Opinions

labordayfilm

This article contains spoilers for ‘Labor Day.’  Proceed with caution unless you have already taken in all of the nonsense it has to offer, or if you are for some other reason free of spoiler-fear. Seeing as I watched director Jason Reitman’s new film, Labor Day, after it was already a few days into its release, I figured that since I hadn’t heard much about it, chances were that it was just an ordinary movie. I mean, I’d heard some rumbling about how it was surprisingly bad, but given how much people have liked Reitman’s movies (Thank You For Smoking, Juno, Up In the Air, Young Adult) up until this point, it made sense that he was probably due to make something that would disappoint. And yeah, the trailer looked pretty hokey, but who can’t go in for a sappy love story every once in a while? It was pretty damned surprising to me then, just how contemptible Labor Day ended up being—and not in your usual bad movie way either. Sure, it was contrived. Sure, its characters often didn’t behave in any believably human way. And sure, it had some serious pacing problems. The real issues with this thing went so much further than problems with crafting though. At a very fundamental level, Labor Day tells a story that presupposes a woman can’t thrive in her life unless she’s permanently attached to a man, which is laughable. As soon as I got home I Googled the movie, expecting to […]

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PetSemetary

With this weekend’s A Fantastic Fear of Everything, Simon Pegg stars as Jack, a children’s book author who becomes obsessive and paranoid about death and murder — even when there’s nothing at all to worry about. While Jack is an adult who can’t cope with the real world because of his obsessions, it’s more often the kids who are deemed the scaredy cats due to their irrational fears. Maybe that has a little to do with sneaking scary movies bright and early? It’s a rite of passage, really, that happens when Dad is snoring on the other side of the couch and the remote is blissfully, blessedly unattended for once. That’s right; it’s time to steal that remote and secretly switch the channel to the scariest programming possible. Nightmares be damned, you’re nine years old and you have living to do, man! Trying to watch horror movies (and just plain fear-themed films) before the appropriate age comes from a specific scientific combination of attempting to appear more grown-up and the innate desire that exists within all of us to do the opposite of whatever our parents say. When the lights go out and the moms are out of sight, it’s time to see exactly how brave you can be when facing down Freddy Krueger. As tough and gallant as we might fancy ourselves as children – and this especially applies if we’re literally talking about us, little movie buffs in the making – there are just some films you just really […]

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peter-sellers-as-dr-strangelove

It was released 50 years ago this week, but as Dr. Strangelove‘s cryptic closing ditty promised, we do indeed meet again. Stanley Krubick‘s 1964 Cold War satire has reached the half-century mark, and for this writer and many others it remains a constantly-revisited favorite cinematic exercise in Kubrick’s storied career. Now we have received orders from C2 to execute Operation: Longevity, a highly classified mission to highlight those elements of Dr. Strangelove that provide for its continued relevance to a post-Cold War society. Classified as much as any freely-available internet editorial can be … so not at all. Dr. Strangelove‘s legacy is a funny thing, or more accurately its legacy is engrained in its use of humor. Indeed all comedies strive for humor — reference for such revelatory claims can be verified in the New England Journal of Obviousness – but Kubrick’s use of humor to tell this particular story is both innovative and staggeringly bold. The film serves as the premier satire of the Cold War, a tense period of sabre-rattling and missile-measuring between the stubborn superpowers of the United States and the Soviet Union. Hey, if there is any subject guaranteed to elicit laughter, it’s mutually assured destruction.

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X-Men: Days of Future Past

As we all know, 2015 is going to be the biggest year for big years in the history of big years. It’s going to be so gigantic for tentpoles, superhero movies, sequels and reboots that we’re finally all asking whether or not it’s possible to experience geek overload, and while the thought of that forthcoming summer sends chills through tingle-prone parts, we have to survive this year first. There’s a lot to look forward to, and now Kofi Outlaw over at ScreenRant has laid bare the simple questions facing geek property fans as we edge ever closer to the brink. He’s presented 5 big questions facing the calendar change, and I’ve decided to answer them all.

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Sightseers

An interesting, probably inflammatory question has been posed by two filmmakers and a Kickstarter page. The British Film Industry: Elitist, Deluded or Dormant? is actually the name of the documentary, an unwieldy if certainly attention-grabbing choice. Directors Robin Dutta and Vinod Mahindru have assembled quite the star-studded list of filmmakers and film professionals, and are raising money to turn it into a finished feature. Ben Kingsley is the name they’ve put at the top of their page, but there is also testimony from Stephen Frears, Ken Loach, and Alan Parker. Presumably these important figures and the rest of the long list of interview subjects have a lot of very challenging opinions. Dutta and Mahindru, after all, claim this is a film that “Great Britain does not want you to see!” So what is it that they are actually saying? What’s killing British cinema and who are these elitists running it? It’s not exactly easy to tell, which is fair. They’d probably like everyone to help them finish the film in order to find out. Their biggest concerns seem to the difficulty of getting funding for a project, and the difficulty of getting it into theaters across the UK. Beyond that, the trailer mentions nepotism, the wasting of millions of pounds of public money, and even lines of cocaine being done presumably by industry executives who should be saving the British film industry instead. The claim is even made that there official policy to prevent the revival of British cinema.

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The One I Love

Speaking yesterday from his second home at Sundance, Mark Duplass was direct about the catalyst for his success: “Getting yourself into theaters is great. Getting a big VOD pop is great, but my first movie made a grand total of $220,000 in theaters but about 5 million people have seen it on Netflix because they can click on it and they can try it out. And so I really recommend to get your get goddamn movie on Netflix. It made my career.” It’s difficult to see the flaw in Duplass’ logic here, especially since most indie filmmakers would be thrilled to see any kind of distribution online, let alone on a platform that commands 34 million members. However, it could be a boon to the network itself, and Netflix would be wise to piggyback on the comments to tell indie filmmakers, “Get your goddamn movie on us.” Except more eloquently. Maybe less creepy.

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long kiss

Before we begin, let’s take a moment to clarify that headline: The Long Kiss Goodnight is not a masterpiece. Sorry to break it to you, Renny Harlin, but your finest work falls just short of Lawrence of Arabia and all those other films about schoolteachers discovering their killer pasts. Harlin’s career is full of highs and lows, including last weekend‘s The Legend of Hercules, but everything about Harlin’s “style,” from even his lowest points, came into focus for 1996’s The Long Kiss Goodnight. When Harlin’s name shows in the opening credits for his quasi-spy thriller, a grenade appears, appropriately (and visually) declaring this is the director’s most explosive outing yet. Harlin maintains a jovial energy through the film’s entire runtime, but much of the its success is attributed to screenwriter Shane Black. Black’s sensibility rings loud and clear underneath Harlin’s bombast: a dark sense of humor, an unlikely duo at the center, inventive set pieces, and clever setups and payoffs.

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Shia Career

A few days ago, cinema lost a celebrated actor when Shia LaBeouf announced his retirement from public life. Ostensibly, that includes acting performances (except for the private kind), meaning that decades of unrealized work will live on only in our hearts and imaginations. Presumably, his final performance will come in David Ayer’s forthcoming war picture with Brad Pitt and no on-set shower. If it gets a release this year, it’ll be alongside a penetrating performance for Lars von Trier’s two-part Nymphomaniac, making 2014 the final year of LaBeouf’s cinematic career. The curious element to the plagiarizing episode that has caused LaBeouf to throw his arms up in the air (and then skywrite in it) is that there’s an engine driving the absurdity. A kind of legitimacy. The mockery and derision prove that, at some level, we take LaBeouf seriously as a performer. Or at least his potential. Otherwise — and with anyone we don’t think of as genuine– this public stunt wouldn’t even register. At most it would be a day’s diversion, not stretching, seemingly endlessly, into the foreseeable future. So the question is when we started taking the little kid from Even Stevens seriously.

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Netflix Envelope

Reading Felix Salmon’s downer article and searching for a classic mystery thriller has gotten me pessimistic about Netflix. Not about its future as a business, but as a user. As a movie fan. The core problem that we all know so well is that Netflix doesn’t have a lot of streaming options (hence the small crop that manifested from searching for classic mystery thrillers). The secondary problem, as Salmon points it: “As a result, Netflix can’t, any longer, aspire to be the service which allows you to watch the movies you want to watch. That’s how it started off, and that’s what it still is, on its legacy DVDs-by-mail service. But if you don’t get DVDs by mail, Netflix has made a key tactical decision to kill your queue — the list of movies that you want to watch. Once upon a time, when a movie came out and garnered good reviews, you could add it to your list, long before it was available on DVD, in the knowledge that it would always become available eventually. If you’re a streaming subscriber, however, that’s not possible: if you give Netflix a list of all the movies you want to watch, the proportion available for streaming is going to be so embarrassingly low that the company decided not to even give you that option any more. While Amazon has orders of magnitude more books than your local bookseller ever had, Netflix probably has fewer movies available for streaming than your local VHS […]

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Superman Death

The next three years in the theater will be inundated with mutants, aliens, sorcerers, gods both good and evil, and sentient machines, all vying for your fandom and dollars. The reign of the comic book film may seem to have already been fully realized, with 2008’s Iron Man generally marked as the poured foundation in the house that Disney and Marvel Studios built, culminating in 2012’s The Avengers. Disney and Marvel’s combined audaciousness in envisioning and executing with unprecedented success the interweaving franchises of Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, and making Hulk work in spite of three films of which none of the original leads transition to the ensemble, is remarkable. It’s a blueprint for success that, oddly, film historians decades from now may mark as the first nail in the coffin of a genre that needlessly accelerated its own demise, and which damaged the success and viability of smaller, less mainstream offerings under its super-powered umbrella at the expense of getting while the getting is good.

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The Black List

I did the whole film school thing – but not until I was 26 – when I got divorced. Jacked my old life and just went for it. I’m heavily tattooed, white, Irish trailer trash. Didn’t know anybody in the business whatsoever, nobody famous, nada, nout, zero, naught, nothing. And, apart from the lasting friendships formed, film school was fucking waste of time! Spent years being lied to, being skint, sleeping on people’s floors. Did every shit job imaginable – anything to pay the rent. We’ve all done it, I know. Only thing I got from it was learning that if you want it, you have to do it yourself. Actually, a little caveat to that: the editor on my current gig was actually in my class at film school – so retrospectively I guess I did get something out of it (19 years later). Now, I’m a jobbing director – been fortunate enough to have worked on some pretty funky high-end TV shows like Atlantis, Merlin, Being Human, Robin Hood, and Wire in the Blood. I’ve also done more than my fair share of the shite TV stuff – and everything in between. As my transition into features, I’d written this contained Irish revenge thriller called Broken Cove. Spent 18 months or so trying to get it airborne – and when the finance fell through for the umpteenth time, I just said “Fuck it.”

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THE HOBBIT: THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG

This week’s Short Starts column was already going to be different by focusing on the first film for a particular story’s adaptation rather than for a director or actor. J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit‘s first time on screen was as a short film in 1966 from the team of producer William L. Snyder and director Gene Deitch (Popeye the Sailor). I wouldn’t exactly call it an animated film any more than I’d call a Ken Burns documentary animated. It’s more of a slide show of illustrations, some of them zoomed in on or panned across for some visual stimulation, plus an occasional spot of psychedelic effects. The short was kind of a throwaway work (an “ashcan” production), similar to Roger Corman’s 1994 Fantastic Four film in that it was only made, and in such half-assed fashion, to retain rights to the property. Simply pointing to this curiosity is not enough, though, especially because it was already included on a list of Hobbit adaptations here at FSR last week. But I still want to address it because it’s so fascinating that the same story can be told in about 11 minutes, in the case of the ’66 version, or closer to 11 hours, as could be the case for Peter Jackson‘s Hobbit trilogy (currently the three films are on track to run closer to 9 hours even after the extended releases come out, but down the line maybe a Blu-ray special edition will put it near 11, a la the LOTR trilogy). Both are […]

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HER

I don’t know which critic first suggested Scarlett Johansson deserves an Oscar nomination for Her. That’s too bad, because a statement like that often initially comes from a place of attention-seeking. Not necessarily in a bad way, either. We like to and need to have fresh ideas in this business, and even more than that we like to get credit for those ideas. But it’s also too bad because I’m curious of the true intent behind the statement. It’s one thing to suggest — not in jest but in a way that’s not totally meant to be taken seriously so much as inspire a certain kind of discussion — and it’s another to really champion and campaign for the notion that a voice-only performance should be considered for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress. The conversation around the idea reminds me of the one a couple years ago in response to the suggestion that Andy Serkis‘s performance-capture work on Rise of the Planet of the Apes deserved a Best Supporting Actor nomination. It was actually residual build-up following the same idea more than a decade ago about Serkis’s performance as Gollum in The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers. Interestingly enough, there was no talk of such recognition a year ago when the actor reprised the role as the computer-generated character in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. Had everyone just given up? Was it a lesser performance? Definitely not the latter. Perhaps it was that the novelty of […]

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love-actually-sangster

I’m one of the insane who watches Love Actually every year around Christmastime. Richard Curtis’ 10-year-old flick has lost none of its charm on repeat viewings, the laughs all still land and it makes a hell of a double feature with Die Hard. So naturally I think Christopher Orr is dead wrong about it. Up until four days ago, I had no idea there were people that hated the ensemble romantic comedy. In the grand sense that not everything is for everyone, sure, of course there were going to be people that didn’t care for it, but my eyes were opened to just how deep the irritation goes when Orr lambasted it as the least romantic movie of all time. I’m assuming Saw and Ichi the Killer weren’t up for consideration, but even strictly within the genre (and ignoring the trolling headline of the piece), it’s a pretty outrageous claim. It’s backed up by Orr’s typical flourish and intellect, but it’s a rare case where he seems to be wandering around a large amount of trees wondering where the power plant is. As it turns out, Love Actually needs a defense.

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OK

Finally, a bit of good news for those in favor of arming Eddie Murphy and unleashing him on unaware California residents. Jerry Bruckheimer, the megaproducer behind the Pirates of the Caribbean films and so many Michael Bay productions, has decided upon his new post-Disney partner, and it is Paramount Pictures. Many giganto-huge blockbusters will surely stem from this new partnership, but the first are to be Top Gun 2 and a Beverly Hills Cop reboot. Both have been talked about for years, but now 26 years later we’re finally on track to see an aged Tom Cruise ejecting himself from a series of aircraft — and yes, according to Deadline, both Cruise and Murphy are set to return to these new installments. It’s the same old story. Movie was popular several decades ago. Now it’s being redone. But the difference here is Bruckheimer, who was a producer and major creative force on both the original Top Gun and the first two Beverly Hills Cop installments. Will it change things now that he is rebooting his own babies and not, say, radio show characters from almost a century ago? (The $190m hole The Lone Ranger left in Disney’s pocket is considered one of the major reasons Bruckheimer was given the boot.) His affection could make a difference. The man may want to ensure that his earliest hits are given the care and respect they deserve, but Bruckheimer is also a very different producer than he was then. The Bruckheimer of today, who traffics almost […]

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Superman Batman and Wonder Woman

There’s a wacky political theory (hear me out and stop yawning) that commercials for presidential candidates don’t actually do anything. The thinking is pretty simple: since commercials only increase name recognition, and the people running for the highest office already have a metric ton of name recognition, candidates spend hundreds of millions to move the needle not at all. Strangely, no campaign has ever had the brass buttons to give us a real-world test of the theory. The movie studio corollary is fairly simple to spot — particularly in an age where the name of your franchise is theoretically far more important for your movie’s potential popularity than the name of the actor playing the part. We’re in a post-star era, but the extent of actors’ diminished effect on bringing in fans isn’t really clear, leading to an important franchise question. Would it really matter who played Superman? Batman? Wonder Woman? Katniss? That Sparkly Vampire Guy? Actors have already caught on to the phenomenon and capitalized on it by extending their profiles into the independent world, going as far as ensuring financing for small films that otherwise wouldn’t be made without them. Best of all, they do this without risking their “personal brand” as “big time movie stars” at all. In that sense, the shift has been freeing, and it can be freeing for studios, too, as they become more comfortable choosing from outside the same 10-name list for higher profile roles. In the best case scenario, it’ll give directors […]

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CUMBERBATCH_STAR-TREK-INTO-DARKNESS

When Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman and Damon Lindelof finalized the script for Star Trek Into Darkness, they made a bold decision (presumably under the guiding hand of J.J. Abrams) to include a twist not based on information delivered in the movie itself, but based on real-world knowledge of the series’ history. When the destructive John Harrison reveals himself, in fact, to be Khan midway through the story, it’s an unnecessary twist designed specifically and solely for fans who knew who the hell Khan was to begin with. In an alternative universe where the simple act of making a Star Trek sequel didn’t bring Khan to every film journalist’s mind immediately, it could have been a magic moment, but it was also always destined (in every universe) to be a head-scratcher for those outside the know. They didn’t spend the movie building up the mythos of Khan — they spent the movie displaying how vicious “John Harrison” could be and then revealed, gasp, that he had another name! It was a reverse Keyser Soze. Just like that — poof — John Harrison was gone. Which is what makes Abrams’ room temperature regret about lying to the press about Benedict Cumberbatch playing Khan leading up to the film’s release all the more bizarre.

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Starring Kellan Lutz

Many a year ago, Taylor Kitsch was lauded as the next great male heartthrob. Then came John Carter. Then, Battleship. Now, he’s lucky to have landed a role in Almost Heroes 3D, the next animated feature from DigiArt Productions (which sounds more than a little like an accredited online institute). Kellan Lutz has clearly been studying under Kitsch’s wing- stepping into the spotlight as a somewhat generic megahunk with the Twilight films and Immortals, then plunging immediately downward. The actor may be a part of the next Expendables film, but so is every other male actor in Hollywood; the only two starring roles he’s got lined up now are a couple of low-budget clunkers. Neither Hercules: The Legend Begins nor Tarzan 3D have a whole lot going for them. So let’s start with Hercules, shall we? The film is already in the unfortunate position of going up against Dwayne Johnson‘s 265 pounds of mythical Greek fury, but a look at the newest trailer (which comes courtesy of Yahoo) only make the situation more dire. The Legend Begins mixes equal parts 300, Gladiator and Spartacus, as the mythical son of Zeus is forced to test his legendary strength in the gladiatorial arena. He’ll build a rapport with the crowds who munch popcorn and await his gruesome demise (Gladiator) and test the bounds of film editing as he abruptly switches from slow-mo, to fast-mo, to slow-mo once more (300). You can’t really hold this against Lutz. Hercules: The Legend Begins just looks like old […]

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Transformers Age of Extinction - Empire Cover

The new-fangled Optimus Prime plays cover model on the latest edition of Empire Magazine alongside Transformers: Age of Extinction co-stars Mark Wahlberg, generic white tough guy #37 and some sort of Alyssa Milano/Tara Reid hybrid. The image had a strange effect that crept up on me, and it wasn’t until staring down the replacement cast for a few moments that I realized what it was: this could be the announcement of a brand new franchise. As in, a first-look at the never-before-attempted adaptation of the 1980s toys into live-action Bayhem. Like Shia Labeouf and the worst last name possible never happened. Like Megan Fox was just a dream. A reboot in the truest sense. And isn’t that what all reboots futilely attempt to do? They often crop up just minutes after we saw the last of them (hence the futility), but Transformers might be uniquely situated to effectively use the little red blinky light thingy from MIB on its audience. Granted, I wasn’t really a fan so I don’t think about the series all that much, but with a backbone of CGI characters and disposable humans, Michael Bay‘s Magnum Optimus is well-positioned to shoot amnesia bullets at us. For a moment, it worked on me, and it was like seeing the big screen leader of the Autbots for the first time. [Empire Online]

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the girl with the dragon tattoo

In addition to being admittedly subjective, the idea of ranking the best or worst book-to-film adaptations is a fruitless effort for at least one other reason: there’s nothing consistently being judged when making this determination. Most list-makers seem content simply picking the best/worst movies that happen to have been based on a book (or short story, novella, etc.), but that has no bearing on the quality of the actual adaptation. For example? Spike Jonze’s aptly-titled Adaptation, with a script by Charlie Kaufman, is an absolutely brilliant film, but you’d be hard-pressed to call it a good adaptation of Susan Orlean’s non-fiction book, “The Orchid Thief.” Even acknowledging that movies and books are different entities, it would be a ridiculously loose interpretation of the word to say it’s a success on that front. To a similar but lesser degree, you could make the argument that Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining is a classic of atmospheric horror while at the same time being a poor adaptation of Stephen King’s novel. This has been a roundabout way of introducing the latest attempt to rank adaptations, one that finds a slightly different angle while simultaneously introducing some new wrinkles. The UK’s Total Film has posted “50 Movies That Were Better Than The Books,” and ignoring the fact that the title implies these movies are no longer better than the books, the list is chock-full of head-scratching hilarity. Of course, this is the same site that ran a list a few months back of “50 Movies That Are Longer […]

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