The new Avengers: Endgame trailer is missing one important thing

“We’re in the endgame now . . .”

Just your average Thursday.

A few hours ago, Marvel dropped the latest trailer for the upcoming Avengers: Endgame. Though it regurgitates a handful of scenes from last year’s trailer, we finally have a fully fledged glimpse at our remaining superheros as they prepare to take the fight to Thanos and, hopefully, find a way to rescue those who perished when the mad titan fired his infinity gauntlet. We even get a fun look at Brie Larson’s Captain Marvel and Chris Hemsworth’s Thor. Notably missing from the trailer, however, is the big bad himself. First, let’s talk about what iin the trailer.

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The trailer wisely presents our heroes where they’re likely to be at the onset of the film. Which is important considering how quickly Infinity War had to get the ball rolling to wrap up at around the 2hr 45m mark. Though the Russos have gone on record stating that Endgame will finish at around three hours, there’s no doubting that the film will use every available inch of real estate to provide us with the kind of spongy CGI action, superhero power-poses interspersed with witty dialogue, and the surprisingly effective emotional beats we’ve come to expect from this franchise.

The trailer opens with a montage of color-corrected scenes from previous films, more than likely to invoke the sort of “how the hell has it been eleven years since Iron Man” nostalgia many a nerd is feeling right now. We see Tony Stark escape the desert cave in his prototype Iron Man suit and Steve Rogers ruminating on his journey from gun-ho soldier to the de facto leader of the Avengers. It’s a pleasing transition, one that occurs so quickly that it’s easy to forget the massive gamble Marvel took trying to make this cinematic universe happen.

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We can’t linger on the nature of contemporary blockbuster entertainment, however. The trailer needs to reacquaint us with those most notably absent from the previous Avengers, mainly Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye and Paul Rudd’s Ant-Man – both receiving a fair bit of screen time.

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Que the bombastic brass of that mighty Avenger’s theme song. The remainder of the trailer has Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow issuing the mission statement for the group. They have to try and take down Thanos, they owe it to those “not in the room.” And it’s interesting that ScarJo has such a presence in this trailer. Chris Evan’s Cap is given particular reverence, especially as the music swells, but it’s Johansson’s narration that pushes forward the darker, near desperate tone of the images.

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The way these shots are framed (remaining fully aware that the scenes selected for a trailer strike that alluring balance between aesthetically pleasing and intentionally ambiguous), definitely suggest that the sinking feeling audiences felt as Thanos snapped is fingers won’t be letting up until (hopefully) the credits role. They’re desperate and, from what I can see, are approaching this decade-in-the-making climax with the kind of fatalist sobriety that only an expired contract could provide. As far as the color palette and composition of the trailer is concerned, don’t expect this film to let up on the doom and gloom.

And then, in the final few shots, heroes clad in fresh white armor ready themselves, repeating “Whatever it takes!” as quick splashes of action lead in to the title card. Fanfare. And scene.

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But where’s Thanos? The big purple world eater? Sunbathing in that cornfield from the teaser?

Honestly? It doesn’t matter.

That’s my thesis. We know the threat, we’ve seen what this particular big bad (who finally proved Marvel’s villain problem had more to do with the aforementioned nature of blockbuster entertainment than the aptitude of their writers) is capable of. The threat is cosmic, omnipresent. The teaser gave us a hint as to his current whereabouts, and we know he took an axe to the chest thanks to Thor, but so long as he has that infinity gauntlet, we need only bask in the forlorn temperaments of the heroes left standing.

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Marvel’s marketing department is smart. Infinity War was only the third movie in history to earn over two-billion dollars at the worldwide box office during its initial release. The world over is familiar with Thanos and the threat he poses. Marvel needs only to remind us all that the film hits theaters April 26th, 2019. In fact, his absence from the promotional material lends an added anticipation for his reveal in the film. Marvel’s made billions veiling this character until the last possible minute. Why would they change course now?

Additionally, at this point in the franchise the presumed quality of the film is irrelevant – this is cinematic history. As the trailer seems to suggest, look how far we’ve come. Whether by formula or genuine innovation, this franchise is culminating into something we’ve never seen before.

Superhero fatigue be damned, I’ll be there opening night.

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Thanks for stopping by the blog today. I’ll have more content available for you soon.

Until next time.

BOX OFFICE: Captain Marvel Scores Huge $153 Million Opening Weekend

Happy Monday

Good morning, dear reader. I hope your weekend went as well as Disney’s. If you were one of the many in attendance at theaters across the country this weekend, you may have noticed a fun little movie (or a familiar face passing out Snow Caps) by the name of Captain Marvel causing quite the stir.

According to Brad Brevet and the crack-team of money-trackers over at Box Office Mojo, the twenty-first entry in the Marvel’s super-powered cinematic universe opened to a whopping $153 million dollars in North America. This represents not only the third highest March opening of all-time not accounting for inflation (like the big-wigs give a damn), and represents the seventh largest opening weekend in the franchise. Brevet & Co. are quick to point out comparable openings in The Dark Knight ($158.4m), The Hunger Games: Catching Fire ($158m), and Rogue One: A Star Wars Story ($155m) – the latter of which went on to gross north of $500 million domestically and over $1 billion worldwide. We’ll get in to Captain Marvel‘s potential in just a moment.

Based on current estimates, here’s the weekend top ten, March 8-10, 2019:

Film – Weekend: Total Domestic / International / Global | *New Release
  1. *Captain Marvel – $155m: $155m / $302m / $455m
  2. How to Train Your Dragon 3 – $14.6m: $119.6m / $315.5m / $435.1m
  3. Tyler Perry’s A Madea Family Funeral – $12.05m: $45.8m / $235k / $46.1m
  4. The LEGO Movie 2 – $3.8m: $97.1m / $67.3m / $164.4m
  5. Alita: Battle Angel – $3.2m: $78.3m / $304.3m / $382.6m
  6. Green Book – $2.48m: $80.1m / $162.1m / $242.2m
  7. Isn’t it Romantic – $2.41m: $44.1m 
  8. Fighting with My Family – $2.18m: $18.6m 
  9. Greta – $2.16m: $8.2m / $800k / $9.05m
  10. Apollo 11 – $1.3m: $3.7m

Total Weekend Box Office: $206.8m

Yes, it’s startling to see a single Disney vehicle comprise over 70% of the total weekend gross, but remember – they own us it’s worth remembering that this film had a lot hinging on its success. Brie Larson’s titular character, one Carol Danvers, is rumored to play an integral role in the upcoming Avengers: Endgame. The hype train started for Captain Marvel will invariably carry us up to the ensemble’s next clash with the universe-rending Thanos. As far as the numbers are concerned, the rest of the MCU has a 2.76x multiplier when calculating their final domestic runs – which Brevet suggests will land Captain Marvel somewhere around $420 million by the time it leaves theaters. That’s a far cry from the phemon that was Black Panther, and well short of Wonder Woman’s final domestic cume, but still worth celebrating. It also has the rest of March to itself, as DC’s much-anticipated Shazam! won’t hit theaters until April 5.

Universal’s How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World came in second place. So far, the film is tracking to outpace its predecessor, How to Train Your Dragon 2, which ended its domestic run with $177 million. However, at the same point in its release, How to Train Your Dragon was $20 million ahead of where The Hidden World sits now. The first film ended with a North American total of $217.5 million unadjusted for inflation – it’s doubtful that the third will pass it. As far as Worldwide totals, with only three weeks under its belt The Hidden World sits only $30 million behind the first film and has plenty of time to catch the impressive $621.5 million global total of the second.

In third is Tyler Perry’s latest Madea romp. It somehow made over $12 million. It currently sits just $2 million shy of the $47.3 million domestic total of Boo 2! A Madea Halloween, and will more than likely pass it by next week. Assuming it takes another 55% drop in revenue week over week, we can expect it to pass the original Madea, A Madea Christmas, and Big Happy Family – which finished its run with $53.3 million.

In fourth is the Phil Lord and Chris Miller written The LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part, which has already outpaced the $59.2 million domestic total of the Ninjago movie – surprising exactly no one – but it has a ways to go before approaching the $175.7 million take of LEGO Batman, or the $257.7 million of the original LEGO Movie. Even the considerable wit of Lord and Miller, paired with the less-than-considerable charm of Chris Pratt, is struggling to reach its audience (comparatively speaking, of course.)

In fifth is the Robert Rodriguez directed, James Cameron produced, Alita: Battle Angel. Early reports had this film pegged as a flop, seeing as its domestic haul has yet to approach 50% of its huge $170 million production budget. What’s saving it, and is surely pleasing the executives at Fox, is the considerable attention the film is getting overseas. It’s so far amassed $304 million outside of North America, over a third of which earned from China.

Coming in at sixth is the Academy Award for Best Picture winning film Green Book. The film, which has seen considerable controversy for not only its portrayal of racism in the south, racism in general, its depiction of Dr. Don Shirley, the silencing of Shirley’s surviving family, its production values, its script, its acting, its directors, and the Best Picture acceptance speech failing to mention Victor Hugo Green, Dr. Don Shirley or his family in any way. Regardless, people are still seeing it, enough so that it has managed to earn nearly $250 million at the worldwide box office. Remember folks, the man who forced Jason Alexander to wear a prosthetic elongated tailbone in Shallow Hal now has an Academy Award for Best Picture. Dark times, indeed . . .

In seventh is the Warner Bros. / New Line “what if?” comedy, Isn’t it Romantic, starring Rebel Wilson. I know nothing about this movie.

In eighth is the MGM “indie” film Fighting with My Family, which has relied almost entirely on Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson’s Instagram account for marketing. Props to director Stephen Merchant (talented in his own right) for recognizing that the single greatest marketing tool he had at his disposal was The Rock, who stars in the film as himself – a true departure for him. He’s surrounded by actual talent in Lena Headey, Nick Frost, and newcomer Florence Pugh. So far it’s managed $18.6 million in the states, and could manage closer to $30 million by the end of its run.

Rounding out the top ten is the Neil Jordan drama, Greta, which I hadn’t heard of before writing this, and the riveting, previously IMAX-exclusive NASA documentary Apollo 11. If you saw First Man and found yourself yearning for more – go see this film.

Next week we have a slew of early year doozies seeing wide release:

The animated Wonder Park hits theaters, and maybe you’ll take your kid? Maybe? Perhaps just find a sitter? Go out on the town? Enjoy yourself, for once? Don’t you deserve it?

Haley Lu Richardson and Cole Sprouse star in the teenager-with-illnesses-fall-in-love-or-whatever film, Five Feet Apart. One of them dies.

And then we have the film clogging your social media feeds and preventing your YouTube videos from loading, Captive State. Aliens attack the planet. Do you remember Chronicle? Battle: Los Angeles? No? Just checking.

That’s it for this box office update, everyone. Thank you so much for stopping by. I do hope you enjoy the rest of your week. Stay tuned for more content from yours truly.

Until next time.

REVIEW: Captain Marvel

Captain Marvel

Rated PG-13 : 124 min : Released March 8, 2018

Higher, further, faster . . .

Hello, dear reader. Me again.

I know, it’s been a few months since you’ve heard from me. I feel like I’ll spend a decent amount of time in the future doing so, so for the sake of brevity let’s consider this apology a standing declaration.

Moving on.

A few months ago we were hit with the trailer above after it had been announced that Brie Larson was to play the incredibly powerful Carol Danvers, ostensibly the one figure in the current MCU who could stand toe-to-toe with Thanos and win (something our gallery of heroes is in dire need of at the moment.) The trailer charmed, it intrigued, it confused (Larson decks an old lady for a fraction of a second), and more than anything it gave moviegoers a glimpse at the receiving end of that ominous signal Nick Fury sent as he dematerialized into dust at the tail end of Infinity War.

Well, now I’ve seen the movie and I’m here to tell you, dear reader and prospective Marvel viewer – Thanos has reason to worry.

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Captain Marvel is an early-year treat, for sure, but not in the same way that Black Panther was to kick off 2018. Brie Larson’s Carol Danvers and Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury investigate the invasion of Earth by the Skrull, a shape shifting alien race at war with the Kree – for whom Danvers is a soldier. Together and with the help of a few friends, they hit their requisite plot beats and throw in enough of that trademark Marvel humor to ensure at least a billion worldwide when this thing finally closes shop.

I’d wager good money that Marvel will dominate its opening weekend and every weekend until Endgame premiers, but audiences won’t propel this to the stratospheric domestic run akin to last year’s slate of superhero flicks; Nor do I see this receiving a “placate the masses” nod at the 92nd Academy Awards. It’s a great time, really, but nearly disappointing considering the massive hype machine leading up to release.

I’ll try my hardest not to spoil anything, though there really isn’t much to spoil. Writer and Co-Director Anna Boden imbues the proceedings with a fair bit of levity, cheeky dialogue, twists and turns, and a generally coherent narrative arc that culminates in one hell of a fireworks show; but this film exhibits one of the more common complaints levied against Marvel, particularly for its recent slew of origin stories: It’s too safe.

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I’m not referring to the fact that this is Marvel’s first ever female-led superhero film. And I’d be a fool to ignore the social narrative surrounding the film. It’s in the promotional material, the junkets, and is spewing angrily from the slobbering horde of incels that have been tanking the film’s user reviews on sites such as IMDB and Rotten Tomatoes. However, it isn’t really in the movie – not in the terms said incels are accusing Marvel of. It’s present, to be absolutely clear, but in no way does it tackle it’s broader social commentary as explicitly as Black Panther. To be completely honest, any messaging is hidden into the very presentation of Captain Marvel very skillfully.

Danvers’ is often sparring with her superior officer, played by Jude Law, with his frequent instruction being that she remove herself from her emotional impulses – that she restrain herself and play a role. As the film transpires, Danvers’ eventually succeeds specifically because she embraces the traits that make her who she is. The film does this without ever explicitly stating so. Again, very well done. Proponents of this film needn’t worry of a Mary-Sue type argument being thrown their way, either. Danvers struggles tremendously in this film, and relies on her skills and some clever ingenuity early on. Her charisma and strength are two forces working in her favor, but it isn’t until she discovers who she really is, how she earned her powers, that we see her in top form.

No, when I call this movie safe, I’m instead referring to narrative devices, a lack of genuine stakes, and the over-reliance of Marvel on blurry CGI, a muted color palette, and incredibly generic brass wailing for a musical score.

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It’s a shame, because by and large the film does so much right. Brie Larson’s Danvers is great. While she may not spout off a whip-smart one-liner every few moments, or growl in anger at her enemies, what she does embody is a kind of resolute heroism. She has fallen often – as a montage late in the film shows – but each and every time she rises to meet her adversary face to face. It’s a blunt tool, her perseverance, but an effective one. She has noticeable star power, a real presence opposite co-stars Sam Jackson, Jude Law, and Ben Mendelsohn. Would we expect anything less of an Academy Award winning actress?

The acting isn’t the problem here. While the dialogue is light and fun, so too are the stakes. At no point are we to believe that Danvers is in genuine danger. This has little to do with her portrayal and more to do with the lack of context surrounding this Kree vs Skrull war going on, and her role in it. After a lengthy and frankly uninspired train chase, the middle of the film commits to fleshing out what we already know of Danvers – that she is from Earth and had a life here prior to intergalactic warfare. Though we are generally aware of her past, we aren’t allowed much time to dwell on it.

The more interesting elements of the plot – Mar Vell, the lightspeed drive, Danvers’ time in the military, her relationship with her best friend Wendy, her childhood – are all given their seemingly mandated five minutes of exposition before we are whisked away toward the next set-piece, or a dig at the antiquated technology of the 90’s (when the film is set.) We see Danvers during her transition from super-powered, to more super-powered, which would fall incredibly flat if we weren’t allowed access to a handful of her memories. We are enlightened to her struggle, enough to dispel arguments to the contrary, but we don’t experience them in a manner that endears us to her as a character – at least as well as it could have.

That these narrative beats feel more like a checklist, however well composed on the screen, stands testament to my next point: This film doesn’t feel like the project of an artist, though it is and of many. There’s no voice. Somewhere during production I have to imagine a memo from corporate circulated with demands for an exact count of humorous character exchanges, some gross-out scenes, the requisite plot twist at around the 2/3rd’s mark, and four or five scenes that be shot with the specific intention of using them for the trailer.

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This is an inoffensive movie. One without risk or noteworthy creative flourishes. Explosions are bassy, the CGI flamboyant and excessive, the superhero is punch-happy and posed triumphantly at every occasion. These things exist because they should, no modern superhero film is without them, but the result is a film that leaves one imagining the insane potential of every scene, rather than fall into a unique and engrossing movie-going experience.

I’d liken Captain Marvel to 2017’s Spider-Man: Homecoming, rather than to Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman.

Homecoming was the return of the Spider-Man character to the MCU, and for the most part did its job. The action was uninspired, the CGI apparent, and it was positively stuffed to the brim with lighthearted character interactions. It was . . . fine. It’s villain was introduced with one hell of a twist, but the climax of the film is just a loud, flame-broiled bout of fisticuffs between two steely eyed supers. Which, again, is fine. It just isn’t particularly memorable.

DC’s Wonder Woman stole Marvel’s thunder, admittedly, releasing their female-led adventure a full two years before their rival studio. But at the core of Wonder Woman was a vibrant character, a more compelling fish-out-of-water narrative, genuine stakes in the trenches of The Great War, and one incredible show-stopper of a scene with Gal Gadot’s Diana Prince rising to meet a hail of gunfire with nothing but her shield.

 

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Captain Marvel relies too heavily on Marvel’s already well-worn formula. It introduces little more than a handful of quirky revelations as to the larger plot of the MCU, a few fun scenes, and features an endless string of easter eggs and fan-service. It’s fun, easily worth the cost of entry. The film is more than competent in every department, but a lack of weaknesses does not a strong or memorable movie make. More than a solo outing, this is a stepping stone, a necessary introduction to a character needed to help win the battle coming April 26th.

However, despite these gripes, my lack of enthusiasm for what is obviously the product of studio mandates – and the continued depression of creative expression in Hollywood blockbusters – shouldn’t dissuade you from seeing the movie yourself. This is not a poorly made or uninteresting film. I was thoroughly placated throughout its entirety. Go on and head to the theater. Eat it up.

You’ll see it and smile like a buffoon at the adorable cat, Goose, as well as the many quips and jabs between Danvers and Fury. You’ll cheer as Danvers overcomes her opponents, “aw!” at the Stan Lee cameo, and poke your seat-neighbor each time you spot a reference to another film in the franchise. You’ll also leave the theater having expected a fair bit more. Disappointed but not dismayed by how whisper-close this film came to saying something, to being something more than it was – competent, but certainly not marvelous.

Verdict: 3.25/5

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Thank you for stopping by the blog today! I know it’s been a while. I’ve taken on a few projects recently, and will be sure to update you all on those once I can.

In the next few days, look forward to reviews on a few games that I’ve played, maybe a video or two on the Black Beanie Gaming YouTube channel, and new episodes of the That Was Okay I Guess podcast. Other than those projects, I’m working on two long-form pieces of fiction and have started writing freelance.

It’s an exciting time.

Later on.

REVIEW: Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

Rated PG : 117 min : Released December 14, 2018

With great power . . .

Hello, dear reader.

When I first heard of the animated Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, I was beyond skeptical. Without a doubt, I thought, there was nothing more to say about our favorite web-slinger – especially not with Tom Holland assuming the role of Peter Parker back in 2015.

Holland’s solo-outing, Spider-Man: Homecoming, was a perfectly serviceable movie. It entertained, had all the charm and requisite one-liners one would expect from a Marvel film, and offered a fairly nuanced relationship between Holland’s Parker and Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark. It was good, not great, and at the time it felt like Homecoming was as good as we were going to get.

I was wrong.

Not only is Into the Spider-Verse a superior Spider-Man film, it’s a better film period. It’s easily as fine a piece of entertainment as Spider-Man 2 was back in 2004 – if not better – and, as I see it, probably the best comic-book movie ever made.

That’s high praise, I know, but as far as replicating the feel, exuberance, and artistic chaos of a comic book – no modern superhero film has done it better. And that’s only the beginning.

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Without divulging much of the plot, I’ll say this: Spider-Verse is whip-smart. In a world full of derivative origin stories and fan-service, Spider-Verse offers a fresh and fun self-examination of the Spider-Man narrative, while adhering strongly to the themes and morals presented in the very first issue of the comic. That’s thanks in large part to the stellar direction by collaborators Bob Perichetti, Peter Ramsey, and Rodney Rothman, but almost entirely to another superb script by Phil Lord.

Easily the smartest decision Lord made when crafting the script was to focus on Miles Morales as our new web-slinger. He’s immediately endearing, relatable, funny, and full of the type of charisma and vulnerability that makes for a great underdog. Sure, Peter Parker is there, but he acts more as Miles’ mentor (begrudgingly) than as the hero of this story.

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Dialogue is fresh, quick, witty, and so saturated with easter-eggs and asides that the film warrants multiple viewings if just to catch them all.

No character feels out of place, no motivation unclear, and no potential catharsis left untapped.

Yeah, it’s sort of a kid’s movie, but it doesn’t behave like one. You’ll see a few sight gags here and there, but none too juvenile to dissuade parents from enjoying every minute of the film.

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More than anything, it’s a script that allows its characters to fail and to feel. Even once the multi-verse splits open and all the different iterations of Spider-Men (and woman and pig) come tumbling out. All of whom are brought to life by a stellar voice cast, lead by Shameik Moore and Jake Johnson as Miles and Peter respectively. Characterizations are brief, at times, but ultimately effective.

If there’s one deficiency, it would be the film’s several villains. The narrative assumes viewers possess a casual knowledge of some of the more obscure members of Spider-Man’s rogues gallery. That the film has so many Spideys to contend with, the motivations (and even names) of the villains are left simple and, at times, underdeveloped. But, the villains aren’t really the point here.

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At the core of the story is the fundamental understanding of what makes Spider-Man such a beloved character. Beyond exploring the memes and pop-culture legacy of the character itself, the film brings to light the more universally applicable set of morals that have been apparent from the very first issue of the comic: That if one possesses the ability to do good – they should. And that the good fight is worth fighting, over and over again.

It’s a film that believes in its characters, and wants them to believe in themselves. It’s difficult to overstate exactly how much of an impact that makes as the narrative progresses to its more emotional moments – of which there are many. That the film balances moments of levity, action, and emotion while indulging in a sort of sly, playful self-examination without ever devolving into the sort of sardonic hi-jinks of say, Deadpool, is a testament to the type of storytelling on display here.

It’s a film that recognizes the potential for heroism in all people. “Anyone can wear the mask.”

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If there’s one thing I must commend the film for, it’s a distinct lack of corporate schlock. This does not feel like a Disney film, and it’s better for it. Rather than ham-fistedly promoting a progressive agenda in press junkets or through cringe-inducing dialogue – the film embodies such ideals in its very presentation. There are no women stuck in refrigerators, no insufferable romantic entanglements, or any of the other stale, self-congratulatory committee-approved audience hand-holding. This is a film that puts its people of color and its women front and center, and treats their problems with respect, and allows them to fail and grow as characters rather than as talking points. Its respectful not only to its characters and the story its trying to tell, but to the intelligence of the audience – while never forgetting the best-interests of said audience.

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I’ve said all of this without mentioning the stellar animation or character designs. The film’s adherence to comic-book stylings is seamlessly integrated into its 3D animation. It’s immediately the most aesthetically intuitive film to Marvel’s name.

If I can gush for just a moment. Each iteration of Spidey, be they man or woman or pig, has their own unique power and art-style. They each have their own personality and embody the same selfless heroism.

Look at these.

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To say much more of the world and characters would not only be an injustice to you, dear reader, but would fail to adequately describe just how vibrant – how wonderfully expressive – this film is. It’s the complete package.

I’ll end with this:

This film get’s Spider-Man right. It just does. And it does so with such a love of the character, in its many forms, and of the many things that make the character so universally beloved. The quirks, the witticisms, the heart, the energy, and the morals.

Swing over to the theater and check this out as soon as you can. Enjoy this bookend to a wonderful year for Spider-Man.

Verdict: 4.25/5

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Thank you for stopping by the blog today.

Please enjoy your holiday season safely and respectfully.

Until next time.

The most exciting trailers of the last seven days.

Television Tea Leaves

Hello, dear reader, and welcome back.

It’s been a few days; I hope you’re doing well.

In my *very* brief time away from the keyboard, the world of pop-culture exploded into a fervor of speculation and awards-show favorites. Make no mistake, I’m not contributing to that conversation (lest the Oscar’s find a decent host who actually wants the gig); no, I’m here to share my favorite new trailers for movies, television, and games – all released within the last week.

Why ponder over the best stuff of this contemptible year, when we could yearn, eager-eyed and full of wonderment, at the year(s) to come?

So here’s my list in no particular order.

Avengers: Endgame

Sweet Christmas ladies and gentlemen, there’s still reason to get excited about superheroes. Though this isn’t the only superhero trailer on this list, it’s by far and away my most anticipated. Thanos reshaped the universe with a snap of his fingers in the last outing, put simply: the Avengers crew took a loss. What’s most exciting, however, are the appearances of much-demanded Hawkeye and Ant-Man into the fold with other major players. Though, with Marvel’s penchant for misleading its fans to better hype up a film (HBO does the same thing with Game of Thrones), expect a great deal of speculation and little in the way of answers until you’re in the theater. MEANWHILE, there are other superhero outings to look forward to – and to decipher how exactly they fit in with the larger MCU narrative. One of which…

Captain Marvel

FINALLY, we know why Brie Larson so casually decked a sweet old woman in the face. Spoiler: the older woman is of an evil alien race of shape-shifters known as the Skrull, and absolutely deserves to be punched in the face by an academy award winning actress.

The trailer also helps to clear up a bit of what left me so confused after watching the first trailer – how did Carol Danvers wind up fighting these intergalactic beasts, but retains so many earthbound memories? Watch the trailer and see for yourself.

BrightBurn

Although I find it odd that Hollywood is referring to James Gunn as a “visionary director” because he can splash some colors on the screen around his wacky characters, this trailer is worth a watch for one reason alone: It’s a superhero horror movie. Borrowing heavily from the first trailer for Man of Steel, even down to the font and effects used leading up to the reveal, BrightBurn promises a darker, more satirical portrayal of the superhero origin shlock. Oh, your baby fell from the sky, imbued with otherworldly powers? Yeah, that thing is probably dangerous. Cue the scene where a woman, locked in a restaurant walk-in fridge, stares in horror as the child uses heat vision to slice through the door. This could be fun.

Stranger Things 3

The darling Netflix series returns in 2019. While this teaser is nothing more than the iconic synthwave intro sequence and what I assume are the titles of each episode flashing across the screen – it’s still worth getting excited over. Stranger Things has been on hiatus since 2017, presumably to age-up the characters for the next season’s setting of “the summer of 1985.”

Since then, the Russo Brothers have signed off on a Stranger Things video game taking place after season two, David Habour is starring in the next Helboy, Gaten Matarazzo is all over the commercial space, Finn Wolfhard starred in IT, and Millie Bobby Brown is literally taking over the world via social media. It’s time to bring the band back together.

Triple Frontier

Folks, Netflix is at it again. It looks like the wave of interest in cartel-related media is still rolling, though nothing has matched the ferocity and poignancy of Sicario. This film, however, led by an astonishingly talented cast, might be Netflix’s best attempt since the first season of Narcos. With marquee names Ben Affleck, Oscar Isaac, Charlie Hunnam, Garrett Hedlund, and Pedro Pascal all directed by A Most Violent Year director J.C. Chandor, this has the makings of a solid effort by the subscription service. Though I should note how often Netflix’s original films fail on their promise (it’s quite often.)

Devil May Cry 5

We’re moving into video game territory now. As some of you may know, The Game Awards 2018 was held just a few nights ago. While the greatest moments of the night came from the stage [READ IT BOY] there were a handful of truly exciting announcements. Such as this, the return of the original Dante after the lackluster Ninja Theory soft franchise reboot DmC. Ninja Theory would go on to make 2017’s most dramatically arresting game, HellBlade: Senua’s Sacrifice, but latter success doesn’t excuse former failure. Aside from the return of Dante’s glistening silver hair, we have Nero returning, as well as a new character named “V” – all playable. Oh, and keeping in line with the confusing-as-fuck-all narrative structure of the franchise, Devil May Cry 5 takes place several years after Devil May Cry 2 – which follows Devil May Cry 4, which follows Devil May Cry 1, which follows Devil May Cry 3. So, if you think about it, Devil May Cry 5 is the only entry in chronological order. Make sense? Moving on.

The Outer Worlds

I don’t have to tell you, reader, that Obsidian Entertainment was royally screwed by Bethesda Softworks despite producing what is arguably the greatest entry in the Fallout franchise with Fallout: New Vegas – while only having eighteen months to do so. Bethesda denied Obsidian employees monetary bonuses by requiring that New Vegas receive an 85 or higher on review aggregate website Metacritic. When the game scored an 84, Bethesda denied the bonuses.

Well, Obsidian is back after a lengthy few years developing [nothing like New Vegas or what fans have been asking for]. Enter, The Outer Worlds, a first-person perspective role-playing game the looks like the beautiful bastard child of Fallout, Bioshock, and Borderlands (God I needed this trailer so badly.) Obsidian has emphasized that player-choice is paramount to their narrative experiences. Enhanced gun-play and mechanics are great, but should the narrative not amount to anything worthwhile (*cough* Fallout 4 *cough* Fallout 76 *cough*) then the game probably won’t resonate as well with the player. The timing of this announcement, a sci-fi RPG with Fallout mechanics, Borderlands zaniness, and Bioshock aesthetics, pulls the rug right out from Bethesda Game Studios’ feet – as their often teased upcoming Starfield, another sci-fi RPG, has had some doubt cast its way after the horrendous launch of Fallout 76 and the scrutiny levied toward Bethesda for watering down their storytelling experiences and relying too heavily on a seriously out-dated game engine. To that point, The Outer Worlds may not have Battlefield V levels of graphical fidelity, but it’s a great deal easier on the eyes than the play-dough abominations Bethesda’s been hawking as character-models.

Keep an eye on The Outer Worlds, it has all the makings of a truly exceptional RPG from a band of reliable, longtime industry veterans.


 

Well, those are the trailers that jumped out at me over the last several days. If there’s a trailer you saw and wished was on this list, I either didn’t see it or didn’t feel as strongly about it as you did.

Either way, have yourself a wonderful day, dear reader. If you’re among those currently snowed-in on the United States East Coast, I am suffering with you. Double up those socks and don’t forget your gloves.

Until next time.

BOX OFFICE: Disney’s ‘Ralph Breaks the Internet’ beats down the competition.

Happy Monday

Good morning, dear reader.

For those of you who celebrated, I hope your respective Thanksgivings were full of food, family, booze, and calcium tablets. Some of you may have even gone to see a movie, as the latest box office tallies indicate. I hope you enjoyed yourself.

According to Brad Brevet and the number-crunchers over at Box Office Mojo, new movie Ralph Breaks the Internet (Wreck-it Ralph 2) had the second largest holiday opening of all time, and the sum of the top twelve films Fri-Sunday surpassed $206m. That’s an enormous jump from the weekend prior. Some movies came, some went, some were dead before they left the cutting room floor. More on that after we look at the estimated weekend totals.

Weekend top ten, November 23-25 (wknd: dom / int / global):

*New Release

  1. *Wreck-it Ralph 2 – $55.6m: $84.4m / $41.5m / $125.9m
  2. *Creed II – $35.2m: $55.8m
  3. Dr. Seuss’ The Grinch (2018) – $30.2m: $180.4m / $35.3m / $215.7m
  4. Fantastic Beasts 2 – $29.6m: $117.1m / $322.6m / $439.7m
  5. Bohemian Rhapsody – $13.8m: $152m / $320.1m / $472.1m
  6. Instant Family – $12.5m: $35.7m
  7. *Robin Hood (2018) – $9.1m: $14.2m / $8.7m / $22.9m
  8. Widows – $7.9m: $25.5m / $13.04m / $38.6m
  9. Green Book – $5.4m: $7.8m
  10. A Star is Born (2018) – $3m: $191m / $162.4m / $353.4m

Overall domestic box office: $214.2m

I know what you’re wondering, and yes: The domestic totals of the new releases are higher than their weekend haul. Well, those new released opened earlier in the week to take advantage of us hard-working Americans loafing it at home for most of last week.

The good news is that the sequel to the charming John C. Reilly and Sarah Silverman vehicle, Wreck-it Ralph, Ralph Breaks the Internet, has retained its appeal with audiences and critics and people dragged their turkey-laden selves to the multiplex to see it.  I genuinely have nothing to say about this movie. It looks fun. I’m not seeing it in theaters, but I can’t fault anyone who does so. The scene with the Princesses featured prominently in the trailers was genuinely funny. Hope it holds.

Creed II, the latest Michael B. Jordan Rockey-verse picture, is performing well. No complaints there. The first Creed was a refreshing take on the Balboa Cinematic Universe (the BCU), and owed its success to incredibly strong word-of-mouth and Oscar-caliber performances form its leads. We’ll see how this one does.

The Grinch (2018) is simply proof-positive that Illumination can produce a glossy fluffball of an adaptation, market the ever-loving fuck out of it, and reap the money from parents acquiesced to their children all across the country. Sick of all the remakes? Then Disney’s 2019 line-up should give you pause, and they aren’t the only one’s doing it. As for Illumination, the success of this new Grinch will garner, bare minimum, four sequels set in the oceans of Pandora.

Fantastic Beasts 2 fell three spots. Namely because of the spat of new releases, not because it’s a horribly lackluster film. Seriously, though, it only dropped a smidge above 50% from last weekend, which is fairly average for a blockbuster at any point in the year.

I don’t have much to say about Bohemian Rhapsody, other than that it’s performing incredibly well, all things considered. Its drop from last weekend was only around 13%. That’s incredible. Just remember, if you find yourself alone in an elevator with Bryan Singer, and should he so happen to “reveal his prop Kryptonite chrystal from the set of 2006’s Superman Returns,” – it’s your word against his (as far as the studio is concerned.)

Instant Family, the recent Mark Wawl-berg picture only dropped about 13%. Good news for Wahlbergers everywhere. Bad news for those of us prone to slamming our faces against a wall whenever the actor pronounces an interrogative.

Robin Hood is generally hated by critics and fans.

Widows isn’t performing as well as the studio hoped, and has yet to earn back its production budget of $42m. Meanwhile, Universal’s Peter Farrelly-directed Green Book finally broke wide, jumping from 22nd to 9th on the box office roster. Impressive stuff.

Rounding out the top-ten is Bradley Cooper’s A Star is Born. I liked it. Most people did. It’s making a lot of money. Hopefully Lady Gaga sees a few more roles landing on her desk. I’m not against every remake of a Hollywood classic, but I am an unrepentant sucker for movies about following your dreams. Always have been, always will be.

Outside the top ten, Overlord tanked violently – it dropped over 70% from last weekend. Venom is finally earning less than a million bucks a weekend. Incredibles II is still in 106 theaters, because Disney. Night School (2018) has officially earned over $100m worldwide, which hurts me physically. And The Favourite – the Yorgos Lanthimos-directed Victorian Era drama starring Olivia Colman, Emma Stone, and Rachel Weisz – earned around $420k from only four theaters a it debuted in limited release. Good stuff.

Alright, dear reader, that was the Thanksgiving box office.

Please share this article with your favorite turkeys, subscribe using the widgets below, or just go on living your best life. It’s all I could ever ask of you.

Until next time.

My five favorite food-related scenes in film.

Gobble-gobble.

Hello, dear reader, and Happy Thanksgiving!

In honor of the holiday, I figured I’d do something a little different: A listicle! Please, hold your applause. I’d like to share with you my personal favorite moments in film either set at or around the dinner table, near food or, at the very least, the concept of food. This is by no means a definitive ranking of films, scenes, or anything like that. These are just five scenes I enjoy the hell out of, the movies they’re from, and why I think they’re *just* right.

So, reader, grab a turkey leg, undo that belt, and enjoy.

5) “The Last Supper” The History of the World: Part 1 (1981)

At this point in the film, noted “bullshit artist” Comicvs (pronounced comic-us) and his friends have escaped a Roman Legion, fled Rome, and are hiding out in “Judea.” Here, Comicvs takes up a meager job waiting tables. His first assignment? Taking orders during the last supper.

I’m an enormous fan of Mel Brooks. Though this scene is from one of his less-considered films, it remains a sterling example of the director’s signature comic stylings. The scene mirrors some of classic Monty Python in that one character, equal parts earnest and ignorant, becomes the immediate foil to another. In other words, when two people misunderstand each other, comedic gold ensues. Brooks’ conversation with Jesus of Nazareth is never not unbalanced. One wants to warn his disciples of an inevitable betrayal, the other wants to up-sell appetizers. Anachronistically, Da Vinci is placed right beside the group to paint the scene. It’s every bit as absurdly stupid as it sounds, but as Python‘s Eric Idle once said, stupid is funny.

4) “Big Kahuna Burger” Pulp Fiction (1994)

There’s a term in American Football for when one team is physically dominating another on the field. We call it “eating the other guy’s lunch.”

Samuel L. Jackson takes a big bite out of every scene in which he appears in Quentin Tarantino’s masterpiece, and he stands there and chews that scenery every chance he gets.

This is a film with several food-centric scenes. Everyone remembers “a Royale with Cheese,” or, “I love you Honey-Bunny,” but my favorite scene has to be Samuel L. Jackson’s hit-man Jules’ lethal sermonizing after literally eating a guy’s food. We’re shown here, rather than told, that Jules is a force to be reckoned with – carrying with him the word of God (some form of it) and his great smiting-tool of a pistol. His presence is so suffocating to all those around him, that John Travolta’s Vincent Vega is relegated to the kitchen. We know who’s giving the orders here, who’s calling the shots.

Jules’ sarcastic “Hamburgers! The cornerstone of any nutritious breakfast” belies his ruthlessness for just a moment, though the audience is made aware of his intentions by his self-assured dedication to his monologue.

Tarantino has long been heralded as a master of dialogue, and with scenes like this it’s easy to understand why. At no point are we, the audience, allowed to think that these poor schmucks are going to finish their breakfast, or walk away with their lives (almost.) That the camera sits cowering behind the stuttering fool to whom the burger belongs is a carefully considered tool Tarantino uses to create Jules as a character. Following the events of the film, Jules finds himself in a very similar situation, but is still able to take command.

3) “Did you drink and dial?” Sideways (2004)

Alexander Payne’s films are studious, detail-rich, and full of inter-familial feuding and lying. Much like The Descendants, Sideways is about our ability to connect with one another, despite our many flaws or baser inclinations. At this point in the film, Paul Giamatti’s Miles and Thomas Hayden Church’s Jack are both road-tripping through California wine-country before Jack’s impending marriage. Miles is a down on his luck writer and English teacher, whereas Jack has had success acting in TV-spots and advertisement work. They both, however, suffer from the anxiety of having passed their primes. Miles hopes to derive some meaning from life by publishing a book, whereas Jack hopes to validate his virility by womanizing a bit before his wedding.

What makes this scene so significant, for me, is how wonderfully the characters of Miles and Jack are realized by just their on-screen chemistry and the stellar performances of all involved. Both Sandra Oh’s Stephanie and Virginia Madsen’s Maya are terrific as well.

The clip above only shows the latter half of the dinner scene, but Stephanie and Maya dine with Miles and Jack under the auspices that they are each single, and very much ready to mingle. Only, when Miles drinks, he slips deep into the insecurities bubbling beneath his surface, the very elements his character consists of. The dinner goes well, but with every sip of wine, the camera sneaks in and tilts and turns and eventually Jack is reprimanding Miles for being a terrible wing-man. The line, “did you drink and dial?” is wonderful, mainly due to the shameful look on Giamatti’s face.

This is a turning point in the film. One where Miles begins his journey toward self-actualization (albeit through Maya), and the enactment of the film’s central conflict – Jack’s womanizing and Miles’ covering for him. It’s funny, sad, and so deeply revealing of our characters. It’s one of many magnificent scenes in the film, and, thankfully, one that doesn’t shy away from the wine or the food.

2) “Dinner at Mom’s” Goodfellas (1990)

What Goodfellas get’s right is what The Godfather got right: Criminals have parents, too.

Joe Pesci’s Tommy DeVito is an unhinged maniac of a serial murderer in the film. He radiates violent energy from every cell in his body. So, what happens when he, Ray Liotta’s Henry Hill, and Robert De Niro’s Jimmy Conway all need to dispose of a body, but don’t have a shovel? Well, you ask your mother. Mama DeVito, played magnificently by director Martin Scorsese’s own mother, Catherine, offers not only a shovel, but a midnight feast of Italian cuisine. In a word? It’s hilarious. Not only because of how thoroughly it humanizes the most inhumane of the characters, but because the dialogue is largely unscripted. What’s better? Pesci and De Niro don’t hold a candle to this woman.

She’s a mother. She’s worried, she wonders why you never call, she has a pot of pasta in the fridge in case you stop by, and she wants to know when you’ll settle down and give her those grandchildren already. True to life, most of the men struggle to answer her in earnest.

In a film so full of life, in many forms, and edited with the type of frantic energy Scorsese applies to his best films (The Wolf of Wall Street, Raging Bull, The Departed), it’s refreshing to see a scene like this – a conversation in a room primarily shot from one angle – bisect the film. Before this scene, Henry and company are on the rise within Pauly’s criminal empire; afterwards? Not so much. It’s the perfect moment to pause, reflect, laugh, and wonder why Joe Pesci doesn’t know what deer-hooves are.

1) “Michael kills Sollozzo and McCluskey” The Godfather (1972)

Francis Ford Coppolla’s masterpiece. Yes, its sequel is incredible, and so is Apocalypse Now!, but nothing touches what may arguably be the greatest film ever made. Does it hold up in 2018? I’ll ask you, are we supposed to cheer for Michael? Or fear him? It’s an American movie about the corrupting ability of power – you’re god damned right it holds up today.

But this scene, the dinner between Michael, Sollozzo, and Captain McCluskey, is probably the best scene in the film. The Corleone’s have been attacked, their leadership in shambles, and Michael accepts a dinner invite from the attackers, under the guise of brokering a cease-fire.

There are so many great scenes at so many dinner-tables in The Godfather, but the whole point of the film – that Michael assumes an active role in his family’s criminal enterprise – is exemplified best by this single scene. The whole film the audience is shown what the Corleone family does, how they operate, and that Michael wants no part of it. He wants an honest, easy life. After a nearly-successful attempt on his father’s life? Yeah, not so much. This is an assassination mission. Retribution.

Al Pacino, ladies and gentlemen, before he was a standard of impressionists everywhere.

Coppolla, before he sucked.

The camera lingers on the three men as much as possible, moving only when it needs to. Discussions are had, food is ordered, and Michael is stalling. Then, the trip to the bathroom, the retrieval of the gun behind the toilet, and the long, slow push of the camera into Michael’s face as he agonizes over whether or not to kill for his family and betray the principles he swore to live by. The subway train screeches in the background, growing louder with the tension of the scene. And then? Gunshots. No music until after the deed is done.

Masterful stuff, people.

And there you have it! My top five favorite food-related scenes in film. What are yours? Let me know.

Go get some food, you animals.

Thank you so much for taking the time to read this list. Expect more content like this in the future.

In the meantime, enjoy your Thanksgiving.

Until next time.

BOX OFFICE: Fantastic Beasts bests the weekend; new low for the franchise.

Feeling magical?

Hello, dear reader. I hope you’re ready for some weekend box office results.

The past weekend saw the release of Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindel-something – the *checks promotional material* “much-anticipated” sequel to the Potterverse prequel, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. I vehemently disliked Fantastic Beasts 1, as well as most of the David Yates Potter films. They’re full of glossy, insulation-filled CGI renderings and only a cursory understanding of the charm of Rowling’s source material. Azkaban, as I see it, is the high-point of both the film and literary renditions of the property.

Other than that, we saw the release of the Mark Wahlberg picture, Instant Family, and Steve McQueen’s star-studded, Widows. In limited-release we saw the Viggo Mortenson and Mahershala Ali’s Green Book.

Let’s see how they fared over the weekend, courtesy of BoxOfficeMojo.com.

The weekend top ten (Wknd: Total Dom/Int/WW):

  1. Fantastic Beasts 2 – $62.1m: $67.2m / $191.5m / $258.7m
  2. Dr. Seuss’ The Grinch (2018) – $38.5m: $131.6m / $25.2m / $156.8m
  3. Bohemian Rhapsody – $16.04m: $130.1m / $257.7m / $387.8m
  4. Instant Family – $14.5m: $15.9m
  5. Widows – $12.3m: $13.4m / $7.2m / $20.6m
  6. The Nutcracker – $4.7m: $44.5m / $72.9m / $117.5m
  7. A Star is Born (2018) – $4.2m: $186.3m / $155.7m / $342.02m
  8. Overlord – $3.7m: $18.1m / $15m / $33.1m
  9. The Girl in the Spider’s Web – $2.5m: $13.5m / $13.06m / $26.6m
  10. Burn the Stage: The Movie – $2.4m: $3.6m

Overall domestic box office: $174.4m

Okay, now that you’ve seen the numbers, let’s poke around a bit. Fantastic Beasts 2 fell a few million shy of studio expectations, and hasn’t fared well with critics, which makes sense – seeing as the first was a slog of audience pandering and lacked the depth of shallow puddle. So, I’m not sure if its box office receipts count as news, other than the fact it constitutes the lowest a Potterverse film has earned.

The Grinch (2018) is doing just fine. Good news for Illumination Entertainment and Universal. Bad news for anyone hoping that Dr. Seuss’ work is shown some reverence by Hollywood.

Bohemian Rhapsody is turning into quite the vehicle for Fox. The studio was wise to focus marketing on the performance of Rami Malek as Freddie Mercury, rather than director Brian Singer. Let’s get real, Singer has made so much money for Fox he could do pretty much anything he wants.

Instant Family is a Mark Wahlberg *checks promotional material* “comedy.” It’ll drop around 55-65% next weekend and fade into oblivion as the next batch of highly anticipated movies rolls in.

Widows didn’t quite meet expectations, but should the film garner any significant nominations this awards-season, expect a resurgence (as is normally the case.)

Boy Erased, about a teen suffering the abhorrent practice of gay-conversion therapy, (and without the soft-eyed pretension of Timothee Chalamet) is looking to be another awards hopeful – having earned $1.28m across 409 screens. Keep an eye on it.

As for this coming Thanksgiving weekend, we see the release of Ralph Breaks the Internet, Creed II, and the *checks promotional material* “film,” Robin Hood. Expect the current top-five to take a nose dive.

Alright, everyone, that’s it for this week’s box office update. MAde possible by the diligent number fetishists over at Box Office Mojo, and the big daddy of those numbers himself, Brad Brevet. For everything in depth, be sure to head over there and lose yourself in a dizzying array of charts and graphs and lists and speculation.

Until next time, dear reader.

Is it okay to talk about ‘The Last Jedi’ now?

I’m going to regret this…

Dear reader,

I’ve put this essay off for far too long. We’re nearing the anniversary of arguably the most divisive blockbuster in modern memory. One which, at the end of the day, earned more money than most feature films could ever hope for and, paradoxically, was a wake-up call for distributor Disney and producer Lucasfilm.

Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi

Reading and watching the response to this movie would have you believe that Writer/Director Rian Johnson had secretly released two individual films. The critical response to the film was near unanimous in its praise of the film’s bold new direction and forthright disregard of the stylistic trappings of the franchise’s past. Meanwhile, response from the audience was….

Why am I rehashing this? You know this story. Some people loved it, a lot; others hated it, a lot. As far as I’ve seen, you’re supposed to fall into one of two camps:

  1. You loved the movie and so-called “Star Wars fanboys” were chaffed that they didn’t get a film that aligned with their fan-fiction. The man-babies strike back! Or…
  2. You hated this movie because Disney, Rian Johnson, and Kathleen Kennedy shat on your childhood heroes with the wanton disregard of a boot smashing an ant-hill. SJWs have ruined Star Wars!

I’d argue that those are two, gross misrepresentations of the fandom as it stands today.

As for me? I prescribe to neither. The Last Jedi is not a spectacular film. It truly isn’t. Not even for a Star Wars film – and that’s a surprisingly low bar. What The Last Jedi is, above anything else, is a proxy for the type of resentment that two groups of people – separated by ideology and little else – would hurl at one another in nearly any other context. The failure of The Last Jedi wasn’t its inability to appropriately convey Luke Skywalker’s descent into self-banishment, nor was it its sloppy editing; no, the failure of The Last Jedi is the underlying philosophy employed during its production and the studio’s unwillingness to acknowledge it. Not that its shortcomings should in any way justify the culture war waged in its honor.

But it was made with divisiveness in mind. It was intended to shock, to alarm, and to overtly subvert the audience’s expectations. Not, as you would think, by providing a new or particularly exciting narrative experience. But instead by traversing the same tired, over-worn plot elements and imagery of the other films. The Last Jedi follows the same narrative pathways, ones which prime a well-conditioned audience member to expect a specific outcome, and then delivers the exact opposite. More than anything, that was the goal of the film.

It is not creative. It is not innovative. And I’d like to ask you, dear reader, is The Last Jedi worth all the YouTube videos and essays? Is it worth the cacophonous call-and-response bickering, harassment, and self-superior grandstanding by supposed long-time fans and media executives alike? Those camps I listed above? I mean it. They barely exist. There are no angry mobs of hateful, anti-social justice zealots calling for the blood of Kathleen Kennedy. There is no grand scheme percolating in the shadows of executive boardrooms, where pixie-haired transsexuals with gauged ears plot to dismantle the patriarchy – one blockbuster action film at a time.

That narrative, and I’m aware this may sound nihilistic, is a microcosm of the current American social dynamic. It sells papers, so to speak. When one party airs a grievance, so too does it create the opposing faction. This is an imagined argument, one that was given true, violent form the more it was engaged with online. Disney and Johnson expected some backlash, but not this.

Screenshot (49).png

Some personal context.

Yes, I grew up watching Star Wars. I unashamedly gush about A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back, but here’s why.

Those are good films. Revolutionary. A New Hope redefined the nature of the film-blockbuster. Adjusted for inflation (the number of tickets sold) it’s the second highest grossing North American release of all time. The only film to come close over the last twenty years has been, unsurprisingly, Star Wars: The Force Awakens. That’s the undisputed power of the Star Wars legacy, and it all started with A New Hope.

Empire is often cited as the greatest sequel ever made. Dark, murky, mysterious, nuanced – filled to the brim with visual symbolism and given life by a masterpiece of a musical score by John Williams. The characters, the settings, the plot-points, the music, and the very elements of the movies themselves have become archetypes.

Return of the Jedi is, in my opinion, a sub-par sequel to two masterclass cinematic experiences. It’s cuddly bears and ridiculously hammy dialogue, bookended by an iconic character turn and a surprisingly emotional lightsaber duel between Luke and Vader. An entertaining film with little on offer to offend or excite until its closing moments.

As far as I’m concerned, Star Wars should’ve ended there.

The prequels have few redeeming qualities, and their continued popularity is owed to the bevy of video games and memes made in their wake (all of which offer more entertainment value than the movies themselves.) The only defense one should tolerate of the prequels is John Williams’ musical treatments for each. The man is a magician, but really – who’s arguing that?

When Disney acquired the rights to produce a new trilogy of Star Wars films for the meager sum of four-fucking-billion dollars, I felt similarly to many long-time fans of the original trilogy. Please, Disney, don’t fuck this up. We just wanted Star Wars to feel like Star Wars again. Who better to deliver on such an order than the largest mass-producer of easily-digestible misogyny and harmful gender-stereotypes in the world?

The Force Awakens, for all its coddled safety, blockbuster logic, and retro-aesthetics was, by and large, pretty good. Really, it was passable. Look, Disney and Lucasfilm had to play it safe before they could take risks. The problems with the franchise, that philosophy I alluded to earlier, hadn’t settled in until The Force Awakens had broken every conceivable box office record available.

Disney needed to strike while the iron was hot, because money. Hence, Rogue One. Not only is Rogue One the kind of franchise film that lends nothing of value to the franchise as a whole, it does so in such a way as to pad out a film with worthless characters, worthless dialogue, worthless revelations, and use them to tie directly into a film from the original trilogy. It’s pandering, from the aesthetics to the use of classic characters. “Well, duh,” I can hear you saying, and you aren’t wrong.

Rogue One is every bit as tepid and underwhelming as The Last Jedi, but there’s one glaring inconsistency – where’s the backlash? Sure, critics weren’t quite so warm on it, but the film made nearly as much as The Last Jedi eventually earned at the global box office. Audiences saw something it it, at least a portion of them did. In fact, many of those critical of The Last Jedi are quick to assert that if Rian Johnson had wanted to subvert our expectations, work with a diverse cast led by a prominent female actor, and apply the soothing balm of fan-service to the proceedings, than he should have followed the formula Gareth Edwards used when making Rogue One.

Except, he kind of did. More than you’d think. And yet, the critical response was lower and audience approval far higher. A diverse cast, female led: check. Audience pandering at every available opportunity: check. Retro aesthetic reminiscent of the original trilogy: check. Idiotic subplots that don’t serve the overarching narrative: check, check, and check. What gives?

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It’s our fault, actually. And Disney’s.

America was angry in December of 2017, primarily at itself. No doubt a condition brought about by a year of prolonged exposure to Donald Trump and his brand of politics, not to mention the explosive resurgence of long-festering and oft-ignored social and political divides. What was once a bastion of the inundated, complacent, and placid-eyed consumer became the exact same thing, but a little louder. Like a horse swatting its tail at flies, the social discourse of late has consisted of quick, dismissive repudiations and petulant foot-stomping. The line in the sand is a river, people at either shore. The kind of divide that forces people to pick a side and galvanizes support among the ranks on whichever hill they choose to die.

What the hell does that have to do with The Last Jedi?

I’d argue it has to do with pretty much everything. Rian Johnson was, I feel, concerned primarily with making a good movie which he felt would surprise a great many people. However, his vehicle – the stoic, unchanging sacred lamb that is the Star Wars mythos – couldn’t have been more ill-suited to his intentions.

Pop-escapism is a tricky thing. Subvert expectations too brazenly and too frequently, and a sect of the Star Wars devout might feel alienated; too subtly and you run the risk of boring your audience. Should Star Wars carry with it that level of social responsibility? Use its perch high atop the pop-culture hierarchy to mend the growing divisions between the American people? A force for good and unity, beholden to the themes featured prominently in the films’ narratives? Of course not – it’s only advertised that way. It is, to quote both sides of this argument, just a movie.

Star Wars carries with it a security, however. If some banks are too big to fail, so too was Star Wars, for a time. Follow the script, like J.J. Abrams, and you have a cash-printing machine on your hands that, in two years’ time, is considered the cinematic equivalent of dry-humping – well-intentioned, but just going through the motions.

That isn’t to say the film is devoid of merit, but the audience got what it wanted, in no uncertain terms, and Disney set a shaky precedent. Their first two entries into their new Star Wars universe relied too heavily on the original trilogy. They were going through the motions.

From the outside, which is where I’m sitting (comfortably on my couch), it looked like Disney reached a crossroads. Continue their efforts to capitalize on the Star Wars brand by appealing heavily to its cult-like following, or blaze new trails with the eclectic young trio of Rey, Finn, and Poe? Lean on the old, or trust in the new?

By choosing to do both, and effectively neither, Disney and Rian Johnson crippled their film to controversy before shooting even began. And we really, really weren’t in the mood for it.

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What about the movie??

What about it?

For all this talk about external factors, the various pervasive political undertones visible in the public’s response to the film, and for all those heart-breaking images of Mark Hamil clearly having a hard time supporting the film, one thing gets lost in the static: Was the actual film any good? Not because of what it represented, or what the director intended, or which actor went through what hardship to master their performance; no, from the opening crawl to the credits – was the film any good?

Eh.

Again, I can only posit my own opinion as fact on my website, so take this as a grain-of-salt shaped book of pop-culture gospel (I’m kidding), but here goes nothing. This is as close to a review as I’ll ever provide for the film here on the blog.

From the beginning of the film to the end, there are stunning visuals, excellent character moments, underdeveloped plot-lines, missed opportunities, salt, plot-holes, all of Disney’s corporate mandated original trilogy pandering, and the overbearing bludgeoning tool that is Rian Johnson’s hand – present only to subvert your expectations.

This was a film designed to be familiar, but purposefully antithetical to the logic presented therein. And by recognizing that, it’s possible to disrupt and dismantle the two pervading arguments surrounding the film – both of which, I assure you, exist in a far different light than either extreme would have you believe.

It follows the exact same narrative structure of both Empire and Jedi. It allows itself to mimic the imagery and plot-elements of both original trilogy films, up to and until where major revelations occur, and it insists on doing the exact opposite. No, not something new, just the opposite. It’s a visual checklist of message-board hopes and dreams, and the film treats it like a hit-list. Is subversion a bad thing? No. Not at all. But The Last Jedi isn’t satisfied to subvert your expectations. It wants to take you down a familiar road, one you’ve walked a hundred times, and as you take your last step before reaching your destination, you’re suddenly shoved to the ground and told to dust yourself off. The Last Jedi isn’t doing anything new, it’s being annoying.

It’s frustrating to want to watch a movie, to understand the many nuances and twists and turns, but to have it devolve into this bizarre series of “gotcha!” moments. Not only is it annoying, but actively spiteful.

To those of you dying on this hill, scooch over:

I don’t care about Holdo having purple hair. I don’t care about Poe getting put in his place. I don’t care about how the bombs fell without gravity. I don’t care who Rey’s parents are or aren’t. I don’t care if Snoke is sliced in half halfway through the film. What I care about is clarity, consistency, and originality. If the film is touted as being “different” or “groundbreaking” for the franchise, I need to see it.

I saw a young Jedi learner seek out a master, only to have to run off to face the villain herself. I saw an old curmudgeon of a Jedi master give her a hard time and refuse to train her. I saw Kylo and Rey in an elevator, framed to the centimeter as Luke and Vader were in Jedi. I saw the new trilogy’s only interesting characters – Rey, Finn, and Poe – each get sidelined by a script that cares only for their presence in the face of the old. For a film sold with a single line, “let the past die,” it certainly wastes no time aping the imagery and the narrative of the past.

Following those plot-lines to their natural conclusions (as has already been done) would’ve been derivative; following those plot-lines up to their natural conclusions, then awkwardly supplanting those conclusions with their literal polar opposites, is both derivative and annoying.

The film’s central chase is shot against a star field, muting all sense of speed or urgency. Add to that a distinct propensity of the script to conjure up an explanation for every awkward plot-point present in the film. If someone needs to get somewhere, expect a lengthy, break-neck diatribe about why this-or-that can’t happen. My assertion is that there were set-pieces before there was a script, and to allow for a string of set-pieces to occur, dialogue had to be created to explain away any plot-holes discovered by the audience. Given that, it stands to reason that the backlash from the more ardent portions of the fan-base were expected as well.

To those of you claiming this is a film pandering to “social justice warriors.”

Fuck off. Seriously. Do not graft your delicate dispositions and rancid intolerance onto the mediocrity of this movie. It’s disappointing for far more than Holdo not telling Poe her plan or for the Leia Poppins scene. It’s disappointing because of Canto Bite and Crate literally being Hoth despite the “salt” line. It’s disappointing because Holdo received the most devastatingly stunning visual of a sendoff, worthy of all praise, and not a single character reacts on screen. It’s disappointing because our villains are cartoon characters, capable of no genuine harm to our protagonists. It’s disappointing because the strongest element of an otherwise disjointed movie, Rey, is relegated to the sideline of her own story. She is at the mercy of her male counterparts, Luke and Kylo, and is offered no narrative solace for her suffering.

And to those of you claiming this is a film directed at children, and should therefore not be held to the same standard of criticism as literally any other film.

What in the actual frozen hell is that logic? Fine, then. Unless you’re eighty years old, you can’t tell me that Grumpier Old Men doesn’t hold more cinematic influence than Citizen Kane. I’m sorry, but you aren’t allowed. It’s good until your age matches.

Look, The Last Jedi is disappointing for offering so many interesting ideas, trapping them in a familiar casing, and letting them wander off into deep space in favor of slapstick humor, jarring and abrupt narrative developments, and wonky editing. It can’t adequately re-purpose the old, and it struggles to elaborate on the new. The Last Jedi separates itself from the original trilogy in that it promises much, but never delivers.

But in no way is any of this worth sending threats out on the internet, or capable of justifying harassment of an actress to the point that she no longer feels safe using social media.

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So, here we are.

The Last Jedi being an underwhelming amalgamation of two antithetical design philosophies shouldn’t have exploded like this. It was, to a degree, like reliving November 2016 all over again. Two warring factions, emboldened by their respective echo-chambers, pitted against one another – the very soul of Star Wars hanging in the balance.

But to insist such a thing is not only outright whimsical, it’s irresponsible. It’s hyperbolic and catchy. It’s the sort of thing that ascribes an individual to a side of this nothing of a conflict.

Solo didn’t tank at the box office because the fans were boycotting it, not at all. Yes, there were some fans who stayed home, but you have to consider the fact that in early 2018, the internet was still bickering over The Last Jedi. If anything, the only tangible effect The Last Jedi levied against Solo was fatigue; not of the franchise, but of talking about Star Wars. Rest easy, Bob Iger, don’t cancel all those projects just yet. This wasn’t entirely your fault.

Solo was a weak sell, green-lit years ago, and an attempt for Disney to course correct their release schedule after The Force Awakens, Rogue One, and The Last Jedi had all been delayed from their initial summer release dates. No one was interested because the room was still aching with the noise of fans shouting at one another.

The great, unifying property of Star Wars faded, no more impervious to the stain of political unrest as anything else.

No, Rian Johnson wasn’t trying to make a movie which pandered to the “SJWs.” Yes, Disney saw the positive public response to the film’s already diverse cast and included it in their pressers. The subversion of expectations in the film, handled with the subtly of a lumberjack using an ax to slice his toast, rubbed a particular group of people the wrong way. Some of those people prioritize their ideology above the elements of any one film, and saw Disney, Kennedy, and Johnson promoting their film’s inclusivity. As they opined, so too did the voices across the isle.

The debate about The Last Jedi has little to do with the quality of the film, and more to do with a nation suffering from a prolapsed civil disparity. The issues of inclusiveness and equality are older than Star Wars. It seems, though, that Rian Johnson’s greatest mistake was making a film which resembled, at passing glance, the world it was born from, and garnered the appropriate response.

As for everything else?

No, it is not the worst Star Wars movie, nor is it the greatest. What’s disappointing, more than the film or Disney’s odd defense of it from any and all criticism, is that both sides of this argument – each emboldened to an emotional fever pitch several months ago – have both categorically misrepresented one another. Those that like or dislike the film for purely ideological reasons and have waged an online comment-war against one another, proclaiming the other to be the instigator, have ruined the ability for the rest of us – the overwhelming majority of people – to discuss the film’s many merits and failings calmly, with civility, and without sharing pictures of Mark Hamil and Rian Johnson pouting at one another.

Liking or disliking this film shouldn’t prescribe a pejorative to someone. When it happens, and it does, the argument is defined by those pejoratives and the willingness to use them, not by discussion of the film.

It’s okay to love this film. It’s okay to hate this film. And it’s okay to talk about it.

Right?

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Until next time.

BOX OFFICE: The Grinch wins the domestic weekend; Venom dominates in China

The Weekend Box Office

Hello, dear reader.

I’ll be honest with you. After committing so much time and effort to compiling massive, essay-length rundowns of the weekend box office, I began to feel the pang of regret.

I enjoy the speculation, I do, but it’s a drag trying to keep up with the numbers. As the venerable, late Alex Mason once said, “I CAN’T GET THESE FUCKING NUMBERS OUT OF MY HEAD.”

Kudos if you get that reference (though it isn’t particularly obscure.)

I’ll keep this short and sweet, with some relevant info and commentary added to spice everything up. Be sure to check out the full box office breakdown over at Box Office Mojo.

Here’s your weekend top ten (Weekend; total domestic / international / global):

  1. Dr. Seuss’ The Grinch (2018) – $67.5m; $67.5m / $13.1m / $80.6m 
  2. Bohemian Rhapsody – $31.2m; $100.3m / $185.9m / $286.3m
  3. Overlord – $10.2m; $10.2m / $9.2m / $19.4m
  4. The Nutcracker and the Four Realms – $10m; $35.7m / $61.9m / $97.6m
  5. A Star is Born (2018) – $8.1m; $178.1m / $145.8m / $323.9m
  6. The Girl in the Spider’s Web – $7.8m; $7.8m / $8m / $15.9m
  7. Nobody’s Fool – $6.6m; $24.3m / $265k / $24.6m
  8. Venom (2018) – $4.9m; $206.2m / $469.9m / $676.2m
  9. Halloween (2018) – $3.9m; $156.9m / $88.3m / $245.2m
  10. The Hate U Give – $2m; $26.6m / $2.1m / $28.8m

Overall weekend box office totals amounted to a hefty sum of $167.1m, a 14.6% jump from the weekend prior. This is across almost 40,000 theaters.

Newcomers in the top ten were Dr. Seuss’ The Grinch (2018), Overlord, and The Girl in the Spider’s Web, which was enough to boost the weekend above the last. Grinch being the only Christmas movie currently on he docket should bode well going into the holiday season, but lackluster review scores could hamper that a tad. The J.J.Abrams produced nazi-zombie horror flick Overlord is performing just shy of industry expectations, no doubt a victim of the too-obvious pattern of zombie-fatigue felt by North American audiences. Meanwhile, despite Hollywood’s renewed faith in R-rated blockbuster franchises, The Girl in the Spider’s Web fell disappointingly short of expectations. I’ll speak for audiences here: We love Claire Foy, but we wanted Rooney Mara and Daniel Craig back to continue what David Fincher started back in 2011.

This has been a year of big, leggy hits, as A Star is Born, Venom, and Halloween continue to perform well in the top ten. Venom recently debuted to over $111m in China. The bad news (aside from Venom being a tepid and shoddily edited feature) is that the more Sony continues to perform well with its limited licensing of Marvel characters, the less likely those characters are to return under direct supervision of Marvel Studios and its currently lore-master / ringleader Kevin Fiege.

A Star is Born is still in the top five after its sixth week in release, enjoying regular drops of less than 30% per weekend. For as much as can be said of Bradley Cooper’s acting, it’s undeniable that the man has an eye for direction. His R-rated passion project, the fourth iteration of the classic Hollywood tale and his first time directing, has proven excessively profitable, all things considered. Please, Hollywood, more Lady Gaga.

Along those lines, it looks like Bohemian Rhapsody may join the ranks of this year’s critically-lukewarm, audience-approved blockbusters. Accused serial sexual harasser and director, Bryan Singer, can rest easy knowing that the world loves Queen more than it cares about the testimony of assault survivors. However, I bear no ill-will to Rami Malek and the crew which assembled the feature, as the actor’s portrayal of the late Freddie Mercury is likely to garner an Oscar nod. The film, though, has earned nearly six times its production budget at the box office. Think of it what you will.

This coming weekend sees the release of the next installment in J.K. Rowling’s Wizarding World film universe, Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald. Are you excited? No? Me neither. Expect glossy CGI, a muted color-palette, and more audience pandering than the inevitable Universal Studios theme-park ride based on the film.

We also have Widows, a heist film centered on a bunch of bad-ass women following the deaths of their criminal husbands. Jury’s out as to whether or not it’ll be any good, but with a story treatment by the inimitable Gillian Flynn and Steve McQueen directing, as well as Viola Davis in the lead role, it’s definitely worth a passing glance.

Also releasing soon is the Mark Wahlberg, Rose Byrne lead adoption dramedy, Instant Family. I will warn you, reader, that suffering through Wahlberg’s pained and oftentimes laughable performances aren’t worth the price of admission. If you’re pining for a Wahlberg you can respect, it isn’t possible. BUT, if you wish to remember fondly the dramatic potential he’s committed himself to wasting, I would suggest watching Four Brothers, The Departed, The Fighter (yes, a David O. Russell film), or Boogie Nights. Just my suggestion.

And that’s all I care to talk about today, dear reader. Let me know which movies you’re excited to see in the comments below. Be sure to follow along on Facebook, Twitter, or by email using the widgets at the bottom of the page.

Until next time.