been. Matt Zoller Seitz offers an excellent critique of the “sameness” of superhero films. The Atlantic’s Tim Wainwright argues in response that what we need are more superhero films, not fewer. I can understand what he’s saying, but I’m not sure more films will yield the result he expects. The number of times something is made is much less important than how it is made, and what inherent values the […]

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The 40 Year Old Virgin

“How many men, raised on a steady diet of Judd Apatow comedies in which the shlubby arrested adolescent always gets the girl, find that those happy endings constantly elude them and conclude, ‘It’s not fair’?” — Ann Hornaday “You know what? I respect women! I love women! I respect them so much that I completely stay away from them!” — Andy Stitzer, The 40-Year-Old Virgin 2005 wasn’t a terrible year to have a comedy in theaters. Wedding Crashers, Hitch and The 40-Year-Old Virgin all finished the year with record numbers, regardless of genre. Of the three, Virgin was the most shocking surprise. For Universal Studios. For Hollywood. At the time, Steve Carell (The Office had only been out for half a year to underwhelming ratings), Catherine Keener and the rest of the cast were seen as character actors and indie drama mainstays, not movie star leads. At the center of the low-budget film was Judd Apatow. A co-creator and producer of Freaks and Geeks, Apatow’s personal voice and vision in the world of cinema was not just unique, but refreshing to audiences and talent alike. Unlike Hitch or Wedding Crashers, Virgin didn’t attempt to hand in the classic story of Misogynistic Handsome Man Turns Reformed Gentleman. Instead it spun the comedic formula that studios had profited on since Some Like It Hot. Apatow focused on a man who was anything but misogynistic. A spinster who felt more at home with his still-in-the-box toy collection, Carrel’s Andy Stitzer was pure in a world where […]

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Ferris Bueller TV Show

We’re still a few years away from being able to hop a quick flight into space (after our self-driving car parks itself in the terminal), but if you want to feel like you’re standing on another planet, you should watch the Ferris Bueller TV show. Created for NBC’s lineup in 1990, it’s an odd pop cultural artifact that plays like a window into an alternative universe that somehow exists in our own without melting all physical laws into shoe-ruining mud. In it, Charlie Schlatter is Ferris Bueller, Jennifer Aniston is his pissy sister Jeannie, and Richard Riehle (before he became rich inventing the Jump To Conclusions Mat) is the stuffy Principal Ed Rooney. The natural response is that these are impostors, that you’re somehow being tricked, and that instinctive mindset colors everything that the show does. It would probably be even stranger if the characters felt right while not looking right, but fortunately for everyone’s sanity, the show gets everything about continuing the Ferris Bueller’s Day Off story hilariously wrong.

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Catwoman Movie

With Marvel yet to announce a female-lead superhero movie and Warner Bros opting to introduce Wonder Woman as part of the ensemble in Batman v Superman: Rumble In the Courtroom, the absence of a female superhero movie is becoming more glaring. It’s not that there haven’t been attempts in the past. Indeed, Supergirl got a feature film before every other hero but Superman (unless you want to count the Batman film based on the Adam West TV series.) However even if you completely discount “team” superhero films like X-Men and Fantastic Four, the gender ratio is seriously imbalanced. Even She-Hulk isn’t safe. This is not going to be another “Why Isn’t There a Wonder Woman Movie Yet?” post. As the author of “The Biggest Challenges Facing a Wonder Woman Movie” I fully understand that’s a tough nut to crack. Similarly, just last month, I addressed the reasonable justifications for Marvel not launching a Black Widow solo film… yet. Having said that, I want to attack the school of thought that says audiences won’t embrace female superhero movies. There have been three major attempts to bring female comic book superheroes to the big screen: Supergirl, Catwoman and Elektra. (Some lesser examples include Tank Girl and Barb Wire, as well as Aeon Flux, but for now I’m going to stick to the big three.) Supergirl grossed a mere $14m at the domestic box office. Catwoman took in $82m worldwide on a $100m budget and Elektra earned only $56m worldwide on a $43m […]

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batman-v-superman-logo

Bad titles aren’t a big deal. You can have a bad title and still be a great movie. Just look at Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World. Or The Shawshank Redemption, which appears on as many lists of the worst titles of all time as lists of the greatest movies of all time. Typically, though, a bad title is assigned to a bad movie. It’s not really a coincidence, either, as a bad title is a good sign of a bad production overall. It’s a first impression of a total failure on all creative levels. So, when we see a title like Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, there’s good reason to think there’s trouble brewing with that movie. It’s not just worthy of snark and parody (although I am proud of my “Dawn of Buford T. Justice” gag). Titles of franchise installments have been getting out of hand for years, and it’s always fun to ridicule something that’s basically a double colon title (Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace and Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life) or a name that doesn’t really make a lot of sense (Quantum of Solace and Star Trek Into Darkness). But this latest offender isn’t just bad. It’s a representation of all that’s wrong with comic book movies right now.

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Godzilla Watanabe and Strathairn

The following is a discussion of where the Godzilla franchise could go now that a sequel has been announced. There are some minor spoilers for the reboot currently in theaters, so you might not want to read this until you’ve seen it.  It’s already been given the green light, and now it’s time to speculate what we’ll be seeing in a sequel to Godzilla. According to Deadline, the follow-up will be back at Warner Bros., the studio that put out this past weekend’s $93m-grossing blockbuster, even though now the film’s production company, Legendary Pictures, is working with Universal as its primary distributor. There’s also mention of an ongoing legal dispute, but that probably won’t be enough to keep Godzilla 2 from stomping into theaters in the summer of 2017. The first question on most people’s minds is who or what will the King of the Monsters fight next. Apparently, Legendary only has the rights to the title character, so there’s a possibility that we won’t be seeing any of the other giant creatures (or robots or, thankfully, offspring) from the Toho franchise. Of course, Legendary could dole out more money for use of Mothra if that’s the case, but is that really want we want, a rehash of stuff seen before?

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500 Days of Summer Movie Theater Scene

When in-flight movies became popularized on commercial planes in the early 1960s, air travel was like riding in a movie theater in the sky. Now going to the movies is going to be like riding in an airplane on the ground. Cineplex has announced they’ll be testing a new service at their flagship theater in Toronto. And when I say a new service, I really mean to say it’s an old service just with a new service charge. The idea is to make center auditorium seating cost more to patrons, because that’s a favored spot. I guess. Personally I prefer aisle seats, especially at theaters with tighter space between rows. The only time I like to sit in the middle is at an IMAX show. Earlier today I saw a headline for this announcement and I immediately thought about how some airlines gouge their customers with added charges for a checked bag or for more leg room or for an aisle or window seat. Even though it’s the opposite on a flight — people prefer not to be in the middle — it sounded liked Cineplex was inspired by Spirit, for example, as they’re one of the worst offenders as far as taking something previously standard and tacking on a surcharge, especially if it’s liable to make the customer at all comfortable. I was rather surprised to find that the theater chain actually acknowledged an airline industry influence in their announcement. “It’s really about providing our guests with choices when they go to the movies,” […]

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Star Trek Into Darkness

Roberto Orci has officially been hired to direct Star Trek 3 out of the darkness. It will be the first directorial gig for the co-author of a large amount of blockbuster movies, and you don’t have to look far to find people complaining about the choice, either because of his inexperience in that particular folding chair or because of his name in general. A few scattered editorials and fist-clenching comments on Twitter defend the choice or warn all of us to exercise caution, and while the dramatics are fun (in the usual way that any blockbuster speculation this far out is “fun”), there’s something everyone is forgetting: It doesn’t matter who directs Star Trek 3.

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Electro - Amazing Spider-Man 2

The Amazing Spider-Man isn’t a good movie. It’s sloppy, has a half-baked villain, and, for a huge blockbuster picture, it lacks scope and style. In fact, a lot of Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man movies feel more modern and photo-realistic than what director Marc Webb has done so far. With every sequel you hope lessons will be learned from whatever past mistakes. Sometimes a series needs to go through a learning curve before getting to the goods. Sadly, that’s not the case with The Amazing Spider-Man 2. Webb has managed to make an even worse film. While this sequel is more polished, its script is disastrous in parts. It’s easily the most frustrating movie Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman (and co-writer Jeff Pinkner) have ever written. The wildly varying tone, the cheap character motivations and poor plotting all scream Joel Schumacher. It has some things going for it, most of which are overshadowed by all the glaring issues. Spoilers included, here are 10 things I didn’t like about The Amazing Spider-Man 2 and 5 things I did.

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Aunt May Amazing Spider-Man

From the moment that radioactive spider decided to chomp down on Peter Parker, the most average boy in Manhattan’s life was never the same again. But despite becoming the flying, web-slinging defender of New York City, at his core Peter was still a teenager struggling to figure out his place in the world. Each and every one of Peter’s moves upon becoming Spider-Man depended on three crucial factors: Mary Jane Watson, Gwen Stacy and Aunt May. The three main women in his life. Though their timelines and characters have changed over the years from their depictions from comic books to film, their relevance to Peter Parker’s story remains the same. Without MJ, Gwen or May, he wouldn’t have had much to care about or many personal reasons to keep fighting.

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Princess Leia in Star Wars - Troopers

Diversity is of vital importance to filmmaking, not only because of how powerful movies can be as a social tool, but because variety is what makes the engine of storytelling run. In an industry built on sharing experiences — one that’s notoriously slow to innovate on certain fronts — finding The New is the only way to ensure survival. Sometimes that comes in the guise of technology, sometimes in structure, and sometimes in the people whose stories are being shared. The Star Wars: Episode VII casting announcement yesterday was, as you may have noticed, swift in causing some to reach for pitchforks over a lack of diversity. Several voices let their outrage be known, even without a full public actor roster or a detailed description of the roles. I personally find that kind of kneejerk reaction less than useful because at best it’s well-intentioned but meaningless and at worst it serves as ego-tripping, more for the pundit’s own notoriety than a genuine concern for equality. Naturally, a healthy portion of outrage was fomented by assumptions about J.J. Abrams‘ and the production’s intent, which drew their PR machine to announce that another prominent female role had yet to be announced. I’m impressed that they had the restraint to avoid saying, “Maybe wait until we reveal everything before you slam us?” in their release. Particularly because representation is important, but it cannot be the only rubric for judgement or quality would always be in question. Also because it’s possible for creatives in Hollywood to consider […]

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Frozen Disney Movie

There are few movies that stay so firmly in the public discourse this long after their release. Even with the boost of awards season, we’re focused on what Summer 2014 will bring instead of pouring new thoughts about Gravity or 12 Years a Slave into old wineskins. Yet here we are with yet another editorial on the Frozen pro-gay agenda, this one from Akash Nikolas taking the ho-hum angle by attempting to link classic Disney films like Dumbo — and really an entire history of the studio — to LGBT supporting subtext. Frozen‘s pro-gay? What isn’t? By giving a queer reading of multiple movies from multiple eras Nikolas has achieved something clever, using hyperbole to point out how any movie featuring a character who learns to be comfortable with himself or herself can be read as a metaphor for homosexuality. Because of course it can. But coming out of the closet (or the genie bottle, of the ice castle) isn’t the sole visual metaphor in these movies. Emergence from a timid existence to embrace/learn your unique talent/destiny is a hallmark of the hero’s journey, and in every case (even Frozen) is so broad that it could mean absolutely anything. Feel isolated because jocks tease you for being in the school play? Let it go. Alienated because you’re a hardcore Republican living in Austin? Let it go. Lonely because you love playing jazz but none of your friends think it’s cool? Let it go with syncopation. It’s fascinating that have latched onto the concept of Frozen being pro-gay because of a very general, well-worn theme […]

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Agents of SHIELD Cast

While doing press for the Fargo series, Billy Bob Thornton was asked over and over again why he decided to give TV a try. His answers tend to sum up two main thoughts that he has about the small screen right now: this new wave of great television mirrors the 1990s independent film movement, and currently this is really the only place for adult dramas and comedies. He’s right, and he’s certainly not the first person to say it. Movies for grown-ups are hard to come by at the multiplex, and when they do arrive they don’t do very well  (a lot of them don’t deserve to do well, either). Meanwhile, we’ve got smart and sexy programming up the wazoo on cable and occasionally network TV. Fargo is yet another in the pile that has included True Detective, Top of the Lake, Game of Thrones, Louie, Veep, House of Cards, Girls, Mad Men, Breaking Bad, etc. Everyone knows all about all that. Even though they’re nothing new, Thornton’s comments had me thinking about why those kinds of movies for adults disappeared from theaters. The easy answer is that fewer adults were going to the movies and the lack of a large audience made those kinds of releases unprofitable. And that’s made more room for superhero movies, which are all over the place these days. I don’t think the superheroes chased out the serious drama stuff, which hasn’t completely left movie theaters, and of course each type still has its own season — superheroes in the summertime; awards fodder in […]

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Serial Experiments Lain

Championing anime, especially something as wondrously bizarre as Serial Experiments Lain, is a worthy cause, but I still can’t make heads or tails of The Daily Beast’s accusation that Hollywood sci-fi films are ripping off anime. Vague and accusatory headline in tow, author David Levesley points out cosmetic similarities between recent science fiction studio fare and well-regarded anime gems with the added (hand-drawn) cherry on top of claiming filmmakers won’t own up to the work they’re stealing from. It’s a bombastic statement (that probably feels gut-level correct for anyone who thinks “Hollywood is out of ideas” is both true and a response for everything), but the gruel here is so clear that it’s see-through. It’s an impotent, misplaced rant with an uncomfortable cultural angle. The quick and dirty comparisons from the piece include: Transcendence = Serial Experiments Lain (and unnamed multitudes) because they both include a person being uploaded to a computer upon death. The Hunger Games = Battle Royale (an old favorite) Inception = Paprika because they both involve a dream machine Pacific Rim = Neon Genesis Evangelion because of the mechs Her = Chobits because they both have a love story between man and compu-lady These similarities would be damning evidence of rip offs…if anime were the only storytelling well of the past two thousand years.

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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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published: 12.22.2014
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